Today consisted of exploring the Cu Chi, pronounced like Gucci, tunnel system. Before coming to Vietnam I must admit I never really understood why people who went to Vietnam came back so emotionally traumatized. After today’s visit though, it became much more clear the damage the Vietnam War had done to everyone involved. Our tour of the tunnels began with a propaganda film from 1967. It was never really explained why something that old was used, as all it talked about was how the area was fertile, then the Americans invaded so they had to die. After that failed piece of indoctrination we learned about the Vietnamese Bear trap.
Explaining the tunnels
The Bear Trap
Like many jungle people, the Vietnamese used bear traps to kill animals they may be hunting. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is basically a pit with sharpened bamboo rods at the bottom. These could be dug throughout the jungle and then covered with leaves, so they were a major problem for troops trying to invade. Also in this area we got to see one of the holes used by the Vietcong.
Trying to Disappear
Somehow I managed to fit it and it truly was like a rat maze in that Vietcong could disappear underground only to reappear somewhere else. While here, we also learned about how the Vietnamese covered up bomb craters. I presumed this was to allow for the same places to bombed repeatedly. The dirt though would mostly be used to build the tunnels we would enter later. We then saw a variety of other traps the Vietnamese implored. Most involved maiming someone, however the worst was a door trap which would impale someone if they charged through.
The Door Trap
Our next stop was a destroyed American tank. I had feeling tanks did not work very well in this environment, especially after the opening video discussed how the Vietcong placed Tank Mines everywhere. We then learned about how the tunnels got air through places that looked like gigantic anthills. The US soon learned of this so they brought in dogs to detect the air pockets. A game of cat and mouse then ensued with the Vietcong trying to hide their air holes, and the Americans trying to find them. What was really eerie was the Tour Guide kept saying these people had to die. Normally death is portrayed as an unfortunate reality of War, however this guy viewed it as a part of the revolutionary process.
Woman was in a full suit and 5 inch heels…A True Tunnel Rat
Example of a Air Hole
The home stretch began with a visit to the shooting range. I had heard last semester about the opportunity to shoot an AK-47 and it was one of those things I felt I could not pass up. Mike and I purchased the minimum 10 bullets for $1.5 each but it was a really enjoyable experience despite being loud.
Mike having fun
We then finally got to head into the tunnels themselves. We were told there was AC inside, however if there was I cannot imagine what they would be like during the middle of summer. Pretty much instantly we were soaked, to the point when we came out three tunnel systems later, there wasn’t nothing anything dry on us. The visit concluded with some skinned potatoes with peanut/cashew mix. We were told rice was reserved solely for Commanders and famous people.
Sandals in case Shaq Showed Up
Into the Tunnels
Inside the Tunnels
Almost done with the tunnels
Bucket List item 124 - Run through Viet Cong Tunnels: Complete
Upon arriving back in Ho Chi Minh mike and I ate a restaurant called Go2 that was actually pretty good. We concluded our lunch experience with a stop at a frozen yogurt place that was reasonably priced when compared with the rip off that exists when buying frozen yogurt in Hong Kong. We are about to head to the night market and then will then take a series of buses to Kampot, Cambodia.
Today began on a low note. I woke up to my computer not turning on. Assuming it was a minor problem I just turned it off and hoped it would work later. When we arrived at the airport it still did not work so I began to worry. It soon became apparent that something was seriously wrong with my computer. Having little time to do anything about it until before our flight I shoved it in my bag and hoped for the best.
Loading from the back of the plane
We were headed to Ho Chi Minh / Saigon. The reason for the confusing name is after the North won they changed the name of the city to Ho Chi Minh. For the city’s young residents they only call it by Ho Chi Minh. However, for older residents and I believe expats, they prefer Saigon. This creates a strange situation but luckily people don’t’ seem to mind which name you use.
When we made it to Ho Chi Minh I went on a quest to get my computer fixed. To prove the spread of globalization I found someone capable of fixing Macs and magically it worked again. After this amazing event we headed off to the War Remnants museum. This museum once again chronicled various atrocities committed on the Vietnamese people in prison. One very strange thing about this museum is they seem to blame every health problem in their country on Agent Orange. While Michael and I both agreed Agent Orange was obviously a problem, the extent it was blamed was a little absurd. The museum’s saving grace was an exhibit dedicated to photographers who had lost their lives covering the Vietnam War. What made this exhibit particularly interesting was it included pictures taken by North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. This allowed us to see pictures of the Vietnamese training and even scenes from their daily lives. Furthermore this exhibit played reverence to the photographers from other countries that lost their lives covering the war. It was noteworthy how they showed the last shot from photographers before being killed.
Cages that would hold 4-6 people
Palace where the Vietnam War ended
Because of the early closing times of the museums this was the only one we managed. We decided to try out a BBQ restaurant I had read about on a blog. While it was not amazing it was a nice place to kick back and relax. We then decided to try some local ice cream, as we were still too early for the night market. Even when we finished the ice cream though, the night market wasn’t open so we just headed back for the night. Tomorrow we are going to explore some of the tunnels used by the Vietcong then it will be time to get ready for Phnom Penh.
Today started off a visit to the lovely Hanoi Hilton
For those not up to date on your Vietnamese History, this is actually Hoa Lo prison built by the French to house Vietnamese separatists. The building itself is just a third of its original size and a new apartment block was deemed more important than preserving the other 2/3’s of the prison. What you are left with is a testament to the many Vietnamese who suffered to fight the French. Most of the museum harps on a point of, “we tried to / killed French colonists, they arrested some of us, so we killed more of them”. This point is driven home constantly and even discusses the resistance to the American Imperialists and their puppet regime in Saigon aka the Vietnam War. Speaking of the Vietnam War, the prison is known in America as the Hanoi Hilton because it housed American POWS, the most notable of which was Senator John McCain.
