Monthly Archives: February 2013

Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year—or the Spring Festival (春節), as it’s sometimes called—just ended here, and we had a great time taking in some of the sights and sounds. It’s a big deal here (obviously), and quite different from Solar New Year in the US: more days, more family, more decorations, less booze. The celebration of the lunar New Year is a bit different in different parts of Asia. Here in Hong Kong it’s “only” four days.

Of course there are decorations. Here’s the entrance foyer of our building. Continue reading

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Filed under Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories, photos, video

Bali in four minutes

It’s taken a long time to put this together, but here it is at long last: a Bali highlight reel. (Now in HD, if you want it.)

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Search terms

I don’t normally spend a lot of time looking at the stats for this blog, except to exult when there’s a spike in views. (Best day yet: January 19, with 269 page views. That’s not 269 unique visitors, alas, but still.) I recently noticed that not a single day has gone by without at least a handful of visitors, which is a bit surprising given that there have been multiple-week stretches with no posts. Most everyone reading this are friends and family and there are predictable spikes when there’s a new post, so I was wondering who these other visitors are. What brings them here? Continue reading

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Out in space

Ever since we arrived in Hong Kong, we’ve been saying that we should do some hiking. Hiking in Hong Kong, you might ask? In one of the most densely populated cities in the world? Why yes, indeed. There’s lots of great hiking in HK because so much of the land here is undeveloped—it is a city of mountains, after all.

That means that the parts of HK that are built-up are really densely populated. In mid-2010, for example, the Kwun Tong area of Kowloon had a population density of 54,530 people per square kilometeraccording to the HK government. (That’s 141,000 people per square mile. For the sake of comparison, the population density of Manhattan, the densest of the NYC boroughs, was just under 70,000/sq. mile according to the 2010 census.)

The New Territories, on the other hand, are almost fourteen times less densely populated than that. So there’s lots of beautiful open space for trekking.

One of the best, and best-known, trails is the MacLehose Trail. It covers 100km across the New Territories, broken up into 10 stages.

That's a long walk.

That’s a long walk.
(Map from the HK Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department.)

Cate and I recently hiked Stage 1, which loops for 10 km around the High Island Reservoir. (The reservoir is on the right side of the map above. Stage 1 starts on the northwestern side of it and loop around counterclockwise, ending almost due east of where it began.)

The reservoir is gigantic, and affords all kinds of gorgeous views. Getting to the trailhead is a bit of a project, as it involves a trip on the MTR, a minibus to Sai Kung, then a normal (i.e., double-decker) bus to the start of the trail. While waiting for the final bus, we got a sense of just how far we were from home when we saw this ad on the side of a bus, advising people what to do when encountering the feral cattle of Sai Kung. And yes, we did see one. Fortunately we had seen this PSA and thus knew what to do (namely, enjoy their presence).

MacLehose-01

We thought we were lucky to have with us a detailed guidebook about the MacLehose Trail, which included all kinds of photographic details meant to help reader find their way. Here, for instance, is the photo that shows how to get to the Stage 1 trailhead from the bus drop-off point.
MacLehose Trailhead Wrong

Would you like to hear something hilarious? This photo is totally accurate, except that the starting point is actually ninety degrees in the opposite direction.

MacLehose Trailhead Right

The original photo is 100% correct, assuming that the full caption is supposed to be “Here’s the starting point; now go the other way.”

Fortunately we didn’t go too far before encountering a posted map that made clear we’d gone the wrong way.

After retracing our steps, we were good to go.

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The views are almost immediately spectacular. After about 10 minutes going the correct way, we found this. This is one of those fancy panoramic shots, so click on it to see it in its full glory. The water really is that color.

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Since it’s a reservoir, there are occasional weird water-management thingies, like this recently landed spacecraft.

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But the sights are mostly just gorgeous.

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After stopping for a snack, some Rootin’ Tootin’ Four Seas Biscuit Sticks…

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Hands in the air! You’re under arrest for impersonating a Nilla Wafer.

… we continued on.

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The end of Stage 1 is near this interesting sculpture, a memorial to those who died during the construction of the reservoir. That’s the open Pacific Ocean in the background.

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The sun was starting to set as we finished up. It’s still early February, so by 4:30 it was starting to get dark and chilly.

