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.