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Asia Trip 2009

Once again Chrystal and I traveled to Hong Kong and used it as a stepping stone for another Asian mini trip within our Hong Kong trip.  This time our trip included Chrystal’s dad joining us on the flight to Hong Kong.  We saw more interesting things, ate more tasty meals and had fun just like last time.  Read on for our adventures!
 

Pictures 

Beijing
Food
Fun
Hong Kong
Macau
Sai Kung
Tai O
Temples and Monasteries
 
 
 

August 29th/30th – Day 0

Warp speed or teleportation weren’t invented between January 2008, our last trip to Hong Kong, and August 2009.  As such we were bound to the restrictions of standard flight travel times.  We took the same Continental flight, 15.5 hours non-stop from Newark, NJ to Hong Kong.  During the flight you loose a day because of the 12 hour time differential.  Given that it was a different time of year however there were two distinct differences.  This time we traveled from EWR straight north, similar to last time, however, somewhere over northern Quebec we started heading a little more east.  This trajectory brought us more or less by the North Pole, like last time, except we were on the European side.  Previously we had an arc going over the Alaskan side.  This really doesn’t matter because the difference is minimal.  While it doesn’t seem that way looking at a map it is really obvious when

 looking at a globe.  The other difference was that being summer time, it was sunny the entire time we were going over.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a window seat and most people shut the shades so we never got a good look over the ice cap.
 
 
We landed around 9pm after a pretty uneventful flight.  Summer time in Hong Kong is hot.  It isn’t quite Indonesia, or Amazon jungle hot but still pretty bad.  Fortunately New England was experiencing its worst summer weather in the couple weeks preceding our trip, acclimating us to the humidity.  Typical weather in Hong Kong for the beginning of September is 88 deg F and isolated thundershowers.  September rainfall typically averages about 11 inches.  As a comparison New Haven gets about 4.6 inches in September.  Inexplicably in only rained a little while we were there.  One night it rained for about 10 minutes, but even that wasn’t anything torrential.  I think they must be having a dry September.

August 31th – Day 1

Similar to last time we planned to take a small trip to another country while we were in Hong Kong.  Unlike last time however, we would need to organize and pick our destination only days ahead of leaving for it.  This lead us to a frenzied tour of an office building in Central that housed numerous travel companies.  After stopping in 5-6 different companies we took stock of our options.  There was a trip to Japan for $7500HK ($970US), a trip to Beijing for $999HK ($130US), and another to Beijing for $3100HK ($400US).  These trips all geared themselves less to shopping like our trip to Thailand, and more towards site seeing.  The Japan trip sounded fun but too expensive.  Not to mention that Japan is such and interesting place that it probably would be better to go for a dedicated trip.  The cheap Beijing trip was unbelievably cheap.  To put it in perspective, that trip was like getting a flight from New York to Los Angeles, 4 nights hotel, food, and transportation as well as entry to the major attractions in Los Angeles, all for just over $130.  In order to do that they cut corners, primarily on food and lodging.  So with that in mind we picked the middle priced trip, which was still a great deal.  It included 4 nights in Beijing at a 4 star hotel (the best I’ve ever stayed at), all food, airfare, transportation and entrance to everything.  
 
The one catch to traveling to mainland China is the need for a visa.  That required us to hop back on the tram for the outrageous price of $2HK ($.25US) so we could order our visas from another Chinese travel place.  The H1N1 epidemic is on everyone’s minds in Asia.  So before entering that office building we had to have our temperatures taken.  There was a surgically masked man standing at the door of the building, shooting everyone’s forehead with a infrared thermometer.
We filled out our applications and submitted our passports for the 3 day, $130US processing.  Unfortunately we learned later that we could have gone to the Chinese Embassy and gotten it cheaper.
The evening involved visiting Mong Kok and Temple St. Market for some shopping.  I picked up some shoes for less than $20.  We then stopped at an outdoor restaurant for some beef satay and fried squid. 

