Singapore is tropical, clean and lush. It is beautiful and the buildings are very modern. There are no signs of poverty. The entry form clearly states that the penalty for drug use is death! Anyway, this particular Shangri La Hotel is possibly the ultimate expression of the form, b/c it is practically flawless. The food is expensive, so that’s too bad. The pool is the best one yet. This would be a nice stopover for a few days with your spouse.
By Westlake, one of many couples having their photos taken near a sacred temple
Motorbike city, more bikes than cars. They swarm, they dart. Precarious cargo–ducks, children, flowers, eggs.
The sidewalks are teeming with people. Every storefront is an adventure. Beside the grimy machine shop, a restaurant serving Phu (fa), a clothing store, the bank, a shop full of decorative china and sculpture, then men smoking and playing some form of checkers or chess, squatting on low blue plastic stools which are everywhere in these open shops–like furniture from a child’s tea party set.
The city smells like a wood fire; on the sidewalk, like something roasting.
In Westlake, a man is fishing under the hotel piers, which lift the hotel out of the lake. His boat is as big as a loveseat, but not as wide. He fishes with a net and pushes the paddles with his feet, steering around the lake expertly. A fish flashes in the net.
On the bank, fishermen crouch for hours in small groups, side by side, smoking, fishing with poles. I do not see them catch anything.
Beside the lake on the quay, brides and grooms pose for wedding photographs. All day long the photographers are arranging couples in poses–an embrace, now side by side, now the groom lifting the bride into his arms, now the bride seated on the stone lined bank of the lake, her dress artfully cascading down over the stones.
The dresses are solid or two tones in white, red, lavander, gold, and blue. The tuxes are black or white; sometimes a white military uniform. The couples are young. Their black hair gleaming and full; porcelain skin, full smiles, glistening eyes. Red lipstick. Both of them lithe and beautiful and obviously happy by the lake, beside the sacred temple–800 years old.
With the photos done, they dart down the alley for a snack with friends in the little storefront restaurant. Soon they grab their motorbike and launch themselves into the din of the city, the haze, the smoke and grit, the noise of horns and commerce; now on the edge of life’s new beginning, this captured moment in a lens.
He will return the tux and she will stop at the bridal shop around the corner from the temple and take care of her dress. In black pumps with low heels, in a purple skirt and jacket and a white blouse, holding the nosegay from the photographs, she wraps her arms around her groom, perched in his Vespa in black pants, white shirt, black jacket. Her perfect china hands clasp around him. Their white helmets are fastened under their chins. Today, she forgoes her smog mask and leans her head into his back. He eases the scooter into the school of motorbikes. Now gaining speed, they dart across the intersection against traffic, dodging oncoming traffic, steering the bike up on the dyke road to towards home. She clutches the nosegay on his chest.
Smooth flight to HCM City, which is HUGE and more modern, kind of Americanized I would say. Too bad. It does not have the smoky charm of Hanoi. It does have just as many motorbikes, though.
At night, this is illuminated in red lights and so is very striking
Got up and packed thoroughly this morning; the bags are still full, so I am not succeeding in jettisoning things as well as I should. Had a good breakfast of fruit, yogurt and toast in the lower level café. Thought about walking through the mall, but decided against it. All of the same stores will be at the airport! Checked out at 11 and spent an hour working the free wifi in the lobby so I wouldn’t have to pay another day internet service.
Cab to the Hong Kong Central train at 12, which took 10 minutes or so. (23HKD). I was able to get ticketed by Hong Kong Air AT the train station, which was cool, so I didn’t have to lug my checked baggage around and onto the Express Train. I had bought a round trip train ticket, which you press to the magnetic thing just like Metro and presto, you’re through. Got to the airport about 1 and everything went smoothly. I was reduced to getting a water and chicken and celery sandwich at the 7-11 of all things. Figured out the general location of my flight, although the gate was not posted yet. The terminal was again full of high-end merchandise like Tiffany’s and Shanghai Tang along with a dress maker whose name escapes me, but has the tag “1961” beneath the name. Retro-chic, elegant clothing for women.
So it turns out that Hong Kong Air to Hanoi leaves from a distant gate so I am glad I got there early. Downstairs at terminal one, you board a bus from a lobby that smells like airplane fuel—enough to gag you. That bus takes to you an older terminal with all the same stores once again. There is a Starbucks right by my gate, #508, but I don’t really feel like a Starbucks after all this time having Chinese coffee (strong) with milk (a tad sweet) I am not craving an afternoon lift.
I read “Cat’s Table” by Michael Ondaante for an hour and now catching up on my notes. Hong Kong is exciting in it’s own way but I would have to know a lot more about its tourist attractions before I would make it a destination. It seems to be a massive commercial hub for Asia and Europe, and I guess that is the reason for the attraction as well as the cost.
Hung An’s parents are going to collect me at the Hanoi airport and take me to the hotel and then to dinner, so that should make things easy for the afternoon and evening. Consultant Rick Sherwood has scheduled me for seven hours tomorrow, with 7 or 8 FORTY-FIVE MINUTE interviews.
