|Sunday, August 24, 2008 5:11:03 am|| |
|That’s All Folks…A Few Last Words|
After three weeks in one of the world’s most vibrant cities, I’ve come to a few conclusions during my stay in amazing Hong Kong. I’ll get to those in a moment.
Typhoon Nuri is now a thing of the past, however, it left more than 18,000 passengers stranded at the airport as of noon Saturday. Many of them will find their ways onto airplanes, but others will not. Cathay Pacific Airways seems to be the hardest hit, with passengers showing up at 5 a.m. to get on flights that had yet to leave as of sundown.
I’m hoping my Sunday midnight flight to Seoul, Korea, and then on to Tokyo, Japan, are all in order. The extra layovers reduced my ticket price, so I booked it to save a few bucks. We’ll see if it is a headache or not. As much as I love Hong Kong (I had no idea I would enjoy the city as much as I have), I really am missing home and my family and friends. It sometimes take a nice long trip like this to realize just how much their craziness, problems and pains are a part of you, and you miss those things. Strange, isn’t it?
| I will miss seeing these signs.|
Yesterday, I spent most of the day walking around. It was the most beautiful and comfortable day over the last three weeks. There was a great breeze and the humidity (for the first time in three weeks) didn’t kill me the minute I walked out the door. I actually got several blocks from the hotel before I broke a sweat.
I walked, and walked, and walked. For five hours, I walked up-and-down the streets of Hong Kong, taking photos and stopping for the occasional bit of A/C in a nice shop. I even got kicked out of one Chinese store for taking photos. That was kind of fun. Made me feel like paparazzi or something.
I also finally succumbed to the many hawkers for tailor-made clothes, and I went into a shop and had two linen shirts ordered.
“They will be delivered to the hotel tonight, sir,” said the man from Bangladesh.
How can they make them that fast?! I picked out the material, was measured and the gentleman assured me they would be delivered by the end of the evening. They were.
I went to Hollywood Street on Hong Kong Island - the place is like an open-air flea market where you can find antiques, the odd item and things you’d not find in the more Western stores in Kowloon. Despite the urge to spend every last Hong Kong dollar, I withheld and did not purchase things that I couldn’t get home or carry onto the airplane. Leaving Brazil last fall, I looked like a refugee carrying bags and boxes and rolled up hand-painted canvases into the airport in Rio de Janeiro. I will do better this time.
Now to my list.
I thought hard about this, decided to do a list (as I usually do) before leaving my new-found home away from home.
This list will be the “Things I Will Miss About Hong Kong.”
It goes a little something like this….
| Hong Kong is "foodie" heaven.|
I will miss walking a hundred paces to find the most amazing authentic Chinese food you can find. At home, it means a card ride, and then you get the American version - which is NOT authentic Chinese food. Even if a nice Chinese couple that emigrated to American prepared it. The ingredients are different. Maybe it’s something in the water, or the wok or the air. It’s just different - trust me on this one. I’ve eaten a LOT of Chinese food here.
I will miss screwing up the jukebox at my new favorite local pub here in Kowloon. I can’t seem to make the darn thing play the songs I want to play. But, some Chinese song always plays that seems to get everyone up on their feet and dancing and clinking mugs and raising glasses. I guess I should not complain, but I really wanted to hear a favorite song in English. Oh well, I guess that is why I have an I-Pod.
I will miss the very nice and welcoming people. How often do you walk into a pub or anywhere and you have someone talking to you and you feel like you have a new buddy within two minutes? Not many places. And I’ve been to plenty of them. I’ve met people here in Hong Kong that I feel like I know better than people I have known in the States for six months! Super friendly and sincere. This has left a big impression on me - but, then again, I’ve spent lots of time among the “common Hong Kong” citizens. I’ve made it a point to go to places and talk to people who are not English or Western, and it has paid off in a wonderful cultural experience I will never, ever forget. Actually, most places I have frequented have been “homeland” spots - 95% Hong Kong or Chinese and it has been a blast. I’m so glad I chose this path. It has taught me so much about this country and people. And, thankfully, they speak much better English than I speak Putonghua (a local dialect) or Cantonese.
| Very fair fares.|
I will miss the ever-popular red taxi. They are everywhere - just like the yellow cabs in New York City. But, the great thing is that here in Hong Kong the taxi rides are very inexpensive. The same ride that would cost you $20 in the U.S. will cost you less than half that amount here. Incredible.
Perhaps most of all I will miss the Olympic experience. It only happens every four years, and it is the one event in the world (with maybe the exception of soccer’s World Cup) that brings together almost every country on the planet. It’s really a fascinating and memorable adventure. Sure, there are crazy schedules and deadlines and never enough time to see or speak to everyone you want to, but there is nothing else like it. I’m so lucky to get to attend these events. I can guarantee you the experience is not lost on me.
I’ll also miss the chance to bump into these world-class athletes, share a taxi ride, hang out with them for a bit and just chat about things - equestrian and otherwise. It’s great to see them out of their sporting environment and attire.
Things I Will Not Miss….
The chips bags. To get into a bag of chips in Hong Kong, you must have a left-handed monkey wrench. Or a blow torch. Or a diamond-tipped drill. Seriously. They are CHIPS…they are not the Crown Jewels. Give us a break. I have almost chipped my teeth on a sealed bag of chips purchased from the 7-11 (and there is one on every street corner here). I guess the Chinese and Hong Kong folks take freshness o f their chips to a new level!
I will not miss the Indian folks who hawk tailor-made clothing and “genuine” duplicate watches - such as Rolex, etc. - on the streets. They will follow you for blocks if you don’t shut them down quick. If I hear the words, “Hello, big boss!” one more time, I might lose it.
I will not miss the humidity. I do not care what anyone else has to say about it not being hot and humid here. You can walk down the streets at 4 a.m. in the morning and still be drenched in sweat in one block. I’ll probably go home to a heat wave - my luck.
Thanks to all the blog readers out there. The response has been great - and from all over the place. I hope I get the chance to do another one from some neat and exciting place sometime soon.
I hope you have enjoyed my insights and stories and tales from Asia. Blogging them has helped me solidify these memories - memories that will last a lifetime.
If you’d like to, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know your thoughts - or just to say “Hello!” I’d love to hear from you.
For the last time…from Hong Kong, China, and the 2008 Olympic Games - that’s all folks!
|Friday, August 22, 2008 2:18:21 am|| |
|Whew…and That’s the Way It Was|
The equestrian portion of the Olympic Games are now over - well, maybe. Seems there is the topic of doping control, which will takes days to complete and all the finals results be known. But, for as much as the daily trips to Sha Tin and the equestrian venue, my work is done.
A flight with horses supposed to leave this morning was postponed last night due to Typhoon Nuri which is centered about 45 miles off the cost of Hong Kong Island as I type. Supposedly, it is going to leave about 24 hours later as a precautionary measure. Good thinking.
The airport is probably a zoo right now. I’ve not been there, but whenever there is a Signal 8 raised, it tends to make things there a little hectic. I heard journalists last night at the media center long after midnight say that their flights were already seriously delayed - by as much as 24 hours. I’m just hoping my midnight Sunday flight is a go. I love Hong Kong, but I do miss the beautiful rolling hills and laidback vibe that is my hometown in Kentucky.
| A new buddy, another fun taxi ride.|
Last night was a lot of fun. I took the bus from the venue to Sha Tin metro station. Sitting behind me on the bus, talking on the telephone, was someone who looked very familiar. I turned around to find Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa wearing his green and yellow team shirt and shorts. Cool.
The bus arrived and instead of taking the subway to the hotel, I decided to treat myself to a $15 taxi ride to the hotel. After all, the competition was over and I wanted to get back to my room, change and maybe go out and walk around a bit, maybe find a friendly “Cheers” type bar to venture into and mix with the locals.
Walking to the taxi at the metro stop, I noticed there was only one waiting for a passenger. Ten paces behind me was Rodrigo and a lovely blonde girl with him and I overheard them say, “Oh no, no more taxis.” Before my taxi pulled off, I stopped the driver and rolled down the window. “Are you guys heading downtown to Kowloon?” I asked.
Rodrigo said, “Yes, we are, may we share your taxi?
“Of course, Rodrigo, jump in,” I replied.
After brief introductions, we began a great conversation about the night and jumping competition.. I asked him about his plan of attack, and he was very forthcoming about his thoughts on the courses, the competition and the final results. He also asked me about what I did and all about the 2010 WEG that is coming to the Kentucky Horse Park. The conversation then led to Kentucky and our international reputation for fine bourbon and race horses.
It was a great 20 minute taxi ride and I feel like I made a new buddy. He was super interested in our conversation and it was a really fun way to end my last venture from the competition venue - with one of the world’s most celebrated show jumpers.
Rodrigo and his friend were staying directly across the street from me, so our taxi driver dropped us off right between the two hotels. Then came the scramble to see who would pay for the fare.
“Rodrigo, let me,” I said. “It’s been so much fun chatting with you.”
| Not the best wake-up call.|
“No, I pay, I insist, Brian,” he replied. So, I let him pay, but insisted that drinks were on me.
It was a fun night and for a die-hard show jumping fan, it was a great memory - yet another one of the dozens and dozens that I’ve formed while here in Hong Kong.
Another memory is being awaken this morning - rather early - by the hotel staff. They came into my room and put masking tape on the large glass window that overlooks Victoria Harbour. I didn’t quite know what to think about that.
“Signal #8 now, but soon to be raised,” the very nice and very short lady said. She turned over my metal wastepaper basket to stand on it to adhere the masking tape.
“You must keep window curtains closed today in case of injury,” she said as she left.
HUH?! I just heard on the TV that the Signal #9 was just raised. It is the first time since 2000 that a Signal #9 has been issued in the territory. So far, 190 flights have been completely cancelled at Hong Kong Airport. I'm glad I'm not waiting there!
Flying debris? Let’s hope not.
E-mails, catching up on some writing and going through piles of paperwork from the media center are on my agenda today. Plus, if the shops are open later, I want to go to the Gentleman’s Market and see if I can pick up a few inexpensive (but nice) gifts for a few friends back home. I was thinking of taking the train into Mainland China today, but with ol’ Nuri messing things up, that might have to wait for another day.
|Thursday, August 21, 2008 4:22:25 am|| |
|What Do You “Need”?|
After checking in with the folks in the team office downstairs, I decided that it might be a good idea to go through the underground maze that is downtown Kowloon and make my way across the street to the New World Centre - a huge shopping complex many stories underground, right next to the harbor. With a typhoon on its way, I wanted to stock up on some things, just in case it really arrives. Some have their doubts. I noticed they were already taking down the equestrian figures that had been a part of the large display above the storefront. Kind of a bummer.
| This place has it all.|
After trying two ATMs that did not want to give me Hong Kong dollars, I finally found one that would work. Thank goodness. I was down to my last $35HK and that won’t get you too far around these parts.
I headed straight for one of Hong Kong’s popular supermarkets (inside the underground mall) called Needs. And the name is very fitting, because it holds almost anything you could possibly need. As I walked into the store, there was sign obviously displayed on a large easel - Signal 3. It’s on the way - Typhoon Nuri.
Walking up and down the countless aisles of Needs, I found so many things. I was like a kid in a candy shop. Things for the home like a butter tray that dissects your stick of butter in perfectly proportioned bits - perfect for spreading. I think the Chinese like order in every sense of the word - even in butter. I had to purchase it, there was only one left. Obviously, a popular item for the well-kept Chinese home.
| This is NOT my cart. ;-)|
The liquor section sent me into a panic. I wanted to buy some bottles to bring home to friends, but if I get typhooned-in tomorrow, I might break down and pop open these bottles in place of raiding my well-stocked mini-bar. I’ve tried my best to be good - and I’ve done pretty good so far.
After learning about the upcoming Moon Festival, I remembered that I wanted to buy Moon Cakes - a super popular thing here in Hong Kong (and China). There are billboards and ads for them in every subway, and I knew it would be bad to leave here without some of them. A box of four standard size Moon Cakes costs about 250$HK - or about $35US. Not cheap - but it’s a holiday thing here, so I guess they get you on having to have them. I bought a tin of them for a gift for someone special at home (who has a very big sweet tooth and will love trying these exotic pastries). I also bought some pineapple cakes, bottles of water, juice, chips and a few other little nibbly-bits to tide me over for a day or so.
As I was standing in the beverage department, I noticed that the cost of a Heineken beer was $8HK (about a little more than a 1$US), while a Budweiser (ugh) was $14HK (or $2US). That made me laugh. After all, I guess it costs more to import an American beer to China than a Dutch one.
| I was too tempted to get this!|
I stopped in the Vienna Café before coming home and treated myself to a coconut iced coffee, which was incredible. I’ve been off the coffee for some time (tea is the main drink here) and the caffeine has my blood pumping for sure. Hence this quick entry into the old blog.
I sat next to a couple from Germany that was here to support one of their country’s teammates. They mentioned the possibility of rain for tonight, but we all agreed that we would all think good thoughts and stave off the clouds.
