There's no place like home…

…and that’s where I’m typing this entry. Pardon any incoherencies; I’m trying to stay awake until a decent hour, but it’s not clear my brain is playing along.

At any rate, I woke up at 7am Hong Kong time, giving me plenty of time to pack, eat, and check out before taking the 9:30 airport shuttle to make my 11:55am plane. Oh, yes, and to upload pictures from yesterday — my dial-up connection died last night while I was in the process of sending up my pictures, and I decided to take the hint and go to bed.

Sure enough, the shuttle arrived promptly at 9:30, and we drove east to pick up passengers at the City Garden hotel, about 15 minutes away through heavy traffic. And then the bus turned around and drove to the airport, passing right by my hotel on its way; I can’t figure out why they didn’t start with the City Garden instead of sending us on the loop-the-loop, but the trip did let me make one more shot at getting photos, only one of which panned out — this is the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. I wonder what it looks like when there’s a typhoon if it’s this crowded normally!

971 causeway bay typhoon shelter:

We reached the airport at 10:30; I checked in, got rid of my last HK$70 (I had saved HK$50 for departure tax, but United rolls it into the fare; apparently some airlines don’t), and took the golf cart to the First Class Lounge, where I had a quick snack while waiting for flight 806 to be called. We ran a little late, which gave me enough time to catch my breath and relax — next time, I won’t cut the trip to the airport so short.

This time, the plane was equipped with the United Suite in First Class, and I hoped to get some sleep on the flight home. But, even though the seat (5F) did open up so that I could lie down on a flat surface, I didn’t find it all that comfortable; it was plenty long, but not wide enough for me to have a good place to put my hands and arms. Despite that, I’d upgrade again — and I might sleep better on a flight which leaves later in the day, such as flights from California to Europe. Trying to go to sleep just nine hours after waking up is not easy for me, though my seatmate seemed not to have any problem sleeping. I did sleep some, though, but gave up the attempt about 8 hours into the flight.

Just before they closed the door, two women came into first class carrying young babies (I later found out the babies were eight and three months old). One of them took the seat across the aisle from mine, and I have to admit that I wasn’t happy about the idea — I was afraid that the baby would cry the entire flight (not without reason — unbeknownst to us, Jeffrey had a cold when we took him on his first flight…you can guess the rest). But that didn’t happen — the babies were amazingly quiet (the eight-month-old made a little noise once or twice; I don’t think I heard anything from the three-month-old, who was closer to me). About the only disturbance I noticed happened when the women took the babies on a walk into the galley and the flight attendants oohed and aahed — but that was no noisier than when an adult passenger went back to the galley and asked for something to eat.

I forgot to take a menu, so I don’t remember the wines or any of the entrees other than the one I had (filet mignon, which was tasty). Breakfast was more substantial than the second meal on the flight to Hong Kong, but nothing outstanding. They did have Godiva chocolates; the purser (who’d been on the flight I took to HKG last month) told me that they were carrying them outbound from Hong Kong until the supply ran out and suggested I write UA to complain.

Flight time was just under 12 hours, and I was out of Customs 30 minutes after wheels down. The car service was waiting for me, and I was home about an hour later; I’m now waiting for everyone to come home. School should be out in a few minutes, and I suspect Jeffrey will want to see his Game Boy sooner rather than later!

It’s hot here — but much drier than Hong Kong. I took a walk at lunchtime to get some sunshine, and came back only slightly damp; in Hong Kong, I was soaked by the time I’d walked half a block. And there were long stretches of my walk (through a populous suburb) when I didn’t see any other people; that never happened in Hong Kong! And finally, the air here smells of roses and citrus; that wasn’t the case in the urban areas of Hong Kong.

It’s good to be home.

Hot and Sweaty Sightseeing

This morning, I woke up and decided that I was ready to go home, so I called United and changed my flight from Tuesday to Monday. I’m enjoying Hong Kong, but the heat and humidity are getting to me; also, I’d be hanging around by myself on Monday (unlike the past couple of days, when I’ve had friends to travel with). And finally, the Fortune Global Forum starts Tuesday at the Convention Centre; some of the guests include Bill Clinton and the President of China, Jiang Zemin. Protests are expected, and my hotel is conveniently located between the protest area and the conference centre. While I’m sure the protests would be educational, I think I can do without learning what tear gas smells like, so I’m bailing out in the morning.

