CHINA – Hong Kong & Macau
We leave really early for Hong Kong even thought it’s only an hour or so drive from Shenzhen. As we cross over the Ting Kau Bridge, we get a stellar panorama of the city. All the skyscrapers are concentrated at the base of the island and circle the periphery, while Victoria Peak dominates the center.
We forgo Chinese food to satisfy some of our back-home cravings. Julia’s face lights up when we find a double chocolate muffin inside an organic grocery store not too far from our hotel on Des Voeux Rd.
Andrew, Julia, and I walk around the pier, passing tall buildings encased in bamboo scaffolding. We pass bank towers with people protesting outside. We definitely never saw any protests on mainland China. Eventually we take a double decker tram to the base of Victoria Peak where we board a funicular to the observation deck. It’s a beautiful view of the city. And the weather is perfect. I love Hong Kong.
DAY 30 June 17
We sit in the hi-tech conference room of the Monetary Authority for a lecture before touring an exhibit about the evolution of Hong Kong’s currency. They have some new, plastic (polymer) currency, which is cool you don’t have to worry about accidentally putting in the wash. The museum guide tells us, “It’s a pity you are spending your time in Hong Kong at this museum.” Dr. Pickus is standing right there, so it’s kind of awkward. She writes down the name of a good place for dim sum, “Lin Heung Tea House,” and tells us to go here instead.
As we climb up the stairs, the clanging of plates and table conversation grows louder. The place is packed. A group of locals offer to share their round table with us, so Susie, Kaitlin, and I eat with them. They show us the ropes, suggesting which items to select off the cart and demonstrating how to pour the tea by placing your knuckles on the lid, so it doesn’t burn your hand or spill out. I still spill the tea.
The lady asks us, “So after visiting China, you realize Hong Kong best city in China?” We all nod in agreement, our mouths full of dumplings. It’s true. I would live in Hong Kong. It reminds me of San Francisco, but with more Chinese signs and a lot more high rises. After thanking them for their help, we pick up the punch card and take it down to the cashier to pay.
Next door, we find a bakery with sweet potato layer cake and egg tarts they just pulled out of the oven. We split them in thirds and wash it down with some fresh star fish juice from a vendor on a nearby market street.
Karen Joe Laidler, a cool professor at the University of Hong Kong, gives us a lecture about crime in Hong Kong. She has short hair and a laid back personality. She tells us, “Don’t take notes. This should be fun.” And then puts up a powerpoint slide with a single word, “DEATH.”
We all close our notebooks and listen to her talk about Hong Kong’s surprisingly low murder rate. A city of 7 million people only had 18 homicides in 2007. By comparison, Chicago has anywhere from 450-900 a year with only a third of the population. She discusses how Hong Kong’s tried to control the Triads by increasing the amount of undercover police and limiting brothels to one-women operations. (We noticed some of those last night on our way to La Taverna). Triads still exist, she says, but don’t operate in the ways they used to.
She recommends we visit Macau for its Portuguese architecture, sangria from Fernando’s, and black sand beach. Andrew’s been trying to convince us to go to Macau all week, so he’s happy a group of us finally agree to go with him tonight.
Before our ferry to Macau, we take a farewell cruise with the whole group. We see Hong Kong in lights. It’s a more reserved look than the colorful, Vegasy marquees of Shanghai, but definitely worth the boat ride.
At our last meal together, we present Dr. Wang and Pickus with gifts (wine), which they seem only cordially appreciative of. Maybe they’re suspicious we’re bribing them for good grades. I expect some final group picture, maybe some thank you speeches, or a final a cappella karaoke song like the “Graduation Song” by Vitamin C. But the group just sort of dissolves without any grand finale, and the eleven of us going to Macau head to the terminal.
DAY 31 June 18
all nighter on macau
11:59 pm. It’s about an hour journey to Macau. We all do our best Andrew smile impression as the hovercraft skims across the water.