September 1st – Day 2

We decided to stay in a hotel rather than a hostel like our first trip.  There were two main reasons for this.  We were visiting during in the off-peak season (cheaper rates), and being hot and humid we wanted to make sure we had good air conditioning and a nice clean shower.  We were able to find some good prices, about $50US/night, for the Island Pacific Hotel on hotels.com.  The hotel was pretty nice.  The room was small, like all Hong Kong lodging, but clean, comfortable, and located near public transportation.  We were also on the 25th floor which got us a view of the harbor and Kowloon.
 
For the first real day of vacationing we decided to head to Lantau Island which is the island where the airport is.  The island itself is quite a bit larger than Hong Kong island as you can see on Google Maps.  Our first destination was the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan or “Big” Buddha.  Our initial plan was to take the gondola from the train station to the Buddha.  Unfortunately it was closed.  It would have been a nice way to see the largely undeveloped Lantau Island.  Instead we took a bus, which was still fun.
Our first stop was the Tian Tan “Big” Buddha.  It was finished in 1993 and is one of the largest Buddhas in the world at 34 m (110 ft).  It is even more impressive given its location at the top of 268 steps.  We hiked up and also bought a ticket for the museum inside the base which also included a vegetarian meal at the monastery.  The museum housed some rare Buddhist art and other artifacts, including a huge engraved bell.  According to my Lonely Planet book the bell is supposed to sound 108 times a day representing the different troubles of mankind, though we never heard it go off.  Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed.
 
The Buddha was cool and the food at the Po Lin Monastery was good, as the picture at right shows.  The black mushrooms with bok choy were awesome.  Runner up was the corn, chili peppers and tofu. 
In the afternoon we visited a small fishing village called Tai O.  Many of the residents here live in stilt houses on the tidal flats.  Though not a plush lifestyle, many of these people still had air conditioning in their houses and a surprising amount of square footage.  Along the small streets of this town people sell dried seafood and fruits.  Chrystal and I picked up some longans to snack on while strolling.  It was a nice conclusion to our visit on Lantau Island.

September 2nd – Day 3

Our third day brought us towards the beach.  Seeing that the weather was hot and the ocean is on all sides we figured we would have missed out otherwise.  There are many beaches in Hong Kong and surrounding islands.  We decided to head towards Sai Kung Town another fishing village.  While Tai O is famous for its dried seafood, Sai Kung is known for its fresh catches.  Along the pier local fishermen moor their boats and sort their catches while tourists watch.  All of the fish and crustaceans are kept live in small tubs.  Gravity is used to circulate new water through all of the tubs.  The highest level of tubs get the newest water.  The tub then has a couple small holes strategically placed so they dump into the tubs on the next row down.  This continues for 5-6 rows kind of like a live-well pyramid.  PICTURE
 
After taking a walk along the beach we headed back into town for lunch.  Many of the restaurants had their seafood in tanks outside so you could see.  We picked a nice looking place and headed in.  We ordered some sea mantis, razor clams and shrimp.  We totally got gouged on the prices because we were tourists, that fact I’m white, and that Chrystal and I couldn’t read the menu.  We ended up paying almost $75 for lunch!  It was still really good though and sea mantis are expensive no matter who you are.
Back outside we hired a kiado, a small ferry, to bring us to one of the outlying islands.  A 10 minute boat ride brought us to an island with a small beach with only a dozen other people on it.  Unfortunately we had a tight schedule and weren’t able to lounge around too long.  We did go swimming, though.  The water was nice and warm, almost too warm.

In the evening Chrystal visited with her Dad and his friend.  I took the opportunity to visit the Hong Kong Science Museum which is free on Wednesdays. The museum is pretty nice. Not as good as the Boston Science Museum or the Science Museum of London, but still good. There was a huge Rube Goldberg machine with bowling balls that was neat.
To finish up the day I ended buying a suit.  I had planned to buy one but hadn’t really come across a tailor that was convenient.  After Chrystal and I met up again we happened to walk by a nice looking tailor near Causeway Bay.  After about half an hour of measurements and translations through Chrystal, I had placed an order for a nice Navy suit and two shirts all custom made for me.  Cost was $3200HK ($412US) shipped to the US.  It even arrived a day before I got back from my vacation!