Well, it’s almost time to get ready, pack up the laptop and head off on the train to the media center to take in the final night of show jumping and wrap-up the equestrian portion of these Olympic Games.
No rain yet, but the large armbands of Typhoon Nuri looks like they are coming this way. The sky over Hong Kong Island is getting rather gray and cloudy, which means raindrops are on their way. I’m hoping the jumpers get over the course before the sky breaks loose.
But, maybe this typhoon thing will hold off completely and swing in a different direction altogether. I’m keeping hope alive.
Go Team USA!
|Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:44:25 am|| |
|Typhoon #2 - Here Comes Nuri…|
Well, the Olympic Games here in Hong Kong experienced a typhoon named Kummari the opening week, and it looks like we are going to go out with a bang as the equestrian events close in Hong Kong with another typhoon - this one is named Nuri.
Typhoons are no laughing matter here in this part of Asia. This particular typhoon swept over the Philippines and left people dead. And, it’s headed right for Hong Kong - on a beeline.
| Umbrellas don't stand a chance.|
The Hong Kong Observatory - the source for the latest weather news in Hong Kong - raised the Signal 1 yesterday. They have said they are raising the Signal 3 this afternoon. After that, that leaves only 8, 9 and 10. You really don’t want to be outside involved in any of them.
The cleaning staff just came by my room and the very nice lady said to expect a Signal 8 sometime tonight. Possibly more. This look like a strong one coming our way.
I’m hoping we can get through the final night of show jumping tonight. I would hate to see the horses out there in the middle of a rainstorm, fighting for a medal. Perhaps, if the strong winds and rains get here early enough, they will postpone until tomorrow the final leg of Olympic competition? Who knows yet. We will wait and see.
| Signal 8 and above are NOT good.|
I tried to change my flight to come home a few days early since things have gone so great here. Looking at the weather five or six days ago, there was no cause for thinking another typhoon would roll over Hong Kong and the venue. But, weather is a forecast - not a perfect picture of what is to come. Sometimes, you have to just wait and see how storms and weather patterns develop. Looks like this one is turning out to be an unwelcome one at that.
When the Signal 8 is raised, things shut down. Transportation. Schools. Businesses. Events. It sort of grinds to a halt. A Signal 9 and 10, well, it means batten-down the hatches and hold on.
Since the airports shut down too (people were delayed a long time when the last typhoon rolled through), changing my ticket would have turned out to be a futile effort. Looks like we’re in for some interesting weather for the next day or two.
More to come as it develops. Cross your fingers for a successful and exciting (not weather wise!) night of show jumping where several Americans are poised to end up on the medal podium.
It would be a great way to end Team USA’s Olympic effort - more medals.
Let’s hope Mother Nature is a big fan of Team USA!
|Wednesday, August 20, 2008 10:59:25 am|| |
|Biting My Tongue...|
Tuesday night was the final night of dressage. The American hopeful for a medal was none other than Steffen Peters and Ravel. But, as it turned out, they landed in fourth place, just one place off the medal podium. I have to admit, I was bummed.
I wasn’t bummed with Steffen and Ravel’s performance. That made me smile the whole way through.
| A true rock-n-roll classic.|
First of all his music for the Kur was great - who can’t help but smile when you see Steffen lead Ravel around the dressage ring to the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil”? It was awesome!
I especially thought that the opening line to that classic song - “Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a man of wealth and taste” was classic!
Of course, the rest of the song’s lyrics tell a different story altogether. But, Ravel looked like a handsome devil, in deed, during his Kur.
From the Stones, it went into an oldie from the 80s one-hit wonder band - Men Without Hats - and their smash hit “The Safety Dance.”
| Oh, the memories....|
I couldn’t help but tap my foot to the techno beat and watch with a huge grin as Steffen and Ravel entertained the crowd at Sha Tin.
But, a medal just wasn’t meant to be…and if you ask me…it was unjust.
Dressage can be a very frustrating sport when it comes to scoring. The international panel of judges have their own perspective. And, in the end, you have to deal with what their eyes see and what they have to say about a person’s performance. It’s not like show jumping where you either keep the rails up and make the time or not. With dressage, it’s tricky business. And I was sorely disappointed with what happened to Steffen and Ravel. I really think they deserved the Bronze medal.
I rarely speak out and say I think a judge needs a new pair of glasses - or better yet a new attitude. Or that they should not be a judge. Or that they were unfair.
But, I’m having to bite my tongue right now. And I’m not the only one, I’m sure of that. Questions of the judges during the following press conference were pointed and, at times, blunt. And the press core (many of us) were none to happy with the strange responses one judge, in particular, left with us.
I think this kind of mystical scoring hurts dressage and really frustrates spectators and fans alike. There needs to be some kind of system in place (such as was instituted in figure skating) that better defines accurate judging. Throw out the high and low score and deal with the remains. It would be much more accurate in my mind.
However, Steffen Peters showed a level of dignity and class - as he always does. He is a true attribute to the U.S. team and a class act. There’s no arguing that point.
He represented his country with style and great dignity. No complaints. Just hard work and lots of heart.
It’s been something that I’ve seen in many of the events that have happened at these Olympics Games. I’ve watched other athletes whose Olympic medal dreams slipped from their fingers go over and congratulate the ultimate winner. That’s what these Games are about. And, in the majority, its been in abundance.
I guess the test of someone’s character really shows in moments like this - when they don’t get what they want, but they are graceful in defeat. It’s an important lesson that we’ve all been reminded of.
Thanks, Steffen, for a job VERY well done!
|Tuesday, August 19, 2008 9:29:26 am|| |
|Sing, Sing A Song...|
Last night I had the most memorable taxi ride of my life.
Show jumping was thrilling, and the U.S. team rose to the occasion and made the country super proud by charging across the tricky and technical courses to seal the deal on bringing home a Gold medal. It was brilliant.
I was on a high, and after the press conference, I headed out the door to the bus to get to the metro. For some reason I still can’t figure out, the buses were moving slower than molasses. I finally got to the metro, and it was already much later than I hoped it would be. So, with a bit of cash in my pocket, I decided to treat myself to a cool taxi ride home instead of dealing with the metro.
Here is where the fun began.
Instead of walking up the long, sloped sidewalk to the Sha Tin metro entrance, I crossed the path of the many buses lined up and jumped in the first taxi I saw. Immediately, I noticed the gentleman turned down his music that was playing.
“Nathan Road and Mody Road - downtown Kowloon, thank you,” I said to him.
“Yes,” he replied, nodding his head, knowing exactly where I wanted to go.
I noticed he hadn’t turned his music back on, and since I was in a great mood and my I-Pod battery was dry at the press center, I told him to turn the music back on, if he wanted to.
| The one and only Engelbert.|
“You like music?” he asked me, turning the radio back on - it was on 100.2 FM, I noticed. I wasn’t sure what kind of channel this was. I really didn’t care as long as it wasn’t opera - which tends to give me a headache. I was hoping for something upbeat.
What I got was a whole lot more. This station turned out to be some sort of “oldies” channel - a weird mix of 40s, 50s and 60s.
“Please release me, let me go!” sang the crooner on the radio, loudly at that. My new friend-in-music didn’t hesitate when I said turn the music on. Since I had told him I liked music, he must have thought I meant loud, as well (which I do).
After a second, I realized this was the one and only 60s smooth operator - Engelbert Humperdinck. I couldn’t help but start laughing. That would be the first of many to follow on my 20 minute ride through the lights and tunnels of Hong Kong.
I couldn’t help but hum along with the old tune, knowing it from wherever it found its way into my musical vocabulary. And, as if my humming was a cue, my taxi driver burst out into song!
“…For I don’t love you…anymore!” he sang, in a thick Cantonese accent, not quite getting the pronunciation correct, but knowing each word by heart!
I was floored. I sat there for a second, thinking I was on Hong Kong’s version of “Candid Camera,” another blast from the past.
And it kept on coming. I continued to hum (not knowing the complete lyrics) and he continued to sing, full-throttle, until the very last word of the song.
I burst into immediate applause when he finished. He looked in his rearview mirror and said, “I thank you very much, sir!” This guy was one-of-a-kind. I had yet to meet anyone like him in Hong Kong over the last two weeks. I doubt I’ll ever meet anyone like him again.
I laughed so hard I thought I would cry. This was turning out to be the best taxi ride of my life. Who would have thought I would get into the taxi of the King of Hong Kong karaoke?!
| This song is known in any language.|
A commercial came on - in Cantonese - after the song. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would be moved into singing when the music returned.
From the first notes, I knew the song. It was one of the world’s most famous holiday songs, and I was stunned that I was hearing it, in the back of a Hong Kong taxi, in the middle summer.
“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby.
This song holds a special place in my heart. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this song, surrounded by my family at Christmastime. If the earlier song hadn’t been such a laugh riot, I probably would have teared up and cried. While this trip has been that of a lifetime, there is nothing like missing your family, especially when there are hard times at home. This was also a favorite song of my Dad, who I miss very much, since his passing.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” began the song. “Just like the ones I used to know.”
A lump formed in my throat. My taxi driver sang the song with heart and soul. I don’t even know if he celebrates Christmas, but you would have had no doubts if you have been beside me in the back seat. I was suddenly in a totally different mind frame and world.
I knew this song, and I didn’t let one note or word go unsung.
| "What's new?"|
Another commercial followed that Yuletide great. A good thing, too. I needed a moment to refocus, compose and remember where I was. Right…headed back to the hotel for a cool shower and place to prop up my feet.
After the commercial played out, it was back to more music. And the twists and turns this radio station made were as sharp and out-of-left-field as the ones my driver was making through the maze that is Hong Kong.
The next song began….
“What’s new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
I thought I would fall into the floor of the backseat of the taxi.
The Karaoke King knew every single word of this song, too. And, I must admit, I knew a line or two myself.
I couldn’t help it or hold back. I joined in song, once more, bringing me back from my solemn and emotion-filled prior number.
“Pussycat, Pussycat, I've got flowers, and lots of hours to spend with you!” we both sang, he much better than me. I laughed so hard I could barely form words. He was having the time of his life…and so was I. He must have thought I was a record producer, and he was auditioning for “American Idol.”
He gave it his all. Line after line, chorus, refrain. It was a taxi ride that went on for about 20 minutes, but I would not have cared it he had driven around for an hour. I was having a blast. It was like something out of a screwball movie about going to Asia.
It was brilliant. I will never, ever forget it.
We arrived at my hotel, and I paid him the fare. And, of course, I gave him a generous tip. I told him that was the very best taxi ride I had ever had, and I hoped he had a very good night.
“Thank you very much, sir. You practice and sing better,” he laughed.
I smiled back at him and shook my head, knowing my vocal limitations.
Walking into the hotel, through the lobby and up to the room, I couldn’t get the songs out of my head. I had to go immediately to my desk and grab a piece of paper and write down the songs before I forgot them. I knew I had to share this story.
I guess it’s appropriate that tonight’s event is the musical freestyle in the Olympics final and deciding night of which horse-and-rider combination will take home the Individual medals in dressage.
And if any one of the athletes uses a song I sang last night, I know it will be an omen.
|Monday, August 18, 2008 8:35:40 am|| |
|Dim Sum and Then Some....|
Today, I was treated to a wonderful treat - dim sum.
Dim sum is a Chinese way of eating. You can select from many different types of small bites and dishes and mix-and-match exactly what you want to eat. It’s a lot of fun, and if you live near a Chinese restaurant that serves dim sum, and you haven’t been, it is a lot of fun and you’ll be hooked on it.
Two gorgeous journalists (and friends of mine) - Jenn Wood and Jenn Ross - called me on their way from one of the many downtown tailors in Tsim Sha Tsui. They had their final fittings for some very nice items they had designed for them. They were hungry. And Hong Kong is a great place in which to find yourself hungry. The options are endless.
| The options are endless wth dim sum.|
“Hey, I have an idea,” I said. “How about we do dim sum!”
“Hmm…that could be fun,” said Jenn #1.
“OK, sounds good,” said Jenn #2.
A quick trip down to the concierge in my hotel, and we had explicit directions to one of Hong Kong’s most famous dim sum spots - the Jade Garden - located on the fourth floor of a tall building with a great view of Victoria Harbour. Perfect.
We entered the afternoon heat of downtown Kowloon and walked the three or four blocks to our destination. We passed Harry Winston, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Gucci and several other shops that are so far beyond my back account that I had to laugh.
A block away and the storefronts changed a bit. We began running into McDonalds and Starbucks and Haagen Dazs.
Entering the restaurant’s building, we were greeted by a wonderfully refreshing blast of arctic air.
“God bless the person who invented air-conditioning,” I thought to myself. Today’s heat index was 105F.
Soon we were entering the dim sum restaurant, and we could not wait to see what array of delights were on the menu. We were greeted, seated and began to pour over not one, but five different menus. Some were in only Cantonese, some had photos to help us out, others had both Cantonese and English without photos. There was a pencil in a vase in the middle of the table, and the idea is that you take one of the paper menus and mark off the various selections you want to have.
