September 20, 2016

Let’s see, where did I leave off? Ah yes, bike is now fixed, debit card once again retrieved, new phone purchased. Still loving my new job. They may drive me crazy sometimes but I do love these guys. Last week I was in horrible mood when I got to work for some reason, but then April arrived and threw herself at me, demanding "hug me, hug me, hug me!"How can you stay grumpy around that all day?

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Not to mention Beijing has been spectacularly beautiful the past few weeks. Sunny and blue skies, starting to cool off slightly for fall.

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I’ve been getting out of Beijing into the suburbs a bit more: Shunyi, Maquanying, Chongping, lots of new areas for me, much quieter than the center of Beijing. Last weekend Jess got a job photographing a golf tournament for the British Chamber and I got to tag along. The course was at Chateau Lafitte, which was gorgeous, more like a European estate than anything you’d expect to see in China. We had one of the guys on staff chauffeuring us around in a golf cart all day while we took photos. Fun day-

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Then this past weekend was a four-day holiday for the Mid-Autumn Festival so we headed to Hong Kong. I’ve been there several times now but usually just for a day or so on visa runs, enough time to get there and then turn around. This time we got out to explore the city and surrounding areas. We actually stayed out on one of the islands-Cheung Chau-about a 45 minute ferry ride from Hong Kong island.

Cheung Chau is a really small island, we walked most of it trying to find our Airbnb place, but with a population of 50,000 or so. It still had a small-town feel though. As we were wandering around looking lost we were stopped by a woman, Michelle, who attempted to help us find the apartment but ended up having to call her husband, Michael, a local postmaster, who actually came to meet us. The place was a little confusing and at one point we had about 10 people gathered around us discussing loudly in Cantonese whether we were in the right place! But we got there eventually, waaay up in the hills. The view was worth it though:

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The next morning we got up early and got the ferry to Hong Kong. We checked out the Stanley Market area, where I found a beautiful jade ring and got a spectacular sunburn on the beach. It’s bad. Last time I got burned Jess informed me that I looked like a strawberry donut. After the beach? “You look like a f$%#@* tomato tree…vine…something.” You can always count on your best friend to be honest. The beach was beautiful though, not too horribly crowded. Then we walked around Hong Kong Park, which was gorgeous, and free, a key consideration for us on our travels. There’s a huge aviary and a conservatory inside as well that we visited.

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I loved this fountain and even liked the picture of me Jess managed to snap-

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All this to kill time until the night markets opened. And then, oh, the shopping! There’s so many different markets, with things everywhere. I couldn’t resist some more jewelry and presents. Then we caught the ferry back to Cheung Chau.

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wp-image-1038936548jpg.jpgWe had some vague plans to go back and explore more on Saturday but were too exhausted, so we spent the day touring our little island, which had more than its share of shops and street vendors, tiny private beaches, and narrow twisty alleys to explore.

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Totally common sight to see people hanging their fish out to dry on their balcony alongside the laundry.

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wp-image-1913210770jpg.jpgIt was so nice to have a new place to explore. There’s such an interesting feel to Hong Kong, different from places I’ve been in mainland China. More international, more accepting, people from all over the world. There are so many languages being spoken everywhere, but primarily English-nearly every person we spoke to knew at least a little. And Cheung Chau feels more like a Caribbean Island than anything else.

Also, I’m super excited because I finally booked my trip to Thailand during National Holiday-only 12 days left! And, thanks to my parents, I have a plane ticket booked to come home for two weeks around Christmas, too. Hoping to get Shanghai checked off my list before then as well. My goal is to travel as much as possible this year and book a  trip for every Chinese holiday. I have vague plans for India and Vietnam during the two-week New Year’s break in February so we’ll see how that shapes up.

