HONG KONG AIRPORT: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 13

Enjoy my husband’s tirade! Not for the faint of heart!:)

2 May- 3 May: Middle of the night, middle of the Hong Kong Airport

Disclaimer: I’ve hardly had any sleep in almost 24 hours. You are hereby warned about the xenophobic diatribe I am about to go on!

I FUCKING HATE FRENCH PEOPLE!!!! I know, I’ve semi-joked for years that I’m Swiss-German on one side of my family and English-Scottish on the other, so either way, I can’t stand the French. But I’m fucking serious this time. We should’ve let the Nazis keep France, and encourage them to put the French, not the Jews, into gas chambers! Guess what?!?! Worst. Flight. Ever! Yea!!!! So, we’re flying out of Hanoi on an Airbus, right? Get to the airport 5 hours early, because we figured that waiting in the airport is WAY better than spending another minute in that hotel…and we were right! The airport is virtually spotless…beautiful little airport. Really, nice, although it’s small enough that we kept running into the same people. For instance, this French couple (see how I brought it all together?), and their two “adorable” little children, especially their 3 year-old son, whom they let run wherever he wanted to, and to whom they accommodated whenever he screamed, which was about every 2-3 minutes. And there was the delightful mother, who sounded as though she had contracted Ebola while in country (wishful thinking on my part probably). Anyway, we finally check-in and get something to eat, and who’s checking in on our flight? Yep, that same “charming” French family. But wait – we see them check in through the business class desk! Yes! We won’t have to deal with them after….aw, shit! Turns out they’re in coach – two seats behind us. OK, gotta be patient. I’m gonna have to deal with little kids in my job. I can do this! We’re right behind the empty seats where the emergency exit hatches are, so bailing is an option…just kidding. About halfway though the flight, this “charming” and “attentive” mother gets up and starts talking to another French woman across and one row ahead of her, allowing her 3 year-old wander around an airplane flying at 30,000 feet, naturally. I mean what mother WOULDN’T allow their toddler to roam all over what my wife calls “an 85 ton flying coffin”?

In the little fucker’s wanderings, he happens upon the row in front of and across from us! That’s right, the emergency exits! Of course, that “charming” and “attentive” mother is too busy rambling on in a language that sounds like it needs a Mucinex, so she doesn’t notice when her little rodent climbs up on one of the seats and starts to grab at the emergency exit hatch! My wife exclaims, “Jesus Christ!”, half terrified, half appalled at the lack of parenting skills on display. Only THAT snaps the mother out of her self-absorbed stupor, just in time to stop the little angel from cutting our flight a little short, somewhere over the Gulf of Tonkin. My wife, who’s terrified of flying in the first place, but has gotten better over the past 5 weeks, regresses a bit, thanks to this French cunt. But even more shocking is, after that, she let him go again! He ran down the aisle, all the way into business class. When she picked him up and brought him back for good this time, we both were glaring at her, and unbelievably, she returned it as though she’d done nothing wrong!

We were both upset the rest of the flight, and I reported what happened to Hong Kong Airlines once we got on the ground, though I doubt anything will come of it. Nevertheless, I came out of my shock and rage briefly when we descended through the clouds, banked a little to the left, and there it was…Hong Kong again. It made me so happy to see Her again, I actually teared up a little. We’ve been stuck in this airport now for about 6 hours, halfway through our layover, but I don’t care. Now that we’re out of the U.S., and even though it’s only overnight, I can say it: I’m home. Taiwan is next, and I hear it’s closer to Hong Kong than it is to Vietnam. Let’s hope so. And that French family had better be nowhere NEAR that flight, or I’ll shove ’em off the fucking plane myself! Whew! Now THAT’s the snarky sarcasm we’ve all been waiting for! I’ve still got it! On that note, good night, and good luck.

– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

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SHA TIN, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 7

Not too much snark this time. Just what to expect when you’re traveling there and how much we loved it. Enjoy:)

5 April – 9 April: Hyatt Regency, Sha Tin, New Territories, Hong Kong

So, after a melancholy drive up to Sha Tin, our cab pulled into the University district, where the Chinese University of Hong Kong is located. The Hotel sat up on a hill, towering over the MRT University Station, and our cab drove up the hill and pulled up to the lobby. The City Garden Hotel had a check out time of noon, but the Hyatt’s check in time wasn’t until 2pm. They checked us in, but a room wasn’t available yet; it was just after 12pm. So we went into their cafe/restaurant to get something to eat, and wait for our room. There, we both had a burger, strangely enough. My wife rarely likes to eat meat, but she ate the whole thing! We took our time there, had some jasmine tea, some decadent desserts and eventually, 2 o’clock came and our room was ready, again on the 15th floor. Again, they took our bag up for us. We found our room and went in.

