Monday

March 12th
 
Welcome to the ‘Vertical City’ of Hong Kong


 
I had the alarm set for 6:45.  I turned on the TV to see the view from the bridge camera.  Uh, oh…it’s raining & 54*.  Looks like the weather forecast was correct.  Because there is no space for us at the Ocean Terminal, we are anchoring in Junk Bay (about 45 mins. by ferry away from the central pier in Kowloon).  I’m sure Crystal is not happy with this arrangement; & it is a big sore spot with all the passengers & crew.
 

Liz brought breakfast right at 7; granola, yogurt & juice.  My tour this morning was called “Hong Kong Island Drive” (HGK-FW); & we were to meet at the Stardust Lounge for a 7:50 am departure.  We were marched down to deck 5 as the gangway was to be set up on the port side of the Crystal Cove.  I’ve heard a few different reasons why we are not able to use the ship’s tenders to go ashore.  Whatever the reason, using the local ferry was not working out too well either.

There were 5 tours that were scheduled to depart at 7:50; & now several hundred of us were packed like sardines in the Cove.  It reminded me of the start of a marathon; waiting for that door to open & everyone pushing to merge into a single file line to have their ID card scanned by security.  You knew it was about to get ugly.  We were all bundled up in our coats; waiting & waiting & waiting.  Lots of grumbling about the lack of organization; temperatures rising; trying to wriggle out of our coats.  People starting to threaten to cancel their tours.  We had no idea why it was taking so long; but we later learned that they were having trouble getting the floating platform in place.  The ship’s gangway stairs were to go down to meet the floating platform; & then the ferry was to tie up next to that platform.  The seas were relatively calm today; so much for Chinese ingenuity.  Forty five minutes later the magic door opened; & there was a rush of cold air.  After a moment of cheering, we moved inches at a time toward freedom.


There were some that chose to disembark from the ship a day early.  They were being assisted down the gangway with their luggage; I’m guessing they preferred to go ahead & check into their hotels rather than use the ferry to go back & forth for another 24 hrs.  I also watched in amazement as the wonderful Crystal crew assisted a gentleman, who uses a wheelchair, get down the stairs.  Two crewmembers picked him up under each arm; & his feet never had to touch the stairs.  Another crewmember picked up his wheelchair & walked down with it as easily as if it were a sack of potatoes.  Never underestimate the ingenuity of an ABS (able bodied seaman).  Someone told me later that he was the passenger involved with the ‘code alpha’ incident yesterday; & they were taking him to the hospital.  This is just hearsay, however; no confirmation on this.

 
During this ferry ride to the central pier; I had my first glimpse of the Hong Kong skyline.  Not having a map in front of me, I wasn’t sure which side was which.  I knew one side was Kowloon (the mainland side) & the other would have been Hong Kong Island.  Both sides had mountains in the background with hundreds of skyscrapers standing like matchsticks along the water’s edge.  I’d seen photos; but this was almost inconceivable.  Shrouded in misty fog, made it all the more surreal.


By the time we reached the pier & found our tour bus, we were already an hour late.  And just off to the left was Holland America's 'Amsterdam' (also in the middle of their world cruise occupying that prime spot at the Ocean (passenger) Terminal.  They arrived 2 days prior to us; & obviously got first dibs.  I was assigned to bus #2; we were escorted by Lamar Webster (one of the guest lecturers).  Natalie Mak was our darling guide; & she talked almost nonstop for 4 hours.  She joked that her career chose her because she doesn't know how to shut up.  Traffic was chaotic!



I learned that Hong Kong consists of an area of about 400 sq. miles; yet is home to over 7 million people.  They had no options except to build ‘up’.  Hong Kong has gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the rest of mainland China.  In a not so subtle move, the skyscrapers on the Kowloon side are taller so as to prevent anyone on Hong Kong Island from having to peer over into Communist China.


Hong Kong drives on the left; China on the right.  H.K. has designated itself a Special Administrative Region of Capitalists.  China is, of course, Communist.  Hong Kong residents pretty much carry their passports & ID cards with them daily.  They must go through immigration procedures every time they cross over or come back from the rest of mainland China.  Natalie lives with her sister & parents in a 2 bedroom, 480 sq. ft. apartment.


We traveled through the tunnel that ran under Victoria Harbor to reach Hong Kong Island.  They have an excellent public transit system; & most everyone seems to use it.  We were in traffic during the end of the morning rush hour; & I noticed that EVERYONE was plugged into some kind of electronic device during their commute.





We passed through a 2nd tunnel that cut right through a huge mountain.  On our way to the suburb of Stanley, we passed the upscale beachfront area of Repulse Bay, where real estate goes for $2-5,000 per sq. foot.  Those lucky few have unobstructed views of a very long & wide (tan colored) sandy beach.  The roads were serpentine; & I had to hang on or else be flung from one side of the back seat to the other.  The mountainous areas were almost jungle-like.  Occasionally you’d see a small cluster of high rise buildings with red roofs.  Natalie explained that these were subsidized public housing apartments for the residents of Stanley.
 




Our first stop was at the Stanley Market, a cluster of narrow storefronts & freestanding ‘stalls’ that sold just about everything.  It adjoins a beachside promenade that also had a few nice restaurants, boardwalk & a pier with a gazebo at the end of it.  It was a charming place to spend the day, if we only had that much time.  I was scanning the merchandise for some warm gloves & a scarf; but found nothing that excited me.  So, while the rest of the group shopped; I walked & took photos.  Even on such a drab looking day, the market was full of light & color.


