Monday morning I woke up bright and early (read: 6:30). I rolled over in bed and flipped on the TV, and a steady stream of Cantonese started pouring out of a newscaster's mouth. It sounded really really strange. Like Chinese (Mandarin), but different. Of course I couldn't understand anything. A couple times I thought I did, but I think my brain was just doing some wishful thinking there. It was a little frustrating because it sounded close enough to Chinese that I thought I should be able to understand it, but no, to no avail.
I went downstairs and had some breakfast with Jen and a couple of her friends. Then we met up with some others in the lobby and took a taxi over to the ferry terminal. We bought our tickets for the TurboJet and settled in for the hour-plus ride to Hong Kong. Along the way we passed through immigration. That's one amusing thing about the whole trip, actually. The entire time, I stayed within China's borders. However, I had to leave mainland China to get to Macau, leave Macau to get to HK, leave HK to get to Macau, and leave Macau to get to mainland China. I had to go through immigration each time. So my passport received a lot of stamps :-)
The ride into HK was fun. We sang Disney theme songs and watched the terrible ferry-only TV channel provided for us. The weather was crisp and beautiful. Approaching HK, more islands started to appear in the water. Having not seen the ocean for so long, this was very exciting! Soon, more started to appear, dotted with buildings here and there. And then all of a sudden the great skyscraper-filled Hong Kong island appeared! I really wanted to take a picture, but I knew I'd have plenty of chances later.
We debarked and went through immigration, then made our way into the Shun Tak Centre looking for a place to exchange money into Hong Kong Dollars. After some wandering around, we found one, and also an HSBC ATM where I withdrew some money from my bank account. That all went pretty smoothly. Yay for international commerce!
We exited the Centre and went directly into the Sheung Wan subway station. The other kids fiddled about with buying pre-paid metro cards, but I marched over to the ticket window and bought a new RFID metro card (similar to the ones I have for Shanghai and Beijing). When buying, I also asked the teller (in Chinese) how to get to Victoria Peak, since that's the only thing I really knew I wanted to do that day. She told me to go to the Central station, and so I did. My friends were on their way to HK Disneyland and needed to debark at the same station, so they did, but then we went our separate ways.
I exited off the platform and saw a really helpful subway map on the wall. Kind of like Shanghai's subway station maps. You see the surrounding area and major attractions. I saw the listing for the Peak Tram, so I headed out that exit.
I made my way through the Central district, through skyscrapers and parks and hilly roads and double-decker busses, following the tourist signs for the Peak Tram.
I really love the way that you can look through gaps in the buildings, down alleyways, and see hills in the distance that are dotted with other buildings. To me that's really cool. There's definitely nothing like that in Shanghai. The layout reminded me of a San Francisco, with all the winding hilly roads. But of course, in San Fran they drive on the right side of the road and therefore have no need for these signs on the pavement:
Notice the sign is in Chinese too, because on the mainland they drive on the right side of the road.
In no time I was sweating like a pig under the hot sun, but I found the entrance to the Peak Tram just fine. I paid my ticket and we started on the upward climb:
The climb was pretty damn steep for most of the way. Here's a picture showing the angle of ascent:
I'm holding the camera parallel to the horizon in that shot! I almost felt like I was lying down.
We got off at the Peak Tower, and the whole place was one giant shopping mall. Go figure; that's what HK is famous for! There's even a Madame Tussaud's on top of the mountain. Talk about unnecessary. There's luxury shopping, fine dining, overpriced souvenirs, and so on. I can't imagine going up there for a meal. It's so out of the way and costs 40 HKD just to get to the peak. I guess they have restauraunts up there for the people who go up at night. Seeing a view of the city at night is apparently spectacular, although I didn't do it.
Inside the tower is a bunch of escalators taking you up to the roof of the structure where, if you have paid the extra 10 HKD, you can step out onto the roof and get an unobstructed view of the city. Of course yours truly did so and captured the following amazing shots:
Going to the tops of things is awesome. (Hell, I'm going to do it again on Saturday when I climb Huangshan.) But honestly, it was fun for about 10-15 minutes. Then it's like yeah, it's pretty, but, you know, there are only a couple spots for a good view from the peak. It's not like the Jin Mao tower where you have a 360-degree view of the city. It is great being able to see the city on the water, though.
I'm just glad they didn't charge me for the "Janitor Sleeping in a Bathroom" attraction:
I made my way down from the peak and then began a period of aimless wandering around Hong Kong. I didn't have a tour book, I couldn't really find one, and I was by myself. I ended up taking the metro a lot and navigating the subway system there. I don't know if London's subway system is confusing, but HK's sure is. By comparison, Shanghai's is a model of efficiency! Never thought I'd say that about anywhere.
