Wow! I made it to Hong Kong today! and I so wished all of you could be here to experience it with me ! I would never have made it without going with someone from work, though. We started out on a bus ride, and had to transfer twice – no way I could have figured out the Chinese bus tables at the transfer stops. The buses took us to Shenzhen. Then we got separated at the Chinese customs and again at the Hong Kong customs points. Isn’t customs/ immigration is a little like human relationships? do i let you in? do i like you? do i like your politics? what will you offer in return for new cultures, vistas, experiences?
After getting through Hong Kong customs, the efficient (and crowded) Mass Transit Railway (MTR) System is at one’s disposal to go just about anywhere on Hong Kong Island (bottom of map picture) and Kowloon (top part of map). First a few basics about Hong Kong .. it is now a special administrative region of China (handed over in 1997 by the British), they have a different currency from China – the Hong Kong dollar and they speak Cantonese and not Mandarin!
So here goes with a quick run-down of what we did. We stopped at a nice electronics store, and I bought a little handheld Chinese-English translator-computer with a stylus that lets one practice Chinese writing as well (I’ll try to learn just a few characters at a time, I have no illusions about how difficult it is given that it takes a Chinese person 15 years of schooling to learn the written language !). Next we had a nice lunch, dumpling and noodles in a broth for me, and used the MTR to go to Victoria Bay/ Hong Kong harbor where the picture of me was taken (so it’s the Hong Kong island skyline behind me, a little foggy). Then we took a quick Ferry across the water to Hong KOng Island and Samuel went clothes shopping while I went to a department store called Sogo and came away with a stuffed panda bear, a lucky cat piggy bank and two Noritake coffee mugs. The MTR took us back to the border post with Shenzhen, where we again negotiated the two customs entry points. I got taken out of the line (I am sure it was because I was looking very foreign with my lily-white face in the crowd of Asian people!) and had to go get my temperature taken with an infrared scanner before they let me through.
I’ll post a selection of colorful pictures of Hong Kong tomorrow. I couldn’t get enough of the imagery everywhere. I have to go back.
So here we are : our third and last Friday before we go back HOME. From where I sit I see a collection of desks and chairs where we all work. There’s a Chinese SAP desk calendar on the right; and we all got little red gift boxes on the left from a guy that got married. The little box has a miniature pink teddy bear with a bow tie on the lid and has little pieces of candy inside. Little bears and other cuddly creatures are used on labeling and cards and advertising to signal a warm and fuzzy feeling, much as is the case in the USA. My weekend getaway plan is to go to Hong Kong by bus with a co-worler, only for the day Saturday. I am so glad to have a local person to go with – it’s very intimidating to try a bus-ride full of Chinese people, feeling they are staring at you (usually they are not)! I have not even been able to find a bus schedule on-line or at the bus stop. Without a bus my best shot at the moment is to walk down to the Sheraton hotel and see if they can get me a taxi.
The whole team went to dinner last night at the restaurant that serves up baby pigeons as its specialty. (Yes, I am horrible – I ate some baby pigeon as well. It is quite good!). The table has a lazy susan and they must have brought out 25 different dishes : roasted peanuts, spicy cabbage, jellyfish (none for me), fish and parsnip, a hot corn drink, beer, oolong tea, goose, noodles, green beans with garlic, most of it interesting and tasty.
In China, most workers take a ‘siesta’ after lunch (I thought it was only the Spanish, but no) – it is called wujiao and they really have cots here at work on which they sleep for an hour after lunch! Then they troop back in here and work with us. Not fair! I want some wujiao too!
Back at the apartment, Monday at work behind me. Today I saw an SAP screen in Chinese alongside the English version. The English is flawlessly lucid – and the Chinese infathomably foreign! :) Here is how the Chinese characters get entered into any system : a Chinese computer keyboard is very close to a Western style keyboard, but the user types in syllables or English phonetic equivalents of Chinese characters, and software interprets the keystrokes and pops the Chinese character into the application. But even more fascinating is to see a Chinese person actually writing these squiggly spidery characters on a piece of paper. How did you ever learn to do that? I want to ask them.
But just to make sure we don’t get too serious – here is a picture of the wrapper on a Chinese twinkie sitting on the storeshelf yesterday. Aww .. I bet the little panda bear sells a lot of twinkies !
Hey – I was not going to sit in the apartment in Dameisha today, so I got on the Sunday shopping van to Shenzhen with 3 other coworkers.
Pictures from top to bottom –
The store looks very respectable, but sells only knock-off watches. I’m sporting a classic sqaure ‘Cartier’ I’ve seen many times in print ads in Time magazine.. nice enough for $40, not? / Remember that the Chinese New Year is not yet here! (second week in Feb) so the signs for a happy 2010 are all still up / Roasted duck in a Carrefour store – very good, we bought some / The cute kid was playing with the live seafood in front of him : ), this is also in the Carrefour store (international French store chain, but they are not in the USA).
Five of us made another run into Shenzhen, and this time I saw a little more of the city than just Walmart. Shenzhen -with a population of 12 million already! – is by some measures still the world’s fastest growing city. There are brand-new buildings everywhere. I saw ‘digital malls’ as they are called, a little grungy inside, but crammed with 150 cell-phone and gadget sellers.