Amazing. We had a stunning view of Sha Tin Bay, a beautiful big room with two beds, a lounge chair, desk, and a sitting area right in front of the massive windows overlooking the bay and the towering buildings on the other side. The bathroom was equally impressive. It had a separate area for the toilet, a sink with a large counter, a shower with a rainfall shower-head, and a big, comfortable, luxurious bathtub, that my wife practically moved into when we got there. I did get in there once too (please don’t try to visualize that – it will scar you for life), but baths just aren’t my thing.

The one down side of the hotel that made us miss the City Garden even more – it’s not located near anything, other than the university and the subway station. There were a few shops around the station – a tiny 7-11, a bakery, and a nice little Chinese restaurant that we discovered WAY too late in our stay – but there was no neighborhood to walk through. The nearest one was two subway stops (about 5km) away. This was an area that people passed on their way to somewhere else, with the exception of the hotel. So unless we wanted to go to the trouble of getting on the MRT just to eat (which we did do a few times), we were stuck with the local shops and the hotel’s restaurants, which weren’t bad at all, just expensive. However, we ordered room service several times, for those burgers again, and their REALLY nice breakfasts. I love room service! It was decadent, and I didn’t give a shit. This was our vacation; we were allowed to be decadent, so don’t judge me!

Buddhist Monastery entrance
Buddhist Monastery entrance

So while at this hotel, we explored the Sha Tin area, and other parts of Kowloon. We went to a beautiful Buddhist temple located in the far southwestern part of the New Territories, and I went to the ruins of Kowloon’s old walled city. We went to a mall in Sha Tin one evening, looking for a restaurant that we’d seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, but it wasn’t there anymore. The mall was filled with more high-end stores for the mainland Chinese to plunder. However, we did find a restaurant with some room there, and had a nice dinner, but it was so big, we couldn’t finish it all, a common theme here. Afterwards, we went outside and walked out into a little square, where a young woman with a guitar, a microphone, and a couple of speakers was performing soft pop songs from the 1970s (The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John, etc.), in front of a surprisingly large group of enthralled onlookers who applauded enthusiastically after every song. It was very entertaining, and we even joined in on the cheers.

On our last full day there, we went to Kowloon to go to the Ladies’ Market and the Temple Street Market. One thing about these street markets if you’re ever over here: learn to haggle. Bargaining over the price isn’t just common, it’s expected. It’s hard at first for an American to accept the fact that you don’t just accept the price that’s given to you. Counteroffer with half of what you think it’s worth, and go up from there. There are similar shops nearby, so it’s possible to tell someone that you can get it cheaper just down the street, whether it’s true or not. It’s hard to get the hang of at first, but it’s a good thing, and will most certainly save you money in the long run. Later on, I finally had my 1st Indian food – it was almost like a spicy lamb pizza – and it was very good! Dead baby animals are delicious! Think I’m being gross? You like eggs, don’t you? Thought so. Shut up.

Random Observations

The people in the Sha Tin area were noticeably different from those in the North Point area. The people in North Point seemed a bit nicer, but quieter and more reserved in manner and dress than those in Sha Tin. I hardly noticed any girls in North Point, but it was hard to miss them in Sha Tin, because of what they wore…or more accurately, how little they were wearing or how tightly they were wearing it. It was nice to look at, but I was still a little taken aback over the drastic difference in socially acceptable dress codes in neighborhoods separated by a distance of less than 15 miles.
Pharmacies. In a grocery store or a Walmart back home, all pharmaceutical items you want, prescription and over-the-counter items, are in one section of the store. Not so here. Some items are located in separate, small pharmacy shops, scattered around town. Some examples: Feminine items for your menstrual cycle? Grocery store. Eye drops? Pharmacy. Colgate toothpaste? Grocery store. Sensodyne toothpaste? Pharmacy. Hand sanitizer? Grocery store. Hydrogen peroxide, allergy medicine, and acid reflux medicine? Pharmacy. Seems a little inconvenient to have to go to two separate places for your grocery list, but keep in mind one thing: at pharmacies here, you can also get birth control and antibiotics WITHOUT a prescription!
The children. I don’t know about you, but back home I’d seen A LOT of ugly kids. I mean, damn! Honey Boo Boo is exhibit A. Hard to find ugly kids here. They are friggin’ adorable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to pull a Madonna or Angelina and adopt enough kids to start my own sweat shop. Still, they’re entertaining to watch, and they’re usually the first ones to say ‘hello’ to you.
The food and the people. Have I mentioned how much we loved the food and the people? Oh, nevermind, then.

