Mmmmm Macau!

Mmmmmmm….Macau. More about the country/Special Economic Region aka Casino later. First, on to the food!

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As a former colony of Portugal , the European influences are obvious. Egg Tart meet Mouth.

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Going with the colonial theme we can sneak some Brazilian cuisine in there. Meat anyone?

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This simple pork on bread with Siracha is simple but great. These things along with Egg Tarts are ubiquitous in Macau.

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There exists a Thai-town in Macau , this restaurant had inexpensive , amazing , eats , prepared by a crew of authentic Thais. Sa-wat-dee! We were exhausted from wandering around town by this point . It was amazing to simply sit in air-conditioning, eat spicy food , and drink Beer Chang with Thai condensed milk coffee.

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There are also ample opportunities for grabbing fresh veggies. Also , check out that behemoth winter squash!

Yummy!

Hong Kong Round Two

Wow! Sorry everyone. I’ve been back from my trip for 5 days now but uploading problems on wordpress/facebook have been plaguing me. Perhaps this has something to do with the Communist Party power change that was going on earlier this week. Coincidence? Most likely not.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Hong Kong via a dual overnight layover on the way to/from Vietnam. This month I had a chance to get to know her glorious self a little bit better while simultaneously getting caught up with my mountain trekking Uncle and Cousin. Score!
I just took the better part of last week off and spent some time in Hong Kong with a day side trip to Macau! This trip was also on the Uncle’s (significantly more impressive than mine) budget. Bye bye Chungking Mansions and 30HKD breakfasts. Hello gourmet food , taxis, and a nice hotel. YES!

This trip gave me more time to see the places I learned about in the fantastic novel , Noble House, by James Clavell. If you haven’t checked this author out before , proceed to do so. Noble House is a massive , more than 1000 page epic tome that takes place in 1960’s Hong Kong. It has multiple storylines intertwining , dozens of characters, and features some of the Taipans 大班 (bosses) of massive trading companies warring it out with each other all while dealing with spies , movie stars, and pirates. It’s some heavy sh*t.

As I was taking the windy road up to Hong Kong’s highest point (Victoria Peak) I could just imagine Ian Dunross (Main character from Noble House) gunning his high-powered sports car up the dangerously curving roads, I could envision the battle between developers to build the tallest buildings with the best views of Central consequently sparking up feuds with new apartments blocking the view from the older multimillionaire dollar apartments , I could see the fishing junks moored in Aberdeen waiting out the latest typhoon. I was transported to the real life settings of the book only 50 years later and 50 years more advanced. Hong Kong of now is a whole new beast. Even though Shanghai has three times the population , it feels small in comparison with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is packed into a small area resulting in a craze to build everything taller and closer together. I’ve never been in an environment that felt so urban.

This trip I revisited some of the biggies that I went to during my quick layovers . I had to show the Uncle and Cousin the classic Victoria Peak , Hong Kong skyline at night , and the Star Ferry trip across the harbor. I also got to use the extended time to check out new places in the city and make a trip over charming Macau.

Some of the highlights include :

a fortune-telling in the crowded Temple Street Night Market

betting on the horse races in Happy Valley

matching an insane Gangnam style dance competition in between betting on horses

learning Obama won the U.S presidency by reading the traditional characters on a newspaper in the morning

checking out the beautiful Wong Tai Sin temple and Hau Tin temple

seeing the touristy but slick night city skyline dance of the stars

and the food , oh my the God the food!
(but this is for a totally separate post)

and most importantly , catching up with my relatives!

I’m definitely not done with Hong Kong . I’ve fallen quite hard for the city and look forward to return visits in order to see more of it. I really want to head out to the out-of-the-way places : the little fishing villages on separate islands , the working class neighborhoods of Kowloon , and the functional monasteries all come to mind. The big Buddha on Lantau island has also been eluding me! I’ll be back Hong Kong!

