Sorry for the long absence. My paternal grandmother who has been battling terminal liver cancer went into critical condition after the Chinese New Year, so John and I made an emergency trip. Because our visas were only single entry, leaving the China meant making a pit stop in Hong Kong to get visas allowing us back in. Fortunately, we obtained one-year multi-entry business visas and are now set for awhile.
Our two days in Hong Kong were quite good. Never been to the “most popular destination in Asia” before. After reading all this propaganda on Shanghai proclaiming itself as the next Hong Kong, we were surprised by just how much farther SH needs to go. Hong Kong has all the ritz and glam of a big city. It’s hard to describe, but the feel is just so much more affluent and polished and cosmopolitan. And everything is so clean and efficient. Going in and out of the airport takes like 10 minutes. You catch a train to the Central peninsula and inside there’s an electronic map showing you exactly where the train is. Certainly, HK benefits from its small size, but still the initial impression is mindboggling. Things are just done right. No BS.
The official languages in HK are Cantonese and English. I think John felt a little weird being able to speak English at full-speed. We took full advantage of HK’s international status by stuffing our faces with the foods that we miss so sorely in SH. Indian, Mediterranean, Italian, Cantonese… all meals were excellent. And our hotel… I swear I need to get into the travel business. I found us an awesome place at a great price. Our room had this supped up telecommunications control center, with full panel instrumentation/controls on each bedside and at the desk, where a computer served as a PC and a TV. All our messages printed out on our in-room fax/printer. We were in heaven… well at least until the morning of checkout when our toilet wouldn’t flush. I called downstairs and apparently construction workers had busted some water pipes… so the entire hotel’s toilets couldn’t flush. Fortunately, the water still ran from the faucets so housekeeping arrived at our door with a bucket to manually fill the water tank and give us a flush or two!
We did the usual tourist activities—took the ferry over to Central and then rode the tram (cable car) up a 30 degree incline to Victoria’s Peak. It was a hazy, but beautiful nonetheless up on the mountains. A group of school girls were conducting some survey on foreigners… so they trapped John and bombarded him with questions about his thoughts on HK. Of course, no one was interested in this foreigner’s take. Then John granted them a celebrity photo. He eats that stuff up.
Unlike SH, HK is very hilly. We got a really good workout, especially after getting lost many times (the signs for some reason are not as clear as in SH). We went to one of the main city parks. It was of course all artificial and manicured but still, I thought it was beautiful and a nice escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. HK is much more densely populated than SH. I dunno where the government gets its numbers, but it’s hard for us to believe SH has a population of 15 million. We don’t see THAT many people on the streets.
After two fun days in HK (we even saw LOTR), we headed off to Taiwan, for a totally different experience. Dirty and dingy, Taiwan (at least southern Taiwan) is an environmentalist’s nightmare. At least in SH, the government makes a big effort to conceal the grime. In Taiwan, public space is everyone’s garbage can.
The main point of our trip was to see my grandmother. She recognized me the first day and in typical fashion, kept asking where we were staying and if we had eaten and if her house was clean and welcoming. My grandmother has terminal liver cancer and during my visit, her condition worsened. The day I left, my grandfather and aunts signed hospital papers declining automated life support and surgery. After I left, she was moved to the Buddhist temple for her final days. My parents made an emergency trip to see her one final time and fortunately, they made it in time. My grandmother who had been unconscious, opened her eyes and seemed aware of their return. She could not speak, but she knew they had come to see her.