McCain’s Flight Suit
The museum has only a small room dedicated to this in which the government extols on how the prisoners were treated well. While it was obviously counter to history seeing as no POW is ever treated well, my friend commented on how it was impressive they were so adapt at effectively using the media to their advantage.
The second was supposed to be a visit to see Dear Uncle Ho’s (Ho Chi Minh) body lying in state. Unfortunately the mausoleum was closed for some unknown reason so we instead headed to the Ho Chi Minh museum. The Ho Chi Minh portion itself was an exercise in abstract art, as they didn’t explain anything. Instead, the museum featured big chains and an enlarged table of fruit for you to stare at / understand how it was the nerve center of Ho Chi Minh’s ideas.
The museum’s saving grace was it did feature two interesting exhibits. The first was on Kim Il Sung who looked amazingly like his grandson, enough for Mike to declare that North Korea had mastered cloning, and the other on Lenin from birth to his death. Having grown up in a westernized country that demonizes these men, it was interesting to see them idealized
We had hoped to next visit the military museum but were temporarily thwarted by the fact it was closed for lunch. I was not really sure why a museum closes for lunch, but one thing Asia has taught me is that there are some things you’ll never understand. When the museum finally reopened we were greeted with very little relating to Vietnam before about 1880. It’s almost as if everything that happened before then was deemed irrelevant so you can barely piece together how Vietnam came into existence The biggest portion of the museum was once again dedicated to the wars against France and the US. We had hoped to watch a video detailing how the French were defeated, but were instead greeted with this weird light up board extolling how the French were stationed at points C3 and B6. Maybe they were trying to play battleship but once again I was confused. The museum also beat home the point that Americans were imperialists, but did feature some interesting memorabilia including this contemporary art piece made out of plane wreckage.
We finally left, headed for the Fine Arts museum
The Fine Arts museum was pretty much like any other fine arts museum. The one problem was half of it wasn’t open due to remodeling. So it was slightly confusing because one floor would be open, the next two would be closed, and the top floor was open. There were no signs so we were left to just hope something would be on the floor we had chosen. As we were leaving the museum Mike said he was feeling drained from finishing an essay so we began to make plans to separate for the afternoon. Before we split up, we checked out the Revolutionary War museum. I had begun to notice a theme as this museum featured the same pictures of the Resistance against both America and France. I felt it was a missed opportunity they could not each provide anything unique, instead the museum just showcased the same important details.
After the lake, Mike headed back to the hotel and I headed to the post office to mail a postcard. From the outside the post office reminded me a lot of a cell phone store and inside was not much different. It took them forever just to finish two customer’s requests. When I finally finished mailing the card I decided to sit by a café on the lake and just relax. After relaxing and feeling refueled, I headed to the main cathedral in Hanoi. I do not know the story of this church, but it looked very similar to Norte Dame.
The Statue in front of the Church
I decided to walk around the rest of the lake only to discover it was not like Ho Hai at all. Instead this lake was surrounded by a lot of shoe merchants and other low quality items. While wondering around I successfully located the water puppet theatre. The show was semi neat with hand controlled puppets doing a very of dances. Our day rapped up at an Australian place and then it was back to the dorm. Overall Hanoi as been all right but I’m ready to begin the new adventure in Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow.
Locals grabbing a late afternoon Drink
Coffee beans pulled from weasel droppings
SEA Log Day 1.
Last night Michael and I arrived into Hanoi, Vietnam. Our biggest initial problem was they did not want to exchange HKD, and the ATM had “run out of money”; how that happens at the airport was beyond me. When we arrived at our hotel however, HSBC was right across the street so there wasn’t a money problem after all. After dropping our stuff off, we headed to a lake that I’m just going to refer to as Lake Hanoi, which was very similar to Ho Hai in Beijing, the only difference being they had this random stage where people could perform. After watching random acts including a trained dog, we headed back so Michael could “finish” his paper. If you have ever had one of those days where you thought you would get a lot done but don’t that’s how I would best describe last night. We somehow first got distracted watching Locked Up Abroad, about the Christian Couple who was kidnapped not locked in Indonesia in 2001. Unfortunately it did not feature the butt of all jokes MILF, (yes that’s a actual terrorist group) so we were instead confused by what was going on. After that concluded it was time for me to finally Skype my Second Grade Teacher’s class and talk to them about China. Having dealt with explaining issues regarding Bo Xilai and Xi Jinping it was nice fielding questions that amount to what color is my dog, and did they have toys in China. I would definitely be up for doing that again because it’s always nice to give back to your roots. Unfortunately upon finishing, Michael and I once again got distracted / observed him having modeling failures so we stayed up till 4am. It also did not help we had to deal with a exploded bottle of soap, a leaking shower, and a broken sink. However, I suppose it’s the Journey not the Destination.
SEA Log Day 2
After the Fiasco that was day/night 1 our alarms went off at 7am but the last thing we wanted to do was get out of bed. In our infinite wisdom we had decided to make the trip to Ha Long Bay, which required the early start. The one Brightside of this was we got to partake in our hotel’s complimentary breakfast. The best part of which was having French toast with honey, which was something I had been craving desperately and will probably be having every morning before Ho Chi Minh City. After refueling, it was time for our 4 hours trip / catch up on sleep time. I was enjoying my beauty sleep for about an hour when Michael shook me awake saying “we are on the wrong bus!” Apparently everyone else was on a two-day trip while we were just planning on going for a day. I told him not to worry and proceeded to pass back out. When I came to again, we had arrived at Vietnam’s friendship store equivalent “Ruby Emperor”. Notice there was no the, so the sign out front simply said welcome to Ruby Emperor, a grammatical error that fit well with what was inside. Unlike the friendship store where I’m actually tempted to get ripped off, at Ruby it was just handicrafts I had no interest in. Best of all we got to enjoy it for 30 minutes of pure boredom. We finally departed and discovered we had a separate tour guide from everyone else planning to spend the night on the boat.