View from our hotel.
View from our hotel.

So April 9 came around, and much too soon. After 8 days there, we had fallen in love with this place, and we DID NOT want to leave. But we had to; teaching opportunities for someone with no experience were not as readily available here as they were elsewhere, not to mention the fact that we already had reservations in Vietnam. So reluctantly and tearfully, we checked out of our wonderful hotel, and our driver picked us up for our little ride in a Mercedes back to the airport while we told us about Hong Kong, what the people there thought of the mainland Chinese (see part 5), and how we should visit Macau sometime. Due to the checkout time, we had plenty of time to explore the airport, look in its shops, even get something to eat, before we went through security (easy, this time) and wait for our plane. They began boarding about 30 minutes late, but otherwise, everything went smoothly. The flight was only 2 hours this time, very manageable. We landed in Hanoi at about 5:30 local time. After a lengthy wait at customs (hint?), we walked through a disturbingly quiet airport to our ride, which was waiting for us to take us into the city.

Now, I know there may be some of you who know me who might be thinking, “Richard, you were so nice and polite writing about Hong Kong. Where is that snarky, sarcastic attitude we know and love about you?” Don’t worry…Vietnam’s coming next.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

KOWLOON, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 6

Enjoy it while it lasts because I go for the throat when we move on to Vietnam:) Enjoy!

3 April – 5 April, pt. 2: City Garden Hotel, North Point, Hong Kong

While we didn’t do as much sightseeing as we had originally planned, we had gotten to experience the culture, which in some ways may have been better and certainly less touristy. However, we did go to some of the places we wanted to go. The subway was our main mode of transportation for these excursions, but sometimes a taxi supplemented the journey, when the remaining distance was short, but too far for walking.

One of the first places we went to was the Hong Kong Botanical and Zoological Gardens, which was so beautiful. This lush hilltop park filled with exotic plants, birds, reptiles, and mammals, was very peaceful, with one exception: the primates, and no, I’m not referring to the humans. We were about to head back when we heard a loud commotion coming from one of the monkey exhibits that we had passed earlier. The were whooping, chattering, howling so loud, you could feel the sound vibrate in your inner ear. It was amazing; never heard anything like it! It was a very beautiful place.

My hubby goes to the zoo:)
My hubby goes to the zoo:)

Our last full day in North Point, I took my longest MRT trip to date. I went across most of Hong Kong Island, transferred to another MRT, which took me under Victoria Harbor to Kowloon to see the Avenue of Stars, which is basically the Hong Kong film industry’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, combined with Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. They have marble stars scattered along a broad sidewalk, with a breathtaking view back across Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong Island. Some of the stars also include hand prints. They had Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Phat, among others, and of course, Bruce Lee. They even have a beautiful 10-foot bronze statue of him. It was fun to see and the view was magnificent, as it was a bright, sunny day.

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My next stop was to Hong Kong’s 3D Museum. It’s a very touristy place, and overpriced considering how small it was. It was still kinda cool to see this impressive 3D artwork, but it’s hard to describe it. I’d recommend checking out their website to get a feel for how impressive it really is. Still, it only took maybe 30 minutes to go through all of it, and the entrance fee was the equivalent of $30.

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After that, I walked around Kowloon for a bit before heading back. Not as much of a fan of Kowloon as I am Central Hong Kong. This place used to be and overpopulated slum; not anymore, though based on the southernmost tip of it, I’m not sure it’s an improvement. It’s a massive shopping district for the wealthy, filled with stores that may only the wealthiest 5% can afford. And the salespeople standing outside of some of the privately owned stores…they are pushy. They’ll see a tourist, and aggressively try anything to get you to go into their store.

