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Archive for January, 2009

So it’s all over, CNY has been and gone. Although the festivities last for an official 15 days. That means we can still give little red envelopes to people. Great.
Over the three official public holiday days the streets did not empty out and the shops did not close. We rambled around a bit and were still swamped by the usual arterial flow between Sogo and Times Square. This city never sleeps. Ever.
We also handed over one of the coveted red envelopes to our doorman who looked extremely shocked and delighted at the Gweilo’s attempt at assimilating his culture. It was a fantastic moment. We were instructed to eat an orange on New Year’s Day so we also bought two oranges (luckiness in pairs). Unfortunately I don’t think we ate them until the next day.

We still have work off until 9th February so that is good. We haven’t done much and just enjoyed chilling out and relaxing. Our first week of hiking went out the window as some local dude tried to get the football through my thigh muscle with his knee in a football match last Thursday. Sore. Still sore. Getting better. We will try next week some time to get some walking in.

What I have done is book a few nights in Macau from next Tuesday until Thursday. We will go by ferry (about 55 mins journey) and stay one night in The Venetian and one night in the Star World Hotel. Looking forward to it. Will take pics!

Here are a few pics from the last few days:


Times Square is always quick off the mark to…um, mark a calendar occasion and so was the case with CNY. Not as utterly horrible as the Christmas decorations but just…nice. Note the prevalence of bull shaped things.


Inside Times Square there is always an accompanying interior decoration to counterpoint the exterior decoration. And this is it. A circular sitting down contraption.


From inside


From above

In nearby Victoria Park there was a CNY fair on so we decided to go and check it out. We were told by our ever reliable insider source person that if you walked around the fair once it would mean good luck. Well, after walking 100 metres inside I would rather take my chances with lady luck than walk around that unholy mess of a place. I expect a fair to have little shooting games, grab a duck in a barrel, maybe a few wheel of fortunes. Nah, this was a selling fair with auctions thrown in for good measure and things on sale being scrubbing brushes, detergent and towels. Sure there were balloons and toys for sale…in between the hyped up on goofballs auctioneers and the hundreds of willing buyers who must have all run out of toilet brushes at the same time. And the millions of people there, my God the people. I laughed out loud at the signs indicating a one way system. Hahahaha. First exit please.


Yippeeee, the fair entrance. Man, I’m gonna win some fluffy toys in here. Yes sir!


Abort, abort!

Which brings us up to last night and dinner. We walked around C-Town** for a bit scoping things out. We ended up in World Trade Centre on the 11th floor at a very, very traditional Chinese restaurant called the Dragon King restaurant. We were feeling adventurous, especially Sharyn as who knew what the hell she was gonna end up with!


Before the Tofu lumps and nuts. Before the Japanese Pumpkin with seasonable vegetables.

Liked by the vegetarian. Hated by the omnivore.


My very tasty sauteed beef with scallions and onions.


When the pumpkin is taken. The green stuff took up much of the dish. Not liked by vegetarian.


Kinda looks like it could be in The Shining

And the total bill payable is….


Hey, wait a minute, I don’t remember ordering the chest of drawers.

I would go back, don’t think Sharyn would…

* Chinese New Year, Be Right Back, Laugh Out Loud

** Causeway Bay

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This dude is instantly annoying when you see him. It means that 90 percent of the sidewalk you are walking on is cordoned off and drops to a 100 foot cavern. Perhaps with a nasty smell that takes your breath away.
The info on the board basically tells you when this bottle neck started cramming people even closer together and when they expect to finish up the work and you can walk in a fashion that somewhat resembles civilisation.

So this guy looks like he is channeling all his psychic energy to visualise the completion date for all our goodness and convenience. His intense black soul sapping eyes work fearlessly, relentlessly for you, the dear Honkers citizen.

God bless you Psychic Construction Worker!

Either that or he’s just fixing his hard hat.

Or has a really bad migraine.

