Monday, April 9, 2012

Hong Kong - A trip to Remember

I was with Ron only once before on a quick trip to Hong Kong. We were not there long and I saw nothing that I remembered from that trip. This time, however, I have many things that will always be remembered.

Thursday, March 29th, we prepared to leave Ronald’s apartment so he could complete his preparations for Gigi, his wife from the Philippines who was coming back with him to China for the first time. I washed sheets from our bed, helped with a little dusting and cleaning, prepared lunch, cleaned up the kitchen and then we left for a nearby hotel. Ronald had more cleaning to do, a trip to the grocery and his own packing for the trip to Hong Kong. We stayed in a hotel because there was no way we could get up early enough the next morning to wash his one set of king-sized bedding and leave everything clean for Gigi. We hesitated to stay with him as long as we did, but he didn’t seem to mind. He said, however, that he didn’t get to bed until midnight, getting everything done. Our night in the hotel was not good. It was so noisy with doors slamming and loud talking in the hallway until long past midnight. We had to get up and be checked out of the hotel by 5:30 a.m.

We took a taxi to another hotel that provided us a 40-minute bus ride to the airport. We checked in at the airport, having a little time to spare. Two different flights to Hong Kong previously scheduled had been cancelled by the airlines so we re-booked for a flight to Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese rule several years ago, having been under Great Britain for many years. There is still a border crossing so it was not an easy trip from Shenzhen, although it is a short distance with a river between them. After we landed, we took one subway line to the end (about 30 minutes) which was the furthest you could go and remain in China. Then we boarded the subway to Hong Kong. We had at least three changes onto different subway lines (each taking about 30 minutes). They were all crowded so we did not get seats for most of this trip by subway. We finally got to the Hong Kong immigration area and completed our “leaving China” and entering Hong Kong checks. At last, we got another taxi to our hotel.  Driving is on the left side of the road with the driver's seat on the right side of the car.   It seems really weird.  There is a lot of construction everywhere and the roads are winding and up and down hills.   They drive fast but sensibly.  

Our hotel was nice but remote from the city. Ron booked it because it was near the congregation where he was scheduled to speak on Sunday morning. We had not eaten all day so by the time we arrived and got checked in at 2:00 p.m., we were all hungry. We went to the hotel dining room (nothing else around this area) and ate a rather expensive lunch.

The next morning we had a very good breakfast buffet in the hotel. At noon, Ronald checked out of the hotel, preparing to go meet Gigi and her parents at the airport that night. He came to our room for a few hours and then we took a taxi to the Star Ferry area.

Ronald had told us before we went to China that he wanted to treat us to a tour of Hong Kong (Anniversary/birthday present for both of us). He and Gigi found a great tour guide when they were in Hong Kong for Christmas and he was able to book him from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

We had about two hours before we were to meet the tour guide so we walked across to a very upscale mall. It was about five stories with mostly designer stores (very expensive). Hong Kong is full of expensive jewelry stores, boutiques, and all top quality, designer brand stores (Gucci, Coach, Hermes, and Versace, just to name a few). The top floor had restaurants so we chose a good Chinese restaurant that was not too expensive. We enjoyed a good meal and when we left, I was the last one out of the booth. When I put my left foot out onto the floor, I thought it felt numb but I had not noticed that it had gone to sleep. This has never happened to me before so I must have tucked this foot behind the other while we ate without realizing it. The minute I slipped completely out of the booth and stood up, my left leg gave way and I went sprawling on the floor between tables. It was a spectacular display of clumsiness and Ron and Ronald missed it. They had already walked out of the restaurant. I had about six Chinese waitresses and waiters rushing to help pick me up. I was standing when Ron walked back in to see what happened to me. I held on to the counter and put some weight on the foot and it felt O.K. Ron took my arm and we walked out. I could feel a little pain in the ankle but walking was not really a problem. We walked back to the Star Ferry and I sat down to wait for the tour guide.

There was no way I was going to disappoint Ronald after he had paid for this tour and had looked so forward to treating us. I told him I thought I would be O.K. He assured me there was quite a bit of walking. I decided to try it and thought if I had to cancel somewhere along the way, at least I had given it a good try. The foot began to swell slightly but there was only a little discomfort.

We took the Ferry to the other side of the bay and had a great view of the harbor.

From that side of the island, we walked around a bunch of streets and ended up at Diamond Hill. There’s a nunnery there with the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. The trees are trimmed perfectly, many of them bonsai trees of all sizes. We walked through the garden for at least an hour. The nunnery was closed to the public but we could view the beautiful buildings from one side. The tour guide said during the day, tourists can go through portions of it. On one such trip, he quickly counted 109 nuns. These are Buddhist nuns, all estimated to be in their 70’s or 80’s. Buddhist is dying in China so after these nuns pass on, I guess this will be nothing but a tourist site. 

