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We are a little mixed up chronologically on the blog at this point, but it’s an accurate reflection of the chaos of our lives, so maybe it’s really just literary genius. Ha! If you want a really accurate, awesomely detailed account of the Jacobs trip, you should check out Mr’s blog here: http://mb2china.blogspot.com/ Before David’s miraculous meet-up with his parents in Guilin, I met them in Hong Kong on my visa run/family run and then again in Beijing after their journey to Xi’an. I blogged about my experiences in Hong Kong earlier, but not so much about my time with The Jacobs. So…without further ado:

After the Victoria Peak car ride adventure, I met up with the Jacobs in Aberdeen and were then whisked away to the Hong Kong Lifeguard’s Club, which also houses a great little somewhat Buddhist temple. I have to say, this was one of my favorite temples we have visited to date, as was set right in the middle of the beach and a portion of the ocean actually washed up into a ramp leading to the temple. It was pretty elaborately/garishly decorated with bright-colored mosaic tiles and statues, and was complete with a mini-bridge to walk over and extend your life. After Repulse Bay we were dropped off at Ocean Park amusement park…no comment except the Jellyfish exhibit was pretty cool.

The next morning we headed to the Wong Tai Sin temple in Kowloon. This temple looked similar to many we have experience, but exhibited a lot of unique cultural aspects such as Falun Gong demonstrators and various types of fortune telling stalls with readers who would tell you your future based on everything from wooden stick readings to your facial features. We also participated in surveys for a school group English-learning field trip, very cute. Next up, the Wan Chai district markets. We saw the bird market, which seemed to have more cages and grasshoppers than birds, and made me a little sad for all the caged birds and squished grasshoppers. We also visited the flower market and a street filled with all sorts of fish, in bags, bowls, tanks, etc! I think the highlight for all was just walking around these authentically Chinese districts and checking out the every day vegetable markets and incredible amount of signage in downtown Hong Kong. This night we went back up to the peak to do the Peak Circuit, view the city lit up and eat at the famous Peak Lookout restaurant. Although the views certainly disappoint, the restaurant was beautiful but expensive and over-rated in our opinion. We took the Peak Tram down, and I said goodbye to the Jacobs until Beijing!

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Coming to you straight from Lily’s American Diner in Beijing, I know it’s time for a post because I’m seriously questioning my sanity. Lets start from a few days ago…

On Sunday I arrived to an incredibly beautiful day in Hong Kong, where I was flawlessly picked-up from the train station from Richard Kligler and whisked away to the beach oasis of Stanley. Richard and I spent the day on dueling laptops, chatting about our favorite things: tea, traveling, St. Baldrick’s, Hong Kong and the US. I got on facebook for the first time since May, and had a good time catching up on all your lives! Marcia made us a wonderful dinner, and I was entertained by Jill, Sean and Jet the wonder dog. Jill graciously offered me her bed, and I fell asleep with the waves crashing outside my window…I was feelin GOOD.

Monday morning I got up bright and early and headed to the visa office downtown. Although the place opens at 9am, there was already a line stretched around the corner at 8:45. Fortunately, I had all of my information together and had submitted all of my materials and was finished around 10:30. I walked around the Wan Chai/Central areas of Hong Kong for a while, and then headed back to Stanley. Again, more nice chats with Richard and dinner complete with jerk ribs and cornbread!

Tuesday, the real adventure of the past few days began. It was my plan to meet The Jacobs on the top of Victoria Peak, and Richard agreed to drop me off in the morning. I got a little confused about the Jacobs itinerary, and we had some trouble figuring out whether to meet at the bottom or top tram…which ended up confusing the heck out of Richard, who took a last minute turn onto the Peak Circuit. Now, a friendly passerby told us cars were allowed to drive around the 3K the circuit, but having walked the relatively narrow, pedestrian path before, I was immediately worried. You may remember the photos of this path from our previous Hong Kong post, which was one of David’ and my most memorable experiences in Hong Kong. Richard maneuvered skillfully between walkers, runners, groups of school children and a rock cliffs to our right and a 1200m drop on the left. We did see a few residences and hotels as we crawled by in the car, so it was obvious that cars sometimes DO make this journey. However, we were finally halted by construction halfway around the walk. BIG Oh No! We had hardly had enough space to drive forward, now we had to reverse out?! At this point I was a half hour late to meet the Jacobs, who had been calling me on Richard’s phone that was accidentally on silent. So…backing up we went. I CANNOT believe we made it through about five 30-point turns without scratching Richard’s Jaguar, but thank goodness. After an additional hour of ushering every type of walker by, including a group of nearly 200 French students, we made it to a turn-around and back to where we started on the peak.