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Lamma Island is a small enough island lying a mile or two of the south of Hong Kong Island. It’s a mecca for hikers and dog walkers and hippies and tourists. And ex-pats who want to get away from maid strewn sidewalks on a Sunday.

A quick ferry ride from Central Pier Number 4 and you arrive on Lamma where you can hike a number of different paths. It’s really nice and we walked a nice undulating path for 2 hours. We ended up at a small enclave of seafood restaurants and a pier where ferries head back to Central.
We will definitely go back over the CNY period and do choose some more trails to vary it a little. And of course it’s exciting to see what type of dog is around the next corner.


Lamma Island has a couple of nice beaches also.


For the dogs in a little bother


Kamikaze Grottos. When the Japanese occupied Honkers. They built these on Lamma to put speed boats into so when British Ships went by they would speed out loaded up with kaboom sticks and Kamikaze the ship. The war ended before they could use them.


Sharyn’s prize at the end of the hike. A vegetarian rice dish.

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CNY

This is a new acronym that has to be shoved in to my already overflowing brain.

So what does it all mean??

Well…..its pertinent to this time of the year in Hong Kong/China…….

Anything??!!

Yes, that right smarty pants it stands for Chinese New Year (Jan 26th this year) and the acronym stops you getting rsi every time you need to type it out.
– Traditional Chinese for CNY. Simple!


This is how to write the Chinese word for Year. Practice it and fax it to be on my desk by Monday morning.

January 26th marks the start of the year of the Ox. I won’t write down my humorous musings on the year ahead referring to certain oxen related words.

So it’s a big deal over here but there is a lot of stuff and superfluous traditions and superstitions that come along with it that all us non-Chinese are scared of, bemused by and will probably try and ignore.
For one thing, it pays to be either a kid or single around this time because all us old folks who are married should buy a bunch of red envelopes from the local markets, fill it with crisp bank notes and present it to them!

Yeah, I’ll present all my single friends with these envelopes but I’ll stick a little note inside with “Loser” written on it.

Actually we are going to fold under Chinese pressure and present a red envelope to our overly cheerful and friendly security guy in our apartment building. Who probably hates us.
Money must be crisp, no coins, no multiple notes, no odd numbers and no number 4 involved in the monetary value.  And you must give them a big kiss too.Only joking with that last one. Although I could start a trend.
And we have to wear new clothes on New Year’s Day. And no black. Which rules out most of our wardrobe.

So it’s a big family deal and all families travel home to eat and have arguments. You would want to be a stark raving lunatic to travel to Chinese territories over CNY. Very busy is one way to describe the transport system.

Hong Kong will be quiet and shops will shut over a few days.
We have decided to stay at home over our two break and just relax, sleep in and do normal stuff. Can’t wait really.
Our final day of school is next Friday when probably there will be no classes and we will all be involved in some sort of shenanigans.

Stay tuned for my “Beers of Vietnam” collage in my next post

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After arriving back in Honkers on the 31st, I had an idea to go to a local hotel to bring in the New Year. One quick call to the hotel and I felt it was the best option and within stumbling distance from our apartment. The party was on the 34th floor of The Excelsior Hotel in a bar/club called TOTT (talk of the town). It had good views of the IFC2 building which was the main focal point for the fireworks display at midnight. There was a soul group playing stuff and we got two free glasses of champagne to bring the New Year in.

Wasn’t the cheapest option, the cheapest option would have been to stand down on the harbour front and drink from a paper bag and take in the fireworks. But we were warm and could drink out of glasses.

img_3081

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reflection on window didn’t help here


Video of fireworks and countdown at midnight. Hello ’09!

We stayed till 2am and then wandered home and the streets were already empty after being jam packed with revellers only hours earlier congregating around Times Square and Victoria Park.