September 3rd – Day 4

This was Chrystal’s big day!  With her parents being born in Hong Kong, she was eligible for a Hong Kong residency card.  Thursday morning was completing the process of getting the card.  For me it was an exciting time waiting in a government building.  It wasn’t all bad since I had my iPhone and a Wifi signal.  I also met a young student from Myanmar.  He had just arrived and was getting paperwork squared away before beginning his studies.  He amazed at my iPhone as he’d never seen or heard of it before.
 
After the immigration building we strolled around Central and Wan Chai.  A quick stop at the Bank of China’s observation deck was interesting.  The elevator to the observation floor only goes between the first and 43rd floors.  Some dinner and back to the hotel finished up our day.

September 4th – Day 5

Bright and early we checked out of the hotel to take a bus back to the Hong Kong airport.  Our trip to Beijing started with meeting our tour guide, who at first impression (and then repeated impressions) was kind of an asshole.  Luckily once we arrived most of our interaction was with the local guide.
 
You know how we have to take our shoes off at some airports?  Hong Kong is not one of them.  Personally I like that.  Another great plus for the Hong Kong airport over those in the US: liquids.  The 3oz liquid limitation is now a standard around the world.  However it isn’t so much the rule but how it is enforced that makes a difference.  In the US you could have a Swarovski glass with water in it and US security would take it and throw it out.  No drinking it on the spot or any of that.  In a civilized airport like Hong Kong, they will let you dump/drink the bottle of water and will provide 3oz bottles for you to transfer your toiletry liquids if they are oversize.  Refreshing.
Our 1,500 mile, 3 hour flight to Beijing was ordinary, other than the flight attendants announcing that “the lavatory is concluded.”  Or phonetically, “the ravatory is conruded.” 

After arriving in Beijing a quick bus ride brought us to the Olympic complex.  Here we saw the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube.  The weather was humid and foggy so the photographs are a little rough.  The stadium is an amazing piece of architecture and engineering.  There is no discernible pattern to the outside.  Being and engineer, I can’t imagine what the drawings looked like for the building.  There isn’t a right angle or straight line in the entire thing.  Inside the stadium the roof cantilevers over all seating to protect from rain and sun.  There are no obstructed seats here.  The Water Cube is similarly impressive, though at night probably more so because of the illumination.
Before dinner our tour guide allowed the group to roam around a busy shopping area in the city.  Despite being a communist country they still have almost every brand from the West that you can imagine.  We stopped at a foreign language bookstore and found some cheap learning Chinese language software as well as every Lonely Planet book available. 
Dinner and all of the food on this trip was much better than our food on the Thai trip.  The style was more greasy

 than Hong Kong cuisine and closer to what the US considers “Chinese food.” After dinner (sorry Chrystal we should have gotten street food!), we headed to our hotel.  While being a 4 star hotel it was a little out of the city center.  Which really wasn’t a big deal because we were always just riding the tour bus anyways.  The hotel was easily the best I’ve ever stayed in.  We were on the 21st floor with a nice view.  The beds were large, perfect firmness and had great pillows.  In the closet they even had respirators for us to us in case of fire. 

September 5th – Day 6

Breakfast was great at this hotel.  Typical buffet style but it had everything.  Lots of western foods as well as typical Chinese foods.  The best was the mushroom noodle soup.  They also had  plenty of fruit (pomelos and dragon fruits) that we snagged for snacks during the day.  
 
Our first stop of the day was the Summer Palace.  Built in 1775, this location was used during the summer months by the emperors because it was cooler than the Forbidden City palace.  The architecture and landscaping of the grounds earned it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  It is very beautiful and I can only imagine if there 