Dear Shanghai

Babe,

I’m sorry to have to tell you this , but something’s wrong. Something’s changed. It’s not me. It’s you. Remember those days we used to lounge in Fuxing park , and those nights we passed sitting outside Shanghai Brewery? What happened to us? We’d always be down to meet up. These days we haven’t been seeing each other much. You’ve turned rather frigid towards me. All you want me to do is watch DVDs. Gone are the days of carefree strolling . All we have now is frightening lack of enthuastism for being seen in public together. I miss the nights of laying , sweating like a pig in the bed, drained from what you did to me all day! We’d do our thing , sweat , shower , and repeat like a washing machine on an endless cycle. I just wanna be with you , but you’re turning me away! Why , why , are you doing this to me?

Well, enough is enough. I’m leaving. I’ve found a new girl. She’s fun and hotter than you. 11 degrees Celsius hotter than you to be exact.
Her name is Hong Kong , and I’m out. Call me in the spring. Peace.

It’s time to head off to Hong Kong once again! This time longer than just a layover. Also a brutal re-tease of the weather I’m missing. October 22 was great in Shanghai. I had shorts , sandals , and the sun was nice on my skin. Perfect weather. I thought perhaps this was the year that the cold doesn’t come. Like always , I’m fooled. Since then it’s turned to blanket , hoodie, and pants weather. I fear the next months when it’s nearly impossible to feel truly warm. Shanghai’s is a humid cold. A dampness that chills down to the bone. Lack of good heating in homes and work is a killer. Try as hard as you like , but even after the 5th cup of scalding tea you can’t quite get rid of that lingering cold in the marrow of your bones. I’m only delaying the inevitable with my trip to Hong Kong , but oh well.

Tomorrow I’m off for the mini-family reunion with my mountain climbing (just got into HK from Nepal) Uncle and Cousin! Whoo hooo!

The Places You’ll Go , Mr.Book.

Cruising down the idyllic palm tree lined hallway with various motorbikes and heavy pick-up trucks screeching their horns at maximum decibel levels , playing deadly games of chicken , in between Halong Bay and Hanoi, I was somehow reading my book amidst the chaos. I guess after long enough in Asia , I’ve learned how to cope the the death races on the road. As long as it’s not driving , I’m alright with it. Anyways , as I was reading , I came across a receipt in the book.

Books-A-Million
2105 Levis Commons Blvd.
Perrysburg, OH

$3.00 Sub Total
+ .20 Tax
$3.20 Total

That’s funny enough seeing as how I bought it at

Movie Feast
288 Taikang Rd.
Shanghai , China

30CN¥

but upon further inspection of the book it is revealed that this book started out at

The Free Library of Philadelphia
Lovett Memorial No 43
6945 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia , PA

Tucked on the final page is a hastily scrawled illegible signature , dated 5-30-2008. Who is this mystery person?

Who transported you book? Was it someone I know from my native state of Ohio?

(Oddly enough Google Maps told me how to get from the USA to Tianzifang , Shanghai , China with the vaguely nebulous “traverse the pacific ocean , but didn’t know how to get from Shanghai to Hanoi.)

This book is well-traveled and appropriately enough as it has a Vietnamese author and features short stories taking place in locations such as : Columbia , Vietnam , Tehran , New York City , and Australia.

And where will you go ?

I had a chance to trade it in at the amazing

Hanoi Bookworm
44 Chau Long St
Hanoi , Vietnam

but something kept me from doing it. I wanted to save it and read it again.
One day though , she’ll get set free , and she’ll be free to roam once more.

Welcome Back! Now F*** Off!

The end of a trip is always a sad time, but it feels nice to get home. As I was standing in the “Foreigner” line for immigrations to China ( I like the Hong Kong “Visitors” line better) , I was just imagining how nice it would be to scrub my grubby self off in my tiny shower back in my pad. Alas , this was not to be.

Waiting at the baggage carousel , and waiting , and waiting , I was at last discouraged when the final remaining passenger scooped up his bag and left.

