Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gotta Go, Gotta Go, Gotta Go Right Now...

As promised, the long awaited China Toilet Chronicles. And to quote my friend, Beth: Everyone loves a good potty story; they're not just for 10-yr-old boys, ya know. Ahh, where to begin.....? First of all, if you are easily offended, change the channel now. Not because of language/sex/violence, but just the sheer GA-ROSSSSSS-ness of it all will make you run right in and hug your toilet. Mainly out of gratitude because you will never take that seat for granted ever again, and then there is that gag-reflex factor.

China isn't big on modern plumbing. I had heard this from a friend who'd witnessed it first-hand a few years ago and I'd read it in all the tourist books, but I still didn't quite believe it until I saw for myself. So here’s a typical public restroom. Fortunately hotels and airports have normal toilets, but anywhere else, like malls, restaurants, markets, tourist attractions, etc, have these.

Some are rated, like “3 star”, “4 star”, etc, which means they may have 10 holes and one normal toilet. Once in a while you'll get a directional sign like this in case there's any doubt as to what type you're about to experience.
When you walk in, one way is for women and the other way is for men, usually separated by a cloth. Privacy is not high on the priority list, as you can see.
Each stall looks like this. You have to bring your own toilet paper and after wiping you have to put it in the basket instead of down the hole because they don’t flush. And yes, people poo in them too!!! Also, the floor is usually so disgusting (covered with pee from bad aimers) that you can’t set down your purse or backpack or packages or anything you might be carrying, so you have to juggle it while squatting and aiming.
Besides the visuals here, I want you to TRY to imagine the STINK on a hot, humid, polluted summer day! Obviously I've been traumatized for life, but I did learn a few things about myself. 1) I have decent balancing skills, 2) I will never leave the house without some sort of tissue product, 3) I really have no need for 8 glasses of water each day.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I Like Big Buddhas and I Cannot Lie

On my quest to see Big Buddha at Lantau Island, I decided to live dangerously and take the cable car 3ish miles up the mountain (2,330 feet above sea level - I have no idea what that means except that it was very high). Yes, I'd heard about some of the incidents (2 years ago when 500 visitors were left hanging mid-air for a few hours, last year when an empty cable car fell to the ground) and despite the fact that it was a rainy, foggy, cloudy, windy day I figured it would be an adventure. I was right – it was tons of fun.....even though I could hear the wind whipping through the windows, and at some points I was enveloped in fog, and at other points I looked waaaay down and really was fun. The pictures are kinda blurry since they were through the window and it was raining, but you can still see the amazing view. (Click images to enlarge.)
Tian Tan Buddha, or Big Buddha, is the world's tallest seated bronze Buddha. He's 112 feet high, weighs 250 tons, and sits on a lotus throne on Ngong Ping plateau surrounded by eight smaller worshipping statues. The base is a model of the Altar of Heaven from the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. And guess what the best part is? To get to the top, you have to climb STAIRS!!! 268 steps, to be exact. Are you kidding me?! Enough with the stairs already!
Po Lin Monastery, originally known as the Big Hut, is right next door, so I went over there to see some monks since it's an international Buddhist retreat. I entered through the Memorial Gate and the first thing I noticed were these big pots where people put gigantic sticks of incense before praying. While I was inside one of the temples, I did get a picture of a monk, but since I was trying to be sneaky and not interrupt his prayers, it's not a great picture.
At the end of the day, I decided to take the bus down the mountain instead of the cable car. And no, not because I'm chicken! Actually, the bus ride was like a roller coaster, so it was equally fun. All in all, another fabulous day! (Click here to see ALL pictures.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Macau is an island 35 miles across the Pearl River from Hong Kong. To get there, you have to take a speedboat ferry, which is huge and has seating like the airlines. (Click images to enlarge.)
Way back when, China gave Macau to Portugal if they promised to get rid of the pirates. I guess they succeeded since I didn't see any pirates. About 10 years ago, Portugal gave it back to China, so now it's one of those special territories like Hong Kong - kinda like a knock-off-China. Most importantly, it's like a mini-Vegas with all its casinos, hotels, shopping, and restaurants.
Discovered this delectable little tidbit in one of the markets: Filet of Piglet. Did not try it.
We worked up quite an appetite after wandering through the marketplace, so we went far far away to Hac Sa beach to Fernando's for a non-piglet, Sangria-soaked lunch. Yes, the tour book really said "Sangria-soaked". And yes, it was. The food was great also.
After lunch, we went on a wild gambling spree. I think I lost a total of $50 HKD, which is really only about $6 USD. The best part of the casino adventure was getting stopped by the bouncer on our way in because....."only 18-yr-olds can go in".....seriously, that's what he said to us. After we picked our mouths up off the floor, explained to him that we were, and assured him we had passports that would prove we 18, he let us go in. I love this place! (Click here to see ALL pictures.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Junk?

