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March 29, 2007

Hong Kong: Halfway Around the World

Watch in Hong Kong
My watch is correct again (+12 hours)

As I write this, it is 5:20 p.m. here and 5:20 a.m. on the Eastern Seaboard. My watch is correct once again. I am halfway around the world.

Here on the other side of the world, no one seems to think I'm dressed very well. Every second man I pass in the street wants to make me brand new a suit. So great is their alarm over my appearance that they assure me that one can be ready in just a few hours.

Hong Kong.

We arrived early this morning bleary-eyed at four in the morning, passing flashing navigation buoys and other ships lit like Christmas trees. We were docked before sunrise and on first glance, the city met us with a stereotypical version of itself. By seven a.m., Hong Kong harbor was roiling with activity. I counted 31 boats on the water at one time--tug boats, high-speed ferries, cruise liners, private yachts and a few utility vessels that looked like modern-day versions of Chinese junks--and who knows how many others were concealed by the early-morning haze. One of the smaller junks--rickety and bobbing--was tootling around the harbor. Every few minutes it would stop, and a long fish net would come out and scoop something out of the green water. It appeared to be collecting garbage. This water, I thought to myself, is some of the cleanest filthy harbor water I've ever seen.

Paint boat in the Hong Kong harbor
Do I need a water taxi?  I'll wait for the
next one.  Thanks.

Later, as we were packing the last of our bags and waiting for the crush of passengers to leave the ship, a green boat with a glugging engine and an emptying bilge pump pulled up next to us. It appeared to be carrying a load of paint. The boat honked, apparently trying to get someone's attention on the bridge. The man standing on the bow looked up at the ship imploringly, then fixed me with a stare, as though I should get to work and find whoever it was he needed to speak to. I shrugged. In the next berth over, a Chinese cruise liner--bigger than ours, but less stately looking--was disgorging its load of Asian passengers.

We took a taxi to our hotel, dropped off our baggage and got right down to business: eating. I may only be here for one day, but I plan on eating for one week. I learned a valuable lesson in Hawaii, which is that it's all too easy to lose valuable eating time by wandering around in search of the best or most authentic cuisine, and the end result is that you find yourself sitting in a sushi restaurant contemplating the morsel of hamachi between your chopsticks. We took a right out of the hotel and stopped at the first place that was filled with Chinese people. There were roast ducks and tripe hanging in the window, which I took as a good sign.

Tripe in the window
Tripe in the window.  I'll be coming back for that later.

I ate a bowl of noodles with shredded pork and peanuts. It came with a side of two small deep fried pork chops. The soup was tangy in a way that only Asian soups seem to be able to be, and the pork chops were crisp, delicious and perfectly fried. Laura had noodle soup with dumplings. The dumplings were filled with bok choy and pork.

Bowl of noodles
After weeks of cruise-fare, this bowl of noodles hit the spot

This was the pre-lunch.  Two hours later we went out for dim sum, which is considered a local specialty. For good reason. I don't know what we'll have for dinner, but I plan on eating a lot. For most of the cruise, I was put off at the unseemly amounts of food forced on us. But now I am thankful for the opportunity to have stretched my stomach.

Didn't I see you guys swimming off of Saipan?

Traditional medicines.  Do you have a cure for cruise belly?

Hmmmm...never thought of salad that way

It will come as a surprise to no one that the atmosphere in Hong Kong is rather different than the atmosphere on a cruise. It does come as a bit of a shock, however, to someone who's just spent 17 days aboard the latter. The pedestrian volume here is smothering. There are aquariums at street level full of sea creatures--many of them unrecognizable--for sale. Traditional medicine shops sell all manner of traditional remedies, including bins full of tried fish. A clothing store has a window sign that reads: "Salad: Your Charm Wakes in Spring." Everywhere, men are pushing carts into traffic, almost getting hit, then nodding to the drivers when they pass. I saw construction workers repairing a building's fascia. Their scaffolding was made out of bamboo. As scaffolding goes, it looked good.

I have never before visited a city so far away--not to mention, so foreign--and not been rendered an idiot by jet lag. I have only a minor case of boat lag, which means every few hours I look at my watch and say, "Can it really be only 5:20?" Such are the pleasures of slow travel.



I may have missed this on an earlier post, but is your spouse going to be with you for the duration of the trip?

Also, I think you mentioned you are from Toronto. Lovely city. I am in Buffalo, NY and my fiance and I go up ever Summer for baseball games.

Hey Mark, be on the lookout for badly-translated and overly-sentimental package copy while you're over there.
You know, like the gummy candy that offers "admiring feelings of a graceful lady" and whatnot from the Guest Check days.

Really enjoying your blog, by the way.

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