Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fiji…the land of the wagging tongue.

If you look at the pictures I took of my stay in Fiji it looks like the absolute paradise, which for me it was not. The pictures are all beautiful sandy beach, golden sunsets, palm trees and blue skies. The picture memory in my mind of Fiji is grey and blurry. I’m not sure if it was the residue of a ten hour flight (in business class, mind you), or overall travel fatigue, or even full moon blues, but my stay in Fiji was not the idyllic stopover I had looked forward to and imagined.

I had another Hong Kong taxi Chinese fire drill experience getting to the airport, not being aware that the green taxis in Sai Kung do not go to Kowloon Airport tram station. My advice is, if you go to Hong Kong, stay out of their taxis. Most of the drivers do not speak English, even if they say they do; and although they may eventually get you where you are going, you will probably need medication by the time you get there. I packed up my stuff and walked down to the taxi stand near the Habitat stop in Sai Kung. It was a bit rainy and cold and I stood there trying to flag down a cab for over twenty minutes. Finally a green cab stopped, and the circus began. with the driver trying to tell me he didn’t go to Kowloon, and me insisting that he drive me to get my luggage and take me somewhere to get a cab to Kowloon. Finally, he did drive me up the hill to get my bags, and then he drove me to the local college where I had to transfer to a red cab, which eventually drove me to the Kowloon station, and where I was able to transfer to the train, which efficiently takes you directly to the airport. 

I had booked business class from Hong Kong to Sidney, with a stopover in Fiji. I was talked into the stopover by Airtreks, but I found out later that I could have flown direct Hong Kong to Sidney in nine hours instead of taking the ten hour flight to Fiji with another four hours to Sidney after the stopover.  Fiji Air Business Class was not first class; but the seat was 1C right in front with both seats to myself and the food was good. I didn’t know anything about Fiji except it was a tropical island. I found out later that it was an island in a lot of political turmoil, so I can attribute some of the negative feelings I had there to the fact that some very bad things were happening to the people who lived there.

I had been looking forward to a nice stay in a plush hotel on the beach throughout my trip. The drive in from the airport was an early morning after little sleep, admittedly, but the buildings, streets, and people all seemed covered with a film of disinterest. I got to the hotel and did not feel welcomed. I may be spoiled, but I don’t think so. I’ve stayed at all levels of accommodations and been perfectly satisfied. I do have a problem with places that advertise and charge for service they don’t provide. I don’t like to go to Starbucks and be treated badly with my $8.00 cup of coffee. I was very irritated at the service provided by the Westin Fiji, to the point where I wrote them and Starwood (as a gold member) a letter. I have yet to receive a response.  I know from working almost twenty years in hotels on Maui; once someone has a bad experience at check in, or their expectations are not met from the beginning of their stay, they notice everything possible that might be wrong or off about the rest of their stay. That’s what happened for me. I noticed there were not enough towels at the pool, it took thirty minutes to get a waiter at the lounge, the internet didn’t work in my room, the crew at breakfast gave terrible service, and no one seemed the least concerned.

I have to concede that some of this was exacerbated by the fact that I was surrounded by honeymooners and young Australian families, I had just spent time with a friend who knew my husband and I when we first were together, and it was a full moon. I missed Kent and saw him sitting across from me at dinner one night, in the restaurant on the ocean where they actually had wonderful food and service, and where he and I would have had a romantic dinner together for a special occasion. There he was, as clear as day, in his Hawaiian shirt with his khaki pants, smiling and trying to be comfortable on a date with his wife. I could see his smile and those blueblue eyes. I had to hold in the tears when the lovely Fijian lady came to take my order.

There was a great entertainer in the lounge one night. He played guitar singing blues and classic rock. The place was empty, but I went in anyway just to listen to music. Even that ended up feeling weird, because I was almost the only person in the audience, and it made me feel self-conscious about my oneness.
So, I had my own stuff going on in Fiji. The other thing that was hard for me was that it was so much like home, but I wasn’t home. It wasn’t as nice as Maui and the people weren’t the people on Maui. It seemed to make me ache in some place that actually does miss Maui. I don’t want to miss Maui because I don’t want to stay there and be surrounded by these memories. But I do miss Maui, which has been the only place in my life that I have ever really felt at home; the only place where we made a home.

