Cathay Pacific for the first time. - OUCH!
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Entry # 27 – Leaving OZ and arriving in Hong Kong – August 19 - 23
Sunday, August 20 – Last Day in Sydney
Checked out and stored my luggage at the hotel and then took the train with things to be mailed to Global Gossip - 2 boxes. I wish they had Global Gossip stores all over as they are the wonderful combination of internet café, phone booths, fax station and mail services.
I had made a shuttle reservation on the line the day before and when I called to confirm, they had not received it and were booked solid.
I ended up calling a cab and my taxi driver had been to Hong Kong many times and gave me excellent information on restaurants and things to see. I arrived 5 hours early at the airport and was told that the counter would not open for another two hours. So I found some snacks and watched my DVD from Against the Wind and munched away. It was wonderful to be able to entertain myself. I may try to find other DVD’s with either 1 or 0 zones to carry just in case.
As I checked in, my bags were 25 kilos and only 20 were allowed. (NOTE TO SELF AND TO ALL INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS – International airlines have lower limits than the US Airlines. Suggestion - Check ahead with any airline you will use for their baggage limits and go pack to the lowest number) I did not end up being charged for it, but I plan to either only fly with one of my two bags in future and store one, and after Africa, I will mail one of my bags home. In the interim, it is time to jettison stuff again.
NOTE TO SELF – Next Round the World Trip – Only one bag and the carry on back pack!!!
Went to claim the refund on tax I had paid on a high-ticket item. I did not receive it because you have to have bought your item within 30 days of departure. For my original departure date, my purchase would have been fine, but not after I extended my visa. As they were trying to process me, the computer did not find my passport or me. I was beginning to feel like Mr. Cellophane from Chicago. By this time, my energy was rather low and my optimism dampened. Had I known/or remembered the rules that I would not have been able to claim a refund, I would have shipped the item home from Australia instead of having to wait for Hong Kong. I have the email to write to explain my concerns and will do so at my earliest convenience.
Cathay Pacific – first time on this airline and the Aircraft #330 has the seat configuration of 2 by 4 by 2. I had a window and a very large man on the aisle. The flight was absolutely full and no additional seats anywhere. With not much legroom and the person in front of me fully reclined, it was a very uncomfortable flight. Add to this that there wasn’t anything fun to watch on the videos, but the food was pretty good and you got this cute little bag with socks, a tooth brush and tooth paste and a breath mint, so it wasn’t all bad. I tried my best to sleep but ended up arriving tired with a backache and feeling a little overwhelmed.
Monday, August 21 – Arriving in Hong Kong
I landed in China at 5:10 am, pooped and stiff. As I looked out the window, I could not see the ground until we were on it. I had forgotten what humidity and an abundance of water can do for water vapor and fog in the air.
Immigration was no problem and was exchanging money by 6:15, bought a phone card, octopus card (more later) and debated about storing some luggage at the airport. Realized that I would need all of it to sort it, dump some things and get ready for South Africa.
As I was standing in line to exchange my Aust $ into KH$, I consulted my free map that I found in the arrival concourse. I have had fabulous luck with these maps that are in every airport that I have seen. NOTE TO ALL TRAVELERS - These are great maps and usually have good street detail. I finally located the YWCA and finally had a feel about where I would be staying. I found I was nicely situated close to the harbor and the peak tram system. YAAH!
I knew that the YWCA would not have my room ready, so I did not hustle around to get the bus into town. A bakery was open in the airport and I bought two pastries and guava juice. It was nice to be back to a location that venerates the humble guava. YAAH!
The octopus card is a prepaid card that allows you to use on the buses, train, and at many stores and attractions. You simply swipe it as you enter and it deducts the fare. You even get a rebate of $50HK when you return it at the end of your trip.
I caught the bus that would take me from the island of Lantau through Kowloon and finally to Hong Kong Island. I was getting really sleepy from the no sleep on the plane and the carbohydrates. I missed my first place to get off, but managed to find the call button on the bus for the next best place to get off. I had read in the guide book that the taxis don’t use the same curbs as the buses, but I knew they were around. I found a queue, after I had bashed my ankle with my larger suitcase. (Sleep deprivation and I are not the best combination at times.) I had a cute elderly cab driver that very nicely took me to the YMCA on the harbor, but quickly recovered when I said that I needed to go to the YWCA up the hill. Having become fairly comfortable with my map, I knew where I was supposed to be going.
I left my bags and the front desk, took a business card from the front desk, had the numbers of the buses that would get be back to the Y, and went off to amuse myself for 5 hours until my room would be ready. I walked down the hill towards the harbor and came across the Pacific Coffee Company that I had heard offered free wireless internet. YUMMY COFFEE and more recommendations on what to do in a limited number of days in HK. On my list was the tram ride to the peak for the view, a harbor cruise, the harbor front tram, the island of Lantau and the big Buddha, the world’s longest network of escalators and the Museum of tea ware.
