Sunday/ more of Hong Kong

Pictures from exploring Hong Kong.

On the ‘Avenue of the Stars’ in Kowloon on mainland Hong Kong. My colleague Samuel and I are about to take the Star ferry to cross Victoria harbor to Hong Kong Island, with its skyline behind me.
‘Impossible is nothing’, says the billboard from Adidas on Hennessey Road in Causeway Bay. The black bus below is painted in a Swiss watch maker Rado (founded 1917) ad.
Billboards in Mong Kok residential district in Hong Kong. Mong Kok is a buzzing maze of narrow streets, known for its shops. Patrick Chan is a celebrity tutor in Hong Kong. (No relation to movie superstar Jackie Chan, nor to Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan).
Budweiser beer truck on Sai Yeung Choi St in Mong Kok residential district.
A mythical creature, possibly the Lion of Saint Mark, in an upscale store window on Hong Kong Island. It looks like it is made from the colored glass called lazurite glass
Shantung Street in Mong Kok, with signs everywhere! (If you are driving, do not miss the NO ENTRY signs). Many stores are only just opening, at 10.30am! .. but I’m told they are open until very late at night.
Eye-catching beauty in a shop window. She is promoting Neway entertainment lounges, a leader in the karaoke industry in Hong Kong. 
My colleague Samuel on the southern shore of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon on the promenade by Victoria harbor. The Clock Tower behind him is a landmark building in Hong Kong. It is all that remains of the original site of the former Kowloon Station on the Kowloon-Canton Railway.
Catching the red line on the Hong Kong’s world class subway system called MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Hong Kong Island. The subway tunnel goes under Victoria Harbor to move passengers between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

Saturday/ made it to Hong Kong

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 my colleague from work, though.   We started out on a bus ride in Dameisha, and had to transfer twice. There is no way I could have figured out the Chinese bus tables at the transfer stops.  The buses took us to Shenzhen, and 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 the offer of new cultures, new vistas, new experiences? (Money! I guess).

The entire orange area is the city of Shenzhen. Our apartments in Dameisha are off the map, out to the east, and the project site is even further east, on the Daya Bay peninsula. That gray line is where mainland China and Hong Kong customs are. Victoria Bay is between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on mainland Hong Kong (maybe it is more of a strait than a bay?).

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. The written language is the same as in mainland China, but 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, dumplings and noodles in a broth for me. The MTR got us 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 the short Star Ferry ride across the water to Hong Kong Island. My colleague Samuel went clothes shopping while I went to a department store called Sogo. I 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 was called out of the long line (no doubt because I was looking very foreign with my lily-white face in the large crowd of Asian people). My temperature was taken with an infrared scanner before they let me through.

I’ll post a selection of colorful pictures of Hong Kong tomorrow.  It was all a little overwhelming and I couldn’t get enough of the imagery everywhere.  I will have to go back.

Friday/ at work

So here we are : our third and last Friday before we get to go back home.  From where I sit in the corner, I see a collection of long desks and chairs on both sides, where we are all working.  There’s a Chinese SAP desk calendar on my right, and today we all got little red gift boxes from a guy that got married.  The little box has a miniature pink teddy bear with a bow tie on the lid, and there are little pieces of candy inside.  Little bears and other cuddly creatures are used on labeling & cards & advertising to signal a warm and fuzzy feeling, much as is the case in the USA, but more extensively so.

My weekend getaway plan is to go to Hong Kong by bus with a co-worker – only for a Saturday day trip.   It would be so great to have a local person to go with! It’s intimidating to step into a bus full of Chinese people, feeling that they are staring at you (usually they are not)!  I have not even been able to find a bus schedule online or at the bus stop.   Without the bus, my next 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 with parsnip, a hot corn drink, beer, oolong tea, goose, noodles, green beans with garlic; most of it interesting, and tasty.

Thursday/ seafood restaurant

I love the old-fashioned neon signage at this seafood restaurant in Dameisha.

At the top: 凤凰之王 (fèng zhī wáng) King of Phoenix, the name of the restaurant, I assume. The lettering on the lower level 美味凤之王海鲜餐 (Měiwèi fèng zhī wáng hǎixiān cān) translates to something like Delicious Phoenix King Seafood Meal. (Thanks to Google translate). 

Wednesday/ wǔ jiào

In China, most workers take a ‘siesta’ after lunch (I thought it was only the Spanish, but no) – it is called wǔ jiào 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 wǔ jiào too!

Tuesday/ green tea mug

Green tea is very popular among my Chinese colleagues here at work.
The mugs have lids on, to keep the tea hot a little longer.

My company-issued green tea mug. The crane is part of the logo of the company. The Chinese characters 中国广东核电 Zhōngguó guǎngdōng hédiàn translates to China Guangdong Nuclear Power.

Monday’s done

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 unfathomably foreign! 🙂   Here is how Chinese characters are 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. Embedded software interprets the keystrokes and pops the Chinese character into the application. Even more fascinating is to see a Chinese person actually writing these squiggly spidery characters on a piece of paper or on the whiteboard.  How did you ever learn to do that? I wanted to ask them. (Answer: 15 years of education, at home and in school).


Sunday/ Shenzhen shopping

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).

Saturday/ trip to Shenzhen

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.

Friday/ end of the week, at last

♥ 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.

Thursday/ flat, on the floor

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 !

Wednesday/ birthday cake!

