Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a mere 2 & 1/2 hrs from Bangkok so I finally decided to visit along with a brief foray into China.  Having some financial support from my school was nice as I was interested in checking out some regional universities for our graduates.  Every year universities around the world are ranked by several organizations and I was curious to find three highly rated Asian universities located in Hong Kong according to the QS survey.

After surviving a visa process at the Chinese embassy that would make a Haitian post earthquake food drop look like a faculty tea, I mentally prepared for the trip.  Everything about the visa line at the Chinese Embassy was a fight to the death from the single glue stick for your photograph to the motorcycle guys working for tour guide companies shamelessly jumping the queue with thirty passports to get stamped.  I had to elbow in at the counter and give my number to the clerk, herself looking like a Rwandan rape refugee, to show her I was next.  Then a Canadian man interrupted me saying he was next having slept through about seven numbers.  He started talking to the clerk until I told him to back off.  Unbelievable the shamelessness in people.  Next time I’m simply going to yell and hit people.  I waited patiently for the lone glue stick at a counter only for some man just to reach from behind and grab it and then give the glued end to me which I instinctively grabbed unaware I was grabbing a rod of industrial strength super glue my skin almost shearing off as I pulled the stick away.

Postal.

I asked my friend who lives in Hong Kong where I could stay on the cheap and he recommended Mongkut which curiously sounded like the name of King Rama IV of Thailand. Turns out that Lord Bowring, of Bowring Treaty fame, was the governor of Hong Kong in the 19th century so there must be some connection as he dealt directly with King Mongkut.  Mongkut was the king portrayed in the banned-in-Thailand musical the King and I.  The Bowring Treaty liberalized trade with Siam.   So I ended up in the Bridal Tea House where I got a room for $600HK per night, as cheap as I would get without sleeping on a grate.  The room was nothing I have ever seen before it being the size of a walk in closet.  The bed was about four feet in length.  Everywhere I looked I saw fire sprinklers, fire alarms, fire lights.  One compensating virtue was the temperature and water pressure of the shower spigot which flowed like an Alabama fire hose from the Civil Rights era.  Water pressure and hot water in a shower has, after living in Thailand, become the new sex.  What a treat.  I eventually squeezed out of the bathroom and made my way out.

Hong Kong

The shower gave me the confidence to face the streets of Hong Kong with an open mind.  Soon I had the privilege of eating a bowl of soup that was unlike anything I have ever experienced in Thailand—an actual bowl of soup.  The Chinese I realized, don’t play around with their food.  The Pork curry soup just never ended.  Potatoes, pork, the whole pork chop, all of it, many pieces, deep inside for infinity.  Soup in Thailand is a light affair often simply broth and a small handful of noodles with a smattering of scallions and bean sprouts.  Chinese soup is a meal.  The Chinese also give much larger portions of rice.  Mounds of it.  What a meal.

The seriousness of the portions made sense to me considering all the crap the Chinese had to put up with for, well, four thousand years.  How else does a culture endure endless dynastic struggle, European imperialism, the British drug pushing opium, and the difficulty of creating and then reading and writing in Chinese? Not on an empty stomach.

Hong Kong is just like Hong Kong airport—an endless system of very vertical and long escalators and walkways or trains leading one back and forth up and down and all around to get anywhere.  I’ve never taken so many modes of transportation, so many detours, to get to a bar.   But what does all of this matter when we have Suzie Wong

or Bruce Lee or Mickey Rooney’s Chinese neighbor as refuges from the endlessly industrial grays of concrete and steel of Hong Kong.

The visit to the Chinese University of Hong Kong was a real discovery.  Not knowing what to expect I spoke briefly with university reps and was impressed.  Millions apply to this university and only the very cream gets in.  A student needs six A*s at IGCSE to be considered.  This university is ranked 42nd and is only $18k US per year which makes it quite a bargain.  American parents should start looking abroad for cheaper alternatives, especially in the technology and the sciences faculties.

Ningbo, China

The moment had arrived when I would finally be making my way to China.  With the benefit of an American public school education I was well prepared to take on whatever China threw at me.  The following ten points summarize the depth of my vast knowledge of The Middle Kingdom:

1.  China has a lot of people.

2.  The Great Wall of China is the only manmade visible object from space.

3.  The Chinese make a lot of small crap.

4.  The Last Emperor was a great movie.

5.  Chinese people love doing exercises in very large spaces together with a lot of people.

6.  The Chinese government doesn’t look kindly on protesters.

7.  Chinese like the color red.

8.  The Chinese have a long tradition in medicine where they use special herbs and acupuncture to cure illness.

9.  The Chinese army scared the sh** out of McCarthur.

10.  Fortune cookies don’t actually come from China.

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Upon arriving in Ningbo I immediately took notice of the peculiar bright green uniforms of the People’s Liberation Army and then took a taxi service, which was gracious enough to show me Chinese hospitality by charging me three times the going rate to get to the University of Nottingham.  This university is unique as it’s the only (from what I know) foreign university with a campus in China.  I learned quickly that it’s a great university for doing a business/Chinese degree for obvious reasons.  Many of these students end up being the captains of industry in China very quickly after graduation providing valuable contacts.

Ningbo, China

Downtown Ningbo was quite an awakening as I went on a Saturday night and was blown away at the beautiful Chinese classical music at the town square fountains everywhere Chinese families and lovers walking about with the most cosmopolitan of storefronts also everywhere.  From what my student friend told me, the east of China is where most of the money is and quite unlike most of the rest of China.  Fifteen minutes from the center of the city was a street right out of Busch Gardens where some Chinese investor simply made a street for Europeans with all types of cafes and bars serving all the types of beer on tap one could imagine.  A very creative idea I must say and the cobblestone streets were another delight.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and WordPress are all blocked in China instead they have their own versions.  A big market.

This was a taste of China.  I’ll be back.