Thursday, March 29, 2007

my grand adventure

In March 2007, the Hong Kong International School invited me for 14 days to visit their school (I'm a children's book author/illustrator). It was my first time in Hong Kong and my hosts were extremely gracious in showing me around. This blog catalogues my days there. I have done a little editing from my original posts to make it easier for those reading this for the first time. For your reading convenience, I've listed the posts so my first posta are at the top and you scroll to my last, so it is in order as you read down. Also, I've changed the order of some posts placing them where they make they make the most contextual sense (rather then when I wrote it). I hope you enjoy this and my other blogs which I will write when I (hopefully) get more opportunities to travel!

far travels

Did I tell you? I'm going to Hong Kong on Friday.

Yes, I am. The Hong Kong International School and the Man Festival invited me out there for the next 14 days, I think due to the attention that author Roseanne Thong (who lives in HK) has gotten there for the books we did together. Thanks, Roseanne!

But the trip is a little bittersweet. It's been in the works for a while; originally Robert was going to come with me and it was going to be a grand adventure. Unfortunately, he now can't come and I am left to my lonesome.

So, go I will. And I am determined to still make it an adventure, even though I admit to being a bit intimidated trying to explore Hong Kong by my lonesome. Luckily, the HKIS and SCBWI coordinators have graciously offered their guidance--which I am SO going to take them up on. Boy, are they going to regret that. I've declined to tell them about one of my most annoying traits--my love of vacation photography. I am the worst Asian sightseer off the tour bus, clicking away and always asking people to take a photo of me in front of some iconic monument. That's the one thing Robert said he's glad he's going to miss.

honorably arrived

These are my feet in Hong Kong. I'm here (or there, depending on where YOU are), honorably arrived as they say in Japan.

And it was an honorable arrival. I have to say, HKIS sure treats you well. For the first time, I had one of those smart looking drivers holding up a sign with my name on it at the airport. And then I rode off in a fancy black limo. When I arrived at the hotel, I could see all the passerbyers watching thinking I might be a celebrity. I hated to disapoint them, for not only was I far from being a celebrity, I looked awful. Nothing like 17 hours on an airplane to make you look like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Also, nothing like 17 hours on an airplane to make you dull-minded. I got some HK dollars at the airport, but didn't figure out how the currency worked out. So I think I tipped the driver the equivalent of $1. and the baggage person $40. (I was trying to compensate for my $1. driver mistake). And then I got complimentary room service from the hotel; and I forgot to tip that fellow completely. Oops.

But I liked the room service. There was more fruit but I ate it before I remembered to take a picture. But notice the hot green tea. It was lovely, I had a cup before I completely collapsed into bed, asleep to the world until 5 AM Hong Kong time...

when I realized my room had a view. Isn't that neat? I'm on the 18th floor so I can see the city and the water and the rooftops. One rooftop in particular struck me:

because of the garden. There's just something poetic about a small rooftop garden like that, in the vast landscape of buildings. The inkling of story is now in my head...I might have to spend the rest of my day writing it. Good thing I have 2 weeks here.

jetlag and hong kong at micro/macro

After waking up at 5AM, I went back to sleep at 8, woke up at 10, back to sleep at 11, woke up at 11:30 and decided I had better try to do something or else my jetlag was going to suck my day away. And I'm on an adventure, right? Adventure doesn't wait for sleep (though jet-lagged children's illustrators do easily succumb to it). So, I dragged myself out of my hotel room and into the street.

It was 70 degrees out there! Good thing I left my jacket in the room. I wandered the area around my hotel, which is a prime shopping district. So far, Hong Kong feels like an enormous, very modern, very clean Chinatown.

Of course, that is the micro view of it. I decided I had better get the big picture so I took advantage of SCBWI coordinator Mio's offer to take me to Victoria's Peak...

and got the macro view of it. Also, a nice view of I.M. Pei's Bank of China, the "sting ray" convention center and Norman Foster's special building that has the best feng shui of the city. I only know this because Robert especially pointed them out to me before the trip and said to look for them.

From the peak, you can see Kowloon which means "Nine Dragons." This is because (according to the legend Mio told me) the emperor, as a boy, was on Kowloon when he noticed that there were eight hills and said, "There are eight dragons protecting us." His servant, replied, "With you, the emperor, there really are nine dragons protecting us."

Isn't that neat?