Boats=Junks in Hong Kong. Something to do with the type of boat, I think. Not sure. Anyway, we took out the Disney Corporate Junk for a day of sun and fun. Here are pictures of the boat/junk and the view along the way. (Click images to enlarge.)
We went to Po Toi island for lunch. Po Toi is the southern-most island of Hong Kong, famous for its rock formations and supposedly they used to produce dried seaweeds used by the monks for sitting. I did not sample any seaweed. I also did not sample any of the food pictured below.
After lunch we anchored out in the South China Sea and, believe it or not, I actually went swimming. This may not sound like that big of a deal except that I have never even set foot in the Pacific Ocean in my backyard.
Cheers to another fabulous day! (Click here to see ALL pictures.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Sunday Afternoon in the Park

Sunday, the day of rest. No more stairs - stressing about, running/climbing on, or otherwise thinking about. We went to the Temple of Heaven and surrounding park, and then on to the marketplace for a little bargain shopping before our banquet dinner.

The park reminded me of NYC's Central Park with all the activity. People hanging out, playing games, dancing, singing, flying kites, etc. (Click images to enlarge.)

This is a version of hacky sack, but they play it with something that looks like a badminton shuttlecock.
The Temple of Heaven was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven and prayed for bumper crops. Built in 1420, it is the largest architectural group in the world for worshipping heaven. (I guess California's Crystal Cathedral has a little competition, huh?) Included in this group are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is the main alter for praying during the spring, the Imperial Hall of Heaven, and the Abstinence Palace where – you guessed it – the feudal emperors practiced abstention before the rituals. Meat, drink, music, and women – the four basic evils. They also had a 60-year-old gate and a 70-year-old door, which has nothing to do with how old they are. When the emperor went to pray, he was supposed to walk to the altar along the main road, but as he got older the trek got to be a bit much (trust me, I feel your pain). So when he was 60-years-old, they made him a 60-year-old shortcut gate and then another one when he was 70. Brilliant! I'm going to try to market this idea in Florida. And when I go home I want a 46-year-old gate put in at the end of my street.

At this point we were feeling rather holy, so we decided to have another religious experience and go shopping in the marketplace – the land of knock-offs! I consider myself a shopping expert, but wow! This place even gave me a headache after a few hours. Here's how it works: When you first walk in the door you get bombarded with "hey lady, you need (insert anything imaginable)?" So then, you look at whatever it is – Coach, Burberry, Gucci, Prada, Rolex, Ipod – and ask how much. They tell you something ridiculous like 2000 Yuan (approximately $288 USD) and then you tell them something equally ridiculous like 100 Yuan (approximately $14 USD). Then they say "oooohhhhh no, 1000" and you say "150" and so it goes. They say they'll lose money at that price, you say you don't want it after all, and then when you walk away, they run after you and give it to you for your final bid. It's kinda fun, but very stressful to someone like me who can't do math. Now I'm sure you're wondering what I got suckered into, right? Of course I'm not going to tell you! I want to keep you guessing so the next time you see me you'll be wondering – is that really a fancy Kmart purse, or is it one of those knock-off thingees? Just know that the Chinese economy has been boosted by my visit.

Later that evening we went to the Great Wall Marathon Gala Dinner where the tour sponsors wined and dined us as we limped around and told war stories. We watched a dragon dance, ate tons of great food, watched video footage from the race, received awards (okay, some people did), and heard lots of great stories. It was a lot of fun because we had met so many fantastic people throughout the week and we were actually quite sad to say goodbye. However, I noticed no one said "see ya next year, same time – same place". Gee, I wonder why? (Click here to see ALL pictures.)