The terminal is vacant on the Macau side, except for a man bathing in the restroom sink. The taxi drops us off at the base of an enormous golden lion, Macau’s MGM. The casino smells brand new and isn’t very busy. We walk pass rows of slots and blackjack tables and into a room of fountains, a glass ceiling, and fake building facades. We round back to the lobby and exit through the metal detectors without spending a cent.
We want a drink first, so we walk into a club down the street with a sign advertising free drinks for guys. Guys never get free drinks! It’s not a great scene, but we drink our free Heineken, bob our heads to the DJ’s music, and then cross the street to Casino Lisboa, Macau’s oldest casino. It has a lot more character than the MGM. We ascend the escalators, rising above these enormous dangling crystal chandeliers. Slot machines ring around us. People disperse to find a machine or spot at a table. After a few minutes, the novelty of gambling wears off. Nick is the only one with success, and he stays at the table a while, but the rest of us grab a couch and order some fish and chips. It’s about 4am at this point, so we decide to divide into cabs and venture over to the black sand beach to catch the sunrise.
It’s a long drive to the beach. We pass another clump of Vegas transplanted casinos like the Hard Rock and Venetian before it turns more residential. The cab drops us off at a park. “This is the black sand beach?” I ask doubtfully. The driver nods and then peels off as soon as we pay him. On the other side of the parking lot, we can see Hac Sa Beach. We’re the only one’s out there. The sand’s not as black as I thought it’d be. More grey, and a darker grey where the sand is wet from the waves. The sun begins to peek above the cloudy horizon and the sky turns a pale shade of pink. I take off my shoes and roll up the bottom of my pants to wade into the water. The sand is squishy and leaves deep footprints. Brianna, Kaitlin, Julia, and I sit on a boulder waiting for the others to join. But as we watch the sun climb out of the water, no one shows, just like at the night market in Beijing. I guess they got dropped off at another beach.
After a while, we walk over to the hotel at the end of the beach to call a cab and wash the sand off our feet in their bathroom. It’s a good thing there’s a hotel here because I don’t know how else we’d have called a cab. There’s nothing else in sight, except a row of condos farther up the shore. And Fernando’s, the place the professor recommended for sangria, doesn’t open til noon.
DAY 32 June 19
39 hr day
The 19th technically lasts 39 hours for us, since we’re heading home today, and Hong Kong is 15 hours ahead. It feels like a 39 hour day too after spending the whole night in Macau.
I carry my framed La Chambre painting under my arm, hoping it fits into the overhead compartment. Everyone tries to spend their last few RMB and Hong Kong dollars at the airport. I order another kiwi juice, the same one I got the first day of the trip when we landed in Hong Kong. Logan says it looks like bad salad dressing, which is a good description. It’s green and thick with the black seeds suspended throughout the bottle, but it’s refreshing and wakes me up a bit.
On the plane, I start to dose off, but wake back up with a long line of droll hanging from my mouth. Nick and Gabby catch me as I try to quickly wipe it off, and we all laugh.
Across the aisle, a couple tells me they were quarantined for a week in Thailand because they thought someone on their plane had swine flu. They’re so happy to be heading home. They had to pay for an extra week of hotels because they said the facility they offered them was really bad and overcrowded. And their bosses weren’t happy they were missing so much work. So glad that didn’t happen to us!
We all head our own ways home once we reach LA. Dave and I are so delirious, we miss our stop on the airport shuttle and have to loop LAX twice. We’re also convinced we heard them announce a stop for Air LeTurtle.
Before I meet my parents outside of security, I put on my cream-colored traditional Chinese suit jacket with dragon embroidery, which I picked up in Hong Kong for a couple bucks. My mom lifts up the corner of the shirt sleeve and asks, “What’s this?” I know Kaitlin will laugh when I tell her my mom “accidentally” shrinks it in the laundry the next day. Between you and me, I never really intended to wear that shirt outside of China.