Ha long bay was for the most part fairly average.It reminded me a lot of Guilin and while it was nice just cruising around I did not enjoy the obligatory tourist traps spots we had to make, however what was cool was the kayaking.
Approaching Ha Long
Relaxing on the Boat
We had assumed we had would have to pay for it but when Michael and I discovered it was included we jumped at the opportunity. After proceeding to ram into the floating school and someone’s house we finally got ourselves oriented in the direction of some caves. Those caves were amazing as you could use them to pass between the rocks and enter these amazing coves. I wish I had brought a camera but Michael convinced me we were going to flip our boat at some point. However if you are ever in Hanoi you have to make the trip out to Ha Long Bay, as it’s something special. Just expect to deal with extremely touristy cave tours.
View from place where we Kayaked
Famous Fighting/Kissing Roosters of Ha Long
After the Caves
Our final leg of the trip consisted of the return to Hanoi. I was under the impression this trip would last about 3 hours so I settled in, to read my Economist. Unfortunately the bus was a lot narrower than the one I had slept on. Therefore, that trip consisted of me constantly maneuvering around and not getting much reading done. To cap it all off, for some unknown reason had to return to Ruby Emperor for 20 minutes. Fortunately I at least justified the stop with some postcard purchases but it still consisted of me waiting around / doing random Tai Qi poses. 2 hours later we arrived back in Hanoi and decided to find some local food. Our hotel recommended a place called Highway 4 that was a mere stone throw away. Here I sampled Ostrich, Alligator, and Frog legs.
The first one was the only one I would get again however I suppose it’s all one big experience. Tomorrow should be another exciting day as we track down everything in Hanoi relating to the Vietnam War.
Wow it’s been 7 months since I last wrote one of these. It’s funny reading my last post where I basically stated I was going to blog more frequently and how that didn’t happen. So in case you have wondered what I’ve been up to, I’ll try to give a quick run down. Following those last posts I had the joy of traveling China with my friends, Cory and Thea, for 2 weeks visiting Cheng Du to see the pandas, Shang Hai, and finishing in Beijing. It was really strange thinking back to my first trip to china as a high school freshman and comparing that with China of today. It’s completely different for sure; the Olympics have come and gone, I can now easily scale the Great Wall, and foreigners do not fascinate Chinese people anymore. Then again, they are not fascinated upon seeing us however being able to speak the language does solicit some interesting looks…for now. 7 months later it’s hard to pick out defining moments from the trip except that it was the most quality time I spent with my CUHK cohort counterparts. We attempted to make a plan to hang out over the course of this year but so far that has failed to be realized. Looking ahead to next year, I can’t see that changing, as it’ll be back to SC and all the activities that entails.
Coming back to Hong Kong I was definitely in a good mood. I assumed that my roommates and I were really going to hit it off and become good friends. The best way to describe this dorm experience would be to pull from Paradise Lost and say I fell from positive heaven to the depths of negativity. To say I don’t like my living situation is an understatement. It’s bad, really bad. If it’s not the lack of space or my roommates slurping while eating in the room, I am constantly awoken to people shouting in my dorm even with earplugs. To further complicate this issue one of my roommates is on the dorm committee in my dorm. The committee is responsible for organizing activities and promotion for both the dorm and the college (which is sort of like a school within a school). Though it seems they only do one or two activities a month, that roommate is always up all night and sleeps during the day. Additionally, his friends always barge into the room looking for him. Last semester I think this was huge contributing factor to why I was miserable here. I couldn’t sleep and had to live with people I despised. This semester though, I have accepted it, and overall it doesn’t seem as bad.
So the living situation was part of the problem last semester but it certainly wasn’t the only one. First up were classes, I had heard horror stories but I really had no idea what to expect. I took a somewhat calculated risk of doing 21 hours of which 9 were Chinese classes that initially seemed manageable. I’m not sure when it all fell apart, but when exams rolled around I was dragging myself to the finish. One of the biggest issues was figuring out how I was doing in a class or doing work correctly. For example in my German film class we were required to watching a weekly movie and then write up a review/discussion on key points within the movie. The class concluded with a take home essay and throughout the whole process I never saw one grade except the one that appeared in my transcript. This problem has apparently become pervasive at CUHK and the international students are trying to campaign for more open grading but it’s anyone’s guess whether they will succeed.
Another problem we deal with here, is trying to understand what our teachers are saying. Many teachers would obviously prefer to speak in Cantonese, their native tongue, but are required to speak in English by the school. This has become another point of contention with International students who say, “As a world class institution you should provide understandable English speaking professors”. The local students respond, “this school was set up as a Cantonese institute of higher education, if you want to learn here then you should learn our language”. Apparently the head of the student union opened the year saying he would only speak in Cantonese in response to foreigners who had invaded the campus. Stepping away from this small issue, I would say it’s probably a reflection of the bigger issue of Hong Kong residents trying to preserve their cultural identity. It seems almost daily that there are incidents involving the war of words between Hong Kong residents and Mainland Chinese. The most recent trilogy began with a mainland girl eating noodles on the subway,(which is prohibited) then a Hong Konger criticized her for not following the rules. A video of this went viral and led to a leading Beijing professor saying Hong Kong residents are dogs who need to learn their place. Hong Kong responded by remixing a famous Cantonese pop song to suggest that Mainlanders are vermin who have no culture. This entire clash is particularly important in light of the election of a new Chief Executive that is scheduled to happen soon. As any China watcher will tell you, Beijing loves for its political transitions to go smoothly. What’s unfolding here however is anything but smooth.
