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Holidays November 2005

Holidays at last. It feels strange as itís just the two of us and itís just for fun. We havenít done that for a long time, in fact only once and that was only for a long weekend. Itís always been having the children visit or a marine trip, or with Audreyís grandmother. My children are growing up and donít want to spend time doing things with parents (they want to do adult things Ė for some reason that isnít the same as we experienced adults want to do), and the weather is too cold for a marine trip yet (thatís planned for week in February), and Audreyís grandmother passed away a few months ago. We have just finished dealing with her affairs.

We need a holiday and that is what this will be. Work is forgotten, it will have to manage without us and all the rest of those nagging problems are being put behind us. Two weeks off, four days at home and then flying to Hong Kong for 8 nights. Shopping, sightseeing, Chinese food and a complete break. And possibly a bit more shopping.

Saturday was much like any other Saturday, except for a bit of price comparison shopping to make sure we donít spend too much money on things on our shopping. The packing has started. The washing is being done and planned with care to make sure I have enough socks for the trip and a few days when we return (we donít do washing while we are away if we can help it). The anticipation, the expectations. I can feel holidays happening around me.

Sunday and a relaxing day at home. This may not sound like the ideal way to start a holiday, but to us it's wonderful. It was actually full of packing and doing loads of laundry and checking the weather in Hong Kong . It's cooling down nicely, particularly from Thursday, which is our first full day there.

Digital photography adds to the joys of picture taking by giving back to the photographer full control of his (or her) image. This comes at a price of the photographer spending time with PhotoShop or similar program to get the image right. Previously this was done by the photo lab, and I for one was seldom happy with the results. It also means that if you are away for a week or more that you have to either have a lot of memory cards, keep stopping off at a lab or friend's PC to have the images put on CD or travel with your own laptop. I have 7GB of memory cards, but travel with a small laptop and backup drive. I believe in having 2 copies of any data I want to keep.

This all adds to my cabin luggage. My camera is not going in checked luggage. Neither is my laptop and portable drive. I now have my cabin luggage together, it weighs 10kg, and the limit per item is 7kg. We are in business class so we can have two items but I hate being loaded down with multiple bags. I'm doing it with one, but my camera bag is in my backpack and can be removed if need be to give me 2 bags, one 4kg and one 6kg. I have everything for my checked luggage ready to go also.

We have to be careful that Saskia (our cat) doesn't catch us packing, so we tend to put everything together in one place and put it in the suitcase in the last minute.

The new A380 Airbus flew in to Melbourne today (Monday) and Audrey and I went to have a look at it. We aren't normally plane spotters, but this is not a common occurrence (there is only one of them after all, and we plan on flying on one in a few years time). The observation deck was opened for the first time since September 11 2001 and it was very crowded. It was also in the wrong place to see the plane in the air. We went out to the top level of the car park with the other people who have some idea of how planes fly and watched it fly in from a speck in the sky to touching down on the runway. We wandered back towards the observation deck and found it closed due to the crush of people who had piled into watch the final taxi of the plane. There was a general grumble from those who were leaving.

We also went in to the bank and put a few things in to our safe deposit box. We do this every time we go away for more than a few days. It's only special things we take in. Burglars can have the TV, DVD, video etc. But what little is left of Audrey's family jewellery and the camera bodies I use that I can't easily replace go where it's safe. Maybe we are paranoid, but having lost family jewellery and hard to replace cameras before we like to make life hard for them!

I'm 3 days behind in writing this. Been too busy doing other things. Tuesday we actually packed the suitcase. It's the first time we have used this suitcase so we weren't really sure how much would fit. We were planning on only taking one case over, probably more coming back, but only one over. It all fitted, but with not a lot of room to spare. Not because of clothes - we actually packed quite light for the trip - but because of the gadgets and spare shoes and our infamous green canvas bag. The green canvas bag was bought in Alice Springs in 2001 as we were travelling around Australia and ran out of luggage space. This was the first trip we did entirely on business class (and paid for entirely by frequent flyer points as this one is) and we had luggage allowance to spare when we left but none when we arrived home (105kg total fully used, only 70kg plus cabin luggage on this trip).

Anyway we managed to pack without arousing the cat's suspicions. The housework is all done - I hate coming home to a house that needs work - and we are ready to fly.

