Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On to Hong Kong and then home!

The next leg of our journey required considerable travel again, but this time, we switched from one mode to another. We flew from Nanchang, Jiangxi to Guangzhou. Thankfully, there was a guide and driver wanting for us there, because what is considered by some to be quite simple, seemed like a rather difficult maneuver, going from the airport to the train station.  Once there, the guide stayed with us to ensure we knew exactly where to go, what time to be there, and in the meantime, where to get something to eat. Then she left after telling us what so many others had told us, Hong Kong is easy to get around because almost everyone speaks English.

Evidently, everyone in Hong Kong, except those people we met, can speak English. Or is it just that I speak way too Texan to be easily understood. The worst part was they would look at my girls and speak Chinese to them, but my girls speak Mandarin and they were speaking Cantonese, so neither could understand.

My daughters got to experience several firsts on this leg of the trip.

The first was a taxi driver who did not mind putting all our suitcases in the trunk and then holding it shut with a bungee cord. They were convinced that we would lose something along the way. They also did not know I knew how to call a taxi and could not believe that when I would step out on the curb, whistle, and hold up one hand, expecting one to appear, and they did.

This was our very first stay in Hong Kong and I was completely unprepared, for the vast difference in the “customs” of the hotel. We stayed on top of a mountain in China, a remote area, and had free internet. In Hong Kong you had to pay for it in your room, otherwise there was 30 minutes free in the lobby every 12 hours. Electricity in Hong Kong is a different current and there was no free adapter like all the hotels in China had provided when needed, but they would provide one for a charge. The mouthwash in the room even came with a price tag on it. And this was a nice hotel, not some two bit hotel. I was sitting in the lobby, trying desperately to send a message to my dad for father’s day, in my brief 30 minute window, when I was told that it was  required to buy a minimum of one beverage to sit there! UGH!

I had read on line that the subway system, the Metro was easy to use, yet the concierge urged us to take taxis instead to reach our destinations.

Our first stop was somewhere to eat, only the driver let us 2 or 3 blocks away with a vague wave of the hand of the location we needed to go. When we finally found the place, a reservation was required unless we could guarantee to be out of there within an hour. Fine by us, we normally eat faster than that and had a list of things to do. The thing I did not factor in was the terrible service and when our food still had not arrived about the time our hour was up, we left. Not a popular decision among my group I must say.

Before we had left for China, we had a long list of things the girls wanted to buy. With the speed of our trip, we had rarely found time to shop, so our next stop was the Ladies’ Market, an area of small booths all owned and operated by women. Thankfully, this taxi driver took us right to the beginning of the market so we weren’t at the mercy of me trying to read a map to find our way.

Here was a 2nd thing my girls learned about me – I know how to bargain in these markets. I was amazed at how it shocked them at my ability to get items for the price I wanted to pay. One of the first things we found was a phone case for Annabel’s phone. The price the woman quoted was retail and we were certainly not in a retail environment, so since I was holding the money, I offered a more appropriate price. After hearing how I was killing her, she of course, agreed. The girls were so impressed that we continued down through the stalls quickly picking out some of the top things on our long list that we still wanted to buy.

Since it was now closer to 9:00 and we still had not eaten, I asked the last woman we had done business with for a good place to eat, which was pretty funny, because she could suddenly no longer understand English and so I had to act it out, which provided plenty of amusement.

We were trying to find a Chinese restaurant and were surprised at how difficult that was, but we finally ended up somewhere that would take a credit card, since all our cash was spent at the market, and our waiter quickly gave us an orientation to the Hong Kong way of eating out. The dirty dish on the table, Hong Kong way, 4 pots of tea for 2 tea drinkers, Hong Kong way, and evidently chasing the mom down whose trying to find the bathroom to sell one more dish is also Hong Kong way.  Having your waiter continue to add soup to your bowl, much like our waiters add tea or water to your glass, must also be the Hong Kong way. The food was very good, but by then it was really late, so it was back to trying to find a taxi to take us back to the hotel, since we were completely lost by then.

