Taiwan.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 23rd, 2004 by byronkho

Waking up early, getting on that airplane. This airline ain’t anything special: Dragonair (why the initials are KA, I do not know), which is some sort of subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. Anthony buys a bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the airport, it’s really cheap. Some good celebrations later on. I’m really grumpy, and arriving in a not-too-impressive airport in a city that looks really blocky and uninteresting, bland… well. The bus is a little garish, with those huge curtains that are brocaded and appear as decorations on many a tacky Chinese tour bus – some people love it, but I hate it, and I purposely take a seat that isn’t blocked by the curtains. Christina is our tour guide. She apparently went to school at McMaster, in Hamilton, where I used to live. She’s picked up all these horrible mannerisms from her time there, such that she talks like a dumb blonde. Who happens to be Asian. I was watching Full Metal Jacket the other day, and the whore in Hanoi talked like her, “me love you long time!” She had this co-worker who didn’t say too much, I think he was what we would term a trainee. I suspect he had more experience in tourism than she did, but she spoke English, which was a great difference. This was her first time, and she didn’t know too much about anything. “Sun Yat-Sen… he did something or other,” or later, “I forgot to bring my notes.”

She only mentions Sun Yat-Sen because we stop at his gardens. His Memorial Gardens, with the big Memorial Vault-looking building, and then the National Concert Hall, some other big building, and a makeshift fair in the back. Plus all the actual gardenwork, which is pretty nice. We take pictures everywhere (ten minutes in every spot) like good tourists should, and then we go chase after change from the vendors because we’re hella thirsty. At least I am – and Nord is like, how did you get your drink? Hehe. There are all these kids, singing nasty horrible songs, but it is pretty cute. Obviously the crowd loves it, though I think they didn’t want their eardrums to burst by atually deigning to sit in front. They just crowd around all the sides. After some long, hot tourism (better explained by the pictures) with the gardens, and the changing of the guard (lots of big steps and clack clack before setting feet in place, and taking 20 minutes like any good changing of the guard), and the getting back on the sweet, sweet air-conditioned bus. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the SARS temperature monitors that were set up. LIke the Hong Kong airport, these tested for heat radiating from your head. The difference was, the airport had scanners that caught the temps from far away, and here, you had to put your face up to this contraption and hold it there till it beeped. It screwed up for some people, and I think Laura’s head was a little above temperature. Sketch, but she got in. She did not have SARS.

Well, whatever. The good thing is that we get to go and rest in the hostel (the Chien Tan Overseas Youth Activity Center) for a little bit – which should be exciting. We pass by this huge pagoda type building that is massive. The story is told that after Chiang Kai-Shek set up his little empire in Taiwan with the help of American soldiers, they needed a place for these soldiers to stay, along with their families. So, they took this old temple and made it into a wonderful beautiful place to stay. BUT… we’re not staying there. Past the pretty lake, and the pretty fountain, there’s this ugly monster. It’s ugly, and we’re going to stay here. A girl, pretty in the strict Victorian sense walks by, apparently from an American missionary family, and I say hello. She says hi, but her father shoos her along, and she says, “sorry, we’ve got to go.” Then upstairs, where I am rooming with John Blake, Anthony and John Kneeland. I take the bottom bunk, Blake takes the upper. So here we are in this crappy mosquito-laden room with a shower-on-the-floor, which nobody is used to. Ugh. But the only good thing: a massage chair, that gives awesome massages for pennies. It’s illegal in the United States, as it has a tendency to catch fire. Catching fire while having the greatest massage of your life (aside from having one from your favorite girl)… that’s a fair enough tradeoff. Funny enough, the Temple University Choir is also staying at our hostel, a few floors down. They are singing in Taipei and in Kaohsiung, as well as in Hong Kong. Anthony knows one of them. I talked to one, and we said we should “hang out” but that never happened.

We stop at a restaurant, at a hotel like always. This one is a buffet, and I eat my smallest meal of the entire trip here. It was pretty gross. Funny how the style of food, just changed a little, makes me not want to eat at all. I’m used to Hong Kong-style cooking, because many of the cooks in Vancouver (also my relatives) cook in that style, and not this more bland Taiwanese style. However, it’s kind of a fact that Taiwanese fried dumplings are really good, at those roadside stands that we never had a chance to stop at. Yeah. Walking down the street with a few of the guys, we stop at a 7/11 (really, 7/11 is our lifeblood in Asia). We ask this annoying German guy and his more American-sounding Asian friend where we can go (this after we fail to find out anything from the cashier). Drinks are cheap, so I busy myself looking around for that kind of thing rather than asking those two dimwits (who in the end didn’t really know anything, they just wanted to find out what us Americans wanted to see in the city… playing games, geez) what to do. Outside, we go farther down the road, but there doesn’t seem to be too much. The city is kind of plain all the way around, and again, I’m not impressed.

“This One Time, At Taiwan.”

