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Archive for May, 2009

Macau

IMG_1025On one of “Ant” B’s last days, we went to Macau. It was our second time there and our first time really exploring the island, er, city-whatever it is. It’s a great place, we highly recommend it and not for gambling. The thing to do is to go to Largo de Senado square and just walk around. This is where the Portuguese/European influence is the most apparent. Between the architecture, the tiny streets, and the cobblestone squares, you really do feel like you’re walking the alleys of a Medieval European city in certain places.

We walked up to an old cathedral ruin, Sao Paulo (Cathedral of St. Paul), which has a fort next to it and a hiIMG_1033ghly reputable museum on top of the hill. To our disappointment the museum was closed, so we walked back down the hill to a temple. On the way down, F got in trouble because she said to E “Stop talking to me, Mom. You’re really bothering me.” It starts young.

The Na Tcha Temple is a small, stone hut next to Sao Paulo, or the ruins of the Cathedral of St Paul. From there, we walked down a steep alley then onto a narrow side street that sold cool, cheap furniture, ceramics, pottery, and art. This is where we really got the European vibe.

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At the same time, the Chinese culture was also at every turn as we also watched a woman making noodles. Men playing Chinese backgammon. Cars would go by and practically brush against your shoulder.

On the narrow street up to Sao Paulo, half a dozen women held out tooth picks with honey glazed meat stuck through it. They handed out cookies, and other food items. We later learned they do this all over Old Macau, as the glazed meat must be some kind of Portuguese/Chinese/Macau specialty. You can see them barbecuing the stuff right there in the alleys. Even in the rain, the area was packed.

IMG_1054After shopping a bit, we were ready to eat. A walk to the water didn’t got us to two reataurants we wanted but they were closed.  So we hopped in a taxi and headed for Fernando’s, a famous Macau restaurant by the beach. Having never really explored the place before, I thought the place would be a ten minute drive around the corner. Actually, there are 3 parts to Macau, all 3 are basically islands connected by bridges: Macau City, Taipa and Coloane.

From where we were at the southern tip of Macau island, Fernando’s was a 35 minute drive across the other 2 islands. Regardless of the hassle in getting there, I know why the restaurant is famous. The Portuguese food was amazing, the beach nearby, and the Super Bock bottles were served in styrofoam Koozies. The girls were great, though all they really ate was a bit of the chicken and the sweet bread. There was a little farm in the back, and an outdoor washer/dryer where they cleaned the tablecloths.

We could only imagine how packed Fernando’s is on a hot sunny day when the beach is loaded with locals and tourists. The restaurant itself has three parts, including an outdoor bar.

The Macau ferry is always a nice plus, as its a hydrofoil with three blades that allows you to cruise above the waves. It was a great way to end “Ant” B’s trip to China. We loved having her here and can’t wait for her to come back. Next time we’ll head to the Cotai strip in Taipa and win back her airfare at the Craps table

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Yangshuo

IMG_0876On Thursday night, April 16th, I hopped on a plane for Guilin, China, an hour’s flight from Hong Kong. My flight was nearly an hour delayed, and yet as I walked out of the baggage claim doors, Beth was there waiting with our driver who was to take us to Yangshuo. Two hours earlier she had arrived from Xi’an.  It’s amazing how smoothly our meeting went considering we were in a small airport in southern China without cell phones.

After an hour and half drive we were dropped off at the Yangshou Culture House run by Wei XiaoGeng and his family where we’d be staying the next three nights. It’s a very clean, well run hostel and Wei is extremely friendly and helpful. He gave us the lay of the land and explained the local activities and the fact that three meals come with the accommodation price (a whopping $17.50/night).

IMG_0878The next morning we met some of the other people staying in the hostel while eating breakfast. One young woman was from Germany and two older woman from Canada. We decided to go bike riding and Wei rented us two bikes for about $3/day.  We set off and rambled along the Yulong river and it was absolutely stunning. We mainly stayed on the main road next to the river but veered off onto to side dirt roads and through some local villages. We finally reached a bridge where there were nearly a hundred bamboo rafts and you could hire one to go back down river. We decided this would be great and while the negotiation was a bit hard (we thought they were trying to charge us for our own map and we weren’t entirely convinced we’d ever see our bikes again) we finally go it so our bikes were loaded onto a truck and taken down river.

IMG_0906So we set off on our boat with it’s owner poling us down the river. The view from the river was even better than the bike ride. Beth and I could not stop snapping pics. It was so relaxing and beautiful and gave us a great chance to really catch up on life. Along the river enterprising locals have set up bamboo rafts that have food and drinks.  Small, two-foot rapids dot the river. At the first rapid we went over, our boatman told us to lift our feet as he expertly poled over it.  He then started to pull over towards a bamboo raft where three people were saying to us “Buy photo. Buy photo.” Amazingly on these rafts that have a full equipped office with computer and printer, run by a generator, and they snap the shots, immediately download them and print them on the spot. At each rapid (probably about 8-10 total) there are 2-3 of these rafts and it’s truly remarkable that every day they set up these elaborate photo-printing stations.