Beijing’s hand picked successor has basically been forced to withdraw after allegations he built a “pleasure palace” under his house. This is prohibited due to zoning laws though it’s believed he found a legal loophole to do it anyway. Another candidate is embattled in a corruption charge over a massive arts center being built here in Hong Kong. Apparently many candidate’s proposals were dismissed without them being told, and furthermore the person who won has possible financial links to the candidate. The other two men who are vying for Chief Executive from what I gather are largely inept and unable to gather strong public support. This has led to the largely pro-Beijing election committee saying they will vote for no one until a more viable candidate emerges. The public is clearly upset over this however it’s unclear just how upset they are. For example, a university department head was dismissed after releasing unfavorable survey results that suggested people did not like anyone Beijing put forward to lead them. While officially I believe it was stated he stepped down due to statistical errors I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about the real reasons. Looking ahead, this is the last chance for Beijing to secure its legitimacy in Hong Kong because in 2017 there will be truly free elections. Currently Hong Kong residents elect only a partial amount of their legislators with most being chosen by Beijing. In 2017 however, Hong Kong residents can elect their own chief executive. That election will be particularly important because about six families who enjoy political protection currently run Hong Kong. The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article about how everything you do during the day basically benefits one of those families. Presumably there could be some interesting anti-trust lawsuit develop should the Business communities officials be voted out. Personally, if this was the only issue plaguing China I think they could rally their supporters and produce a strong candidate however, it’s not. Currently China is dealing with two provinces that are teetering on revolt: Tibet and Xinjiang, which is where most of China’s Muslims live. Furthermore many of their western Agricultural provinces have become fed up with the government’s inability to protect them from local officials ridiculous taxes on things like a Film Showing Fee. Finally, China is trying to successfully transition power to Xi Jinping while determining who will rise and fall when the power shuffle occurs this year. With all these issues taken together it will take a lot of work on part of the Chinese government to continue it’s past success. This is not to suggest it’s impossible just very difficult.
Back to me personally, I think this semester is going to be a lot better. I like my classes a lot more, living in my dorm has become tolerable, and I have a great group of friends. So far I have gotten to travel to Taipei and Phuket, Thailand both of which were amazing experiences. This week I’m scheduled to teach English in a Chinese village and in two weeks I’ll be headed to Japan to do the Goruck Challenge in Tokyo. Who knows what other crazy adventures I’ll be involved with this semester. I’m also 90% certain I’ll be spending my summer in Beijing doing Chinese, I’m just currently unsure through which program I’ll be doing it. IBCE is apparently putting one together for advanced students but there are also many other established programs run by Duke, Princeton, and Berkley that I’m equally interested in. Though it’s still 5 months away, I can definitely see how my time here is quickly coming to a close. I often make that comment to my friends and they respond with how I have so long and how I should live for the moment. My comment wasn’t suggesting I’m already done with this area but merely to reflect on all the people who have helped me a long the way. If you are one of those people then… Thank You. Until next time.
So I finally have time to update everyone on what I’ve been up to. I apologize it takes me some long to write these, but with my schedule there just seems to be no time. However I’m going to describe a couple of adventures that I hope you will enjoy reading about and I should have pictures this time. This will be the first post of probably two this week.
First and foremost, my trip to Shenzhen. As you may or may not be aware, Shenzhen is the closet city in Mainland China to Hong Kong. It’s a very common sight to see people lugging a vast amount of groceries, particularly baby formula, across the border. The reason for this is the Chinese Yuan now has a higher value now than the Hong Kong dollar. So residents of the mainland save money by shopping in Hong Kong. This economic disparity also creates some interesting smuggling opportunities. For example, just this week a group of smugglers built a zip line between two buildings, one in Shenzhen and one in Hong Kong, to ferry 50k worth of Apple products across the border.
My second trip to Shenzhen began kind of unfortunately. At the train station nearest to school, the gap to board the train is biggest I’ve seen in all of Hong Kong. Unfortunately an elderly woman misjudged the distance, slipped and broke her leg. It was very disturbing and reinforces the idea that the distance is too far between the train and the platform, but it seems like no effort is being made to correct it. After making sure the woman was taken of, we finally departed for Shenzhen. One thing I have yet to understand is why it’s so expensive to go to the border. For example, it cost me about 1 dollar to take 4 different trains to reach a destination an hour away on Hong Kong Island. However, to go approximately 30 minutes north on one train is about 3 dollars. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it could add up quickly especially since mainland is really the only place we can practice speaking Mandarin.
Upon arriving in Shenzhen, our teacher suggested we use the subway in Shenzhen to reach our destination, a karaoke bar. When we arrived at the nearest Shenzhen train station, apparently everyone had the same idea, as the line was completely packed. Seeing that we had to be across town in 20 minutes to meet our reservation, our teacher decided we should hire a driver. At the time we didn’t know this, but would soon discover we would be charged 10x what it should cost to make the trip. I’m not sure exactly how that happened since our teacher is from the Mainland, but I guess it just reinforces what I’ve heard about Shenzhen, that you need to be really careful.
Despite the exuberant cost, we did make to the Karaoke bar on time. Now in America, Karaoke has the reputation of being something you do when you are drunk or at wedding. In China, and I believe throughout the rest of Asia, it’s a really big deal. Our first stop at the place was to their convenience store of sorts, where we bought a variety of snacks and drinks. After loading up on food, we went to our private room where we had approximately 600+ songs to choose from in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English. It was a mediocre experience because we stayed for 3 hours but I was definitely ready to leave after 2. Our final stop was a local hot pot restaurant.