I wasted no time in looking over the menus and ticking off the delicious morsels I would have for my late lunch. The only drawback for me is my shellfish allergy, so I had to triple-check everything I asked for because the last thing I wanted was a fast dash back to the hotel room to stab myself in the leg with an EpiPin, which will keep my head from blowing up like a balloon.
| It could not have arrived quicker.|
It wasn’t long until our rounds of dim sum arrived. One after the other. They were incredible. Each one presented at the table in individual bamboo steamers.
“This is like tapas,” said Jenn #1.
“Yup, I bet they got the idea from the Chinese,” I replied, stuffing my face with Char Siao Bao (delicious steamed buns filled with an amazing sweet and salty barbequed pork).
Then, I moved on to yet another taste sensation - one after the other.
Jenn #2 ordered an interesting dim sum that was almost sushi-looking. Rice on two sides with some amazing looking sauce-laden meat in the middle, wrapped in a large lotus leaf and steamed.
“Do I eat the leaf?” she asked.
Acting like I knew what I was saying, I said, “Sure, it’s just like grape leaves in Greek food. Tear into it.” And she did.
She soon learned that you do NOT eat the leaf, rather you unfold it to reveal the dim sum inside. We all got a great laugh out of it, watching her struggle to tear into the leaf, which was not about to happen.
After stuffing our faces, I asked if anyone had a sweet tooth and wanted some dessert. There was a beautiful mango flan-type thing on the menu that tempted me.
“How about we do Haagen Dazs,” said Jenn #1.
It was a unanimous decision. Ice cream it would be.
Jenn #1 was kind enough to pick up the check and she looked around the large restaurant to get the attention of our waitress. She caught the eye of a woman walking by and gave here the “Check, please” look.
But, the woman did not stop. She kept walking by, ignoring Jenn #1.
Turns out the woman was dining there herself, and Jenn #1 just tried to get her to give us our bill.
“That’s not the waitress!” I burst out laughing. Jenn #2 almost choked on the last bite of one of her own dim sum.
We laughed so hard at this perfect gaffe that we were at tears. “Stop it!” said Jenn #1, tears getting ready to pour from here eyes, her head hung down trying to hide herself.
I laughed and laughed. It was a perfect end to our authentic Chinese dining experience. Probably the best meal I’ve had in Hong Kong, as well as absolutely perfect and charming company.
| My favorite Chinese food - Char Siao Bao.|
We eventually found our waitress, paid and went on our ice cream hunt. A scoop of my favorite - ducle de leche - hit the spot after I opted out of getting the green tea ice cream. After one taste-test spoon, I knew it was not the choice for me, despite it’s vibrant green color.
With our hunger satiated, we made the trek back to the hotel, passing the same high-end shops that taunted us on the way to the restaurant.
“I’m going in Tiffany tomorrow,” I thought to myself. “And, I want to go into Louis Vuitton, too. I need to check out their stitching and leather quality so I can compare it to the knock-offs down the street.” I’m very curious to see just how good these faux-options really are compared to the real thing. I probably won’t buy anything for myself, but I’m super curious.
Soon, it was time to pack up the laptop, grab my media credentials that have worn a place on the back of my sweaty neck from having them around my neck so much, and make my way on the metro to the venue.
It was a great day before coming to the venue to watch some great show jumping.
With the U.S. team tied with Switzerland for a Team Gold, it’s going to be a nail-biter for sure. And a long night to boot.
And I can’t wait!
|Sunday, August 17, 2008 7:54:46 am|| |
|The Medals Tally...|
There is much talk about who will end up on top of the medal pile when these Games end in about a week. It is a matter of much national pride to any country that comes to an Olympic Games. But some perspective is a very good thing.
The Chinese look at it in terms of what country has the most Gold medals. While the U.S. tends to look at it from a total medals point of view. Currently, China leads with the number of Golds, but the U.S. leads with the total number of overall medals. If this remains constant throughout week two of the Games, then both countries will be able to claim victory once the dust settles.
There are more than 200 countries that sent delegations to the Beijing Olympics this year. I believe it is 204 to be precise. Only the United Nations and an Olympic Games can bring together so many different cultures and peoples. It’s an amazing thing, and one of my favorite things is interacting and meeting people from all over the world - and every walk of life imaginable.
When I think about who will end up on top the medal pile, of course, I want it to be the United States of America. I think I would lose my passport and be labeled an “ex-pat” if I felt otherwise. But, I can’t help root for the underdog in some cases.
| Liechtenstein leads the pack per capita.|
There are countries that have been sending teams to the Olympics for decades and have yet to see one single medal - Bronze, Silver or Gold. Talk about spirit and hope. Some countries send a team of athletes that you can count on one hand. While others, like the U.S., China, Germany, Australia, etc., send hundreds of athletes. It seems that there is a mathematical imbalance here when the odds are considered for these small teams. But, that’s the Olympics.
I watched Michael Phelps break the Olympic record in swimming and was very impressed. But, I have to say, I am just as impressed with the swimmer or track athlete or competitor from some small, little-known country, that has a one-in-a-million shot of winning a medal. But, they are here. And they are competing.
Some countries have never won an Olympic medal - there are dozens actually. While a list I recently found online shows countries that have won a single medal. I can only imagine the excitement and jubilation that goes on in their country when this momentous occasion occurs. It might the biggest news to hit their country in ages, and I’m sure that athlete becomes a national treasure with the face plastered on posters and postage stamps and their own version of the Wheaties cereal box.
| Macedonia's one medal is a proud one.|
There is a long list of countries that have only won one medal (I say “only” in no disrespect). Countries winning one medal in their Olympic history include Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Iraq, Guyana, Djibouti, Bermuda and Barbados. Each of them has taken home a Bronze medal in various disciplines.
The Ivory Coast, Netherlands Antilles, Paraguay, Senegal, Singapore, Tonga, Vietnam and the Virgin Islands have each been awarded a beautiful Silver medal for their efforts.
Countries winning a single Gold medal include Burundi, Ecuador and the United Arab Emirates.
Not all of those countries are tiny, either. Which made me think about the larger countries that have been surprising in the lower number of medals they have received.
The Philippines, with a population of 91 million inhabitants has won a total of nine medals in their Olympic history - two Silver and seven Bronze.
India, with one of the world’s largest populations - 1.1 billion - has taken home a total of 17 medals - eight Gold, four Silver and five Bronze.
And on the other hand, there are much smaller countries that have - per capita - really shone at the Games and taken a disproportionate number to their delight.
Sweden - with a population of nine million - has taken an incredible 469 medals. Hungary - with a population of under 10 million - has taken 450. Australia’s 20 million citizens can be attributed to 397. Finland’s five million citizens have earned 292. Bulgaria’s seven million countrymen and women has brought home 207.
| Sweden knows how to bring home medals.|
I’m sure there is a mathematical formula to plug in the number of citizens and medals and calculate the most industrious country in terms of medals haul. I’m not going to do it. I hate math and accounting of any form. But, in this instance, I really found these particular numbers very intriguing. So, I went online and found a source that had done the work for me. It isn’t completely up-to-date (as of just before the Athens 2004 Games), but it gives an interesting snapshot of who possibly remains in the lead as the most successful Olympic Games countries per capita.
1st - tie between Liechtenstein and the former East Germany
3rd - Norway
4th - Finland
5th - Hungary
6th - Sweden
7th - Bulgaria
8th - Switzerland
9th - Estonia
10th - Bahamas
The United States has brought home somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,400-plus medals in its history. As much as I want to complain that we are not doing so hot in equestrian events thus far, I need to shut my mouth and remember that all things are relative. We may not have won a team eventing Gold (or medal) this year, but we have won plenty of eventing medals before…and we will again.
That’s the true Olympic spirit.
Besides, there’s still chance for equestrian to add to Gina Miles’ amazing Individual Silver in eventing. With our show jumpers sailing around the ring in Hong Kong, and our two remaining dressage riders ready for the Kur, there’s plenty of work to be done in these last days.
I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
|Saturday, August 16, 2008 1:58:43 pm|| |
|Full Moon Over Hong Kong|
Tonight, riding on the bus to the venue, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the rising full moon that loomed over the long stretch of 40-story apartment buildings that go on forever along the river running through this part of the city. It was hypnotic.
Whenever there is a full moon at home, I always seem to hear the oddest stories. “Did you hear that so-and-so….blah, blah, blah.” The full moon seems to bring out the strangest (or most extreme) behavior in people. Maybe the same will happen here in Hong Kong, but in a good way.
| The Chinese characters for "full moon."|
I was curious if the full moon had any special meaning or lore to the Chinese people. Y research led me to a ton of information, tales and stories.
I came to find out that there is quite a connection between the Chinese and the moon. It goes back thousands of years, in fact.
Each year, the Chinese celebrate a long-standing tradition - the Moon Festival. It takes place on the 15th night of the eighth lunar month (falling between the September and October). So, it’s right around the corner - the next full moon that occurs.
Unfortunately, I won’t be here to celebrate it. But, I was intrigued to learn more about it.
The event is also known as the Autumn Festival, and it is just as popular here as the more Western traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas are back home. And just as these Western holidays have many stories and histories behind them, so does the Moon Festival.
According to Ancient Chinese legend, Chang Er, a Chinese goddess flew to the moon and lives there - actually she was banished to the moon for her deeds.
As the story goes, she and her husband, Houyi, were immortals who lived in heaven. Through a series of unfortunate happenings (which included them sacrificing nine of their 10 sons), the Jade Emperor punished the couple by sending them to Earth, making them mortals.
| Chang Er overdosed and flew to the moon.|
Chang Er was very upset at her fate to become a mortal, and off went her husband to find a solution (a kind of pill or medicine that would revive their immortality). He found this pill when he meet the Queen Mother of the West. The Queen Mother told Houyi that only one-half the pill would do the trick to bring back immortality. Not one bit more.
Excited, he returned home to his wife, and he put the magical pill in a case.
Do you see any foreshadowing here? Think the Greek’s version of “Pandora’s Box.”
As you guessed it, Chang Er was warned not to open the box. But she did, finding the magical pill. She consumed the pill in a panic, and then began floating up into the sky. Eventually, she landed on the moon. That is where she lives to this day.
One might consider Chang Er to be the Chinese equivalent of the West’s “Man in the Moon.”
Today, the Moon Festival is a cause for celebrations, and particularly family reunions. It’s a chance to get together, watch the full moon, stay up late and gorge yourself on moon cakes and sing songs. And for those who are separated during the event, that is no cause not to take part. It’s common for couples who are not together to take time out and schedule a time when they can both be looking at the moon. It’s a way for them to be together while they are apart - very romantic.
| Moon cakes are a must-eat treat.|
I found it very interesting (and kind of funny) that, today, the revelers at the Moon Festival will build an altar for Chang Er to bless. That’s not so strange. What I found to be odd is that the human offering at the altar are new toiletries! But, then I realized that toiletries can include soaps, shampoos, makeup, etc. And when she blesses the offerings, they are then endowed to bring beauty to the person making the offering. Kind of makes sense.
As I am sitting here now during a break from the competition - tonight is the dressage Grand Prix Special - I’m thinking about the beauty and the grace of these amazing riders. Two Americans have made the cut - Steffen Peters (aboard Ravel) and Courtney King Dye (aboard Mythilus). They are continuing in their hopes of bringing home an Individual Olympic medal. My hopes and thoughts are with each of them.
I’m hoping that tonight’s full moon shines down on each of them as they ride in the special, bringing them and their horses a lucky night.
The luck and beauty of the full moon.
|Friday, August 15, 2008 7:42:46 am|| |
|"What's on the Menu?"|
One of the interesting things about the trip to Hong Kong has been the food. From high-end Cantonese cuisine to local family-owned food stalls to the meals offered to the athletes, press and staff of the Olympic Games at the equestrian venue, it has ran the gamut. It’s also caused more than one case of serious heart burn to say the least.
You can find some of the most interesting (and disturbing, depending on your sensitivity level) foods on the open streets of Hong Kong.
I took a trip the other day to a local “wet market.” This is a marketplace (this one was semi-open air) that gets its name from the fact that the floor and areas around it are sprayed down with water, hence the name “wet market.” In these places, you can find live animals (from fish to frogs, poultry to pigs). The animals are caged or in containers and butchered for you on the spot. To a Westerner, this might seem a bit extreme, but it puts the term “fresh” to its most literal use. You can also find fresh fruits and vegetables at these markets. Many of the local “mom and pop” shops get their goods here.
| A picture menu can really be handy!|
A little less “in your face” is the traditional supermarkets here in Hong Kong. A walk through one of them will reveal a world of foods and ingredients to make the head spin. Things I’ve never seen or heard of before abound (and I’m a pretty knowledgeable cook, many stumped me). It’s a fun way to spend some time in Hong Kong if you are a “foodie” like me.
The other day, my good buddy and journalist, Jennifer Wood, and I went on a lunch excursion. Near her hotel is a wide array of small restaurants ranging from the street-side café type to the indoor-sit down variety. Since it was hotter than blue blazes, we decided to go indoors and sit down in a very cool and comfortable little spot. At each table had a flat screen TV built into the booth’s wall. The show playing while we dined was some Chinese cartoon that made no sense whatsoever to either of us. We just watched some of it and shook our heads.
