A Travellerspoint blog

Urban pleasures of Hong Kong


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As our departure to Auckland was 1920 in the evening, we didn't need to leave the city till 1530. That meant we had time for picking up a few bargains from the shops around Wan Chai and having a long massage. We didn't set out to buy anything but there are too many quality items at ridiculous prices that we couldn't resist, eg. a down jacket identical to Uniqlo's for NZD30 and a Quecha pullover for NZD9.

I should come to China and Hong Kong every couple of years to refresh my wardrobe and technology gadgets!

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Hong Kong nightstop #4


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Today, we leave wintry Harbin. But first, there's more shopping to be done. Kim’s wheelie-pack is nearing its useful life. We had seen a suitable super-light suitcase in the indoor market yesterday where I had bought my phone. We walked over to get it for CNY250 and returned to the hotel to pack. The morning disappeared quickly and it was soon time to checkout.

After leaving our luggage with Mark, the three of us went out for lunch. As it was a weekday, the crowds in the foodhalls were terrible. We managed to seat ourselves in one at an underground mall and had some deepfried kebabs and dumplings.

We taxied to the airport, arriving just before check-in opened. All went smoothly until boarding time. The aircraft was parked at a distant corner of the airport and we were bused there in three vehicles. We were on the first bus and were kept waiting in the subzero temperatures for about 20 minutes waiting for the other buses to fill. They probably didn’t want to take us the plane as the Business Class minivan probably had to be given the priority for boarding. Kim was rather infuriated by the time he got to his seat on board.

Once again, Hong Kong airlines served a very light meal. It was once again accompanied by tofu-fa for dessert. While not quite as deserted as our outbound flight, we had four seats between the both of us. We landed in Hong Kong about an hour late and arrived at the hostel just before 2300 when they supposedly close their doors.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Japanese germ warfare


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large_5550_13900033921298.jpgAt the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base.
This morning, we had better luck with taxis getting the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base, which was in the south side of Harbin [Harbin-travel-guide-220537] city. The ride took about 45 minutes and upon reaching there, we decided to get the taxi driver to wait and keep the meter running; it wasn’t the kind of place we could hail a taxi easily and we didn’t fancy waiting/searching in the cold.

Entry was free and we paid about NZD3 for the audio guide which was a bit of a waste of time. We had trouble reading the captions and listening to the guide at the same time, and the former were actually quite adequate.
During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, they experimented the impact of biological warfare on humans.Some of their findings were discovered by the Americans who subsequently translated.large_5550_13900033916010.jpgWhat happened, briefly in English.They also experimented the impact of hypothermia by getting their Chinese victims to stand in icy waters. Vivisection was also amongst the horrific crimes they commited here.

I don’t like coming face-to-face with historical atrocities. I turned away from the videos re-enacting the various experiments.

After lunch in the city, Kim and I walked around our neighbourhood. It was our final chance to buy something. We put a bit of effort into understanding the Android smartphones available.

1. Good entry-level local brands (like my existing phone) were about CNY500.
2. More highly-spec’ed local ones are about CNY700.
3. International brands are about the same as overseas, eg. CNY3-4000.large_5550_13900033905858.jpgWhat happened, briefly in Japanese. Perhaps this is more important as many don't even know about the truth of WWII.
4. Both the local ones and international brands intended for China don’t have Google Play (Android’s app market) but instead have local ones. We weren’t sure how we could put Google Play on; there is something on Youtube but we can’t access it in China.
5. My only choice seemed to be fake international brands, eg. Samsung which sell for about CNY900 (starting price) as they come with Google Play straight up.

After a bit of deliberation and bargaining, we managed to get myself a Samsung Galaxy S4 for CNY700 (NZD140) with dual-SIM. The real thing (single-SIM) costs about NZD800. It looks and feels like the real thing and is lightning fast and very smooth to operate. The camera was disappointing but we knew that beforehand.large_5550_13900033927037.jpgKim in the snow.It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect it to be just as good for that price.

Mark and I had a Chinese BBQ (like Korean BBQ) for dinner. We were joined by three Malaysian girls (two from Kuching) whom Mark had shared a taxi with earlier in the day. The company was very much welcome and we had good yarns about various aspects of life. Kim missed out as he opted for McDonald’s.

Leaving the restaurant, we noticed that the glass doors had been frosted over (not double-glazed). It is my last night here in Harbin; I was just starting to get used to dressing/undressing all the time when going outdoors/indoors. There is quite a sequence to doing things and it took us a while to master, eg. nose/mouth mask then ear muffs, then beanie - you can’t put on your nose/mouth mask after your beanie as they hang on your ears.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Siberian Tigers


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large_5550_13937767129630.jpgWhite (albino) Siberian Tiger.
Mark arrived from Beijing [Beijing-travel-guide-208144] last night after a 2 hour delay. We only bad a brief chat then, so I had a better catch up with him over breakfast.

We had planned on going to the Siberian Tiger Park and there was no reason to change the plan. The hotel taxi drivers were around and when we enquired, they quoted CNY200. All three of us didn’t think too much about it and it was a consensus to go along with it. Once there, we thought it was a bit much for the distance but with the waiting time and the risk of not having taxis readily available at the far end, it probably was the right thing to do.

