Sunday, June 20, 2004

June 14th - Shanghai

I checked into the Pujiang Hotel which was established in 1846 and spent nearly $100 for a two night stay in a massive old room on the 5th floor. Not wise but I thought I would treat myself to a bit of luxury.

People who have stayed at the Pujiang Hotel (Astor House) are:
Charlie Chaplin
U.S. President Grant (1879) in room 410 of the Astor House
Albert Einstein in 1922 in room 304 of the Astor House.

June 17th - Shanghai Blues
Shanghai - my first impression of this city was that it was a sad place. I arrived on Monday when it was cloudy and gloomy.

I walked down Nanjing Donglu (street) - a street littered with materialism and felt depressed. I have yet to feel any sort of culture shock here in Shanghai, much less in China. Im still waiting for the feeling or realization that yes I am in China to hit me.

Ive been to Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou and now Shaghai and all of these cities wreak of western capitalism to the point that Chinatown in Chicago or New York feels more like China than these cities. I assume that it is very selfish of me as a traveler to be disappointed with the conflict between what I expected to find and what I really found. Well, Hong Kong and Macau have lived up to my expectations. Gaungzhou I knew nothing about. But in the end after all this complaining I realize that all these cities are exactly what they are. They are the products of the European colonialism that dominated China in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. They have a heavy capitalist European feel due to the centuries of the development of these cities to serve as trading sea ports for European, American, Russian, and Japanese interests. It is actually sad and fascinating to learn of how the Europeans along with the Japanese and U.S. manipulated the naive Chinese Manchu dynasty and elites by - for instance - importing the opium drug into the Orient. Britain, in essence, was a drug dealer drugging the Chinese into heavy dependence on the opium drug.

Shanghai Timeline
Here are a list of important dates for the development of Shanghai that you should be aware of:

1839 - The start of the First Opium War (China vs. Britain)
1842 - The Opium War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing resulting in Shanghai being opened to International Trade
1850 - Outbreak of the Taiping Rebellion (read up about the leader of the rebellion, Haka Hong Xiuquan (1814-1864); an upset educated Chinese man who declared himself the Brother of Jesus Christ and the Son of God!)
1853 - Shanghai occupied by Taiping rebels
1864 - End of the Taiping Rebellion
1894-5 - The Sino-Japanese War (Japan vs. China; and Japan wins resulting in the first factories being built in Shanghai)
1904-5 - Russo-Japanese War (Japan vs. Russia for Manchuria; Japan wins)
1911 - The Chinese Revolution in which Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's movement results in the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty thus ending 4,000 years of dynasty rule in China
1912 - Yuan Shikai is elected President of the Republic of China
1920 - Civil War breaks out in China between its warlords - the war doesnt effect Shanghai's economy
1921 - "The first National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is held in Shanghai"
1925 - Dr. Sun Yat-Sen dies. Chinese workers strike against Britain and Japan
1926 - The Nationalist army led by Chiang Kai-Shek sets out from Guangzhou to reclaim China from the warlords
1927 - Chiang Kai-Shek splits from his Communist allies in Shanghai
1928 - Nanjing becomes the capital of China
1931 - Japan occupies Manchuria by force
1932 - Japan invades Shanghai
1937 - The Second Sino-Japanese War (Japan vs. China) and the 'Rape of Nanking' where the Japanese Imperial Army raped and slaughtered 300,000 Chinese in Nanking.
The Nationalists and the Communists in China unite to fight the Japanese
1945 - End of Japanese occupation of China
1949 - Shanghai falls to the Chinese Communists

Shanghai has a long history of being a city of extreme economic importance to European and colonialists. Its location at the end of the Yangtze river and its closeness to ports in Japan and its accessibility to ports in Southeast Asia such as Singapore were the prime reasons as to why it rose to become the most important city in the Orient in the 19th and early 20th century. As a result merchants, business men, refugees, criminals, artists from Japan, Russia, Britain, France, and the U.S. all flocked to Shanghai. Due to agreements that were favorable to Western interests made with the Manchu's it quickly became a Mecca for any entrepreneur from the "West" and Japan to develop businesses with little taxation paid to China. It grew to become a city-state paying very little attention to the weakening Manchu dynasty.

