Sometimes You Just Go Where Your Feet Take You

It’s 8:30 pm on Friday. I step out of Maxim’s, a fastfood place near the office in Hong Kong. I flew in to HK the morning of the day before, and had given a presentation over a conference call on Thursday night. This was the only free time I had during the entire trip since I had to fly back the next morning. I decided to take a walk for maybe an hour or 30 minutes, to savor the cool night’s weather before going back to hot and humid Manila the next day.

I remember the view from the 22nd floor office that the harbor was nearby. I figured I should get a closeup view of the harbor, something I had not done before. So I walked in the general direction of where I thought the water would be. The chilly wind of fourteen degrees bit against my cheeks as I navigated the North Point side streets.

Eventually I found myself following a road of decommissioned cars and abandoned taxis underneath one of Hong Kong’s many flyovers. I was certain this road would lead to a view of the bay from the ground. As I approached, I saw that the walls nearby were filled with colorful graffiti, reminding me of gangland streets in old 80’s shows. A faint whirring sound could be heard and as I got nearer I saw there were two middle-aged men towards the entrance of a small yet brightly-lit cul-de-sac at the end of the road. One of them was holding something in his hands and seemed to be controlling a nearby device. The source of the whirring sound had been a model helicopter, and he was flying it around at a low altitude. The two men glanced my way as I passed, but otherwise paid me no heed.

I watched their helicopter for a few minutes, fascinated. I’ve never seen one of these in action back home, and I wondered why these men participated in their hobby in these abandoned corners. I shrugged and headed to the end of the cul-de-sac. There, near a metal railing bordering the asphalt and the water’s edge, another two men lounged lazily on wooden benches. Standing against the railing were two twelve-feet long steel poles. Ah, they’re fishing, I thought to myself. They didn’t look like they did this for a living, so I assumed they were hobbyists who only had this time of night and no other nearby source of fish. I watched them for a while, amazed that the harbor actually contains catchable fish. I wonder if Manila Bay has any fishermen?

It’s 9:00 pm. I’m walking along a sidewalk following a metal railing tracing the water’s edge. Above me, the same flyover carries numerous vehicles to and from Hong Kong’s busy districts. But around me, it’s dead quiet. Mostly. The only other people nearby are a young couple walking ahead of me obviously taking an enjoyable moonlit stroll along the otherwise abandoned road. The girl, wearing a vivid red sweater laughingly teases the young man and they rush ahead. I hope I didn’t scare me.

As I follow the coast I begin to see boats. Dozens of them, some no larger than an automobile. Most made of wood and apparently barely floating. Some have people sleeping in them and I wonder whether they live in those boats by choice or maybe it was difficult to find somewhere to live on Hong Kong’s streets? One of the boats has a lantern and is moving in parallel to where I’m walking. I wave to the grizzled old man manning the boat and he waves back.

I walk some more, and the sounds of busy city life are slowly catching up. In stark contrast to the lonely sidewalk I had been following, the lights of one of the commercial districts had come into view and I could catch the names of several familiar companies atop tall buildings in the distance. I step onto the sidewalk beside a busy coastal road and find myself welcomed by the lights and sounds of fast-moving vehicular traffic.

As I crossed the bridge, I passed upon a fenced-off section at the water’s edge and inside spied something mounted upon an elevated stone platform. It was covered in a blue tarpaulin but once I was close it was obvious what it was: it was a cannon! A nearby marker told me it was the Jardines Noonday Gun, a relic from the olden days that was still occasionally fired for charity. I wanted to see what it looked like, but the metal gate leading into the area was locked. I tried to push the images of FF7’s Mako Cannon out of my head.

I walk past a large dome-shaped building near the coast. The sign at the gate tells me it’s the Police Officer’s Club; I guess the police are well off in Hong Kong. Beyond that there was a lot filled with ships hulls partially built and mounted on elevated rails. Some sort of shipyard I guess. Perhaps the police officers liked to ride yachts. I walked around to the other side of the fenced-off building and I saw inside a strange thing: there large, parallel beams inside a lowered area perhaps some fifteen feet below, and bright lights were emanating from the cracks in between. I peered though the metal link fence and recognized the sounds of cars whizzing by below and I realized that I was looking down at the Cross Harbour Tunnel. If I jumped down below I could cross into Kowloon!

It’s almost 9:30pm and I’ve been walking for an hour. I thought I should start looking for a way back, yet I didn’t want to merely retrace my steps. I was already near a commercial area that seemed to be quite far from where I started. Eventually I came upon a cemented footbridge that would let me cross to the other side of the busy highway, and I figured that was the way I would go back.