We walked a few more streets and went to the Parliament Hotel, a very beautiful structure. They were having late afternoon tea so the downstairs was completely full, having tables for at least 200 (maybe even more) people. They have an earlier tea and it’s usually full for that one also. The British influence for afternoon tea is still carried on in Hong Kong. The tour guide explained that this hotel was completely occupied by Japanese troops during the war and this was the actual place where they surrendered. This hotel is at least $600 U.S. per night and they have seven (yes, 7) Rolls Royce limousines parked outside to take guests back and forth from the airport (not complimentary).

We walked through the market area (much like a flea market in the U.S.) where goods are displayed in booth after booth. If you do not stop to look at things, they don’t bother to give you a sales pitch. We didn’t want anything so we just walked through without stopping. It was quite large but most of the stuff was junk (and what looked the best, such as leather purses, were probably all fake, imitations of the real thing). The Chinese are very good at duplicating brand names and making it difficult for the average person to tell the difference. We do know that $10 Rolex watches will run a few weeks until the battery is dead. They could pass for the real thing if you are not a connoisseur of the finer things in life.

We passed all of the very expensive car dealerships (it seems strange to find them side by side in a downtown area instead of out in the suburbs where we find them in the U.S.). We also walked through an area where billboards and signs displayed hotels that charge by the hour. You won’t see that anywhere in China.

We took a bus back to the Star Ferry and crossed over again; taking a taxi from there to the Peak. This is the highest point of the mountain overlooking all of Hong Kong. It is the exclusive area to live. There are many high-rise apartment buildings and homes on the mountainside. The trip up the mountain was steep and curved. My ears actually stopped up and popped during the trip up. After we got to the top, we still had a 20-minute walk around a narrow road. We could have gone to the top of the building for viewing the bay (almost all of Hong Kong) but it was expensive and there was a crowd waiting to either go for the view or take the sky lift back down the mountainside. Although my foot had swollen quite a bit, it was not painful so I told them I thought I could take the walk. We slowly climbed slightly uphill along the road until we got to the overlook area. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It was about 9 p.m. The lights from the city, shining on the water was spectacular. It was a little cooler on top of the mountain. I took a jacket and was comfortable but Ron said he was cold in just a short-sleeved shirt. We then had a 20-minute walk back down to the taxi stop. It was about 9:30 so we said goodbye and thanked our tour guide for a great time. We took a taxi back to our hotel. Ronald took his bags and headed to the airport to meet Gigi and her parents.

Gigi got a tour package for them arriving from Cebu, Philippines. It included their flight, hotel and a tour for the next day. They did not arrive until almost 1 a.m.

I took pain-killers and went straight to bed and to sleep. We had walked more than four hours (carefully with a swollen foot) so I was very tired. I was uncertain how my foot would let me sleep or what it would be like the next morning. I slept all night and the foot was actually better on Sunday morning. We dressed and took a taxi to the area for the church meeting. The driver did not know which building, nor did Ron. Ron was there two years ago but it was very hilly with many apartment buildings that looked similar. We walked up and down steps and around building after building. Ron said he knew it was not easy to find because it’s actually a rental section of an apartment building. I finally found a seat in a courtyard between buildings and told Ron to come get me when he found it. He was back in a few minutes with one of the church members. Ron recognized her from his previous trip. She had actually come to the hotel the last time to take him to the church.

We had a delightful visit with this group of Christians. They can openly worship in Hong Kong. We know China doesn’t like their religious freedom but to put it down would cause problems they would never be able to handle. A very nice man (Tony) translated for Ron. Between worship and class, they had a birthday cake for two of the children. Most everyone could speak English and communicate well with us. After the class was over, about 10 of us walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch. They ordered small portions of many different things (enough for everyone to try). I did not know most of what I ate but it was all very delicious. They had many questions about our work and the discussions went well. They are appreciative of our work and for our visit to their congregation. I think only Julie Ng, a successful business woman, is our only orphan sponsor from this congregation. I hope that will change and others will want to help. Some expressed an interest in visiting some of the care centers.

We rested in the afternoon and waited for Ronald to contact us for a place to meet them. Instead, they came to our hotel room. Gigi’s parents were very nice (I would really love to be a friend with her mother). When we went to the hotel lobby to meet them, Gigi came running to hug me. She had told me in an email that she was nervous to meet us. I told her not to be nervous because we were looking forward to our first visit. She began crying as she hugged me with a big bear hug. I think the only reason she let go was because Ron was saying, “what about me?” She looked me in the face and I saw the tears on her cheeks. I felt like crying too but it was overwhelming feelings of joy. Gigi then reached over to hug Ron. I walked to her parents and gave each of them a hug. We went to our room and visited a while. Then we went to the hotel dining room and had dinner together. They left after dinner to go back to their hotel, and we did not get to see them again. It was a wonderful visit but much too short.

