Monday, November 24, 2008

And the mystery destination is...

Well, lots of folks seem to have figured out where I´m at, but only after I led them down breadcrumb paths. The "moo" clue seems to have been a red herring for many of you, but I gave you another HUGE clue in that last post.

If you recall, I said, "But don't cry for me--the change also means I'm going somewhere I've wanted to visit for years."

Come on, pop culture junkies...

Don't cry for me, ARGENTINA!

I'm in BUENOS AIRES! Just a short 36 hours on four flights (Hong Kong--Tokyo--LAX--Dallas--BA). Whew. But it's worth it.

I made the decision to come here about a month ago. I was in the middle of nowhere, only foreigner in town, wasting time at the Internet cafe. Just happened to run a search on for HKG to Buenos Aires (pronounce it right, people: BWAY-nos EYE-race), and what do you know? The cost was about half what it should be.

So I slept on it, and bought the ticket the very next morning. Now for me, this is a very logical decision. I thought, If I don't get to take another long trip like this again (God forbid), where would I be more disappointed to never have visited: Southeast Asia or Argentina? It was an obvious answer for me, as Argentina had been a finalist for my big escape country. I opted for New Zealand instead, as unemployment here is very high and New Zealand was practically begging people to come.

What's to like about Argentina?

Well for starters, I speak Spanish (more or less). It will be a welcome change after being unable to communicate with anyone in China unless I'm ordering beef noodles or buying a bus ticket.

Secondly, it's a beautiful country. Buenos Aires is supposed to be an amazing city. And outside of the capital, there's everything from rain forest and glaciers to amazing lakes and endless plains. Not to mention such famous locales as Patagonia, Tiera del Fuego and Iguazu Falls.

Throw in a little culture: Tango, futbol, gauchos, mate, futbol... Oh, and it's known as the most European country in America. How's that for cool?

And last, but most definitely not least, the food. I've been salivating for weeks thinking of my first Argentine steak--the best in the world, allegedly (hence the "Moo" hint). And thanks to a huge Italian population, Argentina also has copious amounts of pizza, pasta and gelato. And of course there are beef empanadas, beef sandwiches, beef hot dogs...

Now, how about some initial impressions?

For starters, summer is definitely on its way. High today is about 85 fahrenheit. Whew.

The city does have a European vibe, with some long, green boulevards and many squares, often bordering a church.

Argentine men ogle, whistle and holler at any woman younger than their mother (a huge contrast from conservative China).

My first meal... a milanesa napolitana. This is beef scalopini (mine was as big as a dinner plate), topped with a thin slice of ham and cheese, with some tomato paste and a bunch of oregano. Four bucks well spent.

The rest of the day is going to be dedicated to rest. I´m at about 44 hours without sleep right now (me and planes don´t get along).

Photos and more commentary to come soon!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Tokyo

well at the airport anyway. I have three more flights before I reach my destination.

The moo refers not to sacred cows but to tasty cows.

not India

Lots of guesses for India. Well, I'm at HK intl airport right now an I promise you a flight to India wouldn't take 35 hours.

Guess again.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And I'm off!

Well, it's been a fun ride in China, hasn't it? Two-and-a-half months of great memories, delicious food and welcoming people. But as with all good things, this must come to an end.

However, the best is yet to come. Very soon, I will depart for my next destination. Now, I should forewarn you: because of this change to my itinerary, it's likely that my trip will be about a month shorter than I initially had planned. I'll probably be coming home around the first of March (brr). But don't cry for me--the change also means I'm going somewhere I've wanted to visit for years. And the stunning scenery of this place means more eye candy for you. I also will get to have some amazing food (day two of my return to the States: join a gym) and experience a culture as rich as China's (if a little younger).

Now, as I'm certain you haven't yet guessed where I'm going, I will give you one last clue:


I promise that's more helpful than you think.

I will see you all in a couple days!


PS: I lied. There actually are multiple clues in this post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The coolest city in the world

I love Hong Kong. I was here in 2004 and I am thrilled that I got to come again. It has an energy like nowhere else. It's a bit like New York, with perhaps a little bit of San Francisco thrown in. There are people everywhere. It's an international city.

One of my favorite things about the city are the countless ways to get around. There are double-decker buses, double decker trams, a cable car to the top of Victoria Peak, numerous ferries running between the various islands and the Kowloon Peninsula (including the long-running Star Ferry, which used to be the only way to get to Hong Kong Island), a top-notch subway system and an enormous fleet of red taxis. AND in Central--HK's main business district--there's a huge network of above-ground walkways. You can go nearly anyway and never have to touch pavement.

