It recently came to my attention that somehow, I never did a blog post for a really enjoyable trip to China and Hong Kong with my (new) wife - which would make it a honeymoon. That she's from there and speaks Cantonese and Mandarin helped, I think.
High level summary: I was never one to distinguish food quality in Asian cuisine before, but the food was outstanding. Hong Kong was great, with a surprising amount of preserved space, largely owing to its mountainous terrain. As much as I loved the food in Hong Kong, I really loved eating Sichuan in Sichuan. At every level it was fantastic. Chinese countryside was pretty great too; Sichuan was my favorite part of the trip. Guangzhou was fun in the sense that a foreigner visiting Houston would enjoy the uniqueness of it, but the wife has been dragged to Pennsylvania enough that this was only fair. 10/10 would do again. Also we had better reasons to go than the one Jeff Daniels gave. Next time, Yunnan and Shanghai.
Having left China two decades ago, my wife has a dim view of the land of her birth. "Don't trust anybody," she offered, "they'll kill you for a dollar," and other helpful nuggets. So you may imagine my wariness on arrival. What did I actually witness? Occasionally I saw some rude pushing and shoving on the subway. From my wife. Never from other passengers.
In Hong Kong I often felt like I was in a video game - places dominated by the financial sector tend to have a status monoculture, one in which you literally can measure how many points you have. I felt this to be more the case in Hong Kong than in New York or London. The extreme verticality of the place and the moving sidewalks certainly didn't make it seem less like Mario brothers, and the fact that subway credits can be used at most convenience stores. I know I'm not supposed to say this, but Hong Kong reminded me of Japan. That said if I had to pick between living in Hong Kong and Singapore I'd choose Singapore, for many reasons, one of which is it felt a bit more open, despite its obvious social engineering. It's also always interesting going to a charter city, although I find myself asking the question to what degree Hong Kong (and Singapore's) success comes from being charter cities per se, versus being specifically, products of two successful cultures (Chinese and English.)
Pics begin with the obligatory shots from Mt. Victoria, looking north to Kowloon.
(Image from visitourchina.com) The wife said that she thought the funicular railway on Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh was steeper than the Peak Tram (see end of this post), and after comparing pictures I think I agree. HK City Planner #1: Should we have double-decker buses or streetcars? HK City Planner #2: Why not both? Oddly, we ran across a mosque.
(This happened to me in Kobe as well.)
Below is the footpath up Mt. Victoria (if you don't want to take the funicular or drive.) In one of many instances that made me question if she'd actually been to these places before, my wife said "I don't remember there being hills in Hong Kong." The trail network throughout Hong Kong, including just above the city, are excellent, and this was one of my big surprises of the trip.
The trail that circles the main island is about 50km and is nicely wooded, although from time to time the trees clear and you remember you're still in a video game. Fortunately there were no hammer-throwing turtles at any point. I hate those guys.
After weeks of heavy naval bombardment, the British surrendered HK to the Japanese a few weeks after Pearl Harbor. This is an old British gun emplacement.
My philosophy is simple: some you win, and dim sum you also win. If I went to HK and didn't get dim sum, well, let's not think about that. Also I had cobra soup, which was kind of like egg drop soup with a slightly mediciney taste. It turns out that cobra is dark meat.
Somewhat like New York, Hong Kong is made up of a series of islands, as well as some area attached to the mainland (Kowloon instead of the Bronx) and some relatively undeveloped mountainous terrain inland of that (New Territories), before you hit the border with PRC.
Trails up and over the first rise. If I lived in HK I would probably spend every day off over here, and back in CA I talked to an American who had done exactly that.
First view of the Buddha.
They're building a bridge across the bay to Macau, which will be the longest sea bridge in the world when completed. Here's old Gautama again, seen from inside the village, which was (jarringly in retrospect, but perfectly fitting HK) deliberately built European-style. I'm a little annoyed that no one is building replica American villages.
Cattle wandering around. If Buddhists are nice to cattle, why aren't cattle roaming unmolested everywhere Buddhists are in the majority? I mean you don't have to create a whole caste of dalit or Shabbat goy to handle beef like they did in Japan, but still, address this please. Yo. Blazing giant incense sticks. It's always 4:20 on Lantau Island brah The temple was very pretty and had a vegetarian snack shop that, dammit, was actually pretty tasty. What is this bronze object? The statue above (actually much more colorful than my phone made it look) can be found at a trailhead next to the temple complex. Let me just say that this gaudy bird statue is curiously similar to Berks County's own Distelfink by the Tulpehocken (below), as I have noted before. You think you're safe from Dutchmen in this part of the world? Think again! This the view down the other side of the main island. On the spur of the moment we decided to hike down. We found that side of the island to have the highest percentage of South Asian folks, and in general it seemed like this was not the best side of HK. (Not dangerous or dirty, but not as gleaming and Neuromancer-looking as the other side. Which actually is kind of Neuomancerish.) Again, the trail through the forest makes you forget you're in HK.
