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!


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!