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So we grabbed a 4 hour train ride to Mui Ne which is a long strip of beach frequented mostly by kite surfers due to the strong winds blowing in off the South China sea.
The train ride was bearable, seats looked like they were used by the entire population of Vietnam. Twice. Saw a lot of the countryside and a lot of the outskirts of Saigon. People’s houses back up right on to the train track and usually have no doors so you can look in at everyone’s life; families crowding around the tv, motorbikes parked in their living rooms and lots of people just crashed out on hammocks or beds.
Every few miles the train passes a street where dozens of motorbikes are stopped waiting for the train to pass.
Dirty windows on the train made for poor pics.


Don’t worry, he was fine!

We stayed at the White Sands Resort for 7 nights and did nothing but lounge, relax, eat and rink. It was great. Our bungalow type thing was right on the water. The staff were friendly although their English was poor it didn’t really matter!


View from our balcony at sunrise


Sunset

We had a Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and were entertained by traditional Vietnamese music and the head chef performing as Santa and a boogie master.

Note Colin before head being shaved. After-shot a bit below.


He had a tie for me and a scarf for Sharyn. Lovely.


And this is him as a Disco King. Hilarious!


Our musical accompaniment for our Xmas dinner. Give me Jingle Bells any day.


Colin after head shave. Sharyn isn’t naked.


As our resort was out in the relaxing middle of nowhere we took a taxi in to the main strip of Mui Ne a couple of times for a bite to eat. They welcomed all us (sic)!

And so after 7 days of relaxation we headed back to Saigon to stay one night before catching an early flight back to Honkers.


Looking out of the train station at Phan Thiet which is the biggest town beside Mui Ne to get the train to Saigon.

We stayed in a nice hotel called First Hotel chosen because of proximity to airport. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant which surrounded three sides of the hotel pool. Only swim there if you wanna show off your rocking body. At the time we were there it was only being used by thirsty bats which swooped down to grab a few sips of chlorine flavoured water. Silly bats.

And that was that. Vietnam. It’s a quicker flight form Honkers to Hanoi which is in the north. It’s said to be friendlier and cheaper so that could be worth a return trip. Never once did I think I was in a communist country and traces of the war is found only in garish tourist traps whether it be propaganda movies at tourist sites or silly military hats or Good Morning Vietnam t-shirts at the markets.

Next up for us…..who knows! But we have Chinese New Year coming up on the 23rd Jan and we then we are off work for two more weeks. Yes!

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So back to December 19th and we left for Saigon, Vietnam for a few days before catching the train over to Mui Ne to relax by the sea.

Saigon is chaotic, busy, smokey and touristy. You can’t walk for the people selling you everything under the sun. You can’t cross the streets for the millions of motorbikes and cars. It’s like a very real version of Frogger trying to cross streets there. I loved it!

We took the approach of walking around Saigon and taking it all in, death street crossing and all. There a few things to walk to. The War Remnants Museum which is a catalogue of American wrong doings in the Vietnam War. They got a bunch of American war machines lying around. Wasn’t too impressed with it all, felt like a gallery of horrendous photos just for the sake of it. I can get the message in ways other than seeing mutated and very dead people, thanks very much.

Next up a short walk away was the Reunification Palace which is an unwilling tribute to horrible Communist architecture and interior design. Officially it’s where the president of South Vietnam hung out during “the war” and is where the North Vietnamese army broke through the gates in 1975 to end the war.

So we continued our walk the next day and took in the rooftop of the Rex Hotel where all the hacks hung out during the war looking at far off bombings. Army hung out there too.

From there we took a leisurely loop around back to our hotel just soaking in the exhaust fumes and the very real parts of Saigon away from the well trodden path of tourists.


This dude repelled two Mongol invasions so I think he deserves this statue


Saigon River

Views from our hotel rooftop restaurant (Elios hotel) in the backpackers area of the city.

We went to a bar one night to get a taste of the local nightlife. The Seventeen Lounge tries to burn your retinas, disentegrate your eardrums and smokify your lungs all at once. It was some experience. The live band were not that bad though especially with their Cranberries cover!
Wonder what their electricity bill was with all the Christmas decorations…

Details of our trip to Mui Ne in my next post. Coming up in a few hours..

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