Chinalog V: Stanley and the Opium War

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Well, going to bed early certainly didn’t work.  Once again I laid there not sleeping a wink for several hours, my mind leaping and heaving and doing everything except sleeping off the jet lag.  The time-change is kryptonite to my superpower; I generally fall asleep in thirty seconds flat.  In the end I got more sleep than m’lady did.  She doesn’t snore; I do.  When I got up around 10am m’lady was already up.

Vehicles drive on the left in Hong Kong, a change that can be quite dangerous to the right-driving tourist.  I would normally have to constantly be telling myself to Look right! Look right! but with so many one way streets running through Hong Kong I don’t have to.  The city has gone to the effort of printing <—Look Left or Look Right—> messages directly on the pavement at each and every intersection.  It’s unspeakably helpful, and I’m sure the idea has saved countless lives and injuries.  Maybe it’s financed by the insurance companies.

Our first stop was the Museum of History.  It was just across the street from our hotel and entry was free of charge so we couldn’t possibly not go.  We made short work of the flora/fauna section, the ancient rocks and other geological wonders, and the cavemen exhibits, after which we cruised through the Chinese dynasties pretty quickly until we finally started to linger at the opium war.  

It’s amazing to think that China ceded Hong Kong to the English as a bribe to convince the Brits to stop bringing opium into their country.  After Hong Kong changed hands the ethnic group that made up less than 5% of the city’s population was running the place.  That must have been frustrating.  Then there was the Japanese occupation during WWII.  Seems that Hong Kongians (Hong Kongers?) haven’t had a whole lot to cheer about over the years.

Leaving the museum, we ducked into a Starbucks then looked around for a place to eat.  Once again my appetite was in flux…was I hungry or full?  I just could not decide.  Logic told me that I must be hungry so I joined m’lady at a Chinese diner.  I didn’t feel too adventurous (or hungry) so I ordered a small chicken pie and a pork bun.  I used to eat pork buns quite often when I was in Taiwan and I figured it was a safe order.  Nope.

Both the pie and the bun were very sweet, and as a Westerner I am picky when it comes to mixing meats and sugar.  I had one single bite of the chicken pie and managed to get through nearly half of my pork bun.

Which didn’t matter.  At this point my body had easily convinced my brain that I hadn’t been hungry after all.

Next we aimed for Kowloon Park, which we had already walked by several times before.  Ascending the stone staircase we soon discovered that the park was pretty extensive and quite impressive.  We started along comic alley, featuring larger-than-life statues of anime characters, none of whom either of us had ever heard of.  We walked by a pond full of sunning turtles and found the a sanctuary – more of a small zoo really – replete with cockatoos, parrots, a couple of crazy looking critters called rhinoceros hornbills, and a bunch more.  

Next was the bird pond, which was loaded full of flamingos.  After an impressive pile of romping, our final two stops in the park were both a bit of a letdown.  One was a hedge maze that was stupidly easy (and only waist-high…what’s up with that?) and finally the sculpture park was pretty lame (and I do like me a good sculpture park).  But overall the park was pretty cool and really, whattya want for free?

On our way to the Star Ferry I stopped into one of the many, many McDonald’s outlets where I spent about fifteen confused minutes and zero dollars before walking back out empty-handed.  I had ordered a Big Mac on one of those touchscreen things but between the five counters buzzing with beehive activity and the imperceptible system of payment and/or food retrieval I had absolutely no clue as to how I was supposed to turn my chit into a burger.  When I stormed back out to the sidewalk in frustrated confusion I was sure of one thing at least: I was now certainly and unequivocally very hungry indeed.  But the ferry loomed.

We rode over to the island side of the city and found a bus that would take us to Stanley, a small town on the other side of the distant mountains.  It was a double-decker and we scored the front seats up top.  It was a really fun drive careening along the bustling Hong Kong streets to the fringe of the city and through a long tunnel that runs under the mountains.  Once we were out of the city we began to wind back up and down those mountains on a narrow two-lane pass, branches whacking up against the side of the bus as it slowed down and hugged the edge of the road when faced with oncoming traffic.

As we were exiting the city the bus passed a string of car dealerships.  Mercedes, Lexus, Ferrari, Maserati…  I mentioned to m’lady that I figured about 80% of the cars on the road were luxury vehicles and from our perch in the front of the bus I tested my theory.  I counted cars for the next ten minutes and found out I was actually a bit low in my estimate.  Lambos, Porsches, Rolls Royce…oh, the are all so beautiful.  Pretty much the only cars on the road besides upscale luxury models are minivans (of which there are many), and Toyotas.  The expendable money in Hong Kong must be tremendous.

We arrived in Stanley and stopped for a drink.  Famished as I was I topped up my order with a cheese and tomato chutney quesadilla.  Turns out ‘tomato chutney’ is a euphemism for ‘ketchup’.  Bleah.  Next up was a slow stroll through the many, many shops and stalls that were set up selling every imaginable piece of junk you could imagine but would never want.  

Okay, that’s not entirely true, I wanted to buy a few Rubik’s cube variations, of which there were many.  They love the Cube over here, no question about that.

We didn’t buy a thing through, and then we strolled the town.  There was a jazz band set up in the square and we heard their last two songs as we walked to the pier where locals were fishing by hand (without poles).  They were catching fish after fish and none of them more than three inches long.  It seemed like that’s what they were fishing for though; it’s not like any got thrown back in for being too small.

We had a beer at a waterfront pub and then went to another for more beers and dinner.  It was tourist-pricey but pretty good food.  Finally we headed back to the bus depot where we caught our ride just as it was pulling out.   Upstairs we found the best seats gone but no matter, it was another great ride back into the city.

We got off one stop early and strolled to the wine and dine fest that we had realized too late last night that we had in fact possessed free tickets for.  We waited in line with our free passes and were granted entry and handed four tokens each along with a couple of coupon booklets.  

The fest was quite extensive, huge even.  We dropped three tokens on a four-pack of beers, another one on two glasses of sparkling wine and then m’lady insisted (with my help) that we use the remaining tokens getting me two shots of high-end tequila that was poured through a giant block of ice.  Never mind that I had to suck on a tube that had been sucked on by thousands before me, it’s tequila, and tequila kills germs.  Right? 

The coupons were for free things at select booths, each of which had long lines that went unbelievably fast.  I mean some lines were a hundred feet long and you’d be through in less than two minutes.  We got free cookies, shrimp chips, nuts, cheese, and ice cream.  The whole festival was run astoundingly well and we were both super-impressed with the entire setup.  The only downside was that we didn’t see the Jack Daniels booth until we were on our way out the door with nary a token remaining between us.  

And there went our day!  We exited the wine and dine just before it shut down for the night at 11:30 and we took the ferry back over to Kowloon.  We were both pretty beat so the walk from the ferry to the hotel was long and slow.  Again I was tempted to stop for a reflexology session but once again I declined, visions of blissfully of laying down on my own hotel bed (which was little more than a thin mattress on a hard wooden slab) easily winning out.

We had spent 14+ hours away from the room today and we were dead tired.  For the first time on this trip I fell asleep hard and fast.  Luckily for m’lady she did too.

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