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December 27, 2007 – Afternoon – Kowloon – Victoria Harbour

sunny 69 °F
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December 27, 2007 – Afternoon – Kowloon – Victoria Harbour

The tendering vessel ferried us to Royal Caribbean’s Oceanic II, now The Scholar Ship. If my ferry trip of the morning was unexpectedly brief, this second journey was longer than I expected, lasting about 25 minutes. Basically we travelled to the “back side” of Hong Kong Island, and we all got psyched when we saw our little big ship! It’s definitely not one of the biggest cruise ships out there, but it is impressive nonetheless. We were all a little bit giddy and pleased with ourselves, but that was before we navigated the actual getting on to the ship. The smaller vessel basically pulled up alongside the bigger ship, to which was teathered a floating platform located below the gangplank jutting out from the ship and hovering about 15 feet above the water. Both ships were rising and falling with the tides, and the gap between the ships was about 12 inches. This would be daunting for a newbie under any circumstances, but we had our luggage in tow. I envisioned my suitcase of vitamins glug glugging its way to the bottom of the sea after taunting me by staying afloat for just long enough to give me hope that it could be fished out. Yet despite my own worries, I almost cracked up when the woman in front of me almost took a nose dive into the drink. I was next, so I immediately sobered up. I decided not to look down. I grabbed hold of the first rung and waited until both boats sank down at the same time, and then I hoisted myself as if sharks were on my ass.

We trooped into the reception area, and for a moment I had to remind myself that I was on a ship. It looked just like hotel lobby. We checked in at the “reception” and then were taken to our rooms, and the giddiness returned. I’ve got a private room, with two twin size beds and two fold down twin size bunks, ie. a room that could accommodate four people though its about the same size of the room I’ve been living in at Shannon and John’s for the past four months. I’ve got a port hole. I’ve got a television, not that I think I’ll be using it much, but who knows. I’ve a refrigerator. And I have a private bathroom with full tub and shower. Though we do pay a nominal fee for laundry, we don’t pay for having our rooms cleaned daily, including the bathroom and receiving fresh linens. Niiiiiiiiice.

We received a tour of the ship, and it’s awesome. Truly. Three swimming pools. A sauna (glory be to God!). A spa with a full array of bodywork services (most hour-long massages are $65/hr.). Two fitness centers – one all cardio and the other cardio and weights (in Kilos). Two bars. Dining halls. 5 Decks. A medical facility. And the Learning Resource Center is actually bigger and much less claustrophobia-inducing than I expected. Everyone speaks highly of G., to whom I will report and several returnees have said that they think we’ll get along really well because we both seem to be laid back. I have not yet met her because she took some time off between the two voyages, the preceding one having ended on Dec. 23 – not much of a turn around time.

Oh – and the subject of returnees – a lot of people are doing a double stint, which appears to be a policy change from what I was told. When I was hired, I was told that staff and faculty could only apply for a position once every four years. However, this is very much a work in progress so I’m guessing that they seen the wisdom of having some continuity. It’s just an interesting thing for me to keep in mind as I evaluate my own experience. There’s a possibility that I could do another stint, perhaps even in a different role. But I haven’t a clue as to how well suited I will be to the whole shebang.

So far, everyone has been great, though. I feel like I’ve struck up a good camaraderie with a few people, including M., an Intercultural Residence Advisor (IRC) from Mexico; D., an IRC from San Diego; and there are more people to come. We’ve got a few more days to ourselves before the students arrive and a somewhat rigorous training schedule until then. The main groups of staff members are the Academic Staff, i.e faculty and associated staff such as myself; Onboard Life, inc. the eight Intercultural Residence Counselors, the Rec guy and the Psychologist, a lovely Egyptian woman. The IRCs are young people from different countries, kind of like RA’s in U.S. universities and colleges; and Academic Support/Port Programs (the people who help establish the shore side relationships for the Academic Field Trips.

Some people have brought their children, though there aren’t too many. Some people have brought spouses. The overall staff make up seems to be pretty diverse, so it should be interesting.

Posted by mpho3 19:55 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Congealed Congee and the Beast of Loch Ness

December 27, 2007 – A.M. – Hong Kong Island - Kowloon

sunny 69 °F
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hongkongdock.jpg

For some reason, my hotel room didn’t have an alarm clock, and I was so out of it during my stay, that I never bothered to do anything about it. Consequently, my sense of time was completely off. I posted the previous post around 3:30 am, thinking that it was around 11pm. Once I discovered my error, I was too wired to hit the hay. Instead, I went down the concierge and inquired about how to get to The Scholar Ship in the coming hours.

