Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sept 18-20 2014 in Beijing and Hong Kong

The Beijing half of my trip was just as productive as the Shanghai half, with meetings and venue visits lined up back to back to back. Sometimes I had to set aside an hour to go 3 miles due to the terrible traffic, but I eventually got there.

Cool optical illusion CCTV
office building in Beijing
Which of these is the most appetizing: Ecological big bumper harvest,
Dried loofah tip, Dip a gherkin, Must taste the meat mushroom loose

Thursday night I had plans to meet up with friends for dinner and, you guessed it, go to another Karaoke KTV lounge. I arrived at dinner to find my three male friends, four ladies, and one open seat for me. I had been seated beside a friendly English-speaking lady Callie, a friend of a friend. She couldn't give a straight answer to the question "what do you do for work", which was an immediate tip-off that I was set up for something interesting. The eight of us had an enjoyable dinner, especially picking out entrees from the colorful quirkily translated large photo menu.

KTV Beijing Style!

In the cab on the way over, one of my friends mentioned the Beijing local government cracked down on "the games" played at karaoke places, so it will be more of a proper lounge. When we got to the karaoke lounge, Callie was still with us but she changed into an employee uniform (she had clearly been hired for the evening to "escort" me to dinner). As with other nights, I was given a choice of ladies to sit with during the singing/dancing portion of the evening. I felt weird for a couple minutes choosing another woman over Callie, but as the night went on the bartender also joined in our group, and pretty soon I had the attention of three ladies refilling my wine and tea glasses, serenading me, dancing, and laughing at my silliness.

Super cute dessert rack in a traditional courtyard restaurant

The lack of "games" at Beijing KTV places just opens them up for a different kind of game. There was no lap dance or table dance - instead I was placed in the center of the group of women and had to show off my dance moves for each one. What started with singing and merriment devolved into the bartender tossing peanuts into my mouth from across the room. What started with my consorts becoming fascinated with my arm hair (I guess they haven't seen many Jewish men) disintegrated into my three consorts tearing off my shirt and berating me for my chest hair. The games are reversed, more male humiliation than misogyny.

Friday I caught up with a coworker for lunch - she picked a traditional Beijing restaurant in the courtyard of an old building. We had lots of tasty fish and salads and this adorable rack of bird-shaped cookies and pastries!

Cute little room the airline
booked for just me
View of Hong Kong in the morning -
waking up inside paradise! 

My flight home had two legs: Beijing - Hong Kong, 90 minute layover, Hong Kong - SFO. This would get me home Friday around 9pm for a much-needed weekend of catch-up. As soon as I entered the plane, and the doors were armed for takeoff and crosschecked, a gentle rain and lightning storm commenced right on cue. Apparently the plane wasn't designed for that, because the captain got on the PA and announced that the airport won't allow us to leave until it stops raining. Pretty soon after that, meal service was served, and I knew then and there I'd be spending the night in Hong Kong. A quick internet search on my phone revealed the list of upcoming flights with available seats. I emailed Olga and told her I'd be home a day late.

Hershey Kisses inside a Kiss!

Fishing neighborhood Shau Kei Wan - view of Kowloon behind

When I landed in Hong Kong, the process was really well organized. Four of us had missed our connections, staff with signage was waiting for us at the gate to get us hotels for the night, meal vouchers, walk us through passport control, and provider a paid taxi. I wonder if an officially Atheist nation has an "Act of God" clause.

Wow do people really hang their laundry
to dry on street-level guardrails?

Saturday morning, the first of three Saturdays I was to experience back-to-back, I woke up in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong, jumped on the MTR metro train, and crisscrossed my way over, under, through the islands to the Shau Kei Wan neighborhood on Hong Kong island. In Shau Kei Wan I hopped on the historic 1904 Tram (aka Ding Ding). It's just like San Francisco's historic Market Street Streetcar, except all of the trams are double-decker like British buses. I read online "It is recommended to ride from as far as Kennedy Town in the west, to as far as Shau Kei Wan in the east, in order to get a strong contrast of 'East meets West' and 'Old meets New'" - after an hour and a half, I had ridden almost the entire route. It's a fantastic experience, getting to ride through the hustle and bustle of a booming city, with views of the water to the north, mountains to the south, and skyscrapers all around.