I climbed up the steps and found myself crossing a quiet yet well-maintained walkway, well above the busy traffic I had left below. I saw the AIA tower in the distance and figured I could use it as a guidepost to find my way back. I stepped down at the other end of the footbridge and find myself crossing a familiar looking road underneath yet-another flyover. My suspicions were confirmed when I followed some lights and saw that I was in the middle of one of Hong Kong’s famous commercial districts – Causeway Bay.

I’ve been here before, but not at this hour. I’m walk past the crowds and follow the lights, eventually finding myself in the midst of a street market in front of the Sogo department store. The signage and lights in this area are impossibly bright for the time of day, making you wonder whether they had received the memo that dusk had already come. A lady carrying a microphone and wearing a neon green jacket was glancing around at the crowds, accompanied by a cameraman. Some TV reporter perhaps? In any case I didn’t feel like giving an interview. I walked on.

Exiting from the World Trade Centre building, I found that I had been walking in the wrong direction, away from AIA tower. No doubt distracted by the bright lights of the commercial district, I resolved to make my way back as I was now getting the urge to take a leak. >.<

It’s 10pm now and I’m close to getting back. I cross some streets and find myself walking through some sort of large park. I pass by several clusters of teenagers, busily chatting away on park benches and also a number of old people, apparently taking their night-time jogs. A lot of people are also walking dogs (I wonder why they do all these things at night), and I pass by a smallish lady with a gigantic St. Bernard, perhaps larger than me were he not on all fours. I considered petting the beast as I passed, but wasn’t sure if I could afford being pounced upon by such a huge canine.

I stop to watch some kids playing on swings nearby, and beyond the cluster of treetops inside the park I spotted the familiar glow of the AIA tower, now closer than ever. I realized that I must have been walking through Victoria Park, the only large park near North Point, and I was close to getting back to my quarters. Sure enough, crossing a few streets later I found myself raising my hands in triumph. Fortress Hill!

It’s 10:30 pm and my feet are killing me. I manage to get back to my room at YesInn, dead tired. Yet slightly amazed that I was able to walk so far in the dead of night; I’m not sure I would have dared all those side streets I wandered through had I been in Quezon City. The nights in Hong Kong feel safer somehow, for even the loneliest alleys were brightly-lit. I was also a bit disappointed that nothing more exciting had happened during my walk, perhaps that’s the tradeoff for the safety on the streets.

I was dead tired and prepared for bed. Still, I was glad for the chance to walk and be distracted and not having to think about life’s worries. There’s a lot to be said for aimless wandering that many people would not understand.

The next day I would return to Manila, back to the grind of everyday life.

Author’s note: I wish I did have something more interesting to write about, but it was really a short, uneventful two-night stay in Hong Kong. Still, I felt I needed to blog about it, so that I have a record that I was in HK at this time. For more small details on my trip, I’ve been posting on twitter.

Free Wi-fi @HK International Airport

I’m blogging from an airport; I feel like such a seasoned traveler. Actually I’m writing this post just so that I can claim to post on the internet from airports.

I am of course flying back to Manila after a short 3-day visit to Hong Kong. People always ask me where I plan to go while in HK, even though I always come here to work. It’s even worse this time, as I flew in Sunday evening, attending a three-day seminar until Wednesday, working during the evenings then flying back Thursday morning. Not much time to do anything really.
Continue reading “Free Wi-fi @HK International Airport”

Legazpi, Albay

Traveling by land sucks compared to traveling by plane. So for our weekend trip to Albay to visit our new sister-in-law’s family, I booked 3 two-way Cebu Pacific tickets for my brothers and myself. Our parents would take the bus since it was slightly cheaper and they didn’t mind sleeping on the road. The other reason was that my two brothers had never ridden a plane before – this would be their first time. First domestic flight for me as well. As expected, they were excited like giddy shoolboys, taking pictures on the way up the plane and leaning towards the window and all that.

I suppose it was to be expected, but the airport in Legazpi was a far cry from the Manila one. Practically a strip of road labeled as the runway and a small building labeled a terminal. The flight itself was fine but obviously budget. I have been spoiled by PAL. And of course the view of Legazpi City was a lot more green than Metro Manila.

Of course, there was Mayon, visible as soon as we descended from the clouds. Unfortunately the peak stayed hidden from us for the entire weekend, maybe another time. Still, Sunday morning we climbed Lignon Hill, which is a lot smaller than Mayon. We were hoping that by the time we finish the 30-minute walk to the top the peak would show itself. No such luck.