We planned to leave the next morning for the U.S. It appeared there were seats that day so we checked out of the hotel at 5 a.m. and took a taxi to the airport train. We arrived about 6 a.m. and were told they had oversold the flight. We waited anyway to be sure we could not get on. They oversold it by 44 seats so people from coach were moved into first class until the plane was completely full. They actually turned away people that had paid for a ticket. We took a room in the hotel at the airport and decided to try again on Tuesday morning. It was the exact same thing the next day. People were off this week for Easter week (spring break for many people) so the airport was overloaded with many travelers.

Ron sat me down with the bags and he went to see what other airlines might fly to other cities that we could connect with. The only possibility was Korean Airlines but to buy tickets was very expensive. They told him he could buy them cheaper on-line so he came back and got on the computer and booked us both on a 12:30 flight to Seoul, Korea. We rushed to check in but their system did not show our on-line booking. He had to go to the ticket agents, get their office in N.Y. on-line (it was about 11 p.m. there) and wait for nearly 30 minutes before they confirmed the booking and gave him a ticket number. We were the last people checking in for the flight by the time we got back to the counter. We quickly got to the gate and had only a few minutes before boarding the flight.

Gigi’s parents were back in the airport to return to the Philippines but we had no time to try to find them. I asked two Filipino girls sitting by me which airline they would most likely be flying and they told me it might be Philippine Airlines but it was located in Terminal 2. Once we got things settled for our flight to Seoul, we had no time to go see them off. Ronald and Gigi were in the airport until their 5 p.m. flight to Nanning. I was especially disappointed that we had spent so much time in the airport and I didn’t get to spend any more time with them. Ron was so glad to get out of Hong Kong (it is expensive there) but I was sad to leave my kids and not see them again.

The trip to Seoul was about three hours. We walked around in the airport, checking out restaurants and the hotel. We were not successful in finding anything for hotels outside the airport. I was reluctant to leave the airport although Ron said U.S. passport holders did not have to have a VISA to come to South Korea. We still have several military bases there. We went to the food court and ate and then to the lounge area. The hotel room was going to be $172 U.S. for the night but they actually rent the room by the number of hours you stay. We decided we would rest in the lounge until about midnight. There were lounge chairs that reclined and it would have been fine for the night if others had respected those that wanted to sleep. About 10 p.m. a group of young American students came in and dumped their stuff around, chatting and eating. Some took advantage of the free showers in that area. They all left later and then a group of Chinese students came in about 11 p.m. They would not stop talking so at midnight we went to get a room for six hours. From 12:00 to 6:00 a.m. it was still $120 U.S. We slept until 5 a.m. I showered and packed up and it was time to leave. We walked around trying to find something for breakfast but it was so expensive. We had exchanged some money but didn’t have enough for most restaurants. We didn’t want to exchange more and be stuck with Korean money so we snacked on a few things to tide us over. We boarded the flight at 11:00 a.m. bound directly for Dallas, TX. We had coach seats, of course, and I was stuck in the middle of three seats with a Korean guy on my right. It was my home for the next 14-l/2 hours. I knew I could not sleep in a seat like that so I watched four movies (8 hours of entertainment still left some boring time before we landed). We got to Dallas at 9:30 a.m. (the same day we left Korea) but we passed through many time zones in the meantime. My eyes hurt from the dry air, my sleep time had long been exhausted, and my foot was swollen more than before. There’s no place to prop up a foot from this small space in the middle seat!

We had to go through immigration in the Dallas airport, arriving back in the U.S. from a foreign country. Outside, we waited over an hour for the Holiday Inn Express courtesy van to take us to the parking lot for our car. From there, we drove to the Anchor Boat and RV Storage in Denton to get our RV. We were close by the Hickory Creek Park where we booked RV parking for the next two weeks. We parked, hooked up the power and began setting up the RV and putting things away.

The refrigerator had been off for almost a month so there was some mold inside. Ron forgot to leave doors open so it would dry out. He proceeded to wash it out with Clorox but I collapsed on the couch. Before I knew it I was asleep. Ron finished cleaning the fridge and went to Wal-Mart for groceries without me knowing it. I awoke as he came in with the food. I helped put it away and fixed up something to eat. We are still fighting jet lag (arrived Wednesday afternoon – it’s now Sunday afternoon). We go to bed by 9 p.m. and wake about 3 a.m. It just takes about a week to get the body reset for this time zone. By 3:00 p.m. we begin to feel very tired and forcing ourselves to stay up until 9:00 p.m. takes a lot of effort. Ron says the secret is to keep moving but since I’ve been sick for three weeks and still have a sore foot, that’s been very hard for me. Today is a bit better so maybe we are over the worst part of it.

This was really a hard trip but mostly because I was sick and did not have much energy the entire time. Then, spraining my ankle three days before we left was not good. Having to forfeit our usual first class seats with Delta Airlines for a longer flight in coach made the trip especially difficult.

Looking back, in spite of Ron having to drag Pat everywhere, everything else went well and spending time with Ronald was priceless. It was such a joy to be with him for about 10 days.  Meeting Gigi was also very, very special.  She is wonderfully sweet and loving.  We love her very much.  We are so blessed!

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