Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week 8

We've hit the two month mark of our journey and, so far, we have been having a blast in China. One of the major things we're missing by living here, however, is the holiday season in the U.S. The spirit of the holidays is something we both love, and it seems to be lacking here in China, so that's one thing we're sad to miss. On the other hand, Chinese New Year is coming up in a couple of months, so maybe we can feel the holiday spirit during that time.

Anyone who comes to China on a one-year tourist visa is required to leave the country every 60 days. If someone does not make this mandatory trip, they would be subject to a penalty of 500RMB (approx. $75) for every day past 60 days. So, that means that every two months we are forced to take a vacation (sigh) outside of China, which includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. We hope to use these trips to see more places in the region, but this time we headed for Hong Kong.

The city of Shenzhen is part of the Guangdong Province in mainland China, but it borders Hong Kong to the north. We decided it would be a little cheaper, and a lot more fun, if we took a plane to Shenzhen and then ride the train down to Hong Kong. We had a friend of ours book a hotel for one night. Since she speaks Chinese, we think she might have gotten us a better deal than if we had tried to book it ourselves. When we arrived in Shenzhen, we had a few hours to look around and walk the streets. As one of the designated Special Economic Zones in China, it is a big-business city that only started "developing" in the late 1980's, yet it is clearly still on the rise. With an estimated population of over 10 million and a recorded 2009 GDP of over $120 billion, I think Shenzhen is the type of city that China will become known for in the 21st century.

After we walked around for a while, we started getting hungry. We looked around and stopped in a couple restaurants, but none had English menus or pictures that looked appetizing (to put it politely). Then Tiffany looked up and found a gem. We had dinner atop the Shenzhen International Trade Center, which has a 360-degree revolving restaurant!! I'm happy to report that they had an English menu, and that the tab came to a very reasonable $50!! Great food, phenomenal view.

We got up the next day and headed for Hong Kong. Our friend booked us a place there, too. We had asked her to book a room for two, but the place looked more like it was meant to accommodate one-half of a person. It was approximately 5 feet wide, 10 feet long, and the toilet was inside the shower stall. The "double" bed looked more like a toddler's crib without rails. Needless to say, the room was authentic Hong Kong -- small. So, we decided it would be best to spend as little time in the room as possible.
It was Tiffany's first time in Hong Kong, so I thought you guys might like to hear her first impressions:

We emerged from the Metro onto Nathan Street in Kowloon and I found myself completely breathless.  The only thing you could see on the streets were people, cars, and advertisements.  Every few steps we took there was a new person vying for attention, shouting “Lady: Tailor-made suits, hand bags, watches?”  Honking horns, shouting people, and loud music streamed from every direction.   In my head I thought, “Now, this is China.”  I felt like I had finally found what I always pictured China to be like. Amazing.  Kowloon, the area across the river from Hong Kong Province, is a hustling area full of eastern medicine pharmacies, fake markets, hostels, and Indian food.  

As we made our way through the throngs of people over to the bund, the skyline started to appear.  We stood on the Kowloon side of the river enjoying the view of the skyline in every direction.  It seems like the tall buildings go on forever.  Taking the boat over to Hong Kong Province, the glitter and beauty of Hong Kong became more apparent.  Hong Kong has a Prada, Gucci, Tiffany’s, or Coach-type store on just about every block.  The entire area is filled with beautiful buildings, shops, and cars. Hong Kong Province shines just like the Swarovski
crystal Christmas tree in the center of town. It’s beautiful.

The highlight of our trip was our first time at the Hong Kong Disneyland. Now, in general, many Chinese people have no shame about cutting in line. And normally I wouldn't care if a couple people in the grocery store want to cut in line and pretend like they're talking on their cell phone. But at Disneyland, REALLY?!? Anyways, I was surprised at how many people did nothing about others cutting in front of them.

A few years ago, when Tiffany and I were both at SC and had time between our classes, we would go to Disneyland every Tuesday. We went countless times using our annual passes. But, even though we've been many times, I have to say, it never gets old.

Part 1
Part 2

As always, Disneyland was magical. But we were exhausted after being on our feet and standing in lines. At the end of the day, Tiffany told me that she wanted to sit down, relax, and take a shower. Luckily, we had a room where she could do all three things at the same time.

Things To Do in Shanghai

4.  Pick out a fish, frog, turtle, etc. to have killed for your dinner!   
Restaurants all over Shanghai have your food fresh (i.e., still alive) and ready to be picked out and eaten!  The other night we visited a delicious fish hot pot restaurant that allowed you to pick out your own fish to be made into fish balls and cooked in your hot pot.  The fish’s head was served on the side with noodles. Quite delish and about as fresh as you can get.  Poor Guy…

Maybe It's Just Me

For those of you who don't already know, smoking is rampant in Asia. Coming from the smoke-free-in-public-places state of California, I have been reminded of how uncomfortable one can get in a restaurant where people can smoke freely. Without dismissing the global health problem of smoking, it seems like people here smoke unbelievable amounts of tobacco. But as we were walking home from dinner in Shenzhen, we saw something that explains a lot:

Have any of you ever played the classic arcade game where you try and scoop up your favorite stuffed animal with a mechanical claw? Well, how much fun would it be to have the same game with different brands of cigarettes as the prize, right kids?! Maybe it's just me but, what's next, Monkey Bars made out of Cuban cigars? Perhaps blowing smoke rings for show and tell?

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