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Michael & Barbara - Hong Kong

Welcome to our "Travel" Page. Our intention is to keep you up to date with what we're doing over here not to make you feel restless, but if reading this does have that effect, break free and join us!!
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Diary Entries

Thursday, 08 November 2007

Location: Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Welcome to our Blog!!

We’ve been here three months already and mostly wonder where the time has gone. We left NZ with plans to have a BLOG up and running immediately – sort of as an online diary to keep track of our comings and goings and so those of you who are interested can easily do the same and keep in touch. Obviously that didn’t happen. Apart from Barbara being kept ultra busy at school, we’ve been like kids let loose in a lolly shop and have hardly slowed down long enough to remember our early intention. Every weekend seems to be filled with another excursion – and many of the evenings also. At least the ones I succeed in getting my wife away from her clssroom!

For those of you who have had emails from us, some of the following may be old news. We’ve repeated it here for the record. To those friends who haven't had emails we appologize. We found we didn't have everyones email addresses when we got over here.

The early weeks seemed to be spent in a state of perpetual ‘lostness’ where just when you thought you were learning your way somewhere and started to feel pleased with yourself, you’d take a wrong turn and realize you didn’t have a clue where you were at all. Couldn’t even just turn to someone passing for help – chances are they wouldn’t have a clue what we’re saying. All right when you're on holiday but a bit of a challenge when remembering we're going to be living here. Just a bit of a challenge.

First impressions of HK were of a city that is all UP – a land covered in forests of high rise (usually 30 – 40 story) apartment blocks. I guess 7 odd million people have to live somewhere, and they seem to do it very well in these. During the day they’re impressive enough, but at night the city comes alive with them as all the lights come on. I know it sounds appallingly poetic but at night greater HK really does take on the appearance of a landscape of jewels. Because the buildings don’t go far up the sides of the hills (called mountains here), the hills are clothed in darkness which creates startling background to the stacked up lights of the buildings. Quite beautiful to see massed forty story banks of lights against the black hillsides – and they just go on, and on, and on. The second is of the heat and humidity. Trust the Wilson’s – we arrived during one of the hottest periods the locals could remember – although they could just have short memories. Most days were up to 37 Deg.C and who knows what humidity. All we knew was that to be walking along and then need climb even a couple of stairs was to immediately drench our shirts in sweat. It was maliciously rewarding to see the locals suffering the same complaint!

We were involved in 2 weeks of orientation up front on arriving here -
with HK and with the school (for B). Found our apartment during this
time - 39th floor studio apartment right on the Tolo Harbour up in the
New Territories at Ma On Shan. It's a 40 minute bus ride to the senior campus in Kowloon where Barbara is at the moment, but once the new campus in Shek Mun is completed it'll only be about 7 min's on the train. Yours truly walks Barbara to the bus at 5.50 each morning – wonderful husband that he is – and she’s in her classroom by 6.40. (Public transport is FANTASTIC over here. Trains are quick, clean and quiet and run approx every 3-5 mins, and the buses, double deckers, mostly 15 - 20mins apart.) Tolo is a large - smaller than the Waitemata in Auckland - fairly quiet harbour running across our view.... several islands, scattered settlements on the far side of the harbour back dropped by huge bush covered hills. We see for miles and at 39 floors up the view's uninterrupted. Absolutely breathtaking. Two malls within 5 minutes of walking out the appartment door so guess which one of us is delighted … and it aint me…. There’s a bus station under one of the malls, and the train station is between them. Not noisy – the trains are electric and the rails are set on heavy rubber mounts. Excelent idea.

Barbara was finally allowed into her classroom on the Thursday of week
2 - four days before the kids came back - so she was panicking
a bit not having had a classroom for about 13 years. It's been a
challenge for her getting back into the rhythm of classroom living but
she's doing well and I hear from other sources that the kids love her.
It's VERY different for her. The American system bears about as much
similarity to the NZ system as driving a digger does with riding a
motorbike and the terminology's all different too, which has lead to
some laughs. The classrooms are small. She shares her main one with
another teacher and they both have their desks in it so while one's
teaching the other is working. In theory anyway. Most of the teachers
in middle school have 2 subjects they teach but Barbara found out once
we'd arrived that she'd been given a third. So she's teaching Social
Studies/ History, English (as a subject, not as a language) and Maths. The secondary campus which includes the middle school, is using part of a seminary in Kowloon - the primary campus uses several floors of an ex shopping mall near Shatin, about 25 minutes closer to us.