Pictures from top to bottom (remember that double-clicking should display the picture a little bigger, to take a closer look):
Clusters of high-rise apartment buildings are everywhere in the city/ Our driver parked his van in front of the Casablanca Bar/ Unfortunately sights like these of historic Chinese architecture are very rare in Shenzhen/ One of the main streets downtown, sporting a Starbucks, a McDonalds and Coca-cola billboards, all with an Asian twist. I love cultural west-meets-east confluences like these! / My favorite sighting of the day : a colorful Lenovo truck with a cute African zebra saying ‘Let’s open happy’ ! .. it’s almost certainly going to make me buy a Lenovo notebook next.
Gelukkige verjaarsdag, mammie! ♥ Happy birthday mom!
This picture is a scene from out of the bus window I took on the way back to the apartment after work. That’s a drug store on the right and the big old Buick emerging from the gate is the most popular luxury car in Chinese cities, I’m told – more so than Lexuses, Mercedeses and BMWs. There are plenty of mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles on the road as well, and the buses and cars honk at them to say ‘Get out of the way!’ or ‘I’m on your left!’ .. we’re all glad we don’t have to drive here !
We have scheduled trips to Shenzhen for this weekend again, so I will report back on that. Hopefully we will get to go to Hong Kong and even further afield on the Mainland once we have settled in a little better.
I have to submit a picture of a Chinese toilet – amazingly these are found even in the brand-new building we just moved into. Mercifully each washroom has one western-style toilet as well. Yay! We didn’t have those in the building we started in the first week. An interesting exercise it was to put your feet on the white footholds and squat to do the dirty deed !
The birthday cake for a team member was very nice! .. light with real fruit. By the way : dessert for a Chinese meal is almost without exception fruit such as melon and cantaloupe.
It didn’t take me too long to track down my favorite candy – see?
Also, I thought it is time for the readers of my blog to learn a little more about the written Chinese language, a language of pictographs. Many basic Chinese characters are in fact highly stylized pictures of what they present, but about 90% of characters is a combination of a ‘meaning’ element and a ‘sound’ element. A contemporary Chinese person might know and use between 6,000 and 8,000 characters, and a person can get by with as few as 2,000 or 3,000. The two characters below stand for ‘entrance’. ‘Exit’ looks like this .. 出口. And for a space where the door or gate is open, the symbols look like this .. 出入口. (Remember the symbol for ‘push’ on the door handle on my Friday post? I’m sure you don’t! Here it is .. 推).
See the sign Show mercy to the green lives under your foot ? – a very philosophical equivalent of Keep of the grass! (I like it).
We walked down to the beach where the area’s McDonalds is. (There is also a KFC but no Starbucks).
My McDonalds breakfast consisted of orange juice, hash browns and a spicy grilled chicken McMuffin.
The Dameisha area has some very nice beaches, but it’s quiet at the moment since it’s winter and not tourist season.
Some of the buildings are really run-down or even deserted, others are brand new. One gets the impression everywhere that construction happens in spasms and not always well-planned.
Well – what can I say? I was Alice and Wal-mart was a wonderland of Chinese culture from food to marketing to clothing to houseware to electronics. There we were, 15 of us dropped off with a little bus, looking for household items and weekend food for our apartments. And did we load up that bus. Wal-mart being what it is, the choices were cheap and enormous, and of course one found Kraft food products and Coke and Pepsi but there were still some surprises. Dinner plates were hard to find since Chinese food is served up in bowls, and t-shirts were not plentiful at all. The food was the most fascinating, from the wet area where one could catch one’s super-fresh seafood (yes, right there in the store – the way the staff did at the restaurant the other night), to teas of all kinds, but a limited selection of good coffee, candy but relatively few chocolate products, noodles of all kinds, milk tea, root vegetables, fresh ginger, eggplant and king-of-fruit.
Pictures from top to bottom :
Entrance/ shampoo for lovely luscious black hair/ dragonfly silk jacket/ cute-sy character humidifiers/ Look! I found some long-lost ‘Sugus’ candy from my childhood again!/ some eel for dinner?/ you get the whole chicken, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g/ lid on a lip-licking good sauce jar/ oodles of noodles in aisle 12
.. so we’re getting out of here ! Woo hoo !
The highlight of the weekend is the team’s planned visit to WalMart in the city of Shenzhen .. my internet access at the apartment is not up, nor is the central heating working, and we will finally get some pots and pans, knives, forks and extra towels.
But it was not a bad start at all.
The team went to a nice restaurant and boy! did we have a sampling of diverse dishes. The picture shows our dinner (fish, jumbo shrimp) being ‘caught’ in the wet area which has many many more seafood items than just lobster to choose from for one’s dinner plate. The fishy stuff aside, the signature dish of the restaurant is pigeon (a nice gamey taste, a little like duck). We also had lamb ribs, the fish that was ‘caught’ – Jeff the project manager got to eat the eye (eww) – jumbo shrimp, green beans, spicy cucumber, soup, a warm corn ‘smoothie’ (nice), oolong tea and Tsingtao beer (very nice).
Chicken with bok choi and green beans with red chili peppers. That’s rice bread in the bowl with a dash of soy sauce, and the white grape juice has bits of grape in it. I wanted to take a picture of the pig’s ear strips on the plate of the guy sitting next to me, but that would have been rude !