Now as many of you may know, I’m not exactly a fan of Mainland China’s food. Although, the one thing I have usually enjoyed is Hot Pot. Hot pot is basically where you get uncooked meat and vegetables then place them in a pot of boiling water filled with sauce on your table. After about a minute, your food is ready to eat. Previously I had only had positive experiences, unfortunately the Hot Pot place we stopped at, left a lot to be desired. I know one girl in my group felt sick afterwards and I must say it’s not a place I have any interest in going back to. Finally it was time to race to the border, which closed within the hour so that was a fun experience trying to make it back across.
Next up was the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Before leaving school last spring, Dr. Hudgens had spoken at length about how much he enjoyed the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. So about two weeks ago, Sheimaliz and I decided we should probably go check it out. Being only 3 stops away on the MTR, it’s perhaps one of the only convenient things for us to get to Hong Kong, as we are 40 minutes away by train from downtown. The museum when we went was busy adding new exhibits, however I did get to check out four of them.
The first, and perhaps most well known of the exhibits, is the one focusing on Cantonese opera. Now within China itself, there are 3 main forms of opera, Beijing which is perhaps the most global and is known for retelling stories from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Cantonese which I consider almost a Chinese version of Shakespeare, then Sichuan which is known in particularly for it’s mask changing. If you have never seen the movie King of Masks I highly recommend it, not only does it show Sichuan opera, it also displays the struggles these very talented performers go through. Now in the exhibit itself, it had a replica of the stage, which is considered the birthplace of Cantonese opera.
Many years ago, Cantonese opera troupes were required to host their first performance on that stage before going on tour; the stage therefore holds a huge significance within the opera community. The exhibit also had the makeup kit and props for one actor, which barely fit into two large trunks. Just seeing all the tools involved made me wonder how long it must take the actors to get ready. It wasn’t exactly clear by using the makeup generator that the exhibit had, where it would insert a mask onto a digital projection of your face. The final element of the exhibit was a small theater showing clips from Cantonese opera throughout different film eras. However it abruptly stops at the 90’s, because apparently Cantonese opera flicks are no longer popular or profitable. The next stop amounted to basically the history of Hong Kong with a focus on the New Territories.
Hong Kong is subdivided into three sections, which I’ve jokingly heard described as three separate countries. Hong Kong Island is where a vast majority of the ex pats live. It is at times heard to tell you are not in some western country because you mostly see western shops and signs in English. This is especially true in the western part of the island, which is considered downtown. Kowloon on the other hand, is very much Chinese through and through. Here the opposite occurs, where seeing western establishments is the exception not the norm. A lot of people choose to live here and then commute via the MTR into work because the housing prices are much cheaper. The final area where I live is called the New Territories, which I believe is Hong Kong English for the middle of nowhere. I am as stated above, about a 40 minute train ride away from downtown. This allows residents here a lot more living space than those on Hong Kong Island. At first I didn’t like it, but now I’ve kind of gotten use to the slower pace of life that exists in this part of Hong Kong.
What I learned from this exhibit and should be evident in the pictures is that this area basically did not exist 40 years ago. It was at this point they decided to fill in part of the bay and construct a town called Sha Tin. This has been a slow process with the government trying to strike a balance between adding infrastructure and then more apartment complexes. However I believe it’s almost done with the only thing missing being adding some more highways.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, were artifacts that showed how land was valued in Hong Kong during the original colonization, and how important the fishing community was to this area of Hong Kong. They also had a sensible chunk devoted to the handover, and copies of each of the four drafts involved in the transfer of Hong Kong back to China. The two things that looking back I felt were missing, were how Hong Kong transformed from a manufacturing to a financial center, and also Hong Kong’s role during the oppressive years (1950’s-80’s) of China’s history. Clarifying on that last point, basically you had situations similar to that of people trying to escape the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe and I think this would have been interesting to explore.The final two exhibits dealt with art from Modern England and then Ancient China and Tibet. The modern works from England I did not think were too impressive because I am not a fan of modern art. However, one artist had compiled footage from the royal entrance to an equestrian event in England. What made this interesting is that despite the outfits changing slightly, the royals always sat in the same place, with the same people, and waved at the same time showing how carefully orchestrated their lives are. I think this is important because I could definitely see this changing once Prince William eventually takes the throne. With regards to the Asian art exhibit, there was not anything special about it just the usual statues and other various artworks. Overall it was a fun visit and I will probably go back next month to see the new exhibits. This concludes my first update for the week and hopefully I will have another one by Friday or Saturday. Have a good day.
My Flickr name is jaytomsig. You should be able to search for me and see my photos.
It’s been almost two weeks since I last posted, so I have a lot of things to talk about. Before I get into that, I’m going to share my contact details, if you want to skype/email/snail mail me a card, package or whatever. Also if you would like me to talk to a class or organization about what it’s like living abroad, I will see what I can do. Anyway, my local address for now is
Office of Academic Links
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Sha Tin, NT Hong Kong SAR
My skype name is Jason.sigmon91 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, I’m going to try and start uploading pictures to a Flickr account, so that you my readers can visually see what I’m referring to. I should hopefully have that up soon. Now that I’ve gotten that self-plug out of the way, lets get into what I’ve been up to.
Two weekends ago, my friend Cory and I finally returned to Macao, after the disaster that was our first trip there. This time, we were a lot more prepared, and were not running on 5 hours of sleep and serious Jet Lag. We stayed at an amazing place called the Grandview Hotel, where somehow we got upgraded to a suite, then received free cookies after checking out. To top it all off, the room was priced at 100 dollars at night. This is important because this is cost of a two-person hostel, and about half to a third of the costs of the major Macao hotels.