Wednesday morning and we are up showered and breakfasted by 9 as was the plan. We finally roll out the suitcase. The cat was sitting on the couch cleaning a paw when she saw it. She watched it roll past with her paw still in midair and looking at us with a hurt expression on her face. A suitcase means the humans are going away. The emergency human (aka catsitter Barbara) will come around each day and feed her and change her litter and spend half an hour playing with her, but it's not the same as having the normal humans in the house.

The taxi comes at 9:30 and we head off to the airport. There's the domestic flight to Sydney (the original plan was to fly international from Melbourne but they changed the way it worked). This meant we got to do a bus transfer in Sydney. It was an interesting bus ride as we got to see all the planes quite close up as we drove around. If you ever get the chance then try and sit on the left hand side of the bus (that's where we were) as you get a better view of the big planes. Through immigration and a quick stop in the Qantas club to see what it's like, but we ignored the food as we had already had a light breakfast at home, a morning snack in the Melbourne Qantas club, had lunch on the plane up from Melbourne and bought some Krispy Krème doughnuts for later. Then they served us a 3 course meal (business class remember) at about 4pm Melbourne time on the way to Hong Kong.

The video on demand let us choose from a big selection of movies and TV programs. I watched Madagascar, Batman begins, part of War of the worlds - I prefer the original and listened to the business talk radio channel. I also tried to sleep a bit on the Skybed. Our seats stretch out almost completely flat to let you be more comfortable and sleep. At least that is the story, being a day time flight (landing 21:15 Hong Kong time) it was difficult to sleep and the best I managed was a few minutes of dozing. Should be better on the return flight which is overnight.

The morning view from our bedroom window.

Our first day in Hong Kong started with breakfast in the hotel. This is the only time we plan on doing this as we prefer a light breakfast and to have a sit down lunch to give us a rest in the middle of the day. MongKok doesn't really start happening until about noon so after a bit of a look a round we caught the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui and had a look Around Nathan road. Interesting stuff, but lots of touts on every corner trying to sell you a Rollex copy. I have this habit of looking at people who address me which is good in most other parts of the world, but you should never make eye contact with a tout or they won't leave you alone. I wore my sunglasses so they couldn't see my eyes and they subsided a bit.

This part of Tsim Sha Tsui is very reminiscent of parts of Berlin, with street sculptures, wide footpaths and glittering shop fronts.

I did see a couple of very nice lenses that would fit my camera in a small camera shop that did mostly second hand gear, but I could never justify the cost. A 600 mm f4 for HK$35,000 and a 300mm f2.8 for HK$18,500. These are serious lenses and apart from putting a serious dent in my bank balance would put a serious dent in our luggage allowance. If I took up wild life photography as a profession I would own them, but for the small amount of time I would use them I can't justify them. Nice to see them though. I did find the lens I want to buy back in MongKok, but it comes with a China only Warranty and I have to see if I can get an international warranty from the importer or if the AU$130 discount on what I can buy it for in Australia is worth not having a warranty.

We tend to always have dinner in the hotel at least once while we are travelling. We did this tonight. Another buffet and like at breakfast a wide range of dishes from all over the planet. Very nice deserts in very small portions so you can try several, or there are not one, but two chocolate fountains (white and dark chocolate) in to which you can dip fresh fruit, marshmallows or any thing else they happen to have. Or they will make you fresh crepes while you wait. All in all very nice but filling.

Friday morning found us up on the Peak. The observation building was closed due to refurbishment, so we looked around from the road. There was a rickshaw driver looking for business. He was the same person who was there when we visited in 1999.

I didnít see his rickshaw move once, but he did take tourists cameras and photograph them in his rickshaw.

In 1999 however I was on crutches due to breaking my 5th metatarsal 24 hours before we were due to fly out. Don't go to Hong Kong if you are on crutches. While it is slightly better now than it was then itís still very unfriendly to those who don't have full mobility.

The Peak tram was interesting and going down backward even more so. It's a cable tram system with two cars that cross paths halfway and has been running since the century before last.

The Peak Tram at the bottom of itís run filling with passengers.

A flower found growing on the Peak. There is lots of greenery in Hong Kong, itís just all on ground that slopes more than 45 degrees.

We finally made it to Audrey's jeweller and we spent some time going over how she wanted her gems that she had purchased through eBay arranged and set. Next Wednesday we pick up several new items of handmade jewellery.