The sun was just starting to go down, so Mio and I decided to have dinner until it got dark so I could see the city all lit up. We went to the Peak Lookout Restaurant (that's Mio below. She doesn't like to have her picture taken which is why she is mysteriously shrouded in darkness)...

where I opened up the menu to see:

Boston Lobster! Gee, I traveled half way around the world to get Boston lobster! I'm sure it was quite good, even though I didn't order it because, heck, it came all the way from Boston. Probably not the freshest, though. Maybe that's why it was a "supplement."

Anyway, we spent so long with dinner that I forgot to go back to the lookout view to take the night photo I had planned. So instead I took the picture from my hotel room, where I am now about to fall asleep yet again. Here's hoping that I can stay awake for more than 3 hours at a time tommorrow.

today's junk

It's a well known truism that viewing other people's vacation photos is rather dull. But, I'm not on a vacation. I'm working! Today I did a full day of visits at HKIS.

Where I had two lovely suprises waiting for me in the teacher's lounge. First:

a gigant-normous amount of books for me to sign. This was rather aweing. The other was on the magazine shelf:

and it was bluerosegirl Linda! Linda had been featured in a magazine in the States and it had made its way here in Hong Kong. Neat! She's an international cover girl.

After school, the HKIS coordinator, Amy took me to some fun places around the city. First, I went to a tailor to get some clothes made (more about that later) and then we rode on an authentic junk. It was amazing; and because it was kind of misty and grey out, we were the only people onboard--so it was like our own private boat. As we passed the ports, people took pictures of us, well, probably, really of the junk. But we felt like celebrities.

The sun set during our ride and the city really glowed with lights. It was quite beautiful.


I only wish I had had the sense to take a photo of the junk before the sun had set, as the only pictures I have of it are shrouded in shadows. But it was very exciting for me to experience...which means it was probably really boring for you to read. Be glad I didn't post the whole camera-memory card.

two tart day

Today started with two egg tarts.

But these tarts were not just any tarts. These were AMAZING egg tarts. I've never had egg tarts this good ever. The crust was so light and flaky and the tops had been broiled so there was a light burnt sugar coating. Absolutely delicious. They put all the egg tarts I've ever eaten to shame.

And apparently they are world famous, flown in from Macau and only available in Hong Kong at the hotel I am staying in! I am trying to figure out how I can bring some home to Robert.

After the such a delicious start, my visit at the school seemed to pass sweetly. Even though I usually fear presenting to grades 6-8, today's presentation to the 7th graders seemed to go pretty smoothly. Before I knew it, school was out and it was time to explore Central Hong Kong where I got a better view of:

The famous Bank of China, designed by I.M. Pei. This eye-catching skyscraper is actually pretty disliked by many native Hong Kong--because it gives out BAD feng shui. The many angles cut the good luck and the reflective surfaces reflect all the bad luck out into the public. Unlike this building:

the HSBC designed by Norman Foster. Apparently this building has the best feng shui of the city--but more to do with the location than the design. But this building is well liked because the structure can move--the entire floors of the building can be shifted up or down. And see those bridge like things? If the building catches on fire or a disaster happens inside, people can stand on those. Not very comfortably--I think it's single file-- but with the idea that it would be someplace for them to escape to while they wait for help.

And just a couple miles away, in great contrast to these ultra-modern buildings is:

the Man Mo Temple. I'm not sure how old it is but I know parts of it date to the 1800's. This temple mixes Taoism and Buddhism and is beautiful in its ancient mystery.

See the coils? Those are incense coils. The whole place was filled with incense smoke--which while adds the the visual beauty made it very difficult to spend a long time there. I wasn't able to really see the things I wanted because, well, I couldn't breathe. Also, I had to rush to do this:

Yep, be on TV! I was on a Hong Kong TV show called "What's Up after 8?"; one of the few English language chat shows, as well as on a cross-media interactive TV channel (people can e-mail the show live as well as watch it via the internet). It was VERY last minute...and I think I smelled of incense.

fine dining

I'm doing a quick post this morning because I was too tired to blog last night. And why was I too tired? Because I went out to a fancy dinner at the exclusive China Club. This restaurant was once owned by David Tang, Hong Kong's equivalent to Donald Trump (David Tang also used to be the owner of Shanghi Tang, the uber-expensive, extremely coveted chinoiserie store that all the celebs shop at). David Tang has moved on to other businesses since, but the China Club remains a swanky destination restaurant.