I’m still scratching my head….why would a flower shop ask that you NOT take pictures?  There were some banyan trees planted at the top of a brick wall; & their root system had me intrigued.  After one hour, we returned to the bus; & headed to the old fishing village of Aberdeen.  Some of the ‘old timers’ still make their living fishing these waters; & a lot of them live on their boats.  They have dogs, cats, birds, washing machines, clotheslines, generators to provide electricity.  They have everything they need right there on these ramshackle looking boats.





As part of today’s tour, we were treated to a short ride on a sampan around Aberdeen Harbor, which was captained by older women.  About 10 of us fit into each boat; & we went up down row after row of the fishermen’s boat-houses.  We could actually peer in & look at their setup.  One of the most notable attractions of greater Hong Kong is the very ornate floating restaurant, Jumbo.  It sits right in Aberdeen Harbor; & you can reach it by either private boat or public ferry.  It is a gorgeous piece of architecture.

 

This tour was supposed to include a tram ride up to Victoria Peak for sweeping views of Hong Kong Island & the Kowloon financial district.  Timing is everything; & during our visit, it was shut down for its annual maintenance.  Our bus did make the trek up to Victoria Peak; but it was pretty much fogged in up there.  We strolled through the Victoria Peak Galleria (mall) a little while.  There were some neat looking places to eat; & a few of us got beverages, made ‘happy stops’ or visited the ATM to get some Hong Kong dollars.


On our way back down the mountain, the driver made a stop at the mid level lookout point; but the view was only marginally better there.  It was about this time that we realized that because the tour got started so late, we were not going to get back to the pier in time to catch the 2 pm ferry out to the ship.  This did not set well with some of the passengers; but after all, it wasn’t the guides fault.  We did get our full 4½ hour tour; & that was her main objective.  We had no choice but to walk around & somehow amuse ourselves until the 3:30 ferry.


Remember the nice guys from New York (Arthur & Bob) that I sat & had coffee with in Hoi An?  Well, they asked me if I wanted to walk across the street with them for some dim sum at the Jade Garden Restaurant.  None of us had eaten since breakfast; & I thought it was a great way to kill some time.  Chinese restaurants in the U.S. go out of their way to recreate a Chinese ambience.  While over here, they try to make theirs appear very contemporary.  If you draped your jacket over the back of a vacant chair, they would bring a clothing 'bag' to put on top of it in case something got spilled or splattered.  No round red paper lanterns, no dragon symbols, no whiny, Chinese music.  Just outstanding Oriental food!


Bob & I made a ‘happy stop’; & while we were gone Arthur placed the order.  Arthur is a chef; food critic for a newspaper & has written cookbooks.  The man sure knows his way around a menu.  The servers brought things out a few at a time; & we had no idea just how much he had ordered.  It just kept coming.  Everything was as delicious as it was beautiful to look at.  Fried taro balls (see photo above) with minced pork (a far cry from that nasty pasty poi the Hawaiian’s make out of taro).  BBQ pork; regular pork & shrimp dumplings made from gelatinous rice paper wraps.  Fried milk (actually coconut milk made into a pudding, battered & deep fried).  Eggplant with a sesame sauce.  Fried turnip cakes with chili sauce.  Pan fried eggplant with bean curd sauce.  Stir fried rice noodles with vegetables.  Nine dishes; 3 drinks; & hot tea for $75.00.  We were cutting it close; & had to get doggie bags for the many leftovers.  We just barely made the 3:30 ferry.


By this time it was quite cold out there; & my fingers were like ice.  The tide had gone down & seas a little more choppy.  That made the step up from the ferry onto that floating platform a very big one.  And the gangway was sliding back & forth on the platform.  I was very glad to get my feet back onboard ship.  I needed something hot; so I headed up to the Bistro for some of their awesome, rich hot chocolate.

  A very large mountainside cemetary (visible during the ferry ride in) that faces Hong Kong Harbor.

Peggy came in for some tea & sat down; & then in a little while Pat came & sat.  We got to talking; & next thing we knew it was 7pm.  And they needed to go get ready for dinner.  I went back to the cabin & took a nice hot shower; & cleared stuff off the bathroom shelves in preparation for the ‘move’ tomorrow.


I was pretty tired; & wanted just a little something to eat before bed.  The dining room menu didn’t have much appeal to me tonight; so I ordered a grilled ham & cheese sandwich from the room service menu.  At midnight, the Capt. was going to raise the anchor & sail into the container shipping dock area.  No one knows why we were not given permission to use the regular passenger terminal.  But any dock is better than being at anchor when you’ve got hundreds of passengers disembarking tomorrow; & hundreds more coming onboard with their luggage for the next segment.  Last thing I remember was feeling the engines ‘tremble’ as we started to move just after midnight.


4 comments:

Steph said...

Your Dim Sum lunch looked delicious! Worth waiting for the next ferry.

Steph said...

The Dim Sum looked delicious! Arthur made some great selections. Your photos of Hong Kong were excellent.

Anonymous said...

Loved your commentary and beautiful pictures!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is mesmerizing, especially the Vietnam & Hong Kong days. Wonderful, just wonderful..