I swear, this is what all the tickets and posters say. They’re plastered everywhere, and they’re incredibly tacky. Not that I don’t appreciate the attention, because they’re loving it. When we’re in rehearsal, everyone is incredibly attentive in the tiny auditorium (they really don’t know how to make nice performance spaces here… it doesn’t take that much money to clean it up.. i mean come on! give me a bucket and I could clean it as well!). Anyway, we’re at this activity center, and we’re singing with this choir that’s very very average. Good thing we’re not singing those hideous folksongs. It’s terribly hot, because the lights are really close to us and they’re just melting! Performance time. But they love our songs! Way more than the Penn alums did, because they’re used to that caliber performance… this audience was a lot more countrified. They’d never seen anything like it (as they kept on telling us) and admittedly, all this attention from all those Taiwanese girls in the other choir was good. For Bobys and Kneeland, that is. They were almost splooging their pants on stage. I didn’t really like them all that much, but yeah – I did give out my e-mail address left and right and pose for cellphone pictures. Stupid cellphone pictures.

That night we ate at another hotel nearby, the Holiday Inn Asiaworld. It was a really late dinner, and the Caucasian couples at the dinner tables already were almost frightened-looking when our whole crowd rushed and attacked the buffet. The food was OK, manageable, but I didn’t eat very much. The whole Taiwan thing was kind of a sour experience for me… not because anything was bad, but just because I didn’t like the entire place that much. Gave me the wrong vibe. Even Christina, who insisted on pictures with everybody. Smile, she said, as she gave her camera to Brandon to take a picture of us. Argh. I’ll miss you all right. I’ll miss you being an entirely terrible tour guide and not telling me anything about Taiwan that I didn’t know before I came here. Geez. We had a bunch of Taiwan beers, I had some Carlsberg, and Anthony had his Bombay Sapphire, and come midnight, we had my little birthday celebration. Of all the things that happened that night, all I remember is shouting “bitch please” in the hallway, and yelling Bitterman every five seconds. I’m sure Laura wasn’t too happy that night. Not happy at all. Well, at least some of the time. I woke up the next morning in sweaty clothes, a peeling back (from the sun burn I got at Ocean City) and mosquito bites all over the place. The shower was a welcome respite from itching. Apparently, that’s what happened to a lot of people too.

Hong Kong 3

Posted in Personal on May 22nd, 2004 by byronkho

Today is a day of opportunity – we have the entire day free, until the afternoon, to do whatever we want. First things first… sleep. It does take us a while to get ready for the day, but soon enough we gather to get into town. Unfortunately, we have to rehearse a little, and then go get some food – lunch or whatever, at some seafood restaurant. I ordered some hot and sour soup, but that was a waste of money. Afterwards, Alex, Anthony and I ready to go downtown to see the Bank of China Tower, but soon we get more people on our little trek. We head down to the subway, to take the Tsuen Wan line down to Central. It’s an awesome subway. It’s meticulously clean and filled with people. There are glass walls so nobody can fall on the tracks, and the cars are all clean. There are video ads all over the place. Very futuristic. The cars are even painted! I think ours was a Peanuts one… it was so awesome. Beautiful. The one thing I took note of was that their ads did kinda suck. I mean, they were OK, but didn’t do it for me, visually. Obviously they were in Chinese too, so that may have been a factor.

Anyway, so we get down to where we need to go, the Admiralty station of the MTR (Mass Transport Rail). We walk through Lippo Plaza, which looks like koalas climbing on each other (Lippo is this rich Indonesian bank, a member of whom bribed Clinton famously in 1998). From there, we get to the Bank of China Tower, which is closed to the public today. We can’t get up there. So damn… Anthony and Alex decide to head to Pacific Place, because they’re hungry. All the rest of us decide to go up to Hong Kong Park, which is awesome and what not. We walk through this awesome conservatory, an aviary with thhis brilliant blue bird that I took a picture of, and this fountain. The fountain, which you could run underneath with the water falling all around you. It was great! It was more of a visual thing… hard to put into words, but I’m glad we went to the park. It was a little oasis of beauty in the center of this urban jungle. Hong Kong is so packed full of people. We head to Pacific Plaza now, which is full of high-octane stores that we can’t afford. Blah. White and sparse. Classy, but we have to go. We take the MTR back using Admiralty station, and get off at the Tsim Sha Tsui stop on Nathan Road before heading to the hotel. Shower, change, get ready.

It does kind of suck, then, that we have to go and do our first performance of tour. After all, we haven’t had time to finish seeing Hong Kong, and there is surely a lot more to see. But this is the way things are – we have a schedule, we stick to it, and since others are mostly paying, we keep our mouths shut. We’re still pretty diplomatic. I am in fine form this night. Our bus pulls up around the corner from this place (where, we’re not quite sure yet) but when we round the corner, we find ourselves looking at the US Embassy here in Hong Kong. It’s Garden Street. Across the street is our performance venue, a colonial-style house that will host a Penn scholarship drive for some lucky Hong Kong student. The monies are raised from among a bunch of rich Penn alums working in Hong Kong. The place is beautiful – apparently, it’s a ladies club now. It was blessed as a institute for ladies in 1916 by Helena May and her husband Sir Henry May, the then-governor of Hong Kong. Anyway, history aside, we have to practice. We do, and everything is perfect as it can possibly be after being so worn from travel. All the while, the staff are cleaning the place up and making everything just right. These people are going to be spoiled, as they get gift bags and raffle prizes from all these incredible places… a $12,800 Dior handbag, a $9,800 Tiffany brooch, a $3,680 Fendi handbag, digital flatscreen, Kate Spade handbag, $2,000 in MAC makeup, etc. Before you think, wow, remember it’s Hong Kong dollars, which go for 8 HK to 1 US. But still, some expensive stuff there, and I really hope these guys give a lot of money.