Well, the Jacobs had left at that point and I was left to converse with their extremely English-limited tour guide. Fortunately, Richard the savior took me to meet them in Aberdeen, and we linked up for the rest of the day. I won’t go into detail about how the tour guide thought it was reasonable for them to spend 25 minutes on Victoria Peak and over 3 hours at Ocean Park children’s amusement park…but that day about wrecked every last nerve in my body. Fortunately, it was all made better by seeing the Jacobs and having an excellent day two of touring in Hong Kong together. We toured all the different markets, sign-laden streets and made it back to do Victoria Peak justice! David’s computer is really best for uploading photos and he’s meeting the Jacobs in Guilin now, so I will have to post more photos and details about the trip when he returns (or hope that the Jacobs will guest post!)

That night…more crap news. I got on the internet to find that David didn’t get his Z-visa, and would be running around furiously the next day to get an emergency extension from the security bureau to have any chance of seeing his parents. Already stressed about this potential, I also found out that the biggest Typhoon in years was scheduled to make a direct hit on Hong Kong on Saturday…the day I was supposed to leave. I immediately called the airline to switch my flight, but they informed me that I would have to fax or email a copy of my passport to them in order to change flights. Oh good, that passport that’s at the visa office? Excellent. So, after a brief break-down, I brainstormed with Richard about options. I would pick up my visa as early as possible, go straight to the train station/apparently a place to check baggage for the airport and buy tickets (wow, Hong Kong service is incredible!!!) and try and get on the only flight leaving through China Southern 4 hours later the same day. And, it worked. I was extremely bummed not to be able to meet up with Erin Manfredi to see Danny Boselovic’s big show at The Beijing Club on Friday night…but I thought it was more important to get back to Beijing.

Then, quick re-cap of my night after arriving to the Beijing airport:
-Take train from airport to new apartment (after being kicked out/potentially robbed, David moved us in while I was in Hong Kong)
-Knock on door with suitcase…no one is home/no idea if David is on his way to Guilin or what
-Go to Starbucks to use internet and try to contact someone in Beijing.
-Computer is dead.
-Lovely employee says there are no outlets. (Umm, how do you make frappacinos? Someone helllp me!)
-Brief crying session in Starbucks.
-Walk to newspaper stand to buy money to re-charge phone.
-No cards left for China Telecom.
-Walk to another stand, guy over-charges me (do NOT say thank you to him!) and gives me card.
-Add money, try to call friend.
-RE-charge did not work.
-Phone blinks low battery.
-Stand, stare, want to die.
-Try phone again, it works! Betsy quickly gives me directions to her apartment, which I have never been to but apparently is unlocked, thank you second savior of the week.
-Find apartment, enter.
-Freak out dog, who pees all off the couch, twice.
-David calls, he’s home. Seriously? Ahhhhhh
-Meet him to get new key at the metro, he leaves for Guilin.

Happy Ending/Minor Miracles: David got his emergency extension and is in Guilin meeting his parents. There’s no heat or internet in the apartment, so I’m sitting in Lily’s (thank you Lily and Joe), re-telling a story I’m sure will be funny for prosperity but makes me feel like sharing with you is the only way to regain some sanity.

Nihao from Beijing,
Erin

*ps…Our new apartment currently has one empty room. For those of you that are interested in having a similarly stressful yet potentially life changing experience here, feel free to get in touch.

Good morning to all of those in the Western Hemisphere, I assume you are reading this with your Monday morning cup of coffee. Its been a rainy two days here in Tangshan, and our plans to visit the nearby city of Tianjin were foiled by the weather. Tianjin isn’t known as a large tourist attraction, but it’s the sixth largest city in China and is known for good food, large building and a few unique streets. Our friend and Chinese teacher, Candy, has a sister who lives there, so she has offered to show us around at some point! In the meantime, I will probably watch some movies, go to the gym, and stop back at the massage store (I wouldn’t really call it a spa because it looks like a typical storefront with table beds) to get a foot and shoulder massage. Last week I went there and got a 30 min neck and shoulder massage and one-hour foot massage for 70 RMB, which is $10 USD. That was also expensive because I didn’t buy a frequent-customer card, which I will do next week! Although you still have squat toilets at this spa, it’s a pretty clean place. They also practice traditional Chinese Cupping, which I will probably try after reading some more about the methods.