Ordering in this restaurant was a bit of problem as our waitress spoke not one word of English. She was smart and brought us a picture menu which showed many of their favorite dishes - eel and rice to whole fried duck.
We both opted for something a bit on the safe side. She is a vegetarian, so she wanted some veggie noodles. However, the waitress could not understand when Jenn pointed to the photo of the shrimp noodles in the picture menu and said “No shrimp,” pointing at the shrimps in the photo and shaking her head back-and-forth to indicate she wanted the dish without them.
After several minutes of this tiresome exercise, the waitress left and brought back someone that knew a few words of English. It really didn’t help much, but we were able to get him to half-way understand. Her dish arrived and in place of the shrimps were thin strips of beef. She shook her head when it arrived and simply dealt with it and ate around the beef.
| Steamers filled with goodies.|
I had less trouble ordering. I asked for some kind of barbequed pork dish with rice. It came without incident, thankfully.
Another interesting meal here in Hong Kong came when I went out one night on my own to get something to eat. I had eaten enough room service (it is just so easy to pick up the phone at 1 a.m. and order something simple than run out in the middle of the night on unfamiliar streets).
However, one night I did venture out and found a small spot that had, to my luck, one of my favorite Chinese dishes - Char Siu Bao - steamed dumplings filled with a spicy pork or beef. They are amazing and I first tried them years ago when in New York City’s Chinatown. These are not the traditional dumpling like you get in your hometown Chinese restaurant. These gems are amazing, and I can never get enough of them.
I found the ultimate authentic thing here in Hong Kong, and even though I knew my stomach would pay for it the next day, I simply didn’t care. I had to have them, and so I did. The discomfort was more than worth it the next day.
Another strange, and kind of funny, food experience happened here at the Olympic venue last week. I was here one day early and decided I would get a bite of breakfast. I made my way downstairs to the dining hall. Each day there are several choices to have for each meal - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many of the media haven’t had a meal outside this place probably - work hours can be long.
| I wish I had kept an eye on them....|
I went to the main board to see the day’s breakfast offerings. I like a hearty breakfast. The yogurt-and-fruit thing has never satisfied my taste buds. So, I was intrigued by one dish described as “Noodles with Meat and Egg.”
In my convoluted mind, that sounded like a version of egg drop soup with meat and some noodles. I thought, “Let’s try it.” Plus, I kept seeing people go by with large bowls, which it was served in, so I thought if everyone else was ordering it, I should to.
I was very wrong.
Without paying too much attention, I walked up to the line, told the service person I wanted Letter A (you order by letter) and turned around and gave my attention elsewhere while my breakfast was being assembled. When I turned around, I was shocked when I looked down into the bowl to find the following….
Ramen noodles. Two slices of Spam. A fried egg. Chicken broth. Three pieces of limp broccoli.
Ramen noodles and Spam? What’s with the fried egg floating on top greasy chicken stock? And was the three sad pieces of broccoli meant to counter-balance the million grams of fat and salt that was wafting in this oversized bowl in front of me?
I was stupefied…and a little cautious.
“Next!” yelled the lady behind the counter. I grabbed my tray and, in a confused state, and made my way to the checkout counter.
“$35 dollars,” yelled the cashier. I handed her my money, and I slowly made my way to the media-only dining area to sit down and contemplate my breakfast decision.
I sat there for a few minutes, turning my attention to the flat screen TV showing beach volleyball. Then I remembered I had my breakfast to eat. I suddenly wasn’t so hungry after all.
“I should have gotten an ice cream bar,” I thought. But, I hadn’t gotten an ice cream bar. I wish I had.
“OK…let’s try this,” I thought. And I did.
I don’t want to offend any culture’s taste in what they like for breakfast, but this was really horrible. It was perfectly horrible to be more specific.
I just couldn’t eat it. After one bite, I put down my chopsticks and sighed. I had just wasted money on something that many of the people in this dining hall would be happy to eat. I felt foolish.
If I had been in someone’s home here in Hong Kong, and they had served that to me, I would have eaten it. But I wasn’t in someone’s home, and I wasn’t going to eat it.
I took my tray over to the area where they kindly instruct you to bus your own plates and trays. The woman standing beside the bins looked at me like I was the biggest sinner in the world - wasting food! How dare I?
As I poured my “breakfast” into the garbage receptacle, she looked at me and frowned. I felt really uncomfortable. I turned and deposited my bowl and chopsticks in the bussing trays on the nearby table. She was still staring at me. I immediately turned, not looking back, and made my way for the staircase, and quick.
I got back to my seat in the media center and was still hungry. I opted for some three-in-one tea (a blend of tea and powdered sweet milk) to soothe my disturbing breakfast experience.
It was going to be a long time until lunch and the menu changed. I sat there hoping the disapproving garbage lady would be off duty when I returned that afternoon for lunch. She was not.
The minute I walked into the dining hall, she spotted me like an eagle at 100 yards away. This time I ordered something so completely innocuous that I knew I would eat every bite.
When I went to bus my tray, she was not there (thankfully). Perhaps she was on a break. Maybe it was her time to eat. Regardless, I didn’t get the “evil eye” and that was a good thing.
|Thursday, August 14, 2008 7:37:22 am|| |
|Party Time - Hong Kong Style|
On Wednesday (yesterday), the “Party Gods” were ready to let loose on a bash hosted by the 2010 Games Foundation with the help of the USET and the USEF. It was hosted as one of the most spectacular bar/restaurants in all of Hong Kong - Aqua.
This bar has been constantly named one of the Top 100 bars in the world, and one look at it will erase any doubts about the rankings. I’d place it squarely near the top and for many reasons - lead among the is the one-of-a-kind two-story view of the city’s skyline. For more than 180 degrees, you can see the East, South and West views - it is truly fantastic.
| A publicity shot of Aqua Bar at night.|
The party coincided with dressage competition, so I was not able to stay for very long. The events began at 5 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. (though I hear it went past this cut-off).
Aqua is located on the 28th and 29th floors of the One Peking Road building, just a few blocks away from our hotel. It is first-rate all the way.
Senior VP of Marketing and Communications Kathy Meyer spent part of her day seeing to final touches, making sure that everything would be “just right.” She is great with details and has an impeccable eye, so all was in good hands.
Entering the building, you must take a steep escalator to the main foyer of the building. You immediately know you are in one of Hong Kong’s coolest spots. After walking to the elevators, I was greeted by a young Chinese lady who asked my destination.
“Aqua Bar, please,” I said.
“Ah, this has been reserved for a very special event this evening. I’m sorry,” she said, as if I was not to be given admittance.
| The view over Kowloon Park.|
“I’m invited,” I assured her, pulling out my Olympic credentials from my pocket and waving it at her as politely as I could.
“Ah, yes, sir,” she said, and I was given entry. I boarded the elevator that whisked so fast up the 28 floors that my ears popped! The doors opened and in front of me was revealed the sleek foyer to the bar.
“Wow,” I thought, “This is swanky.”
I entered the bar, and flanked on each side of me were servers stoically standing with trays of exotic cocktails, all of which I wanted to try, but none of which I dare imbibed.
“Work,” I said to myself, “Unlike other, you are not here to hob knob, you are here to take some quick pics of guests and then haul your butt to the venue. Dressage starts tonight, and I’m not here to miss a single minute of competition.”
I walked down the stairs into the two-story all glass main bar. My jaw dropped at the panoramic view of the city.
“Breathtaking,” I thought to myself. “I only wish I could be here when it gets dark and they show the harbor laser light show!”
I had seen the light show my first night day in Hong Kong. I sat in my hotel room and watched the long line of huge buildings change color, light up and shoot laser beams into the sky. It was so cool. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower light up at night, sparking like a jeweled monument, and I’ve seen the Parthenon in Athens aglow at night, washed with white light, shining like a beautiful reminder of Ancient times. But, I’d never seen anything as Technicolor as the Hong Kong skyline flickering like Studio 54 in its heyday.
“Photos,” I reminded myself.
| Sushi chefs hand-prepare the nosh.|
So, I went about taking candid shots of the bar and view and some of the guests as they arrived for the party.
Beezie Madden and Anne Kursinski made their way in, decked out in the team “look” compliments of Ralph Lauren. Amy Tryon and Becky Holder made their entrance. Officials from the FEI, Olympic officials and many more athletes and international guests all came to raise a few glasses, celebrate the Games and look forward to the events that go down in Lexington, KY, in 2010.
After getting about 30 shots, I looked at my watch and thought, “Yikes, if you are going to take the subway, you better haul it now or you will miss the first rider.”
So, trying to be a good boy, I put my digital camera away and headed back to the hotel to change out of one sweaty shirt for a clean one, throw on some shorts and grab my sandals (it hasn’t rained in days, thank goodness) and head out to the Olympic venue.
On the train, I kept thinking about the party, and how much fun everyone was having. I was glad for them. They’ve all worked hard and they deserve a night where they can kick up their heels and party. It’s not every year that you get to the Olympics, or get to host a party celebrating the horse world coming to your home for a World Equestrian Games.
But, I sure did want one of those lychee martinis….
|Thursday, August 14, 2008 6:18:05 am|| |
|Off to Work We Go...|
Getting to and from the Olympics in Hong Kong has been an interesting experience. Unlike other Games (including the 2004 Athens Games, or the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, or the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the transportation system here in Hong Kong goes almost directly to the Olympic venue. It’s very nice since it can be like herding cats when trying to get staff, athletes and media here for Team USA altogether in one place to take specially hired shuttle vans to make the trek to and from the venue.
So…we have all sort of developed our own transportation methods to get to “work” and back “home” from the venue. Mine involves a subway (or train) trip, a hired taxi to the official media hotel and then a shuttle bus that takes me directly inside the venue, past security, and drops me off within a few hundred feet of the media center.
Here is how my daily journey goes….
| I've learned this map well.|
I start out at the nice Sheraton Hotel which is located at the tip of Hong Kong, just across from Hong Kong Island with the spectacular views of the many skyscrapers that are so characteristic of this amazing city. It’s also across the street from Harry Winston and Louis Vuitton. You get the picture.
Just on the other side of our block is the East Tsim Sha Tsui metro station - very convenient. What is so nice about it is that it is air-conditioned. Excellent! Walk in the building and go down the escalators to the main metro area. A quick walk through the metro and you can slide your Octopus card (this has come in very handy here) and you are inside the transportation hub and can easily access the train that takes me the first leg of my daily two-way journey.
An Octopus card is like a credit card that you purchase with a set amount of money on it. You keep it in your pocket, wallet or purse and simply wave the card (in your pocket, wallet or purse) near the Octopus screen and it automatically deletes that fare from your card once you leave your final destination. Super simple. Depending on the distance of your trip, you are charged a varying fare. You can also use the Octopus card at various fast food spots, 7-11 and other places where you make small purchases. We should have a version of it in the States.
| Everyone carries one of these.|
Once I exit the metro at Sha Tin (which has a really neat shopping complex built over top of it), you exit into the hot air and go down a large, descending walkway to the area where you pick up a taxi to head to the official media hotel located in Sha Tin at the Regal Riverside Hotel. The other day, I stopped into the mall and had a quick bite at a place called Euro Go-Go, which served only Western style food. I was craving some good Italian, and I go it.
Back to my work route. It’s a quick taxi ride - maybe 5 minutes and costs approximately $3 U.S. - and it drops you off where you can go through security to enter the Olympic venue. This prevents me from having to stand in line with tons of spectators which can take forever to maneuver. It’s called a bubble-to-bubble transport - meaning you are in a safe/secure bubble at your departure and you end up at the other bubble to be dropped off. Nice.
Once you go through security at the media hotel, you board a bus to the venue, which is another short trip - about 10 minutes. They drop you off inside the venue at the media facility.
When it is time to go home…you do the plan in reverse.
| This freaked me out.|
The other night, after the awarding of the eventing medals, I left the media center a bit later than usual - around 1:45 a.m. The last subway/train going to my final destination leaves the station at a little after 2:00 a.m., so I have to really hustle to get to my final train.
By the time I made it to the metro at Sha Tin, there were maybe 20 people on the final train downtown to East Tsim Sha Tsui. There are six stops on the way. After two stops on my journey, I was the very last person on the entire subway train! It was completely deserted and each time there was a stop at a station, I looked out at the empty platforms. It sort of freaked me out a bit.
These platforms during the day and evening are jam-packed with thousands and thousands of people. It’s so crowded. To see absolutely no one around was really weird. I got creeped out. All kinds of scenarios from horror movies and slasher movies popped into my crazy head. Not fun.
When I reached the final destination, I exited the subway car with caution and looked both ways - no one. Not one soul anywhere to be found on the lower levels.
I found myself power walking to the escalator to take me to the main transit level. I was actually climbing up the stair on the escalator - something I never do. When I got out there, there was no one. Only the computerized voice of the announcer saying this was the last train (in Cantonese and then English with a British accent) and to please exit the transit center.