The walk upwards was…invigorating in a way. I have a newfound respect for slopes. The road we were walking on our way to the peak can’t have been more than 30 degrees at its most difficult, yet my leg muscles felt dead tired before we were halfway up. Just shows how out of shape I was. The trip down was much faster of course.

The rest of the stay was mostly eating and shopping for pasalubong.

Of course, I suck at buying gifts for people so I’m glad I had a DS while everyone else was walking around the informal tiangge.

Our parents dropped us off at the airport in time for the return flight. We checked in and sat down to wait. The rain outside started getting worse, and eventually there was a message that our flight is canceled. Boo! After asking around, I was told I’d get a full refund for the round trip flight. (So we got to fly to Albay for free) I called up my parents and asked them to get us bus tickets.

As I mentioned at the start, traveling by land sucks. It’s hard to sleep, and I’m prone to motion-sickness on extended bus trips. Still, we made it back to Manila alive and well. I had a bit of a headache and some of the aforementioned nausea and hardly any sleep, as I expected…

Hong Kong Saga, Part Three

It’s a bit strange, but somehow Hong Kong is becoming a bit familiar to me by now. This is only my third time here of course, and I’ve spent less than five weeks here in total since 2004. Still I find that certain things like ordering at restaurants and riding the MTR have started to become a bit more “normal” for me.

Originally when I was told that I would be staying in HK for two weeks, I was a bit depressed, as I didn’t really enjoy the prolonged stay last time. Hong Kong is not a particularly exciting place for me as I’m not the sort of person who totally enjoys being either a tourist or a shopper, which are the usual reasons why people come to HK. I’m not planning to go to Disneyland or Ocean Park so when people ask what I plan to do during the weekend I just tell them the truth: I have no plans. Probably bum around.

The trip is more pleasant this time around, as I’m really at the starting end of a project and things are not so busy. Also, the place we are staying at now has free high-speed wi-fi internet connection, and I was able to borrow a laptop for my use during weekends, so I can goof off on the internet whenever I get bored. In times like these I really consider buying a laptop. Although, traveling once a year is not really a good reason to get one.

At the place we have been working at, there’s this guy who speaks English in a way that is so obviously Filipino. Every country has it’s own unique accent of English I suppose, so it’s immediately obvious when someone is speaking English in a manner that you can easily grok.

As I type this, mentally I hear myself saying it with a Chinese accent, as is my tendency when hanging around people with strange accents too long. Probably my grasp of good English grammar is suffering a bit as well.

This was a random rant, thanks.

Should I Go Across The World?

I’ve been asked if I would be willing to be temporarily posted in another country, halfway across the world, for around half a year.

On the surface, it seems like a good idea – I don’t have any definite plans for the next few months, so there’s nothing in the way. It would be new stuff, new places, people, experiences, etc., a most welcome change of pace.

But the first emotion that grips me is fear. Of the unknown I suppose. Of doing something I hadn’t done before. But then my focus on courage as a value comes through, and I recognize the fear for what it is: something to be conquered. I strike through the fear.

I will give my answer today. Will any of this come to pass?

Abangan.

The Food in Hong Kong

I’ve been meaning to write more about my time in Hong Kong.

One of the many new things I experienced there was the food. People who’ve eaten out with me on a regular basis know that I’m quite the picky eater. In general, I dislike eating veggies and seafood (yeah, I’m an unhealthy carnivore). In Hong Kong, you cannot avoid vegetables and seafood; every meal comes with some form of green stuff or shrimp or whatnot. I’m almost always eating out with the HK colleagues, and since I’m a guest in their country, they’ll always invite me to taste everything. I’ve probably eaten more seafood in those three weeks than I have for the previous years of my life. I’m probably exaggerating, but there’s a good chance of me being correct.

Since most of my days were spent in the Wan Chai area, we often had lunch and dinner at the restaurants there. Anyone who’s been to Hong Kong will probably know about Wan Chai: the area is full of bars and nightclubs and such. It seems that the area is frequented by foreigners. In the evening, many of the clubs have some pretty young women outside enticing passing Caucasian guys to have a drink or two. Of course, I didn’t go into the bars or nightclubs because that’s not the sort of thing I do.