For your daily dose of charity wrap-ups, I have some exciting news! David’s St. Baldrick’s event in Hong Kong ended up raising $37,819 and he personally raised $670. Thanks again to all that donated! There are some great professional pictures of the event posted online. David and I are on the first page, and David alone is on page 6.

Walkers in the May 1st-2nd Washington DC Avon Walk for Breast Cancer raised over $6.5 million this year! I think that’s an amazing feat given all of this craziness in the financial world and am so impressed by these incredible participants.

I am also a strong supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their endurance events. Did you know you can participate in the half-marathon training programs as a walker, run-walker or runner? If you are thinking about making a difference in an incredibly fun way, I would really suggest checking out the LLS Team in Training Programs. The money you raise helps fight cancer, and also provides you with a really great training program, incentive to be healthy, ability meet other like-minded do-gooders and experience the incredible atmosphere of a race-weekend. I have told many people that even if you donate the funds yourself, it’s worth the training and trip that the event entails (seriously.)

And finally, my former co-worker and good friend, Allie Bouton, is competing in her first marathon in October! She got a spot in the Chicago Marathon through agreeing to fundraise a LOT of money for Fred’s Team, which benefits the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Allie is running for many people, but specifically Mrs. Merry, who is battling a brain tumor. If you would be willing to support Allie, Mrs. Merry and Sloan-Kettering, please make a donation here.

And NOW back to Hong Kong! The day after our trip to Macau started with an incredible Japanese-style lunch at Miso, a restaurant tucked away in the IFC building with great sushi that David had read about in the guide book. The prices for the fresh seafood were excellent and so was the ambiance. Pictures provided! The day was really beautiful and sunny, so we decided to hike…and hike we did! On the way we were really confused to find thousands of Filipino women camped out on the streets and in the subways at every turn. We thought maybe there was a protest or that they had all come from the for sales during the holiday-weekend, because we saw lots of huge boxes that were being packed to ship to the Philipines. What made the scene even more confusing was that many had brought food, pedicure and manicure kits and even laptops to this sit-in. Well, upon futher questioning with some of the participants and HK locals, we found out that this is pretty common on many Sundays with nice weather, and that these women were just getting together for some bonding time! I’m still somewhat confused as to why they decided to stay in places like hot subway halls, but it’s very obvious that the have a strong community in HK.

Well, we started from sea-level and hiked the 1,811 feet to the top of Victoria Peak (the second tallest mountain in HK). A significant part of this hike is literally straight-up, and although we saw lots of people coming down the hill, we only saw one or two going up. It was the steepest grade I have ever encountered, but I was feeling good in the new Mizuno running shoes I had bought the day before! ($65 instead of the normal $100 in the States, not a great deal but I was happy!) At the shopping hub of the peak we got a gelato and headed onward to the Victoria Gardens, which is the tallest point of the Peak and offers some good views of the surrounding land and islands. There seemed to be a ton of cute kids playing in the gardens around the million-dollar communities atop of the peak, which was an added benefit! The cars parked at all of the apartments ranged from Mercedes to Ferraris and were all in perfect condition. We read that this was one of the most expensive places to live in the world, based on square footage. It seemed like a really beautiful place to live…but not really ideal if you want to want around, since the community is built on a massive, steep hill.

After the gardens we walked the 2-mile Peak Loop trail around the circumference of the mountain. This was a great walk because it was like hiking through a mini-jungle, and included many spots to view the incredible Hong Kong skyline. Many runners were jogging along this path, and although it gets a little crowded at points, this has to be one of the best running routes I have ever seen! After this walk we went to the Hong Kong Cafe, which specializes in Hong Kong style diner food. This style of restaurant came around during the 1960s when prosperity and contact with the west was really flourishing in Hong Kong, and the natives began offering menus that would appeal to both the Cantonese and foreigners alike. One of the best-sellers was Hong Hong tea, which is 1/2 coffee and 1/2 tea! I also tried HK french toast, which is two pieces of thick bread, held together by peanut butter, fried in eggs and topped with a light-honey syrup. It tasted GREAT after a long day of hiking and I have since made it for the teachers in Tangshan! David also got a curried vegetable dish, which was also very good! After food we paid to visit the top of the Victoria Peak building and viewed the city all lit-up at night. Needless to say, the views were one-of-a-kind and we got some really excellent photos.

