Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The final destination on our long journey… Hong Kong. I think we saved the best for last, I really enjoyed this city. Even though I thought Shanghai was amazing, I definitely found Hong Kong to be more enjoyable and impressive. I did expect to find a very large city but I had no idea what to expect in terms of its climate or geography. It actually reminded me more of a tropical destination similar to Hawaii with its vegetation and mountainous terrain. Of course it doesn't have the same ocean exposure and huge beaches but I found the topography to be very similar. The city is very densely populated characterized by high-rises everywhere yet there is an enormous amount of open space and parkland. The entire size of Hong Kong is approximately 1/5 the size of the greater Calgary area but has a population of 7 million compared to 1.2 million! It seems that everything there has to be taller and bigger including its buildings, roadway systems, public transportation and its port.
It almost felt like we were back in America, you can get almost anything in terms of food, English was spoken everywhere and being Caucasian now seemed ordinary. Our first night there we went to Ruth Chris’s and had an amazing steak dinner, the next evening TK’s friend who lives in Hong Kong took us out for a great Italian dinner, we had an excellent Indian meal for lunch the following day (a very spicy chicken vindaloo…mmm) and for our last dinner we enjoyed a good ole juicy cheese burger wit h fries and onion rings! We were so happy to get such good and familiar food; maybe this is why I enjoyed Hong Kong so much.
We had to pack a lot of sightseeing in over the span of two days. Driving to our hotel from the airport we noticed a gondola ride that traveled across ocean inlets and up-and-down mountainsides to a large Buddhist statue. We decided to make this the first excursion and had planned on taking the subway. We had to walk about four blocks from our hotel to the subway station and we finally had a beautiful day. Once we found the subway station I realized that we would have to walk down several flights of stairs which I could've done but it's quite a pain taking the wheelchair down. Before I could even get out of my wheelchair someone had stopped to say we can take a lift down and called for a subway worker who appeared in less than a minute. There was a wheelchair lift that travels along the hand rail of the staircase which I'd seen before but never used. It’s not nearly as convenient as an elevator but it was kind of neat to use. They are very accommodating to the disabled in Hong Kong. Other than the Soho district I found everything very accessible and people, not just employees, were very helpful. Once we figured out how to buy our subway pass and where we were going, things were very easy.
The subway system was phenomenal, you can pretty much take it anywhere and the different lines had a simple layout and were easy to understand. The subway cars and stations were beautiful; everything looked so new and clean. You're not permitted to eat or drink on the subway and there wasn't a bit of graffiti anywhere. The subway lines are not interrupted by roadways anywhere which is a good thing because these things fly! The subway runs parallel to the highway traveling from the airport where the speed limit is 110 km but the subway races past cars as if they were standing still. The gondola ride was located adjacent to the airport which was about a 45 minute drive from our hotel yet the subway only took about 25 minutes. The gondola was similar to those I've seen at ski resorts but it was much higher when traveling over the water. A foot path follows the gondola line all the way up these mountainsides for those who are foolish enough to take it, we saw several tourists walking that looked as if they were dying from exhaustion and they hadn't even made it half way! At the top there was the Buddhist statue perched on the mountain peak, a temple, a cobblestone street lined with shops and several walking paths. It was all very unique but the gondola ride was the real attraction!
Later that afternoon we headed to the Soho district where the longest escalator in the world is located. This is a very hilly section of Hong Kong made up of trendy shops, restaurants and bars. I'm guessing the escalator which traveled up the hill through the middle of the district must’ve been at least one km long. The escalator is not continuous; it stops and starts at cross streets which made for a very interesting ride on my wheelchair! We managed just fine and avoided any mishaps or accidents. The Soho district is very old with extremely narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks making it the only place I found that wasn't wheelchair friendly. We stopped at a couple of pubs and met up with TK’s friend for dinner, a very interesting day.