Hong Kong is very clean, does not really have a smell except a little irritation in your nose of dust from the smog/fog. There are signs everywhere telling you that there is up to a $5000 fine for littering, spitting and dropping cig butts. The first thing I noticed was how relatively quiet it is as compared to other cities. No honking to speak of. The city is full of double decker buses that careen around tight corners with great efficiency. The city is a labyrinth of twisted roads and disappearing sidewalks. Built on a hill, unless you are right by the harbor, you will be navigating steps or escalators and climbing sometimes quickly and very steeply up the side of the hill.
I had been advised to wait until later in the day or night to do the peak, as the smog would clear. So I began to walk further down closer to the water and found the tea ware museum. It was in a very large park with multiple attractions and was housed in an old colonial building. The entrance to the park was right across from the US Embassy that had roped off lines for people wanting to enter the embassy. The tea museum was fun and it had one section where you could listen to various songs, all about tea making and harvesting. Very interesting and lovely music. I then ended up in one of the huge and ubiquitous shopping malls full of high priced goods. Why was I in a shopping mall, when I could be out seeing Hkong? So I went out and found the little tram that was recommended and got on the one going east. It is electric, has two levels, you enter on the back and I quickly went upstairs to try and get a front row seat. For only $2HK ($.25US) you can ride as far as you like. I finally had spent enough time and knew that my room would be ready so I got back on a tram going west and got off to find my bus. Again between my wonderful free map and the bus numbers from the guys at the front desk, I found my bus and was home in 10 minutes.
The YWCA is a tall VERY WELL AIRCONDITIONED building. The hall carpets are new, but the rooms are showing their wear. It is clean otherwise, I was on the 9th floor and it had a great view, plus my own bathroom and a shower with amazing water pressure. I was pooped and had intended to rest for a few hours and then do the peak. 6 hours later I was still in my room and still pooped so I decided to do it tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 22– Hong Kong
Sent laundry out (and had I known the quality it would come back in, I would have sent my entire suit case. Why I should have been surprised, because I guess the saying about Chinese laundries are true – they are excellent), poodled around and finally left the room at 11am. I stopped by the desk because they offer internet connection in the rooms and I needed my password and connection cable.
I went off to find the post office for stamps and to find where I needed to go tomorrow to mail more stuff home. I found a delightful display in the post office of a mural of the HK skyline done entirely in stamps.
Next, it was time for the Star Ferry ride. One hour around the harbor and I could have gotten off in several locations to explore, but decided to just ride around.
I wandered around in a street market district and found the central market, which has been shut since the SARS outbreak. I was on the hunt for two things – the longest escalator network and some souvenirs. You are going to laugh when I tell you this – I COULD NOT FIND ANY SOUVENIRS SHOPS! All I wanted were some little silk purses, maybe a photo album, Chinese flag, etc and I could not find one shop. Maybe they are all over on the other side on Kowloon.
As I was wandering around in the streets looking for souvenirs, I managed to find the dried fish market and the section that I believe was for Chinese medicines. It wasn’t too smelly. There was shop after shop of bags of dried stuff, that all appeared beige. At one point, I looked up and saw what I assume was a shark fin and then, not looking too closely, I saw antlers still in velvet. The thing that constantly amazes me is in the east, when you find these markets, one type of store is all in one area. Store after store selling, what to my eyes, was exactly the same stuff. How can any of them make any money?
I finally found the escalators and sure enough, there are progressively higher and higher sets of moving steps or moving walkways interrupted every so often with a little bit of sidewalk. Prior to it being built, it was doubted if it would be used, but it transports thousands of people daily. In the am until 10am, it only goes down and after that it only goes up. After I was done riding that, I made my way with my trusty map and the wonderfully signposted streets to the peak tram terminal. Less than a 10 minute ride to the top, up an incredibly steep track, to the point where you have get a crick in your neck. The peak was still fairly foggy, but I walked around, had a coffee and guess what? I FOUND A SOUVENIR SHOP! Plus a huge shopping mall up on this peak. I had assumed that the tram was the only way up, but you can drive as well.
I got back to the Y and had to have the front desk come and help me reconfigure my computer for the network. I still have to make reservations for the final stages of this year and feel a need to get as many of them in place before I get to Africa. I must admit, I am feeling a little tired of all the logistics and just want it to be easy for a while. I will definitely go down to only one suitcase and backpack after Africa and am looking forward to lightening the load.
