Posts Tagged Adventure

Hong Kong 15 years later.

I remember thinking on our first trip to Hong Kong (one of our first trips anywhere) in 1999, that it felt like the ominous cityscape in Bladerunner. Dark looming buildings counterweighted by oversized neon signs, offering the oblivious fast-paced pedestrians all manner of objects and services. Now, 15 years later it feels even more so as the predominantly young Hong Kongesse (don’t call them Chinese please) are permanently hunched over their iphones or tablets. Even the most traditionally dressed grandma has bright colored audio cables snaking into each ear. The impressive skyline is now even more impressive yet curtained off by a soupy smog.

 

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The new airport is built far outside the city on a new island that took billions of dollars and years to reclaim from the sea. The old airport had you flying into a narrow valley of buildings inside the main city. Your first exposure to Hong Kong would be the bedrooms of sleepy families just above your airplane window. As it is now, you take a modern high speed rail over artificial islands and even under ground until you reach the heart of the City. Our Hostel is a typical low range artsy fartsy affair with a foosball table, balcony and a in-room bathroom that is encased in transparent glass. The complete lack of privacy was mitigated by a thin curtain that encouraged the other to bury their head in a book when nature called the other.

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No visit to a new area of the world is complete (for us) without searching out our fellow Brothers and Sisters. The Bethel (administrative/translation center) has grown since our last visit. In 1999, there were only 35-40 in the office but now has increased to 200. Most of the work is assisting the Brothers in China, who are banned by the government for being “extremist”. Another focus of the Hong Kong Bethel is medical education of the local doctors in the many new methods of blood-less surgery. It has been such a success that many doctors in this area have become leaders in advanced medical (blood-less) care.

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One great surprise was meeting Diane Leung again, who we met 15 years ago at the old Bethel. She remembered us and asked how we had used our youth since we last met. We were shown the new literature carts and even a few prototypes that are being sent to many large cities. It made me remember the sandwich boards that our Grandparents used to bring attention to the Bible message.

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Until recently, we were unaware that Hong Kong has a Disneyland and this knowledge required Tamara to make “the pilgrimage”. Our jet-lag brought us to the magic kingdom far too early and we walked around for hours in a nearly empty park riding one ride after another. The park was surprisingly cleaner, newer and slightly smaller than the California park. The Asian flavor was muffled yet found ways to escape the homogeneous messaging.

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Much of the preaching work in Hong Kong is done in public spaces because of the difficulty entering the compact secured mega-structures. Being the most densely populated place on earth, the “mansions” as they are called, are concrete cubes that provide less living space per person than a berth in a US Prison.

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The Brothers and Sisters setup stands at various public places, (we assisted on the water front one day with our friend Katie) , and await the endless tourist buses of mainland Chinese (42 million last year) that arrive for a taste of “clean” air and goods from around the world. One 3 hour span resulted in over 500 brochures placed with many providing email addresses for return visits once they return home inside China.

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Hong Kong

Our wanderings around the city was enjoyable with us never feeling spooked or in danger. The well dressed residents walk quickly from one unknown location to another, never looking away from their screens but somehow missing taxis and belching transport busses with inches to spare. The language is harsh, quick and aspergerish in its cadence but we found them nice if you could break them away from their electronic trance. One trek we took was to the “Peak” and is a highlight of Hong Kong. The hike up the small mountain ended with us shivering at the top, waiting for the large buildings below to turn on their colorful lights. One of my favorite memories is of us at this spot 15 years ago.

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Our Hong Kong adventured ended with us attending a meeting at the Kowloon Central English hall that is made up of 200 Filipino sisters and 5 local Brothers. The sisters are “imported servants” for the rich Hong Kong parents of overweight Hong Kong children. The Sisters leave their home and families to work in (according to a Amnesty International report I read recently) substandard and often exploitative conditions. The Sisters only get one day off a week and so this required that the meetings are all conducted on their day off. I found their comments during the Watchtower (simplified edition) encouraging and almost universally starting with “what I learned….” Or “ I want to use this to improve my relationship with God by….”.

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Sitting next to and visiting with these wonderfully kind, meek and materially poor Sisters caused both Tamara and I to feel something similar to shame or guilt at the freedom that we two possess. Coming to terms with inequity is something easier pushed aside than examined too closely if given the choice…those that travel are often not given that choice.

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Venice, Italy

Venice!

There are so many overly hyped locations in the world. An example for me is Big Ben or most Caribbean islands. Venice is not one of them. Everything you heard about Venice is true and depending on when you go you can only experience the good stuff.

Our train left Slovenia at 2AM. The cold morning air kept us awake as we walked from our Hostel toward the train station. The roads were so quite and the sidewalk so deserted that at times we walked in the street to avoid any shadows and alleyways.

The Venice express, originally starting in Budapest was on it’s last leg. The green glow of the lights illuminated a few tourists sprawled out across their luggage. A few unshaven Eastern European men in thin leather jackets seemingly feed on cigarettes and leer at anything resembling a Female of the species.