Then night fell in Kowloon. Sunday night. I had to keep reminding myself there and on the underground that it was Sunday, and not Friday night. This is the place that essentially rioted when authorities tried to close down food stalls on New Years. I believe it.
Below: tiger prawns. They're amazing creatures. All the more amazing when you cook em in a pot and eatem!
The photo of the bus terminal above was actually taken on the way back from Guangzhou. You can't fully appreciate it here but it's another example of mega-scale architecture. This is also the only time I've switched driving sides over a land border (China on the right, Hong Kong on the left). It switched with a flyway crossing over to the left as soon as we entered HK.
At the airport on the way home. Assorted meats and organs congee is now my favorite porridge, no joke.
We entered China proper when we flew from Hong Kong to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan. I really, really liked Chengdu. It's a big city (fifth biggest in China at 14 million) with a unique flair coming from its being in the west and the south, and of course there's the food. The walls of the old city are preserved (as you can see below) and there's a large historical quarter with preserved houses, restaurants and shops. I would compare it to the French Quarter except much cooler, and with civilized people instead of idiots hooting and vomiting.
Shu masks from nearby Sanxingdui. (Wikipedia) Anyang Bridge (rebuilt after a flood in the 1980s.) Marco Polo was here and wrote about this bridge. I did my best Marco Polo impression. Three old men were watching us as this picture was taken, clearly trying to understand what I was up to. Above: along the river; below, a typically enormous bus and train station in Chengdu, with guards and metal detectors, as most such facilities (including subway stops) have in China. This mall purports to be the world's biggest building. I don't think this is true, but nonetheless it's an enormous building, and the only time in my life I've felt justified in making a mall a tourist destination. Around it, the skyline seems to be doing its best Blade Runner imitation. There is a beach inside, with sand and waves. You see that miniature high-rise hotel off to the size? It was actually a full-sized, fully functioning hotel. Later on we ate at one of the mall restaurants, a bit disappointed to be eating "inauthentic" food while in Sichuan - but wait, aren't we in Sichuan? It's ALL authentic! And damn if it wasn't the best Sichuan we'd ever had (until the very next meal we had there of course.) The identity of the victim is being withheld until next of kin has been notified. Almost forgot, there's a full-sized Mediterranean village at the other end of the beach. It took a good 10-15 minutes to walk there. Above, that's the plaza mayor.
Sichuan is famous for having forests with actual wild pandas. Of course there aren't many left (although they've recently been taken off the endangered list; true improvement, or Chinese administrative legerdemain?) There's a panda breeding facility in Chengdu where you can pet the pandas - or at least, until 8 months before we got there, you could. We ended up not going. (I mean I've seen pandas before, if you can't pet them what's the point?) So this was the closest we got to one on the trip. A temple in Chengdu. Not featured: the famous park and tea restaurant (recommended), the ear-cleaning guys (not recommended.) I still get hungry when I look at these pictures. It was even better than it looks. Even bread from the food carts was great. At one point we bought sesame bread from a young Uighur guy (he looked basically white; would not have been out of place in Tijuana) and he was speaking what I assumed was Mandarin, but my wife said she had a very hard time understanding him.
I left my wife behind with the dominating monkeys and proceeded up into the clouds.
Even in Tang China, they knew the Nittany lions were coming. Bottom photo from onwardstate.com.
From a little hole in the wall across from the train station. Again, excellent of course.
Guangzhou is not your usual tourist destination. Of the Pearl River Delta cities (Guangzhou, Macau, and Hong Kong/Shenzhen), it's really the big bad older brother. But, it's where my wife grew up, and along with Hong Kong it's the epicenter of the diaspora of Cantonese people and culture that make up much of what the rest of the world knows about China.
These are typical alleys and apartment blocks, and this is the list of representatives for the Chinese Communist Party. Everything is organized down to the block. My wife lived within a couple blocks from here, and the development is so extreme that she can barely find her way around after 20 years away.
Old communists singing loyalty songs in a park. We also once saw young people doing this, in Long-March costume, but it didn't seem spontaneous or habitual as it did here. The Pearl River. Six Banyan Temple. The tower has been destroyed before (really destroyed; a tower that's just leaning is perfectly usable) so the plaques next to it show the plans and instructions for rebuilding it the next time it happens. Above: I become oddly fixated on Buicks in China, so common were they - in fact China makes up about 80% of Buick's sales now, with the U.S. as a peripheral market. Below: more glowing Chinese cities at night.