Our second day started off by taking the Star ferry across the harbor which is apparently a famous “must do” for tourists. Then we took a tram ride up to the Peak which is a viewing spot on the top of a mountain overlooking the entire city and harbor. It was a beautiful spot with an amazing view and housed several gift shops and restaurants. We had our excellent Indian lunch at a very nice place that had an old English tavern feel to it then took a cab back down to the bottom. The cab ride down was on an extremely narrow and winding street that reminded me of Lombard Street in San Francisco. Next we took a two hour harbor cruise that basically showcased all of Hong Kong and the port. The loading docks are truly amazing; you can't even fathom the size and complexity of this operation. It’s difficult to find anything these days without a made in China tag on it and all of those products are shipped from here. We could not even come close to capturing the magnitude of this harbor or the city skyline with the photos we took.
The rest of the afternoon was spent touring around the water front waiting for our evening cruise on the AQUALUNA. This was a very cool boat that booked evening cruises to take in the night sky line and light show that lit up the skyscrapers on both sides of the harbor and beamed lights back and forth across the water. The night skyline was beautiful but the light show wasn't too spectacular, it could've used some fireworks. That wrapped up our day of sightseeing and we took a cab back to our hotel.
Another interesting part of Hong Kong is that you don't need a car. The streets are mainly made up of taxicabs and there's never a problem finding a cab. Taxi rides are not at all expensive like they are at home and to travel any greater distance you just take the subway including a trip to the airport. You can take the subway from anywhere and transfer to the express airport line and check your baggage right at the subway station, unless you're taking an international flight. Public transit is so convenient compared to home; you would never consider taking public transit to and from the airport!
For as technologically advanced as things seem to appear in Hong Kong, I'm still surprised at how backwards they are in some areas. I've worked in commercial and multifamily construction for many years so I’m very familiar with safety codes and regulations which is why I was shocked at some of the construction practices here. I was not surprised to see construction safety hazards in China but I thought Hong Kong would be different. They tend to scaffold the entire exterior of a building under construction including high-rises however their idea of scaffolding is vastly different from North America. You can see from my pictures that they use bamboo rather than metal scaffolds regardless of the height! They don't even use steel connectors and use what appears to be nylon strapping to tie off the sections. In China it was rare to see hard hats and the use of fall protection such as safety lanyards etc. Watching that 10 story building go up while in the hospital I actually saw workers taking a nap on this sketchy scaffold platform from 8 stories up! Canadian Workers Comp. and OHS inspectors would freak but just like driving, it seems there are no rules and anything goes!!
That concluded my adventures in China, quite an amazing experience! Now I can only hope and pray that I’ll see amazing results in my health. I know that I have to be patient and that it is typical for the stem cells to take up to 6 months to generate any improvements so time will tell. I will continue to update my blog so I hope people will continue to follow it!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Today marks one week since I've been back in North America and I know that some of my blog followers are disappointed that I haven't had any new posts. I've been very excited about the positive response I've had to my blog and with the amount of people that have been following it. I've been told by many that reading my blog had become part of their daily routine and how disappointed they were when I would miss a day. I would like to keep up with my blogging, but it will be difficult without having a central theme to focus on like my MS. I've enjoyed writing and it would be really nice if I could make some money doing this. Something I'll think about but in the meantime I will finish up with my experience in Shanghai and Hong Kong and of course I will post updates on any changes or improvements I experience. Hopefully there will still be people logging on to read!
Unfortunately the rain kept up for our second day but it did not deter us from getting out to find some shopping. We had heard that Shanghai is the place to shop and where you'll find the best deals so we headed off to Nanjing Road, China's premier shopping street. We had hired Mr. Lee one of the hospital drivers to take us to Shanghai and he stayed around to be our driver and interpreter even though he wasn’t very good at English. It was a beautiful shopping district and much of the mall we visited was made up of marble road and walkways. It was also made up of many high end stores but this was not the shopping we were after. Being obvious tourist targets it didn't take long to be nabbed by an enterprising Chinese woman who was very eager to be our shopping guide. What is not obvious from the upscale shopping mall are the hundreds of small shops that exist in the small alleyways located directly off the mall. This is the kind of shopping we were looking for, the kind of vendors that sell knock off watches, purses and clothing for extremely cheap prices and then allow you to barter down even further. It was amazing to see all of these little shops existing no more than a few hundred feet away from legitimate stores selling the genuine merchandise!
