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Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Time Event
Hong Kong, day 3
A little sore from the lack of success at breakfast yesterday, Melinda and I ate breakfast this morning at the hotel cafe (restaurant, really). The buffet's kind of expensive (nearly 296 HKD per person) but it's a pretty nice spread and mix of continental and asian foods. Melinda and I ate omelets, breads (including slices of a really nice apple roll), turnip cake, and dumplings. Definitely nice to be well fueled before heading out.

Today's plan took us to Lantau, one of the outlying islands in Hong Kong and home to the Hong Kong Airport, the Po Lin Monestary, and the world's biggest outdoor seated Buddha. Two MTR trains took us to Tsuen Wan(?), a short distance from the airport and from where we took a 20-minute gondola ride to the monestary and statue. The guide book I have (which, btw, is not going to get 5 stars when I write its review in Amazon - it doesn't show the MTR line that my hotel is adjacent to) called it a "cable car" but that's really just a literal translation. It's an aerial gondola ride, not anything like a cable car in San Francisco. We skipped paying the extra money to ride in the glass-bottomed car (the windows all the way around the car were enough already) and were heading up by 10:30 (the place opened at 10a). The ride was fun in part because it's been breezy today (and unseasonably cold!) and in part because I always like birds-eye views of things.

Lantau island is mostly unpopulated but that's changing quickly. The gondola ride took us over acres of forested hills and it's easy to forget we're just one island over from the sea of humanity called Hong Kong. Beneath the gondola path there's a walking trail that I imagine must have been the earlier root to the monestary.

The statue itself was big, to be sure, and made even bigger by placing it at the top of a bit of a hill up which side you climb using stairs. We walked around and inside the statue, took some pictures, and were very cold as the wind was especially whipping at the top of this hill. Inside the statue was a large and attractive bell and a relic of The Buddha (some small bit of bone) but not a lot more.

We then moved down to the Po Lin Monestary (very close to the Big Buddha) for some exploration and eating. The Po Lin monestary is well known for its vegetarian dining hall and we bought meal tickets for lunch. We skipped the "deluxe" meal for "general" and general was fine enough. Way more food than I'd have expected and surprisingly good, considering the volume it's made in. My favorite part was how the soup was delivered: it comes out in a 30-gallon vat on wheels and sits in the dining hall near serving bowls. When a group is seated the waitress laddles one scoop of soup into the bowl -- the laddle is about 2qt itself. Efficiency.

We walked through the little village near the monestary but it all feels very Disneyland (or, Alpine village, considering the cold breeze and that we'd just returned by a gondola ride). The Chopstick Gallery was neat and exactly what it sounds like (well, it's a shop, not a for display only gallery), and the Starbucks was tempting but busy so we passed. We toured the outlet mall very briefly (tour ending after we found the washrooms) and took MTR back to Hong Kong.

Part two of the day was a visit to the Museum of Medical Sciences. This museum is way up in the mid-levels in Hong Kong so we made the excuse to ride the mid-levels escalator all the way to the top. Just to say we made it all the way to the top we even rode the last segment and walked back (the escalator is actually a series of escalator segments and in total running for something like half a mile). The museum was also definitely worth visiting. It's in the building constructed in late 19th century during Hong Kong's bout of the bubonic plague and so the exhibits are earily well placed in the building. Some of them go into detail about SARS and other modern epidemics, some compare western and asian medicine, and some are more just historic artifacts about medicine over the last hundreds of years. The SARS part apparently opened just a week ago. The exhibit showed that they could even trace specific outbreaks of cases of SARS in Hong Kong down to each outbreak's original vector and most likely method of spreading (moral: don't let the U-trap for your floor drain go dry). We spent more than an hour walking through the exhibit and left only because the place closed at 5p.

On the walk back to the MTR we came across another market, this one with more antique-y artifacts, somewhere along or near Ladder Street. I found something nice for a gift there and enjoyed looking at the old-looking items. Not everything is authentic, and probably most irritating are finding old US coins along this road; I'm sure most of them are counterfeits. But things like the worn bronze combination locks, even if they aren't old, are still pretty and functional.

Back at the hotel now and we're in for the night. I ran out to get some extra money for tomorrow (in case the cab ride to the country club for the wedding is expensive) and to find something to eat (I was hungry, Melinda wasn't). I bought noodles from 7-eleven and also bought a snack: licorice-flavored citrus skin. It could have been great, but it isn't. It tastes about like what I imagine plant fertilizer must taste like.

Tomorrow's plan: breakfast at the hotel, maybe some puttering around, then heading to the wedding (3p wedding).
Napkins are extra
I take many things for granted when I eat at restaurants but of these, two are proving exceptions here in Hong Kong: water and napkins. Tea is the norm to drink, not water, but I've found it hard to even summon up a glass of water ("we don't have ice" was what I heard at one place). Hot water, ostensibly for tea, is easier to come by. Napkins, on the other hand, I don't have any theory for, but in two restaurants I've now been not offered a napkin. I happened to have a towel with me, so no big deal, but not getting a napkin with my place setting, and not being able to get one when I ask, is just weird. At one place I could blame it on just them, but now that it's two, I think I need to bring my own napkins whenever I head out.

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