April 29, 2007

China Trip Summary

During my stay in Hong Kong the first week of the trip I became really scared and reluctant to visit mainland China because of all the horror stories about Beijing from friends and family and because of our encounters with annoying and rude mainlander tourists visiting HK.

Beijing turned out to be much better than I expected, and I actually ended up liking it a lot. The average city dweller was not as uncivil as everyone had led me to believe and the sights were absolutely spectacular. In the four days we were there, we explored Wangfujing Snack Street (dedicated to street food ranging from tame dumplings and chicken skewers to more adventurous fare such as beetles, scorpions, grasshoppers, and seahorse), Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, and Temple of Heaven and also got amazing foot massages. I only wish we had more time there because all the cultural sites were colossal. I had no idea how massive Beijing is — it's 70 times the size of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is actually pretty large in area. Beijing has one large avenue whose width spans about 8 lanes wide and lined with majestic buildings the size of entire city blocks, that when lit up at night reminds me of Las Vegas. I was most surprised by how nobody knows any English still (how are they supposed to host the Olympics next year?) and the taxi drivers are all incompetent: they either 1) don't know their way around the city, 2) can't read maps or 3) can't read at all.

The other cities on our itinerary included Xi'an, home of the impressive Terracotta Warriors, Guilin, where we did a cruise down the beautiful Li River, and Shanghai, which we didn't see much of besides the hotel and hospital. We had also initially planned to go off on our own to Suzhou and Hangzhou after the tour, but obviously things didn't work out. Besides the hospitalization, the rest of the trip was great. My favourite spot was Guilin, which is where you would find the epic Chinese mountain scenery from classic scroll paintings. On our first night there Christian and I asked our tour guide, Ken, where we could find bike rentals for exploring the area. It turned out that Ken owned a biking club and he took us on a private bike tour for a couple of hours. It was amazing riding through the more remote parts of town and having the mountains tower right over you. Back in the city though it was a bit treacherous riding through busy intersections with no traffic lights. I guess after surviving the streets of China on a bike, riding in Toronto is easy as pie!

That was a quick rundown of my trip, but I'll write more about it later!

Posted by mich at 1:40 AM | dreams [0]

April 23, 2007

Need a Vacation from Vacation!

I'm back from China, and boy was it quite the ride. The first couple of weeks were great, but the trip took a horrible turn as we ended up in a hospital in Shanghai for our entire 3rd week. Christian first got sick in Guilin so I took him to the hospital on the morning of our last day there. The hospital was so ghetto and dirty, I couldn't believe it was a medical facility... and they used razor blades to draw blood for blood tests?! OMG, it was simply hong bo. Fortunately our tour guide was able to come by and help us to communicate with the doctors. It turned out that Christian was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and was prescribed antibiotics all within the span of an hour. It was quite miraculous that we were able to leave and catch our 11am flight to Shanghai with the rest of our tour group. We thought everything would be alright afterwards, but he grew really sick again in the afternoon once we arrived in Shanghai and I took him to the hospital. What was initially supposed to be an overnight stay in the hospital, soon turned into 2-3 extra days, and in the end we spent our last 6 nights of vacation at the hospital (we left for the airport straight from the hospital). It turned out that Christian had ended up with really serious kidney infection that had triggered the urinal infection, probably due to the exhaustion from all the travelling.

In the beginning we were absolutely terrified. It was so hard to communicate with the doctors and nurses because we didn't know Mandarin, they didn't understand Cantonese and could only speak very little English (even though our hotel told us this hospital had a foreign department), and we couldn't contact our tour guide, medical insurance company, tour service, embassy, or my mom in HK. I was feeling such despair, and when they told us to pay 800 RMB for one night stay plus 10,000 RMB before being treated, we were freaking out over the 10,000 RMB (like, why?!) For the longest time they didn't tell us what the extra charge was for, then they finally said it was a "foregift" (what??) They later found the proper translation and said it was a deposit. In the end everything turned out alright. My mom called me that first night and said she had found a relative in Shanghai that could help us out, who turned out to be super nice and helpful and came to visit almost every day.

We were so so lucky that we ended up in Shanghai when we did because the hospitals there are the best in the country; our hospital room was really nice and clean and we even had a plasma tv hung on our wall (thank goodness for CNN and HBO). But what a long and distressing week it was.

Posted by mich at 10:20 AM | dreams [2]

April 3, 2007

I Heart HK

I've been in Hong Kong now for 4 days now and it's fabulous, except for the super hot weather and construction 24/7 (even at 3am on the weekend!) Nothing's changed much since the last time I've been here 3 years ago, but this time I'm staying in the central area on Hong Kong Island with Cass instead of out in the New Territories with my relatives. It was a big jump adjusting from <10 degree weather to 28 degree weather with 80% humidity. Luckily though, today's pretty chilly at 14 degrees but the rain and clouds kinda suck. The great thing about Hong Kong is that no matter what kinda of itinerary you plan, every day eventually leads to shopping... either at one of the gazillion malls, stores, street markets or vendor stalls. Even the tiny narrow hallway leading to Cass' apartment turns into a girl's clothing store by day.

My first day here was SUPER long. I arrived at 7am and just hit the ground running. Cass took Christian and I around Causeway Bay for lunch, shopping, and just some exploring. We also hit the arcade, where we played a series of 3-person mini games, and raced against each other in Mario Kart. I also tried my hand at trying to pick up a cute piggy toy with those flimsy claws but with no success. In the evening we went to a really nice lounge on the 30th floor of a building that had a gorgeous view of the HK skyline at night. Afterwards we strolled along the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui, tried some fried chicken wings at McD's for "sui ye" before crashing at 3am.

In the past few days we also braved the crazy shopping crowds in the street markets of Mong Kok, ate the best croissant I ever had at Arome Bakery in Causeway Bay, had dinners with family, explored the financial district in Central, had one of the best dim sums ever in City Hall (normally I find the Chinese food in TO so much better, but this was an exception), rode the world's longest escalator up to mid-level of Victoria Peak (it took like 30 minutes!), and visited my mom's apartment where she used to live in Tsim Sha Tsui. Yesterday my uncle took my mom, Christian and I to Stanley, a pre-colonial fishing village that now looks like a British seaside town. It was a really neat place where we got to check out the outdoor Stanley Market, explore some residential areas, climb to the temple, which is one of the oldest on the island, and walk through the Murray House, which originally stood in Central but was dismantled and re-constructed on the opposite side of the island. It really had a European flavour to it, and most of the people who I saw were European all sitting at the British-style pubs. I've actually noticed quite a few French people here too... it's pretty funny to hear more people speaking French in HK than I ever do in Toronto!

Our last few days here will be pretty exciting, as we'll be visiting places that even I haven't been to before including Macau, Ocean Park and Lamma Island. Gotta get down to some shopping now!

Posted by mich at 8:48 PM | dreams [0]