Our eager shopping guide knew these alleys like the back of her hand and if we didn't find something in one shop she just led us to another. They were definitely not easy to spot or legal as we found out by being delayed in entering one when the police were nearby. Some of the shops were incredible having secret rooms and to enter a wall would spin around revealing several more rooms filled with imitation articles. The experience was very interesting and a lot of fun even though it was raining! Bargaining down prices became an art once we understood how everything worked. We bought some watches, wallets and Chinese artifacts and our Chinese guide seemed very happy, she must get a kick back from these shops. It was extremely valuable to have Mr. Lee accompany us, he would pipe up and argue loudly in Chinese on our behalf and vendors treated us more fairly because we had a Chinese friend with us. It was also very helpful having our own personal chauffeur and someone to push my wheelchair.
That night we went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner which was our first taste of Western style food in five weeks! It was a very good meal but the odd part was that there wasn't any pasta on the menu so our Italian craving didn’t really get satisfied. It was a very beautiful restaurant with a rooftop patio overlooking the Huangpu River that would've had an awesome view of the Shanghai skyline had it not been raining and overcast! By the next morning the rain finally stopped. It was still overcast but the temperature was warmer and the visibility much better so we decided to do some sightseeing. Shanghai really is an amazing city in terms of its buildings and architecture. It has many skyscrapers and the design of its buildings are the most unique I've ever seen. Their use of shapes and different contours in the architecture create a very modern and interesting look. I have not traveled extensively but from what I've seen on TV, movies or magazines; Shanghai would make any downtown in the world look boring. We tried to capture some of this look in photos but didn't really do it justice. The Shanghai World Financial Center is the second tallest building in the world standing at 492 m with 100 floors. It does boast the tallest observatory in the world at 100 floors up; let me tell you that is scary when you're looking down through a glass floor! There are some other tall buildings around 80 stories but the SWFC dwarfs everything and it is extremely modern. We were on the ground floor waiting for the elevator which only has one set of doors to go up to the observatory and when the next elevator came there were too many people for us to fit. I thought to myself waiting for the next elevator will take a while if it has to go up 100 floors when about five seconds later the doors opened to an empty elevator! Somehow they have several elevators going up and down simultaneously that must be on separate tracks because they all end up at a single entry and exit point. The elevator ride in itself was an experience. It had kind of a psychedelic effect with its lighting and sounds, felt like you were in some kind of spaceship. I didn't time it but I'm sure it took less than 30 seconds to reach the top! Everything about this building was ultra modern, even the bathrooms. I've included a picture because they were so cool. The toilet seats were heated, there was a control panel next to the toilet seat that allowed you to wash your rear end or front side with heated water and you could control the oscillation and pressure! You could basically give yourself an enema if you wanted and the only need for toilet paper was to dry off.
This city totally fascinated me; with a population of over 14.6 million it is absolutely huge. I really only saw the central part of the city but that was enough. It had a completely different feel than Hangzhou. Hangzhou is deep China, what some refer to as the real China where you don't see white people and we felt like celebrities with everyone gawking at us. When we hit Shanghai I felt like we lost our celebrity status as there were quite a few Caucasians. I suppose this city is much more of a travel and business destination and it made me feel like we were getting a little closer to home. I'm very glad that I decided to experience more of China than just the hospital and Hangzhou. It will give me a much broader understanding of the country and its people and create some memories other than just those of the hospital.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
We had a great time the last week of our journey in Shanghai and Hong Kong but I’ll blog about that another time, today’s blog is dedicated to my sister. This trip was a very long time to pull her away from her life in San Diego, her new puppy and especially her newlywed husband! It truly was a loving sacrifice she made for me and I can’t thank her enough. I don’t know how I would’ve been able to go if she hadn’t been able to come with me. From the first conversation I had with her about wanting to go to China she’s been behind me. I don’t even recall having to ask her to come with me, I think she offered to come right from the get go! I really couldn’t have asked for a better travel companion or caregiver, she was totally awesome in the hospital, I think I’m the only one who received any sort of home cooked meals! Sometimes when TK would cook the entire hospital floor would fill with tantalizing aromas which I’m sure caused some envy and she was very well known for how well she fed me! Even though we were both entirely fed up with the food situation after over 30 days in that hospital it would’ve been so much worse had I not had chef TK!