hadn’t been so many people, it would have been very serene.  Not everything was polished and renovated here, which I liked.  This gave it a more authentic feel.  Many of the other historic places we had yet to visit didn’t have this.  Despite not being renovated there were many paintings on the beams overhanging the roofs.  These paints were very detailed and depicted many things.  My favorite part were the sculptures of the mythical animals. 
After a quick boat ride and lunch of 7-8 kinds of wontons we got back on the bus to visit Tiananmen Square.  The has been the site of many historic events.  Built in 1651, it has seen British and French troop encampments in 1860, proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, protests in 1976 and 1989, and most recently the celebration of 60 years of Chinese Communism.  The square is vast, 440,000 m^2 (108 acres) and contains only the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and light posts.  Otherwise the square is flat and devoid of any features even benches or trash cans.  People however are plentiful, like in all of China.  Before getting off the bus our tour guide warned us of taking pictures of demonstrators or basically anything out of the ordinary.  If the police, army or undercover police saw us they would confiscate our cameras.  Luckily this was an ordinary day and there was nothing going on.  Besides the Mausoleum and Monument there are two enormous gates, Zhengyangmen Gate and Tiananmen Gate.  Before the walls were torn down to open up the area, these gates were entrances that guarded the Forbidden City.
After the Square we visited an old Armory which was a little disappointing.  It didn’t have anything more interesting than a nice view of the city.  From there we headed off to a place that makes silk.  We learned about how silk duvets are made and had the opportunity to buy some stuff.  Much to our tour guide’s chagrin we didn’t.  Just a heads up.  If you are thinking getting a silk stuffed duvet, take a look at the silk fill on the inside.  If it doesn’t have little black flecks, it isn’t real silk.  The little flecks are silkworm poop.

Our evening was watching The Legend of Kung Fu, a live Kung Fu show. It wasn’t a cheap production either. This show was on par with Cirque du Soleil.  The show, which is a story, starts out with a small child being brought to the Kung Fu monastery to learn.  The child is scared so the master tells him the story of Chung Yi.  The show bounces back and forth in time between the new child and Chung Yi’s story as the master tells the new child about the story.  Chung Yi’s portions of the story are the action sequences.  Here’s a quick summary of Chung Yi’s story:

Chung Yi also came to the monastery as a small child but didn’t want to leave his mother.      The mother leaves him because it will be the best for him.  Chung Yi then starts to learn Kung Fu.   He picks it up easily and as he advances quickly he gets cocky.  During his adolescent years his mother dies and Chung Yi is lost emotionally because during his training he never experienced failure or loss.  Through Kung Fu meditation and his master’s instruction he is able to cope and becomes a great warrior.  After years of fighting many battles he returns to the monastery where his master is ready to die.  His master makes him the new master of the monastery.  

As the end of the story approaches the master asks the child if he is ready to begin his journey in Kung Fu, just as the master had done.  The child then figures out that the story of Chung Yi is actually his master’s story.  His master is Chung Yi.

During the action portions of the show there were some amazing stuff.  At the very beginning 2 small children, 8-9 years old, do handsprings across the stage.  Except they don’t use their hands.  They go onto their heads, then flip to their feet and back to their heads, all the way across the stage.  Later a guy takes two spears and rests them in the soft part of his throat.  He then thrust himself forward into the spears with no damage.  The same guy then balances on a single spear point on his stomach.  Again with no blood.
There was typical breaking of bamboo across people’s, backs, stomachs and heads.  Breaking of cast aluminum beams with the same.  One of the more elaborate stunts was a man laying down on three swords that were placed in a frame so the edges were up.  After laying down on them a double sided bed of nails was placed on him.  Another man then laid on the other side of the nails.  A large concrete block was then put on his stomach.  So to recap, there were swords, sharp edge up, a man, a bed of nails, another man, then a concrete block.  The block was then smashed with a sledgehammer.  No blood or guts.
Overall it was an amazing show, the soundtrack was great too.  I liked how it wasn’t just stunts, even though that’s the stuff I mentioned here.  Much of the show is about the story and is told through dance and action rather than dialog.  The only dialog is the “narration” done on the side  between the master and the child.  They occasionally bring the show to other venues including the US.  If you the opportunity I highly recommend it.  Here’s a YouTube video from the show.  Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures so the video will have to do.

September 6th – Day 7

Our weather in Beijing had been much cooler (mid 60’s to low 70’s) but much wetter than what we experienced in Hong Kong.  Our day going to the Great Wall had even cooler weather enhanced by the fact we were heading to higher elevations.  
 