I stayed the week at the apartment of Paul's dad, Denny. He's a teacher at the HK International School. I got quite a lot in, as well, though I neglected to bring my camera most of the time. We hit the night market one night for a bit of haggling for gadgets and souvenirs. I also was able to meet up with my friend Jimmy, a native Hong Konger who worked at the hostel where I lived in Wellington. I went to Lamma Island, which I didn't do last time. Had a nice fish and calamari lunch and a bit of a hike across the island. It's been a good week

Just a few photos, but I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is the coolest-looking city in the world.

From atop Victoria Peak (The Peak). You're as high as the tallest buildings. You might recognize the very tall building on the left from The Dark Knight.

From China

From Kowloon Peninsula during the nightly light show:

From China

The number of jumbo container ships coming in and out of the area is staggering. Hong Kong is a major port

From China

And lastly, one of my favorite buildings here, the Bank of China Tower. It's designed by IM Pei. Some Chinese thinks it exudes bad feng shui.

From China

I will post one final clue to my next destination soon; I've only got about 40 hours left in Hong Kong. I promise this last clue actually will help...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I told you last week I'd give you the rundown on Guangzhou. I'll save your time. It's a nice enough city, with the Pearl River running through it. There's a nice river walk the length of it. Some nice parks too. But it's really a big business center, especially in terms of trade. So I relaxed, did a lot of walking; but I don't have any super-cool photos or anything like that to share.

However, I'm in Hong Kong this week and will have plenty of great pics to share before I head off to my next stop.

Speaking of, perhaps you'd like another hint as to where I might be going?

OK, here it is: As I said before, it will take me 36 hours to get to my next destination. This trip also will talk me through two other countries.

Any ideas yet? I'll give you one last clue before I leave, and I promise that one will help.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vivaaaa Macau!

Just a quickie to fill you in on Macau. As I said in the last post, it's gambling central. This special administrative region of China pulls in more gaming money than Vegas. Apparently, on average, its tables are immensely more profitable than Sin City's. I was stunned by how much it's changed since my last visit.

Aside from the gambling, there are a few interesting sights; many are related to the region's former life as a Portuguese territory. One of the most famous landmarks are the ruins of St. Paul's church. All that's left is a facade. As you can see, the ruins are blanketed with tourists.

From China

But really, we were there to gamble. Poor Andy and Dave...they lost a good bit of cash. But go me! I walked away $850 (hong kong dollars) up on the three days we were there. That's about US$110, or enough to fund my stay there.

The city's skyline continues to change. In the photo below, you can see a number of casinos, both in business and under construction. The monstrosity on the left is the Grand Lisboa, the newer counterpart to the Casino Lisboa, perhaps the most renowned and oldest casino in town. The construction to its immediate right is almost assuredly a new casino/hotel. The swooping brown building in the center is the Wynn and the building sticking out behind it is the Star World hotel and casino. To the right of that is the towering L'Arc casino under contsruction; in front of that is another Wynn--the Encore. And between the buildings of the ridiculously huge complex on the right you can catch the slightest glimpse of the MGM Grand.

From China

Holy crap.

And that's only one part of town. On a new strip of reclaimed land, the Venetian Macau opened last year. It's the biggest casino in the world. Absolutely ridiculous. And across the street from that is a huge new shopping complex. A number of deluxe hotels are in the works as well. It's all part of the new "Cotai Strip," allusion to Vegas intended.

Our favorite casino was the Grand Lisboa. It was huge and over the top on the outside. But the casino was quite pleasant, with high ceilings and a clean, uncluttered layout. There was no sense of the stereotypical "they never want you to leave" setup.

From China

And to top it all off, the city was getting ready to host its annual Grand Prix, with streets getting barricaded and grandstands erected. Cha-ching.

After Macau, I spent last night in Hong Kong. I'm now back in mainland China--Guangzhou. This is another ridiculously big city. It's a business hub, and where lots of exports out of the country are arranged from. I'll give a full report later and will touch more on Hong Kong next week.

And now, how 'bout another tidbit about my mystery destination?

In this country, they don't eat with chopsticks.

