How Not To Visit Hong Kong

Welcome to Hong Kong
Welcome to Hong Kong

How not to visit Hong Kong: Don’t enter the city from the re-purposed airport, now a cruise terminal. Its clean, organised, friendly atmosphere will take the worry away, and you will feel relaxed like travelers should never feel. You will enter this city, a new one to you, and feel you have stepped into the arena of a welcoming travel agent who has just the right cab waiting to navigate the busy streets and take you with confidence any where you like.

Don’t sit back in that cab, take a long sigh, and let the sights around envelope you as the buildings and people and entire cityscape give you a thorough introduction to everything you want to see.

sneak peek
sneak peek

Don’t check into a high-rise hotel where there is a view onto the city in any direction. Don’t become interested in the roof-top life of the people living in the middle of this crowded city. It is here people seek the quiet, tend their pets, raise some greenery, exercise, hang their wash. You may fall in love with that city-top lifestyle; private, except for a glimpse or two from you in the tall hotel.

Don’t venture out from that hotel and immediately get lost on your way to the tourist mall, turning left instead of right, perhaps, so that you find yourself in that fabulous food court, used not by the tourists, but by the people who work in the tourist industry. There, you can breathe in the aroma of the pungent herb you can’t identify. You can see the busy lunch breaks unfold, the workers becoming customers, resting for a moment, joining already full tables. They choose today’s meal not from slick mall-front brand names, but from one indistinguishable stall or the next, choosing by scent or history or this day’s personal taste.

Walking - the best way to see things
Walking – the best way to see things

Don’t then take a stroll on the streets that lasts hours. There is so much to see, and you can walk as long and as far as you like. After your walk, don’t rest on the ferry, then walk again along the harbor on the facing shore, realizing that you could do this every day and see something different.

Don’t offer a candy from the pack you just bought to a young man who is sitting in the restaurant booth next to you. He tells you the history of that candy. It is really an herbal remedy for sore throats, and he has been using them since he was a little boy. You couldn’t read anything on the pack when you bought it, and so relied on the mint leaf picture. He unwraps the mystery for you in English, and says ‘Chiao’ when he leaves.

Don’t stop when the schoolgirls in matching uniforms run up to you and ask you to answer a ‘few questions’ from a printed paper attached to their clipboard. They really will be just a few, and you will want the conversation to continue when they are finished, give their thanks and run off to their next conquest.

Don’t do any of these things, and you will save yourself the expense of a future return trip. I wasn’t so lucky. I did all this, and will have to bear that expense someday. One visit to Hong Kong is simply not enough. Drat.

 

When Fog Rolls In

Once upon a time, we had travel plans. The plans took us to Shanghai, a must-see place on any journey, or so everyone says. But me, Marsha, I could do without a Shanghai. I’d just had quite a bit of wondrous travel. I was getting suspicious, because glorious, breath-taking travel is also tough and unpredictable. I figured that Shanghai – smoggy, muggy, with too-tall buildings and many fake markets – was going to be that place that would break my traveler’s good luck cycle.

That’s when the fog rolled in. We were on the ocean, so fog shouldn’t have surprised me. But this fog – yellowish even at night, warm and sticking to my skin, as unrefreshing as a hot shower on a steamy day – brought with it a torpid unease. We lolled on the open ocean, like the occasional stray barrel that floated alongside, waiting for the Chinese authorities to open the port for traffic. Twice during this 18-hour delay, the overcast lifted for just a moment and I could count dozens of other vessels waiting for clearance into this busy city. It didn’t look promising, and I hoped for an about-face and a fast run to Okinawa, our next stop. Like us, though, the fog hung around, relentless, delivering the message that the city did not want us there.

I had long come to the conclusion that we would be leaving soon, getting back on schedule, visiting those places that offered fog-free welcome. But the captain of the ship had other plans. With passengers to let off and others waiting to come aboard, we charged into Shanghai as soon as there was clearance. All I had to do was bide my time in the steam room of the ship spa, read a bit more, grab another ice cream cone. These other travelers had to change plans, re-do reservations, fret and wait around for other people to make decisions. Still, I wanted to leave them behind and get on with things.

Where are the tall buildings?
Where are the tall buildings?

We did get off the ship and into Shanghai for a shortened visit. The fog had lifted enough to allow us to dock, but not enough to uncover the famously high buildings. The smoky incense from all the temples – usually something that adds to the flavor of any place – mixed with the fog and the smog and the diesel. My eyes burned and blurred. I coughed throughout our visit.

Old City
Old City

Sometimes when we travel, our experiences in the best places in the world are not good. Shanghai certainly isn’t all about me. I enjoyed seeing people shop, walking in their streets, visiting their temples. But my visit there will be my only one, and I had wanted a different experience. Sometimes, when the fog of life rolls in and plans change, even really fabulous places just lose their appeal. As for me, Marsha, I’m looking forward to Okinawa.*

 

*oh-oh-oh-Okinawa, next. No fog. No luck.

 

Love Letters to Women I Don’t Know #4

Dear Woman on the Great Wall,

You approached me already talking, with a smile I will never forget and a language I couldn’t understand. Perhaps you were ranting against tourists, but in a very friendly way. Then you took my arms in a warm grasp and continued with your words and that smile, lighting up the entire smog-wrapped mountain.

 

Woman on the Wall
Woman on the Wall

I remember your face: my age, with wrinkles from a smile you must carry with you always, and tanned from outdoors, kindhearted and full of humor. I laughed as you spoke, enjoying the moment, wishing I could understand your words, but not really needing them.

We had been in Beijing less than 24 hours, but in this moment, atop your Great Wall, my visit became complete. Perhaps you were telling me of your family, or a special way to prepare a traditional dish, or a secret of life for our gender, something women share worldwide. Although I could not understand what you spoke, I laughed all day at the way you spoke it, the strong grip of your arms, and the laughter in your voice. You gave me the only history lesson I will ever need of China.

I will spend some wonderful moments remembering the coincidence of you and me in the same spot at the same time. I thank you from the equally-wrinkled skin of my face to the travel-worn soles of my shoes. I don’t know you, Woman of the Great Wall, but I love you.

Forever Grateful – Marsha

Beijing

Beijing. Twenty-two million people and counting. The entire time we spent there, that multitude was flung at us: riding bikes down the streets, maneuvering vehicles down the road, walking the Great Wall. People in droves were everywhere, happy and welcoming.

Great big Wall
Great big Wall

I knew it would be a huge city, and I knew it would be smoggy. I intended to keep time in Beijing, waiting for the more pleasant part of our journey to begin. Stanley had written up his list for crossing-off, so I booked a hotel, reserved a couple tours, and figured I would hold my breath (smog) until his list was depleted and we could go. I never gave a thought about the mood of the city or the spirit of the people.

Or the sight of county-fair-like booths offering street food delicacies in huge raw piles waiting for the enormous fire-encrusted wok. Or modern and expansive avenues with modern and expensive retailers luring all those residents to come and buy. Late model cars by the tens of thousands surprised me, as did ancient waterways in the heart of downtown. And outright affection. Hand-holding and arm clasps all day long. We did the tourist things, and for once, it seemed like a fun vacation thing to do. I was happy to go to the tea ceremony and the traditional lunch and the jade factory simply for the spectacle of all those people pressing into all those locations and doing it with grace and welcome.

I was especially glad to climb a section of the Great Wall with many, many Chinese people. For one part of one morning, they shared their treasured icon with me. Old, old stonework, and my new first impression brought me to respect the invitation that China is giving the world.