Which I was only lucky enough to go to because I gave a talk to the local SCBWI who took me out to dinner afterwards. At the talk, I met Roseanne Thong for the first time! I've been the illustrator for 3 of her books and her work in getting those books noticed in Hong Kong played a vital role in getting me this exotic gig. So I was very grateful to meet her and she is a super nice person to boot.

The China Club was very snazzy. Modeled after an English gentleman's club of the 1930's, it's a tasteful blend of the British and Chinese old and new world. It has many floors:

and many separate private dining rooms, including a library:

and original art by contemporary Asian artists adorn all the walls:

And the food is amazing! Here's a photo of some othe desserts we had. Mango pudding (that was luscious) and custard filled gelatinous fish. Can you tell they are fish? They were really neat looking in real life.

There was also a balcony with an upclose view of that I.M. Pei building, it's right across which means all the bad luck of the building is getting reflected onto the China Club. I wonder if David Tang sold the restaurant because he didn't want the bad feng shui.



Today started out leisurely, as my first presentation did not begin until 10:40. However, about 5 minutes before it was time for me to head out to school, I had a panic attack that I had lost my passport. Last night's late return had made me careless and I couldn't remember which "safe" place I had put it. I unsuccessfully searched my hotel room in the time I had left and had to leave in a state of anxiety. I ended up being late for my presentation as well (my taxi driver brought me to the wrong place), so any calm my morning relaxation should have brought was quickly lost.

However, I slowly began to regain it as we visited the Stanley area after school. Stanley is the coastal area, a one-time fishing village. In the mist, one can still see solitary sampans gliding across the waters.

It is also home to the Tin Hau Temple, a temple appropriately dedicated to the goddess of the sea.

Even though I would've like to look at more of the temple in detail, I always feel awkward examining a place where people worship. It seems rather rude to gawk at it like the tourist I am. So we only glanced around briefly.

But, to be honest, the biggest attraction in Stanley is the SHOPPING! There are hundreds of stalls selling everything and anything. I could look around for hours and spend every red cent I've made coming here on the available goods.

And I just might do that. Already, I've bought this cute tiger backpack and this painting; and I want to go back for more. Hmm, I might need to buy another bag just to pack all my stuff in for when I go back. If I CAN get back that is. Still have to find that passport.

kowloon markets

Yesterday evening I went to Kowloon. For some reason I thought Kowloon was far, far away but as we got there in a fairly short subway (MTR) ride, I realized--oh, Kowloon is like Cambridge is to Boston. Just over (er, under) the water. The subway system in Hong Kong is immaculate--no food or drink is allowed onboard, everything is sparkling, clean and FAST. People can have their passes in their watches and just wave their arm through the turnstyle--like easy pass for humans. And a train comes every 2 minutes, max. Also, I noticed everything is built for slightly shorter people. In the T in Boston, I can barely reach the top holding bar, here the bar is an easy grasp.

Anyway, I reached Kowloon (with the wonderful Roseanne Thong as my guide) and our first stop was the flower market. Hundreds of stalls full of flowers lined what felt like street after street. Kowloon has less of the British influence, English was less widely understood and the city, compared to Hong Kong island, seemed less modern, more old world--with crotchey street vendors, dirtier streets, and more chaotic crowds. And beautiful, beautiful flowers. A true rainbow and the smell of lilies filled the air.

At the end of the flower market, we went through this little passage and entered the Bird Market.

Which is where people go and buy birds, bird cages and bird supplies. Birds and goldfish seem to be the pets of choice here in Hong Kong, where space is quite limited. Birds seem to be especially popular with old men, who can be seen carrying their bird cages. They like to take their birds out for a walk.

The bird cages themselves are works of art. Handmade, intricately carved of bamboo or rosewood, I found myself staring at each one. In the end, I couldn't resist and bought one as a souvenir. I don't know how I'm going to get it home.

The sun was setting, so that meant the night markets were opening. Here, you can buy pretty much everything, from food to fruits to footwear. Vendors here like to bargain and I watched a customer and vendor sputter at eachother in Cantonese as if they were angry, but both left smiling and seemed satisfied. I bought a Monkichi t-shirt for Ki-Ki. Luckily, Roseanne speaks Cantonese and was able to do the appropriate bargaining for me.

The market was just getting into full swing when we left. But my arms were full with the birdcage and I couldn't carry another thing, so it was time to go. I thought I might look a sight carrying the cage on the subway, but no one gave me a second glance. I suppose the only unusual thing was that I didn't have a bird in it.