The birthday cake for a team member was very nice! A very light cake with frosting and lots of fruit.
By the way : dessert for a Chinese meal is usually a fruit platter with melon and cantaloupe and the like, in lieu of ice cream, pie or pastries.

Let’s see: orange, strawberry, starfruit (carambola) on top, and the white fruit with the pink skin and the little black seeds in, is dragon fruit (pitaya).

Tuesday/ entrance 入口, and exit 出口

I’m learning a little bit more about the written Chinese language, a language of pictographs.  Many basic Chinese characters are in fact, highly stylized pictures of what they present.
Around 9 out of 10 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 – but one can get by with as few as 2,000 or 3,000.

The two characters 入口 rù kǒu on the sign below stand for ‘entrance’. A depiction of a person that goes through a door, opening, gate.

‘Exit’ looks like this 出口 chū kǒu. That first character is a foot, coming out from an enclosure! The foot is leaving through a door, or gate.


Sunday/ McDonalds

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.

Saturday/ Walmart in Shenzhen

Well – what can I say? I was Alice, and Walmart was a wonderland of Chinese culture and department store marketing of food, houseware, electronics and clothing.  There we were, 15 of us dropped off with a little bus, looking for household items and food for our apartments in Dameisha.  And did we load up that bus!

Walmart being what it is, the choices were cheap and enormous – and of course, they had Kraft branded food products and Coke & Pepsi, but there were still some surprises.  Dinner plates were hard to find. Chinese food is served up in bowls. T-shirts were not plentiful at all.

The food was the most fascinating, from the ‘wet area’ where one could catch one’s own 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, milk tea, a limited selection of good coffee, candy, but relatively few chocolate products, noodles of all kinds, root vegetables, fresh ginger, eggplant and durian.

Entrance to the Walmart Supercenter at 2001 Xiangmei Road in the Futian District in Shenzhen. The Chinese characters say Wò’ērmǎ (‘Walmart’) Shopping Plaza 沃尔玛购物广场 Wò’ērmǎ gòuwù guǎngchǎng.
Hazeline shampoo for lovely luscious black hair. The Chinese characters at the bottom says something like ‘Say goodbye to tangled hair’.
Dragon flies on this vest. I could not tell if the fabric is silk; I assume it is.
Cutie-pie characters are built into these humidifiers. That’s a tiger on the far left, since 2010 is the Year of the Tiger.
The signage on the aisles offer a little language lesson for both English and Chinese speakers.
Instant noodles 方便面 (say Fāng biàn miàn) and Chinese noodles 中式面条 (say Zhōng shì miàn tiáo).
Coffee 咖啡 (say Kā fēi) and tea , which has its standalone character 茶 (say Chá).
Alright. The tagline translation is cute ‘The Respectable of Choice’, and that is why I took the picture of this organic boxed milk. But later on I looked Guiyi online. Guiyi is a town further up along the coast from Shenzhen in Guangdong province, and until recently at least, Guiyu was best known in the global environmentalist community for its reception of all kinds of electronic waste, resulting in terrible pollution levels in its surrounding air, water and soil. So is it possible to produce pure and organic dairy products there?
The little guy on the lid is licking his lips for this product, which I suspect is hot or spicey. The characters at the bottom say ‘Famous brand foods from Sichuan province’ 四川省名牌食品 (say Sìchuān shěng míng pái shí pǐn). Sichuan province in southwestern China is famous for Sichuan peppercorns with their tingling, numbing effect on the tongue.
Ah, fruity chew candy from my childhood in South Africa (sugus), and chewing gums from Wrigley company, where I had done work for all of 2005 in Chicago. All of this in a traditional bowl held by two happy little tigers that represent the Year of the Tiger.
Two whole chickens (completely all of the chicken, that is), for ¥ 9 which is the equivalent of US$ 1.37.
These are freshwater eels, I believe.
These are durian, in some Asian countries called the “king of fruits“. The durian grows on trees and is distinctive for its large size, strong odor, and thorn-covered skin. The strong odor has prompted authorities in Singapore to ban eating durian in many outdoor spaces throughout Singapore and to prohibit it on public transport.

It’s Friday ..

.. so we’re getting out of the office! Woo hoo !

There are plans afoot to visit Walmart in the city of Shenzhen on Saturday, so that we can get pots and pans, knives, forks, extra towels & what have yous. My internet access at the apartment is not up and running yet, nor is the central heating working.

We have made a start to our project, though; met dozens of colleagues and client team members, and it was not a bad week at all.

Push is denoted by the character 推 tuī. Does the character show someone pushing against a door, or is that my imagination?

Thursday/ team dinner

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. Project manager Jeff was given the honor of eating the eye of the fish. He was completely game! LOL

The fishy stuff aside, the signature dish of the restaurant is pigeon (a nice gamey taste, a little like duck). They also had lamb ribs, which I suspect might be hard to find in Chinese restaurants. Other items were green beans, spicy cucumber, soup, a warm corn ‘smoothie’ (nice), oolong tea and Tsingtao beer (a standard pale lager, very nice).

Thursday/ another lunch

Chicken with bok choy (Chinese cabbage), 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 did not. That would have been rude.

Thursday/ workshops

It was another long day meetings at here at the Daya Bay offices.
We’re doing workshops with the indispensible assistance of our colleagues from the China firm. I translate from SAP (how to use it) to English. They translate my English to Chinese. Questions in Chinese come back to me in English, and so it goes.

Undated photo of Daya Bay nuclear power plant. [Source: South China Morning Post]