Here I am, back in China. ‘All’ it took this time was : 25 min taxi from home to Seatac airport, 2hrs wait, 40 min- prop plane ride (picture taken at Vancouver airport after arrival), 30 mins in Canada passport line, 1 hr detained at Canada customs, 1 hr wait for boarding, 13 hours in Cathay Pacific 747 business class, 20 mins in Hong Kong passport line, 30 mins drive in van to China border, 20 mins in China mainland passport line, 2 hrs in Shenzhen Monday evening traffic.
Yes, Canada customs had an icy reception for me – shunting me into a waiting room with 30 other passport offenders. The reason (I was told only after a 1 hr wait) : I was refused entry into Canada in 1995 on my South African passport. I recalled the incident only after I was finally allowed to go through : a group of us working for Spearhead Consultants in Rochester NY at the time, drove down to Niagara Falls, then thought we’d try to look at it from the Canadian side. When I presented my South African passport was told I need a visa, and I just turned around. That’s a reason to stop me from setting foot in Vancouver 15 years later on my US passport? Keep in mind I had come in and out of Canada multiple times on my South African passport after 1995 ! And was that customs agent RUDE. I think it’s time we made Canada a Special Administrative Region of the United States, the way Hong Kong is of China.
The laser picture is taken from my back balcony. I think a laser show is part of the close-of-day show at Outside China Town park which is close by.
The horse with jockey picture is from the Emerald Downs racetrack here in the Seattle area where my friends and I went to check out the horse races yesterday. I bet a total of $21 and won $5.25 on the races . ( I suppose I should keep my day job, right?).
The street sign I saw on my walk in the neighborhood by my house had a nice cobweb with dew drops (which might be hard to see on the smaller picture). As I turned to cross the street a guy on a bicycle almost crashed into me. The street was eerily quiet, and so I didn’t even look up to check it was safe to cross. I’m sure that would have put a dent in my travel plans out today! Check and double check before crossing !
So here I am at Sea-Tac airport, ‘roughing’ it before I step onto Cathay Pacific in Vancouver. I have no ‘status’ (as frequent flyers call it) on Alaska Airlines or Cathay Pacific, so when I walked up to the security line I had to join a line with oh, a 100 people. Then I thought I’d check the other security point because I know all security points gets you to all the departure terminals and sure enough, there were THREE people in line at the other one. Once inside though, I have no business class lounge access, so I’m in the main dining/ shopping hall with the huge window overlooking the tarmac.
I’m getting ready for shipping out tomorrow .. looks like the havoc that the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull is wreaking on European air travel will not affect my flight tomorrow. More great pictures of the volcano on the link below. It’s a new route that I’m trying – flying to Vancouver first and then to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. (Delta files direct to Hong Kong from Seattle but the flight is very expensive). The Seattle-Vancouver-Hong Kong route a little shorter than the one through San Francisco.
I’m making an appearance at the office today .. got to pick up some spare adapters for my teammates and take care of an expense report or two. The first picture is close to my house, the little green leaves sprouting from the trees and the air crisp and cool in contrast to the warm and muggy air I’m going to on Sunday again. The second one is on the way to downtown on Pine Street. The Bauhaus coffee shop is a good non-Starbucks place to tune out over a book with a cup of coffee and looks a lot older than its 1993 start date. Of course once I arrived at work I had to get my double tall soy vanilla latte here at one of THREE Starbuckses in the building : ), surveying the 8.00 am crowd waiting for their caffeine fixes along with me to get made – and appreciating that I could understand all the chatter and buzz going on around me, cultural references included. Come Monday I’ll be as dumb as a doorknob again among the Chinese people in the restaurant and in public ! I need to learn to speak Chinese, but where to find the time? Maybe on the bus-ride to work and back with my iPod.
The travel back and forth to China and Hong Kong has turned on my collector’s impulses : for pictures, for souvenirs, for currency bills and for little items such as these below which are part of the toy culture there. Red Magic is the company and the C.i. boys sports series has figurines dressed in 12 different sports costumes, with all kinds of facial expressions. The little guys are only two inches tall – sold in little boxes, wrapped in foil, so only when one opens it, so you see if you actually got a new one for your collection. I buy them at Hong Kong airport.
So from left to right :
Migu ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ (his stick horse is sucking on a beer bottle ! ), Uni the athlete, Poka the weight lifter, with a drop of drool or foam in the corner of his mouth : ) and Deri the tennis player.
It is barely Wednesday here at 12.48 am but I’m taking a break from work. Yes .. my days here in Seattle from China have morphed into 2 hr or 4 hr sessions of work, sleep or something else around the clock. I do try to make it to bed by 2 am and then I sleep in a little. Like my pose on my back deck? I just swept it. (And is my hair really so grey? Must be the project. I’m starting to look like Anderson Cooper from CNN. He has a full head of white hair). The laurel hedge behind me has been trimmed back well clear of the phone line coming into the house by my contractor-friend Paul, so I don’t have to worry about it interfering with the lines for at least a few years.
There is word today from China’s Qinghai province of a 6.9 earthquake, loss of several hundred lives reported so far. : ( It’s far from where we work in Guangdong province in the far south east of the country.