I walked quickly through the transit center and turned a sharp corner only to bump, smack-dab, into a sanitation worker. My heart jumped into my chest and I thought I was going to keel over dead on the spot. I may have even scared this poor guy more than he scared me. My mind loves to play tricks on me, and it was in full form that night.
I made my way out of the transit center, going up the final escalator and onto the hot, late night streets. A block away, I found my hotel and was glad to be there.
So…that’s my daily routine here in Hong Kong when traveling to and from the Games. It’s been a great way to observe the people, learn the transportation system and get some fun stories to add my growing list thus far from this incredible place.
|Wednesday, August 13, 2008 9:51:28 am|| |
|Oh, The Place You Will Go…and the Things You Get Asked|
Everywhere I go, I make a new friend. I guess I’m one of those people who “never meets a stranger.”
The same has rang true here in Hong Kong. I can honestly say there are few places I’ve been around the world that I’ve found the people to be so friendly and so helpful. Especially anyone associated with the Olympic Games. If you find a person wearing one of the Beijing 2008 shirts (they are everywhere), then you’ve found someone who will stop what they are doing, no matter what, and lend you a hand. Basically, you’ve made a new friend.
| Two new acquaintances at Sha Tin.|
This is true for two of my new Chinese buddies - Nofi and Tony. Nofi is a very sweet and meek (at first) young lady from Hong Kong. She is a recent high school (their version) graduate who is working the summer games as her summer job before she goes to a technical school (a version of their university). She told me she wants to work in an office one day and own a car. My other new friend is “Tony” (his real name I cannot pronounce, but as many Chinese do, they take on a Western name). He has completed a year of university and is working on some sort of business degree. He wants to travel one day he told me.
The other day, I gave both Nofi and Tony one of the Team USA pins. Their faces lit up as if I had given them a Golden Ticket like in “Willy Wonka.” I couldn’t help but smile at their reaction. So much appreciation for such a small gesture.
“Thank you so much!” squealed Nofi. “Oh, yes, thank you, Brian” said Tony. They both immediately put them on the lanyards - the first and only pins they had gotten. Pin collecting at these events is a big thing for some people; lanyards are practically weighted down with them. I find them to be bothersome, so I collect them when given them (or trade them) and keep them in a drawer, not on my lanyard.
This pin-giving opened up a new door between Nofi and Tony and I. We had chatted briefly and cordially when I would leave the press room (which is set at about 60 degrees F). Even as this heat and humidity leave me weak, once you are in the 60 degrees for a while, you need to go outside and warm up a bit - it doesn’t take long. Two or three minutes and I’m found running back into the “fridge.”
After giving the Team USA pins to Nofi and Tony, I saw them change a bit. It was as if we WERE good friends and they opened and began to ask me questions about the U.S., my life and what is was like to be an American. Honestly, I don’t think they had had a real conversation with an American before. At least that is what it seemed like to me.
It was one of the most eye-opening discussions I’ve had in a long time, and it taught me a lot about how we are viewed (or perceived) by the Chinese. At least these two very nice Chinese folks.
It began with a simple question.
| The Colonel is everywhere!|
Nofi asked, “Brian, where are you from?” I immediately went to the default answer. “Do you like KFC?” I asked. “Oh, yes, it is so good,” replied Nofi. “I like Wasabi recipe!” she said. It’s one of their flavors here, like Original Recipe, but very, very spicy and hot. I went on to say I was from Kentucky, as in Kentucky Fried Chicken. Here eyes lit up and she laughed and said, “Yes, I love Kentucky Chicken!”
That made me laugh.
I explained that fried chicken was a traditional Southern food and that Kentucky is Southern state and that good ol’ KFC originated there and that I liked it, too.
“Yes, I see you do,” she said, looking at my fat gut. Then she realized what she had said and turned the brightest shade of red I had ever seen. She immediately apologized and turned around as if she could not even look at me.
I laughed out loud, and told her not to worry and that it was completely OK. I told her I had eaten KFC a thousand times, and yes it is not the best diet food. I assured her that her response was perfectly fine (and very funny) and she recovered. I rubbed my stomach and said, “Mmmm…KFC!” She burst in hysterical laughter. It was a great, funny moment.
Then, Tony decided to ask me a much more interesting question. “Americans, yes, there are many…ah, how do I say…big Americans, yes?”
“Yes, there sure are, Tony,” I replied. “We have very relaxed lives. We eat whatever we want, and we do not get enough exercise…and many of us are just lazy like me,” I replied. He shook his head as if he understood. These are, of course, generalizations, but I wanted to answer his question as honest as possible.
“Why is this so?” he continued.
I was dumbstruck for moment. Why are we so sedentary? Why do we eat whatever we want as if it won’t matter? Why am I so lazy and avoid the gym (or exercise in general) as if it was the plague?
I didn’t really have an answer. I told him I really didn’t know. But, I did. I just didn’t want to admit it.
We are lazy (most of us).
Nofi had another question she seemed very serious about.
“Is it true that George Bush and your government will give you money to NOT work?” she asked.
“Well, that is a complicated question,” I replied. “If you are hurt and you cannot work, yes, our government will help you with money.” Then, I tried to explain Welfare to them. They looked at me as if I was crazy. They could not believe that people can get money for doing nothing, basically. Not that Welfare is bad, but it just blew their minds when I told them that you can have your housing paid for and utilities and even get a special credit card for trips to the grocery store, plus a paycheck.
There was a pause after I answered that question. Then Nofi perked up, as if she had a realization and said, “So, the majority of Americans are not rich, no?” she said.
“No, Nofi,” I said. “Not all Americans are rich.”
What an eye-opener.
Keep in mind, that Nofi and Tony (from what I can gather) are not the “upper class” more Western savvy Chinese citizens. They both told me about their lives and, in our standards, they have worked themselves to death to get where they have gotten. They are not of privilege, and I guess they would be considered a part of what we might call the “lower middle to lower class” in America. I hate even thinking those words, let alone typing them. It gave me pause.
Tony threw another question at me before I got too sidetracked in my own thoughts.
“So, after you work, what is it that most Americans do with their time? Do they drink alcohol and eat lots of food?”
How do you respond to that?
I can’t tell you the number of times I hear the phrase, “Is it Happy Hour yet?” or “Man, I need a drink.” Not to mention “I am starved” or “Oh my God, I’ve eaten way to much. I am stuffed.”
Being asked these questions made me stop for a minute and try to look at my own country and the world’s perception of it. I’m not going to philosophize or try to make some great, profound statement.
I just think it was one of the most refreshing and interesting conversations I’ve had in a very long time. I was glad for it.
At this point, it was past my time to go back into the “fridge” and get back to work. As I got back to my station in the large, busy press center here at Sha Tin., I began to type this blog. It poured out of my hands. Maybe it is like some kind of social confession. I don’t know.
But, I’m glad for it.
|Tuesday, August 12, 2008 5:34:31 am|| |
I had planned on sharing some funny and interesting insights I’ve experienced over the last few days on today’s blog. But, part of the content was going to be photos of some of the Chinese folks that I’ve met on my Olympic journey. The trouble is…I’m a dillweed. Just like the rocker guy whose cell phone won’t get enough bars to get the important call about the Motorhead tickets on the cell phone commercial. Maybe you’ve seen that one.
I took the photos today. People at the local restaurant, people from the competition venue, etc. However, to my surprise, I left the cord that connects the digital camera with my laptop in my hotel room miles away. So, downloading them and using them in my blog today is a no-go. Well…I guess I’ll save that one for tomorrow and start anew.
What to write about today? Hmm….
I’ve got it. Today’s blog topic: Odds and Ends. Little bits of fun stuff, of thoughts I’ve had, or just meaningless trivia relating to my week-plus stay in amazing Hong Kong.
| The Fuwa - this is Huanhuan.|
You may have seen the little dolls that are the Olympic official mascot - the Fuwa. These five little creatures (each with a different color) are representatives for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. I learned that the word “Fuwa” means “Lucky doll” in Chinese. Neat. I personally like the one with the red hair - like a fire dragon, or the Heat Miser from the old stop-animation Christmas special they show every year.
These Fuwa are a heck of a lot better than some Olympic mascots. Does anyone remember the most ridiculous and embarrassing of the Olympic mascots? The 1996 Atlanta Olympics reached an all-time low when they unveiled the super-ridiculous “Whatz-It” or “Izzy” as he was known. The mascot was so bad, in fact, that it was banned by an Olympic committee from appearing during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Ouch!
| What were they thinking?|
Now, as Americans, the world looks at us with this expectation that we produce some of the planet’s best entertainment and pop culture. So, why is it that the organizers of the Atlanta Games couldn’t come up with something better than Izzy?
Whoever signed off on that decision really must have been having a bad day. Sheesh - that thing is a nightmare and from what I can remember, they made millions of those things and absolutely no one wanted one. They all ended up being recycled, I hope. Wow…that was bad.
Hmm…another though…Hong Kong money.
Wow…is it cool looking. Nothing like America’s “green back.” Not to continually knock the U.S., but our money is u-g-l-y. Go to any foreign country and you will find the most colorful and interesting currency. And, they are very clever in that the bills are different sizes and the coins have different shapes and thicknesses, which for a blind person is a great benefit. For a blind person in the U.S., they would be hard to differentiate the various paper denominations without a bit of assistance.
| Now THIS is cool cash!|
The colors are amazing, and my favorite bill in Hong Kong dollars is the $10 bill ($1 U.S. = approximately $7 Hong Kong).
This bill has a plastic see-through circular section on the left side that makes counterfeiting almost impossible. Plus, it’s really cool looking.
I have to give a few props to the U.S. Mint, however. They did do the really cool thing where each state got to design their own quarter, and I think Kentucky’s (with My Old Kentucky Home and a white wooden fence and Thoroughbred) is one of the best.
I had an enjoyable taxi ride the other day with Klaus Balkenhol and Steffen Peters - a thrill for fan of dressage.
I was going to take the bus and subway back to the hotel, when Gil Merrick (USEF’s dressage ringleader) was kind enough to ask if I cared to join them in the taxis they were hailing to take a group of dressage folks back to the hotel.
I sat in the front seat next to our driver (that scared the life out of me, swerving in and out of the traffic they have here). I have trouble getting settled when driving on the opposite side of the road as they do here in Hong Kong. I guess they can thank a century of British possession for that one.
I sat in the front seat with my digital camera set on the “movie” setting. I captured some footage of us heading downtown and passing all the various building and double-decker buses that service Hong Kong riders. In Hong Kong, space is a very valuable commodity, so the double-decker bus makes a lot of sense. More passengers in the same road space that a regular bus would take up. Clever.
Just a couple of random thoughts that I had while trying to come up with something “on the fly.” Apologies for the delay on the blog I meant to post today.
In the “blososphere” I’m becoming comfortable with, I guess there are those days you just have to go with what you’ve got, or think fast.
On a better note, tonight’s final competition in eventing takes place. In a sport where anything can happens (and it usually does), it will be a nail-biter to see who ends up on the Individual medal podium.
Go Team USA!
|Monday, August 11, 2008 11:19:08 pm|| |
|Lost Hats and A Reality Check...|
One of my favorite equestrian events is the cross-country day during three-day eventing. There’s nothing quite like it for me, and I was super excited to get to Bea’s River which is about a half hour North of the main equestrian facility in Hong Kong - Sha Tin.
Getting to Bea’s River, which is a transformed former golf course, was something of a journey unto itself.
I went to bed early last night, as I new it was going to take extra time to get to the facility. Plus, there was no transport to Bea’s River from the Main Press Center at Sha Tin. I would have to be creative and piece together my route.
As I woke and looked out the window onto Hong Kong Harbour, I noticed the familiar site of thick clouds and rain beginning to fall. Why was I surprised? Not so much that I was surprised and cautioned. What would this do the already soaked grounds on the cross-country course? Just the other day I heard eventer Gina Miles say that she was there last week and the rain was so hard it was raining horizontally - yikes! Plus, we’ve barely had a let up on the precipitation. How would it affect the performances today? What would it do to the times of the rides (the ride time was 8:00 minutes, and the course had been shortened after review of the various committees in charge of such things).
| We are all learning this metro stop.|
I started to leave my hotel, and of course, I forgot my travel umbrella. The very nice valet downstairs stopped me and said, “Sir, you must take an umbrella today. Go to the concierge and they will loan one to you.“ How nice! I went and got my loaner and made my way from the hotel in downtown Hong Kong and walked the block to the East Tsim Sha Tsui metro. I would head to the Sha Tin stop.
I had a strange feeling I would be one step off my beat today…and I was.
I made it through the turns style and down to the platform. The train had just departed - ugh. I waited the five minutes (not too bad) for the next one. I sat down and picked up a newspaper in Cantonese and pretended to read it (it was a jumble to me). The train showed up and I boarded it. Each car has a series of TV screens so you can watch the morning news while on your route. I watched with intent - reviews of the last day’s Olympic competition and the weather forecast - more rain. No surprises there.
