[These "Travel Notes" are just raw brain-dumps, collected whenever I had a chance to sit down and type during the trip. See December's various topics for more reader-friendly post-trip writing.]
Sun Nov 28: Sad to leave Xishuangbanna, happy to see Hong Kong again. Funny how much spunkier I've been in the first few hours of return than when I came out three weeks ago... partly a half-day plane ride instead of 14+ hours, partly coming down from mile-high levels to sea level, partly not having to finish off planning for the trip.
Getting here was a bit chaotic... pack'd and taxi'd to a T, but the Xishuangbanna to Kunming leg was delayed. No English alerts, no Chinese signage. I asked at the desk and the attendant was flustered by a westerner, calling for help, until I gently asked "Chi dao le ma? Shenme shi hou lai?" She wrote down the time. Turned out that was the time a replacement plane would leave Kunming, meaning I'd cut things too close for the Kunming to Hong Kong leg. Finally figured out what was going on, and got a seat on an intermediate plane so I could still make my connection.
That incident crystallized a pattern. Staff in the airport were very caring when they realized what was going on. They were just negligent in realizing what was going on. When a driver honks their horn they're not denigrating the eardrums of others... they honestly don't seem to realize the effects of what they're doing. Quite sweet, actually, when they do get around to noticing. That's why it's important to smile and stay relaxed here, even if they're killing you.
Amazingly, my baggage followed me too, no hassles... arrived in Hong Kong just when I had planned. Surprised to see it dark by the time I got out of customs, but shouldn't have been... China is just one timezone, and Yunnan has later sunrises, later sunsets than Hong Kong.
Kunming to Hong Kong leg had some funny aspects. Dragonair seems to be a HK airline. Main announcements were in English, followed by Cantonese, then Mandarin... must be sensitive in how the languages are ordered, and English came out as the primary language. The recorded safety announcements, I don't think they had Mandarin, but I did hear Korean. I was like "if it's okay with you, then it's okay with me."
Had a window seat, early boarding. Next to me sat two Hong Kong'rs, urbane 60-ish gent in suit and scarf, his unmarried 35-ish woman (secretary? relation? mistress?) in the middle seat next to me. Middle of the flight he reaches over, unbuttons her blouse a bit. Asks me "Where you from? San Francisco, oh." Rest of the flight it's a rather mild titty show, him grabbing her boobs, trying to put her hands on his pants, she going along but also pushing him away. I was again like "if it's okay with you, then it's okay with me."
At Hong Kong customs I again tried to declare that I had more than 28 grams (one ounce) of tobacco... a 50g tin, and maybe 30g left in my pouch. This time the customs agent seemed embarrassed that I was so proud to declare and wanted to pay any duties necessary. She told me to just hide it in my bag and go through the "Nothing to declare" line. Once more, I was like "if it's okay with you...."
Got to hotel, unpacked like a demon and threw smelly clothes in for quick showering, then out on the streets, a wildman from the Southwest, linen field shirt and tactical pants and hemp hat and cane, working out the energy of sitting in planes all day, hunting food and beer. Using the cane as a camel's nose under the tent, weaving a way through crowds weaving unseeing across the sidewalk. (I really love people with good peripheral vision, who look ahead and _see_.) Very polite and helpful, but self-assertive when obliviousness seeks to impose costs on others.
Hong Kong folk don't smile back as much as people in the PRC. Particularly around Temple Street, where foreigners are rife. I must have seemed like a wildman to them.
Also used a lot more Mandarin this evening, and I was surprised it just worked. Usually I try to think in Cantonese when I'm in Hong Kong, but I don't get enough study or practice, and I really suck. The last few weeks of trying to use Mandarin carried over habitually into this evening's conversations, and it just worked... Mandarin is a second language for most Honkies (that's what some Hong Kong residents call themselves), so we were able to communicate poorly but happily together. Unexpected.
Tried to get a meal on Temple Street and again saw later-arriving Asians (both HK & PRC) getting their food while I still couldn't place an order. Couldn't tell if it was racial discrimination or just sugar-fed incompetence. Went further down the street to a foreigner-oriented joint and got some noodles and vegetables which weren't as good as I hoped the oyster omelet would have been. Will try again when the staff is less overstimulated.
Tomorrow I want to visit Shenzhen... this time with a map and a plan (Hongqiaobei area, two subway stops north from Futian border, then transfer and two subway stops east). Maybe go to Dongmen to seek a russet silk sportcoat, which I've craved for years. Was thinking of getting an iPad knockoff just to bleep off Steve Jobs and his Mactards, but there are better ways to fill up my return luggage. Will try Tuesday for Macau... haven't been in five years, and it's changed greatly, but I bet they still have Portuguese almond cookies and sweet dried jerky. Wednesday's a day for catch-up in case any of the above falls through. Thursday's a twelve-hour flight, and then it's back to good coffee and juice for breakfast, good beer and tobacco at night.
Mon Nov 29: Had a fantastic, mind-expanding time in HuaQiangBei retail electronics market in Shenzhen. Brought back every nerdy affection from Homebrew Robotics Club, electronics construction, wholesale produce markets, current consumer electronics, and much more.
Unfortunately I'm unable to integrate it in writing right now... got waylaid by idiot motormouths constantly talking zero (no, net-negative) content into cellphones on the subway back, then on stupid-bleep hip-hop "look at me I can rhyme" insistence in bars, and just general being-less-than-fully-human jive the past few hours. My mood is shot.
Will sleep, and likely dream of dislocating joints of idiots with a three-foot wooden lever. But tomorrow, Macau.
[And that's it. Shenzhen and Macau were both fabulously brain-filling, but I spent the rest of the trip on foot, rather than on my butt typing. Will try to cover highlights of both in subsequent topics.]