We wandered the camera shops and markets of Central and saw some interesting animals for sale for dinner. The person running the poultry stall had no customers and did not look happy with his current lot in life, but the bird flu thing has a lot of people scared. Only about one in 200 people are wearing surgical masks in the streets.

We almost caught the Star ferry back to the main land, but decided to head off to Causeway Bay to do more shopping. We now have nearly all our shopping done, and will have more knives in our luggage than John Lock in Lost!

I decided to buy the lens I wanted and we went out after dinner to get it and have a general look around at the nightlife. It's bright as day outside, only the sky has gone dark. There are more people than during the day and I'm getting tired of taking small steps going through the crowd. I like to have room to take long steps, but it just doesn't work here.

To get to Stanley on Saturday morning, we caught a bus from the Star Ferry terminal in Central, which meant we got to go across on the ferry. The bus follows a narrow winding road cut into the side of a cliff. We were sitting in the top of a double decker swerving and swaying its way along the road and running into trees that thought it might be safe to grow out over the road. I think this is how they keep the trees trimmed, just run large busses along the road constantly. I lost count of the number of branches we drove through and I stopped flinching after the first couple of minutes.

Picture of a Star Ferry taken from another Star Ferry.

Display at the front of a shop taken from inside the shop.

 

I remember Stanley as the place where my arms first gave out from hobbling along on crutches last time we were here. It's so nice to be able to go into all the shops and look at the merchandise. There were a lot of souvenirs, which really don't interest us as we aren't taking anything back for anyone except ourselves. My souvenirs have always been my photos and more recently this sort of journal. I have no idea what I would do with a collection of nick knacks from every place I visit. But we did manage some shopping. Audrey prefers silk shirts for wearing to work and going out. These normally cost about $50 in Melbourne. Here they cost about $15, so Audrey stocked up. I found some polo shirts too, which is a good thing as I didn't bring enough for each day and I prefer them to the button up shirts I did have.

We arrived early to avoid the crowds, and soon afterwards there were crowds!

 

Then it was time for lunch and we went looking for Yum Cha. There were restaurants providing all sorts of fare and touts proclaiming how they will all be just what you need to make your life complete. But there was no sign of any Yum Cha. And then a tout came up to us and was telling us about this great restaurant upstairs on level 3 where every table had water view and they served western food. So Audrey asked him where a good Yum Cha restaurant was. This is an approach that I would not have thought would work. "Ah!," he said. "On level one is Yum Cha, but on level 3 is very good western food. All tables with water view. Level one for Yum Cha, level 3 for western food". We thanked him and headed for level one. It was very good. Apart from the best spring rolls that Audrey has ever eaten, we had goose with pineapple and some very good dim sum.

 

Waiting for the customers.

Out the back of Stanley Markets are some rocks water and not bad scenery. It gets used a lot for impromptu photo shoots.

More out the back of the markets.

The obligatory mollusc. This one was crawling up the boat ramp looking for someone to photograph it. Really! After I took its picture it turned around and headed back to the water.

Chinese fashions, which I didnít actually see many of the locals wearing.

This cat is not really for sale. It just keeps its owner company in his market stall.

After lunch we found this Chinese dragon and accompanying band keeping the tourists occupied.

I think these people had been to Disneyland at some time during their Hong Kong holiday.

This tree is taking firm root in the roof of this building at Stanley markets.

 

 

After a final look at some market stalls we missed we wandered over to get on the roller coaster bus back to Central and do a bit more tree trimming. This time the trip had the added excitement of being on the cliff side so all we could see out the side (and occasionally the front) of the bus was a shear drop down to the water and rocks below. People pay money for rides that are less scary than this!

We were on our way back to the hotel to unload before going to the goldfish market, but we decided that we really should buy me my camera bag that doesn't look like a camera bag. I like to carry a camera with me all the time, but there are times when you don't want to advertise the fact and when you need to be presentable (a trip to the opera for example - yes really). So I needed a nice looking bag. There really aren't any available in Australia that meet what I am after and I had decided on a Billingham from looking in other shops here and on the Internet from home. The one camera shop in Tsim Sha Tsui that we had not yet been to sell Billingham so we went there after crossing over on the Star Ferry. They have Billingham, but not the one I wanted. Either too big, or too much like a camera bag. So it was back to the MTR and over to central where I knew the bag I wanted was on the shelf and we bought it there. Finally, shopping bags hanging everywhere we made it back to the hotel to rest our feet for half an hour before heading to the Goldfish market.

