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Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Time Event
Hong Kong Day 1
Melinda and I arrived in Hong Kong about 14 hours ago, at 7a local time. Cathay Pacific provided very good comfort for the 16-hour flight: ample legroom and seat width, a full selection of on-demand movies and TV for free, dinner and breakfast service (delivered on Hong Kong time schedule; dinner came at 1:30a San Francisco time. We sat it probably the best seats in Economy on the 747: 67 A and C. They're way in the back of the airplane so you board first and have room for your luggage. The jet body is narrower back there so there's no 67B - we have both an aisle and window and are sitting next to each other. There's actually even a bit of extra room on the window side. Easy access to the toilets, too. Only problem is that the 747 is really loud - way more than the narrow-body 737 or A320. I need to find my noise-cancelling headphones next time I fly.

Hong Kong is how I remember it: a mix of Asian and British aesthetic, English and Chinese bilingual signs everywhere, and easy to blend in as a monolingual tourist. (And, now that I have short hair, way easier to blend in.) I was surprised to find the HKG airport at 6:30a pretty much deserted. Of course no one would be outbound but Melinda and I managed to lose all the hundreds of other people on the flight, and had no lines at immigration or customs (in fact, no one even checks you at customs if you go through the "nothing to declare" door). I found an HSBC ATM, withdrew some Hong Kong dollars, and bought 3-day visitor octopus passes (each includes the round-trip to the airport and 3 days of unlimited MTR travel).

The airport express train to Kowloon was fast, clean, and surprisingly quiet. Why can't BART, MUNI, VTA, or Sound Transit run a train this quite? There's a free shuttle that connects the Kowloon MTR station to the nearby hotels and the Hyatt is across the street from the Holiday Inn. in fact, though, my map I bought has the 2005 Hyatt location -- they've since moved a couple of blocks. (Also, since the map was published, MTR's opened a new line and new station next to the new Hyatt, so they have a lot of changes to catch up with.)

We made it to the Hyatt by around 8a and found our room already available, so we checked in and freshened up. Pretty nice - I was expecting to just leave luggage until the evening, but a shower and new shirt was a pleasant surprise. The room itself is pretty swank. We have a king bend and square footage in the main room equal to about 2.25 more king beds. The windows look out to more buildings (we're on the 10th floor) so the view isn't much but it's Hong Kong. We struggled at first to find the light switches until I guessed (correctly) that I needed to park my room key in a little slot next to the door, doing so being a master switch on all the lights (and, subsequently, when I leave and take the key with me all the lights turn out - nice). There's a closet with access from the bathroom and the hallway, and another sliding door above the bathroom vanity to open that space to the bedroom. It's all very comfortable.

We started the day off right by finding a Starbucks at Tsim Sha Tsui not far from our first landmark of the day (museum of art). Seasonal flavors are gingerbread, toffee, and dark cherry -- no eggnog and no peppermint (not that I asked, just observed). Weird to pay "77 dollars" for two drinks. Also noted that the snacks you could buy included a turkey sausage wrapped in bread -- this just seemed very campy for some reason.

We spent the morning to early afternoon walking through the Hong Kong Museum of Art. They have a few special exhibit now, one showing these very detailed painting scrolls including Prosperous Suzhou that's more than 30 feet long and another being a travel guide for the 19th century foreign visitor to Canton. Great stuff, and well worth the 10 HKD (less than $2 USD) per person admission.

Sunday afternoons finds an arts and crafts fair on the promenade at Tsim Sha Tsui, where we were at, so we walked around the booths. Definitely very arts and craftsy but more ... juvenile than I expected. I expected what I've seen at the Embarcadero in SF or the U district street fair in Seattle: leather goods, paintings, photo prints, ceramics, along with maybe cheesier stuff. This work was mostly the cheesier stuff: mobiles made of aluminum cans, crocheted doilies, and lots of people with photo printers offering to print a photo of you + Hong Kong Harbor for a few dollars. I bought something for a gift but not much else.

By 2p I was getting hungry so we walked toward the hotel planning to find an eatery as we went along. We found a sign for India Palace on 1F -- "first floor above ground". Lots of places are like this in Hong Kong -- the business is on some middle floor of the building (every building is 10+ floors, it seems) which you access through the door wedged in between two street-level merchant frontages. And many businesses will be in the same building, so every building, and basically every narrow door at street level, is like a slice of a shopping mall. I remember this observation from my last visit in Hong Kong but had forgotten how unlike SF or Seattle or even NY this experience is. (Although, as Melinda pointed out, Chinatown in New York *is* like this.) In any event the food at India Palace was tasty: mutton korma, palack paneer, naan, rose lassi, mango lassi. Restaurants add 10% service fee in the billed price and tip is 5% - 10% more, usually paid in cash if you pay the bill with a credit card.

We took a meandering path back to the hotel, seeing more and more lit up neon signs along Nathan road along the way. I evidently needed a 90 minute nap before going out again to see the Temple Street night market but were were out again by 6:30. We took MTR to Jordan station (walking underground from East Tsim Sha Tsui station to Tsim Sha Tsui station) and despite a wrong turn found Temple Street. It's been raining lightly this evening, and raining more heavily now, but not so bad as to drive many vendors home. Temple Street is entirely closed to traffic and vendors set up kiosks (with fiberglass or tarp roofs) in the street to hawk there wares. Seems like there's only a few archetypical vendors. First is the electronics vendor: sells MP3 players that look like, but aren't, iPods; sells miniature video cameras and receivers; sells laser pointers, binoculars, other optics, and tripods; and sells speakers. Next is the costume jewelery vendor: glass or semi-precious jewelery in earrings and bracelets. Third is the silk outerwear vendor: robes, tops, some pants. The rest are smaller classes. But Temple Street is lined with many instances of these archetypes and each has something slightly different from others (so, if you don't get a good deal, keep walking). One deal I passed up, maybe I shouldn't have, was for a blue laser pointer. I could have had it for 300HKD ($39) but it just didn't seem very bright. Maybe needed new batteries? But also, do I really need a blue laser pointer? I have a green laser pointer, and the green laser pointers are way brighter than the blue one. And, I recall that Dan's blue laser pointer was brighter than this one, although much more expensive (eg, ThinkGeek is offering a blue laser pointer for $599). I did buy plenty of other things, though, and am pretty happy with my bargaining abilities. I think I got at least 10-15% off the list price for everything. Maybe I could have gotten more, but that bother wasn't worth it to me. I found gifts for my niece, a few friends, and some items for me (a few new ties) and Melinda found items for her (some bits for making necklaces out of her pendants). A pretty good haul. We walked the market for maybe three hours but as the rain was getting heavier we wanted to go home - we were getting pretty wet (nice that most of the booths were covered). A quick trip on the MTR and we were back in front of the Hyatt (convenient that the MTR station is across a one-lane road from the entrance to the Hyatt). I think we'll turn in early tonight.

Tomorrow's plan is to spend the day on the Hong Kong side of the harbor: Victoria's peek, maybe shopping, maybe other landmarks, and maybe drop in to see the Google office. Tuesday I'd like to get out to Lantau island. Of the next few days Tuesday's weather looks best.

Oh, I did find a prepaid SIM for my G1 but it doesn't seem to do data (nor would it be economical to do so, but I still kinda wanted to have that option, mostly for maps). I don't know what the phone number is for receiving calls but I can place them. It cost 68HKD at a 7-Eleven (ubiquitous in Hong Kong) so it was worth the experiment and may yet be handy. But, no, I don't know how you could call me using it.

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