I made it past my six subway stops to the Sha Tin Stop. I made my way up to the surface and exited, walking down the long sidewalk to the ground level where the buses and taxis gather to pickup and drop off passengers. At the very end, the taxis were waiting for me. I nodded at one driver and said “Official Media Hotel, please, the Regal Hotel.” He nodded back, and I began Leg #2 of my trip to Bea’s River.
| "Where are you now?"|
At this point, I was already sweating. The humidity makes me sweat like a farm animal. So, I took off my favorite ball cap and one of the only souvenirs I brought back from the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Actually, I brought back many - but they went to family and friends. This sole black cap bearing the Pan Am logo and words “Rio 2007” was my favorite cap, and I wear it all the time.
Maybe seven or eight minutes later, we had crossed the river and made it through the maze of tall apartment buildings and past the floating Chinese seafood restaurant to the Regal Hotel.
Since this is the official media hotel for the Olympics, you can check in there and go through security screening and get on a “clean” bus. A “clean bus” means you get dropped off at the door of the media center at the competition venue without having to go through security with the thousands of other people - it saves lots of time, and saves you some much-appreciated hiking through the venue.
My taxi dropped me off and I paid my $30HK for the trip (about $4.50 U.S.). Walking into the hotel, I realized my poor black Pan Am cap was leaving me - I had left it in the backseat of the taxi! UGH! I stood there as it entered a hundred other red taxis and left my life for good. I was sad…really sad. I stood there for a minute and thought, “Well, I hope whoever gets it appreciates it.” I had worn that cap around the world and now it was gone. Of course, it’s just a stupid ball cap. But, every guy has a favorite ball cap. One that doesn’t make their head look super huge, or pointy, or weird. That hat was gone forever…I had better get over it and quick. I still had to go through more security and then get on a bus to Bea’s River, located near the border of Mainland China.
I went through security. However, they stopped me. What had I done now?
“You cannot have liquids on the bus,” a very small Chinese woman said to me.
“What?” I replied. “What liquids?”
She pulled out of my bag a Snapple Peach iced tea that I had bought in the East Tsim Sha Tsui subway station.
“This liquid, sir.” she replied…and she was VERY serious about it.
I was damned if I was giving up my Snapple. I was thrilled when I saw it, and grabbed it and was waiting to get to Bea’s River before I enjoyed it. I was NOT going to let go of it.
“Give me that, please,” I said to her. She immediately knew I meant business.
I left the line, sat down on a sofa and drank every drop of it, looking at her the entire time smiling. I think this made her mad. I think she wanted to take it from me as some sort of punishment for trying to supposedly “sneak” it through security.
I drank it slowly. She told me the bus was leaving very soon. That didn’t make me rush. I relished in each sweet sip of my Snapple Peach tea. When finished, I got up and disposed of the glass bottle and said to her, “Now, let’s go.”
She extended her arm and hand, directing me to out the door into the early morning thick, humid air. I know she was glad to get rid of me. But, I had already lost my favorite cap. Don’t mess with my tea. I’m a Southern boy and tea is serious business.
| Hundreds and hundreds of these towers.|
I boarded the media bus and off we were toward the Chinese border. It was an interesting ride, past a river and many industrial plants and the occasional patch of tall apartment building. Once at the venue, we were directed through a maze of pathways to the media center.
The place was swarming with press, and I had arrived just in time for the first American rider of the day - whew. Sadly, she experienced an elimination on course (Amy Tryon and Poggio II).
The American team had a less-than-hoped-for kind of day.
Our best finisher was Gina Miles and McKinlaigh - they ended up at fifth going into the final day of show jumping tomorrow. My fingers are crossed that she gets a medal - it would be so great. She’s super nice, and this is her first Olympics. It would be something to see her on the medal podium.
Other than Gina, it didn’t seem like the Americans could buy a break today. After Amy’s elimination, four-time Olympian Karen O’Connor on the nine-year-old Mandiba found trouble in a couple of places, leaving them in 54th place. Teammate Becky Holder and her Courageous Comet landed at 48th place. Aussie-turned-American Phillip Dutton and Connaught faired much better, ending their efforts at 14th place.
In the end, heading into the final phase of eventing - show jumping - the American team sat in a surprising seventh place. There was no denying it was a surprise to many.
Leaving the press center and heading back to the media bus and my reverse-trip back to downtown Hong Kong, I started to think. “These guys have been working for four years to get to an Olympics. And there’s no denying that everyone thought we would have placed higher. I can’t believe I was so P.O.-ed about my stupid black ball cap. I wonder what they are thinking right now?”
It was an interesting lesson in perspective. The frustration of four years of hard work and hopes versus the frustration of losing a $20 ball cap.
Sometimes you just need a good reality check, you know?
Regardless of where Team USA ends up, I’m going to be screaming “Go USA” in the stands, whether they are on the medal podium or not. They deserve the support…and being lucky enough to be here in Hong Kong, they are surely going to get my support.
They’ve earned it...and more.
But…I still miss my cap.
|Friday, August 8, 2008 8:30:07 pm|| |
|The Opening Ceremonies to End All…|
I didn’t think it could be done, but I was wrong. I have seen some amazing Opening Ceremonies before. The one in Athens 2004 blew my mind with its Greek historical pageant and amazing antiquities and gorgeous Greek citizenry.
And then I came to China.
Even thought I was over 1,000 miles away from the Bird’s Nest in downtown Beijing, I felt like I was a part - heart-and-soul - of the event I watched on TV last night.
I had to be up at 4 a.m. to get to the venue this morning for the first dressage rider to take to the ring for the eventing competition, but I simply had to see every moment of the ceremony. I’ve been watching them since I was a child - and I even remember the one from Munich in 1972 - I was only six years old. I love them that much.
| The jewel of the Beijing Olympics.|
So, with an early morning ahead of me, and nary four hours of sleep, I stayed up past midnight to see every moment of this amazing event. It was, in my opinion, the most spectacular, moving, sweeping and magnificent Opening Ceremonies I have ever seen.
Some 14,000 people were choreographed to a “T.” The music, parade, pageantry and spectacle was unforgettable. There were so many moments that stood out, but there was one (actually two) in my mind that left my jaw on the floor - and one brought tears to me eyes. If you would have told me so, I would have said, “NO.” Point blank.
Again, I was wrong.
First, the event happened in what has to be one of the world’s most amazing venues - the Bird’s Nest. It’s an architectural wonder. With more than 91,000 seats, this structure rivals only its next door neighbor - the Water Cube - its own work of genius and engineering.
Packed to the rafters, the stadium was electric. The artistic quality and performance put on by the performers was beautiful. Not a foot out of place, not a cue missed, not a moment wasted - each filled with something to take in like a work of art. In short, it was perfection (in my eyes) and at times perfectly mystical.
Thousands of years of Chinese history was performed. It celebrated all that is most sacred to the Chinese - their history, contributions and achievements. I had never really thought about what good things this country has given to our planet’s civilization. Last night I was reminded - and then some.
The Parade of Nations is always a favorite part of the ceremonies for me. Watching the large contingencies (Russia, Australia, Germany, the U.S. and China) is so wonderfully balanced by the smallest of nations (some with only one or a handful of athletes). But, on that one night, each one of them stands side-by-side in the great playing field - all on equal footing as Olympians. They cheer, hug, dance, sing - celebrating their hard work and personal achievements. Each one - on that night - is a champion..
The first of my favorite moments came when Team China entered the arena to thunderous applause. Red scarves waving everywhere turned the stands into a sea of red, each person clapping and waving in pride that their country had done it - they had successfully made it to the Olympic deadline and the Games were beginning.
The part that really touched me was when Chinese basketball star Yao Ming (who plays for the Rockets NBA team) held his country’s flag and marched into the stadium leading his countrymen and women. The best part was who accompanied him - a five-year-old boy from Sichuan Province - Lin Hao. This little boy was a primary student at a school in the earthquake torn part of China last May. He helped save two of his classmates and endangered his own life in doing so. More than 69,000 people were killed that day.
When the announcer informed the TV audience just who this little boy was, I got choked up and found myself thinking the Chinese officials could not have chosen a more fitting human being to walk alongside its country’s most famous sporting star. It was the most human and beautiful moment of the whole event.
My other “moment” that made me stop was the brilliant and unexpected moment when the final torch bearer - former Chinese gymnast Li Ning. The year that China returned to the Olympic stage after more than three decades of absence, it was Li Ning who won three Gold, two Silver and one Bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
As he ended his run, he “flew” high into the air (with the assistance of a rig) and began to run around the inside perimeter of the huge Bird’s Nest. In front of him unfurled a video display of the logo that adorns the Chinese Olympic torch - a graphic in red of swirling patterns or “happy clouds” design as a Chinese person explained to me. When he reached his final few strides, he hesitated - the whole stadium holding its breath - and then lit the torch to earthshaking applause and jubilation. The fireworks display that followed it was so appropriate, as the Chinese people invented gun powder and fireworks.
By this time, it was after midnight, my sense were blown and I was wishing that it would start all over again so I could watch it once more. In fact, it DID start again on another channel, this time broadcast in Cantonese (which would have made no difference as it was a sight to be experience regardless of language).
I passed out for about four hours and then the alarm rang.
* * *
I’m sitting in the MPC (Main Press Center) at the venue at Sha Tin. I made it here just after 5:15 a.m. I walked in thinking I would be the first to make the trek. Again, I was wrong.
By the time I made it to the lobby of the hotel, the team and transportation options had left for the stadium. That meant take the metro - no problem. I learned my way yesterday. However, this morning at 4:30 a.m. when I walked to the entrance I noticed that it did not start back up until 6 a.m.! Ugh! I needed to be there by then.
Hmmm…..options? I went back to the hotel and found a taxi. I had been told it was only about a $10 ride to the venue ($70HK), even though I knew this had to be a low estimate. With only so many Hong Kong dollars in my pocket and no where to get more at this hour, I jumped in a taxi anyway.
$155HK later…ugh…I was dropped off at the venue. I have to say my driver had to be told about a dozen times where I was going - he wasn’t the brightest I know. I got a bad driver - it happens. It’s like on the “Amazing Race” TV show when a pair of contestants gets a bum driver and they end up spending too much, and they get lost or taken to the wrong part of town, or sit in traffic and watch the meter spin. That was me this morning. And at pre-dawn, I tend to be in the least of friendly moods.
Getting out of the taxi, I slammed the door, and handed him $150HK and waved at him. He didn’t argue - he knew he had a very unhappy passenger and just waved at me and said “Good night!” Yeah…good night.
When I made it to the press room there were already two dozen press here - typing furiously, conversing in foreign languages, strategizing today’s coverage (and maybe what to have for lunch, for all I know).
I found my seat near the flat-screen monitors so I could see every moment of eventing dressage action up close. Each foot placed displayed on a large screen, plus the ever useful instant replay when warranted after the performance. And to note, I’ve heard from athletes and experts that the footing here it absolutely first-class. After days of soaking rain, the ring looked immaculate. A nod to the organizers and footing experts who worked up the venue.
Some delicious three-milk tea was available in the snack room, so I made a warm cup and turned on the computer. I had already dried off the sweat from the early morning humidity and the blast of A/C from the room was the most wonderful welcome.
Dressage has just started, so I need to turn my attention elsewhere. Back later with the news from the ring.
|Friday, August 8, 2008 4:41:55 am|| |
The number eight in Chinese is “baat.” Basically, it is a lucky word. In different dialects of Chinese, the word sounds like the word for “fortune.”
So, naturally, with the Beijing Olympic Games starting on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08) and the Opening Ceremonies beginning at exactly 8:08:08 (8:08 p.m. plus 8 seconds), you can guess that this was long in the planning.
In fact, the number eight has so much significance in this culture that the telephone number 8888-8888 is reported to have been sold at auction for more than a quarter of a million dollars - U.S.!
So, today is August 8, 2008. It was also the lucky day that I made my first venture to the Olympic venue here in Hong Kong in the neighborhood known as Sha Tin.
I wish it had been such a lucky day for me.
First, there was rain. Not surprising since it has rained steadily (including a much publicized typhoon) since I landed four days ago.
Of course, I, in my stupidity, decide to head off on my subway trek to the venue in shorts, expensive sandals and NO umbrella.
Think, Brian. Think! For as smart as you are supposed to be, you sure do some bone-head things, buddy!
And today was a perfect example of one of them - actually several.
| Steffen e-mailing on the subway.|
The day started great. I got up early to make sure I could find the right subway, make the right connection and get to the venue on time for the 10 a.m. press briefing on everything we needed to know. What to do, not to do, what to expect, where to go for this-and that, etc. The basic lowdown.
I made it in plenty of time and with much thanks to Dr. Mark Chassay (our team physician) and U.S. Olympian and dressage star Steffen Peters who were also planning to take the metro out to the venue. Hey, if it’s good enough for one of the dressage world’s top stars, it’s sure as heck should be good enough for me.
