HK and me


Here are a few random things I have noticed about HK:

-This ain’t China. It seems odd to say, but the people seem very different here. This place seems much more like a less culturally diverse New York / London hybrid. And whenever mainland China is mentioned, I swear I detect mild hostility or open disgust from the locals.

-Along with the above, the locals don’t seem to be subject to any censorship. At least not on the TV or Internet.

-Hong Kong has a lot of interesting architecture and business that happens in-between spaces, especially going up hills and stairs.

-Like something out of Blade Runner, the signage is crazy and everywhere, but kinda cool.

-I have never seen a city where more people have their shirts off. (West Hollywood during pride festival notwithstanding) These people are mostly (by no means all) manual laborers, but it is interesting nonetheless how culturally more acceptable it is here to have one’s shirt off.

-On my walk this morning I noticed an extraordinary amount of people working out in various ways. Lots of Tai chi, running, walking, swimming, yoga and even outdoor weight training. And all ages were participating. This seems like a culture that values physical health. I also noticed a ton of sports clubs and health facilities.

-So many malls, so little time.

-They have these wacky wide taxis here that they claim hold five. But should there be three or four in the back? We actually took one of these back to our hotel last night. (all six of us. It was a squeeze.)

-According to my internet and last night’s reconnaissance, HK is a city that only parties on weekends.

Mental Health Day


Tempers seem to be running a bit short in our group, so I decided to take a mental health day and walk around by myself. Hong Kong is a very shiny city. Everything sparkles and even where it doesn’t there are interesting spaces. I bought a one day metro pass and have been exploring. The metro (called the MTR) is amazingly efficient and clean and easy to use. I will try to post some pics later today.

Slick Ticket Scam


It happens at least once in every country. I got scammed. This one was pretty slick. As we arrived at the train station in Beijing, there was a commotion going on as a guy was screaming at the woman at the help desk counter. I was standing nearby when a Chinese man, in perfect English, asks me if I need any help finding my train as he grabs my ticket out of my hand. I said, “No thanks, I know where we are going.” and he handed my ticket back to me and went on his way. That is to say, I THOUGHT he had handed my ticket back to me. In fact, he handed me a ticket on the same train, for the same date, but in seated class (about half the price of my ticket). Fortunately, the people on the train accepted my story and didn’t make me pay for my seat a second time (although they started out asking me to) and so I got to ride with our group in style. The guy must’ve sold the ticket to get the difference in price and made off with the money (which wasn’t all that much by the way, perhaps $60). Now I understand the reason for putting names on tickets.

pretty damn similar, huh?

One day to HK


Bye, Beijing. We are headed via 24 hour train to Hong Kong. On our last train from Xian, we were assigned 2nd class seats when we had paid for 1st. What this meant was that we were in 4 person berths instead of 2 person berths, so I got to share with 2 middle aged women from Beijing whose friend (we’ll call her Sylvia) from down the hall spent much of the evening with us.  It appears that Sylvia is going through some sort of domestic squabble with her husband. She was tearful and angry, sharing loud and animated complaining to her friends (and me by sad association). I don’t speak Mandarin, but I feel almost certain I heard the words for “cheating bastard”.

As interesting as all of this was, I wouldn’t mind a little high class comfort for this longer train journey to Hong Kong. See you soon.

Wither the Commies?


I haven’t seen this much consumerism since Bangkok. Shopping mania pervades Beijing (and Xian to be frank). I have a number of questions about consumerism and capitalism in China. These are supposed to be anathema to communism, aren’t they? In truth China is not communist at all, just totalitarian. Mao would be rolling in his grave, don’t you think? And it seems odd that as people have money and freedom to buy things, they still have no ability to criticize the government. Apparently capitalism has no need of democracy. Sounds like the worst of both worlds: conspicuous consumption and exploitation of the worker. And yet, look what China can accomplish with its authoritarianism. Massive public works projects, crazy economic growth, forced grand scale social changes, etc. The questions, as always, are about who wields the power and what checks there are on it.

What do the Chinese themselves feel about it? Do they feel that they are missing anything? People I have spoken with here say that although there is grand censorship, many people know how to get around it via the Internet. Mostly people seem completely apolitical. Bread and Circuses, how long can they hold the attention of the populace? Still, I have a lot of questions as I am here:

– What is health care like here, and is access equal for all?
– What is taught in schools related to communism (Marxist, Maoist, etc) and how do they square that with Chinese capitalism?
– What can be owned?
– How are people taxed (where does the government get its money)?
– What is the state of Social Security (pensions, welfare, etc)
– How much of enterprise is state run vs private?
– What qualifies for censorship? (for example, it seems ok to be gay here, but not to say anything negative about the Chinese stock market)

I will be scouring the internet and asking a lot of people these and other questions over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Beijing, Forbidden


Beijing has been very interesting, and raises a huge number of questions for me.

The city is spotless and there seems to be new construction everywhere (probably in prep for the Olympics). I can’t get over how shiny and new everything feels (even the old stuff). The air pollution, while not great, is way better than Xian.

The Forbidden City is OVERWHELMING. There is no other way to describe it. It is massive and impressive as hell, but very difficult to integrate in a 3 hour visit. It is the kind of place that needs to be visited piecemeal over many months. It is so extensive that one really gets overloaded and loses the awe of the place. By the end of 3 hours, we just wanted to escape.

Taxi hailing is a mystery in this city. There are taxi stands that one can go to and SOMETIMES taxis will stop, sometimes not. Outside of that, one SHOULD be able to hail a taxi anywhere, but they take one look at us and mostly keep on going. Can anyone enlighten me? I do seem to be able to get them if I wait in front of a hotel and ask the doorman to hail.

Gay life seems pretty open here, much more so than in India. We went to a nice bar last night called Destination. I met a sweet guy from Los Angeles and we hung out. (I did feel a little guilty I admit, like I should be more focused on local, ahem, cuisine.)

Death defying


My stepdad was obsessed with the wall of Xian. He was in a hurry to climb to the top at all costs. So much so that he forced the bunch of us to take a rickety metal ladder up to the top of the wall (when there were plenty of actual stairs to climb).

From Xian 2

To Xian


The high altitude train was for the most part not bad. A little cramped (and we were in the deluxe seats), but very new and mostly pleasant. We did feel a little short of breath when reaching 16000 ft, so we plugged in our oxygen tubes and were breathing a bit easier until we reached the lower altitudes.

We are now in Xian, where today we will go to see a bit of the city and the terra cotta warriors. I walked around near our hotel this morning and my first impression is that the city is spookily spotless. There isn’t a stray paper or morsel of anyting anywhere.

From to Xian