As people stroll in for pre-dinner drinks, I happen to be walking along and get a tap on the shoulder. Last thing I expect – did I do something wrong? – but no, it’s apparently two of my friends, who live in Hong Kong, and are here! At this very function! Johnny is one, who is president of the Wharton China Business Forum undergraduate group here on campus. His girlfriend, who used to live across the hall from me, and is now matured into this really amazingly… yeah, well, Jasmine is here too. Their group apparently donated tons of money to this thing and they have to show up and do whatever. I make an appointment with them to hang out tonight – I mean, what else would I do? Sleep? Talked with some other alums, who seem kind of impressed. They work with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley in Asia, and this other woman does some other financial work with Asian banks. I also talk with this alum who works partly with some science groups here in Hong Kong (I discuss possibilities of getting me a job here some time, he is accepting, but whatever, it’s small talk, and I don’t intend on working here anyway). I think Anthony wanted to work the connections when he first heard about it, but either he’s having trouble with the Asian thing, or it’s like he thought after he came in: he thinks Hong Kong is dirty and stuff. Can’t blame him, it is dirty, but finance is finance, and here’s the Asian capital. Well, the performance is sterling, I do my little diplomatic bit, and we run home after we perform. Those people love us (a little reminder of home). Everyone else goes to bed, but here’s where my adventure comes in.

I called Johnny, and we arranged to meet at Lan Kwai Fong. After finding no one that wanted to go (I was a little pissed, even the partiers were pooped…I wasn’t tired), I decided to go by myself. What the hell, I’m only here once, and apparently this is THE place to go. I take a taxi down and it costs me 10 bucks US, same as Philly prices for the distance, but I’m pissed because I feel everything should be cheaper. Anyway, we drive by all these cool places, which I later find out is called SoHo, the “South of Hollywood Road” sector. This, by the way, is on Hong Kong Island, down in CentralThere’s lots of international restaurants and bars, and this HUGE club that I see tons of people at. But that doesn’t compare with Lan Kwai Fong. When I get there, millions of people are clogging up the entire road. It’s a maze of streets – ok, a very small one, there’s maybe like 2 block width and length, but there’s people everywhere. There are Western-style restaurants for during the day, but at night, all the bars are open. Everyone cool is here, just as if you would go to a chill club in NYC, and all the expats in the city are there. I’m supposed to meet them at this one bar if they do come, but I get bored of waiting and decide to wander around. There’s lots of hot white girls, and I talk to a few, but the one I’m getting good with takes one last gulp. It’s a bit too much, as it’s more of a chug, and she’s GONE. Damn. Her friends cart her off. So it’s just me and my Heineken, with all these cool people hangin out around me. Some of these people are freeloaders off their parents; they live here, and just spend money. Some go to school here, and some are working here after college, because their family is based here. I learn a lot just from hangin out. It’s funny, because there are alos middle-aged people hanging out here and even some old people. Some bars blast rap and club music, and some do oldies, but everyone seems to get along fine. The street, where no cars are allowed, is where everybody just chills together, dances, whatever. I have to piss, no bathrooms – so I run to a shady alley and do my business. Then back to more beer. I missed meeting up with them…. damn. During my time with that girl, apparently, our meeting time had come and gone, and then I got kind of drunk and then had to go home. Blake was still up. We watched music videos, lots of Korean shit, and vapid Chinese pop, and Jet on replay, and then snore. Two hours and some, and we have to get up. Freakin a.

Hong Kong 2

Posted in Personal on May 21st, 2004 by byronkho

Tsim Sha Tsui Dreams

Sitting on a tour bus, listening to the Flaming Lips sing of Yoshimi, and seeing the beginnings of a trend that will last all trip: the raised collar. It’s ridiculous, Completely. It looks different – but somehow, so, so preppy. Right before I noticed the raised collar, and Anthony and Kneeland both doing it, I was thinking how it was only three days but it felt like forever, and junior year was just finishing and I had been worried about jobs and grades and paying the rent and bills for the summer, but there was just this 18 day layaway on OPM – other people’s money – where I didn’t have to think about anything at all! It’s great! I’m happy, but yeah, I’m still grumpy too. Especially about what time we had to wake up and all. We have to be on the road at 8 AM? This is cruel and unusual punishment. John woke me up, after having been awake for like two hours, working on a paper or something. How he could do that here is beyond me.

We stop at the Bird Garden, on Yuen Po Street near Prince Edward MTR station in Mong Kok. Mong Kok, for reference is north of Kowloon proper and contains the famous Mong Kok Night Market, which we’ll go to on a later date. Pointless stop, really. Most of the bird shops aren’t open, and it’s kinda cool for all of 10 seconds. What I really wanted was some rolls for breakfast, so me and Anthony broke cover and ran for the street. Unfortunately, Mike caught us – we said something about food and ran out of sight before she could offer more help. We did find a 7-11, but it had all kinds of weird snacks and really greasy potato chips. Blecch. Waste of money. But, heaven, finally. Maria’s Bakery. For what amounted to a dollar, I got a bunch of those pork bun things and look at all those jealous eyes when I got on the bus (especially Brandon – who, by the way, lives two doors down from me this summer).