I’d see other parts of Kowloon later, but the next day, we were leaving North Point, and switching hotels; to the Hyatt Regency in Sha Tin, New Territories, about 22km to the north. By this point, we weren’t looking forward to the move,and were regretting dividing our vacation in Hong Kong between two separate hotels. We’d fallen in love with this neighborhood, and we didn’t want to leave. To be honest, I was a little tearful about having to go. Nevertheless, on 5 April, at noon, we checked out of the City Garden Hotel and took a cab up to the New Territories.

One thing I’ll say about cab drivers here; they may not know much English, so you need the hotel concierge to give you one of their business cards and write where you want to go in Cantonese. But those drivers are honest. They’ll take you exactly where you need to go, and they won’t take the scenic route to boost their fare. It’s something we wouldn’t always encounter in our travels, but we were very grateful for it.

North Point
North Point

As we left North Point, we were feeling rather melancholy about the move. We knew the hotel would probably be nice, but it wouldn’t be the same…it wouldn’t be North Point. Nevertheless, off we went, not sure of what to expect from our new surroundings.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

NORTH POINT, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 5

3 April – 5 April, pt. 1: City Garden Hotel, North Point, Hong Kong

The next few days sealed the deal for me and Hong Kong. We explored so many places, but we didn’t buy much. I did buy my wife a new camera, and we bought some small items to send to friends back home. For me, it was all about the atmosphere of the place, the food, and the people.

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The Atmosphere

All of Central Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan, but in different ways. Downtown, in the business district, everything looks rich. The clothing, the buildings, the cars, the stores; it looks like Rodeo Drive with skyscrapers. North Point is different. North Point looks middle class, with the possible exception of the cars. The clothes are middle class; they’re not shabbily dressed; their clothes just didn’t cost $2000. Almost every building is for housing. The bottom floor might still contain a shop or two, but above that, it’s all apartments. Those 25-story buildings make up the majority of Hong Kong’s skyline. I did the math on it; based on the apartment buildings I could see within one block of our hotel, I estimated that there were at least 7000-10,000 people living within one block of us. And yet, it didn’t feel overcrowded anywhere we went. It was shocking paradox. It should have felt like a crazy tumultuous zoo, with everyone going everywhere in some form of organized chaos. But instead, it felt like a sanctuary. It made you feel small, in a good way, as if the city around you would swallow you whole and keep you someplace warm and inviting. You can lose yourself in its streets, its beeping crosswalks, its taxis and buses, its hustle and bustle, and its rhythmic cacophony of sound. Sometimes, I literally did get lost, but I always found my way back (thank you, sense of direction). You would have thought that someone who had spent the majority of their adult life in a metropolitan area of 250,000 would be overwhelmed by all this. But to me, it was paradise on concrete!

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The Food

Apart from the overrated, overpriced food at the hotel, and McDonald’s and KFC, the food here is wonderful. We probably could’ve been more experimental and brave with our choices, but did try some new things. To start with, you can even find good food or snacks at the Circle K’s and 7-11’s here, something you can’t say about convenience stores in America. But the big one for me was roast suckling pig! We just picked a restaurant in the area that had it and took a taxi there, which was about $3. It was sooooo worth it! I know this was one of the best places for suckling pig in North Point, but certainly not the best rated suckling pig in Hong Kong.

BLISS!
BLISS!

Nevertheless…absolute bliss! Mischa took one of the few pictures of me in existence of me looking truly content. There was nothing special about this restaurant: it looked like any number of Chinese restaurants or diners you might find in America. But the food was so much better. It was like that for most places in Hong Kong. It’s hard to make a mistake with where to go to eat, once you get outside your hotel. Simply walk down the street until you find a place that looks good and go in. A good clue is if people are lined up outside, waiting to go in, which we saw quite often.

Fried pork skin and chicken fried rice
Fried pork skin and chicken fried rice

Another thing: coffee. It’s black. Very black. They do have creamer there, but it’s just like half and half. No flavored creamers there. You can add sugar, but that’s it for non-artificial sweeteners. Second thing – learn to like tea. If you can, you’re golden here. There’s no shortage of teas here, and once you acquire a taste for it, you’ll find that they’re all quite good. All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with food here.