As far as a brother sister relationship goes TK and I have always been close and our bond has grown even deeper as a result of this trip. We lived together for a while in Vancouver, were in Australia with each other at the same time and toured New Zealand together so I knew we would be compatible on this trip. I don’t think we had one argument or nasty exchange of words the entire time in China which is more than I can say about pretty much anyone else on the 20th floor of that hospital! My appreciation of her extends well past the cooking and help she provided but for the companionship we shared. I’m a good loser which is a good thing since she beat me in every backgammon tournament and crib game we played, although I still hold on to the premise that she’s the queen of fluke!
I have much to thank TK for outside of accompanying me to China, her help from the very beginning of my endeavour has been invaluable. Outside of the content, her and Bob set up my website and she did all the computer work for my fundraising posters and advertising. In terms of raising money, the emails she sent out to her network of friends which is pretty much around the world generated more financial and emotional support than any other group of individuals. This in itself is a great testament to the quality of her character and the great group of friends she has assembled where ever she has been!
You are truly a fabulous woman Terri-Kim, I know that Bob feels this way and I’m fortunate that he let you leave him for such a long time on my account! I’m very proud to have you as my sister and friend, I love you so much!!!
Friday, November 7, 2008
He scrambled and pulled everything together within half an hour. I sat down with Luca and Dr. Jack to go over my MRI which they had prepared on an x-ray type of film along with the diagnostic report. I’m still impressed with how fast they got all of this done so Dr. Jack began explaining in detail referring to my MRI scan where he saw the problem originating from. I had a slightly herniated disc at L5 – S1. That is lower on my spine and the doctor believed this to be from a pre existing condition due to my abnormal posture and gate. He showed me on the scan that none of my lumbar punctures were even close to this area and the reason it was now causing me problems is that this disc was pushed in restricting the free flow of the stem cells causing inflammation and pain. He did give a more technical analysis of the situation but in layman terms this is what was happening. Since my pain had subsided the medication they were giving was successful in reducing the swelling and over the next few days the natural course of self healing should take control and I shouldn’t need further medication. I was very relieved to hear this explanation and excited to be hitting the road to Shanghai.
We spent the next little while saying good bye to the staff who we had adopted as family over the last month and the other patients. We had prepared a nice gift basket for the staff consisting mainly of different kinds of teas and various snacks. This was an original idea for them and they were very appreciative. I had also written up a personal thank you incorporating a picture of TK and I that we had printed and mounted in a nice picture frame. I was really quite pleased with the originality of our parting gifts as the usual gifts and thank you offerings are very repetitive. I was so happy to be leaving yet sad to say farewell to all of our new friends. I truly think the world of the staff that took such exceptional care of us all for thirty days!
It was now 11:30 am and time to hit the road, unfortunately in the pouring rain again! The CTV camera man was back at the hospital for one last shot as we were packing up our luggage and heading out. We made it to Shanghai in 2 hours but once in the city it took us just as long to get through traffic and find our hotel! I thought Hangzhou was big but it was nothing compared to this enormous metropolis! We actually didn’t run out of urban sprawl the entire drive to Shanghai. I suppose with over 1.3 billion people there’s not a lot of open and unoccupied space. The crazy driving didn’t change at all; in fact it is worse in this city especially with the amount of traffic! We are staying in the Bund district and after checking into our hotel we travelled to the Bund fabric market where you can get suits, shirts, dresses and pretty much anything made in the fabric and style of your choice for extremely reasonable prices. TK got a dress, 2 shirts, a coat and I got a shirt which we will return to pick up on Sunday. Three day turnaround time for custom tailoring is pretty amazing! We’ll hit some more markets and do more shopping tomorrow; I just hope it stops raining! It feels so good to be out of the hospital and feeling better, I can start enjoying myself again! Stay tuned for more exciting adventures coming your way from China!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I had my Day 29 and 30 blog complete several days ago but could only post it November 5th because I couldn’t access the Blogger.com website for some reason. I could get to any other website I wanted but not this one so I began to wonder if I had written something bad and the Chinese government was blocking me from it. After getting some IT help from brother in law Bob I changed some settings and rebooted my computer and finally it worked. I don’t know what the problem was or why it occurred, just another technical frustration and it wasn’t over yet. After rebooting I was able to access Blogger.com but I still couldn’t post anything because I was only getting Chinese and had no idea what to click on to add to my blog. Frustrated to say the least but finally I got the English language page but I don’t even know how so finally onto day 31.