Then, the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin temple, where everybody goes. Tourists and locals alike, all waving joss, shaking sticks and giving themselves cancer from the massive smoke and ash in the air. We pass by, at some point, the Happy Valley Racecourse in Wan Chai, where millions and millions of dollars are invested every day by native Hong Kong residents. The Hong Kong Jockey Club is an obviously large presence, as their influence is everywhere: their name is all over buildings in the area, and they are prestigious in a way that we only afford to basketball players and successful teams in the US. This temple is in Kowloon I got my fortune, which was a number 10. The actual fortune said something like, situations can be bad unless you really show someone your true skills. Kind of common sense, but also a good fortune. Work hard and you’ll get what you want, it basically said. I felt kind of weird, because I didn’t think praying to ancestors or to Kwan-Yin or anybody would do anything, but I just did it because it was kind of cool. Like playing Dress-Up. Anthony took a stand – I’m not doing it if I don’t believe in it. Steichen and Mike walking around like, how do I do this praying stuff? And Matt, being like, it’s rude if you don’t! Whatever. I walked thgouth the Good Wish Gate and the Nine Dragon Gate, and the Confucius Temple, as well as that little garden place in the back. Some hot girl was standing back there – the only reason I needed for giving my 2 hk dollar donation and heading in. Haha, right. Ignore that.

So we drive through town again, we can see the Peak in the distance – we’re supposed to go there eventually. For now, it’s meeting David Pong at Maxim’s yam-cha at City Hall. Most expensive in Hong Kong, and DAMN good. Everything I’m used to back home in Toronto and Vancouver. Not Philly style. Blecch. We wait a little bit since there is a pause between courses – our big group is pre-ordered – and David shows up. David greets us, hopes that we’re having a good time. He seems distracted though, and after a few moments of talk with Alex and Nord, he says he has to meet a client and runs out the door with one eye over his shoulder, as if he was nervous about something. His last word: order what you want, my secretary just ordered it for me but you’re welcome to get whatever you need. Okay, we say. We only need another dish for the vegetarians on the trip: Vik, Bruce, Ryan, Ed. Bruce is of the newly converted, and I feel he will change back. There are too many temptations for him to handle; but of course, for now, the Counterparts clique stays together. Anyway, I’m enjoying the ha-cou, the chi-fan I’ve been craving for so long.

Bruce looks out the window and I follow his gaze. The harbor. Beautiful, the fog laying close to the water surface and just barely retaining that air of mystery around this town. (Oh, and about the water…Hong Kong is the largest port in Asia, with Victoria Harbor having up to 800 ships on its surface at any time. All the stuff goin to the rest of Asia usually gets routed through Hong Kong – the biggest shipping companies all store containers here, where thousands and thousands of them are piled one on top of each other.)

OK, so finally the big event. The Peak, or Victoria Peak. It’s in the middle of Central, on Hong Kong Island. We stop at the Peak Galleria instead of the ricebowl and chopsticks – it really is that! Looking out the window in the Galleria, you can see two parallel sticks standing upright with a bowl on top. It is a building, however, ridiculous looking as it is, and designed by one Terry Farrell. It’s called the Peak Tower, with a Ripley’s in there somewhere.I wanted a beer, but I didn’t get one, because there was sightseeing to do first. Go out on the roof in the rain, come back in, go um, no, not goin back out there. Then, try on the “kimonos” or the Chin-er jackets that they have pictures of Clinton and Jiang Zemin wearing… they look hilarious. By far the most interesting part of this little excursion is when school lets out. Oh yeah. Because they all rush into the mall, and when they see John Blake with the hair and the black skin like all those crazy basketball players and rappers, they go crazy. Can you sign this? Can you take a picture with me? Then they see the rest of us, and they go ooh! Westerners! White! They think I’m like them, which I am, until I speak fluent English to someone and suddenly I’m in the good books too. Ha. How easily they’re persuaded, and how deceptive is our perception. Anyway, so we were mobbed by Asian schoolgirls. Yeah, that was hot. Though of course, they were all jailbait and not to my liking – but Knelland and Nick were definitely on their knees drooling. Best decision ever: we sing. Of course, it’s Brothers Sing On which is not exactly the most exciting piece ever. We would have done so good if we had done ANYTHING else (save that spoken word bit) but since they hadn’t heard anything like it before, the ENTIRE mall stopped and started listening. Cheering, clapping, during the entire thing (which is kind of boring) and giving us a huge ovation when we were done and filing out of the mall…it’s like we’re the Beatles, and they’re anywhere in the world in 1963.