So, the three of us headed out of the hotel and to the metro stop known as E TST - East Tsim Sha Tsui. Very convenient that it is on our corner. Walk right in, slide your Octopus card (sort of like a monthly metro card) or one-way ticket and head down into the depths of the transportation system.
Of course, by the time I had made it that far, I was already half-soaking and slipping in my leather slide-on sandals. Nice going, Brian!
| One-way ticket is about $1 U.S.|
The MTR (the subway/metro) is super nice here - very clean, also. Well organized, even I could make my way around it. We sat there coasting by the various stops on the way to the Fo Tan stop, where we would transfer to a special marked bus for those of us with credentials (workers, media, athletes, etc.) that would take us directly to the entry point of the venue at Sha Tin. From there, it’s a trip through your basic security (take your laptop out and remove all metal, etc.). Once through there, it was a bit of hike to the entry for media. Since this was my first trip to the press facilities, I really didn’t know where I was going.
So…I just walked. In the rain. For about 30 minutes.
Completely soaked to the bone, I finally realized I should stop and ask someone. I mean my laptop bag is Scotch-guarded, but lets not tempt fate too long.
“Ah, no,” said the nice gentleman with a raincoat on and an umbrella in hand in this sticky, humid, wet air. “You need to walk around to the other side of the facility.”
I looked at him and fumed.
“You are on the wrong side,” he finished, pointing in the characteristic way that people do here in China. Very softly with extended arm and palm open. Not like we do with our finger - which is very rude.
I smiled, wiping the rain off the inside of my eyeglasses and wiping my forehead like a human windshield wiper.
“Mguy,” I said. (That’s my best version of “Thank you.” in Cantonese - butchered practically).
I wanted to crawl under a dry, cool blanket and pretend this was a dream. It was not.
I forged my way around the venue and finally found the media entrance. Dripping wet, as I approached the large green archway, two security staff smiled and one of them turned around and started laughing. I don’t blame them. I would have done the same thing.
“Hello. Good morning, sir. How are you today?” the non-laughing man asked.
“Wet,” I replied.
“Ah, yes, very wet. Tomorrow you remember umbrella?” he said.
“Yes,” I replied. What else could I do but begin laughing myself. It actually made me feel a little bit better about how completely stupid I was.
I made my way to the press center to be hit with an arctic blast of A/C.
I’m going to catch the Chinese flu, I thought to myself. Tomorrow I bring my umbrella and an extra shirt to change into. I wished I had packed a light jacket. I did not.
I made it to the press services briefing, connected with old friends I’d been around the world with on many adventures - past Olympics, Pan American Games, World Equestrian Games, events at home in the U.S. It’s always fun to see these faces. I see them in the wildest of places. It’s sort of like a journalist’s fraternity or sorority - and so much talent and passion for what they do.
After the meeting, some of the press went out to the cross-country course at Bea’s River to do a course walk.
“Are you going on the walk,” asked a colleague, looking down at my already muddy and wet (and very expensive sandals). She looked back at me and laughed.
“What do you think,” I said, trying not to laugh, but failing at that. “Ah, noooooo. I think I’ll see it on Monday morning, thanks.”
At that point, another buddy, said they were hungry. We decided to try out the media dining hall downstairs and through a short maze from the press room. I’m glad we did. The food was actually very good (surprise) and they had a full range of traditional Chinese options to choose from. The portions were so big, I could not clean my plate.
After a nice lunch, I decided I would head back downtown to my hotel room, do a bit of work (e-mails from home) and post this entry. Soon, it will be time for the Opening Ceremonies and I don’t want to miss any of it. Too bad that I will have to go to bed halfway through it, since we have to be back at the venue as competition begins at 6:15 a.m. Yes, A.M. That means getting up super early, which is OK, after all this IS the Olympic Games here.
I’m not complaining. Not after being soaked. Not after being laughed at by the Chinese security people. Not after having walked my legs off in vain trying to find the media entrance. Who can honestly complain when they have the fun of coming to this amazing city - Hong Kong - and covering the world’s biggest sporting event?
I’ll try to remember that tomorrow morning when I wake up. That…and to bring my umbrella and some practical shoes.
|Friday, August 8, 2008 1:56:17 am|| |
|One on Every Corner...|
One of the most recognizable signs in all the world has to be the ubiquitous 7-11 store sign. You don’t have to speak a language to know that this sign means cold beverages, snacks of every variety, magazines and most of your quick-stop needs.
Walking around the Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui area of Hong Kong tonight, I decided on my way home that I needed to stop in the 7-11 (almost one per block here) and pick up some bottled water (I was dripping in sweat in the night air) and some chips and various things to keep in the room.
While from the outside this looked like your American 7-11, full of beef jerky, cigarettes and six-packs of beer, the Hong Kong stores are filled with their own intriguing variety of goods.
The first place I went was to the beverage coolers to find a big bottle of water - there were enough brands to confuse anyone. I stuck with Volvic - the one I prefer in the tall, square bottle - and proceeded to get something sweet to drink. Juice.
This is where I found my first stumbling block.
The packaging was mostly in Chinese and I know approximately eight words of the language.
“Hello.” “Thank you.” “Goodbye.” “Where is the bathroom?”
Thankfully, most people here speak some English.
But the juices displayed in the tall, familiar coolers were a puzzle. I tried to decipher the cartoon fruits on the various boxes - some had them, some did not. I looked for English or words in other languages I knew - some had them, some did not.
It was a puzzle trying to find one my picky taste would like. Finally, I just chose one (it turned out to be grape juice) and I made my way over to the snack isles. And there were plenty of them.
First there were chips. They looked like our familiar BBQ and sour cream and onion varieties. But, upon closer inspection, other flavors were revealed. One had a big cartoon of a crab on it. Another a cartoon octopus. I settled on the one with the big cartoon tomato.
They turned out to be the tastiest marinara-tasting chips, and I wish I had bought two bags. I may go back for more of those.
| Stick with what I know - chocolate.|
My sweet tooth kicked in before leaving so that meant some candy. It got really crazy. I’ve been to Asian groceries before, and I’ve always been fascinated with the foods that they incorporate into their sweets and candies.
Seaweed? I’ll pass on that one. I went for the international standard found in every store in the world probably - chocolate.
I pulled out the good ol’ VISA card, to which the young lady behind the counter swiftly shook her head - “Hong Kong dollar only!” She snapped at me. I stood there for a minute and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Wasn’t VISA accepted everywhere? It’s what the commercials always told me. I was a bit frustrated, but needing my beverages and snacks, I begrudgingly pulled out my wallet and fished out HK$60 (equivalent to about 9 U.S. bucks) and paid her.
Leaving the store, I walked back out into the night time rain (it has only stopped raining intermittently since our arrival and it is forecast for everyday for the next 10 days). Every time I walk out here in the night, I can’t get “Blade Runner” out of my head. It’s stuck there like glue.
Well…it’s the middle of the night here and tomorrow is the jog for the eventing horses. The games are beginning - finally!
More tomorrow from the Olympic venue at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
Man…those tomato chips are good! We have to get these back home.
|Thursday, August 7, 2008 3:35:21 am|| |
|Hong Kong Shopping 101|
Fully recovered from jet lag, I woke in time to watch the sun rise over Kowloon Bay.
It was an amazing sight. With the threat of Typhoon Kammuri a thing of the past, the Hong Kong Island skyline was clear, even though the habitual morning rain fell onto the busy street below. Umbrellas in every color hurried from subway to bus to business. I was anxious to actually get my feet out on the streets and poke around my neighborhood.
After checking in with the USEF office downstairs where a meeting was going on, I decided to head out and “get lost.” I’m really good at this since I lost my sense of direction a long time ago. The more I travel, the worse it gets. But, it makes for an adventure finding my way home each time. Life is short, and I don’t let it get me down or hold me back.
As I was walking out, I passed the hotel gift shop where I found some excellent postcards. They were cheap by American standards (imagine that) so I found one I liked and got a small stack of them. Maybe I would write them while sitting in a Hong Kong café or maybe I would write them later tonight after a long day. The lady at the gift store was kind enough to tell me that the concierge would mail them for me and I could pay for the air mail stamps right there - no need to find the local post office (which I had done the day before).
| Just outside my door.|
I made my way out of our hotel, which is part hotel, part shopping complex, part everything. Restaurants, shops, transit center - this place is pretty convenient and the staff members are amazing. The friendliest of any hotel I have ever stayed in around the world.
The hotel is located right on Nathan Road, which is akin to “Main Street USA.” If they don’t sell it on Nathan Road, it does not exist. The first thing you notice is the abundance of overhead neon signs that dangle above the roads. In the daytime, they are not so noticeable. However, at night, they light up the street like Times Square gone wild. And, it goes on for blocks and blocks in every direction. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Subtly and commerce are not bedfellows in Hong Kong.
Before I made it to the next street corner - Middle Road - I was greeted by no less than five men - each of various nationalities - offering me the finest in Rolex, Cartier and Louis Vuitton merchandise.
| Just one of a hundred bustling streets.|
“Hello, friend. You look like you need a new Rolex!” said one man, who I learned was from Bangladesh. “Come with me - only five minutes - and you leave with a beautiful Rolex watch, plus we make suits and shoes for you.”
“No, thanks, sir,” I said politely, knowing that he was the first in the sea of salesmen that would make that same offer - only the brands would change as I went from block to block.
The next gentleman approached me and handed me his card. “Hello, big man,” he said, acknowledging not only ample carriage, but what he had estimated was the content of my wallet (his mistake!).
“Fine tailor-made suit for you, plus 2 shirts and ties for only HK$500. You will like - only the finest quality at my shop.”
“Thanks, maybe I’ll come back,” I said. I knew this was going to continue to the point of nausea, so I had to stop being so quick to stop.
The next fellow left me alone pretty quick, only following me a half block. It got easier and easier to maneuver the situation. I just smiled, shook my head no firmly and kept walking.
That was until I was approached by one fellow who I couldn’t say “No” to.
“Hello, American friend!” he said. “I watched you for a whole block and you say, ‘No’ to others, but how can you say ‘No’ to me?” His smile was as wide as all of Nathan Road, and he was wearing three faux watches on one arm. I had to laugh.
“OK. Where is you shop?” I said. At this point, I was ready to actually see the contents of one of these shops, and curiosity got the best of me.
“Come with me,” he said smiling even wider.
Now I had read before my trip to Hong Kong that you should never go with anyone into a shop alone, or down a dark alley or up a stairwell. However, there was a Hong Kong policeman standing right outside his shop, plus the blast of freezing cold air hit me as he opened the door. Considering it was about 95 degrees with the heat index at 10 a.m. in the morning, I really didn’t care if I was entering into indentured servitude. The A/C was my downfall. So, in I went.
“You sit here,” he said, rummaging over a desk filled with small photo album books. One was labeled watches. Another was labeled “LV.”
First he brought out the faux watch book. If it was a luxury brand, it was in this book. Some names I had only seen in GQ magazine, others I was much more familiar with. He pointed at watch after watch - always the gaudiest and most impossibly real - and provided me with price information on each one. It was a real lesson. I learned that the faux business here has three distinct levels - A, B and C. The A level is the closest to the real thing you’re going to find. A jeweler wouldn’t even know the difference. The B level was good, but there were flaws to be found by the keen eye. The C level, well you could pretty much get those out of the vending machine somewhere, I bet. As the quality went down, so did the price.
He then pulled out a receipt booklet full of handwritten receipts with English names and American addresses on them. “See, smart Americans shop here all the time,” he said proudly. “See, New York. California. Virginia,” pointing at the various states of his former shoppers.
After seeing his selection, and having cooled down for about 10 minutes, I pointed to my own humble real-brand watch, and said I had to leave. I thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown.
“No. You must stay. Only the best offer for you,” he said assuredly.
“Sorry, I have to leave, but I have your card, and since you were so nice, I will bring you my business should I decided to purchase something,” I told him. After another few minutes of great air conditioning, I finally cut it short.
“What is your name?” I asked. “Omar from Sri Lanka, and only shop with me,” he pleaded.
I nodded, shook his hand and left.
My introduction to Hong Kong shopping was an interesting one to say the least.
As I left his shop, he yelled out to me, “When you come back, we will make you a pair of shoes, also!”
I kept on walking down the street - more vendors and more “No, thanks.”
I began to tire of it, and decided to go down another block and take a different way back to my hotel to check back in the office and see what was going on with Christy Baxter, the U.S. team’s office manager and “go to” person for the staff.
When I got back to the office, we chatted about my adventures and I learned about the upcoming schedule for the next few days of Olympic activity.
A cocktail party for the team would take place at the competition venue during the Opening Ceremonies. The competition venue, by the way, did receive some damage during yesterday’s typhoon. Signage was scattered everywhere, as was debris. Of course, the horses were well attended to an no issue was had by them.
While a cocktail hour sounds great, I really wanted to watch the ceremonies intently, so I think I’ll be glued to a monitor or TV somewhere so I don’t miss a minute of it. Besides, the next morning - very early - the eventing competition begins at 6:00 a.m.
| What line do I take to get to...?|
If I go anywhere near a cocktail party, the likelihood of me finding the right metro to get onto in the wee early morning hours will be greatly diminished. Plus, I don’t want to miss a minute of the competition. The world’s greatest are here to battle it out, and I want to see every minute of action. Yes…even if it is in the breaking hours before dawn.