Thus you find and understand why Shanghai, today, looks like 1930's Chicago or New York or London. All the buildings along the Bund - the famous street facing the Huangpu river - is lined with Art-Deco and Neo-Classical buildings that have changed little since they were built. To be in Shanghai is like taking a time machine back to the hey days of the 30's in Europe and the U.S.

Thus for me it was a city that had very little to do with traditional Chinese culture. My search for the "old" China that I long to see was not to be satisfied at all in Shanghai. Shanghai is the product of "Western" financial and economic forces and European colonialism. There were parks here that were once forbidden to dogs and Chinese. As you can imagine the impoverished Chinese who lived near Shanghai or had heard about it grew to envy and hate the "Westerners" who were taking extreme advantage of China. This resentment led to the Taiping Rebellion and later the Boxer Rebellion. And ultimately led to the strong Nationalist movements headed by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and later Chiang Kai Shek and the Communist movement by Mao Ze Dong.

It is thus of no surprise that the movements to reclaim China from the "Westerners" began in Shanghai by "Western" educated Chinese men such as Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Those educated Chinese who had grown up in Shanghai knew that the only way for China to take back what was rightfully theirs from "Westerners" had to be accomplished by western means. Thus men like Mao Ze Dong took western ideologies such as Communism to aid them rise and overcome Western capitalism.

Shanghai is really the cradle of the movements that has taken China where it is today - a Communist nation of over a billion people.

The Future of Shanghai and China
Commmunist China is striving to develop Shanghai to return to its former glory. It is said by some that in the future Shanghai will overcome Hong Kong and Tokyo in economic importance. That it will be the next economic capital of East Asia.

Do I agree? To be honest I do not. Shanghai in my opinion is decades away from overcoming Hong Kong and Tokyo. Communism doesnt help Shanghai either.

But one things is certain in my opinion. Communism's days in China is numbered. As the middle class grows in China you will find that Communism will be pushed into a corner until it simply disappears. Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou are very capitalist cities and the economic driving force of China. These cities will lead the "revolution" that will ultimately end Communism in China. Thus if the Chinese Communist government continues to push Shanghai to become the next big economic city in East Asia they are actually then fueling the fire that will ultimately end them.

For those who have been to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai you will agree that Shanghai has a long, long, long ways to go to over come these economic power house cities. I dont think the generation of China today will lead Shanghai to any form of economic glory. Perhaps it will be the next generation.

I say this because the Chinese middle class that I have found are narrow minded in thought. Although they are very educated it seems that they all think and dress the same. Thus I find no amount of original thought, creativity, or innovation among them. If China is to grow as an economic power then it needs to foster a greater freedom of expression and thought in its middle class.

To be frank I am not impressed at all with what I find and see in China. I have found more drive and creativity in Japan, Korea, and all of Southeast Asia than I have in China. Their restaurants for example are all the same, uniform, and boring. All the restaurants in China, and I mean all, are simply white walls devoid of paintings or pictures and tables. The interior design of restaurants here is pathetic. And I can say that about all the stores, hotels, and homes that I have seen here. I see no innovation in design, art, thought, decoration, etc. here. Nothing. How can China grow without creative minds, innovative entrepreneurs, etc.? It can not.

The only reason people are saying that China will become the next big economic power in East Asia is that it will soon have a massive middle class and this translates into a massive consumer market for western goods. This growing middle class will want to buy Gap clothing, more KFC and McDonalds, Toyota cars, Sony C.D. players, etc. China will become a giant consumer market for the West.

"Western" companies that will not do well here though are software companies and music labels. Anything on a C.D. here is heavily pirated and there is really no "real" means to curve that. Microsoft and Universal Records will continue to loose billions in sales here. So forget software in China and all of Southeast Asia except for Singapore and perhaps Malaysia.