Here is my collection of ‘King Ottokar’s Sceptre’ Tintin books with the addition of the Chinese language version (came out only in 2007).
Recognize the languages? Clockwise : German, Slovak, Chinese and Afrikaans. So where is the English one? I made a mistake up on my last trip to South Africa and bought a second Afrikaans one (Tintin books are generally not sold in book stores in the USA, so I will order one from Amazon).
So .. is this just for the novelty, or am I serious to learn some written Chinese? Let me get back to you on that. It’s just so hard to figure out a written phrase because I cannot reproduce the characters easily. I have to tease out the meaning of the Chinese characters from the English side. What I have so far on the title panel of the book (never mind the 62 pages of cartoon strips with text inside! oof), is :
王 wáng king or monarch / best or strongest of its type / grand / great (interestingly this is also used for the ubiquitous surname Wang in Chinese)
The last two characters 權 + 杖 = quán authority / power / right / temporary + zhang crutches / crutch / walking stick, together makes for ‘scepter’
Yes, I had to do a ‘breakfast in America’ post after the ‘breakfast in China’. This is a bowl of All Bran Corn Flakes with granola, raisins and strawberry, with vanilla soy milk. (Soy milk so that I can eat a little yogurt and get a latte from Starbucks later in the morning without getting a complete diary overdose). Usually I put banana in my cereal but the grocery store ran out of the regular ones. So I grabbed some red bananas from Ecuador, without knowing what they taste like. These ones are evidently not ripe yet. I only read on-line afterwards that the skin becomes bright red and the flesh soft and sweet. Sounds good! so I will see if they ripen up in the next few days.
Just sorting through my mail (mostly junk mail, of course). I had to fill out my census form and send it in. Time to stand up and be counted! Ten simple questions and they do require name, age and birthday. One would think one’s age can be determined by one’s birthday, but anyway. And Question 10 made me pause : ‘Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?‘. Hmm. I said ‘no’ because I am in fact never away for more than 3 or 4 weeks at a time.
The census, mandated by the Constitution, helps determine how more than $400 billion in federal funds for things like public housing, highways and schools are distributed to state and local governments. States have a big incentive to get the count right: Each uncounted person means a loss of about $1,400. The recession and joblessness will make the counting harder. One out of eight housing units is vacant nationwide. The rate in Washington state is about one in 20.
Here is my house’s spring look : new seeding and top soil for the front lawn, Camellia shrub on the right corner gone, as are the poor shrubs in front of the house that withered from neglect from its globe-trotting owner. I’m going to give it another try with new shrubs (that I still have to go pick out).
I’m home! Oos wes tuis bes. East, west, home best. It was sunny today but not warm : 3 °C/ 38 °F ! The picture below is from the long hallway in San Francisco airport on the way to clearing customs. I just liked the way all the lines converged into the middle of my view.
Hey, it’s the same time I left Hong Kong, but here I am in San Francisco. I got an upgrade to first class, so I sat in the lap of luxury. I watched two movies and had two really nice meals. I didn’t sleep much but I will catch up at home. The security alert level here at the SFO airport is Red (High), and we all got patted down at Hong Kong airport. I haven’t run into the new controversial body-scanners yet, though. Or maybe I have and I didn’t know it !
I am at the Marriott Sky City hotel at the Hong Kong airport; heading out in an hour or so.
Pictures from the top down – Did I say Mission Impossible? ‘Impossible is Nothing’, says Adidas on a billboard for the big soccer event coming up; train arriving at Tsing Yi train station (see it?) – I went out for a bit on the train (there is a stop close to the hotel); in China they name panda bears Ling Ling and pianists Lang Lang (just kidding – but Lang Lang is very popular and known for the flamboyance of both his playing and his personal manner); relaxing in the hotel room. The hotel is very nice!
The little Coolmate packet of pep-up-your-energy is to prevent and relieve – no, not heaviness – heatiness ! And there is going to be a lot of heatiness around here in summer, so I guess I’m prepared ! But first I’m getting out of what sometimes feels like Mission Impossible here, to go home tomorrow. The other picture is from my walk-about last night, a neon ship in front of a new-ish hotel (built in 2000) on the waterfront close by : the Air Land hotel. I live in the Ocean Spirit Land apartments.
I decided to remove my remarks on Monday’s post re: the Eugene Terreblance murder. I sometimes write things and then look at it the next day and think : it didn’t come out the way I intended it to.
The Marie biscuit was created by an English bakery Peek Freans in London in 1874 to commemorate the marriage of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia to the Duke of Edinburgh. It became popular throughout Europe, particularly in Spain where, following the Spanish Civil War, the biscuit became a symbol of Spain’s economic recovery after bakeries produced mass quantities to consume a surplus of wheat.
