Wednesday, November 26, 2008
THE HONG KONG FINALE
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!