Goldfish market is a bit of an understatement really. There are lots of goldfish, but there are all sorts of other marine and freshwater animals. Carp about 80cm long, turtles, corals, colourful seaslugs, starfish, the list goes on and on.

We slept in again Sunday. We seem to have reset our body clocks to waking up at 7am and going to bed around midnight. This is slightly more sleep than we normally have. After discussing what we still want to do and soon we went down and had a light breakfast and headed off to the local market.

This is a real market, one where the locals buy their daily food. I got laughed at by one of the locals when I was photographing some live crustaceans that looked very strange compared to what I am used to seeing back home - like 20cm long isopods. Again there was very fresh fish, this time fish heads gasping for breath with the rest of their bodies removed. Women cracking shell fish with a hammer to remove the meat inside, cutting boards being washed with a bucket of water in to the gutter where the blood and scales of fish slowly disappeared. This is what I like to see in another culture, not how much they have managed to adapt to the western world so that the tourists feel at home, but how they live their daily lives.

Woman cracking shells with a hammer.

Some of the animals on sale (frogs, turtles, molluscs) were very similar to animals we saw yesterday in the goldfish market. Frog by the way is quite nice. I've had it twice now. Once in Hungary with a bowl of garlic soup, and in Central at Yeug Kee a couple of days ago, sauteed with fresh bamboo shoots.

 

Frogs were available by the bag or the bundle. We didnít see them trying to weigh the frogs but that is apparently an interesting sight!

This frog wants out. Maybe he doesnít want to be invited to dinner.

Chinamanís fingernails is the common name for these Ė Iím not sure what they call them in Hong Kong and I didnít know you could eat them until I saw then here. Iíve only ever seen the shells, which are long and fragile.

 

 

 

This gentleman didnít want his geese photographed. I normally respected this but I was already pressing the shutter release when I saw him come into the picture.

 

We have a species like this in Victoria, but ours is only 5cm long.

 

Dried lime peal.

Fresh Lime peel.

 

It took 3 neat cuts and about 15 seconds for this woman to peel a lime. The peel was set aside to be dried and the limes were sold skinless.

 

Roses are sold with the buds held closed.

The poultry shops here in Mongkok seemed to be doing a great trade compared to the ones we saw in Central a couple of days ago. Less fear, less knowledge of the threats of bird flu? I don't know, but the difference is obvious.

There are a couple of significant items still on our shopping list. One is some nice chocolate, another is a nice emerald for Audrey, a screen protector for our tiny laptop (8.9 inch screen weighing in at just under 1kg) and finally a bottle of nice scotch for our real estate agent who did such a good job selling Audrey's grandmother's unit. All of these items should be able to be found at Ocean terminal. We found some chocolate. Royce Nama chocolate from Japan. They had samples out and we decided that it was worth a try. It comes in various types - white milk etc - but the sample (and our preference) was the dark bitter. It's very nice. We bought 2 boxes. There was also a Leonidas, which make very nice chocolates but the range was limited and a Godiva (the best chocolates in the world) which also had a limited range. Maybe we have been spoilt buying chocolates in Belgium. Alcohol seems to be in short supply. Even the DFS (Duty Free Store) targeted at tourists only had a small display. There was a set of 4 200ml bottle of Jonnie Walker (green, black, gold and blue) which we may go back for. We did find screen protectors, but not the right size, so we will measure up the laptop and buy one that will make 2 or 3 protectors out of one. Emeralds are just too expensive here so I think Audrey will go home disappointed.

We are giving our feet a rest tonight and having a quiet evening in and dinner in the hotel's Chinese restaurant. The menu looks good and we will soon see about the food.

The closest we had to a colourful sunset. Itís also the only one we were in the hotel room for.

The food was excellent. We started with suckling pig and roast goose then had deep fried garoupa (fish) in spicy and sour sauce and sweet and sour pork. The spicy and sour sauce was a bit on the spicy side, but the fish was superb. We were asked to fill in a survey card and mentioned about the spiciness of the garoupa sauce. As we were leaving they asked how it could have been better. It's nice to see people working on things so quickly!

©Copyright 1998-2003 Leon Altoff