But today, I still had more sightseeing to do — this time with yet another colleague from IBM. He hadn’t been to Kowloon, so we hopped the Star Ferry to the dock at Tsim Sha Tsui. On the way over, I saw a bunch of people in yellow T-shirts.

956 special olympics:

Yellow, of course, is the colour of the Falun Gong, who are proscribed in China, hassled in Macau, and more or less tolerated in Hong Kong — but they aren’t going to be allowed to protest at the Global Forum; instead, they’re being kept across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui. So I put one and one together and figured I was seeing a Falun Gong demonstration in progress.

I was wrong; it turned out that the people in yellow were there for the the Hong Kong Law Enforcement Torch Run on behalf of the Special Olympics. But there were people giving out information about Falun Gong at the Star Ferry dock, and it didn’t look like the police were paying any special attention to them.

958 falun gong:

After our near brush with politics, we turned our attention to the view of Hong Kong island; it was a bright and sunny day, and the view was stunning.

951 from kowloon:

I could even see my hotel (the building just to the left of the really tall building) and the Convention Centre (the low building towards the left, projecting into the harbour).

953 from kowloon:

We wandered around for a while and eventually had lunch at Harbour City (it was air conditioned, which was very important at that point in the afternoon!), then took the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong side; I couldn’t resist taking one last shot of the Convention Centre and my hotel.

963 hkcec and hotel from ferry:

Then my friend took off for the south side of Hong Kong, but I was wiped and decided to go back to my room and cool off. Here’s what the Star Ferry and dock looked from the 36th floor.

965 ferry dock from room:

After cooling off for a while, I decided to make one last shopping trip, this time to Times Square, a less-touristy spot at Causeway Bay. Like the Times Square in New York, there’s a Jumbotron to entertain the crowds.

968 times square:

I think this Times Square has more shopping opportunities than the one in New York; I poked around for a while, but the sheer magnitude of the place defeated me. The 9th floor, with ten or fifteen different electronics places, truly impressed me. Anyone who thinks Americans like to shop has never been to Hong Kong.

And now this American has to pack. I have resisted the temptation to buy another suitcase; it’s time to find out if that was a wise decision or not.

Hong Kong Saturday

I started the day with a trip to the health club at the Grand Hyatt (the Hyatt and the Renaissance share some facilities, which seems odd to me, but who am I to argue?). I was already hot and sweaty by the time I got there, but I persevered and actually spent some time exercising. Then it was back to the room to recuperate before taking off for a long day’s sightseeing and shopping.

I spent the day with a friend from the conference; since today was sunny, we decided to make the trip to The Peak [Caution! Page has horrible sound effects which start automatically!] and see if the view was worth the trek. And because today was hot, we decided to take the Peak Tram rather than walking up the 373 meters and thousands of steps.

Both decisions were good. But before we got to the Peak Tram, we took a regular surface tram route along Johnson Road, passing streets like this one:

927 from tram:

And then we ducked into The Landmark (expensive shopping centre) to grab a quick cold soda at Pizza Hut to fortify us for the trip to the Peak Tram. A few minutes later, we were on the tram, and then at the Peak Tower.

935 peak tower:

As is far too typical of tourist spots, the Peak Tower is loaded with kitsch; there’s a Ripley’s, a Madame Tussaud’s, and, of course, tons of tacky souvenir shops. We ignored all of those and went outside to enjoy the view — and the fact that it was a good ten degrees cooler than it was nearer sea level!

The view from The Peak is unbelievable, and I know these pictures don’t do it justice. But here are a couple of attempts anyway. First, a picture of downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon.

941 hong kong:

Here’s the view looking the other way, towards Repulse Bay.

937 back side:

And they’re still building — I wonder how much apartments in this building will go for? It’s on a hill above The Peak and should have an even more impressive view.

936 going up:

But after a while, and after lunch, the siren sound of the city lured us back, and we took the tram downhill.

944 tram:

The tram dropped us near the famous Bank of China building, which looked impressive from The Peak and even more so from across the street.

947 bank of china:

I could also see the Hong Kong Convention and Exposition Centre, where I’d spent most of the week (and where I could have been attending Developer’s Day; I heard later that attendance was pretty light).

