#3: Overcoming Preconceived
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
To Your Health
Joann Flora 2003
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