But, China, if it doesnt encourage independent thinkers and entrepreneurs to create superior Chinese companies then China will be at a lost economically in the decades to come. What the hell does China produce? They make cheap and low quality products that they sell to Southeast Asian nations. How can China grow by selling to a market that has very little buying power like Southeast Asia?

In my opinion Japan will continue to be the economic power of the Orient.

And I hope that Im wrong about that . . . for China's sake.

June 12th - Hong Kong to Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou along with Shenzhen are financial capitals of southern China and China period.

Guangzhou is a massive city. Very "Western" in design and lay out. If you didnt see the signs of Chinese characters throughout the city you wouldnt believe that you were actually in China.

China, although it has 4/5th of the World's population, boasts space - compared to Japan. As a result - unlike Japan - they can afford to build wide roads and large hotels and apartment and business buildings with large rooms. They have the space. As a result the large streets and orderly sidewalks of Guangzhou feel like that of any city in the U.S.

As I sat in my taxi and looked out I felt no shock in realizing that I was now in mainland China. Guangzhou is simply a big city filled with convenience and business and shopping. It is a capitalist city and as a result I felt at home. I did not feel any of the shock I felt when I crossed through the countries that I visited in Southeast Asia.

I arrived at the Youth Hostel on Shamian Island and checking into a pleasant room for one. After exploring just a tiny fraction of Guangzhou - Qingping Market - and the Jade Market on Changshou Lu I decided to resign myself to Shamian Island.

Notes on Qingping Market:
The shops facing the Liu'Ersan Lu (street) are dedicated to Chinese medicine. I saw jars and massive white bags filled with dried roots (ginseng), snake skin (dried), dried and very large mushrooms, dried starfishes, dried seahorses, antlers of deers, legs of deers that had its fur peeled off leaving only bone and thin strips of muscles, turtle shells, etc.

I also saw men waiting on orange scooters - the scooters had a platform in its rear which was used to transport goods.

I took an alley north from the market and found row after row of Mom and Pop shops selling dried fruits and figs, vegetables, incense sticks, beans - giant bags of packed and dried leaves (for tea?), chile, red peppers, sausages, etc.

There were plenty of men playing the Chinese game of Mahjongg - I could always hear the sound of them throwing down the domino sort of pieces on tables. The game usually consists of four players.

As I walked down the small alleys and streets of this old Chinese quarter I suddenly came across a very sanitary public toilet being maintained by staff who would attend to it and guard it by sitting out front of it.

I saw my first glimpse of a Chinese woman hawking and then spitting on the ground.

one shop had ham legs hanging from its walls just like in Spain.

This old quarter of Guangzhou had the sort of same feel as the Old Quarter in Hanoi.

A shopping street called Dishifu Le had no cars driving through it. It was strictly for pedestrians - people were able to walk leisurely and shop. Pepsi Cola was everywhere! And generally speaking it is everywhere in Southeast Asia.

Outside of stores I saw women clapping their hands and calling out to get the attention of potential customers.

Shamian Island
This island is a quiet refuge of peace, trees, parks, neo-classical buildings, and children.

Samian Daijin street has gardens and playgrounds nestled between two walking paths for pedestrians. There are statues of children nearly at every corner.

The playgrounds here have plenty of slides and swings along with devices meant to massage muscles.

I saw one clever Chinese kid tie a tennis ball to a brick with a rubber string so that he could hit it and have it come back to him.

And there were people of all ages playing badminton.

The Adopted Children of the Shamian Island
The White Swan Hotel is filled with children. And all around Shamian Island you will find small boutique stores selling clothing and toys for children. Then you will notice that across the street from the Christ Church there is the American Consulate.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of families - mostly from the U.S. - come to Guangzhou, to Shamian Island, to finalize the last remaining procedures in the adoption of a Chinese child.