The Great Wall is one of the most iconic cultural symbols in the world.  Despite what many people think the Great Wall is not visible from space with the naked eye.  No more so than Interstate 90 would be, since the wall is only about 15-20 ft wide and I-90 is bigger than that.  Even though it is 5,500 miles of wall and earthen barriers, it is very narrow and therefore can’t be seen.
Despite this the Great Wall is an amazing piece of history.  It began in the 5th century as a defense against northern invaders to China.  Over the centuries it was enlarged, shifted position and rebuilt into what it is today.  The Wall is so long that it is difficult to describe its construction in generalities.  Check out its Wikipedia page for more info.  I can however describe the section we saw, called the Badaling section.
The wall winds its way along the ridges at an obvious pass between the mountains.  There is a large gate and road that makes its way through the pass.  To the South the Wall rises and twists sharply.  Our tour guide advised only the hardy should attempt to climb this section.  To the North the Wall was less difficult.  We opted for the difficult section.  
In some areas the Wall was flat but inclined, like a handicapped ramp.  Those sections were few and far between however.  Most of this section was steep.  Close to 40-45 degrees in pitch.  The stairs were also not even, neither in rise nor run.  Some of the steps were huge!  A few of them were up to Chrystal’s knee.  The Badaling section of the wall is made from large bricks about the side of a patio paver, though of a much finer texture.  I am not a good 

enough writer to capture how amazing the structure is.  Hopefully some of my pictures do. 
On last note on the Wall.  As always we didn’t have unlimited time here and had to run back which was a harrowing experience.  I can’t imagine Chinese soldiers with gear running along the Wall, especially since the Chinese of +600 years ago were shorter than they are today.
After the Great Wall we stopped at the True Friendship Store, which is a HUGE souvenir place and restaurant.  We were treated with some Chinese alcohol and decent food.  After eating we browsed through the gift shop and I picked up some paper cuttings for a pretty good price.  I should have taken a picture of them before giving them away to my Mom and Grandma but I forgot.
After Lunch we headed to a Ming Dynasty tomb.  The history behind the tombs and their unearthing is interesting.  Unfortunately the pictures are not, even though I have some.  Check out the Wikipedia page if you are interested in the history.

September 7th – Day 8

Our first stop on our second to last day was at a pharmacy.  According to the tour guide the Tong Ren Tang pharmacy is one of the most well known brands in China.  It should be I guess because it has been around since 1669.  The pharmacy produces only traditional Chinese medicines.  Here we had our heath “diagnosed” by some doctors.  Perhaps I should also put doctor in quotes but I’ll restrain myself.  The inspection was no more than the doctor holding our hand in a certain way and looking at us.  After about 10-15 seconds they gave us their diagnosis.  They were more than happy to write us prescriptions on the spot for some of their medicines.  Chrystal and I opted out.
 
The Forbidden City.  We had driven by it a number of times on our way to or from other locations and it borders Tiananmen Square.  One of the things that must be stressed about the Forbidden City, or Imperial Palace, or Zijin Cheng in Mandarin, is that it is huge.  There are nearly 1,000 buildings in this 7.8 million square foot palace.  The City itself is completely walled in and had a large (170 ft wide) moat with only 4 bridges.  Since construction was finished in 1420 until the 19th century it was the political center of China.  The Emperors of the Ming though Qing dynasties made residence there.
Two things from our experience.  First the tour was a double edged sword.  We spent very little time compared to the size of the place.  I’m not sure how much time we spent but a person  could very easily spend all day.  Thankfully much of the sights were labelled with both Chinese and English (or maybe I should say Engrish) signs 

for all the interesting buildings and artifacts.  The second thing is the Chinese have done a phenomenal job in restoring the external portions of the buildings.  Too good in fact.  Much of it looks too nice and doesn’t show its age of 600 years at all.  This was one of the things I liked about the Summer Palace, the feeling of age.  Inside the buildings, or at least the few that were accessible, it was very cheap looking.  Dirty scratched plexiglass covered the lower portions of the walls to keep people from damaging the ornate wood carvings.  The areas that were glassed off showing living quarters and worshiping areas and such were very dirty.  The other down side is we went on a day after the Palace was closed unexpectedly.  As a result all the tours (from mainland China) that missed going Sunday were there with us on Monday. 
After leaving the Forbidden City we headed back to the Olympic Center.  While we had already seen the stadium and swimming pools, we hadn’t seen the massage center.  At the massage center we got foot and calf massages from the official Chinese Massage team that serviced the Chinese athletes during the games.  
It was very interesting talking to our masseurs.  They were in their early 20’s at most.  Chrystal’s Mandarin isn’t super but it was good enough to have a conversation.  They asked if I was from Canada, if we had cars and what we did for work.  The questions themselves were the same that young people exchange here or in Europe.  However, our answers compared to their’s really underscored how different life in the US is compared to China.  These kids didn’t have cars.  They probably never would.  They would never get a chance to visit the US.  They might only be 

