26 January 2015

Forgotten converters and the Giant Buddha

I'll be the first to admit that even as a seasoned traveler I always forget important travel items or make huge mistakes.  Last year in Nicaragua I forgot pajamas, in Guatemala I forgot socks, this time I brought the wrong electric socket converter.  My alleged universal converter didn't include the enormous continent of Asia.  So before the hard-core exploration began I had to figure out how to get converters to keep our phones charged.  Our phones hold all our important flight info, connect us to home, allow us to take photo and video to share our experiences, and guide us in new lands, they are vital.

When we woke up Saturday morning we were all hungry and excited.  While Alpha Poppa got the boys together I excitedly hit the streets alone to get a quick breakfast to stop the hunger pangs and to hopefully luck up on a converter.  As soon as I stepped out of our apartment I giggled at all the Chinese street signs and the double take glances I got as a non-asian dread lock clad girl in the streets of the far east.  The double-decker trolley cars stole my heart at first sight.  Watching them whip around corners on their tracks was a sight to behold.

After walking in one direction I quickly realized that there were no restaurants in that direction and had to turn around.  On the corner of Bonham Strand West at the Ibis hotel there was a Starbucks attached o an Ibis hotel.  In my lifetime of living in the US and abroad I've only eaten at Starbucks once, I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my second time was not while in China.  I walked past the Starbucks in the hunt for chinese authenticity.  Half a block away I saw a diner, on the same block I saw a 7-eleven and a few grocery stores.  I dipped into the grocery store but quickly realized that I would not be able to buy or prepare anything they offered.  It was almost all dried foods sold in bulk.  Dried snails, starfish. octopus, larvae, cucumbers, and quite a few other things I couldn't identify.  I am willing to try it all but I don't even know where to begin as far as preparing and eating dried food.  Do you stew it?  Or do you snack on them like chips?  I would definitely need help with food in China.  Off to 7-Eleven, I went but there I could only find snacks like chips and pocky and drinks, nothing that would kill the hunger long enough for us to get to real food.  So regretfully Starbucks became my best bet.  I dipped in bought myself a spinach/ broccoli breakfast pie and got my 3 guys cinnamon rolls.   By the time I got to the room the boys were half dressed and playing on their iPads.  After we devoured our food we were ready to hit the streets.  

The weather we great at about 67 degrees.  We dressed in layers and I threw hats in my shoulder bag in case the temperature dropped through out the day.  I could see the excitement on everyone's faces as soon as they stepped out on to the sidewalk from our apartment building steps.  I imagine I looked the same way a mere hour earlier.  Since we were no longer starving we decided to hunt for electric converters before finding our real breakfast.  The attendant at a nearby store recommended we try 7-eleven and 7-eleven, pointed us in the direction of the main street and told us to look for a store named "Japan house".  Languages have always been my gift and I had no problem understanding facial expression and hand gestures they used to point me in the right direction.  The kids and I have studied Mandarin for years but had no base in Cantonese, the official language of Hong Kong.  Luckily as a former British colony and major international city most people were familiar with basic important English words, definitely enough to give directions to tourist.  On our search for japan house we passed an ATM and I withdrew $1,000 Hong Kong dollars which amounts to approximately $130 USD with and exchange rate of $1USD- $7.7 HKD.  When traveling i prefer to use ATM, it takes the hassle out of finding banks to exchange money for you.  With cash on hand and a halfway full belly we walked blocks in search of Japan House.  The sounds of Hong Kong were just like the sounds of New York City.  Construction on buildings were supported by bamboo sticks, vendors sold their dried foods by the bulk and little shops were stuffed with decorations and trinkets for the upcoming Chinese new year.  

Finally we found Japan house and I was able to buy a series of converters to connect into each other in order to use my multi-plug charger it cost me less than $3 USD.  The next stop had to be food once again!  We crossed the street to a restaurant we'd passed 2 blocks away.  We were quickly seated and served.  Alpha Poppa and Zane chose beef noodle, Dude had a ham sandwich and I had an egg and cheese sandwich.  We ll had tea.

Our waitress was very helpful in pointing us in the direction of the main metro station and telling us how to get to the Giant Buddha.  What we mostly understood was that the station was back toward our apartment and that we'd need to take a boat to the Giant Buddha statue on a neighboring island.  Hong Kong is also a group of neighboring islands similar to NYC.  As soon as we left the restaurant we jumped on a recommended bus #7 or #4 and road around a while.  Before we knew it we missed our stop at the closest train station and decided to enjoy the scenery before we hopped off at the next available train station.  We were supposed to get off at Sheung Wan station, but ended up a couple of stops away at Hong Kong University station.  Once again asking for directions we were told to go to Central station, get off and head for the ferries to Lan Tau island. 