The day is not done though, because next we have Stanley Market, at the south end of Hong Kong Island. It’s a great place with stands to buy cheap ties (of which I bought a bunch, since I need them) and other cheap crap that many other people bought and didn’t need. And then Ed, Min and Kneeland all bought Mao bags. Those were kinda cool, but three people owning ‘em? Definitely overkill. Anthony and I, and then Steve and I, and then Alex and I, and then… I wandered a lot, OK? I bought this picture of a sampan in front of Hong Kong, which everybody else also bought, but mine was in BLUE! And nobody could find that color! Ha! Then we walked over to this huge restaurant building which was apparently the rebuilt colonial Murray House, and then this mall, the Village Square that didn’t sell anything that anyone would want to buy (unless you loved Hello Kitty products to death). Interestingly enough, Murray House was dismantled in 1982 and brought to Stanley from its spot where the Bank of China Tower now stands. Aaaaaah, hot touristy girls. Oh yeah, those 3 blond hotties. Um, what, did I say anything happened? Bought Sprite on Fire (ginger), Sprite Ice (kind of dietish Sprite), saw more schoolgirls who shrieked and clustered.

Dinner was on this cruiser that went around Aberdeen Harbor and the bay. I must say the view was awesome, I smoked part of Steve’s stogie, I danced to YMCA and other hits of the seventies to a horrible lounge singer that sang just a little better than a person with no vocal cords, I gagged on the horrible food, and I got in trouble for my little bottle of Stella Artois that I asked a steward to open. Cigarettes as vices. People who said smile and took a picture and then bothered you to buy their stupid little trinkets with your Polaroid on it. Nope, I said, I’m going. Before the rest of these peasant types from the Mainland (not my words, because I didn’t know where they were from, but who else would take a cruise round the bay on this piece of crap if they weren’t tourists? If they’re Chinese to boot, then they’re Mainland) get down there and take up all the good spots.

After returning home from that adventure, some of us went down to Mong Kok to shop at the Night Market. There was more of the same crap, just way more people and the addition of hundreds of electronics stores and food. Those were all either disgusting outside vendors, with lots of unappealing steaming entrails lying around (I can eat guts, but presentation points are required), or fast food that you couldn’t fit in the door to. We very rapidly lost many people as it was very east to turn a corner and lose yourself in the crowd. Eventually, we just headed back to the hotel. Anthony, John Blake and I stopped to get a beer at this one place, and Bruce and Ryan showed up, somehow guessing where we would be. If I had only known the good places I would have gone… because I found all these places much better, just down the road. I was pissed. Sleep. Early enough. Bah.

Hong Kong 1

Posted in Personal on May 20th, 2004 by byronkho

Mody Road

“But you can call me Mike, be-cause I al-e-ways use the mike-ro-phone.”

Crash landed at the airport on Lantau Island. The old one, Kai Tak, sits on Hong Kong Island (I think…) empty as a poor man’s cupboard, having been used as a market, a car park, and finally, a place for bums to stay. Our guide takes us to the pagod-er in the chin-er to see the budd-er of the fut-er. And an “o-kayy” after each line, and a “now” before each line. “Noooooowww, do you know how to tell public housing? So many national flags! O-kayyyy.” Funny. Bobys is hitting on her… oh, oh, oh… not working.

The bus (tropical looking seats!) goes through Central into Hong Kong Island and we stop at some temple. Apparently one of many millions. Praying to Kwan-Yin, goddess of mercy. Or to the god of Kung-fu, or the god of Knowledge, or the 10 Kings of Hell, who apparently judge our souls from the fiery depths before sending you up or down… All these people waving their incense sticks and dropping their bamboo dice to find luck and messages from their ancestors in the otherworld. Some businessman is sitting there throwing his little sticks around in front of Kwan-Yin and the month-burning sticks of incense, and then his cell-phone rings. “Hello? Before I start my forced takeover of your company, I’m praying for mercy and good fortune. Ay-yaaah! Don’t bother me at the temple, dirtbag. Yeah, yeah, puh-leez! And good tidings to the wife too!” It kind of smells like raw sewage, so I have enough and go back to the bus. The bus leaves (after Nord rushes back late, along with Nono, but that’s no surprise).

Repulse Bay, named for the pirates that were repulsed from there by the British navies. Mike says that this name can be remembered because of the dude that loved this girl and was rejected (thus, Repulse Bay). But then he got rich and came back and the golddigger married the guy, so he named a neighboring beach something happy. But I forget what that place was called. Yay, fun story! The statues there are amazing! It’s a giant park of just weird beautiful Chinese figures though a little garish (the most ornate dragon statue in Hong Kong) and then there’s the big building with the hole in the middle – for feng shui reasons, it prevents the evil spirits from entering, but for practical reasons, it allows cool air to the buildings behind. Anyway, the two giant statues at this bay (with the most popular beach in Hong Kong and the Yacht Club and all the fancy houses in the surrounding area) are of Kwun Yum and Tin Hau, the goddess of luck and/or the sea, something like that. Tin Hau is a popular goddess on Hong Kong, as the sea is involved with most of Hong Kong’s activities (after all, that’s what the city was founded for, and it was also separated from China for so long and only had sea access).