Again, the girls were amazed when I insisted that we had to get to a busy enough street to find a cab and then having one actually stop.

Our goal for our one full day in Hong Kong was Hong Kong Disney. I had been joined a yahoo group of parents looking for help in planning these types of trips and when someone mentioned ending their journey with a trip to Disney, it sounded like a brilliant way to end ours. I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen when seeing the foster families and the emotional toll it would take on all, and I felt like we really had to have a break from that intense time, before coming home, kind of a decompression chamber.

This time we tackled the Metro, the subway system.

The girls were surprised that I could even find the entrance, much less know how to read the subway map, buy tickets, and then get us on the correct platform. They have a very nice subway system, and it is remarkably clean, and very easy to use.

When we made our last transfer, there was no doubt we were on our way to Disney, as the rings to hold onto were mouse ears, and displays of Disney princesses in bronze were on display.

The price on the tickets was higher than expected, but still a lot less than the cost of the US Disneys, but it is also a lot smaller. Being smaller was not a problem, as we were able to see and do almost all we wanted to, before we lost all our energy, and tackled the subway system back to the hotel.

When we got out of the subway, I could smell noodles cooking, but we did not see anything but nicer restaurants on the street level. The area is surrounded by skyscrapers and office buildings, so we went inside one that mentioned it had a shopping mall. The guard, with my acting ability to portray eating noodles, sent us upstairs to a very cramped and crowded restaurant, where they were able to understand we wanted to “take away”. While sitting on a tiny stool outside this busy restaurant, waiting for our food, I realized it was one of those jewels you just happen to stumble upon, as the windows were covered with awards they had won, letters received from several satisfied customers from companies such as CNN. Love these kinds of “accidents” that turn out great.

Back to the hotel in hopes of making the connection with a friend of their girls’ school, who is spending a lot of the summer with family in Hong Kong. Of course, it was back to the lobby to handle communication and our brief 30 minute window of checking email, trying to connect home, as well as their friend. Thankfully I found a “free” place to sit, rather than do like the others who seemed like zombies wandering through the lobby staring at some device in their hand to avoid the extra charge of the internet.

After a lot of packing and repacking, we had all our treasures packed and ready for our trip today. I let the girls sleep as long as we could while I went in search of inexpensive breakfast. Within a block of the hotel, I lost count of the number of Chinese medicine stores, that all open early, and office buildings, where workers were rushing to get inside. Again, one of the buildings mentioned a shopping area so I went inside and up the escalator and found about 5 noodle shops, serving big steaming bowls of noodles, among other things I did not recognize. I wasn’t sure I could act out “take away” again, but I finally found a place that was only “to go”. Since the entire menu was in Chinese with no pictures, I wasn’t sure I could guess well enough to order something. I tried asking everyone in line, but none spoke English. When I got to the front of the line, the man and woman running the place spoke perfect English and fixed me up with some spicy noodles with fish balls, and an egg on top, one of their favorites. I finally found a “McCafe” a new part of McDonalds, where I was able to get a ham and cheese croissant without the need to act it out, as there was a picture to point to!

After buying breakfast I realized I no longer had enough money to pay the cab fare to the airport and knew I did not want to exchange $100 into Hong Kong money as we were leaving. The girls scourged through their purses and wallets and came up with $10, which when added to how much I had, was exactly $300 HK and the amount I was told to expect to pay. Thankfully our driver was Mario Andretti in another life, and we made it to the airport, with the extra cost of the toll and the cost of our bags, and the price was $290 HK! I was terrified that I would have to run into the airport and exchange money to pay him off but we ended up with $10 to spare!

We are now 12 hours into our 15 hour flight and I am missing the luxury of the Business Class seats that we were fortunate to get on our way to China. My body and brain are still very confused as to what time it is, much less what day, Since we have now spent 24 hours as Tuesday and when we get home, will still have 8 more to go!

I’ll go back and fill in the parts that I missed of the trip later when I can actually access Google again! I wish Google and China had not been fighting, it would have really helped

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