able to visit the areas around Beijing, never being able to take a long vacation like we were.  In comparison we were rich to these guys.  Here we were, visiting Beijing, getting massages, showing them what my car looks like on my shiny new iPhone and taking pictures with a digital SLR (which they wanted to buy off me).  It wasn’t that these guys were dumb and didn’t make it in school and that’s why they hadn’t “made it” in the real world.  China just has so many people that you really have to excel in order to get yourself into a job that isn’t just a dead end.  Of course some people might make the same argument with people in the US.  It is a valid point, however, the lack of opportunity in China is much greater than here.
Two funny things stick out in my mind from our massages.  First, our two masseurs tried to hook me up with one of the female masseuses.  Being the only white guy in the room, and probably the only one that had been in there in a while, she asked where I was from.  Our masseurs told her.  She said she would have guessed Canada, not the US!  I’m not sure why I look Canadian, I don’t have a maple leaf on my backpack or anything.  
The second funny thing was when our guys asked about Chrystal’s Mandarin and how she learned it.  During her explanation she said she only had learned Taiwanese Mandarin, not Chinese Mandarin.  At that point the guy Chrystal was talking to got a little quiet and responded by saying that she did learn Chinese Mandarin, just southern Mandarin.  At that point Chrystal realized what she had said, and what the guy was telling her.  To the Chinese Taiwan is China.  Talking about Taiwan as if it isn’t part of China is considered treason.  At that point Chrystal, being Chrystal, got scared and paranoid because she thought that the kid would turn her into the police.  There was a minute or two of silence and then Chrystal apologized, “about what she said earlier.”  Either because of the language differences or because the guy was trying to downplay the issue, he responded by saying (in Mandarin of course) “I forgot what you said earlier.”
The incident made an impression on me and certainly Chrystal about something we take for granted in the US, and most of the West, freedom of speech.  Here we could shake hands with the president and tell him that we thought he was doing a terrible job with no repercussions.  We are perfectly free to say anything we want without fear someone will report us.  China is not like that.

September 8th – Day 9

Our last day in Beijing was a relatively relaxed one.  We got to ride on a pedicab, or what most would call a 

rickshaw.  Our journey was down a traditional Chinese style street called a hutong, or a narrow street.  There were some parked cars on the street, but I’m not quite sure how they got there since the streets are very narrow and have many 90 degree turns.  Either way it was a fun little 15 minutes around a different type of neighborhood. 
 