Going over to the lost baggage claims desk , I was welcomed back to China with its amazing (lack of) customer service. Sometimes service in the land of 1.3 billion is lacking. The attitude becomes that of “there are 1,299,999,999 other people available , get lost”.

Upon handing the worker behind the counter my baggage claim slip , the first thing I was informed was “China Eastern is not responsible for your loss and we will not give you any compensation”. Wow. Right off the bat , I was hit with that little gem. No desire to help , only to cover their tracks.

Back in Hanoi , I had a Hong Kong Airlines flight to Hong Kong , an overnight in Hong Kong , and a following day Hong Kong Airlines flight operated by China Eastern to Shanghai. In Hanoi , at check-in, the worker asked me if I wanted my bag to go to Hong Kong , and then I would collect it and have to re-check it the next day or if I wanted the bag to go straight to Shanghai. The latter was optimal , saving me time , and freeing myself from lugging the bag around Hong Kong.

After explaining the situation to the China Eastern lost baggage claims, they told me that this was “impossible” , that the bag had to be picked up in Hong Kong by myself. Upon asking her to call Hong Kong Airlines and check if the bag was in their system , she told me they didn’t have the phone number. She was clearly not willing to look the number up or help in any manner.

Trekking back home from the airport , I was in a bad mood. You see, all my personal hygiene things were in the bag. Hot shower with shampoo and soap = no go. (And I spent almost all my cash on the trip , I needed food money)

Five years ago when I was headed to Germany from the U.S , I had a hectic shuffling about involving delayed flights , missed connections, and lost luggage. In Germany , Lufthansa , which was the airline I was switched to , gave me 50 Euros , a fresh change of clothes , all the essential toiletrries I would need, and delivery of my bag the next day with no hassle, and they weren’t even the ones who misplaced my luggage! Now that is customer service.

It took us the next day of calling China Eastern and harrassing them to get my bag. China Eastern was having no part of bearing the responsibilty , and no part in helping me to get my bag. I didn’t ask for compensation , only my things. ( Which included my pair of shoes). They kept saying to call Hong Kong Airlines , yelled at my girlfriend , refused to have any responsibility, and even hung up on her.

We called Hong Kong Airlines , they profusely apologized , said China Eastern is crazy for their behavior , said since China Eastern was handling the flight and since it was the last connecting flight China Eastern was indeed resonsible for getting me my bag. They promised to take care of things and help us out.

Fast forward a bit and China Eastern calls us and tells us to come all the way back to Pudong Airport to pick the bag up. My girlfriend says hell no , China Eastern says they won’t spend a penny on us , and fighting ensues. Eventually we get them to say they will deliver. The delivery guy calls us and asks us if it’s okay to bring the bag tomorrow since he has NO MONEY to get transport into the city. What kind of joke is this? We tell him he works for a delivery company and he should get some money. ( We believe he just didn’t want to come since it was nearly 8pm)

At least we got the bag back , and in 24 hours but come on! Customer service fail. Pity for China Eastern as their pilots and stewardess are great (we even got Haagan Daazs ice-cream!)

Alright enough moaning and complaining. Next updates will be all about the trip + photos!

Building Up a Superiority Complex

With China’s changing economic situation and the influx of wealth that has hit the country like a bomb in the last thirty years has come a steadily building superiority complex.

With Monday’s departure for Vietnam looming ahead , various people have asked me about my plans for the Communist party’s week-long bash. My answer like usual is to get out of China. The sheer brilliance of giving almost everyone in the nation’s most populous country time off equals an insane migration of people and massive crowds. However , when I tell them where I’m going , they seem to be less than impressed. Keep in mind that these people aren’t China’s wealthy. They make around a little less than $500 USD a month.

My Co-workers.
Me – I’m going to Vietnam!
C (Co-workers) Vietnam? It’s too dirty!
IMH ( In my head) And China isn’t dirty? The newly found wealth in the country is pretty much the direct result of the sacrifice of the environment.

My girlfriend’s brother.