IMG_0918The further we went down river the more crowded it became. We were dropped at a busy spot not far from the famous Moon Hill. There, we found our bikes and our bike lock keys (thanks to our boatman). We set off for Moon Hill. We paid the admission fee, parked our bikes, and started up the trial. Immediately several woman with coolers approached us about buying drinks which we declined and walked on. However another 50 feet another woman would ask us to buy a drink. Beth forgot her water with her bike so we wound up buying some water from an older woman who then began to follow us up our climb. It turns out that nearly every day these women come to Moon Hill to sell things to the tourists. They just attach themselves to people until they basically cave in and buy something. It’s a long climb up, with many steps, and half way I realized that I needed to stop as it was not wise to do this to my knee 5 weeks post-op – it was a wise decision. So Beth went on and I started back down and our lady friend went with me trying to fan me and on a few occasions reaching our to hold my hand on a step down. We stopped for a rest and she sold me postcards and a coke and I thought that’d be the last of her. IMG_0925No way – I was stuck with her and while in the beginning I wasn’t that interested in the friendship by the end she and I were pals and I signed her book. She is 62 years old and she climbs to the top one or more times every day (this is no easy task).

After Moon Hill we biked back along the Yulong River and meandered on some back dirt roads. We skipped lunch so we stopped for a snack and a beer at the Giggling Tree, where a friend has recently stayed and raved about. We got a bit lost on the way back, rode through some villages, and eventually found our way. We showered and went down for dinner which was an amazing delight. Over a dozen piping hot dishes of all kinds were brought out to us. We also got to meet many of the other travelers staying at the Yangshuo Culture House. It was so fun to be amongst travelers again and hear their tales – since having the kids I haven’t stayed in a hostel and it made me feel young and old at the same time. After dinner we wandered around the town of Yangshuo, through the markets, the streets, and finally had a beer before heading off to bed. It was a great day with the only problem being both Beth and I forgot to put sunscreen on and we got very sunburnt.

The next day, Saturday, we took a bus up to a town called Yangdi along the Li River. When we got there we got tickets for the ferry company that allows you to cross the river twice. It brought us to the other side and we began walking along the countryside next to the Li River. This again was stunning. At one point in the walk you come to a stream that’s just wide and deep enough that there is a log bridge to cross over. However, another enterprising local, comes each day removes the logs, hides them in a bush, and then charges walkers to cross them on a small bamboo raft. On this day when Beth and I got there a group of about a dozen or so Chinese students decided they would not pay and worked on building a rock bridge across the stream. They were hilarious and laughed, joked, and encouraged each other the whole way – and they eventually were successful. As a benefit, we didn’t have to pay the boatdriver to cross us as he realized his defeat – although I’m sure he quickly disassembled the rock bridge and hid them with the logs.

IMG_0971After about 10 miles or so we both were getting tired so we decided to hire another bamboo raft, this time with a small motorized propeller, to take us the rest of the way to XingPing – which was a surprisingly lovely, old town.  Eventually we found the bus back to Yangshuo and went back to another delicious dinner at the hostel.

That night we decided to go to the Sanjie Lu “Impression” light show that was recommended to us by both travel books and fellow travelers. It is a show presented on the Li River and was created six years ago by the same artist that designed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics to tell the history of the Yangshuo area. There were certain parts of the show that were really cool, my favorite being these large red ribbons being manipulated by men on boats in the river – they looked like waves.  And while it wasn’t as great as I had expected, it was still worth going to.  One interesting thing of note, there was constant chatter and noise from the audience during the whole show – people talking on cell phones, to each other, to no one in particular – the din was louder than a dim sum hall.

For our final day in Yangshuo, Sunday, April 19th,  we only had until 2pm as we had to drive back up to Guilin for our flight back to Hong Kong. So we decided to walk around town and explore more and then for lunch try the local specialties, beer fish and Guilin rice. We had a recommendation for a place and after our very long 2-hour walk we tried to find the restaurant without luck. Hopefully next time. We returned to the hostel, got our bags,  thanked Wei for his tremendous hospitality and headed off for the airport. I was both sad to be leaving this beautiful place but very happy to see the girls and M and to have Beth see our life in Hong Kong.

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IMG_1114To all mother’s – I hope you had a very wonderful day to celebrate all the amazing things you do!!

For my Mother’s Day we headed to Big Wave Bay Beach and what a treat it was. We have been trying to go for over a year now but for some reason or another we kept getting foiled but we finally made it. It’s a gorgeous beach with rock formations on either side and surrounded by beautiful green mountains. It reminded me of beaches in northern California. The kids loved playing around the rocks and tide pools – there’s a bit of everything for children of all ages. And while the surf was somewhat sizable the waves break pretty far out so the water is shallow for a good stretch allowing them to safely play at the shoreline. After lots of playing and swimming, we fed the kids at the little cafe right on the beach and by the time we got home they were wiped out, fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly. For those considering it it’s definitely worth the trip.

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img_1239While my mom was here she discovered, while reading some of our Hong Kong travel books, that the “Noon Day Gun” resides in the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter. Once she made the connection she kept singing the Noel Coward song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” which celebrates this Hong Kong tradition of firing the Noon Day Gun everyday at, you guessed it, noon.  The story goes that around 1850 or so one of the largest and oldest trading houses, Jardine Matheson, would fire a gun at the port to salute any senior manager’s arrival. However, this act angered a naval officer and as punishment he made them fire a gun each day at noon and the tradition continues today.  Once the gun is fired they open up the gates for a half an hour and there is information on the founding of the gun, and how today its main function is to raise money for charities. That area along the waterfront also allows you to get a closer look at the sampans that people live on in the Typhoon shelter.

04032009001So in the midst of a light drizzle Grammie, T, and I ventured down to watch. When we got to the gate an official looking man (a soldier?) was inside, standing dutifully under his umbrella, occasionally checking his watch. At noon he stepped up to the bell and rang it, stood for a moment, walked over to the gun and without any warning quickly pulled the lever and BLAST the gun went off. The dozen or so people watching jumped a mile, let out yelps, and some even uttered an unsavory word or two, including Grammie. If your in the area it’s worth checking it out.

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