Flash forward 6 hours and we arrived at the central train station of Venice, just as the sun was rising. It was such an amazing place that I stopped taking notes and so only have photos to show.

Sorry…but you’ll understand once you get there.

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Croatia (part 1)

The train from Budapest to Croatia snaked along the shallow valleys and rich countryside. At some point the train stopped and a group of uniforms entered checking everyone’s papers. Four sets of differing uniforms looked at, stamped and examined our passports before the train continued on into Croatia.

I know next to nothing about Croatia or any of the Balkans. When I was in school, most of these places were part of a artificial state called Yugoslavia with a guy named Tito as the celebrity of state.

We found the Croatian people to be emotionally controlled people, maybe a bit stern and when dealing with them they didn’t seem to respond when I smiled. (Americans are have wide reputation of being overly smiley and friendly) Eventually, I found that if I winked or made a silly face, their shells would crack and they would be much more friendly and even helpful.

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We picked up our rental car and it turned out to be a Fiat 500. It had enough room for our bags, both of us and a bottle of water. The 6 gears helped me control the massive 72 horsepower! The road signs were unreadable but the overly aggressive drivers gave us little time to ponder what they said. With the GPS we brought, it was quite easy to get around.

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Croatia is a small country but 10% of it is national parks. One such park is Plitsvice and we have looked forward to visiting it for quite a while. The park is centered around a valley filled with waterfalls and pools flowing over white marble limestone. It has to be one of the prettiest places on earth.

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We must have hiked for hours and hours along a wonderful trail that at times lead along the edges of waterfalls. If something like this was in the USA, it would be a major tourist attraction to rival Yosemite of Yellowstone. We really enjoyed our time hiking and exploring the park.

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Zadar, Croatia was our first stop along the coast. Pushed right up on the Mediterranean, the road followed the shoreline until an ancient church or fort blocked the way. We saw many signs of the war that they had in the 1990’s, including homes damaged by machine gun fire, burned out or shot-up with mortars. More than once, in-between the road signs for cows, deer or wild boar, we saw bright red warning signs that told you (in 4 languages) not to leave the roadway because of the danger of land mines.

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Being on the sea, the culture here has grown up on sea food and with so much to offer, we found a few dishes that left us wishing for Mexican food!

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The city of Spilt was our next port of call and like most of towns in this area, has an old Roman ruin at its core. The difference with Split is that many of the towns inhabitants still live and work inside the ruins! In fact, one of the Pharmacies here has been in operation since 1320, one of the oldest in the world.

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Usually, we try to self-cater (buy our own food from markets and stores) but this trip we tried to eat out a bit more and explore the culinary offerings. Below is a funny photo of me learning that olives in the Mediterranean…. come with pits!

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Tamara enjoyed the truffle pasta dishes but mostly the gelato!

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Fes, Morocco

Fes, Morocco

Our train pulled us deeper into the Atlas mountain range and seemingly back in time. The City of Fes is the third largest city in Morocco but that doesn’t quite give an accurate picture. Dating back to 790 AD, Fes has the largest car free urban area in the world. The ancient medina lays over a valley, up a hill and spills into the next valley. A million people live in Fes and while the homes may be hundreds of years old, as we look out across the city, it is punctuated with satellite dishes and low power florescent bulbs. We head into one of the seven gates that used to protect the city but now strangle the flow of people and supplies.

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It is so easy to think of North Africa as a primitive and backwards place, stuck in the past but their past and those of the Muslims are rich with advances and educational leaps that pulled Europe out of the Dark Ages. One example here in Fes is the University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 AD is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. Having taught mathematics, science and cartography literature during all that time,  it as one of the most important reservoirs of knowledge anywhere on earth for hundreds of years. Next to the University, is the oldest and largest Mosque in Africa. Being of the wrong religion we were unable to enter the building but I was able to take a snap or two. While Europe spent 500 years living in squallier and cooking food with cow dung, this University taught advanced algebra, geometry and physics.

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As we wandered around the city, listening to the haunting wail of the Muslim’s call to prayer, we begin to smell something so horrendous that we can only be in the world famous leather district of Fes. Here they have continuously been making leather items the old fashion way, with sweat, natural dyes and bird poop. The large vats have dyes, lime and other caustic concoctions somehow make amazingly wonderful leather goods. For the price of a dinner back home, Tamara bought an beautiful hand made leather jacket that feels as soft as cotton.

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Another highlight of Fes is the ceramic district, where they make anything and everything from handmade, fired and painted ceramics. We watched men breakup the clay, others form the clay into tiles and some painting. The kilns looked very old and it seems like a neat thing to know how to do….turn mud into plates, fountains and tiles.

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The more I learn about the city of Fes and see how people live, I wonder about the value the “skills” I am learning like Word Documents, online banking and navigating a Starbucks. I also wonder think of how little we miss the skills we have almost completely lost like making clothes, glass and the ability to do advanced math/geometry without a device. I have a foreboding resignation that at some point, I will regret or hold as of no value my ethereal skills that I live by.

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