Friday, 25 September 2009

Yes, it's still alive!

Just a keep-alive message

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Home at last, but first Lantau

Hong Kong by night

Big Buddha (Tian Tan) at the Po Lin Monastry on Lantau

Stilted fishing village of Tai O on Lantau

Although my last blog was from Hong Kong and should have concluded the trip, we did have one further day in Hong Kong and I think this deserves a short blog as well.

Since our flight home wasn't until 23:15 we had one whole day in HK to spend sightseeing. We chose to visit Lantau Island (In Cantonese - Broken Head). The shape of the island gives a good idea of why it has this named. Lantau is where the new airport is located, on reclaimed land. The old Kai Tak airport on Kowloon still exists, but is no longer used for commercial air traffic. The new airport was opened in 1998, one year after HK was handed back to the Chinese.

This island also hosts HK Disneyland. We didn't visit this as we've already been to three other Disneylands at various times! Our coach tour of the island took us to see Tai O, an original stilted fishing village and one of the places to see pink dolphins. Sadly we didn't see any.
There are two small temples in the village, one Buddist and one Taoist. Although small and now overtly commercial, they were well worth the visit and the insides were exactly as I envisaged a small temple to be.

Our main visit was to see the BIG BUDDHA at the famous Po Lin monastry high up on the mountain range on the island. This is not the biggest Buddha in the world, but is regarded as the largest sitting Buddha. It is over 26m high and weighs over 200 tonnes. It is made of cast bronze panels over a steel frame and is, of course, hollow with lots to see inside.
The Buddha sits in the lotus position.

The monastry is home to a number of Buddist monks. Their number is decling but nevertheless it is a fine example of a Buddist monastry and is really majestic inside.

The adjacent vegetarian restaurant is world famous and we were able to have a set veggie lunch whilst there. As a true omnivore I would have preferred some real meat protein, but I have to say that the meal was tasty and worth the money.

On our return to our hotel (which by then we had booked out of) we had a several hours to kill before returning to Lantau and the airport (!) so we decided to go for a walk and see some more of the Kowloon area. The first thing I did was to check the prices of electrical goods. Although there is no tax on items purchased in HK, the price paid was surprisingly similar to back in the UK. There were no longer bargains to be had on electrical goods. The range of food stuffs was again similar to that in any UK supermarket with the exception of a few fruits I hadn't seen before and a few brand names that rang a feint bell from home, some years ago, and no longer available here.

The small apartment blocks that many HK families live in really are tiny and I can see why they like to get out whenever possible. 500 square feet per family of 5 is not a lot of room. I think our guide on the first trip said that most HK Cantonese live in the New Territories. Whilst I can't refute that, a subsequent guide suggested it was not accurate and many more did live in the HK and Kowloon areas. Certainly the size and number of apartment blocks we saw suggested a substantial number of local residents.

So, what were the highlights of the trip?

I wouldn't want to single out anything in particular as 'the best'. Everything was new and exciting. I think we would go back and visit each and everyone of them again, given the chance.

I do think that HK was the most exciting from the point of view that it was very different, although visiting Ularu and Rotorua came very close.

I'd like to thank all the people we met on our trip. We met friends and relations, associates and correspondents and even an American couple who had worked on a project at Martlesham when I was there, although our paths had not knowingly, personally, crossed at that time.

We have been shown the greatest kindness everywhere we went and people could not have been more helpful.

There were no major disasters on the trip. Our baggage was always in the right place and flights were generally on time. Only the trip from Adelaide to Auckland was messed up as Qantas forgot to tell us the flight times had been moved up by an hour. We still got to Auckland the same day (just), via another route and were given admission to Qantas' lounges during the two 3 hour stop overs.

We avoided any major illnesses and if there are no signs by the weekend it looks like we also avoided swine flu as well!

Now, where shall we go next?

73 de Sam and Shirley

Monday, 7 September 2009

Never say never. Never say last!

This may be my last blog on this trip. But then again, maybe it isn't. It will all depend on whether I can get access at the airport tomorrow evening and even if there is time.

Today has been a day of learning and contrast.