Hamish (our middle son) arrived over here on Tuesday of week 2 for 15 days, so he ran me ragged as we explored the place. I was complaining to someone that I was sure my legs were a couple inches shorter with trying to keep up with him, not to mention how tired I was, when I overheard him telling someone else that I was wearing him out and he'd have to go home for a holiday!! Made me feel a whole lot better!! And when you're my age (still young) it does you good to know you can still make the young bucks suffer - even if you're hurting to achieve it! Hey I'm invincible! Just don't push me too hard or you'll make me fall over or bruise me! It was good to have him and quite sad to finally see him go though.

I mentioned at the beginning that we’ve been getting out and exploring. Most Saturdays we're off exploring, and often in the evenings and Sunday afternoons after church. So much to see. This place is a shoppers paradise which is a bit of a worry for a bloke. Barbara’s explored most of the main markets, which means I have too – Stanley, Ladies St, Temple, Fa Yuen St – you name it we’ve been through it and many of the smaller ones we’ve happened across, shopping malls too many to remember, main streets, back streets.... A camera would have been invaluable when we walked into the mall just across the border in China at Shenzhen (pronounced SumJun) - just to capture the look on Barbara's face contrasted with the looks on Hamish's and mine. The mall has over 2000 outlets on six (I think) floors and vibrates with the feel of utopia for any serious shopper - and Barbara certainly believed she’d arrived in paradise – and is redolent with the knowledge of disaster for any husband who happens to be along for the ride! Every shop must have had at least a couple of touts promising delights and cheap prices to anyone passing – and since the place has been pretty crowded each time we’ve been up there they’re always at it, like a huge flock of sea gulls on a wharf when a fishing fleet ties up – “You come in jus look. Iss OK. Bess price jus for you! You wan kopy watch, han bag, DVD. I show. Good price! You wan Rolex kopy watch?” Hands reaching out to make sure you notice them, touching, tugging at your sleeve .. Why do we keep going back? Because we’ve found a tailor there who’s good and her prices are CHEAP (compared to NZ) .... and of course ... Barbara needs clothes. What else?! We now march in, see her, march out and explore other things further across the border. Visited a painters village (artists) one time we were up there – wandered around looking for six hours and left exhausted, with still more to see another time. It was actually very enjoyable. Very well done paintings and frames to suit any taste – and CHEAP. We came home with a trip-tech (3 paintings that can hang together to form 1 picture). Pity the apartment’s not larger.

We've traveled around the New Territories and Hong Kong Island quite a
bit exploring – what's the point of being here if you're going to sit
at home?? Notably Gold Coast (in the NT, almost as far west as you can
go). Lamma Island (just south west of HK Island) with fishing villages
and great fresh sea food restaurants. The Wetlands at Tin Shui Wai (in
the north west of the NT) - I cynically wonder whether it's HK's
symbolic gesture to conservation in light of all the land reclamation
that's been done here over the years. Mind you, the built up areas
around the NT are surrounded by the equivalent of NZ's National Parks
so perhaps I shouldn't speak too loudly. Sai Kung, 20 minutes south
of us here in the eastern part of the main NT (there is more to the
east of us but considered outlying and harder to get to) is another
enjoyable fishing 'village' (large town) with plenty of good sea food
restaurants right on the water - the same stretch of water our
apartment looks out on further up the harbour. The Peak on HK Island is a
magical place to be at sunset watching the city come alive with light,
right at your feet. At 8.00 every evening they have a laser and light
show staged off several of the higher buildings in the business area. Coloured
lights racing up and down the sides of ultra high buildings ...
Absolutely beautiful.

Most of the lower central part of the NT - Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui
(TST), Mong Kok, Kowloon City, Kowloon Tong) and Tai Wai, Sha Tin …
have become so visited and passed through they don't get a mention!
Although the old Walled City in Kowloon City, which will mean
something to several of you (Jackie Pullinger was a missionary in
there and wrote a great book on her experiences. It was a no-go zone
for British militia when they were here and completely lawless. You
name it, it went on in there). It's just a five minute walk from the
Senior Campus where Barbara teaches. They leveled it in the 1990's (I think)
and turned it into a VERY picturesque and pleasant park - total contrast
to what it was when she was there. From crowded, old, dirty, dangerous
etc to VERY peaceful and beautifully laid out. Great place for the
camera and we enjoy walking through it. Do wonder how much blood's in the ground we're walking over though!! We can't help wondering if the contrast between then and now is intentional.