And come to think of it, if anyone can guess my mystery location--via e-mail only--I'll buy you a beer when I get back.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Blue skies

It's a beautiful day in Macau, a special administrative region formerly owned by the Portuguese. It's not far from Hong Kong. It's also Asia's Las Vegas.

I was here briefly four years ago when I was in Hong Kong. It's changed incredibly since then. There were lots of casinos here then, but in that short time, the territory has surpassed Vegas in intake. There are mammoth casinos everywhere and as many more under construction. The skyline doesn't compare to that of my last visit. MGM Grand, Sands and the Wynn all have put up huge casino-hotels here. The Venetian copied its Vegas establishment and here it occupies a space of 500 by 500 meters, which is huge, for those of you not in tune with the metric system. I'll share some photos of this incredible place in my next post. (And yes, I've been hitting the blackjack tables; I was up but am now even).

But today's post will take you into karst mountain territory. As you'll see, I've got some incredible shots to share. I spent three days in Yangshuo (less than the planned week since I opted to join some others in Macau). We even got a sunny day there, during which I went on a nice bike ride through some backroads and paths, through pools of mud. Anyway, on with the show...

I spent a lot of time with a fellow Justin from Oregon (his real first name is Robert, if you can believe that), and Dave and Andrew from England. Lots of fun was had with these guys, and I'm in Macau with the English guys.

From China

A highlight of my time in Yangshuo was to head out on the river to watch some nighttime cormorant fishing. The fishermen tie string around the cormorants' necks and the birds swim along side their bamboo rafts. When a bird catches a fish, it's can't swallow it. It was really cool and I got a dorky photo op out of it as well.

From China

From China

And the next day, we found a fisherman on dry land and got some photos of him with his birds. I really like this photo.

From China

And now for the scenery. Stunning. No way to describe it. This is among the top three most beautiful areas I've been to, no doubt about it. As I mentioned before, a few of us went on a nice bike ride, but the three guys and I also took a boat cruise on a (fake) bamboo raft. It was a great way to see the river and mountains, even though we kept passing huge ferries. If I shared all the photos that I wanted to, I'd fill my Picasa folder, so here's just a couple that I like, so you can get the idea.

From China

From China

We had to cross the river with our bikes on bamboo rafts at one point.

From China

And then the next day, the rain came back. So I decided it was time to hightail it out of there. I'm glad I did because the weather here is great. But we had to endure a 19-hour sleeper bus to get here. We were delayed two hours due to a traffic accident, another 90 minutes because our bus broke down and many more minutes due to crappy roads. It was exhausting, but we made it.

And finally, I know I caught many people's attention with the promise of a mystery destination. I will be there in about two weeks, and you won't find out where it is until I'm there. But I suppose I could toss a clue or two your way to whet your appetite.

So here's clue one: It will take me around 36 hours to get to this place. But I won't tell you the mode or modes of transport I will be using to arrive there.

And another wimpy clue: This place, like China, has incredible scenery that is quite varied.

Does that help any? Didn't think so. I'll give you another hint in a few days

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Through Guizhou

So I spent about a week hopping from place to place in souther Guizhou province. I saw some great Miao and Dong villages and met lots of friendly people. I'll keep this post short and sweet because I'm not in a writing mood today. It's been raining like a bitch for a week and a half. Just won't let up. Parts south of here are apparently horribley flooded, including northern Vietnam (So it's good I'm not going there in 2 weeks like I originally planned).

But I thought I would give you a little eye candy...

Bad photo, but Miao women in traditional dress, dancing and singing.

From China

From China

From China

Dong children in traditional clothes

From China

From China

Sweet Wind and Rain bridge

From China

From China

And, oh yes, we had more road troubles. Really bad muddy patch. We're talking Willy Wonka's chocolate river. Buses and trucks stuck. We were stopped for two-and-a-half hours. I think it was all a ploy for some women to sell instant noodles to us for twice their normal worth. But you gotta eat, eh?

From China

A group of men, who I presume were there working on the road and a retaining wall, were quite helpful and spent the entire time pushing cars and trying to get everyone moving again. I can't imagine you'd see that happen in the states...without money being involved.

From China

So that's that. I'm in Guangxi now. Yangshuo. It's a big backpacker hangout. I'll be here about a week I think. On the river; beautiful karst mountain scenery. I will have some amazing photos to share later this week, assuming the rain lets up.

Also considering a trip to Macau, a special autonomous region near Hong Kong, to do some gambling. It's now officially bigger than Vegas. But we'll see.

And go Obama.