Begin Policy Discussion Now this being my second trip to Macao, and really being observant of how it functions, I’m beginning to really understand the dynamics at work here. The easiest way to explain it, is to compare it with Hong Kong. Hong Kong in my opinion, and from talking to others has slightly regressed since returning to China in 1999. Now why some may cry foul at this, I would like to clarify this position. What I mean to say is, for perhaps it’s entire occupational history, i.e. the time it was the British owned, Hong Kong was the major access point into the Asian markets. Traders could come to Hong Kong, and get products distributed throughout the region and it benefited from a thriving black market with both people and products being smuggled into and out of China. Another benefit in my opinion was Britain’s facilitator role in their ownership in Hong Kong. They didn’t interfere in Hong Kong’s daily affairs and instead found ways to cultivate business in Hong Kong while gaining their own benefits.
Today though, China has taken the complete opposite approach. This is perhaps understandable considering how the Chinese government functions and how maintaining an iron grip is essential in their minds to stability. How this formulates itself in Hong Kong is something that in English translates to “one country two systems”. In actuality though, I would say big brother Beijing is always watching Hong Kong. Beijing puts in place people who are very friendly to it. This was evident recently, in the heavily publicized marches in honor/defiance of Hong Kong’s status as a Special Administrative Region or SAR. To demonstrate legally in Hong Kong, you have to apply for a permit well in advance except the rules governing this process for everyone are not equal. For example, the marchers demonstrating for Pro-Beijing were basically given free reign and told basically, “Just go demonstrate”. The group that amounts to basically Anti-Beijing control had a lot of interesting rules applied to it. First, they were not allowed to be excessively loud or have musical instruments during their march. Second and perhaps most strange, once they reached their intended destination, which I believe was city hall, marchers had to immediately disband and it was the organizers responsibility to see this carried out. While ultimately, to my knowledge both marches were held without much incident, it’s interesting how Beijing is trying to exert it’s will and shape Hong Kong the way it wants it. Finally just this week, South China Morning Post, one of Hong Kong’s English newspapers, stated Beijing must announce who their chosen candidate for the top leadership position is within the coming weeks. Normally they would wait until October; however there appears to be growing discontent within the Hong Kong populous. To counter this Beijing hopes their chosen candidate will generate public support before the “election” in which Beijing friendly businessmen and power brokers decide the next leader of Hong Kong
Now with regards to Macao, Beijing seems to have taken the British approach to ruling this SAR. This is perhaps due to something called the Basic Law of Macao, which states the lifestyle and general running of Macao shall remain unchanged for at least 50 years from the Portuguese handover or around 2049. In laymen’s terms, Macao gets the benefit of continuing to govern themselves with their own people, while still benefiting from Mainland China’s security apparatus. Interestingly enough, so far this strategy is proving beyond successful and really beneficial to the business community within Macao.
Perhaps the biggest perk of Macao is not the Basic Law of Macao, it is in fact the liberalization of gambling laws, which occurred in 2001. This has allowed for both multinational and local casinos to prosper. Initially, most of these casinos catered to the newly rich by offering small amounts of high end shopping, in addition to high stakes gambling. This allowed Macao to generate the reputation as the Wild West town of Asia. Businessmen and other rich elements of society would arrive with suitcases of cash, and just be looking to spend it. However, this has recently changed with implementation of a law that bans tourists from bringing in more than 20,000 USD. While this may seem like a lot of money, especially to me the college student, to multi-million/billionaires this is merely pocket change. So how do they get their high end-betting fix? They make what I was told are side bets with fixers who presumably have mafia connections. For example, say a man wants to bet 10,000 USD on a hand of baccarat. He can do that, then in someway contact a fixer and say I would like to make a 50,000 USD side bet. These fixers then relay that information to somewhere in China. Upon the conclusion of the hand, the fixer will then make arrangement for payment or collection. I actually came to this information based off conversations at a couple of casinos. While I cannot confirm its validity, It does make sense.
The Final component of Macao’s development is the expansion of the Cotai Strip. As stated previously, Macao has a well-established gaming presence mostly on its central island. So established in fact, Steve Wynn, director of Wynn Hotels and Casinos, is considering moving his company headquarters there. The Cotai Strip however represents Macao’s direct challenge to the Vegas strip. Currently there are three main hotels on the strip, The Venetian which features mock gondola rides and a amazing array of the shopping, City of Dreams which as the name suggest is very dreamscape-ish and features Macao’s fanciest night club, Club Cubit, and finally the Galaxy which is a massive compound that’s only partially finished. The later of these is really interesting, in that fact it’s reception hall could apparently hold 6 or 7 jumbo jets, just to give you a idea of how big the place is. It’s to be noted though approximately three corporations own most of the Casinos, so there’s definite sense of let me one up you. In conclusion, I’m definitely looking forward to see how Macao transitions from high-end gamblers paradise, to complete entertainment destination.
End of Policy Discussion Now back to what I did in Macao, I had the luxury of going to an event called Ice World. Ice World is an exhibit featuring the works of Harbin’s ice crafters. I highly recommend you looking into the Harbin Ice Festival, as some of the stuff they create is pretty wild. Returning to my visit, to preserve the Ice Sculptures, the exhibit is kept at a cool 5°F. It’s highly recommend you have long cloths and gloves so of course me being in shorts, I knew I was going to be cold. Luckily, they provide you with a thick winter coat, which while it helped initially, did not do much for keeping my hands warm. The exhibit itself was pretty interesting, in that they had Ice Carvings of the characters from the famed Chinese story Journey to the West known stateside simply as Monkey. In addition, they had replicas of major world monuments like the Eifel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. When we finally completed our visit of Ice World, I was definitely ready to have feeling return to my hands, however I must admit suddenly going to Harbin for the Ice Festival sounded pretty interesting.
After our visit to Ice World, Cory and I decided to check out the Starworld Hotel, where the movie Poker King was filmed. An interesting note about this movie is it provides a snapshot into Macao in 2008, which I found interesting to compare to today’s Macao. Anyway, there’s a noticeable difference between main island casinos, where Starworld is located, and those that reside on the Cotai Strip. Literally there is nothing to do at main island casinos besides gamble. Probably because the managers know the people their hotels attract just want to throw away money, so they don’t put forth any effort to add other options. Upon walking in and saying, “Oh looked I visited the Poker King room” Cory and I proceeded to Senate Square.