The pain in my tailbone continues to bother me and thus my physio therapy was cancelled again. It seems as though I’ve only been able to do the physio part of my treatment for half my stay here which is really too bad because I believe it is very important to my overall improvement and healing. When I return home I’ll definitely keep up with the routine I’ve started here and adapt it to focus more on strength building. I think what I’ll be looking for is more of a personal trainer with a physio therapy background. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find this person in Strathmore but I’m sure the right trainer is out there.
Rather than do physio I was going for another session of Andy’s vibrating heat pad followed up with acupuncture. When Andy came into my room and saw me grimace with pain he changed his normal acupuncture routine to focus on my back instead. He had me lie on my stomach and stuck 6 needles in my back and 4 in the back of each leg. I didn’t actually make it through the half hour that I was supposed to because I had to make an urgent bathroom break so I wasn’t sure if it helped or not. I still felt pain throughout the afternoon so I was given an injection to stop the pain. The injection to my butt really worked and provided relief into the evening. TK made spaghetti with shrimp for dinner and that pretty much finished off our food supply which was good because we had planned on eating out on Tuesday for our last night.
The night went pretty well and I had a good night’s sleep but awoke with the same old pain. I took some pain killers and got ready for my final day, what a joyous thought! I wanted to ask the doctor some questions and see if they would provide me with pain medication to make it through the rest of my trip. Dr. Jack said that would be fine but as we started discussing my back problem more he thought he should bring Dr. Mike into the conversation. I think they were both surprised that I was still having this much pain and difficulty when Dr. Mike came up with a new theory on my situation. He now believed that the stem cells were causing some sort of chemical reaction which was the source of my problem so he wanted to try a new medication. He also wanted to have a new doctor look at me who is a pain specialist. The result of his new idea meant staying in the hospital a few more days. I’m sure he could see the reaction of shock and dismay on my face. He was really quite serious about his recommendation to stay so I agreed to one more day and we’d see how things went.
This turn of events totally took the wind out of my sails and I was feeling quite perturbed. Shortly after this the CTV camera man showed up so explained the situation to him and that I’d try to keep my aggravation hidden. At least it was finally sunny so we had a beautiful day for shooting the interview and I don’t think I came across as grumpy although I was!
We had planned on going out for dinner on our final night so Johnny took us to what is supposed to be a very good restaurant, Chinese of course. I was already grouchy and going to this restaurant didn’t help matters. It was a very nice place and when you entered there was someone to greet you and walk you through what was similar to a buffet display of their main dishes and fresh fish, basically a virtual live menu. They serve snake and you actually walk by the snake enclosure and choose which one you would like to eat. I was just not in the mood for trying anything different and everything looked so unappetizing. It’s very difficult viewing and choosing food from a wheelchair, I couldn’t stop thinking how much I missed my scooter and a regular Canadian restaurant! At any rate I didn’t enjoy my dinner but it was still nice to go out with Johnny.