Along the way, the driver offered to take us to the pools where people would be taking icy dips/swims.large_5550_13937767137275.jpgSiberian Tiger; never realised how big the neck/head is.We declined; it was another way for him to make money from selling the tickets.

We were taken around the Tiger Park in a minibus. There were a good number of Siberian Tigers including some albinos running around. There were more in cages though. The van didn’t pause enough for us to fully appreciate them and capture their beauty on camera.

The minibus moved from one tiger zone to another, each one separated by double gates controlled by t watchhouse. Strangely, there was a lion enclosure between the various tiger zones. Unlike Siberian tigers, lions aren’t meant to be in these harsh winters.

Towards the end, we were dropped at a long elevated fence walkway where we could observe at our own pace. There were live chickens on sale for those who wanted to chuck one down and see them being eaten.large_5550_13937767134271.jpgSiberian Tigers are built for the cold harsh Siberian weather ...A couple of people coughed up a liitle bit of dough to feed them. I’ve seen menus on the internet offering live cows etc but they’re probably presented only to the richer crowd.

Near the end of the walkway there were some other members of the cat family, eg. panthers, a liger, lions and a white lion.

Our driver dropped us back at the hotel. After a short rest, we tried to hail a cab for the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base. We couldn’t for the life of us find a vacant taxi and we were running out of time; the base has an early closing time. The skies had clouded over and it was starting to snow.

Despite the cold and the dusting of snow, we walked down the pedestrian mall to the river. We then took refuge in a delightful cafe called the Simeng. It was decorated with bears, books, toys and Christmas ornaments. It felt very Austrian/European and Japanese (ie. Japanese faux-European) at the same time, if you know what that means.

We had dinner at a Russian restaurant which was decidedly expensive by Chinese standards. Walking back afterwards, we couldn’t believe was that with the -30 degC weather and light snow, the pedestrian mall was buzzing. And the number of people buying ice-cream far exceeded those buying hot snacks like sausages!

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Ice & Snow World


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large_5550_13937774506062.jpgInside the "new" Synagogue, which is now a gallery.
As if to repeat yesterday morning, we explored our neighbourhood to start off the day. We found the old Jewish area where Jews from Russia and Europe settled to escape persecution.

We didn’t have many things we wanted to do today, as we planned on saving some activities for when Mark (a friend living in Beijing) gets here to join us. So we went back to yesterday’s place to check out a little bit more about the Samsung S4 phones. As it turns out, some are dual-SIM while others aren’t. And I specifically want dual-SIM ones (which are not available with the real thing).

We rested in the afternoon and while playing with our phones, noticed that the weather was going to be cloudy and colder tomorrow. We agreed that it would be better to go to the Ice & Snow World tonight just in case it got unbearably cold.large_5550_1393777451731.jpgThere is an ice maze in the pedestrian mall.

The hotel had a shuttle service to the venue. As we went down to reception around 1630, there were people waiting for the shuttle. We enquired but there was no room for us, so we took a taxi with a couple of other people.

It wasn’t that straight forward actually ... the taxi-driver didn’t want to use the meter so charged us an inflated rate (which was OK shared between 4 pax). Then he took us to a tour agency to buy the tickets (at standard price) and dropped us off into a tour queue. He gets CNY10 per head but we knew that ... so why not! We waited briefly for a full complement to form a tour group before going through the turnstiles after which the tour group dispersed.

The site was large, full of colourful illuminated ice buildings plus a handful of ice-carvings.large_5550_13937774514320.jpgThere is an ice maze in the pedestrian mall.There were some performances in warmish buildings. We avoided the ones which we had to queue for and walked straight into an enjoyable one which had North Korean skaters.

Naturally, it was bitterly cold again. We needed warm refuge ... sounds like the story of our lives in Harbin [Harbin-travel-guide-220537]. At our first warm-up stop, we met people from the hotel who took the free shuttle. They had only just arrived whereas we had wandered around for some 40 minutes already. Plus they had waited in the lobby for about 45 minutes already when we met them initially.

At another rest-stop on site, we learnt that a huge bowl of instant noodles is CNY20, just like a small cup of coffee. And it provides warm sustenance to both of us, rather than having to pay that kind of rip-off price for two cups.large_5550_13937774525067.jpgSnow buildings like these look like white concrete from a distance and tend not to impress at first.

We called it quits before 2000 and joined the taxi rank just before the queues built up. The short queue in front of us cleared quickly and we were in a warm taxi back to the city centre. And for the first time in Harbin, the meter was used! I guess, the pick-up point was well policed by the authorities unlike when once is hailing a cab from the street.

We were dropped off near the dumpling restaurant from our first night ... the one that didn’t have tea. Well, tonight they didn’t have pan fried dumplings, grilled aubergines or broccoli. It was the same rude waitress as before. We didn’t quite believe her so we walked out and explored. There weren’t many choices available and some were full or closing. We ended up eating at Yoshinoya in a mall before retiring to the warm comfort of the Ibis.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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