948 hkcec:

The rest of the day was spent shopping.

950 no fakes:

And then for dinner, we went to Pasta E Pizza, where the Thai basil on the Pizza Verde was as good as it was last week. I’m going to have to try making that combination at home.

Tomorrow should bring more sightseeing, but for now, it’s time for bed.

Next year in Honolulu!

I had to choose between spending Friday night at the gala Microsoft VIP reception at the Hong Kong Jockey Club at Happy Valley racecourse or going to Shabbat services at UJC. It was an easy choice, and I really appreciated getting out of conference mode and into Shabbat when the service began. As they used to say in commercials, “Thanks, I needed that!”

I brought two of my colleagues from the conference along with me to services (one IBMer, one guy who used to be at Microsoft and is now at a smaller company); there were also several people from California who were on a China tour, and it turns out one of them is from Los Gatos and studies with the Rabbi at Shir Hadash (though she belongs to a different congregation). It really is a small world.

There’s no Torah study this weekend; the Rabbi here just got back from Toronto and is a bit jet-lagged. And he won’t be here if I return to Hong Kong in the future, because he’s going back to Toronto permanently in a few months to take up a position with Kolel, the Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning. Their website looks very interesting and promising, but I think I’ll defer exploring it until I don’t have Hong Kong as a competing attraction.

Friday’s lunchtime keynote at WWW10 was an excellent lecture by Dr. Susan Blackmore of the University of the West of England, an expert on memetics. The lecture was titled “The Meme’s-Eye Web“, and in it she made the point that memes have shaped human evolution, both genetically (by encouraging the developement of brains which were more effective hosts for memes) and, of course, culturally, and that the Web is a wonderful playground for memes. I found her talk very interesting and thought-provoking.

But then during services, we studied a chapter of the Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, part of the Talmud), as is traditional during the counting of the Omer. This week, we studied Chapter 3, and Pirke Avot 3.18 struck me as a very interesting counterpoint to Dr. Blackmore’s lecture. In it, Rabbi Akiva says:
“How greatly God must have loved us to create us in His image; yet even greater love did He show us in making us conscious that we are created in His image.” I haven’t decided whether Dr. Blackmore and Rabbi Akvia are completely at odds with one another or if they’re both saying the same thing in different ways — but it was a curious coincidence to hear both views within eight hours.

Shabbat Shalom!

WWW10

This is going to be a short entry, I’m afraid, because I’m spending all my time actually attending sessions and talking to people at WWW10 — too busy to have fun!

Yesterday, TimBL gave a keynote on the full potential of the Web, especially how the Semantic Web will lead us there. The slides are on the Web (of course) but I can’t find them.

And then I spent the rest of the day attending sessions as a member of the Awards panel for the conference.

Today, I’ll be at one session in my role on the Awards panel, and then will be spending the rest of the day in the Web and Society track, seeing the fruits of my term as co-chair.

Pictures are unlikely until the weekend, but stay tuned anyway.

Two sessions down

The Web and Society Track has now had two sessions, and both went well, I think. The first was a panel on privacy, which, I’m afraid, came to no new conclusions; the second, which I chaired, was a panel on “The Web and Everyday Life”, which had three presentations dancing around that theme. Again, no new conclusions, but some interesting discussion.

Lunch today was a wonderful piece of salmon, and now in a few minutes, it’ll time for the official conference dinner, which will be an “extravaganza” — which I suspect means another ten-course banquet. Dining out in the US is going to seem so pedestrian after this trip.

Ten more courses

I was right — the conference dinner was, indeed, another ten-course banquet, this time held in the Grand Hall of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where Hong Kong was officially handed over from Britain to China in 1997 (we happened to be in England that day and watched some of the coverage on the BBC; at the time, I never dreamed that I’d be in Hong Kong, much less in that particular room!).

The room was so grand that I couldn’t take pictures which did it justice; the best I could do was get a few snaps of the acrobats who entertained us between the fourth and fifth courses.

907 dinner:

I outwitted the caterers, though; instead of sitting at a table with vegetarian food, I sat at a “regular” table and skipped the courses with shellfish, so I only had to deal with a six-course meal. In comparision, I guess it was like getting a meal from the diet menu!

