Friday, July 11, 2008

Days 5-8 Shanghai, China

The flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai was short and we slept the whole time anyway because of that darn 445 am wake up call. However, the little sleep on the plane did not stop us from passing out as soon as we got into our hotel room. Speaking of the hotel room, DAMN!! A room like this in the states would cost nearly 10x the amount. Man we love Asia!

Upon awaking from our restful slumber, we took it to the streets. Let's preface this by saying the smog created by the pollution could choke you quicker than LA ever could. Regardless, we made it out into the smog free city center. We were very hungry at this point as we had been sleeping for the past 8 hours. We found KFC and Pizza Hut but we were determined to find more local food. And try as we may, our persistance paid off. Our non-English-speaking selection proved to be a great choice. Although we had to point to what we wanted on the menu, we got our point across. Dean ordered spicy bullfrog and beef tripe and I ordered a more conservative dish of shrimp and corn cakes. All of the food was delicious and I even tried spicy bullfrog! Suprisingly it was quite good but I just could not get past all floating frog parts in the bowl. The spine was just freaking me out. Dean could care less, in fact he enjoyed chomping on the frog spine to ensure he got every bit of meat off of it. GROSS!!!!! Sadly, I forgot my camera and couldn't catch this exciting moment on film. =/

After dinner we opted for a taxi ride back to the hotel because even though it was well past dark, the heat was unbearable and when you add smog into the mix it makes for a very killer combo. We jumped in the cab and showed the driver our hotel address in Chinese. Not to our surprise, he got lost and we ended up in an alley full of massage parlors (No, not all the naughty ones you guys are thinking of). Our curiosity led us into one such place...just to check prices of course. 24 bucks for an hour body massage?? This was an offer we could not refuse. My massage was lovely. Dean raved about his too. It was really hysterical though communicating wiithout words. They didn't speak English and our Chinese is well, non-existant at this point. I've started to notice a pretty universal behavior - when you can't communicate through language with someone it always seems to be funny. Everyone just laughs. So we paid for a massage and laughed as we left.

Needless to say, sleep came easy that night.

On day 2 we enjoyed the buffet breakfast at our hotel. It had traditional chinese selections as well as western options. Dean enjoyed his dim sum and congee while I had fresh fruit and waffles. Call me boring but I don't really care to have the runs while I'm here. Dean doesn't mind.

To be continued...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Days 1-4 Culture Shock!

The day is finally here…took forever it seems. We are about to embark on a 5 city tour of Asia and it all begins with a 14.5 hour flight from L.A. to Hong Kong. To me, this was not the best way to start a trip as I get motion sickness and have never been on a plane for more than 5 hours.

Meds to make me sleep – check

Socks to keep my feet warm – check

Twizzlers – check

GRE study book – ha ha ha ha ha

Thankfully, we had bulkhead seats on the monster of a plane. Basically this means a bit more legroom than normal. Great! So we make our last cell phone calls home and try to get comfy. Not ten minutes after we sat down did I realize…my seat was wet and consequently so were my pants! Fantastic. I tried not to think about what it could be but the idea of a two-year-old-can’t-hold-it-any-longer-but-mom-won’t-wake-up tortured me. I smelled it. It didn’t smell like pee…so it wasn’t, right? I proceeded to collect several blankets to separate me from the mysteriousness and when I told a flight attendant, she said “Okay, you sit here” and pointed to the seat across the isle from me. And sit in a ‘regular’ seat for over 14 hours and not be next to my boyfriend? – I thought. I stayed in my seat.

Like an angel in disguise, another flight attendant asked us if we would like to move to the exit row. Seriously?!?!? Dean and I both bolted. We had the entire row and about 4 feet of open space in front of us. And with that, we felt the universe telling us that this was going to be a good flight and a great trip.

The next 14 hours went by sllllllllllloooooooooowwwwwwww then fast then slooooooooooowwwwwww then fast. We talked. We ate. He read. I slept. We stretched. We ate. We watched 5 movies. And ever so gracefully, we landed. In Hong Kong.

We made our way through the airport, found our bags (thank goodness), took a train and then hopped in a cab to our hotel. The airport baggage and train system is so efficient. The US really has some catching up to do. If the rest of our trip is like this, what a load off!

Our first impressions of the city: Hello high rises! Hello Chinese people! Oh good, there’s English under all the Chinese writing!