Then I tossed and turned until about 9:30am, which was when I was ready to sleep, but by then time was of the essence, so I took a hot shower and then ordered room service. The options were American-style breakfast (an omelet, two pieces of “meat,” orange juice, and a pastry); Japanese breakfast (an omelet, a piece of seared salmon, pickled vegetables, miso, green tea and choice of steamed rice or congealed congee); “Oriental” breakfast (I don’t recall the particulars but it was some sort dim sum and wok-fried dish); and Continental breakfast (pastry, juice, fruit). I decided to go w/ Japanese, opting for the rice. I’ve no idea what congee is but congealed anything sounded highly unappetizing at that moment. (Made a variety of ways, congee is quite good, actually, but I couldn't stomach the word "congealed" that morning). The meal, as delivered, was 50 percent edible. The salmon was great, but it was a smaller piece than I would have liked. The pickled veggies were incredibly pungent, with one being very sour and the other very salty. I forced myself to eat about half of each. The omelet scared me – even after tasting it, I couldn’t tell if the inside was runny egg or goopy cheese. The miso was okay. The tea was lukewarm. I couldn’t touch the rice. Somehow, I was still somewhat satisfied by the whole affair. It wasn’t as good as the wonton shrimp noodle soup I’d had for dinner the previous night, but I felt good about my choice.

Our instructions were to board the ship between the hours of 12pm and 4pm, with the caveat that the tendering vessel was scheduled at two hour intervals, starting at noon. The concierge told me that I could take a free shuttle from the hotel to the Star Ferry at 11:30am. At 11:50, the bus hadn’t yet arrived so the hotel prepaid for me to take a taxi, for which I was glad because nearly everyone else whom I spoke to had had a bad experience w/ their cab rides – being driven around in circles to run up the fare. It took only minutes to get to the ferry station once we got out of traffic, but then I had to find my way to the right fare entrance. It already felt to be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and clear as a bell, so I figured if worst came to worst, and I missed the ferry, I’d find a perch and people watch for a couple of hours. Nonetheless, I tried to race along w/ my backpack, computer bag and 30 lb. carry-on bag on wheels. At the ticket window, I noted the price was $HK1.7, but the smallest amount I had on me was $HK10. The ticket agent couldn’t make change at that window and insisted that I go to the upper deck and buy a first class ticket. Still recuperating from the airport debacle, I really, really, really didn’t want to hustle like that, so I tried to get him to take the $10 and keep the change. He politely refused, so I raced upstairs with my lower back screaming at me. I was the last one on board, but I made it.

The trip from HK to Kowloon was extremely brief – no more than ten minutes max, which surprised me. Disembarking, I experienced the kind of disorientation I had experienced in the airport. The directions seemed extremely vague to me, and I was mentally worn down by the backpack. I didn’t even have to put it on to feel like I could barely muster the strength to do so. I was also convinced that I had missed the tendering vessel, so the brief exhilaration I’d felt quickly ebbed. I wandered up and down the pier and didn’t see anything that looked like The Scholar Ship pictures I’d seen on the Internet, and I had no idea what the tendering vessel looked like or was called. Exasperated, I even began to think that maybe I had misread the instructions, and the ship was docked at Hong Kong Island, meaning that I’d have to take the ferry back.

I approached a tour excursion booth in hopes of getting some clarification of the directions, but as soon as I got to the window, the operator put up the closed sign. That pissed me off, but I decided that I couldn’t get riled. At that moment, a young guy tapped me on the shoulder and intoned something to me in which I supposed was either Cantonese or Mandarin. I gesticulated that I didn’t understand. He motioned with his camera. I thought he wanted me to take his picture, so I nodded. But then he quickly put his arm around me and held the camera himself. Ahh so! He just wanted a picture with proof of having met a real live darkie. Beautiful. He shook my hand and wandered off with the same expression I’d imagine having if I’d captured a picture of the Loch Ness monster.

I turned around and decided to head back to my starting point, which was when I saw a Tourist’s Aid station. Hurrah! I went in and the woman read the directions I had and said that I was very close – I just needed to look for the clock tower. She pointed the right way and off I went again, but this time I saw the tower that had been hidden from my sight moments earlier. And there I spied two men in blue shirts holding up signs that read “The Scholar Ship.” Yebo!