GFB – You’re going to Vietnam? Vietnam doesn’t have any fun places!
Me- Hanoi’s eclectic old french quarter , Halong Bay , hiking in Sapa , beautiful remote beaches , the upcoming Phu Quoc island resort center.
GFB – China has beaches too! Go to Sanya ( on China’s tropical Hainan island)
Me- What ? With the 5,000,000 rich people who descend on the island every year? With the full hotels and the quadrupled prices? Anyways, I enjoy the experience of going to a different country with different languages , architecture , and culture.
GFB – CHINA!

(Chinese beach courtesy of Chinatoday.com)

My girlfriend’s co-workers.

While my co-workers are nice to me for the most part , my girlfriend works in an extremely competitive office and she is on the low ranking side of things. These people are mean to her.

GF- I’m going to Vietnam!
GFC – HAHAHAHA , POOR YOU! YOU CAN ONLY AFFORD TO STAY IN POOR ASIA. TALK TO ME WHEN YOU GO TO EUROPE.
GF (Angry but trying not to show it) – Well ,where are you going?
GFC – Staying in Shanghai .

Now China , it’s best to remember that you have more peasants than the entire population of Europe. Just because there is an (admittedly) strong elite with vast amounts of wealth , and you have a huge military doesn’t make you number 1.Living in a relatively expensive city like Shanghai with a relatively low wage doesn’t make you superior to the Vietnamese who have a low wage but live in relatively cheap Hanoi.

Let’s quit with the superiority and enjoy the holiday!

Travel Plan – Vietnam

With my tickets booked for Vietnam , I’m getting ready to go! Ideally I would spend a good year or two there but unfortunately it seems like things don’t work that way , and I’m left with a mere week. *Sigh*

Waiting too long to buy tickets and getting shell-shocked at ticket prices has left with me with pretty crap tickets. I would love to fly straight in and waste no time but am left with two overnight stays in Hong Kong. I haven’t been to HK so this is actually awesome. Otherwise I would be groaning about the waste of time. However, I also have tickets in November to HK to see my uncle and cousin. Ah well, this is how life works. It’s still good because my girlfriend gets to stop in Hong Kong as well. Chinese get a few days access to Hong Kong visa free if they have an onward ticket.

So here is the plan:

October 1st : Leave Shanghai at 7:00pm and fly to Hong Kong.
October 2nd : See as much of Hong Kong as we can. See the famous skyline and take a trip up to Victoria Peak , leave Hong Kong at 5:40pm and arrive in Hanoi 7:40pm.
October 3rd : Explore Hanoi.
October 4th : Leaving early morning to Halong Bay.
October 5th : Early morning leave for Hanoi and take the soonest bus possible for the non-touristy rural town of Ninh Binh.
October 6th : River rides and temple exploring in Ninh Binh.
October 7th : 2 hour bus ride back to Hanoi, do more things in the city , leave at 7pm on a flight to Hong Kong. Sleep in the ghetto ChungKing Mansions.
October 8th : Noon departure for Shanghai , get in around 2:45 pm and chill the rest of the requested off and pay-free day.
October 9th : 7:20 am wake up and back to reality.

Things we are really looking forward to :

Hanoi – FOOD FOOD FOOD , exploring The Old French Quarter , enjoying a coffee and baguette breakfast in one of Hanoi’s numerous cafes, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum , walking around Haon Kiem Lake, seeing the beautiful Temple of Literature , drinking the local Bia Hoi microbrews, and catching a water puppet show.

Halong Bay – Breathtaking karst mountains rising out of the sea , kayaking trip , cave exploration , and spending the night on a boat in the middle of the bay.

Ninh Binh – Billed as a Halong bay set amongst the rice paddies. Taking a river cruise with the karst mountains towering over head , sampling the local specialty ; goat , exploring Bich Dong Pagoda , and seeing the local caves.

Next time around I’ll have to make a trip to the South and see the beautiful beaches , Ho Chi Minh city, and maybe try to work my up the coast. (Vietnam stretches quite the distance south to north , no?)