Senate Square, is where most of the Portuguese influenced architecture is located, and it’s so convenient that most of the major Macao tourist spots can be reached on foot from the square. We spent a little time here before wandering our way into Portuguese restaurant. I had heard great things about the local Cuisine and was eager to try some. If you are ever in Macao, visit Resturante Vela Latina it is amazing and I did not walk away disappointed. This Macao trip was a lot of fun and I’m already looking forward to my next visit where I’ll be returning with my classmates for splash party vol. 2 and possibly to see Akon too.
My next adventure took me to the Sham Shui Po or SSP as it’s known locally. SSP is pretty much the electronics capital of Hong Kong. Its been called the best place in the world to get a cheap-high quality computer built, something I’m sure the assemblers in Shanghai would love to dispute. The main destination in this area, is the Golden Centre Arcade. On the basement floor, I can only describe it as, lets see how many computer related parts and accessories we can fit into an area. If there is anything computer hardware related that you want you can probably find it here. Furthermore they will custom build a computer ranging from I can access the internet, to I can run circles around Dell and Ailenware’s top machines, all for much cheaper than you would pay in the states. However, to play safety advocate here, if something would go wrong i.e. a fire, there would be serious issues because of how hard it is to maneuver in this area. The first floor features all your video games related needs, everything from the latest 3DS gaming system to Dreamcast and PS1 games. Perhaps most interesting to me, was the fact they had online games that had been discontinued and just an overwhelming stock of really dated videogames. I’m not sure if this reflects that they have a overflowing supply, or that in the fact they do not move that much product. Finally the second floor is a toned version of the basement level. While they still have a couple of computer assembly shops, most of the stores on this level focus on laptops, printers, and scanners once again in varying quality and style. Reflecting back on SSP I think it’s a destination, where you have to go there with a specific item in mind you are looking for. Otherwise, you will simply be overwhelmed by the vast array of items they are offering.
The Final Event in this massive update is the Lan Kwai Fong Beer Festival. As I believed I stated earlier in this blog, there are 3 main drinking areas in Hong Kong. Wan Chai, which has a mix of sports bars and really shady prostitutes and hookers rocking 6inch stiletto boots. Then Lan Kwai Fang and SoHo, which are practically connected. The former has more of a frat bar feel and SoHo is more of an after work drink kind of place. So putting a Beer Festival in Fratville ,you know it’s going to be a little crazy. Honestly looking back, I should have gone during the day, because they have more events going on and probably less people. Unfortunately, my group had decided to go at night, because in their minds when else do you go to Lan Kwai Fang.
When we arrived we were pretty much instantly separated because the road was completely packed with people and vendors. A lot of my group stopped and got the deep plastic cups you often see at theme parks, because you got discounted rates on refills. Two of the highlights I’m told, were the Sangria, something you rarely see in Hong Kong, and then Guinness. I say I’m told because I’m not a big drinker, however I do love to eat which brings me to the next part of beer festival, THE FOOD.
I had two of my friends participate in a burger-eating contest sponsored by an amazing local joint. The kicker was, the burgers got covered in Texas Pete, which elicited some interesting reactions. While one of my friends barely lost in the girl division, in the guys heat it was no contest. A guy from PA literally seemed to take maybe 10 seconds to finish a burger. While everyone else was mostly halfway done, he was basking in hamburger glory; it was truly a sight to see. About this time, I was ready to leave so my roommate Tyler and I made our way to the main food area we had past on the way in. I was initially drawn towards these Japanese kebabs, which featured vegetables and ham wrapped around cherry tomatoes. Now I normally hate cherry tomatoes but whatever they did, the ham tomato combo was one of the best things I had ever eaten. My roommate however was drawn to these massive 1 ½ foot long hot dogs. Unfortunately, we ran into our annoying friend, Mr. Language barrier. My friend unsuccessfully tried to tell them he only wanted ketchup on his hot dog three times, they kept taking this to mean he wanted all the topping just not mustard I believe. Finally on the third try, he got his correct order and I got one of the discarded hotdogs. Once again it was amazing and worth the money.
Looking ahead, if I’m still here next year, I would like to go during the day and see if it’s a little less crowded and hung-over and instead more festive. After four MS Word pages, I’m going to bring this post to a close. Looking ahead, nothing too big this weekend, I am however going to try and take advantage of my crossfit and yoga classes and perhaps go see the Heritage and Hong Kong Space Museum. The weekend of the 23rd should be a good one though, as I’ll be traveling to the MTV and Lil’ Jon hosted splash party in Macao, and hopefully finding some way to see Akon. As always be in touch and feel free to drop me a comment or email J.
So I think its time to start attempting to shorten these blog posts, starting with this one. On Wednesday, I had to deal with one of the hardest Chinese tests I’ve ever taken. As I thought, I did really poorly partially cause of a really weird grading system. For example, one section worth 40 % of the entire test was particularly messed up. If you missed 4 out of 10 questions, you got 40% deducted from the entire test. So yeah that was fun, but it was a learning experience.
On Thursday, Sheimaliz and I attempted to go and attend a hip-hop dance class. Why you ask? Because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and YouTube Hillary Thompson who teaches the class, she is pretty phenomenal. Unfortunately though, after traveling an hour and half to get there we discovered the class was canceled. Then we were posed with a question, do we go to central and wander around or just wait for a yoga class in Aberdeen? We figured what the heck, we will wait around and explore Aberdeen, which is basically a really industrial part of Hong Kong. Sheimaliz convinced me to a try a “restaurant” that didn’t have any English on the menu. Luckily for me, I wasn’t hungry otherwise this would have ended my streak of eating at delicious Chinese restaurants. The reason I wasn’t too thrilled about this place, is they served instant ramen with meat seemingly pulled from an American high school cafeteria. After that fun experience, we went back to the dance studio and took a yoga class. This was actually a lot of fun, and I may go back and take the class next week since we got the dance class free.