It turned out that I hadn’t missed the tendering vessel at all. They took my bags, and I immediately zipped around in awe, snapping photos and feeling delightful. It was absolutely gorgeous in any direction that one faced, and the weather was perfect. A band was setting up, and though there were people around, I didn’t have a sense of it being crowded. I looked down into the water and saw a little silver fish darting around and that made me smile until I also noticed the giant cockroach floating not too far from it and further still a plastic Asian-style soup spoon. That’s when an Indian man in a well cut Western suit tapped me on the shoulder.

He tried to do some swami heebie jeebie stuff on me, and I played along with him for several moments because I was feeling benevolent. He told me that I must learn to control my anger and that two friends whom I trust, one man and one woman, are not truly my friends because they are jealous. He also said that I should keep my desires secret because the jealous parties will sabotage me. He told me that in this lifetime God has chosen for me not to be poor and not to be wealthy but in the middle. He wrote down three monetary figures and asked me which I would like to have in the immediate future. I, of course, circled the largest one - 900. He then asked me for that same sum of money so that he could make an appeal to God for me. I cracked up because this whole same hocus pocus was tried on me years ago in Portugal. It could even have been the same man. He was sorely disappointed when I reached into my pocket and came up with 900 cents! He asked me not to be stingy, but I called him on his own game. He didn’t use the dollar sign in front of that 900. I told him that I was giving him the change because he had entertained me and that he could take it or leave it. He forlornly took it, probably cursing me. So much for having my own supplicant for God’s favors.

When I turned around, a small congregation of TSS people had gathered. We introduced ourselves: D., the Recreational Counselor from San Diego; T, a faculty member from UC Berkeley; K., another instructor, from all over – American, former military brat; and A. from Albuquerque by way of SF, who is an Intercultural Communications Consultant. Of the four, D. and I seemed to connect. We agreed that the two of us have the cushiest sounding gigs, but we also acknowledged that we’ve no idea what we’re in for. As it turns out, none of us do. Then the tendering vessel arrived.

Posted by mpho3 02:32 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

The Beginning

semi-overcast 60 °F
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Well, here I am at the start of things!

So far I've done nothing but sleep. I slept through most of both flights - both on Northwest* - and have spent my first day in Hong Kong asleep. That may disappoint some of you - it disappoints me - but clearly I've been exhausted. I honestly can't remember the last time I slept this much. I fell asleep before the take off of the first flight and was jolted to awareness just as the wheels lifted off the ground. I had window seats for both flights and was glad of it because I was able to sleep w/ my pillow against the window almost the entire time. In fact, I actually yelped** as we were landing because again, I was fast alseep and was shocked to be touching down. It was much the same for the flight from Tokyo to HK.

That's not to say that I didn't have lucid periods. I read some of the "Special Holiday Double Issue" of The Economist*** and the first 30 or so pages of The Kite Runner, both of which I bought at the airport. (During this trip, I had wanted to read China Mieville's The Scar and Graham Greene's The Comedians, the latter per Patty's suggestion, but I couldn't find them at the local bookstores before I left. I may try to find them here before I leave. Since English is one of Hong Kong's three official languages - Cantonese and Mandarin are the others, although several languages can be heard with some regularity, including French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic and Tagalog - I might be able to find them.)

As for early impressions, I've none of Tokyo. I didn't even wander around the airport; being too exhausted, I went straight to my gate and sat still for the hour or so. My shoulders were in agony from having walked around the Detroit airport for a couple of hours with 40 lbs. on my back. In the Hong Kong airport, I was admitedly overwhelmed. I had expected to walk out of the airport - like in SF - and see a stand of taxis or shuttle buses. Also, in both SF and Detroit, it doesn't seem like it's very far to get to the airport entrance once you pick up your luggage. Here I felt like I walked at least mile within the Hong Kong airport before I got to the baggage carousel and another mile to reach the outer edge of the terminal. I looked around for a traveller's aid station but didn't see one. There were several kiosks with train and tram station maps, but I had no idea where the hotel was in relation, and I didn't want to screw around with public transportation at that point. I didn't stop to ask anyone anything because I was too tired and even briefly entertained the idea of sleeping in the airport and trying to find my way out in the morning, but I knew that was irrational.