The People

Now this one is tricky, as we discovered in hindsight from our driver that took us back to the airport. There are, for the most part, two distinct groups of people who live in Hong Kong: Native Hong Kongers (for lack of a better term), and Chinese, meaning mainland Chinese. Now the descriptions I’m going to give for both of these groups is a paraphrasing of our driver’s comments, but they are comments which, after careful reflection, I agree with. People who are from Hong Kong are generally quiet, shy, and just want to live their lives in this beautiful city. They can be hard to get to know, but they are still generally polite. What really starts to open them up are attempts to speak to them in Chinese, preferably Cantonese, but Mandarin coming from a white guy works too. For example, the lady at the Circle K saw me every day, usually buying cigarettes, but sometimes other things as well. At some point, I remembered my Chinese lessons from the movie, Rush Hour, and after paying for my purchases said, in my best Mandarin, “Xie, xie.” It wasn’t Cantonese, the primary language in Hong Kong, but still, you should’ve seen her face light up! Being able to have that effect on someone, with just two words, made my day, probably my entire week. Later on, I learned that I was saying thank you in Mandarin, and that the proper way to say it in Cantonese is, “m’goi”. Nevertheless, every time I said, “Xie, xie” to anyone in Hong Kong, it made them so happy, just that I was trying. THAT is how Hong Kong people are.

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On the other hand, the Chinese, especially from the perspective of Hong Kongers, are rude, ill mannered, generally superficial parasites. Their exploding middle class comes to Hong Kong to buy up properties, which drives housing costs up. They come there to buy up everything they cannot get in China, or better quality versions of what they can get in China. They treat Hong Kong like a giant Costco, buying everything in bulk, then going home. They are demanding, and while few Hong Kongers spit or litter, the Chinese do it anytime they can get away with it (Hong Kong has laws against littering and spitting in most public places…were those laws there before or after the Chinese started coming in droves?). Most people from Hong Kong find them disgusting, and would gladly welcome British influence back over their being a Semi-Autonomous Region of communist China. Hell, one of their parks still has a statue honoring King George VI!!! Maybe there is a different view of the Chinese, but those that I spoke with from Hong Kong, DO NOT like them.

One last observation about the people of Hong Kong. They do have one thing in common with the Chinese: Neither of them like the Japanese…at all. One day, my wife was wearing a vintage looking Star Wars movie poster shirt, that was in Japanese. Everyone was staring and glaring at her. I don’t think she’s worn it since.

So that lovely little combination of Hong Kong culture, food, and people, combined to make this little vacation of ours such a happy one. I never thought I could live in a city this size, but after just 2 or 3 days, I would’ve fucked someone to stay there permanently. And we still hadn’t really seen anything yet! But we’d squeeze in some sightseeing soon.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

THE FOOD AND MARKETS OF NORTH POINT, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 4

2 April, pt. 2: City Garden Hotel, North Point, Hong Kong

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After that unforgettable early morning experience, I went for a walk around this massive city block, which was about the size of 3 of our city blocks back home. I saw so many shops, restaurants, bakeries, all in various stages of preparing to open for the day. The morning light was growing, and I began to see more people in the street. Away from that beautiful square, I got more of a feeling of the city. The sights and smells left me wide awake, and my eyes and my nostrils attempted to take in every bit of information. One moment, it’s bread, than coffee and tea, then it’s meat coming from some restaurant’s exhaust port; the next, pungent fumes coming from the city’s sewer system, up through the manhole covers. Bad and good alike, it was exhilarating, like that first cup of morning coffee. It was bordering on sensory overload, so I headed back to the hotel.

Once my wife woke, we went down to the breakfast buffet, which was extravagant, but expensive. We only went there twice – it just wasn’t quite worth the price. We started to slowly explore our new neighborhood together. Over the next few days, I bravely jumped in, going out and exploring in a 500 meter radius from our hotel whenever I could. We explored the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood, going into the little malls around and beneath the streets. We went up to the nearest subway station and got familiar with Hong Kong’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). It is a very efficient and inexpensive way of getting around the city, no matter where or how far you need to go. Later on in our stay, I was able to go from Sha Tin, in the New Territories, back to North Point in 45 minutes. That’s a about the same amount of time as it would be to take a taxi that same distance, but for about 1/10th the price.