General Notes on Chinese Adoption
1. There are direct flights from L.A. in the U.S. to Guangzhou.
2. Many U.S. families (also Germans and Spanish) adopt Chinese children through the CCAA which is the Chinese Center for Adoption.
3. The White Swan Hotel accommodates many families who are adopting Chinese children since the U.S. consulate is just next door.
4. The application process for a Chinese child is about 18 months and costs about $18,000 U.S.
5. With open adoption in the U.S. there is no guarantee that the adopting couple or family will be able to keep the child after its birth - even after spending time and money with the pregnant mother who wants to give up the child.
6. The majority of adopted Chinese children are girls - this is a result of China's "one child" family policy for families. This results in extreme pressure to ensure that the first child is a boy. If the child is not a boy then it is not uncommon to abandon or kill the 1st born girl.
7. The date of birth for most of the adopted children is unknown. Many of these children were simply left in a bamboo basket in a location where they were sure to be found.
8. Adopting parents usually can not go to the Chinese orphanage where their adoptive child was cared for.
9. The Chinese government pairs parents with a child - this process guarantees a child to the parents who want to adopt.


June 11th - Macau

I went to Hong Kong with the intention of going to Man Mo Temple - one of the oldest in H.K. - but instead after going to the post office I ended up at the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal and took the ferry to Macau. I was only there for about 5 to 6 hours.

I walked an incredible amount in the limited time I had in Macau. I walked from the H.K. Macau Ferry Pier south along Avenida da Amizada. On this street I headed toward The Sands Casino which was massive and sleek. I entered it after passing the metal detectors and felt like I was back in Las Vegas - only all the patrons were of Asian descent. Ideas began to flood my mind for The Dark Legacy book Tribe that I will write. While there I could only think of my father and the many times I went to Las Vegas with him as a kid.

After the casino I continued down Avenida da Amizade until I arrived at Alameda Doutor Carlos D'Assumpcao which is a wonderful park walkway lined with a unique kind of banyan tree that had thin brown roots flowing down from its branches. Elderly Chinese men and women were sitting on a few benches along this walkway passing time with their gossip and chats.

At the end of the path I found the Kum Iam Statue which was actually off-limits. I t was a large bronze statues of feminine curves which was appropriate for a statue dedicated to a female Buddhist.

After that I continued west along Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen (the father of the Chinese Republic - 1911) following it until I went around the long curve of Rua da Praia do Bom Parto until it intersected with Avenida do Doutor Mario Soares. I followed that street south to a roundabout and there I found the famous Lisboa Casino.

Lisboa Casino Notes:
The 3rd floor is for members and VIP's only.
The 2nd floor is for smokers. The carpet on this floor was disgusting. Its corners were filled with cigarette ash and burns. The air was cloudy and thick from all the smoke.
The first floor is crammed with people. There was not enough space between all the people and gambling tables to move through. At times I needed to squeeze through the doors to get from one crowded room to the other.

Generally speaking the Lisboa Casino is poorly designed. Its very crammed and not impressive since the carpets and walls are old and fading. Its a dumpy place in my opinion.

Going through immigration in both Macau and Hong Kong reveals that both territories are heavily "afraid" and concerned with the potential SARS problem. I had to fill out a Health Declaration Card and as I waited to check in with the Immigration Officer an infrared camera scrolled up and down checking my body's temperature.

This is the same case in Singapore. These 3 city-states that are financially powerful are all heavily concerned with SARS.

After the Lisboa Casino
After the casino I had a bite to eat and then I went on a hard walk/run to see the only wall remaining of St. Paul's Cathedral - it was destroyed by a typhoon. Interesting enough the cathedral was "designed by an Italian, built by the Japanese, and attended by the Portuguese."

From there I went to the Camoes Gardens and saw the Old Protestant cemetery where I believe one of Winston Churchills great uncles was buried.

In the northern part of Macau I walked down Avenida Do Coronel Mesquita seeking the Kun Iam Temple which I found but it was closed. From there I walked all the way back to the Macau Hong Kong Ferry Terminal.

General Thoughts on Macau:
Macau is tiny and seems to be the playground for rich Hong Kong and mainland Chinese tycoons and middleclass businessmen. In the Casino's you will find masses of Chinese, Macau, and Hong Kong men and women of various classes and work backgrounds. The VIP sections are obviously reserved for the high rollers who could not be seen with or mingle with the masses of "commoners".