Hotel reviews and the opening of WWW10

I’ve tried life on both sides of Victoria Harbour now, and I think I should have stayed on Kowloon side. Last night, I moved to the Renaissance Harbourview, adjacent to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where WWW10 is being held. The Marco Polo HongKong, where I’d been for the past few nights, is a little bit on the old-fashioned side (they have metal keys, not keycards — can you imagine?), while the Renaissance Harbourview is tres modern and clean. But the Marco Polo HongKong works much better as a place to stay — or at least it does for me.

At the Marco Polo HongKong, one of my challenges was remembering where I’d stashed all my stuff — the room had a walk-in closet with the minibar, as well as a regular closet, and at least two dressers. At the Renaissance, I didn’t have enough drawers to store all my socks and underwear, and my suitcase is sitting in the middle of the room because there’s nowhere to hide it.

At the Marco Polo, there were electrical outlets everywhere and a hair dryer built-in to the bathroom; at the Renaissance, I can only find one outlet, and it’s not very handy, and of course the hair dryer isn’t built-in either.

At the Marco Polo, they had a switch by the door marked “please save energy” so that you could turn off all the lights when you left, but the air conditioning kept going to fight off the heat and humidity. At the Renaissance, there’s a slot well inside the room where you put your keycard, and that activates the lights and A/C — of course, you have to be able to find the slot in the dark to begin with! And the A/C is not very strong, so it takes a long time to cool down the room. But I’ve already beaten the system; it doesn’t check to see if it has a hotel key; anything the size of a credit card will work, and I have a large supply of such cards with me — the card that I bought to add value to my phone account was perfect, since it had no other use once I’d called Orange to update my account, and it has no information which could be used against me (like a credit card number or frequent flyer number).

My room at the Renaissance does have an enormous picture window, much larger than the one at the Marco Polo — but the view from Kowloon was better. And I liked the neighbourhood around the Marco Polo better than Wanchai — the area immediately adjacent to the Renaissance is sterile, but a few blocks away, you’re in the remains of the old Wanchai (see The World of Suzie Wong for more details).

The good news at the Renaissance, though, is that I get Marriot points for staying here, while nights at the Marco Polo were wasted.

WWW10

893 opening

I’m typing this during the opening session of the WWW10 conference. A tradition in this conference series is to have an opening ceremony which partakes of the local culture, then a local politico officially opens the conference. I don’t remember what local color or politico they found for WWW6 in Santa Clara, but the conferences in Melbourne, Toronto, and Amsterdam had interesting ceremonies, and this conference continued.

We began by having the chair of the conference corporation (Nigel French) and the local politico (Carrie Yau, Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting for the Hong Kong SAR) “dot the eyes” of the lions, who then proceeded to get the conference off to a roaring start.

895 jumping lion:

Ms. Yau then gave a brief welcoming talk, and now Tim Berners-Lee is giving his view of the Web and its full potential. I’d already heard versions of Tim’s talk three times in the past week, so I have to admit I haven’t been paying rapt attention to it this time around, but it’s clear that practice adds polish.

Community

Happy birthday, Dave.

Susan, you have my condolences and sympathy on the death of your grandfather. Thanks for sharing the good times like his 100th birthday celebration with us.

Jeff, sorry to hear you’ve been dot-bombed.

Falling Behind

Now that the conference has started, I don’t have connectivity during meetings, and so I have less time to read blogs (not to mention trying to keep up with e-mail from my daily job), so forgive me if I fall behind in keeping up with you for a few days. I’ll keep posting during odd moments — but I’m not betting on many good pictures until the weekend.

Amen, brother!

Joel says:

There is nothing that makes me close a web browser faster than going to a home page that plays stupid background music.

This seems almost too trivial too complain about. If your company home page plays stupid background music, stop it.

I couldn’t agree more. I still remember encountering the AT&T ad on the USA Today home page that made a stupid knocking sound and saying “let me in!” every time you went to the page (including returning from an article); that was the day USA Today fell off my list of online news sources to check periodically (and you’ll note I didn’t provide a link here, either!).