I think I also had some delayed jet lag reaction because it took me until I was in New Zealand to get my sleep clock back on track. While I was in Fiji, I was up until 3am and sleeping until after 10am. I had planned to do some stuff there, but the combination of the experience wiped me out. Also the attitude of the people didn’t make me feel like doing stuff with them. I decided to conserve my energy and just hang out. Fiji was just one of those times when I, the universe, and all the planets collided in some mass explosion of messy dissatisfaction, sadness, jet lag, and possible reactions to events I knew nothing about at the time. But I did get some great pictures, doncha know.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hong Kong… It is all about the money, money, money, ka-ching…ka-ching.

The weather has been ghastly, foggy and cold with light rain. Generally what I think of as England weather where an umbrella is a must. I’m staying in a beautiful expat district called Sai Kung which is filled with lush greenery, and right above a picturesque little boat harbor. With the fog over the mountains it looks exactly like the covers of the Pearl Buck novels I read when I was a teen, misty Chinese mountains painted over harbors filled with tiny fishing boats. It’s an exotic pretty little place. The town nearby is about an hour on local transport (bus to subway and two changes to Central Hong Kong) to town. 

I got picked up at 2am at the hotel in Pattaya, then a long drive to Bangkok airport, with a bit of a sleep on a hard wooden bench in the airport and a nice chat with a lady who was sleeping next to me. She was on her way to Phuket to spend her 50th with her daughter.  For the entire PR as a tourist friendly place, Bangkok has the worst airport facilities for real travelers; not enough seats anywhere, no wash up facilities, no free Internet in the lobbies, and the airport staff are not helpful. The AirAsia flight was easy to board and right on time so I arrived at Hong Kong Airport, which might be the most efficient airport in the world, and rolled my bags right onto the metro line into Kowloon Station, right next to a taxi station. 

That’s when the Chinese circus began. The taxi stand lady could not find a taxi that spoke English or understood where I was going. Then the driver I got said he spoke English, but when we got halfway through town I realized it was a different English from what I thought of as English. He was on the phone with his office about the location, and then I was on the phone with some lady who also spoke this not-English. Mind you, I had now been up all night and even though I’d had an easy trip and it’s only an hour time difference between Bangkok and Hong Kong, I was not in a state to be the best representative of my culture. I was tired, hungry, and lost in China. By this time we had driven out of Hong Kong into the hills, and the phone lady got another lady, and I had my computer on with my printed Google instructions and by some miracle of repeating the names of roads over and over, we managed to find one road and the driver was able to Google another road, and tata! We made it to my friend’s house. I felt like an acrobat in Cirque du Soleil.

I’m having a lovely visit. I’ve gone into Hong Kong several times. The first day I went in late and road the hop on hop off bus. It was so foggy and grey I didn’t ride on the harbor or take the sky train, hoping it would clear up later in the week. I do love Hong Kong. It has a very different energy from other cities that are all about commerce. It’s fast, but not frantic. Everything is very calm and measured and clearly done, like old money. Money that knows it will always be there, and there is no reason to panic. There is no sense of rushing or pushing, and everyone is very polite. It is also the most orderly city I’ve been to, and there are these incredible walkways above the streets that lead from building to building like catacombs in a bee hive as you wind you way from one hub to another. I think it would drive me mad if I lived here, but it’s fascinating. You can buy an Octopus card at the airport terminal that you can use for travel on trains and buses, and also can swipe at most stores and restaurants to pay.  The mix of cultures is strange with Chinese writing next to Starbucks and KFC. I went to a Chinese fast food place to have rice and fried pork, and it was this massively structured production line that put McD’s to shame. One lady took my money, one man set up the tray, one lady put on the rice, one man put on the pork, and you’re off. There are, I found, at least three people to do a job one person would do anywhere else. 

In Hong Kong, you cannot live here unless you are sponsored and that means you were hired by a big company for a specific expertise. Then you’re in like Flynn because, depending on your contract, they provide housing, car, and many additional perks. Needless to say, there are a ton of ex-pats here working just for the money, big money, and that’s pretty much all most people do here is work. There are also a lot of Thais, Koreans, and Filipino who are here to work for the workers. If you are young, or have worked your way up the ladder a bit, and are looking for a great opportunity to make money I’d say Hong Kong is the place you want to shoot for. I’m not sure how the job market is here right now, because it seems pretty saturated, but it would be worth checking out.