Lunch was the expensive meal of the day, since we usually had to pay for it ourselves (as opposed to dinner which was company-reimbursed). The HK guys would usually decide where we would all have lunch and we just go along with them. Most meals cost around 40 HK$ – more than 2.5 times I normally spend for lunch back home. But these meals are usually larger servings and good quality stuff, not fastfood-level or carinderia-type junk. We get soup, plus drinks (I usually order Lemon Iced Tea or Milk Tea) then the meal itself. Usuallyyou have some meat or fish, plus veggies on the side, and you can choose your viand from rice, spaghetti, mashed potato, etc. Many restaurants allow you to choose from a list of set meals, so sometimes I joke that I can just choose randomly, “Today I’ll have meal B” and just order it without asking what it is. But of course I’m a picky eater, so I don’t.

Since dinner is company-sponsored, it seems the HK guys always choose cheaper places for dinner. We ate once at a McDonald’s and once at a Yoshinoya. And several times at this small chinese place that had a TV. I kept trying to follow the plot of the TV show aired during dinner but the inability to understand Chinese makes it hard.

Well, of course being unable to speak Chinese makes almost everything hard – I need to ask for help whenever I’m ordering, etc. I also started out quite bad with chopsticks. Despite my years of honing hand-eye coordination using the game controller, my dexterity is terrible, and that leads to being really bad with chopsticks. On my first Sunday there, I had to eat lunch alone at a cafe. I ordered some pork with noodles in soup (I like noodles), but I had trouble eating since I’m not used to eating noodles with chopsticks. I tried to ask the counter lady for a fork, but she and I couldn’t understand each other. I wonder if the other cafe patrons noticed me eating the noodles in a terrible manner.

I was wondering if my time in Hong Kong would change my eating habits when I got back home, making me less picky in what I eat. Turns out, not by much.

Hong Kong – After Landing At The Airport

I remember looking for the signs that would tell me where to find the A11 bus that could take me to North Point. My instructions were to find the McDonald’s inside the airport and look for the exit nearby. Sure enough, the signs pointed me to the bus terminal. I bought a ticket, and as I arranged my luggage for easier carrying I didn’t notice that I had dropped the just-purchased ticket to the floor. A pretty Caucasian girl picked it up and smiled as she handed it back to me. I smiled back and gave her my best “Thank you very much.”

I got on the bus and took a seat near the back, hoping that I would be able to see clearly out the window so as not to miss my stop. Seated on the row of seats in front of me were seven women, some middle-aged, some looking like they had just gotten out of high school. Even if they were speaking English I would have been able to identify them as Filipinas. From their dialogue I could also tell they were domestic helpers. Apparently they’ve never met each other before today, and here they were talking amongst themselves as if they were long lost friends. I guess when you’re a long way from home any connection is a welcome one.

One of them is the central speaker, she’s apparently been in Hong Kong for more than seven years now and had just come back from a vacation in the Philippines. She answers some questions from the others: what can I do on my day off? where do I go? how can I call home? She tells them stories of her life in Hong Kong, how the family she works with has been really good to her and they get along well. If you’re lucky, you will be assigned to a family like mine, she says.

They miss their stop; I guess she’s not as familiar with Hong Kong as I assumed. I look out the window and spot Victoria Park, and I know I’m getting near my stop. I get off the bus at just the right place, and I look for the staff quarters.

Back from China

Yeah I know, Hong Kong is technically a part of China, but my feet actually did manage to walk some non-Hong Kong Chinese territory. Too many stories accumulated in three weeks to tell in one post though, but to say the least I actually got to experience a bit more of Hong Kong this time, as opposed to the five-day almost-all-work schedule that I had last time.

Unfortunately, I did not get to experience any kung-fu in the streets, although I did manage to get a picture with Jacky Chan.

Looking Out Over Punta Fuego

This is the photo I decided to put on the front page of http://roytang.net while I wasn’t sure yet what to put there.

We were at Punta Fuego in Batangas last Jan 30-31 for our coincidentally-coinciding-with-the-HK-Chinese-New Year-weekend annual company outing. Those who know me in person might be aware that I’m not really big on out-of-town trips. In short order, the reasons are: being antisocial, tendency to get tired/dizzy on long trips, and not particularly liking seafood.

I suppose it was okay, although I still had a lot of time being bored out of my wits as expected. Managed to get in the water some, and I have the admit the Batangas air was very refreshing.

You get thirsty fast inside the resort though – mineral water was an expensive P55 a pop inside the resort, and there was no other free water. Bad news for someone like me who is used to drinking a lot of water.

I had to endure ten hours without a decent meal on the trip home though. It was not a good idea to have an early brunch before embarking on a journey that would eventually end in rush-hour metro manila.

I suppose that it may have been a good change of pace for me…