Soul food

Today is the second day of the W3C Advisory Committee meeting. Lunch today was a surprise: it wasn’t a ten-course banquet. Instead, we were treated to a buffet, which was mostly Western foods (there were a few Chinese-influenced dishes, too, such as rice, tuna-fish pasta, the desserts, and, of course, spaghetti). They even had lox (but no bagels); that’s soul food to me!

Last night, I took lots of pictures at our dinner and a show at Ocean Park. Take a look, but be patient; it’s a big page.

Things to buy in Hong Kong

Everyone knows that Hong Kong is an amazing place to shop. Of course you can buy electronics, clothes, and luggage here, but did you know that you can buy ISO 9002-certified water here?

Jeffrey, you’ll be happy to know that I was able to buy something else here, too.

And in case you read the phone saga in Saturday’s posting, I’ve updated it to add the name and address of the shop where I bought the phone and had good customer service.

Another ten-course meal

Today, I’m at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for the first day of the W3C Advisory Committee meeting. It’s wonderful to have high-speed connectivity again (dial-up access from the hotel is a drag), and I’ve enjoyed catching up on what you’ve been writing over the past few days.

W3C always feeds us at these meetings; today’s lunch was yet another ten-course meal (and now they expect us to be awake for the afternoon sessions?). Most of what’s on the regular menu includes shellfish, which I can’t eat, so I’ve been eating at the vegetarian tables. And it’s all been delicious (well…there have been a couple of dishes which I’d describe as “interesting”), so I don’t think I’m missing anything by sticking to the vegetarian offerings.

I don’t know how students here manage to stay focused on their work when they see views like this one!

858 hkust view:

Tonight, we have the official meeting dinner at Ocean Park. I’m almost dreading it — if the welcome dinner and lunch were ten courses, what will the official dinner bring? Am I up to the challenge? Will I still fit into my clothes afterwards? Tune in later, for the exciting answers!

Doubletake Department

I had to think several times when I saw this sign on a Coke machine at UKHST:

855 octopus:

At first, I thought that this was some sort of reference that was lost on Americans (I just don’t think of “octopus” and “quench your thirst” in the same breath), but after careful review, I realized that they were referring to the stored-value Octopus Card which is mostly used by the local transit systems.

I also had to think a bit about this sign:

860 warden:

But I’ve read enough English mysteries set at colleges to realize that in this context, a “warden” is not someone in charge of a jail, but rather someone we’d call a “dean”.

Sunday — shopping day

One of the side effects of being trapped in the Advisory Board meeting all day Saturday was that I missed calling home when I planned to, and when I got back to my room, there was a message from Diane asking me to call. So I did — and woke Diane up because it was 2:30am in California. I think she was glad I called, but it would have been far better had we been able to get in touch a few hours earlier (or if I had been able to call when I’d originally promised). And I couldn’t call from my room, anyway, because the hotel charges an outrageous fee for international calls — and they also levy a heavy surcharge if you dial the local AT&T access number, so I felt compelled to go to the lobby and use a payphone to avoid being ripped off.

I decided this was not a good situation; the obvious way around this was to get a local mobile phone. I’d spent part of Friday trying to get my UK phone unlocked so I could use a local provider — I even checked the Web for ideas, but all I found were people asking how to get their phones unlocked and no answers. So I decided to buy yet another phone.

I wanted a cheap phone, but one that I could take with me on future trips, so it had to be a dual-band GSM phone. And it had to be unlocked, so I could buy a local SIM in other countries — this turned out not to be a problem; unlike the case in the UK or US, almost all phones sold here are sold outright, and you buy connectivity separately.

I followed a very careful procedure to decide where to shop — I rode the elevator to the ground floor, went out the front door of my hotel, turned right, went to the first phone shop I found, and asked for the cheapest dual-band phone they had. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Mitsubishi Trium — as a properly suspicious consumer, I did make a point of checking out the phone to make sure it worked before I left the shop, and it did.

But when I tried using the phone from my room, I discovered that the phone wasn’t just inexpensive — it was cheap. When I made a call, the phone made funny buzzing noises, as though a circuit board was vibrating; I hadn’t been able to hear the problem in the shop because of the noise there, but now it was obvious.

I was afraid I’d be stuck with the problem — many Hong Kong electronics shops are less than scrupulous (it’s not unknown for a customer to get back to the hotel and find that they’ve bought an empty box). But I decided to go back and complain anyway.