So we are currently in Shenzhen, because tomorrow we fly back to Beijing (boooooo). We had a great time in Hong Kong, and I am so glad that I got to see such a cool town. Anywho, on Wednesday we went to see the Noonday Gun, a big gun that they shoot everyday at noon, carrying on a tradition of the old British Navy. It was MUCH louder than expected and everyone was rubbing their ears in pain after it went off. After that we just headed downtown and did some generic touring of the big buildings, which was cool. We then took the Star Ferry, a very efficient and cheap mode of transportation that connects Hong Kong Island to the mainland and various other islands nearby. Everything we read said this was the #1 thing you have to do if you go to Hong Kong, but it was just a ferry. I don’t really understand what was the big deal. It would be like saying if you do one thing in New York City, you have to take the Staten Island Ferry. We just took it across to the mainland because the museums are free on Wednesdays, looked around the science and art museums quickly, and Her Worship (Erin) was tired so we went back so she could take a nap before the true excitement of the evening.

Every Wednesday night, the only legalized form of gambling occurs at the two racetracks in Hong Kong. The Happy Valley Racecourse is a beautiful horse racing arena in the middle of the city, and every Wednesday the place gets packed for a hot and humid night of gambling. Unlike the ferry, this was an actually noteworthy event, and we were very glad we went. The British loved their horseracing, so when they occupied Hong Kong, they built two racetracks. When the British left, the racetracks stayed, because the Chinese love gambling more than anyone loves anything. In one Wednesday at Happy Valley, more money is bet than in an entire week of horseracing in the UK. The Chinese are OBSESSED with it. Everyone in attendance was frantically reading some sort of horse gambling newspaper that had all sorts of information in it, placing wagers, and then watching the races. The place really exploded when the horses came down the stretch, even in the first few races which are the weaker/slower horses. It was a pretty electrifying experience, and the arena itself is gorgeous. There are skyscrapers surrounding the track, and the stands and track was very nice looking also. One of, if not the coolest sporting venue I have ever been to. It was an interesting mix of Chinese and British people too, yet another example of how gambling really brings the world together. We placed a few bets on the horses that I researched, narrowly missing out on a huge haul in a photo finish where I picked the 1st and 2nd place finishers, but not in the right order. We left down about $4, but it was a very cool night. We wandered a bit, found a great international grocery store, bought a bunch of stuff to bring back, and then took the trolley (just like in San Fran) back to our hostel.

On Thursday we arranged to meet up with Richard Kligler aka St. Baldrick aka the organizer of the St. Baldricks event where I (David) was shorn. We met him at Times Square, a trendy shopping area near where we were staying, then walked through some food markets. Hong Kong (and most of Asia) really likes Durian, a stinky, milky fruit that kind tastes like damp armpit, and dried seafood of all kinds. Needless to say these markets don’t smell too good, especially when it gets warm and sunny outside. We went to Central again and saw the world’s biggest bank vault at the HSBC tower. It was so big it literally had an escalator inside of it! Richard knew a lot about the various buildings so it was nice to hear about the buildings instead of just saying,”Oh look, another huge financial building.” We hiked up past St. John’s Cathedral towards the Victoria Peak Cable Car station. We took the cable car to the top of the 2nd tallest mountain in Hong Kong, which offers extraordinary views of the city. Unfortunately it started to pour once we got to the top, so we only got some hazy pictures of the skyline (we went back though and got some great ones). Richard took us to a great restaurant though, and we had our best meal of the trip (best mushrooms I have ever tasted). We waited for the rain to subside, then headed back down on the cable car.

As soon as we got off the cable car, the rain started again. We quickly walked through a public park/aviary downtown, which was really cool, and then stopped in a tea shop to get out of the rain. This was our first true tea shop experience, and we learned a lot about tea and tea etiquette from Richard. I have never met anyone that knows more about and likes tea than Richard, and we tried 3 different kinds: a pu’er tea, which is a black tea that is put into bricks and gets better (and costs more) with age, a green tea called long jin, and another fruity black tea. It was interesting to learn that the first brew of tea is not drank but instead poured onto the cups and pot to help bring out the flavors. Their is a huge tea subculture that I never knew existed. The rain started to let up, so we left, after Richard showed us one of his favorite restaurants, Red Pepper, which Erin and I ate at later. It was another great meal, making that day the best food day we have had since being in China (in my opinion).

More updates to come….

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