Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Travel Log

#3: Overcoming Preconceived Notions
by Joann Flora,
Acupressure, Nutrition Counseling, Qigong


October 23, 2003
Thursday - 12:45 am

Like many westerners, I came to The People's Republic of China with my own ideas of what it was all about. I envisioned rice paddies, poverty, bicycles, rickshaws, everyone wearing Mao suits, and armed guards standing about everywhere I went. I knew the country would be entirely grey and brown, with only the color being the occasional red. This is not the first time I've been wrong, but it is certainly one of my biggest misconceptions. My month in China is limited geographically to Hong Kong, Zhongshan, and Zhongzhou, the capitol of Guangdong Province. Each area is very different and has its own unique properties, none of which did I anticipate.

Hong Kong is the only location that recognizes the existence of western visitors. English is spoken widely, credit cards may be used with reckless abandon, and post cards and post offices are readily available. The long term British influence has left its mark in the architecture, transportation, and visitor amenities. The subway in Hong Kong is modern and efficient. A mass transit pass called an Octopus Card, will get you on the train or an open top, double decker bus. Like any tourist town, jewelry stores, curio shops, and junk of which to be wary is on every street corner. So are Gucci, Mc Donald's, and strip joints. You can visit the first rate Hong Kong Museum of Art, housed in a splendid facility which includes gift shop, contemporary restrooms, and world class display and preservation techniques. The Cultural Center presents artists such as France's Marcel Marceau and the Hong Kong Opera Company performing Verdi's "Macbeth". Food ranges from side walk style vending to the utmost in Chinese cuisine to USDA beef. If food is your poison, you could die happily in Hong Kong: repeatedly. The Shop Till You Drop visitor will delight in store after store, street after street of silk, jade, opals, pearls, art, cashmere, designer anything, traditional Asian articles, and gold at a fraction of the cost in the US, though expensive for China. Pedestrian subways take you comfortably from one side of the street to the other without having to negotiate traffic. Because the climate tends to be rather hot and humid (it was still in the 90's at the beginning of October), outdoor activity tends to start early, take long mid-day breaks, and go well into the night. En route to my hotel the night I arrived, every store, sidewalk merchant, and outdoor market was filled with shoppers and revelers at midnight. The town was lit up like it was a holiday, but it was just another night in Hong Kong. Colored lights and neon is strung from every building, bridge, and structure that will support it. Signs flash modern advertisements. It looks a bit like Las Vegas except for the lack of the waving cowboy.

As with anywhere you go, Hong Kong has its imperfections. Traffic is rather like playing Russian Roulette with moving vehicles. Taxis, buses, cars, bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians all vie for the same few feet of space on crowded streets. Everyone does precisely what they choose, going way too fast for the volume of traffic, stopping for no one. The right of way belongs to those who keep moving. People are nearly hit by cars that almost crash into each other as they practically run over bicycles in a routine manner. There are no tickets given and everyone seems to think this is all OK. They turn where and when they wish, often crossing in front of other vehicles turning from other lanes. It's the scariest thing I've ever seen. I found it best to simply not look and trust the driver to deliver me safely to my destination. Another drawback for the western traveler is the air. Smog is part of life in Hong Kong as are other offensive odors. Walking along a city block, it is not uncommon to smell wonderful food, rotting garbage, and sewage before you get to the next corner; it's all there. Some residents wear masks which I thought was out of concern for SARS. I was told it was to protect themselves from the poor air quality. If you've come to appreciate the modern conveniences at home, you'll appreciate them even more after returning from Hong Kong. Bring your own toilet paper and hand wipes. You'll need them unless you limit yourself to western style hotels. Also, practice your deep knee bends before coming here as many facilities require the user to squat as opposed to sit. You know your restroom has straddle trenches if there are attendants with mops standing outside.

Overall, Hong Kong is modern, fun and an adventure. The cultural aspects of the city are stunning, though it can be intimidating. Banks are serious places, as is the airport. Hong Kong has great views from the height of Victoria Peak and the waterfront by ferry. It is not for the timid or the weak as it is very fast and intense. In a separate column, I'll spill the beans on Zhongshan and Zhongzhou on the Chinese mainland.



E-Mail Joann Flora
 E-mail Joann Flora


©Compliments To Your Health
Joann Flora 2003


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