And much to my surprise, the shopkeeper was actually helpful and willing to work with me. At first, he thought the problem might be the quality of the network connection, so he lent me a SIM for a different network and had me make a test call — I couldn’t tell if there was a problem in the shop, so he let me take the phone back to the hotel to try it; it didn’t help.

So then he let me take several different phones back to the hotel to try them — without holding anything as security other than the old phone. I was impressed; I know that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anything like that service at Fry’s!

Eventually, I bought a much higher-end phone, a Motorola P7689. The phone works nicely and has lots of nice features — I wish I could use it at home, but that would require changing my US mobile service to a GSM provider, which would be a hassle; and GSM service in the US is still pretty spotty.

[Added May 1st: The shop at which I bought the phone was Motech Phone, Shop 22, Ground Floor, Star House, phone +852 2972-2988. I’m still happy with the new phone, by the way.]

After solving the phone problem, I went out with one of my W3C colleagues and wandered through Kowloon for the rest of the day. We even did a little more shopping. At times, we picked random stores just to get into an air-conditioned environment (the weather reminded me of South Florida, and why we no longer live there), but Carl did have some goals in mind, so we spent quite a bit of time in various branches of Yue Hwa Chinese Products.

Then it was back to the hotel and back to work — the W3C Advisory Committee meeting began at 6pm with the New Member orientation (as an Advisory Board member, I felt an obligation to be there), and then the Welcome Dinner. We had a fairly simple dinner, just ten courses (fourteen or more courses are not unheard of!); I ran out of gas after eight courses, and called it a night.

A short Saturday entry

I’ve seen none of Hong Kong today — for two reasons.

First, today was the W3C Advisory Board meeting, so I spent almost the entire day in a small windowless room in the hotel. It was a productive meeting, but, except for lunch, we could have been in any small windowless room anywhere in the world. Lunch was location-specific — we had a multi-course Cantonese meal. Most of the courses had shellfish, so I opted for the vegetarian alternatives, which were very tasty and filling. I suspect I’ll be having a lot of vegetarian food on this trip.

The second reason I haven’t seen any of Hong Kong is the weather — it was foggy when I got up and foggy when I returned to my room after the meeting. If I squinted really hard, I could tell that there were some buildings across the harbour, but I had to use my imagination, too.

Tomorrow should be better — the W3C Team will be rehearsing for the Advisory Committee meeting, so I’ll be free until evening; I plan to go out and play tourist again, probably with colleagues from the Advisory Board.

Shabbat Shalom from Hong Kong

I was out quite late Friday night, celebrating; late enough, in fact, that I didn’t want to stay up to edit and annotate the pictures I took yesterday while sightseeing, but I’ve finally gotten caught up, and the travelogue appears below.

After playing tourist all day, I went to Shabbat services at the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong. It was a fairly small group because it’s a four-day weekend here, but it was a lively service anyway. And going to services gave me a nice feeling of connectedness, even though I was almost 7000 miles from friends and family.

Oh, and the celebration? After services, several people went to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Pasta e Pizza, and they invited me to join them. The food was good — one of the pizzas used Thai basil and was absolutely delicious — and the company was pleasant.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday’s travelogue

Friday morning arrived a bit earlier than I wanted — 4am, when I woke up very hungry (the cookie I had for dinner was not enough, I guess). Luckily, the minibar in my room had snacks, not just drinks, so I was able to have a nosh and then got back to sleep until the alarm sounded at 7:30.

It took me a couple of hours to deal with my e-mail and have breakfast, but eventually, I was ready to handle the day’s business — wandering around Hong Kong while adjusting my body clock, so I’d be ready for the W3C Advisory Board meeting on Saturday. I decided to try the walking route through Kowloon suggested in the guidebook I’d picked up (Fodor’s Hong Kong).

The route starts at the Star Ferry dock, right next to my hotel. The Star Ferry crosses Victoria Harbour, which is a very busy harbour — there are vessels going in all directions almost all the time.

829 hk from waterfront 2.:

The next stop on the tour was the Victoria Clock Tower, which is the last remaining part of an old railway station.