Eventually I stumbled upon an arrow that pointed to hotel shuttles. Again, it was a very long hike and then I found myself in what looked like the inside of a Greyhound terminal, with actual buses and numbered doors. This upset me slightly because I felt like I'd taken a wrong turn, but there was no way I was going to go back to where I had come from, so I wandered up to one of the buses and asked a guy who looked like he worked there which, if any, of the buses could get me to the Island Pacific Hotel. The guy was extremely nice, and he walked me back to a ticket counter. It was $HK140, which is roughly $US20 (The exchange rate, pegged to ours, hovers around $US1 to $HK7.8) and that was fine with me. The same guy brought me over to a little waiting area and told me they would call me in about seven minutes. True to his word, not long afterward he came to get me, put me on the bus and away we went - for about 45 minutes, maybe as long as an hour. Most of the route seemed industrial - all I could see was other freeways, construction, etc. I was impressed by a row of "row high rises" as opposed to row houses, but I only caught a quick glimpse of them.

We stopped at one hotel before mine, and I wished it was where I was staying. It seemed like a lively area and looked pretty shishi from the outside. I did notice that there were people walking about the neighborhood - not tons of people like New York City at night, but more than a few. I was surprised to see lone women scattered here and there, which gave me the sense that the city, or at least where we were, is somewhat safe. They weren't dawdling, but they didn't seem rushed either. Put it this way: in Detroit proper, if you see anyone walking around near midnight, there's a good possibility they're up to no good. It's not even smart to walk around many parts of Detroit in broad daylight. In SF, I would often walk home around midnight or even later from wherever. It's not like I was out for a stroll, but I was never freaked out about getting from point A to point B, and that's the sense that I got from the women I saw. All were young - in about their 20s - and looked like they were going wherever they need to go without giving the sense of having to be supremely cautious. I also saw a few couples and, at one corner, a mixed group coming out of a place a called The Queens Terrace, which looked like an upscale restaurant or bar but upon further investigation turns out to be a residential high rise.

Then we re-entered some very industrial looking areas and pulled up to my hotel. I was vastly disappointed in the location, but the hotel itself is nice, which was comforting. I had no problems with my reservation, and the room has been perfect. I've got a nice big bed, somewhat of a view of Victoria Harbour (the waterway between Kowloon Peninsula and the Hong Kong Island; I am on HK Island and The Scholar Ship is docked on the Kowloon side), a hot shower, everything I need, and I was glad I didn't condemn myself to a hostel, where I might be concerned about vermin, human and otherwise. I was able to get a connection from my room at a reasonable rate and to get an outlet adapter from the concierge because the one I brought is two-pronged and my computer plug is three-pronged. But I was able to use the one I brought - a loan from Marie's mama - to charge up my camera. Hopefully I will get a little sight-seeing in tomorrow, but I also have to report to the ship tomorrow, so that might not happen.

---

  • I deplore Northwest. I really do. I have had a grudge against them since the time I was flying back to California from Detroit, and the plane I was on was discovered to have an engine problem before take-off. Instead of letting us off the plane, they made us stay in our seats for three hours until another plane was ready for us. We weren't given any food, we were strongly discouraged from using the bathroom, and the air grew hot and stinky. Several people missed connecting flights and were basically told to find their own solutions. Around that time - and I do believe it was pre-9/11 - Northwest had a lot of PR problems. I would have thought that they'd have resolved all of that by now. I also expected that their international service would be better than their domestic service. I was wrong.

Perhaps it was unfair for me to compare our lowly little domestic carrier with the likes of British Air, Virgin, and even South Africa Airways, but I did. On those airlines, even in the economy class, passengers receive little goodie bags filled with a toothbrush, a little tube of toothpaste, an eye mask, socks, a pen, and handywipes. On Northwest you get nada, zip, zilch. On the trio of airlines I mentioned, the food is startlingly good - genuinely quantifiable as gourmet. On this trip, I had one meal on the flight to Tokyo, that I honestly could not identify. It was a cold cut sandwich, the "meat" of which I'd never seen before nor tasted. It was disgusting. I also had a fish dinner, the fish of which, smelled like tuna from a can that had been left out in the sun for three days. Lastly, the other airlines have tv screens on the back of the seats, meaning that everybody could watch their own thing at their own leisure, and the offerings were plentiful: first-run movies, inc. documentaries, several episodes of multiple tv series, and even video games. My flights yesterday both had the old school, one giant screen in the middle of the plane. On the 13-hour flight to Tokyo, the plane's "entertainment system" was broken for the first five hours, and then suddenly fixed itself at which point we were subjected to some crappy Lifetime-esque movie called The Ultimate Gift or some dog doo like that about a trustfund brat who, as a stipulation to receiving his riches, had to go to Ecuador to deliver books to a library, where he was kidnapped and then escaped and then his fiance's sister or child died and he used his money to build a home in her name. I watched most of it without using my headphones in order to avoid the dialogue. I found I liked it better that way.