I ate lunch in the IFC Mall and befriended a Swedish woman who was sitting next to me. She works in a bank upstairs, helping manage the assets of individuals worth $50 million plus. Sheesh! I think that's in HKD, which would make it like 6.4 million USD, but still. I was like "um, I'm never going to need your services." Haha. I ran across a Dymocks and got perhaps inordinately excited about a foreign bookstore! I perused for about 20 minutes and ended up buying this. What an appropriate book to be selling in HK.
I tried taking a random subway trip to the Kowloon Bay stop and seeing if anything interesting was there. A spot on the map advertised "Festival Walk" and I was like ooh, an interesting stroll, yay! But "Festival Walk" turned out to be the name of a shopping mall. I was more than a little disappointed with this discovery and turned around to go home.
(Side note: Every time I think about HK or Kowloon Bay, I think of Wayne's World. There's a scene where Rob Lowe's character is ordering Chinese food, and he speaks Cantonese on the phone. Everyone's amazed at his ability to speak the language, especially Tia Carrera's character, who is from HK. Then Rob Lowe goes "You sound more like Kowloon Bay than Hong Kong." Everyone's amazed again, because she was indeed born in Kowloon Bay. Yup, these are the kinds of things that stick with me. Also, before I saw the word written down, I thought it was spelled "Calhoun".)
I then killed some time in a Starbucks, managing to speak Chinese to the cashier. After that my next job was to find the Peninsula hotel in the Tsim Sha Tsui area. I was supposed to meet up with one of Jen's friends there to see Batman: The Dark Knight. I sat there reading my new book for about an hour, but they didn't show up. (I heard later that their plans changed while at Disneyland.) So I was on my own for dinner. I took the subway to Causeway Bay and went out of a random exit. I walked around a little bit before finding a Yunnan noodle shop. I sat down and ordered, speaking again in Mandarin, and ate myself some damn good spicy noodles. The shop had the TV on and the station was playing Liu Xiang's unceremonious exit from the Olympics. The sound was off, so I didn't understand what was happening. I only knew that he looked like he'd injured himself. I'd heard rumors a week or so ago that he was injured, so I figured that's what had happened, and sure enough, it was.
After dinner I took the subway back to the Shun Tak centre, briefly considered flying in a helicopter back to Macau, changed my mind when I saw it was over $2000 HKD, bought a ticket for the ferry instead, and settled in to read and nap on the way back to Macau. It was probably about 6:30 or 7.
I arrived in Macau at around 8 or 8:30 and looked around for a place to exchange my HKD back into patacas, but couldn't find one. Very strange. So I hopped in a cab and said "Casa Real", the name of my hotel, expecting it to work like last time. The driver didn't recognize the name, but I pulled out my map and told him the street name and number in Chinese. That didn't work though, because he dropped me off in the very center of the peninsula, on the road I wanted but pretty far from where the hotel was.
Initially discouraged, I instead realized this was the perfect time to take pictures of Macau's neon insanity that I view as a certain nose-thumbing to the Vegas strip. I was surrounded by bright neon lights, flashing bulbs, and signs promising me untold wealth if only I'd wager some money on their blackjack tables. Here now, a glimpse:
That's the Grand Lisboa, the unquestioned centerpiece of Macau's skyline. I read somewhere the ball at the base is supposed to resemble a pearl, and the building itself is like water shooting up from the pearl. Or something. To me it looks like an egg that's exploding.
Deep breath ... just a couple more!
Then I wandered over to another nearby section and noticed that one casino had a two-story TV on the side that was showing the US vs. Germany basketball game.
So I sat down and watched for about 20 minutes, during which I also text-messaged my German friend and made fun of his country's ability to play basketball.
Then I began the long walk back to my hotel. I saw a cool pedestrian bridge that was lit up in an interesting way.
And I tried to sneak a picture of a guy who was sneaking a cigarette, but he turned and caught me at the last second:
At some point, I reached my hotel, tired and sweaty and disheveled from walking around all day and night.
If I missed posting any HK pictures, and I know I did, the full set is here.
I don't know if I'll get to post about the subsequent morning in Macau, because tomorrow evening I am leaving for Huangshan and I won't have Internet access there. But I promise that at some point, I'll post about my remaining time in Macau -- although the next couple days after I return will likely be filled with Huangshan posts and pictures!!