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Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Time Event
Hong Kong, day 4
Wednesday was the big day for Mei and Joe but with the wedding not starting until mid-afternoon Melinda and I had enough time for a few more tourist stops. We visited the Hyatt's breakfast buffet once again, which really was a good idea in retrospect, given that we never found much for breakfast eateries. Then a couple of stops up on the red MTR line to visit flower market road and the Yuen Po Street bird garden. Flower Market road is lined with florists, not surprisingly, and at 10a when we walked through it was also lined with their delivery trucks, depositing flowers from elsewhere and picking up outbound bundles. I only wish I had a need for a dozen bright red roses for only a few USD.

Flower Market road turns when it meets Yuen Po Street where we found a line of shops selling small birds in small cages. Parakeets and finches mostly but a few parrots and cockatiels. The wild birds were cute, too, trying to steal the birdseed that would escape from the cages onto the ground. The scene is iconic Hong Kong but sort of depressing in a way, mostly because the cages are 8" on a side and the birds spend all their time flitting from one side to the other (in about a quarter second per flit).

Back to the hotel with plenty of time, we get changed and catch a cab at the Hyatt Car Park. Melinda wrote down the name of where we're going in Chinese but the valet also just tells the driver were to go. It's slow driving from the hotel across the harbor mostly as we wait for lane merges into the cross-harbor tunnel. The trip gets us there in plenty of time, in part because we were told a time 30 minutes earlier than we actually needed to be there. Heh. Driving in Hong Kong is not for the feint of heart: cars are like the ice molecules in glaciers, deforming like a plastic around immovable structures (utility poles, traffic barriers). Private cars couldn't account for more than 20% of traffic; lorries maybe 25%, and the balance - more than half - are identical taxi cabs. Taxis are very inexpensive in Hong Kong -- the trip we took included two toll fares and was pretty long but added up to less than $20 USD. Between taxis and the MTR both being ubiquitous you really don't need your own car in Hong Kong.

The ceremony was outside on the bay-side deck of the country club with maybe 25 people in attendance (including me, Melinda, and another of our friends from San Francisco, David). With the exception of a few readings the entire service was in English, and even the readings were read twice, once in English and once in Cantonese. Post ceremony then group photos, then cocktails in the country club, and a wedding banquet reception a few hours later. Mei brought Settlers of Catan for we San Franciscans to play, which was pretty nice. We played alongside some lively mahjong players. The banquet was 12 courses but the first dish was my favorite: roast suckling pig. Pork, crispy, deep fried - how could this not be tasty? I also enjoyed the red bean soup at the end as the dessert. During the banquet several people made toasts and shared stories about the newly wed couple but all these were in Cantonese; I just smiled and watched politely. As per tradition Mei changed her dress several times during the banquet and she and Joe made a tour of all the tables in the room to greet everyone and to have a toast. It all seemed pretty nice; seems doable. 8)

The return trip was much faster, with no traffic to slow us down. Also, the driver knew some bit of English, and he knew that our hotel used to be elsewhere several years ago. I wonder if the Hyatt has just reopened recently. They're still doing construction on the building (seems like there's construction everywhere around Hong Kong).
Departing Hong Kong
This morning (well, Thursday morning, although it's now Friday nearly noon Hong Kong time) Melinda and I woke up early enough (well, 8a) to shower and to do all our packing. We bought several souvenirs but not so many that we needed an extra bag (handy also that my bag wasn't all that full going out). I left the housekeeper a tip and a glass penguin, mostly because I'd brought a few with me and figured I may as well give them away. Only then did Melinda point out I should have tried bartering them at the markets! Next time.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn just as the airport express shuttle bus was pulling in so we made great time. At the Kowloon station for airport express line we checked in with the Cathay Pacific attendant and got our boarding passes. We waited probably the longest we'd ever waited for a train on this trip - 4 minutes - before one arrived. It whisked us quickly to HKG, where we immediately turned in our Octopus cards (stored value cards for the MTR and the airport express line) for our deposit and stored value back. Pretty neat that you can get it all back that easily. I don't know how or even if I could get my BART money off my BART card.

Hong Kong airport has a large arcade of shops and restaurants. The shops are all designer labels with a few ordinary newsstands / booksellers and toy stores thrown in. I found three shops selling the old Bandai Space Warp toy kits, just like what I had when I was a kid! My big Bandai set is in storage now but it made me a little nostalgic for setting it up at work again. Maybe sometime again. We ate at the Burger King (pressed meat chicken sandwich and pressed meat fish sandwich) and fortunately found a Starbucks. Mocha tastes like mocha even in Hong Kong, although it's neat to see their own regional winter flavors (toffee, dark cherry, and gingerbread). It's also funny to see all these Christmas decorations around town and even at the airport -- it never feels like Christmas when you're almost in the tropics.

The return flight itself was not even half full. We had the same seats we had on the outbound trip, save for being on the right side of the aircraft. They're nice seats, but 747s are loud. I'm still savoring not listening to anything now, no music, no headphones, no four jet engines less than a few score yards from you. I watched several movies (Minority Report, Get Smart, The Mummy: Return of the Dragon Emperor) and some TV shows. Cathay Pacific has a pretty extensive library; I could easily take another round trip and watch something new or that I haven't see in a long time. Definitely, way better than United for long-haul flights.

Back in San Francisco, we took BART to a bus home, and already I miss MTR and the Octopus card and the ubiquitous signs guiding you in the right direction for this station or that landmark. But it's also nice to be back doing work and not living out of my suitcase.

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