A Marie biscuit is a sweet round biscuit made with wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil and, unlike the Rich Tea biscuit, vanilla flavoring. The has its name engraved into its top surface. The edges of the top surface are also engraved with an intricate design. While the Rich Tea biscuit is the most popular version of this biscuit in the United Kingdom, it is the Marie version that is most popular in most other countries, particularly Australia, India, South Africa, and Spain. [And at least somewhat popular in China, since I found this version of it. It’s quite good.] Like the Rich Tea biscuit, many consider the Marie’s plain flavor to make it particularly suitable for dunking in tea. [This is how I ate Marie biscuits. Two at a time is better, then the wet biscuits don’t break so easily! ]. Other popular methods of consuming the biscuit includes using two to make a sandwich with butter and Marmite or condensed milk spread in between, covering it with golden syrup, and crumbling it up in custard and jelly. [I haven’t tried all of these decadent variations! Sounds like American ‘smores made with Graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate]. Marie biscuits are frequently served to children. Babies may be served the biscuits softened in milk as their first solid food. Marie biscuits are also a common ingredient in home baking recipes.
Main source for Marie biscuit research – Wikipedia; other source – my memories of Marie biscuits : )
We made it back to Dameisha this morning. I have come to regret leaving Hong Kong at the end of each visit there – but that’s good, right? It means I will look forward to go back. I cleaned the apartment and prepared for work tomorrow. It is Tomb Sweeping Day in China, more information from Wikipedia below. I looked in the stores here but did not see any joss paper for sale, so the picture from Wikipedia will have to do. (It’s also known as ghost money, sheets of paper that are burned on days like today as a gift to those in the afterlife, or at traditional Chinese funerals.
[Source : Wikipedia] The Qingming Festival (清明節), Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival usually occurring around April 5. The name Qingming denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (踏青 Tàqīng, “treading on the greenery”) and tend to the graves of departed ones. Qingming has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau – but its observance was only reinstated as a public holiday in mainland China in 2008, after having been previously suppressed by the ruling Communist Party in 1949.
Saturday night we had dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse. The restaurant is on the 4th floor of the Sheraton in the Tsim Tsa Tsui district in Kowloon. The dinner was very very expensive, but oh so good. I had beef fillet and asparagus and we shared a crème brûlée for dessert. We could also check out the nightly 8pm laser show from the Hong Kong Island buildings (picture). I have no idea how they synchronize the laser beams from three different buildings. Sogo in the foreground is a very nice Japan-based department store.
Next pictures : tiger lily (I think) from Flower Market Street; green parrot or parakeet working its charms with the on-lookers at the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden; entrance to the Hong Kong Museum of Art; painted gray pottery horse from the Han dynasty 206 BC; reflection picture inside the museum; larger-than-life dolls in a store in the Woodlands designer boutique mall in Tsim Tsa Tsui district; scene inside the Mass Transit Railway system – lots of people, internet users can use Google unfiltered in Hong Kong, and a family tending their toddler; electronic bill-board for new Sony-Ericsson phone with 8 Mp camera.
Tomorrow is a holiday, so we will just head back to Dameisha in the morning and prepare for Tuesday’s work sessions. Then there’s Wednesday, and Thursday I get to go home. It feels like a very long time since I’ve been home !
I hope everyone is having a great Easter weekend. We’re in Hong Kong and I’m running out to join my two mates from work to go out. I suspect ‘Please pay the fair accounting to the meter’ should have been ‘Please pay the fare according to the meter’. The other two pictures : Easter eggs decorated by kids from the hotel restaurant, some goodies from a Hong Kong 7-11.
So I was the April fool last night, discovering at my apartment door I lost the key somehow. The duplicate key is in Texas USA, David that has the apartment manager’s phone number was on an airplane to Shanghai, and I cannot speak Chinese .. those all dawned on me as I explored my options. Then I recalled something fell out of my pocket on the bus in the morning; I was half asleep and didn’t pay attention to it. And luckily our bus-driver could still be reached since the late bus was on his way back to the office. I take the early bus in and the early bus back. We are not allowed to take the late bus in and the early bus back! (Well we are, but we shouldn’t do it as a rule).
In the meantime I walked down to the world’s most famous/infamous fast food franchise for a grilled chicken sandwich. The sandwich, ten chicken nuggets, a cup of corn and an orange juice went for ¥41 (about US$7). That is expensive by Chinese standards : our dinner the previous night with shared vegetables, two meat dishes and rice with a beer each was about the same. The first picture is of the side panel of the sandwich box. I would love to know what the chicken says (eat me?) but it’s too hard to put the characters into my translator.
Monday is a national Chinese holiday, and we don’t have to come to work, so I’m going to my favorite Asian city (Hong Kong, of course) to show my former roommates around Kowloon a little.
The little bite-size sweet bread desserts – only unglazed ones were left on the plate by the time I realized I wanted a picture! – are from last night’s dinner, and were delicious. Nick, our American colleague that speaks fluent Chinese (!, how did you learn the language? we ask him), ordered them for us. I will get the Chinese name for them. The next picture is from inside the elevator in the apartment building – a bank advertisement : dreaming of a house, an education, a car? I am very lucky since I have all three. I can now dream of different things. The final picture I snapped this morning while waiting for the bus. A very typical foggy morning .. maybe it will go away as we move toward summer.
P.S. Our Chinese colleagues were wise to the notion of April Fool’s Day when we warned them about it .. there is even a Chinese word for it : yúrénjié 愚人节 foolish man holiday