Hong Kong, 2nd Attempt

Well, after an overall awful week (more later) and many, many hours on the phone with Expedia, Jess and I managed to refund/rebook our Hong Kong trip for this weekend. The trip there went more or less smoothly. We had just enough time to make our flight after we got bounced from one check in desk to another. If you book with Air China (one word, DON’T) they can either put you on an actual Air China flight or one of their sister airlines; Dragonair or Cathay Pacific. We ended up on Dragonair for the flight out. Then I almost got held at immigration. My visa is for 90 day stays at a time. Sunday was exactly 90 days; however, apparently they calculate to the freaking minute!!! So since it was about 6pm I had overstayed by like four and a half hours or something stupid. After a warning the supervisor let us go through security. Then we had to get a train to a different terminal and got to the gate with ten minutes to spare.

But the flight was nice; I would fly Dragonair again. Decent dinner (including Hagen Daas for dessert), free beer and wine, and I finally got to watch the new Minion movie!!! I don’t know what to tell you, the minions just make me happy. It was great. We got into Hong Kong on time and took the subway most of the way to the hotel. It was a little way out from the nearest station though so we took a cab from there. I then realized it was the first time I’d ever driven on the wrong side of the road…it’s a little disorienting! I hadn’t really gotten away from the airport area the last couple trips to HK so it was nice to see more of the city.

The hotel, the Royal View, was really nice, especially since it was only about $50 US/night, and all set up for Christmas:

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The view was beautiful too, although a little smudgy through the window and the smog (HK AQI was around 140, which is bad, but after the past few weeks in Beijing, where the air is so much worse, we actually celebrated it):

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The next morning we headed to Disneyland. And it was well worth the wait! It’s been years and years since I went and we had so much fun. We had perfect weather for it too. Plus, everything was all decked out for Christmas, which was nice because you don’t see as much of that in China as in the U.S., and they were playing a mix of Christmas carols and Disney songs, which was fun. There were no crowds, no major lines, I don’t think we waited more than 10 minutes for any ride all day. It was a Monday so that probably helped, too. There’s a special subway line that goes back and forth from the Sunny Bay station to the main gates of Disney and it’s all decorated with Mickey Mouse windows and hand grips, with cushy blue seats and little statues of Disney characters in glass cases inside. All subways should be like this!

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I loved to see the Main St, USA section and all the old-fashioned shops and the enormous Christmas tree. We had to get coffee at this adorable bakery too (which was maybe not the wisest choice given our decision to get on Space Mountain immediately afterward):

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That was a blast!

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I got to visit some of my all-time favorites: teacups, It’s a Small World, and, of course, a merry-go-round. Also, ice cream, just because.

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One of the coolest areas was the Toy Story land; all the toys in the movie are giant so you feel toy-sized walking around:

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And if you follow this link to the Beijing Brouhahas YouTube channel you can see video footage of the day, for instance, that time Jess actually halted a roller coaster in the middle. That was fun. (Actually, it kind of was…) Also, the crazy teacups.

All in all, we had a blast. Then we went back the hotel to enjoy the hot tub. We had great timing because the pool was closing for maintenance today for three months so we just made the cutoff. We had it all to ourselves too. Of course, after I jumped in I realized that was probably because it was ice water…Oh well! Then we watched a movie and snacked on real chips. Because they have real chips in Hong Kong, as opposed to the candied ones that are so popular on the mainland. It was actually the most perfect day I’ve had in a long time.

The only thing that sucked was landing in Beijing tonight, where it’s freezing and the AQI is close to 600. For those that have trouble picturing that, I will draw you a metaphor. Lock yourself in a small room, say 4’x4′. Fill it with blocks of ice. Sit there and smoke 3 or 4 packs of cigarettes. When you start to feel like you swallowed a flaming sword, you’re approaching our atmosphere. It hurts to swallow, it hurts to breathe, it hurts to talk; I think my vocal cords are really messed up by now. Ground visibility: 0. Seriously, even the smog app is telling me to go home, why don’t I listen? I am now home, blasting my space heater and air purifier simultaneously.

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