High Style In Asia
Admittedly, I have mostly been among the high rollers during my travels. The hotels are sumptuous so far, the food has been great, the coffee acceptable, and the clubs have been good enough to serve for dinner, so well worth the price. The club at the Conrad served sliders last night and they were quite good. By comparision, the cobb salad I had in the café when I arrived too late for the club was $35, and the buffet down there last night was $65 ($508 HK) which is the cheapest so far.
There are lots of people wearing jeans, lots of people in black, especially men. Not so many neck ties. All the young women are wearing very short shorts with stockings, or very short dresses. All of them are wearing boots ankle high. Today I saw a pair of beige leather booties of that kind with tall acrylic heels. Except for the young women, there is not much in the way of show-off fashion. The young men are all wearing black or gray sweatshirts or hoodies with tennis shoes and blue or black jeans. Hair styles are short for men, boys, and women, long for young women. Something in the Asian DNA or diet is that their skin is nice and their hair doesn’t turn gray! When you see a gray haired man or woman over here, or one with wrinkles, you know they’re really old. My cab driver yesterday was a 75 year old woman—she took it upon herself to show me her driver’s license. I would have guessed she was 50 if she’d asked first.
Arrived Hanoi (Ha Noi) safely and Hung’s family collected me right at the end of the ramp. The head of immigration is a college friend of Mr. An, so he took my passport and whisked me right through and the bags came out and he returned my passport. Done. We went to the hotel, I checked in, and then they gave me a driving tour of the city, around the great gigantic lakes with temples in the middle (one of them over 1,000) years old, and finally to a two story French colonial period building where we had a wonderful dinner outside of the second floor balcony. The fish, spring rolls, shrimp wraps, vegetables, sauces and dips, fruit and nuts were all delicious and we drank the 150 year old -recipe recipe Ha Noi beer, which was light and fresh, quite delicious as we like to say in Asia.
The An’s (including Hung’s aunt, our translator, and the immigration chief, who drove us around in a Jeep SUV) showed me the party headquarters, the government headquarters (where Hung’s mom is an official), the Ho Chi Minh memorial (impressive, and his burial site—surrounded by park, near one of the lakes), the Hanoi Hilton, where they mentioned John McCain by name (they asked if I had heard of Ho Chi Minh: I said, “Of course. I made a report about him when I was in 7th grade—he had white hair and a white goatee, which is kind of rare for an Asian man”. They thought that was funny. I got an excellent grade on that report from Bob Maglietta, the best of my 7th grade teachers by far).
Hanoi has to be seen to be believed. It is clearly much poorer than the other places in Asia I’ve been recently, and the gulf between rich and poor is immense. The traffic is beyond description because of the huge number of motorbikes carrying all manner of people and objects. The swarm of motorbikes gather at the front at every stoplight, and so they really control all the traffic. But most traffic ignores standard operating procedure and everyone just beeps constantly and races forward into the breech. This is the most genuine and raw city I have seen on the tour and it is very refreshing in that way.
I think this boat must be a tourist attraction. But there is somebody on it, with a tender attached, and it looks occupied and well used.
Mid-afternoon in Stanley and returning to Hong Kong, all the school children were finishing the day–each one in proper British Style dressed in the schools uniforms, colors, ties, and belts, right down to the shoes and socks. Extremely cute kids.
Here is an old temple set into the rock hillside at Stanley. The royalty and distinguished visitors arrived at Hong Kong at the dock nearby in the 19th and 20th century.
Following the advice of expert world traveler Nancy Nolan, and the directions of the hotel staff, I took the lift down to level 3 (one level of the luxury shopping center), turned left, and eventually found my way on a covered footbridge heading for the express bus. After a few miscues resulting from lack of signage, I ended up on the right side of the road at the right bus stop with approximately the right amount of money. The bus took about 30 minutes to get to the other side of the Island, and what a trip it was. Imagine the Pacific Coast Highway and the Amalfi Coast, on the top level of the double decker bus, looking first up, then down the mountain, hugging the curves on every turn. It was pretty hairy. The whole ride cost about $1.00.
It is hard to believe that Hong Kong was ever settled at all, because it is nothing but steep rocks, into which are set impossibly tall buildings at precarious angles, overlooking steep, steep hillsides that end in the sea. It is pretty stunning, even on this, an overcast and misty day.
I got off at Stanley Plaza and worked my way down five or six levels to sea level and toured the coastline, including a thousand booths of merchandise that would have to be seen to be believed. Mostly gew-gaws, copies of name brands, close replicas of name brands, actual name brands, “original” art, and who knows, possibly some real things, but how could you ever know. As it was Monday, the place was only “crowded” as opposed to
“jam-packed”, and the world’s languages converged in the great human search for a bargain. I found nothing compelling but enjoyed the tour and finally saw a few dogs for the first time on my travels, so that was a plus.
I stopped and had some calamari for lunch and made my way back to the Plaza, and got a cab back to the hotel (about $15)–which was only about 20 mintues. The bus took a little over 30. Both ways the views were spectacular and I did get a feeling for this crazy mixed up jam-packed overdeveloped speck of earth. I will have to read up on Wickipedia to find out the history and why anyone thought a city could be made out of these rocks. Oh, I also took part of a park walk that included a cool temple on the rock side. Photos to follow.