It's been 8 years since I've been in Hong Kong. In 8 years cities change, and memories aren't always accurate.
I had heard that since 1997 Hong Kong wasn't the same. I had heard the city had lost some of what made it so unique.
"Too many mainlanders" "Too expensive" "No more tourists" "Not exciting anymore" "Not Hong Kong anymore, not the same, now it's part of China"
I'd heard alot. It was pretty disheartening. I used to spend summers there when I was younger, and even at a young age I remember Hong Kong being so alive. It had more character than any city I'd ever been to.
Hong Kong isn't what I remember. But after 8 years what is?
But where does this leave my relationship with Hong Kong?
I Love Hong Kong. Being in Hong Kong reminds me of how far some cities in Asia have to go (re Shanghai). Hong Kong isn't what it was. But that isn't really important. Hong Kong is anything you want it to be. Anything that a person could want in a modern metropolis is there.
Hong Kong is everything I want it to be. It lacks nothing. There is no replacement for Hong Kong and there never will be. Shanghai can try, but for me Hong Kong is and always will be one of the greatest cities in the world.
You do have to wonder a bit don't you? I mean it was 55' outside. I was wearing a coat and a scarf. And no, she wasn't wearing stockings or anything. I guess when you reach that next level of cool you're just impervious to temperature.
The Great Wall of China. The number 1 reason I'm in Beijing. And to say it's impressive is an understatement. It's AMAZING.
I went to the section of the wall called Mutianyu. You start at the foot of the mountain where all the touristy stalls are and take a cable car to the top. You can walk as well but it's 2 hour hike if your in good shape. Once you get to the top you really have a 360 degree view and it's just breathtaking.
When you look down the wall and follow it into the distance it seems to go on forever. It's an incredible testament to China and what people can do. Without the cable car and following a path its several hours to hike up to the wall. Can you imagine it with a load of bricks? How they ever built it mystifies me.
If you can make it to the Wall try and find a quiet spot and just look around and you'll get the same feeling I had. I can't describe it. It's a mix of amazement, wonder, awe, mortality and a dozen other feelings. The only other place that gave me the same feeling was the Grand Canyon. They are very different (the Wall being man made) but they have the same magnitude. If you have the opportunity to see the Great Wall of China you have to take it. There is nothing else like it, don't miss out.
And if you do go to Mutianyu, when you get to the wall from the cable car, take a right turn and walk for an hour or so and you'll reach The Great Toboggan. So. Much. Fun. And yes, the sign in the distance does say "DONT STOP" .
That is the newly redeveloped Shanghai Circus World. And I have to say it was pretty darn good. They brought Erick Villaneuve, a French Canadian, as the multimedia director, and Debra Brown as the choreographer and she just happens to be the Principal Choreographer for Alegria, Quidam, Saltimbanco, Circque Reinvente, and the permanent installments of O and Mystere in Las Vegas. Not a bad resume.
Hearing that expectations would be high right? Well you must remember that This Is China.
The show actually is very good. There's all the traditional Chinese acts with a bit of a facelift. It really is fun and worth the price (80-580 RMB).
The sets aren't great and the costumes are so so, but if you're in Shanghai go see it, I had lots of fun. If you are used to seeing shows in America or Europe be prepared for a bit of culture shock. Audiences in China are different.
First they're loud, second they're really loud, and third well they're kinda loud. This Is China, their manners are different, the way they act is totally acceptable in their country and remember it's their country. They'll be loud, they'll be late and there's nothing you can do about it. So try and enjoy the show.
Ah but the beauty of it is this, these audiences in Shanghai are much better than in Beijing. The crowd at the Tiandi Theatre, home of the Chinese Acrobats, was impressive. I mean REALLY loud. And being on time is pretty much within 20 minutes of opening curtain. I kid you not. I mean non stop chatter, lights, phones, doors opening, kids running around, you name it and they do it. And the real interesting bit? Well, they have no rules against photography, flash photography. People are doing potentially seriously injuring acts and people are just snapping away. Weird, but I did take advantage of it.
I've shown you the lovely tap water of Shanghai, now let me get to the nitty gritty. Fear The Roads. You can't really imagine what it's like until you get into a cab here. But let me at least try. So right off the bat the cab driver's seat is enclosed. Now I don't mean like London's Black Cab, where there's a entirely separate cabin for the driver. Imagine a standard 4 door 4 seat car. Now imagine a Plexiglas wall supported by steel bars separating the drivers seat from everyone else. Now I don't mean the 2 front seats, I mean there's a Plexiglas wall between the two front seats. It's probably the worlds smallest cubicle. I'm not sure if it's better or worse but in Chengdu there were actually steel bars separating the two front seats from the back, slightly police car like. No, actually very very police like and I don't like it one bit.
T. I. C.
You'll also notice that on the driver's id plaque under his picture there's a blank space. This space can have up to 3 stars. These stars, or lack thereof, denote how many tests the drive has completed. So does a drive with fewer stars mean he's less skilled? Possibly less dangerous? Well, yes and no. The odds are a driver with 3 stars will be better and less frightening than one with none, but the rumor mill does suggest that upon close inspection the drive and the photo on his card may not even match. So is there any truth to this? Well, look at a photo of yourself from a few years ago. To someone sitting behind you and to your left you may look very different. Basically, your life is in danger every time you enter a car anywhere, it just so happens that in China the odds of life threatening occurrences (for you or pedestrians) is greatly increased.