833 victoria clock tower 4:

After admiring the Clock Tower, I continued along the waterfront. There’s a two-level walkway; I walked along the upper level and gazed across the harbour to Wanchai, where I’ll be spending next week at WWW10. In particular, I’ll be spending most of the week at the Convention Centre, the large building in the center of the picture below.

835 hk from waterfront 4:

I went back to ground level, to wander around the Cultural Centre. Sudenly, I was set upon by maurauding gangs of English students who had been given the assignment to interview tourists about their experiences in Hong Kong. I’d only been on the ground for 14 hours by this time, so my experiences were pretty scanty, but I was happy to help them out as best as I could — but my price was a picture.

837 with my interrogators:

The tour left the waterfront at this point, and so did I. I walked up Chatham Road South, entering a far more commercial area, There are so many shops and businesses that the building fronts don’t have room enough for signs, so they extend over the street:

838 signs on granville:

Some of the signs made me wonder:

839 yuppie sauna:

I decided not to find out just what a Yuppie Sauna was; I also declined to take up any of the invitations being thrust into my hands to visit tailor shops — I wouldn’t mind having some shirts made while I’m here, but there’s probably a better way to decide where to have it done than to pick a random shop.

The walking tour continued through commercial areas, over to the Golden Mile on Nathan Road. Eventually, the book directed me to Kowloon Park, which was a wonderful oasis in the midst of the commotion.

842 context of fountain in kowloon park:

Last year, I’d bought a GSM mobile phone while I was in the UK; it was very handy to have there, but Orange doesn’t yet offer international roaming, so I’ve been unable to use it elsewhere. I knew that electronics shops here sold pre-paid SIM cards so that you could have a local Hong Kong number on your phone, so I brought the phone with me to see if I could use one with my phone. But when I tried using a local card, the phone displayed an “Illegal SIM — enter code” message. I hoped that someone would know how to unlock the phone, but I guess I was going to places which were too reputable to know such things, and after trying a few shops, I decided it was time for lunch.

One of the things I’d been asked by the English students was how well I liked Chinese food. I hadn’t had any yet in Hong Kong, and thought I should fix that situation. Fodor’s recommended the Happy Valley Noodle and Congee shop, which was conveniently located across the street from my hotel. I got there towards the end of the lunch rush and had to share a table — fortunately, the guy I shared with didn’t smoke and spoke English, so we had a pleasant conversation. I decided to stick with something familiar and ordered chicken with cashew nuts, and it was excellent.

After lunch, I went back to my room for a break. I looked across the harbour and thought it was time to visit Hong Kong proper. I splurged for a first class ticket on the Star Ferry (HK$2.20, about 30 cents US) so I could ride on the top deck (riding down below would have saved HK$0.50, 7 cents US).

847 star ferry from star ferry:

The ferry crossing only took a few minutes, depositing me in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district, which, like all such, is populated largely by enormous bank buildings, with a few small buildings thrown in for contrast.

848 banks a plenty:

Where there’s money, there are places to spend it. The Landmark is a luxury shopping center, with stores like Christian Dior, Kenzo, and Tiffany. There’s also a Pizza Hut, which struck me as an odd thing to find in such exalted company, but I guess even rich people gotta eat.

People also have to get around — and in Hong Kong, they use almost every conceivable means. There are subways, taxis, ferries, and trams; like the Star Ferry, the trams are two-level, but I don’t think there’s a price difference for the two levels.

850 tram:

One of the problems with Hong Kong is air pollution — it’s so bad, in fact, that they devote expensive downtown real estate to pollution monitoring stations. This one is right across the street from the Landmark.

851 pollution monitoring station:

And here ends my Friday travelogue; from this point on, I spent my time going to and from Shabbat services.

UA 805 to Hong Kong and the first few hours there

This was the first time I’d planned to fly United in International First Class — I’d gotten an operational upgrade on a flight from Amsterdam to Dulles a few years ago, but that was on a smallish plane (probably a 767, though I’m not sure any more), and the flight was marred by having the sinks not work in the F and C lavatories. United offered passengers in F a confirmable upgrade as a makegood, which I eventually got to use — I wonder if they gave anything to the people in C. But I digress.