Yesterday, It was finally time to make a trip to Ozone. Ozone is currently the highest bar in the world, until something higher is built in Dubai or elsewhere in the world. This event was special because I organized it, and honestly seeing Hong Kong from the top of the Ritz was an amazing experience. If you are in Hong Kong go see it, but if traveling on a budget don’t plan on buying anything there.
Finally today, Cory and I made a trip to Shenzhen. I had been told to be really careful, but for the entire time I was there I felt pretty safe. One weird thing that happened was seeing someone get stopped by Chinese customs, I’m definitely glad that did not happen to me. After clearing customs, Cory and I made our way to the Oriental Garden Spa. Upon arriving we immediately headed for the massage room because we felt no need to prolong the inevitable. I got an oriental hot stone massage, and had a great time practicing my Chinese with my masseur. We had originally planned on spending the night and getting a couple more massages, but after one, and not being sure exactly how reserving a room worked we just decided to head back. Overall I would say it was a great trip, and I would l like to return to do some shopping at some point. Because one kid from my group has already bought a 800 gb flash drive for 10USD, definitely don’t get that in America. Until next time..
So today my friend Sheimaliz and I decided on starting a new tradition called Museum Mondays. Since every other day of the week, we are either too tired or want to do something else, Mondays are the opportune time to explore Hong Kong’s cultural venues. Upon arriving here, it’s very evident from both billboards and MTR ads, that Hong Kong is riddled with Museums in every size and scope. We decided to start small today, with a visit to the school’s art museum, yes the school has it’s own art museum how neat is that? Anyway I was particular drawn to an exhibit I seen advertized called, Forget Me Not: The Historical Roots of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I figured it would be an easy way to learn some of the local history.
Upon arriving, I was somewhat blown away because instead of just one gallery, the museum features four. One gallery was devoted to a special exhibition of Final year art students, Seniors In America. It reminded me a lot of high school art exhibitions, except of a much higher quality. My two personal favorites were first a set of five paintings that featured five of the Disney Princesses, Belle, Cinderalla, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice. What made these images unique is they tried to capture the essence of the original fairy tales that Disney toned down. By this I mean drawing inspiration from the darker qualities evident in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with dreary backgrounds and darker top layer. The artist then juxtaposed this bleakness, with the recognizable Disney princess outfits. The second exhibit featured a man, who from a distance looked completely real, staring into a TV screen. This TV was producing an effect similar to that of a mirror held up to another mirror, in that the image is infinitely layered. However what was most interesting was there was a camera behind the man, broadcasting what showed up on the screen. This footage operated on a delay, so when u walked into the camera’s view, shortly thereafter, your image would appear on the screen. This image would then somehow be delayed onto each television also in the image. Sorry if that was confusing, but it was really interesting and it’s purpose was to suggest that we don’t watch ads, they in fact watch us. A little far out there granted, but I still thought it was pretty neat.
Elsewhere on the ground floor, there was an entire gallery devoted to Chinese lacquer painting. If you are unfamiliar with the name, it looks a lot like finished wood except with a Chinese motif. Here’s an example I found online. The final ground floor gallery featured two particular interesting pieces. The first was a blue Ming vase, inscribed with 10,000 handwritten characters symbolizing good fortune, which was given as a birthday present in the 1600’s. As someone who finds writing 100 characters consecutively a stretch, I was thoroughly impressed with 10,000 in perfect alignment. In addition this gallery featured an amazing carved piece of ivory. Now while I’m not condoning killing elephants on this blog, the piece in the gallery was probably quadruple this one and seemed to be telling a story, amazing in my opinion on such a unique canvas.
The final exhibit, the one I had originally come to see, was overall kind of a let down. It sort of focused on the Hong Kong area’s history, during the years 8000-6000 BCE, but really just appeared to be promoting CUHK’s archeology department. I guess that should be expected, since they probably help the museum out tremendously. However, I would have liked to see more than just entire sections devoted to, here we are digging in 1988 or here’s professor x and professor y getting their hands dirty. With regards to the art, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, and there seemed to be a big emphasis on a bird motif, which I did not really understand. Next week I think the plan is to head to the Hong Kong Heritage museum, which Dr. Hudgens told me before leaving the US, is definitely worth checking out. Best of all, a lot of museums offer really cheap student tickets or passes to visit multiple museums in one day.
In other general news, I have my first Chinese test tomorrow, which after today’s mock quiz I know is probably going to go poorly. That and the teacher telling me, “As long as you get better from here, that’s important thing”, which in mind equates to telling the kid who finishes last in the race, “Hey, you can only go up from here”. Besides that, I’m still waiting for a credit card, since apparently the concept of a debit card, does not exist here. However, they will give you an ATM card, which does nothing except allow you to withdraw money from ATMs. This is an annoying problem, because we opened accounts in order to load our student cards to do laundry. However now we can’t even do that, nor can we check the status of our credit cards because that requires a Hong Kong ID card, which we can’t get till August. Then to top it all off, the bank tellers are not sure when the cards will arrive. Originally I was told 2 weeks, my teller told me today 2 more weeks, another person told my friend next week, so who knows. It’s like trying to get a credit card to run my races all over again. Other than that, that is pretty much it till Saturday. I may post a short blurb tomorrow about where I intend to go, over the next couple of months after Cory and I do some research. Otherwise, expect something over the weekend, after my visit to the overnight Spa in Shenzhen. Yea, it’s going to be a great weekend.