Northwest Airlines bills itself as NWA, by the way. I can never see those three initials without immediately associating them with the rap group of yore, NWA (Niggaz with Attitude). NWA is the perfect acronym for a business that is so totally ghetto.

  • *My ears bothered me immensely upon both landings, especially my right ear which is not the one in which the ear drum burst. I did wear EarPlanes, which are supposed to offer some protection from air pressure discomfort. I think they helped to downgrade unbearable to tolerable but nonetheless bothersome. I also took Actifed, which is an antihistimine and decongestant, and later just a decongestant during the flights because my sinuses became congested again the day before I left. I'm still taking both, which is a supreme drag. I'm hoping this kind of plays itself out in the next day or two, but again, it will be interesting to see what happens when I'm in places where the air quality is horrifically bad. Maybe I'll have to be like the outbreak girl, with an air mask over my face. Speaking of outbreaks, when I was queued up for customs at the airport, I was really glad that I allowed myself to be talked into getting a flu shot. So much humanity!
  • **The Economist. Not the sort of thing I usually pick up. I usually go for Men's Health, which for some sad reason unbeknownst to me, is significantly less vapid than the average women's magazines. While MH does have many articles that are truly only for men - shaving tips, suit and tie buying guides, etc. - it has plenty of fitness tips and usually boasts one or two random articles on a wide array of topics that can appeal to either gender. While in the air, I also tend to like the more obscure pop culture mags that one would never normally read such as Raygun, Paste, Q or the old standbys like Rolling Stone, Spin, Vibe. It all depends on what's promised on the cover. Once in a rare while, I will go for something like The Atlantic but never The Economist.

But this week's cover boasts a picture of Mao in a Santa Claus-ish hat. I noticed that there seemed to be a number of articles about places on this trip's itinerary - articles about China's economy, Thailand's election, Turkey's raids on Iraq and its relationship with Christians within its own borders, a piece on Zuma's ANC victory in South Africa, a report from a slum in India, etc. It looked like something that I should be reading right about now. Yet it was something else that screamed BUY ME. I had the magazine in my hand, when it fell open to an article that made me burst out laughing. The article is on the Esalen Insitute with the subtitle, "Victim of it's own success." Vani, Suzy, Jennifer, and I been talking a little bit about Esalen and Landmark Education at my bon voyage party just a few nights ago, so I bought it, and it's a very hilarious read, partly because of my own experiences at Esalen last year and my subsequent reading of the place as "a cult" and partly because this sort of Brit journalism is attrocious.

The Economist plays as much more sophisticated than it actually is, and pieces like this give it away. Published under the heading "American spirituality," the article is a work of sheer drivel er I mean "dry wit," that is a perfect complement to the actuality of Esalen. The author makes many bizarre generalizations about the United States as a whole ("If asked about their faith, many [Americans] would answer that they are 'spiritual but not religious.' That may sound daft to both theists and atheists, but it comes from a deeply American cultural tradition - one that has, if one can call it that, its own Mecca or Vatican. This place is called Esalen. It is in California, unsurprisingly.....") and about what it calls "the Californian way of life as the world understands it." Case in point, the article concludes with this moronic summary: "Whether at Esalen or not, Californians are still willing to try anything new - to do it until it hurts and to become caricatures in the process - in order to explore how far we can go as human beings. The consequences may be laughable, but somebody has to do it." What?

The real problem with having read that particular piece is that it cast a shadow of doubt upon everything else I read, though I was dazzled by the array of subject matter. I mention it because as exceedingly bad as it is, I started to get a sense of what I might come up against on this trip. For instance, there's an interesting article on Mitt Romney and the Mormon religion, but it too is sprinkled with statements like this: "The 53,000 dark-suited missionaries who fish for souls around the world can seem like America personified: earnest, friendly, optimistic, fond of Jesus and eager to tell you about it." Really? This rendering of "America" - by Brits no less - seems implausible to me. I honestly don't know what to make of it, nor do I know if it's a good thing. Definitely something to keep tabs on as the trip unfolds.

Posted by mpho3 23:08 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

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