While, yeah, sure, I lived in Hong Kong for a year (so have seen most of the stuff), it's still fun to do a bit of tourist-y stuff. Yeah, I didn't hit some of the supposed great things that either take a long time or are expensive (*cough, cough, the Peak and the gondola - I feel like the Peak is super over rated, although the gondola is pretty entertaining if you've got a day to do it and haven't done it before), I did revisit some of my old favorites. And yeah, Hong Kong is still a lot of fun to visit for a few days, and is a VERY accessible trip into Asia for those who want something sort of exotic, but not terrifyingly exotic. (That's Hong Kong for you. Asia-lite.)
My adventures in roughly chronological order...
(The Hong Kong skyline. Even with my crappy photography skills, it is stunning. I <3 Hong Kong. (Well, other than in the summer, when it is hotter than a diesel filled sauna.)) ( Collapse )
I am eternally fascinated by what happens when cultures collide. (This may be my sci-fi self coming out - I figure that if we ever run into aliens, the closest experience we'll have is running into other human civilizations.) There are the usual things - people find stuff they like and try to trade (usually as unethically as possible - my favorite story involves the Spanish and a Native American group. The Spanish pretended green glass was jade, the Native Americans that copper was gold and they made a trade, glass for copper. At least they both got a fair deal in that exchange). Sometimes there are wars (sometimes due to the unfair trade). Often someone gets a horrifying disease. People fall in love. People migrate, hoping to strike it rich in a foreign land. And, of course, people convert.
China has always seen itself as the center of the world. (In fact, China's name for itself is "Zhong Guo", literally middle country.) It is the heart of civilization, surrounded by barbarian nations. (FWIW, I think this view has changed slightly. America is the home of wonderful inventions like Elsa, the Disney princess that all girls on the entire planet are now trying to be. But old habits die hard.)
So perhaps it should be a surprise to no one that Guang Xi province (literally "wide west" - funny how similar that is to the English terminology) is seen as one of the last frontiers (traditionally) between civilized Han China and the barbarian west and south. It should come as no surprise then that Guang Xi is also home to a number of the minority groups within China.
(For all that the Uygurs and Tibetians are the best known minority groups - mostly as they make news - there are 55 minority groups in China which comprise about 8% of the total population. Different laws often govern them, for good or ill.)
Around Ping'An are the Yao and Zhuang minority groups (both of which also exist in Vietnam, which Guang Xi is directly north of.) Historically these groups were chased from more fertile lands into the mountains. Deprived of ariable terrain, they did what humans do - they adapted and built the spectacular rice terraces of Longji.
(These people had a lot of time, just saying.) ( Collapse )
As anyone who knows me knows, I am NOT a foodie. I eat to live, and have seriously considered going on the soylent diet, as it would free up time for more important things, like making fancy dresses. Ahem. With that said, the food in Asia was pretty freaking awesome - too awesome to not describe, anyway. I suspect that this was in large part because it was some of the freshest food I've eaten in my life. No matter where I went, chickens were racing about the street, pigs were rooting in trash cans, herbs were growing in gardens, fruit was dangling from trees, etc. I suspect this made a big difference. Or maybe Chinese and Vietnamese food is just freaking delicious. Either way.
(Chickens in Ping'An, about to be turned into delicious meals.)
I always hate it when people say "If you want to see the real..." because it implies that the rest of the country isn't real, while I'm quite sure that no parts of a country are figments of my imagination. (Hanoi is quite real, as are Shanghai, Seattle, and New York. In fact, considering how rapidly most countries are urbanizing, the cities are the real part of the country, not the rural areas.) With that said, the Vietnam that exists in my imagintion (one populated by ox drawing ploughs, boys herding goats, and women in conical hats tending gardens) can be found in the Tam Coc/Trang An area (Tam Coc is the town, Trang An is the scenic region that's a UNESCO site. Confused yet?), all set against a magnificent karst and otherworldly river backdrop.
(This is what Tam Coc/Trang An looks like. Seriously, it doesn't feel real.)
Hong Kong is a land of contrasts. There are the cities and the wilderness, east and west, ocean and forest, old and new, all mixed up in a beautifully vibrant city. On Lantau island alone, there are Taoist temples (Man Mo), as well as a Buddhist (Po Lin) Catholic (Trappist) monastaries. While the Po Lin monastary is well known, due to is convenient location by the largest statue of a seated Buddha (it feels like they're stretching for that record) and the 360 gondola, in many ways I find the Trappist monastary equally - if not more - representative of the history of Hong Kong.
The Trappist monastary can be reached quite easily on a lovely, 2-3 hour hike, from Mui Wo to Discovery (Disco) Bay, which showcases the contrasts of Hong Kong. (It also has the convenience of being a mere half hour from Central at both ends. Much as I love the remote beauty of Tap Mun, I suspect most people prefer being able to hike without having to bus and kaido out into the boonies.)