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We went to several street markets, which were filled with vendors selling clothes, fruits and vegetables, meats of every kind, knock-off watches, handbags, jewelry, and touristy trinkets. The markets would take up streets of every size and width, and go on for several blocks.

We had breakfast at a McDonald’s, which was conveniently located right next to the subway station, but looked much nicer and had better food quality than the McDonald’s in America. There was also a KFC across the way, which again had better food. I tried a bucket there that had all white meat popcorn chicken, with a spicy country gravy that most Americans are familiar with, covering a steamy pile of sticky rice. Best food I’ve ever had at a KFC.

But going back to that first day, that evening we went to YUE, the Michelin starred restaurant located on the 2nd floor of the hotel. My wife had sweet and sour pork, which she liked, but didn’t think it was Michelin star worthy. I had roasted pork belly, only because they were out of roasted suckling pig, a theme you will see repeated later in our journey. It was okay, the presentation was nice, and it tasted good, but Michelin star? No. If Anthony Bourdain had film this, it would have wound up on the cutting room floor.

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So, the hotel had overrated, overpriced food. That was the last bad experience we’d have at this hotel. The rest of our stay there only increased my love for this neighborhood, its people, its food, and its feel. But that’s another story…
-For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 3

2 April, pt 1: City Garden Hotel, North Point, Hong Kong

On our way to Asia!
On our way to Asia!

After that long flight, and some problems at our new hotel that first night, we weren’t feeling very optimistic about our stay as we got ready for bed. I think we were asleep by 9pm; as a result, I woke up at about 5 or 5:30 the next morning, 2 April: my birthday. I took the elevator from our 15th floor room, down to the massive lobby, and out the front door into the warm, moist morning air. I wanted a cigarette, so I walked next door to the 7-11. Hong Kong has 7-11’s and Circle K’s everywhere. There’s no shortage of them, though I quickly found that cigarettes cost more here. I bought a pack of Winstons (sorry, no American Spirits here), some water, and walked back to the front of the hotel to smoke and take in early morning on the other side of the world. The air smelled different here. It wasn’t bad; it was warm, there was the hint of garbage, but above all of that it smelled – floral. Across the street was a square, filled with trees, bushes, a fountain, walking paths, and a children’s playground. Around the entire square in a half-square formation were six 25-story apartment buildings, filled with residents of Hong Kong, still sleeping or just getting up, getting ready for work, a warm morning fog partially obscuring the highest floors. Hardly anyone was out on the street, but nearly every car that was parked along the streets were high-end cars or Mini-Coopers. I saw a Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and a Fiat. Only the public or city vehicles were Japanese or Korean (Toyota, Hyundai, Mazda, etc.). I was what I heard first, however, that caught my attention the most.

Before I came here, I had of course told my boss what we were going to be doing. He had been to Thailand once, and was struck by how different the BIRDS sound there, and suggested to me that I pay attention to that. I kind of thought he was overplaying this particular characteristic of an exotic Asian country…until I quieted my mind, looked across the street into that square and listened to the early morning calls of the birds in trees there, filling the air with a sweet, foreign sound. It was a beautiful isolation. Sure, there were a few people walking down the sidewalks as the night sky slowly filled with the morning light, but in that moment, I felt completely and exquisitely alone; it was just me and that symphony of birds, and I understood what my boss was talking about. It was a private moment, filled with contentment and bliss. It was only a moment, but it was all mine. Thus began my man-crush on Hong Kong, that over the next week would become love.
-For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

CANADA: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 2

Tuesday, 31 March – Wednesday, 1 April:

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Departure day. We left the hotel at about 9am to drop the car off and to get there early. Good thing we did. Our big suitcase turned out to be overweight by 8kg, by Air Canada’s regulations. Basically, we had to throw away 8kg of stuff that we needed less than everything else. We got rid of a lot of pills (vitamins, etc.) and clothes. My wife was NOT happy with me, to say the least, because I told her I knew the weight restrictions for the flight. Turned out that either I had it wrong or the information I had received about it had changed. Either way, the day was not starting out well.

Then the trip through airport security. Yippee!!!! Though not as stringent as the US and the Department of the Fatherland Security, it was still a bit of a pain to go through, especially considering what we’d already been through that morning. But, everything went fairly smoothly; they never found the kilo of Pineapple Express I had shoved up my ass! 🙂 After that, we sat down to put everything back where it needed to be, and took a breather in an area of the airport filled with duty-free shops. It had already been a difficult day, and we’d been there for less than an hour. After that, we went in to Air Canada’s private lounge, which I had arranged for us when I bought the tickets. We had WiFi for our laptops, some food at their buffet, and some complimentary beverages, though they were rather insulting to ME! They even had free Molson! Things were looking better!