Our last stop before heading to the airport was a visit to the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan), another UNESCO site.  This site was also constructed during the same time as the Forbidden City, 1406 to 1420.  The Temple, accompanying altar, and other buildings are located within a large park.  The park is very popular for exercising and for retirees to gather, play music, games, or dance.  We saw all of this while exiting the main temple area.
From the front gate we entered a large walled off area.  The wall is in the shape of a square when viewed from above.  There was then a smaller circular wall which we passed through on our way to the three tiered altar.  The altar what very interesting.  The number nine represents heaven in Chinese culture.  The steps going to each tier were composed of nine or multiples of nine stones.  In the highest tier there is a single “Heavenly Center Stone” surrounded by nine concentric rings radiating outward.  The first ring has nine stones, the second 18 and so on until the ninth ring has 81 stones.  Unfortunately this was difficult to capture because of the number of people visiting.  Many people were waiting their turn for a few seconds to pray on the center stone.
From the altar we passed through the circular and square walls and through another circular one surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven.  This was an impressive structure about 50-60 ft high. the building is completely round and has a parabolic cone type shape for the roof that comes to a point.  We couldn’t go inside but through the large door we could see vases and large bronze pots with offerings in them.  Despite the renovation that occurred in 2005 there were no lights inside so pictures were worthless. PICTURE
From there we passed through another wall and gate which allowed us to see the main attraction, the Temple of Heaven.  The Temple is about a quarter of a mile from the Vault of Heaven along a walkway, or bridge that is raised a few feet above the trees and grassy park.
Inside the courtyard for the Temple are three other buildings which are halls for housing sacrifices (not of the living kind) and for praying.  The center piece is the Temple which sits again on a three tiered altar.  The Temple is three stories and has three roofs, and is similar in style to the Vault of Heaven.  Given its size and intricate paintings and carvings around it the Temple is very impressive.  Again like the Vault of Heaven the inside is off limits to the public, though the inside is visible from main door and large windows.  And as before there is no illumination so pictures aren’t worth taking.  Inside is a grander version of the Vault’s inside.  There were many paintings and carvings on the walls.  The entire complex was quite impressive, but still a little disappointing.  The restoration cleaned things us too nice and it looks brand new.  More preservation rather than restoration would have been nice.
From Tian Tan we headed back to Beijing airport.  On our way, and the previous day as well, we were treated to blue skies.  Clear days are far and few between in Beijing because of the smog. On this day though it was very nice with high remnants of the rain clouds that had been with us for the first few days of the trip.  Bye bye Beijing.  The ravatory is concruded!

September 9th – Day 10

Our day back from Beijing was our Macau day.  Macau is a former Portuguese colony, the first European colony in Asia, started over 450 years ago.  It is also an island about 65km (40 miles) west of Hong Kong.  Traveling there by high speed ferry, which leaves every 15 minutes, takes a little less than an hour.  Next time maybe we’ll take the 15 minute helicopter flight over.  😉
 
Similar to Hong Kong the Chinese were granted control over the island in 1999.  Also like Hong Kong it is a Special Administrative Region (SAR).  The island is rapidly growing and has the only legal gambling in all of China.  The casinos here are prolific.  The growth since 2002, when there was only one casino, to today is staggering.  Since 2002 Macau surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues.  It isn’t all that surprising if you think about it.  There are 1.3 billion people in China, there are only 311 million in the US, that’s 4 times more!  In addition to revenue, the Sands Macau is the largest casino in the world based on number of table games.  Chrystal and I didn’t go to gamble, but I did take a peak at one of the card playing floors at Venetian Macau and it is endless.  To give you an 

idea at how quickly Macau is growing.  The 10.5 million square foot Venetian Macau, the fourth largest building by area in the world, isn’t even in Google Maps satellite photos yet.   
So what is there to do in Macau besides loose money?  There are lots of other sights.  There are colonial forts, churches, beaches, and quaint little neighborhoods.  So what was our plan?  GO KARTING!  Macau is home to the Grand Prix of Macau, which is a Formula 3 series stop.  The race goes through the city, similar to Monaco in Europe.  The club that organizes the race also owns a karting track.  The track is enormous.  It looks more like a normal race car circuit than it does a karting track.  They have up to seven different configurations and even have two person karts.  Chrystal and I thought this would be an awesome experience.  However shortly after getting off the ferry we found out that the track was closed in preparation for the CIK-FIA World Karting Championship.  The FIA also runs Formula 1, the highest level of road motorsports racing in the world.  So if the FIA karting final race is being held in Macau you can bet the track is of the highest quality.  It certainly would be the best track that we would ever race on.  I guess that will have to wait until next time.
This again was a tight schedule day and Chrystal had to leave before I did.  She had to visit with her family.  At the advice of a unbelievably helpful guide trying to solicit clients at the ferry station we took the Venetian shuttle bus (free) to the Venetian.  From there we walked, and got a little lost on the way, to a Portuguese restaurant we had read about in the New York Times called Manel O.  We finally got there and found it to be closed!  No matter.  There was another famous Portuguese restaurant we heard about called Fernando, though this one was quite a bit farther away.
After a spirited cab ride to the southern end of the island we found Fernando’s.  It is open to the ocean and we got an OK seat.  One of the interesting things about this place is that its large bar area, almost dead while we were there, is outdoors and shaded by a huge tree.  The tree sits in the middle of the bar area with all of its twisted curling roots going down into the concrete.