This flight was supposed to be on a plane with sleeper seats, and when I checked in at the counter, the agent said that was the case. But ten minutes later, after I cleared security and walked to the First Class lounge, the situation had changed; the agent there told me that they’d had to change equipment to a non-renovated plane. I don’t know if I would have spent the miles to upgrade if I had known there wouldn’t be a sleeper seat, even though I wasn’t planning to sleep going West anyway; but I decided I didn’t want to try to switch back to Business. As things turned out, I don’t have a seatmate (First Class is just slightly more than half-full), which is nice; Business Class is nearly full, as usual — only six empty seats.

The entertainment system isn’t working quite right on the plane, either — there’s no audio programming (but the movies work), and there’s a horrible noise everytime they use the PA. It’s worse in coach — there’s no audio at all, so unless you can read Chinese subtitles, you can’t tell what’s going on with the movie. They made an announcement that they’d be giving out vouchers in Hong Kong because of the problem with the movies.

I watched Sleeper, which was funny, though it’s really dated now — not because of the future scenes, but because of all of the references to things happening in 1973 (and Diane, you’re right — Jeffrey’s not ready to see it quite yet!). I also had lunch; here’s the menu:

  • To Begin: Roasted prawns with vegetable Napoleon or Sliced Parma ham with grilled asparagus. [I passed on that course.]
  • Garden Fresh Salad, which was mostly lettuce with one tomato and a couple of olives.
  • Main Course:
    • Filet mignon with chanterelle mushroom sauce, with basil mashed potatoes and zucchini puff
    • Salmon and sea bass in a zucchini wrap, with Israeli couscous and tomato basil sauce
    • Golden sesame chicken with citrus sauce, with fried rice and a vegetable medley
    • Stir-fried pork with bell peppers and Shanghai noodles, with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese seasonal greens

I chose the salmon and sea bass, which was pleasant though somewhat dry. I asked for steamed rice, as well, which was pretty gummy, so I wound up eating the couscous and found that I liked it.

I only paid attention to the white wines; they had a Hanna Russian River Valley 1998 Chardonnay and a Meursault 1999, Bouchard Pere et Fils Burgundy. I chose the Burgundy, which was very smooth and tasty; I’d be happy if I can find a bottle at home.

And I quite enjoyed the Sandeman’s Porto with the cheese course. The ice cream sundae was OK, too, but not as good as the Porto and cheese.

They aren’t boarding Godiva chocolate any more; the best mid-flight snack is M&Ms. But they had a chicken entree left, so I had that as a second meal; it was OK, but not outstanding — the fish was better.

The pre-arrival meal is a choice of New England clam chowder with shrimp and mixed pork, or a fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt. I’m up for the fruit.

I asked the purser for a copy of the Business Class menu, and now I’m happier that I upgraded. The entrees were BBQ short ribs with Robinson’s special sauce, stir-fried scallops with Szechuan garlic sauce, and roasted chicken with green curry sauce. And instead of a selection of cheeses, the only offering was whipped pesto cheese with sauteed sliced bread — I can’t even picture that!

I should have had my camera out when we were flying over California; the wine country looked just beautiful. But I didn’t, and much of our trip was clouded over, but I did get a few shots of the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, near latitude 62N, longitude 155W.

Kuskowim 4:

It sure looked cold down there, but not as cold as my first sight of Russia, near Provideniyn, just after crossing the Bering Strait.

Near Provideniyn, Russia:

Then I waited until the plane crossed into the Eastern Hemisphere and celebrated by watching Bedazzled, another movie that Jeffrey is not ready to see (but I enjoyed it; I’d like to see the original).

As I write this, we have 5 and a half hours left in the flight; we’re still over Russia, just west of Japan.

The rest of the flight continued uneventfully; eventually, we arrived at the new Hong Kong International Airport, and I took the Airport Express to Kowloon and my hotel.

The Airport Express is interesting — it’s very modern, very clean, connects with free buses to get you to your hotel, and is fast. It’s also cheap; my ride was HK$80 (about $11 US), compared to the hotel shuttle bus at HK$125 (which would have taken longer, too). They have a very simple four-stop system, and an interesting indicator of where you are on your way.

airport express:

And now I’m in my room at the Marco Polo HongKong, with a truly wonderful view across Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong Island.

from my room:

The Star Ferry terminal is ten floors below me; I’ll go over to Hong Kong island tomorrow. Right now, it’s been a very long day and it’s time for bed.