The Bank of China Tower is the tallest building in Hong Kong. It is shaped like a knife and was used to project bad feng-shui toward the British governor’s residence. Good propaganda for the Chinese government, who sought to preserve its influence in China. However, the British governor hired out a feng shui expert from mainland China to block the bad effects. Thus, the guy planted weeping willows on the Southern slope of the governor’s residence. Total blockage of the evil spirits. There’s also bad feng shui from graveyards. I don’t know how Hong Kong deals with the massive circular graveyard right in the center of town. Apparently, people get buried there for a certain amount of time before they get rotated into crematoriums. During their burial time, they are buried vertically. Gross. Next we stop at Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s only amusement park. There used to be some sort of water park there as well but it was closed down because it wasn’t too popular with the locals. None of us go in, of course, and instead we just go to the bathroom – cleaner than other places, Mike says.

Then, it’s North Point and the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Here, the bus drops us close to the river and we have the option to go out in this trashy boat that can take us places: past the large moored boat labeled with “Jumbo Floating Restaurant” in big ugly letters, through the morass of sampans and houseboats filled with junk (the Fisherman Village) so we can take pictures, hopefully, though we can’t stand up in the boat. It’s still early, so there’s no drying of fish on the roofs of the sampans yet. Good: I don’t feel like gagging on the smells yet. Anthony sees one of the hats on the boat, and he immediately wants it. “A Chen hat! Gotta take one! Get everybody to take a picture with it!” Why, we all ask. “Get one for me, and one for Nikki. SO David can wear it with a kimono!” He laughs wildly, as if – no, it is his own private joke. He seems to find it amusing. Of course. He’s only been wanting to do that ever since he found out we were going to Asia. He buys it, naturally (I call it the Rice Paddy Special, but I keep that name to myself), and we take a lot of pictures out there on the water. Anthony wears the hat and everyone else refuses. The woman driving the boat is strangely good at steering this boat through tiny spaces between boats, such that I’m nervous for the boat yet entirely trusting of her skills. I don’t think anyone else noticed as they were trying to snap ten billion pictures of anything and everything. We had left a whole bunch of people at the docks, but funny, when we get back, they decide to go out, and we see them leave.

Our next stop is a Buddhist temple. It is going to be Siddartha Gautama’s birthday very soon, and so there are all these preparations for that holiest of days. We climb the stairs (pausing on the stairs for 15 minutes to take a billion pictures) and then get to the top, where the main temple is. There, monks and nuns are droning and chanting in front of the golden statue of the Budd-er. They bang this drum every once in a while and then run around the entire structure like they’re looking for ghosts and then they go back inside for a few minutes. Meanwhile, here’s all the Glee Club walking around everywhere and taking flash pictures while they’re trying to be devout, and I’m sure they’re like “get these fucking tourists away before I kill one of them, I swear on the great Enlightened Buddha.”

Lunch is at this restaurant inside a mall, where Anthony buys three very gay shirts. Unforuntately, gay means stylish – what fashion people would do is say, balance the homo and the hetero. Get the slob jeans and the pink polo…wait, no… I get him to buy the blue polo instead. Admittedly, it’s cheap. If he bought it, wore it once and threw it away, it’s still a good deal. Steve makes a mess eating. He’s not used to chopsticks, and neither is anyone else, save Min, Jon (who has his Taiwanese buddies) and me. Paul doesn’t count. Paul is our friendly tour organizer/do-everything man who likes to wear easily visible colors – his blue coat, his red hat, his Hawaiian shirt or shorts, depending on the day. In any case…

Ay ay captain. Mike tells us all about this fortified village as we head into the New Territories (to Shatin, the place of the Sha family, if that’s right). She talks about the 5 clans – I forget their names – and how they had family compounds where all the male children would immediately get a plot of land that they would then own, to build a house on. When the British came in the 1880s, these places became walled to protect the compound from the ravages of colonialism. One of these becamse the fortified village, which was just a square settlement surrounded by square walls, with very little room between each of the houses. It’s very cramped. But somehow, it’s very clean. This old hag sits at the doorway and takes our money when we enter. It’s donation only, but she’s sitting there demanding the money (“One dolla! One dolla! ONE DOLLA!!!!”), and I can’t say no, especially when I’m trying not to look at her height and the fact that her shriveled breasts touch the floor. Yikes. Did I just say that? Anyway, I get out of there pretty quickly. Jon says it’s a good place for paintball. I agree. Jon and I, we’re adventurous, and we walk down the street in this place. There’s all these shops selling useless crap, including a toy machine gun that looks SO real that if we brought it to JFK, we’d be thrown in Abu Ghraib and never seen again. After a long while, we head back to the bus. Mike is amused. Everyone else is pissy, since they didn’t really want to go there and we held the bus up a bit. Whatever. It’s a freaking holiday, give me a break.

Hotel Nikko! For rich Japanese tourists! In Tsim Sha Tsui East (apparently, this is the nice part of town). We are in Kowloon and can see Hong Kong Island from where we are. “Reminder,” Mike says, “take card for taxi.” Card? Oh yes. Hotel card, written in Chinese so the cab driver can take you home after you go all on your lonesome around that great island. It’s weird being in such a free place considering it’s part of China. A SAR, a special autonomous region, where capitalism and freedom of the press are pretty much guaranteed to run as they have been since British rule. Still communist, but running the country with all this capitalist money. Strange and hypocritical but the way of all communist governments nonetheless. Fundamentally individual, but in a practical sense, no country can exist on its own. Thus, a problem for ideology that cannot truly be solved. While we were there, we had a popular radio jockey resign (at the tail end of the resignations of several other popular Hong Kong radio jockeys) after he was sent a letter asking him to curtail his demagoguery against the Chinese government. He said something close to, “we’re in big trouble, guys. I’m outtie.”