I did spend a night in SoHo eating the best steak ever at a very hip place called Wagyu Lounge. It’s a busy, boozy restaurant filled with crowds of people spilling out onto the sidewalk and a very high noise level. The streets in SoHo are filled with bars and crowds of people on the street doing what they do after working 10-12 hours days, and it’s a lively scene. There are a lot of men, mostly men, dressed in suits, with a spattering of business women. As in Thailand, most of the men here are only interested in young Asian women, so if you’re a young women looking to find a mate, this is not the place. Everyone dresses to the nines or twenty really, and showing your wealth by brand name is definitely the thing here.  Once again, I loved the energy and just all out fun of the place. To be honest, the sight of such over the top prosperity after months in Asia was a welcomed change. Putting aside all the political dancing about the state of world affairs and distribution of wealth issues, prosperity is not a bad place to live.

Spent a fantastic weekend going all over Repulse Bay, Discovery Bay, Stanley, and Sai Kung town.  Parts of Stanley reminded me a bit of Whaler’s Village near Kaanapali Beach, mainly because of the style of shops and restaurants. Loved the young, very British, couple maybe in love sitting next to us in the bakery shop, and we got to take pictures of a pink Morris Mini Cooper with the bride delicious in pink organza. She was almost in tears because the weather was foul and foggy; not good for her pictures. Her whole wedding party was dressed all in pink and black with edgy haircuts, balloons, and fluffy stuffed animals, very Anime. It was so Hong Kong. 

Spent most of a very very cold today cuddled up until noon, on Skype with family and friends. Took a short trip into Sai Kung for shopping, and don’t have any major plans for the rest of my stay. In Sai Kung I went back to the furniture and lacquer box shop which we went to on Sunday. This shop is filled with beautiful Chinese furniture with all those magic drawers and compartments, wizard furniture, and they are right there refurbishing old pieces in the middle of the store. It is packed with chests, stools, huge round containers, and a huge collection of lacquer boxes. Square, round, donut holed, big and small, some filled with ancient compasses, some filled with real abacuses, and some old Mahjong sets. I bought one for a friend. It was another easy day, just hanging out and visiting, seeing how the locals live, which is my favorite thing to do. Had a great dinner and watched the Oscars, which I thought I’d missed.

Unfortunately, woke up late and planned to go into town when I discovered that I had lost my camera yesterday. The one I just bought! And with all my Hong Kong pictures. Rode the bus back into Sai Kung and traced my footsteps to the fruit stand where I remembered taking pictures, the Watson’s Drug Store, the pizza place, the SuperFood store, and the furniture shop. No luck. Left phone number, and decided it was really sad but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, so I wouldn’t let it ruin my day. It’s a lost $300.00, but on a nine month trip if that’s the worst I lost, it’s not bad. At least that’s what I’m telling myself, but I’m really sad about losing the pictures I’ve taken the last week.

I decided to just go on with the day I planned anyway, so I rode the bus/tram into town and took the Peak Tram. Let me just say, that is the scariest tram ride I’ve ever been on and when I looked at the two very small cables that were actually pulling the car up the hill, I was amazed. You are in what seems to be a very Victorian tram going up this hill at a sheer 90 degree angle straight up, high over Hong Kong harbor. It’s very foggy and cold up here at the peak, but it cleared a little on the way up and I did get to see immense view of Hong Kong harbor. It is such a distinctive view with all the tall angular buildings hovering over the harbor,  like drooling monster transformers waiting to eat up the harbor, and all the boats are little sushi snacks floating, clueless, on the water. 

Unfortunately, no pictures, but it was a great experience and I’m glad I came. It did make me aware of how much we miss taking pictures of stuff instead of just experiencing what we are seeing ourselves. I bought some magnet pictures of Hong Kong just in case my camera doesn’t show up. 

There is such a relentless energy to Hong Kong. I doubt I’d last long here, although there’s a part of me that loves that gogogo, especially after twenty years of laid back in Hawaii. But there’s also a big part of me that just wants to go somewhere woodsy and filled with nature and kick out the rest of my days writing, reading, watching movies, eating, and surrounded by people I really like and love. Of course, that’s after I feed the travel bug until she’s satiated and completely done with roaming.