At The Sands Casino it looked like the main clientele were well-off or well-to-do middle class individuals - mostly tourists from China and Hong Kong. The Lisboa Casino on the other hand seemed to be more popular for local Macau residents - some of whom - or most of whom - seemed to be not-so-well-to-do addicts of the various gambling games. More of a rough crowd really when compared to the Sands.

Macau as a whole though is very unique and surprising. It most definitely has the look and feel of Lisboa, Portugal; and it is so odd to see it populated by Chinese residents (Portuguese residents in Macau make up about 2 to 3 percent of the population). The buildings with their Portuguese influenced balconies have curved grills that guard the windows. This is uniquely Macau for you do not see this type of architectural design in Hong Kong or China.

The streets of Macau curve and turn in sporadic directions very much in the tradition of old streets in Mediterranean towns.

And strangely the Chinese residents seem to have acquired a bit of the mannerisms and feel of the Portuguese. They seem laid back, dedicated to family. You will see old Chinese men sitting on chairs on the sidewalk or in round-about parks watching the young go quickly by.

On the darker side though it is apparent that Macau also serves as the Sex Disneyland for Hong Kong and mainland Chinese men. Go to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong and you will see many, many sex tourist shops offering hotel/casino/and strip club deals that surely includes a night or more with a prostitute.

Macau is famed for its Triads (Chinese gangs) who traffic and run prostitution rings, drugs, engage in money laundering, gambling, extortion, and robbery.

Captain's Log - Stardate 09.555.4434.3
June 9th - Hong Kong
The Hand that Touched the Concrete Hand of Jackie Chan

I spent part of the morning walking through Kowloon Park before heading south and walking along the promenade that had a "walk of Hong Kong film fame." Hong Kong has an impressive and productive film industry and many famous Hong Kong actors and actresses had a star on the promenade complete with their hand print in concrete. Most of the names I saw I did not recognize except for: Bruce Lee - no concrete hand print - Jet Li, and Chakie Chan.

Walking northeast along the promenade I came across a ferry shuttle and decided to board it to explore Hong Kong. It took no more than 5 to 7 minutes to cross Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong's Queen's Pier. There was a haze over the skyline so my pictures were simply o.k. An amazing blu sky filled with impressive cloud would have made them amazing.

I got off I was in Central standing just in front of City Hall. From there I walked to Connaught road and crossed the street to walk through the Cenotaph which was where "British servicemen held daily ceremonies for raising and lowering the flag." I then walked to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building which looks like a futuristic space station from the old movie, The Black Hole. When it was completed in 1985 it was the world's most expensive building "at almost a billion dollars." I dont understand why it was so expensive to build though. It is not terribly tall or that impressive to imagine that only 20 years ago it was the "most expensive" building of its time.

I eventually found myself at St. Johns Cathedral where I rested for an hour. 30 minutes in silence looking at my Natural Geographic China book and 30 minutes listening to a live piano recital.

From there I had lunch and then I went to the Peak Tram Terminal and took the tram up the mountain slopes of Hong Kong - sometimes ascending at a 45 degree angle - to Victoria's Peak.

The Peak was a shopping mall full of tourist gimmick crap and cheesy wax museums. Nothing too cultural but the view of Hong Kong is absolutely amazing. Most surprising though was to see that on the southern side of the peak was that it was nearly untouched. It was lush and full of beautiful trees and vegetation. I spent about an hour or two walking along the roads of Victoria's Peak admiring the natural surroundings and the multi-million dollar houses.

After descending I walked northwest along Upper Albert Road in search of Lan Kwai Fong which is a hang out area for expatriots to drink and eat after work. I believe I found aspects of it and along the way to it I found several posh Tibetan antique shops.

After that I walked and waited on the escalators near Soho which all together is the longest escalator in the world. It takes about 20 minutes to ascend to Conduit Road. From there I descended and found a market selling hyper-clean fish and meats. This was the cleanest outdoor food market I had come across on this trip.