When we returned to the hospital it was getting quite late and I was quite tired so I had my medication injected into my butt and went to sleep. I was able to get another good sleep and woke up feeling pretty good but not pain free. Dr. Jack and Luca came to take me to the second floor around 10 am to see the pain specialist. He examined me pushing and applying pressure to various areas of my back and spine while conversing with Dr. Jack and Luca learning the details and history of my problems. He did reassure me that my pain and discomfort would go away yet he was going to have an MRI done just to make sure they had a full understanding of everything that was going on. He told me that they would be giving me a new medication by injection this evening and sent me next door for a new treatment. I was told to lie on my stomach so again I couldn’t see what was going on but according to TK two patches were placed on my lower back with wires attached and a separate bag that appeared to be filled with small stones was placed on top. This was also an electrical stimulation treatment that produced a tingling sensation and felt like a small colony of ants running around on my back. Then the technician placed a patch on my tailbone that heated up and actually felt like I had a heating pad on my back the rest of the day.
I finished up my interview with CTV at about 1 pm and felt good the rest of the afternoon. At 4 pm Luca and a nurse showed up to take me down for my MRI. This MRI was no different than any others I’ve had in Canada except they didn’t provide any ear protection. If you’ve ever had an MRI you know those machines make some pretty weird noises and get very loud. I’ll find out the results tomorrow morning but I fully expect to be leaving the hospital tomorrow. If continued treatment is just a matter of taking a new medication that I’ve already had 4 doses of then I don’t need to remain in the hospital but Dr. Jack will be in with his recommendation tomorrow morning.
I did find it impressive to receive such attention and so quickly! The waiting list to receive an MRI in Canada can be months and you would never expect to get the results the same or next day. Now I can just hope and pray that everything is good and I’ll be on my way to Shanghai tomorrow.
On day 30 I awoke to another overcast and rainy morning, I’m really getting tired of this weather. I’ve written how tired I am of this sore back too and guess what; it’s still here as well. I needed a break from the hospital so bad that the weather wasn’t going to stop me from getting out! We had booked Mr. Chen to drive us to the pearl factory which is located in another city about 1 hour away. Johnny came with us since he had never been there was very interested in helping TK out with interpreting. TK makes her own jewellery and was interested in grabbing some good deals on pearls and other supplies so Johnny wanted to make sure he could help her out.
We arrived to a HUGE complex that was very clean and elaborate that housed many different jewellery companies, all specializing in pearls of course. It turns out that this building housed the wholesale and retail outlets and not the actual pearl factories. There must have been at least 100 companies located here and I don’t know how they can all stay in business. Very little differentiated one from another except some were much larger and upscale but they were all selling pearls. The factories are located all around the wholesale complex but we didn’t see any which was too bad as we would have wanted a tour through one. We did get a bit of an education on pearls, how they’re cultivated and quality criteria. It was absolutely amazing how many pearls there were!! Apparently this place is one of two pearl centers in China and must be one of the worlds largest.
I’ll admit I had no idea what the value of pearls are, especially quality pearls and what we had found was an incredible bargain buyers paradise. We questioned many vendors on whether their pearls were fake and I don’t believe you’ll come across very much that isn’t authentic. One vendor held a lighter under a pearl to show us that if it doesn’t melt, it’s not fake. The price range varied drastically depending on quality but TK left with a large quantity and variety of very unique pearls and traditional pearls for less than $150 US dollars! I’ve included a picture of her stash, she’s pretty excited. Too bad I don’t have a woman in my life to buy for at the moment, she would’ve been very happy but I don’t buy on speculation.
I’ve also included a photo TK shot while driving into the pearl factory and there were piles upon piles of what appeared to be garbage or broken bricks and stones along the road and surrounding areas. Mr. Chen’s car has a dark tint on his windows and with the grey sky and rain it was difficult to really make out what this was but as it turns out they were empty oyster shells! Tons and tons of them that just get dumped and left for locals to pick through. I’m still not sure whether they were digging around for missed pearls or for oysters but they were all over regardless of the weather.
It was great to get out of the hospital for a day but it seems I’m paying the consequences. The 2 hours of driving and 3 hours sitting in my wheelchair really aggravated my back, UGHHH! It’s frustrating and not looking good for the rest of my stay in China, I can only hope and pray that things will get better.