Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Vicarious Trip to China

When not traveling, it is very easy to become complacent, and satisfied with watching vapid reality tv, and discussing it at length with anyone who will listen. Or writing about it on your blog... But then, your friends Alissa and Boris return from a trip to China and share their fantastic photos with you, via your favorite website, Ofoto. So you just decided to take a little vicarious vacation with them, while sitting at your desk at work. This vacation was fun for several reasons:

1) I did not have to pack

2) I did not have to take that long flight to China

3) I could remain seated while "climbing" the Great Wall

I have been to China a few times, three times to Hong Kong (which wasn't super China-ish, but is now technically China), and once to Beijing (super China-ish and awesome). Alissa and Boris had photos from Hong Kong of some great cultural sites, that for whatever reason (shopping) I had neglected on my tours there. My stops in Hong Kong were very brief - the longest was a 3-day weekend - so I must have thought "I only have a few days - I really need to go back to Stanley Market, where I've been twice already, because they may have gotten some new Cheongsam dresses that I need".

Stanley Market is really one of my happy places, and not just because the shopping rocks. I love taking the red double-decker #6 (or 6A) from Kowloon

and riding up the winding roads, and along the cliffs next to Repulse Bay. Repulse Bay is the Mother of All Misnomers (except for a previous surly, stoney-faced co-worker of mine, named "Dulce"), as it is an absolutely gorgeous spot.

Wikipedia says: In 1841 the bay was used as a base by pirates and caused serious concern to foreign merchant ships trading with China. The pirates were subsequently repulsed by the British Fleet; hence the name. Another theory holds that the bay was named after the HMS Repulse which was stationed at the bay at one point.

That makes more sense. It is not repulsive in the least. Now, Puno, Peru is a different story...

But, back to China! Hong Kong is vastly different from Beijing, but I enjoyed both equally. Hong Kong indulged my frenetic cosmopolitan commercial/shopping side, and Beijing allowed a rare appearance from my less-shallow, culture-curious side. Beijing was giant and sprawling and chock-full of the culture, not to mention the rich and romantic history. AND we got to ride bikes. That was my favorite part, as it brought me slightly closer to immersing myself in the Beijing lifestyle. The bicycle lanes take up half of the streets, so it is actually enjoyable to pedal around the city, as opposed to biking on Seattle streets, where you're scrunched over to the curb by the spacey, attention-challenged drivers. Although, to be fair, there are a lot of Seattle bikers who are ridiculously inconsiderate and deem the entire road built just for them. Driving behind an Armstrong-wannabe, at 15 miles per hour, gets a little old after 8 miles.

Beijing was a dream, to be sure, but occasionally in the dream I would be confounded at the meal selections, as I did not read Chinese script, and found myself terrified at the possibility of ordering something like monkey brains. The Lonely Planet said that was a dish there. I am not proud to say that I spent many meals at McDonalds and the Beijing Hard Rock Cafe, eating totally American food - Diet Coke and all. But I did go next door to this really funny dumpy bar, where we sat outside and drank CHINESE beer. See? I can assimilate.

I think Boris and Alissa probably did better than I, with their cultural immersion, if only making that deduction based on this photo.

My dad is the proud owner of that same green communist hat. I think I got it at Stanley Market...