General Hong Kong Notes:
1. Massage parlors, Saunas, Kareoke bars - some if not most of these are fronts for prostitution rackets. Newspaper kiosks sell porn and comic porn.

2. Traffic lights - the walking alarm bell sounds like percussive cowbells being struck in 16th note patterns.

3. Some cell phones are simply a sleek plastic bar, attached to the ear freeing both hands - Japan doesnt have this!

3. City buses are clean double deckers with monitors within advertising products and other stuff you dont need.

June 10th - Kowloon
I went shopping for clothes and went to see the movie Lady Killers which I enjoyed - "hippydy hop".

Simply said - I took it easy today in Kowloon.

Final Hong Kong Notes - June 8th to the 12th

I was in Hong King from June 8th to the 12th. I flew from Hanoi to Hong Kong International Airport which is on Lantau Island. Although I would have preferred to have entered China by land from Vietnam I was actually pleased to have been introduced to Hong Kong by entering it through its ultra-modern, ultra-efficient, and ultra-clean airport. After two months of traveling through Southeast Asia it was a relief to arrive into the familiar and modern surroundings of Hong Kong's airport.

But I must say that it was a sort of shock too to rejoin the modern world through the H.K. airport. It seemed unnatural to walk through such a sterile environment. I had spent weeks traveling over the rough terrains and conditions of Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Although it was tough I must admit that I enjoyed the unpredictability of traveling through those nations. In Hong Kong though everything works like a fine time piece. Nothing too unexpected is to be expected. Things occur and happen as they should. Life in H.K. - and the "modern" world in general - is built on being stable, predictable, and safe. Thus something is lost. Life in the "modern world" becomes mundane again for the traveler - such as I.

After buying my shuttle train ticket by pressing a few selections on a touch sensitive screen I walked to the train platform within the H.K. airport. Men in clean uniforms helped various passengers unburden themselves of their bags. And when the train arrived they helped the passengers place their bags in the baggage area within the train.

I was impressed with this airport shuttle train. It was cleaner than any Tokyo train I had ever been on - which almost seems impossible to achieve if you have ever experienced Tokyo trains and subways - and I was also amazed to see that the backs of the head-rests had a monitor for passengers to look at to pass the time. The monitor - just like one you would find on a new 747 plane - displayed a map of Lantau Island, Kowloon, and Hong Kong island showing the trains progress in nearing its destinations.

Out the window I saw the mountainous terrains of Lantau and all the incredibly tall sky-scraper like apartment complexes nestled between. It was truly awesome to see so many magnificent apartment high-rises - clean and massive - neighboring lush mountainous slopes. It was a beautiful balance between man-made homes and structures and nature.

And as the train rushed through tunnels my ears would pop; reminding me how fast we were traveling.

I, after making an error as to where to get off the train, finally arrived at Tsim Sha Tsui (which translates into 9 Dragons). I loved what I found upon exiting the subway station: massive apartment complexes, dirty and grimy, full of interesting and unusual characters walking into and out of them. I was quickly approached by a tout and before I knew it I was secured a room - the tiniest I have so far found on this trip - in the Mirador Mansion. Changking Mansion is the counterpart to the Mirador. They are both gigantic apartment complexes - nearly a tiny city in it-self - near the southern end of Nathan Road. Both complexes are full of backpacker guest houses.

The Mirador reminded me much of the gritty but enormous living quarters that all the fictional characters of Zion - from the second Matrix movie - lived in. The Mirador nearly takes up an entire city block. Although it is square in shape its center is void so that the interior 4 sides of the Mirador all face a square open area.

My room was located on the 8th floor. I would usually take the stairs to ascend and descend. Usually before I would descend I would stand in the staircase and look down below to see a mass of rusted buckets and piled up metallic junk cluttered between the large ventilators and machines that powered or cooled the building. Other than that, there was simply a white floor area - platform - where no one was permitted to walk on.