In any case, we move into our rooms. I share a room with John Blake. Big haired black man, and such an amusement. He complains of too much stuff, a complaint shared more or less by the rest of the crew. Anthony starts out with 50 kg of luggage, without even buying anything. Steve has a huge fat suitcase, as does Alex. Vik has two big duffel bags full. So much stuff. John is so careful – he’s brought every toiletry item he’ll ever need, all in this giant plastic shoulder bag thing. Enough shampoo to last him a year, and the same for conditioner, lotion, hair gel or spray, I don’t remember which, etc. I just have this little case for my deodorant, toothbrush, toothpase, floss… no shampoo. I refused to bring that. Last time I did, it exploded in my bag getting on a bunch of my stuff – I figured ruining my clothing on the first day would give me a real headache.

Swimming, we play “Minnows and Sharks”, and I win, because they all can’t find me. My back is peeling because of that day at Ocean City where I burned every inch of my exposed skin, giving me a nice tan. Ignore the pulsating redness and the skin flakes. Dinner comes quickly after the shower. Guangzhou Hotel, mediocre food (more corn soup…cheapest thing on the menu?) and then Alex, Anthony and I go for a little walk. We walk down to McDonald’s at the New World Center. Portions at this McD’s are half-size and a little more expensive comparatively. They have small-ass McFlurry’s (and cappuccino flavor!), and shrimp and pork dishes. Nice. But the best part of the night is a walk down the Avenue of Stars, where we have this breathtaking view of the harbor at night. We can see all the buildings illuminated in the lights turned on after dark… it’s so beautiful. Too bad all the pictures turned out like crap. On the way back – down Nathan Road that cuts north and south through Kowloon – and then onto Mody Road (where our hotel is), we stop by a bar for a few expensive Tsingtaos. Home.

Leaving On A Jet Plane.

Posted in Personal on May 19th, 2004 by byronkho

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Everyone chant with me: I love SQ, I love SQ. Singapore Airlines, an airline run by a country, filled with sexy stewardesses (and how come American ones are always so old and wrinkled? what happened to the chicas that ran the air, like I saw in View from the Top? What a rip! Boo unions! Boo lost standards!) and that wise man who put on-demand movies and video games on every seat on every plane. And the food. Damn if I didn’t actually enjoy the airline food! Score! I slept a lot, of course, enough so that when we landed, I had barely any jet lag to speak of. I think I sat near Anthony on this one, who watched Cold Mountain and called it good… and later, called it bad with the reasoning that it was depressing. Depressing movies are bad?? You must be really fragile emotionally if that’s what makes a bad movie! (I’m also an arthouse film connoisseur who likes the occasional action movie… I work in a video store after my research job and like movies that make me angry at something, or so sad that I feel numb. Of course, I’m not that well-read in movies, having not seen any Kurosawa or those dandy Italian films I’m always told to watch. Boo-freakin-hoo for labels.)

Still in the US.

Posted in Personal on May 18th, 2004 by byronkho

To San Fran

In the morning, I wake up with a smile that comes effortlessly. It’s like when I look at her picture, or eat a slice of thick chocolate cake, or when the sun is warm on my back and there’s the slightest trace of wind. Rhett Miller on repeat. ..and they took the long way… An incurable romantic, goes the line. There is lots to smile about, certainly. It is the day on which the flight leaves to San Francisco, and then Hong Kong, and I have a place to sleep and a place to work when I get back. The fact that I’m sleeping on the couch with no blankets and the feeling that I haven’t really slept in months – well, who cares about that? The whiner’s bio never gets read, that little voice pipes in. So. David Bowie comes on, as does Whitesnake. But does he like it? Click, change. The All-American Rejects play the Last Song. As I finish my packing (merely closing the suitcase), I wonder why I’m trying to relive last summer. I listen to songs because they make me nostalgic for last summer (though all these songs are mostly inherently nostalgic…remember all the simple things you know…i still hope that you’ll miss me when i’m gone… Come to think of it, I do want to be missed when I’m gone. Her ghost still haunts my daydreams, though she’s left my nights alone. I can still hear faint whispers from the corners, the doorway, the windows. But it’s only the wind, blowing leaves against my window. Snatches of the rantings of an angry frat boy pushing his cart down the road. I love what I’m leaving, and when it comes down to it, I don’t mind if I’m the one doing most of the missing.