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Just as we were getting ready to leave to head to the terminal for boarding, they announced in the lounge that boarding for our flight was about to begin. We headed over there, just around the corner from the lounge, boarded the plane (a Boeing 787), and took our seats in Premium Economy which had slightly larger seats and slightly more leg room. Almost instantly, an Air Canada stewardess, maybe in her early 50s but still attractive, came up to us and asked if we would like anything to drink. Neither of us can remember her name now, but she was awesome. She was there for us during the entire flight if we needed anything, talked to us, got to know us. She was so sweet and made an extremely long flight much more bearable. We even tipped her secretly before we left. She was that damn good.

So back to the start of the flight. After we took our seats and settled in about 30 minutes before takeoff, we looked around and found that the screen in front of us and the personal TV screens attached to our seats would track the flight’s progress, distance left to go, altitude, outside temperature, etc. It was really cool.

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After the pre-flight speeches, it was time for takeoff. I had the window seat, my wife was next to me in the aisle seat. We heard the engines rev up, and as we accelerated down the runway, we were pushed back into our seats. Mischa gripped my hand tightly as we picked up speed and lifted up off the ground. We banked slightly to the right and we headed up over the inlet between British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Pretty soon, we were flying over towering peaks over the coast of British Columbia and the panhandle of Alaska and then, above the clouds.

If you haven’t been on a flight across the Pacific Ocean (one of the longest non-stop flights out there), it’s really hard to convey how taxing it can be. Imagine you’re in an office cubicle that has enough room for your office chair and room to stand. If you step outside of your cubicle there’s just barely enough room to walk, and if someone else is walking down that “hallway”, there’s barely any room to get out of the way and at the very least you’ll always be brushing up against someone or something. If the “hallway” to the bathroom is free, when you make is to the bathroom, it’s the same size at your cubicle. Your seat, that hallway, and the bathroom; that’s the space you can occupy…for 12-14 hours. Still sound easy? Try it for yourself. Sit in your living room and watch TV for 12 hours straight. Need to go to the bathroom? Walk to your bathroom with your arms close together, do your business while only taking up a space a few inches wider than the width of your shoulders. See if you can do that, and not be exhausted. That’s what it’s like to be on a 787 for over 12 hours.

The remainder of the flight was simply an endurance test, made easier by the aforementioned stewardess, and the fact that we had unlimited access to movies through the airline and our laptop. She watched Wild, which she kind of liked, and I watched Interstellar, which I thought was overrated. The food on board was surprising; better than expected. Nevertheless, we were both continually having to get up and take little walks every hour or two, just to keep from getting stiff on this 12-plus hour flight. As we neared the end of the flight, we were zombies. The flight was landing at about 5:30pm Hong Kong time, but to us, it felt like 2:30am, so we were beat.

We finally landed a little after 5:30, had a long taxi to the terminal, followed by an equally long walk and subway trip to the main terminal to go through customs. After that, we found the company that was taking us to the hotel. By a little after 6pm, we were in the back of an air-conditioned Mercedes, being driven to our hotel, which was 45 minutes away, and on another island. Hong Kong’s airport is on Lantau Island, while our hotel was on Central Hong Kong Island, in the North Point district. Mischa slept most of the way there, and I was in the back seat, just taking everything in, since the driver didn’t say a word. It was getting dark when we got there, and the city would’ve had me awestruck had I not been so tired. The lights, the towering buildings…at over 7 million people this was by far the largest city I had ever been in, and it felt even bigger than that. But at that moment, I was just too tired to appreciate it.

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We got to the City Garden Hotel at 7pm. We check in and over here, the hotel staff takes your bags up, which for us was a godsend at that moment. We did have some initial problems after getting to our room. The beds in Asia are, for the most part, much harder than those in North America. On top of that, after a long, long day and a long, long flight, my wife wanted a bath. But the stopper in the tub wasn’t working, so we had to call the staff to come up and fix it before she could indulge. Not a great start to our first night in Asia; but that was about to change…