We wanted to try bacalhau, which is salted codfish.  Chrystal ordered grilled bacalhau and I ordered fried cuttlefish.  As for beverages I ordered a Portuguese beer called Super Bock.  Interestingly it was not a bock but a pilsner.  Chrystal ordered a mango orange juice.  There were two sizes small and large.  She opted for the smaller size.  This was a mistake.  While ample for a single serving this juice was amazing.  After sucking down the first one we had to order the large, which was a pitchers worth, with ice.  It would be nice to be able to find this stuff around here but it was from South Africa, so I’m guessing it isn’t available here.
After lunch we killed some time walking a little on the beach in the shade of the palm trees.  Unfortunately Chrystal had to make her exit to get back to Hong Kong in time to see her family.  On my own, with no translator, I figured I would take a trip on the bus to Coloane Village.  
I got on the right bus, but to make sure I checked with the driver.  I pointed on the map to where I wanted to go but the driver looked at the map like it was the first time he’d ever seen one before.  After studying it for a 10 count he gave a sheepish nod.  I hopped off the bus two stops late, as I wasn’t really sure what my stop looked like.  The driver, who only needed to look over his left shoulder a little as I was sitting in the closest seat to him, didn’t give me an indication that I should get off.  No big deal.  I just walked back up the road.  From there I wandered around the tiny village of Coloane.  
There wasn’t much going on, some shops and restaurants, one that was filled with locals.  I checked out my book and it said there was a small temple and cemetery not far from where I was.  I took a walk and saw lots of stray dogs along the way.  At the temple, which wasn’t much of a temple, more just a cemetery, I saw a random man moving junk.  I waved and he returned it was with a friendly smile.  There wasn’t much going on here so I took a few pictures and went back to the main square of Coloane.  By that point it was about my time to head back to the ferry station.  The tickets are cheaper if you buy them round trip.  Even though they leave every 15 minutes you still need to make it to your departure time.  Otherwise you have to wait to see if there are open seats or pay a fee, I can’t remember which.  Either way I headed back.  Aside from the crazy American show they were playing on the boat, called Man vs. Beast, which pitted 20 midgets against an Asian elephant in a airplane tugging contest, and a Navy SEAL against a chimpanzee in an obstacle course, it was uneventful.
The rest of the night didn’t have much going on.  The next day was our flight out so we wanted to get a decent nights sleep before departing.

September 10th – Day 11

Departure day!  Even though our flight didn’t leave until 10:30am we needed to get to the airport around 8:30am.  This put us out of our Island Pacific hotel room pretty early.  Luckily we knew exactly what to do because we had done the same thing for the Beijing trip.
 
While checking in and making our way to our gate we noticed a white couple who had a Chinese baby with them.  They also had a folder of papers too.  They must be adopting a kid and they were just picking her up.  We just hoped they wouldn’t be near us because sitting next to a baby for 15 hours isn’t anyone’s idea of fun.
Once getting on the plane our worst fears were realized.  The couple was a few rows from us, as well as five more of them.  Within five rows of us, front and back, there were no less than five babies.  All of them adopted kids going back to the US.  Some of them had parents who were repeats to the Chinese adoption game.  Luckily none of them were too bad for the flight.  It was strange though thinking about what these people were doing.  Think about what kind of paperwork must be required to remove a person from a country.  Now think about what it must be like to get through US immigrations with that person.  You can’t even go through security with a bottle of water, think about bringing a baby who’s not a citizen.
That’s about it!  A quick flight leaving at 11:00am from Hong Kong and landing at 2:30pm in Newark is easy.  Only a 2.5 hour flight, right?  Well don’t forget that that 15 hours transpires between those clock times because of the time difference.
Once again our trip to Hong Kong, and other Asian destination, was a lot of fun.  I definitely want to go back.  There are plenty of things still to see.  Gobi desert, Himalayas, Tibet, Chinese countryside, Macau Karting Track, Macau Tower (and its roped aerial attractions), as well as many other things.  Stay tuned for next time.