The subway tracks were blocked by glass sliding doors that open as the train doors opened behind them.  It was impossible to throw trash, fall, or push someone onto the tracks.  With so many people in the city I think it was a good way to avoid subway accidents.  The ride to Central station MTR. was nice and quick.  The station was bustling with tons of people moving swiftly in unison to their chosen destinations.  We moved from under ground to above ground into the warm sunshine.  We went up fast escalators and crossed walking bridges that passed over busy streets.  The main post office, a mall equipped with a packed Apple store and every designer store known to the world was in this area.

while we approached the pier we took pictures of the impressive sky line and a huge ferris wheel.  As soon as we reached the pier  that departs for Lan Tau island the boat was ready to leave.  The sway of the boat bouncing along the ocean nearly put me and to sleep.  Once we reached far enough into the ocean we were able to see just how long and massive the city was.  It took about a good half hour to sail to the island of the Giant Buddha. We passed hydro gliding ships, oil vessels, cargo ships, other ferries, and ancient looking chinese ships.  

Our arrival to Lan Tau began with a zillion bike welcome party parked at the dock.  directly next to all the bike were 4 buses in their stations, one of which was bus #2, the Bus that would take us to the Giant Buddha.  Intially we were put off the bus for not having exact change. We had to step off and quickly get our new currency act together.  The hardest part in any new country is figuring out the money, which coin is which, what shape and size coin belong to which amount and which colored paper belongs to which bill quantity.  If you ever want to feel stupid try to pay a bill quickly in a new country, you wont be able to do it.  It's impossible and you will realize just how awkward it is to be an immigrant or visitor in a new land.   

The bus ride was about another half hour on a much less crowded island.  During our ride I struck up a great conversation with an Australian tourist who sat next to me.  We had a great conversation about traveling with our children and he gave me great tips on must sees and must do's in Sydney.  Good conversation always makes time fly and  not too long after we were at the plaza near the Giant Buddha, saying our farewells and meeting up with our respective families.  The plaza leading up to the statue was lined with smaller statues of the Buddha's divine generals.  Since we were higher in the mountains a cool wind whizzed past us, encouraging us to zip up our jackets and put on hats.  Just about everyone there had a selfie stick, including us, and we all enjoyed putting them to use!

Video of first morning in Hong Kong on the way to the giant buddha http://youtu.be/q1ltGk-l2cc

The giant Buddha 

The Giant Buddha dominated the mountain top and  many people stood at the center of the circular prayer flag structure below the hill, each person with hands together in prayer.  After climbing many levels of stairs we arrived to the main landing below the Buddha.  There we found people seated in mediation and chanting.  On that level below the Buddha were about 12 statues beautifully posed each with a offering in hand help up toward the Buddha.   We were able to climb one level higher to be directly beneath the massive statue.

Being at the Buddha was a great experience for the boys they have already had hands-on exposure to other religions so to add contact to Buddhist philosophy in China definitely gives them a more insight to many belief systems around the world.  Although I consider myself deeply spiritual I am not at all religious but enjoy watching other in worship around the world.  After a couple of hours we decided to head back to the bus station, first taking a bathroom break.  If you know me at all or if you have been following the blog you know that I'm obsessed with squat toilets.  I was tickled pink to see and use one of the many available.  I even shot a video to help explain them to my friends at home and to the western hemisphere where squat toilets do not exist.  

Squat toilet video:

On the ride back to the ferry, dude fell asleep while I looked at the window, soaking in the rolling mountain views, and while Alpha Poppa and Zane played games on their iPhones.  This time we sat on the top deck of the ferry passing may barges carrying enormous loads of  cargo, oil vessles, and hydro-planing ferries.  Normally I dont get seasick but the bouncing of the waves layered on top of increasing jetlag was not a good feeling at all.  I was happy to step off the ferry in the crowd of moving people, also known as Hong Kong island.  On the walk back to Center station on the metro we passed a fabulous street artist, and as always we stopped and made a donation to shared beauty through music.   This slight touch of traditional chinese music sent shivers up my spine.  It was sensory overload. We are in CHINA!.

Please listen and enjoy the sounds of China:

Street artist

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