NOT TO SELF – Next round the world trip – pick one type of volunteer work in order to limit what things I need to bring. From this experience, I know that I need so much less than I had thought when I left Colorado. In addition, most of the extra things that I needed, I could find almost anywhere – toothpaste, soap, and shampoo.
Wednesday, Aug 23 – Last Day in Hong Kong
This morning was involved spraying premetherin on the clothes for Africa (mosquito repellent), discarding or determining what to mail home and packing. Having left my luggage at the Y, I walked to the post office (and had one last Pacific Coffee – very yummy) and cabbed it back to the Y.
I took another cab to the bus stop that would take me to the airport where I would store or check my bags until my flight close to midnight. Luckily, I could check my bags in early but they were still 25 kilos and I had taken stuff out. Hmmmmmmm? The extra weight was no issue this time and again, no charges. I found it would be a 13-hour flight and I got an aisle seat in one of the exit rows with more legroom! YAAAAH! I was amazed it would be a relatively short flight. I had assumed the flight would be a lot longer when you consider how it looks on the map.
I wanted to see the largest outdoor Buddha at the Lo Pin Monastery. The bus system sounded too complicated, so I took a cab. The road on the way to the monastery was under construction and at times went down to one lane. As the road was very windy, instead of having flag people, they had traffic lights set up to let each direction of traffic through. My cab driver was determined to get me there quickly and I felt like I was in a pinball machine.
The Buddha is huge – 276 steps to the top. A man asked if I wanted my photo and I said yes and pulled Quen out. As I descended at one point, there were about 100 dragonfly’s swarming in front of us. A lovely moment with one of my favorite totems.
I had planned to go back via cab, but there did not appear to be any coming. So I got into the bus queue and figured I could find my way back. The man that had offered to take my picture was also on the bus and also on his way to the airport. I figured I would follow him. On our second bus to the airport, we talked and he is Mike, a physician from South Africa who is returning home after 5 months around the world and he will be on my flight.
Mike and I separated at the airport for a while as he was in search of a shower and internetting and I wanted dinner, shopping and internetting. We figured we would catch up with each other late at the gate.
It has been a challenging couple of days. Lots of make wrong and feeling out of sorts. Very much looking forward to getting all my final logistics booked and confirmed, and staying in one place for a while. The biggest thing that is hanging over my head are final flights and hotel reservations for both South Africa and Europe. Not sure why, but am not having much luck booking on line with some airlines. I think I am really tired as I keep longing for things to be easier.
Flight to Johannesburg
The Hong Kong airport, while modern and clean, is laid out in almost a straight line with a few offshoots. We had arrived back from the Buddha in plenty of time and I had planned to do a little more looking, dinner, internetting, some phone calling to the US for business issues and then reading. The flight was supposed to leave at 11:45 with an 11:20 check in, but the gate was not even posted until 9:30. I had hedged my bets and had found an internet station around gate 44 and once posted, my gate was 67. With Starbucks in hand (I know I know, I don’t like Starbucks, but it was the only coffee on the concourse and I didn’t want to make the march back to gate 10 for other options), I was off to gate 67.
Got my banking done and was prepared to wait, half expecting to see Mike after his shower and email checking. At 10:45, we got the announcement that our new gate was gate 5. Off we all went to the other end of the terminal with the announcements ringing in our ears that they were about to turn off the moving walkways in 10-15 minutes. We made it and I settle down with my suduko and expected to board in about 20 minutes. 30 minutes later we had the announcement that we were delayed by 30 minutes and our new departure time would be 12:10 am. At 12:05, we had the announcement that we were still delayed and would be departing at 1:00 am. (Funny, I had just told Mike today that my only delay in the trip had been my 4-hour delay in the middle of the night in Bali.)
We were finally able to load, so on to buses we went to be ferried out to the plane. One woman looked out the fogged over window and told us she thought we were heading back towards gate 67. We ended up in the middle of the field and went on the plane. I had very wisely asked the exit aisle with the extra legroom. I was not going to suffer with bruised knees again. My seatmate was a woman who seemed to have the drill down and knew where to stow all of her stuff. It looked like the four seats in the middle were unoccupied and I planned to jump across the aisle and sit on the end so that I could at least prop my feet up to sleep. Just before we took off, a man from the other cabin jumped into one of the middle seats and went to sleep. CRAP!
During the flight, he ended up lying across two of the middle seats, because the end seats arm rests were locked down, and snored loudly. Several people including a flight attendant had come by to see if there were over flow seats to offer to people and turned away unhappy. Some people’s children! I was plugged in for a while with him and finally asked for assistance to let it go and be a peace. The universe said yes.
I slept much better on this flight and felt much more relaxed and ready to face my day in the airport in Africa