The hotel is in a part of Kowloon named Mong Kok. The cab ride was interesting because Mong Kok (at least the part around our hotel) is not very impressive. It is quite run down with a bunch of little stores covered with tin-like garages. For a second, we thought that our hotel was one of these places. Then, all of a sudden the cab turns a corner and there stands this incredible monstrosity of a hotel. We both looked at each other thinking the same thing... Where the hell did that come from?!
Our hotel room was…well, luxurious... ridiculously luxurious. The view from our 29th floor windows was breathtaking. We fell asleep fast at 9pm (9am home time) because jet lag had set in and our 14 hour flight was not filled with much sleep, only excitement for our future journey.
We awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed at 630am (thanks to our early night). We planned our mission for the day (which was quite extensive considering we only have three days in Hong Kong) and ordered breakfast to the room. Around 800 we were off like two wheels on a scooter.

First, we went to Victoria peak, the top of a mountain with spectacular views of the islands. We took a cab thinking that this was surely the only way up. To our amazement though we saw a cable car half way up the winding streets to the top. Well, I guess we can take it back down I thought. We got up to the top very early and saw what looked like a huge mall. This was not exactly what we imagined we would find at the Peak. The stores were all closed and so was the observation deck, so we went to an open coffee shop and enjoyed the view over a hot cup. After finishing up we snapped some pics right outside the shop and walked around for a while until we figured it was time for an early lunch.

We ate lunch at a not-so-cheap restaurant (that was all that was open) at the top the peak (caprese salad for me – chicken vindloo for Dean). The restaurant was correctly named the Lookout, as it has one of the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. It turned out that the Lookout is actually the oldest restaurant in Hong Kong and is considered a landmark by the locals. The food was above incredible, which is a good thing considering all the weird stuff Dean is going to try to make me eat on this 3 week culinary adventure.
After eating....We walked through Madame Toussade’s museum of wax celebs. The wax figures look so freaken real that you have to look over your shoulder to make sure they aren't moving when you look away. Dean was happy becuase he got to square off in a mock fight against Bruce Lee (one of his childhood heroes) and I got to do battle with a sumo wrestler (I had a big lunch) and stuff Yao Ming from making a jump shot. I know... I'm so cool!

After excitedly coming out of the wax museum we took the cable Wandered through the zoological and botanical gardens
- Meandered around the treacherous and busy streets of Hong Kong island

- Took a ferry ride from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon
- Went to the space museum and science museum where we watched a liquid nitrogen demonstration

And no tour of Hong Kong would be complete without none other than a visit to a Brazilian jujitsu gym. Most of the guys spoke English and they were so excited to meet someone from American Top Team. So the guys rolled around for a few hours while I watched and took pictures. When class was over, every guy showered and they invited us to a nearby bar with them. Sure, we said.

Our night ended with stories over a few beers with some locals and not-so-locals as one guy was from the US but living in Hong Kong to teach English and a few guys from Japan. That was a great night cap after a LONG but successful day of seeing Hong Kong.

Dinner: ham and mushroom in olive oil pasta for me and left-over chicken vindloo for Dean

New impressions: It smells bad. Our map was worth triple its weight in gold. 1 US dollar = 7.1 Hong Kong dollars. A lot of people smoke. The AC units in all the high-rise apartments drip onto the street. It’s so different. We love it.

The next day was a bit more slow paced. We enjoyed the rooftop pool on the 41st floor until noon and then headed back out on the street. Lunch was out of this world. I ate more than Dean. No lie. I had a salmon with cheese and veggies rice bowl. MMMM I want one now! Dean had a chicken and veggie with raw egg and hot sauce paste rice bowl. To my surprise, his was good too but not as good as mine!

With the video cam, camera, gym bag, guidebook, and map we took the streets again in route to the BJJ (Brazilian jujitsu) gym. After class we were invited again to the same bar with the group. We learned they go every day after training to the same bar. The same table is always reserved. After a few beers there we walked to a restaurant for dinner. They wanted to show us ‘real’ Chinese food. The 8 of us had a private room and Brad asked us if he could order for us. Okay! With unease in my stomach, I remained optimistic. Then the dishes began to arrive. Jellyfish. Bamboo. Pork. Shrimp. Dim sum. Ham. Tofu. More tofu. Beans. More tofu. Unknown things. Hot Chinese wine. Hot tea. Cold beer. Veggie rice. I tried almost everything and liked almost everything I tried. No slimy tofu of jellyfish for me ever again. Dean ate everything and loved it all. Good for him. Overall, the whole experience was just that, an experience and it was a great one. From there we made our way to yet another bar for, you guessed it, more drinks.

Don’t worry. Dean and I kept our consumption to a minimum. And we learned that none of the guys owned cars. We also learned a Chinese dice game. And suddenly around midnight we realized we had to get up early. Very early to fly to Shanghai. So goodnight Brad, Forrest, Aki, Mkoto, another Mkoto and a few others and goodnight Hong Kong.

Let’s just say we were less than amused with our 445am wake up call. But we managed to pull ourselves together and get up and out. To our amazement, the city was also waking. Many street vendors and shops were already open.

Airport bound, again. Here we come Shanghai!!