Due to the extreme weather conditions here in Hong Kong, the events are being held either very early or late in the day to avoid the hottest part of the day and take advantage of the “coolest” temperatures. But, keep in mind, this is the coolest Hong Kong temperatures, which still means temperatures in the 80s in the dark, and once you factor in the humidity, the heat index is easily in the 90s to 100 degree range. And that will be on a good day.
Now it’s time to do some e-mails and answer voicemails and questions that popped up today (yesterday) at the office back home. Later on, I might even venture back out and hit the streets again and get some nighttime photos to share. Plus, I need to go to the 7-11 (there is one on every block here) to get some bottled water and snacks to stash in the hotel room.
Squid chips, eel candy and who knows what else I’ll find on their shelves.
Another adventure begins.
|Wednesday, August 6, 2008 8:37:15 am|| |
|My First Typhoon...|
After six hours of sleep, I awoke to my first full day in Hong Kong.
Immediately, I noticed it was not a bright blue morning sky. Instead, I found a grey and troublesome sky. Ah…I had almost forgotten. Typhoon Signal #3. I jumped online, opened my e-mail and went about finding out what was in store.
The storm has a name - Typhoon Kammuri - and it is headed our way. Actually, it’s here.
| Before the big winds start to blow.|
I grabbed my little digital camera to take a photo. Would the sky look different once it hit? I had never been in a typhoon. I had been through a hurricane and several tornados, but not a typhoon. While it was sure to be a problem (delayed arrivals at the airport - horses and human), I couldn’t help but be a little bit intrigued by what it would look, feel and be like to experience one.
I snapped a photo of the morning sky. While it is hard to see, the ripples in the bay are rising and the wind is tossing around the palm trees. The streets are deserted and I see only one red taxi on the road. This is the rush hour in one of the world’s biggest cities. All schools were closed for the day.
I ran down to the street. Immediately the thick blanket of humidity hits me like a ton of lead. Even at an early hour, the heat and humidity bring a blanket of sweat to my forehead. This was an omen of sticky and oppressive things to come. I ran back into the hotel and back up to my room.
Before I had returned to my room, making my way past visitors and staff rushing about their morning duties, I stopped and asked the hotel clerk (a beautiful woman who spoke perfect English), “Has the Typhoon Signal Number changed from a #3?”
“Oh, yes, it has. We are at #8,” she said, shaking her head as if she did not approve of this designation.
“Wow…so it is going to be bad today, yes?” I asked.
“Yes, I suggest you remain in the hotel and enjoy rest,” she said.
“Sounds perfect to me,” I replied.
| From #3 to #8 in minutes.|
Back in my room, I went straight for the window…and I sat. Within 10 minutes, the sky turned. A blanket of rain began to soak the city. What had been a bit of rain became a torrential downpour. This is what it looked like.
I watched the palm trees blow back and forth like flowers instead of trees. The current in the bay swayed and bounced with swells popping all over the place. You could barely see past the water’s edge to Hong Kong Island. It was hidden in a blanket of blowing rain and torrential winds.
I was NOT going to go out for a walk this morning.
I sat back and watched this for a while, listening to my I-Pod and drinking a bottle of water that had been given to me upon check-in last night.
A pretty interesting first morning in this country - a typhoon.
I finished listening to my I-Pod and watching the window. I turned on the TV and searched for a local weather channel. I found one - and in English - and listened with intent.
“Kammuri is currently taking over Hong Kong as it arrives from the Northern part of the South China Sea. Expect today’s conditions to be potentially dangerous. If the storm advances to a #9, we will alert you.”
As twisted as it seems, I was really wanting to see what a #9 would bring. I don’t possibly hope to see a #10.
If the weather cooperates, I’m going to head out later today (after catching up on work and a ton of e-mails and phone calls) to poke around the couple of nearest blocks surrounding my hotel. I need to find a 7-11 (they are everywhere here) and I want to find the nearest bank and post office. Today would be a good day for sitting indoors, sipping coffee and writing a stack of e-mails. But, all I’ve seen so far is a typhoon and the bright, wet neon lights of downtown Tsim Sha Tsui and Nathan Road. Not that this isn’t enough excitement to write home about.
Back to the window…let’s see what else Kammuri has in store for us with only two days before the Games begin.
|Wednesday, August 6, 2008 8:37:58 am|| |
|Hello, Hong Kong!|
After what seemed like an eternity (26 hours altogether), I made it to my final destination and hotel in the middle of downtown Hong Kong.
It was a trip well worth it, though, and I was greeted at the amazing Hong Kong airport by someone standing right outside my gate holding a sign with my name on it and a big Olympic logo. I was somewhat surprised.
I had expected to make my way through the magnificent maze that is their airport - through immigration, luggage claim, customs and onto a sticky, humid street to fend for a taxi - then I remembered that Jim Wolf and his trusty superstar sidekicks in planning, Christy Baxter and Fiona Tibone, were at the helm of the gargantuan effort. Once I was greeted by my new Chinese friend, I was told that it was pre-arranged to get me through this tangle of hurdles to jump. I could have dropped to the ground and kissed the earth.
We flew through the airport and I was taken to a departure area where hired drivers were waiting to drive people to their destinations. No taxi for me. A gentleman fluent in English picked me up and off we were in a brand new Mercedes to the spot I’d be calling home for the next few weeks.
We flew down the highway (on the left hand side of the road) and the non-stop line of apartment sky rises and bridge and tunnel lights left me wondering. “I am in some crazy version of one of my favorite films ‘Blade Runner’?” The rain was coming down, the signs were in a foreign, Asian language and my head was weary from the long and tiring journey from home. I decided to lay back and just watch the blur of flights go by, putting my trust in the hands of my driver.
Soon, we were in Kowloon and the heights of the buildings grew, as did the neon lights and amazing sites. This definitely felt like “Blade Runner” as people were jamming the streets, some stores just opening for late night visitors, rain falling and neon lights washed every street as I sped by - this is one exciting place. I won’t mention the words “heat” and “humidity” quite yet. Sitting inside an air-conditioned car, I didn’t even notice them.
However, I was numb from sitting on a plane for so many hours. I wanted two things - to get to my hotel room and a shower, then jump into bed and turn on the TV with the volume low so I could fall off to sleep.
| A snapshot of the bay from my room.|
When I got to my room, the first thing I noticed was the amazing skyline out its window - downtown Hong Kong. With the bay in front of one of the most impressive skylines in the world, I got a sudden jolt of energy. I had picked up a printout that had greeted me when I walked in the door, and for the first time I noticed it in my hand. I read it: “Typhoon Season.”
The note proceeded to inform me that it was typhoon season and I should be ready to respond should a “signal” was given. A signal is the posting of a number - citywide - that lets you know that one is on the way.
When I had left the airport, a signal #3 had been posted. This meant that a typhoon was headed our way. They post only five numbers - #1, #3, #8, #9 and #10. Basically, when it jumps from #3 to #8, hold on. Don’t go outside or make any travel plans. Stay close to home. Shops close. The roads are pretty clear of traffic. Basically, hang on and just ride it out. If it is going to be very bad, they will raise it to a #9. A #10 is devastating.
All the bright lights, typhoon signals and amazing skyline weren’t enough to keep me from sleep. I crawled into bed and turned on the TV, volume low. The first channel I landed on happened to be a music channel - Britney Spears. I shook my head for a minute and thought, “Is there any way to escape her?” Then, I switched the channel - “Friends” dubbed into a Chinese dialect. At this point, I turned the TV off, rolled over and focused my blurred vision on the wet neon signs outside my own high rise hotel room.
My first night in China/Hong Kong…sleep, peaceful sleep.
|Friday, August 1, 2008 2:08:40 pm|| |
It will be here before I know it – the 2008 Olympic Games hosted by China.
Wow…China. And for the three equestrian sports – dressage, eventing and jumping – it will mean a trip to Hong Kong.
| Final Destination: Hong Kong|
This is not going to be your “average” trip either. Being my first trip to Asia, I know I’m going to be in for some major cultural and social experiences unlike any I’ve encountered in the many more “Western” countries I’ve visited. I’m well-traveled and have always had a serious case of wanderlust, but being dropped in the middle of the world’s most densely populated city is going to be a wild ride.
I’m getting far too ahead of myself. I’m not even there yet. I’m sitting in my office and doing a bit of after hour research. Looking at the subway map so I don’t completely freak out when I see it for the first time. I’ve identified the line of the Hong Kong MTR that I’ll be using daily (the Grey Line). Thankfully, a stop is located within easy walking distance to the hotel at which I’m staying for my three-weeks abroad. The Grey Line goes directly past the area of the city where the facilities have been built for the equestrian events. This is a very convenient situation. I won’t have to depend on anyone for a ride or be in the way of others who are on a tight time schedule and need the space I’d take up.
Having grown up in a small Kentucky town surrounded by the world’s most amazing racehorses, to me, a subway was some weird futuristic thing that sort of freaked me out. I never imagined I would ever ride on one and the mere thought of them would actually make me nervous. Imagine!
This lasted until I was 18 and made my first trip to New York City and rode a subway for the first time. I’ll never forget it. I was petrified and literally asked my friends accompanying me if they wouldn’t rather take a taxi. “Are you kidding? That will cost a fortune for where we’re going!” said one of them, looking at me like we were going to take the Space Shuttle instead of a taxi.
I was forced to make the subterranean voyage and walked down the hot, steamy, dirty set of stairs into the bowels of the city. To my surprise, it wasn’t the end of the world and my unfounded fear of the subway was pretty much gone forever.
However, to this day, my amazingly poor sense of direction remains. And, it is because of this that I like to see what a city’s subway map looks like before I venture onto it. Strange, I know, but it works wonders for me.
Luckily, the area of the city in which we (the team, my co-workers and other associated company) are staying is also a hop-skip-and-jump away from some amazing shopping. It has been said more than once by co-workers and friends that have traveled abroad with me that the poor country we visit goes into recession the day after I leave. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s just something that is part-and-parcel of me going anywhere. I like to bring the world home with me.
Plus, my friends and family put up with me and they deserve a nice treat.
There are also going to be innumerable restaurants serving some of the world’s best food within walking distance. I’m going to do my best not to buckle to my former habit to making a bee-line for any franchise American fast food establishments – no matter how home sick my taste buds might get. After about a week, no matter where I am or how good the food is, my willpower folds and I find myself in line ordering something wrapped in wax paper or covered in ketchup.
One thing I need to remember is to ask what I’m eating because, in my humble opinion, there are some ingredients that are a bit “too exotic,” shall we say, for me to eat (such as anything with more than four-legs like creepy, crawly things and animals that we would never consider as food fare). Though I did eat chocolate covered ants in France on one of my visits and they were darned good. Of course I learned they were chocolate covered ants after I ate them. I digress.
Everyone is getting ready for the trip – athletes and horses have already begun their journeys. Administrators and staff support are trying as best as possible to clear their desks to get ready to head out. I’m desperately trying to learn a few words of Cantonese – just to be polite.
So many Americans don’t even try to learn the word “thank you” in a respective foreign country’s language. Personally, that is rude and one of the reasons that we get a bad rap as tourists. If you can’t take the time to learn “hello,” “thank you” and “goodbye” then don’t even bother going – you probably don’t deserve the luxury and opportunity to experience another people’s culture.
Unlike Western languages, at which I happen to be pretty good at learning, Cantonese is a one of those tonal Asian languages that seem impossible to learn. Even though English is spoken in Hong Kong, it’s becoming less since its return to Chinese authority a decade ago. I know people learn it every around the world, but it’s been a proverbial brick wall for me. But, I won’t let that stop me. If I have to tattoo a “hello,” “thank you” and “goodbye” phonetically on my hand, I will.
Departing for this trip in 10 days, I’m beginning to get excited about this whole new experience that lies before me. And, of course, I’m super excited about the amazing level of sport and skill that I get the honor of being invited to witness in person. I used to always get so psyched about the Olympics when I was a kid – every four years! And now to be able to say that I’m (in a super small way) a part of the Olympics just blows my mind every time I think about it. In a million years, I would have never imagined sitting in Olympic stadiums and watching medals being handed out to champions and heroes. It literally chokes me up every time it happens and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve had tears roll down my face more than once as the National Anthem has been played. They really are life memories…and I’m getting ready to have the chance to create more in a few short days. It’s brilliant.
Enough. The Games aren’t even underway, but I wanted to get a go on this blog and to let anyone interested to know that my partner in crime – USEF’s Joanie Morris will be acting as Team USA’s official liaison and writing her own blog, as well. She’ll have all kinds of great insights from the athletes and behind the scenes and plenty adventures of her own to share. And if you want to get a feel for the Olympic experience or the sights and energy of Hong Kong, I’ll be spinning tales and telling of our many adventures, too.
We’re all looking forward to it…but for now…"Joi gin!"