From this sight I would then look up at all the floors that were full of a curious blend of apartment homes for ethnic families from Bangladesh, India, or from some countries in Africa, and tailor shops and guest houses. Although the original intent of the Mirador was to be a strict apartment complex it did not stop various entrepreneurs on the lower end of the Hong Kong economic spectrum to convert these apartments into places of labor and work. It seemed like every floor had several tailor or dry cleaning shops. Which was convenient since the 1st and 2nd floors had the tailor shops - clean and tidy - to attract customers and the counterpart tailor shop where the suits and dresses were actually made just a few floors above.

Guest houses converted these apartments to have 4 to 5 or more tiny rooms with bath for backpackers willing to pay $15 to $25 a night. I loved my tiny room. I had a view of a street that ran perpendicular to Nathan Road. I could see the business offices across the street and other apartments complexes with hundreds of air conditioners sticking out from the sides of these buildings which were positioned right above individual windows. At night or in the morning a I would look out I would feel like I was living in the apartment complex that Harrison Ford's character lived in in the movie Blade Runner.

General Observations of Hong Kong:
1. The number of air-conditioners sticking out from the 4 to 5 to 6 to 7 to 9 to 10 storey high apartment complexes is probably half the number of people living in Hong Kong. Any time you look up at an apartment complex you will see a terrible number of these air-cons just above the hundreds of apartment windows dripping drops of water upon the sidewalk. As I walked up and down Nathan road I either saw a wet line on the sidewalk caused by the constant drip of the air-conditioners or felt the droplets themselves fall upon my shoulder or my head or glasses. But no one seems to mind; its just water.

2. The teenage girls in Hong Kong dress very much like the girls in Tokyo. They seem to have the same sense of punky fashion. Sometimes I found myself wondering if the girl I saw in a coffee shop or on the street was Japanese. I would then wait a moment and then I could tell that she was indeed a Hong Kong girl due to her mannerisms, the way she spoke, and her hand gestures. Japanese girls do not wave their hands around drastically as they speak. And they speak softly whereas Hong Kong girls and Chinese girls nearly scream. Japanese girls hold their body in a conservative fashion. Hong Kong girls and Chinese girls use a lot of exaggerated body motions when they speak.

3. There are narrow alleys and staircases throughout Kowloon. Although the main streets are wide and building complexes large, alleys are narrow - this is really of no surprise - and staircases of buildings that are 2 to 3 storeys are also narrow. Walk down any street that is perpendicular or parallel to Nathan road and you will find Mom and Pop shops with apartments on the 2nd floor and narrow staircases leading up to them.

4. If you walk awhile north on Nathan road and then begin exploring the streets parallel or perpendicular to Nathan road you will notice that certain streets or blocks are dedicated to a specific type of product or industry. I found a street full of shops dedicated to the sale of fabric.

5. Generally speaking Kowloon is clean and tidy. It seems very safe and well-run. And Hong Kong itself is even more clean and sterile. I prefer Kowloon though. It has more character and personality than Hong Kong which is simply too clean for my tastes.

6. Women - and men - in Hong Kong are loud and aggressive when compared to the Japanese. In one case I saw a street cleaner woman screaming at her male co-worker. But, it turned out that she was simply excited in the telling of her story and as a result was screaming. This is very un-Japanese behavior. Use of language in public is a "no-no" in Japan. The people in Hong Kong are enthusiastic and loud in public.

7. Mirador Mansion is full of oddities: guest houses, tailor shops, sliding cages over doors, clothes hanging to dry (bras, underwear, pants, etc.) within hands reach in hallways and near staircases, sketchy Indian and African men hanging outside the main entrances into the Mirador. Also, there is a 7-11 convenient store on the south side of the Mirador that is full of African men hanging within it and also outside of it.

8. Found a "turtle soup" shop. Other shops will have chickens - dead and fried - hanging from their windows with their heads fully intact. Giant knives are used to hack them apart. When you eat them you spend more effort on trying to rid your meal of the bones than enjoying it.

9. Neon signs stretch out trying to conquer as much space as possible over the street.

More notes on Hong Kong to come . . .