T. I. C.
As I've said, the roads in China are dangerous but there are actually laws to the roads here. Well really, there's one. Don't Kill Anyone. Now to you in your country this may seem pretty simple, in China it's not. See in this country pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, and, of course, cars literally jump out at you. There really isn't any right of way. If they can get their nose in first then they go first. The tricky bit is that this doesn't just apply to cars, it applies to anything on the road. If you happen to be crossing the road and the green arrow says walk, do NOT think you're safe. I've had cab's practically take off my toes because he wanted to turn first, I was nearly gelded by a cab's side mirror. Really, I am NOT joking.
T. I. C.
Now I'm only grazing the tip of the iceberg about the strange and disturbingly fascinating aspects of China. I was mentioning to a good buddy of mine (who has lived here a little over a year) about how the country in a lot of ways is a bit off. This was wrong, that was wrong, blah blah blah...his response was this...
"T. I. C. buddy, T. I. C." "Eh?" "ThisIsChina"
And now that I've been here for a few weeks, well that really explains everything.
This is The Giant Buddha of Leshan. Let me first put it in perspective.
The Statue of Liberty. One of America's grandest structures, A symbol of Freedom and everything American. From heel to the tip of her torch she stands 111 feet tall. From the ground her torch reaches 305 feet into the sky. An immense and wonderful sight she is.
By comparison The Giant Buddha sits at 233 feet. So he's a little more than twice as tall as The Statue of Liberty herself and seventy five percent as tall as the entire structure. But this is only an attempt to give you perspective. No matter what I say I cannot express the size and majesty of the Giant Buddha. His middle finger is 27 feet long. That's almost 5 of me lined head to toe.
Your first look of the Giant Buddha is of the back of his head overlooking the river. And he is massive. Phenomenal. Easily, the Giant Buddha of Leshan is one of the most impressive things I have ever see. To stand at his feet and look up is incredible. It matters very little whether or not you're Buddhist, to look at him is otherworldly. The entire area that houses the Giant Buddha is incredible. Temples, towers and gardens there was actually more than I had time to see. I strongly recommend that if you're ever in China, go to Leshan. It's worth it. You'll see one of the greatest monuments in the history of man.
I've included some history for anyone who's intersted.
It was said that a river monster lived at the merging of the Ninjiang, Dadu, and Qingyi rivers. He often caused floods that capsized boats and subsequently took many lives. In order to subdue the monster Master Haitong, a Buddhist Abbot of the Lingyun Monastery, began to raise funds to begin the construction of the Giant Buddha. He hoped that the presence of the Giant Buddha would pacify the monster and the waters and save lives. Directed by Master Haitong, the construction began in year 713 of the Tang Dynasty. On the first day of the construction a corrupt official tried to blackmail the abbot. Master Haitong defiantly said "you could gouge out my eyes but not touch the money donated to build the Buddha." The official flew into a rage and threatened him. Master Haitong proceeded to blind himself and placed his eyes on a tray and gave them to the official. The build proceeded with no further interruptions. Master Haitong died when the work was only midway to completion. Two of his disciples, Zang Chou and Wei Gao, continued to the work and after 90 years the Giant Buddha was completed in 803. Leshan is also home to The Lingyun Monastery, The Great Buddha Temple, Dongpo Tower, Green Water Tower, Linbao Pagoda and The Cave of Master Haitong.
China is a neat place. Dirty, smelly, and loud, but still a neat place. But here's something that bothers me a bit. If you know me well, you probably know that I have a pretty decent sense of smell. It's even been called my dog nose before.
But it was a bit of a surprise when I first turned on my shower here in Shanghai and well...its smelled. Not like open sewage or anything like that. It just smelled. And well, that's really not something I'm used to. But you have to shower, and the smell doesn't stick or anything, so...life goes on.
Then this. Now that is Pure Untreated Shanghai Tap Water. No joke. Yeah I know, it's green. The photo actually makes it look nicer than it is. And YOU can't smell it. ugh...
Well desperate times call for desperate measures right? I just hope I don't turn into a Smurf or something...
So what's the strangest thing you have ever found in a hotel room? I mean something that should never be there, I mean something that no one would even bring to a hotel. Something that just baffles you. Well if you can beat this, you let me know.
I was rooting around in the closet seeing what hotel items I could acquire. And I came upon this. I mean who on Earth leaves a big white guy in the hotel closet?
Yes, kidding. That's my buddy and what I found is the Gas Mask that he's holding. I found a cardboard box in the closet and didn't really bother to read what the box said, opened it and found the gas mask. I was a wee bit shocked. New In Box, with an extra unopened filter, it was actually really scary.
Now, it's not like we were staying in some super sketchy post war bomb shelter. We were staying at the Wang Jiang Hotel. Really not a bad place. But a Gas Mask? It was actually kinda scary. No, actually it freaked the **** out of me. I mean what hotel supplies you with a Gas Mask? And really now, if they're going to, shouldn't the room with two beds get two masks? Great so you're safe while your pal gets offed by the gas. Lovely.
If you're going to Chengdu, stay at the Sheraton or stay at the Sofitel or even the Kapinsky. It's not that the Wang Jiang is a bad place, but I for one am NOT going back.
This is my good friend Eric and his lovely girlfriend Nikki. And I have to say that they are as adventurous, as anyone I know (and probably cooler). They are currently traveling the world for 12 months. And I mean all the way around. It is AWESOME. The two of them planned their trip quit their jobs and took off. It is just the coolest thing and I really hope that I can do something close. Though 12 months without a really good hot shower and nice fluffy bed might stretch me a bit. Anyways I can't even try to tell where they are where they're going or what strange liquor they're drinking so please check out their site and live vicariously through them much as I do.