Grant and Gail (Gail, a good friend and associate from TS, Grant and I helped crew another friends yacht NZ - Tonga) visited for three days in late September on their way home from a sailing holiday. We thoroughly enjoyed having them and did our best to send them back to work for holiday. You pay to come visit the Wilsons, we'll make sure you get your moneys worth. You WILL feel like a rest afterwards though. Lazy holidays by arrangement only. Visited Shenzhen, took in Stanley and one or two other markets, went through the bird mkt., flower mkt., Goldfish Mkt.(which is almost anything but goldfish. If it'd go into an aquarium it's there and usually in colours you'd never believe fish could be.) Visited Barbara's school, rode the Star Ferry and caught the cable car up The Peak where we had a very pleasant dinner at Bubba Gumps with HK comming to light below us and the laser show. I do believe they slept on the flight home.. Good on you you two. Don't loose our address 'cos the beds waiting for you.

The following week Karl, another associate of Barbara's from TS who was in HK for a few days on business, caught up with us on his last day - his one free day.
Non of us had been to Sai Kung so we went down there and had a most enjoyable day wandering around catching up, with a long relaxed sea food lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants and a ferry ride on the harbour. Caught the bus on round to Tsim Sha Tsui where he was leaving from early the next morning for the airport and enjoyed a late coffee with him before saying goodbye.

Two and a half weeks later Val (Barbara's mum) arrived for a week and we thoroughly enjoyed having her - and no, I didn't get paid to say that! Guys, it really does pay to get on well with your mother in law. Makes life a whole lot easier and much less complicated! We did a lot of the (by now) usual stuff, all be it a bit slower - she is my mother in law after all! Made a couple of evening trips across the border to Shenzhen and lots of local HK stuff, but the highlight trip of her visit was catching the train further into Shenzhen to a huge
exhibition 'park' crammed full of reproductions of scenes, buildings,
places, you name it, from around China. You can visit all the famous and many of the not so famous places and parts of China in this one 'park' (I don't know
what else to call it.)

Half of the site is dedicated to full sized displays of the various cultures and their settings from around China with live performances - which are as good as any live show you'd pay handsomely for outside or in NZ. We only had time for two by the time we discovered them. One, a 40 minute re enactment of a battle fought centuries ago - including 50 or more horses racing around with riders having huge fights with each other - and tons of noise. The other show was in a fairly large theatre where we were packed like sardines - all seated (where were those fire escapes) - and was 40 minutes of highly colourful and extremely well performed exhibit of cultural dance and costume. I thought it'd be a long 40 minutes spent for the sake of Barbara and Val, but came out really glad I'd gone in with them.

The other half of the site is acres and acres of replicas in miniature
(all outside) of places, buildings, landscapes, the Wall etc from all
over China. You could visit China in a day here! Of course anyone
looking at your photo's would wonder why you were taller than the
buildings etc but who'd care. You'd have a great time taking them!
Wandering around I could just imagine a whole giant workforce of grown
ups hard at work for however many years it took to create this place,
playing - like making sand castles at the beach. It's like walking into Gullivers Travels - isn't that the story where Gulliver finds himself in a lad of little people? The detail was absolutely fantastic. It even had people in the
landscapes/streets/buildings - Chinese people obviously. We'll be
going back for sure, and this whole site is firmly on our list of things to
do for visitors who seem to be arriving to stay about monthly. And
these two exhibits are only part of a much larger group of them - all in
the one spot. Just waiting for the Wilsons! It's huge, and by huge I mean covering an area probably as big as all of Pukekohe. It's even jot it's own up in the air mono-rail system.

We really enjoyed having Val over here. Did our best to make sure she
used up all the tourist she had in her while she was here - so we sent
her home for a rest I'm sorry to say. She must have wondered if she was going to actually GET home at the end though. We quite successfully got her to the airport a whole 24 hours late for her flight home! ... Another story. But she obviously did get home, on the flight we turned up for, and Cathay didn't charge her an extra cent. Fantastic Airline. We flew over here with them. (Anyone know how I can get paid for that??!)

What now? We get our breath back and prepare for Ann's visit (Michael's mum) in
just under three weeks (Nov 27). In the mean time, a long weekend up at Guilin and Yangshuo where the fantastically shaped hills are - on the Li River. The week following, Barbara's school has Week Without Walls which will see her back up in China ...

If you'd told us 18 months ago we'd be doing all this we'd have laughed at you.


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Recent Messages

From Sam
Hi Guys!
Having a worried moment. Im not sure if I have discovered this page of yours before and had just forgotten about it, or if the phrases are similar due to email contact.
That aside though, this was a very fortunate find for me. Works slow at the moment and because its the last week of work before we take off, it feels extra long! I was just surfing through the internet looking at travel sites etc.. and happened across your page. Nice to read about places we will be seeing in a short while. Michael I can actually "hear" your voice when reading this!

I am however a little worried that your going to wear us out in a few short days. We may have to divert to shopping outlets whenever we need rest. Barbara would be quite entertained for a few hours, and with you carrying her bags (dutiful husband) we could sneak off for a sleep.

Will see you very shortly.

Sam