Panorama of a street market in Shau Kei Wan

I hopped off at the Western Market and backtracked a bit to the Mid-Levels Escalator. The Guinness Book of World Records proclaims it as the longest outdoor covered escalator system. It's an ingenious way to get to the otherwise slightly remote hillside Mid-levels neighborhood. Every block (or sometimes twice every block), the escalator ends/restarts and people can get off to walk down an alley or pop by a restaurant or cafe. Some restaurants and shops seemed to be in the 2nd or 3rd stories of buildings, depending on where the escalator ended and restarted.

Stepping into the old Tram
View from the second floor of the Tram

When I got to Conduit Street at the top of the escalator system, I saw signs for Victoria Peak Tram. Since there is no DOWNWARD escalator (it goes only one way), that seemed as good a destination as any. Walking (more like hiking) the streets of Mid-Levels you get a feel for the multi-level nature of the city: roads passing under other roads under botanical gardens. An extensive footbridge network passing through skyscrapers, over the double-decker trains, along the water.

Heading onto the Mid-Levels escalator
You can get off the escalator at any point and
wander about or pop into a shop

By the time I had walked to the Peak Tram, I found there was a 2.5 hour wait to ride the 1883 historical funicular. A little Googling for tips pointed out you can take a taxi there inexpensively, walk around and enjoy the views, then take the funicular tram down. I found a Chinese tourist couple, we motioned to share a cab, and off we went! The taxi driver dropped us off at the mall at the Peak of Victoria Mountain, and I happily picked up a few Hawaiian shirt at the Tommy Bahama outlet mall :) At this point the sun was setting, the view of Victoria Harbour breathtaking, and the Tram queue about an hour long. Though the views at the top are stunning at night, the tram ride is probably more scenic during the day. Still, I enjoy the engineering of these old trains, so there was plenty to appreciate :)

The escalator / walkway goes right into
the third floor of this 7-11 store
Escher-esque multi-level topography

Running very low on time, I grabbed a cab to the super new brewpub Trafalgar at Brim 28 (28 Harbour Road). The place is only a few weeks old, I was lucky to find it on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. I had to ask a few times to get a microbrew menu (first they brought the imported drink list then the food menu). I think they weren't expecting somebody to come in demanding their brand new brews. One waitress told me they only make two beers, an IPA (which had sold out) and a Victory Ale. I ordered the Victory Ale, and then another waiter came by to see if I wanted anything to drink. I asked again for the microbrew list, this time he also mentioned their Kiss Me Hardly Coffee Stout. I implored him to stop the bartender from pouring that Victory Ale, I need the coffee stout right away!!

Selfie with the skyline while zooming down
the mountain on the Peak Tram

View of Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour from Victoria Peak

It's an excellent stout, the coffee is subtle but you can tell there's something well-roasted and smokey coming from underneath. I got into a conversation with the brewmaster/owner - he said there's only one other brewpub in Hong Kong and it's small. I asked if he'd been to many of the brewpubs in mainland China (I have!) - he said the quality of brewpubs in mainland China can't be maintained over time because bribery and cost-cutting are so deeply embedded in the culture and trade system. He also gave me a taste of the Wheat beer he's working on next and asked me for tips of what would perfect it.

Trying an unreleased "draft" of a "draught" with
the Brewmaster and Owner of Trafalgar brewpub

The impact of Great Britain after 150 years of rule is immense. The air is breatheable, the water drinkable, the internet free and uncensored. Most signs (street, directional, and shop) are in Chinese, transliterated with Latin letters, and English. Most people I spoke with in various walks of life spoke English. One downside of English language fluency is an almost complete lack of funny "Chinglish" signs. One thing I noticed when getting out of the taxi from the brewpub to the Airport Express train terminal is the lack of a mob of bicyclists, mopeds, pedicabs, and tuk-tuks when you open the car door - and you don't take your life into your own hands when you cross the street.

Each of the 3 banks in Hong Kong print their own currency!

Boarding the plane at 11:30pm Saturday, my second Saturday started, 12 hours of meals, wine, movies, and sleep. Getting home early Saturday evening, going for a walk with Olga to chat and grab some ice cream, that was my third Saturday.


Dave V. said...

So how did you like Hong Kong over the rest of China? I've only been to HK once (and never to mainland China) but I had a great time! I had a chance to ride the Victoria Peak tram - very awesome! Next time, stop by the giant buddha statue is Lantau Island!

Dave Grenetz said...

Thanks for asking - I LOVED my day in Hong Kong! Can't wait to go back with Olga! Lantau is definitely on the list for next time - and some Scuba diving!!