On time, waiting in Annenberg 511’s atrium so that David can come with the key and open the room. My suitcase is locked in there because I put it there, a safe place to leave my stuff while I practice some piano. It’s a little nervewracking, performing two piano solos in front of all these audiences that I haven’t practiced for in three weeks. Both I can barely dredge up from memory. I remember the Velvet Underground’s Stephanie Says better. It’s another nostalgic song. This from two years ago, when I went on a Lou Reed binge and stuck Heroin everyday. The groove, cowboy. Finally, Dave does show up, and we wait outside to get in the bus. We get on, blah blah blah. But hold up number two! Who is still sleeping? Who has finally pulled a Byron? No. This isn’t the same. I don’t wake up still drunk at 5ish in the afternoon. It’s Rob, who still hasn’t packed his suitcase, who gave us the wrong address for his house so that we drive around the block three times before going to his old address and find him there. We suggest the taxi, as he’s not ready, but clearly we are waiting for him and not being jerks. It’s funny, though, because we still have plenty of time, and god knows I’ve held Club up for an hour before (though not before an international flight and an awesome tour). Some more bad news. Will has had his leg chewed up by a spider and it’s swelling bigger, bigger, gone. Doctors keep him under observation and tell him you can’t leave until we’re sure the leg is okay. Will lets out a cry of rage and curses everybody and the English government like any good Irish should do.

Philadelphia to San Francisco: 18 May, 820 PM: US 577, 23E

The funny thing is… that wasn’t our last holdup. Evidently, the gods were conspiring against us yet again. Tour had already been put off once because of the outbreak of SARS, but here we were again, ready to go (albeit in the plane already and not just excited to leave) when thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening – yes, these strike. There is no sex in the champagne room tonight. Three hour delay before take off. Evidently people are worried. David and Alex call everybody they know: US Air offices, Singapore Airlines offices, the US Embassy (though why they would actually use their political points on us at this hour of the night, I don’t know), Judy Rodin, Hong Kong honchos, Ed Razofsky (head of Penn Development, the fancy name for squeezing money out of Alumni the classy way… boo PennFund). As some people know, Singapore Airlines never holds flights back. Never. Unless the government orders it.

Here’s an excerpt of the email sent from the US Embassy in Singapore to our president while we were waiting on the ground in Philadelphia:

“I had no way to call you back, so hope you’ll see this. I called our travel expert/booker, who says that SQ prides itself on leaving punctually. They’re only known to hold flights if there’s something like a medically emergency–patient needs to get on to get to hospital immediately. She said the airport staff will have a back up plan, putting you either on another SQ flight or one for another airline, depending on your ticket. I know this is frustrating, but at least you allowed several days before the concert on the 26th. ”

V—–

Deputy Director Office of Public Affairs

U.S. Embassy, Singapore

In any case, something happened, because SQ did wait for us. We arrive in San Francisco and the pilot announces to everybody that 28 people must get off first, as they must catch their connecting flight to an Asia tour, and all these people look around wondering who it could possibly be. We run by them, and they stare. Nobody stops running – through the terminal, we have Singapore Airlines, US Air and airport officials all waving us on like we’re finishing the last lap and we need to go just that much faster to beat the other guy. We make it. We don’t end up missing the flight and cutting off a week from tour to get everybody over on alternate flights. Sighs of relief.

San Francisco to Hong Kong: 19 May, 120 AM: SQ 1, 56F

Asia Itinerary.

Posted in Personal on May 15th, 2004 by byronkho

So we’re going to Asia. It’s confirmed. And you want to know where we’re going? I’m so excited I think I’ll tell you.

May 18 – we leave to Hong Kong!

May 20 – um, yeah, we arrive. (hotel nikko)

May 22 – concert at Helena May

May 23 – get into Taipei, concert at youshi (youshi youth center)

May 24 – 20th birthday! dinner with Penn Club

May 25 – get into Singapore (copthorne orchid)

May 26 – concert at Esplanades for alums, United Overseas Bank and the US Embassy (check out pics of the place at http://www.esplanade.com)

May 27 – get into Beijing (long tan hotel)

May 28 – concert at Renmin University, with Minister of Cultural Affairs or Education

May 29 – concert at the Capital Club for alums

May 30 – get into Xi’an (bell pagoda hotel), concert at Xi-Bei Industry University with Governor, for Chinese television

June 1 – concert at Northwest University

June 2 – get into Shanghai (grand hyatt shanghai)

June 3 – concert at Fu-Dan University

June 4 – concert at Wharton Shanghai Conference, tour dinner and awards!

June 5 – leave for home :(

What a great past two weeks. Catching up on lost time. Making good with old friends. Getting to know those special people before they leave ( how sad ). Drinks with the Bens and Jellife (at the statue no less) on College Green. Drinks with those McGill kids and Lisa and an astonishing Becs at the Biopond. Dinner at my place, and goooood times. Then, dessert and Grace being happy, Lisa even more so, and Brenna just laughing. Then, dinner number two. Drinks. Philly Diner forever and ever. Greatest afternoon ever at Rittenhouse. Getting the keys to the summer place. Frisbee with Assad. Singing for Class of etc etc. Long, long talks (with people that mean so much to me and who have so MUCH to say…). Miranda being in town RIGHT NOW. Seeing Nachi on the Walk for some odd reason. Seeing Edith in the park, and then Evi right after??

I’ve got a lot of stuff to think about in the next few weeks (seriously, like important things, not just having fun on the trip) so pray for me or wish me luck or something.

So excited! Birthday in Asia! May 24… it’s gonna be mad CRAZY!

Oh yeah, I got the Tech and Research beat for the DP next semester. I’ll likely music direct for Annie, Get Your Gun, and I’m also writing for the Summer Pennsylvanian. I’ve already got an assignment for Monday! Yay for Molly being my boss…