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Sunset over the High Island Reservoir. It really is as isolated as it looks. When we were finished, we were lucky to share a cab back to Sai Kung with some HK natives who had the good sense to call for one. (And who had the ability to explain where we were.) Otherwise, we would have had to walk three hours back to where we started.

But we had just another kilometer to go, not only to officially finish Stage 1…

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… but also to enjoy Long Ke beach down there on the left.

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Three hundred stone stairs later, we were there. As you can see, we were practically alone.

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MacLehose-14

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Thailand

Behold, some pictures from our trip to Thailand. We had a great time during our 12 days there, and were fortunate to see several different parts of the country, from lazy southern beach to crazy Bangkok to a more subdued city in the north. We started off by flying into Bangkok and going directly to Hua Hin, a beach town about 3 hours southwest of Bangkok. (The country to the west there is Myanmar, which is pronounced “BUR-ma.”)

There is little doubt that you would like to see a map.

 

We did only a little—a very little—exploring of the town itself since mostly we were there to enjoy this view.

Nothing wrong with that.

Nothing wrong with that.

 

After much relaxing and reading of books, we headed back to Bangkok. Bangkok is a very, very big city, with the efficient public transportation system and traffic problem typical of big cities. And, of course, some fabulous temples and other fun stuff. To wit:

 

We then headed north to Phitsanulok, which is in the southern part of northern Thailand. (Pedantic aside for those who care: this more or less rhymes with “hits a new low.” The “ph” at the start, as in “Phuket,” is like a really aspirated /p/, as far as I can hear. It’s definitely not a /f/ sound, since it’s not a transliteration of Greek phi.)

Anyway. Are you just dying for a map?

 

Apparently this is not a super-popular destination, or at least not among people leaving Bangkok. Naresuan University was hosting a conference at which I was doing a teaching workshop, hence our travel there, but it’s also a good place—maybe the best place—from which to visit the ruins of Sukhothai. But when we were leaving Bangkok, we told the concierge at the hotel that we needed a cab to the domestic airport. He nodded and asked, just to be polite, “Heading to Chiang Mai?” (This is a very popular and, we’re told, beautiful city in the north.)

“No,” we said. “Phitsanulok.” He stared at us hard for a second. “Why?” Our answer, “for work,” seemed even more baffling. Later we had essentially the same conversation with the cab driver, except that the cabbie substituted raucous, sputtering laughter for incredulity and also noted that “the lady will not find very good shopping.”

First, however, a few views of and from the Phitsanulok airport.

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The Phitsanulok airport (PHS). Yeah, finding our driver wasn’t too difficult.

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Nok Air flies from Bangkok to Phitsanulok. Isn’t that just the cutest airplane you’ve ever seen? Evidently people who often fly Nok call it “No OK Air,” but we had no trouble. Our 40-minute flight included meal service: a small cup of water and an Auntie Annie’s pretzel. On United, that would cost $14, exact change only.

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For unclear reasons, there is one of these ancient, rusty behemoths permanently installed at either end of the Phitsanulok runway, kind of like decorative aeronautical bookends. If they are meant to inspire confidence, well, they fail.

 

And here’s what downtown Phitsanulok looks like.

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It’s a very un-touristy town that had some lovely and important things to see and two of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at this year. I actually didn’t get to see many of the sights because I was at the conference, but Cate took these pictures:

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Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan, built in 1357 and home to one of the most revered Buddha images in Thailand.

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Also Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan.

 

On the day before the conference, one of the organizers very kindly took us on a day-long trip to two fantastic sights near Phitsanulok. The first, Si Satchanalai historical park, is about a 2.5-hour drive north of the city. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there was practically no one there (apart from a few school field trips). Amazing.

 

One of the most striking things we saw was this dramatic Buddha sculpture. It’s contained within four walls and has only one small access point at the front. That door, though, is really more of an opening all the way up, which means that you can see part of the Buddha from a distance. To see the entirety, though, you have to enter the opening, at which point the Buddha towers over you. Very striking, very moving.

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On approach.

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Thailand-37

 

Finally, we went to Sukhothai, the ruins of the city that was the capital of Thailand in the 13th and 14th centuries (and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). There are several temples arranged in three big groups. Unlike the Angkor temples in Cambodia, these are quite close together, and renting bikes allows you to very easily cruise from one to another.

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