(Note that I did the hike from Mui Wo to the silver mines to Mui Wo to Disco Bay. You could do the reverse equally well and leave out the silver mines...or just do the silver mines...or hike from one end to the other seeing the silver mines and by passing the Trappist Monastary. You could even walk all the way out to Po Lin, although that's a pretty long trek. SO MANY OPTIONS!)
Anyway, I started by taking one of the fast ferries from central to the Cantonese fishing village of Mui Wo.
(Silver Strand beach at Mui Wo - quite lovely and not bad for swimming, even in November.)
When traveling abroad, I try to travel like a local, which is to say, using public transportation rather than relying on tourist buses, taxis, and air planes. There are a number of reasons for this. Part of it is that you see *so* many interesting things on public transportation (like families dragging chickens on to the bus - yes, this happens), and it feels rather more ~*authentic*~ than taking a tour bus (yes, I know, I'm pretentious). My cheapskate self says that it's because you can catch the bullet train for around $30 in China...while a similar flight would cost more like $300. (And a 70 RMB taxi can be replaced by a 1 RMB bus ride, etc!) But probably the main reason I do it is that I'm an arrogant SOB who wants to prove that she can figure out *any* system, no matter how foreign or complicated, and still make it on time and under budget.
Either way, my arrogance about using local transit is why I ended up at a closed down subway station in Guangzhou, far from my hotel, completely lost.
I'm getting really annoyed at random people who, pretty much instantly want to go out for drinks.
Much of this comes down to time/money calculations. Even if someone comes out to where I am, drinks (in the plural) will probably run around $20 by the time two $7 glasses of wine and a tip are factored in. They will also take at least 2 hours of my life.
If I go into Seattle, we're looking at $30-$50 ($10 in bridge tolls, $20 for drinks, $10-$20 for parking, if I can't find it for free - which is often). We're also looking at 3-4 hours out of my very busy life.
If we add dinner into it, throw in at least another $20-$30.
THIS IS A CRAP TON OF MONEY FOR SOMEONE I DON'T EVEN KNOW AND, STATISTICALLY, PROBABLY WILL NOT LIKE.
Now I get it, I get it, people need to meet at some point. But...when we're looking at a minimum $20, 2 hour investment (and remember, that it only goes UP from there - $100 and 4 hours is not unheard of), I want *some* assurance that I'm not completely and totally wasting my investment. Yes, this may be an hour or so of discussing interests beforehand, seeing if there's mental chemistry, etc. (To be honest, if there is no mental chemistry, nothing will happen on the date. NOTHING. Now I'm perfectly happy to end up as just friends if we're not wanting to rip each other's clothes off - in fact, I'm pretty happy with that outcome. But if we can't carry on a conversation about something other than the weather, skiing, or hiking, I'm not being friends with someone and I'm not sleeping with them, either, no matter how cute they are. I have needs. These needs include mutual interests.)
Really, my favorite tactic at this point is just to insist that they come out to me (and only meet for drinks) so at least it's at the lowest point of the dating scale. But...I can see why this tips things to the higher end of the scale for someone in Seattle (although parking is free here, so sympathy is low). Still, there's a sense that if $10 in bridge tolls isn't worth it to someone, then why should it be worth it to me?
Ugh, I freaking hate these mental calculations. But...if all I wanted to do with my life was date, I STILL couldn't go out on as many as are offered...so I suppose I might as well be like, "Yeah, sure, I'll do drinks. But only if you come out for me. Also, is herbal tea okay? I bet I could get that down under $5...and, even with hair and make up, keep the time commitment down to around 2 hours."
The history of Vietnam can be seen in the languages used. There is classical Chinese, from the thousand years in which China occupied Vietnam, on the temples and monuments. Then there are signs in French, from when Vietnam was part of Indochine...then English, I suppose, to represent America's disastrous foray into supporting the South Vietnamese (well, their regime, anyway). Then, of course, there's Vietnamese everywhere, perhaps demonstrating that the Vietnamese at last have soveignerity over their land...or maybe not. English, French, and Mandarin are still widely used, although in the modern sense, it's to cater to tourists. (The new conquerors? Ugh...I prefer not to think that.)
(A classic Vietnamese temple. The writing, of course, is in Chinese.)
The best and the worst thing about traveling in China are the Chinese tourists. Since China does not heavily market to foreigners, foreign tourists are rare in China. But if you find a scenic location, it is generally swarmed by internal tourists, who run around taking pictures, chattering, and going on hilarious tours where they all wear matching t-shirts and follow someone following a flag. Like all other tourists, Chinese tourists take what would otherwise be serene, scenic locations, and turn them into zoos. Inevitable, I suppose. I'm part of the problem.
But then, the presence of other tourists tends to mean that there are ammenities in touristy locations, such as food, bathrooms, bottled water, and transportation. These are good things. Also, while I have approximately nothing in common with a Chinese peasant, my life is not that different from a Chinese middle class professional from a major city and it can be interesting to talk to them about the similarities and differences in the places where we live.
The Li river is a major tourist destination. It has inspired countless classical paintings...
(As well as some modern ones, such as those being done by this group of painters.)