Yesterday we kept ourselves to Kowloon and a boat trip round the harbour on one of the little Star Ferries. Today we went on the HK Island tour. To say this was an eye opener would be a gross understatement. I don't think that anything I have ever seen on the box, read about or heard really explained 'Hong Kong'. This guided tour really opened my eyes and my mind to another world.
Reaching the view point near the top of Victoria Peak (where the tram terminates) the view back over the harbour area is outstanding (here we go again with the superlatives) and we both took lots of photos, of course. But the thing that really stands out is the Ocean side of HK island. Like most people, I have seen the pictures of the sky scrapers and the view from the peak out over these just didn't seem to make sense. There was no sign of the harbour. Now I know why. This is still HK, but a very different part. The town of Aberdeen is on the ocean side of HK island and it is this that is often seen in pictures of HK. The film makers compound this in Jackie Chan films, and the like, by freely mixing views from the commercial, harbour, side of the island with this altogether different part of HK. The ocean side is truly beautiful. That cannot easily be said of the Kowloon/ harbour side of HK. The best that can be said about that side is that it is awesome! It really is. The skyscrapers, the lights, the people, the smells. Everything. Awesome.

Our guide gave us some interesting in-sights into the Cantonese people of HK. Most seem to live in the New Territories area, towards China, as they can't afford to live in Kowloon Penisula or HK island. The mass transit systems are efficient and cheap, so people can afford to travel some distance to work in the commercial areas. Few people own cars as car purchase tax is at 150%!

Fuel is more expensive than in the UK. And even when you have a car you have no where to park it! Most people live in public housing. You are entitled to just 100 square feet of living space. A typical family of 5 has just 500 square feet to live in. I can't image that. It probably explains why there are so few radio amateurs here. Our typical shacks would take up much of that 100 square feet. My shack is 150 square feet!

To make up for the high cost of housing (it can be 80% of take home pay) food is cheap (I wish someone would tell that to our hotel manager. 18GBP each for breakfast and 50GBP each for the dinner). The Australian 'Outbacker' restaurant was much cheaper, we found, and the steaks were as good as I've tasted anywhere.

Taxis, surprisingly, are cheap. About 1.60GBP for the first km and irrespective of the number of occupants, so everyone takes them when there is more than one person going out. And on Sundays EVERYONE goes out. It is a national pastime. Eat out and enjoy the public spaces.

Tomorrow we are off on a tour of Lantau Island and the Po Lin monastery with its giant Buddha statue. This monastery also has a famous vegetarian restaurant which is where we are booked to eat lunch. Even as a confirmed carnivore I'll probably survive.............

In case this is the last blog from our trip I'd like to thank you for reading my words. I know a few of you have from comments received back both in the blog comments sections and from private e-mails.

I've enjoyed meeting so many people on this trip, both arranged and speculative (we bumped into an American today who worked on the Kesgrave MM trial video server and his wife did much of the video editing for N-Cubed). We should be back in the UK on Wednesday morning if they let us in again!

Thanks again for accompanying us both on this trip.

73 de Sam and Shirley

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Another picture

ng on!

Or, in English, good afternoon!

I am beginning to run out of superlatives about places we have visited. We certainly seem to have left one of the best until last. As lovely as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have been, this place is really something else. It must rank as one, if not the, most wonderous man-made places on earth. The view of Hong Kong and Kowloon, as we entered by transfer bus yesterday evening was overwhelming. Lights. Everywhere. And the Harvest full moon, rising above the tower blocks was just about unbelievable. It really is a place you have to see for yourself.

Not everything is perfect. The crowds and the noise can be too much. Even on a Sunday afternoon Kowloon was packed with families out doing whatever families do in a large city on a Sunday!

We booked a short tour around the harbour on one of the little Star ferries. That gave us a better idea of the layout of the waterfront. As value for money it would be hard to beat. Tomorrow we are booked on a longer tour of Hong Kong, starting with the tram ride to the top of Victoria Peak and followed by a sampan ride and a visit to the Stanley market.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

View from the top

View from the top?
View from the top of our hotel at the Rocks

Sydney, lovely Sydney!

Here we are in Sydney. Our hotel in the Rocks area of Sydney could hardly be better. Really excellent and earns a big recommendation from us both.

The flight from Auckland was pretty uneventful, but the weather here was much better than that we left behind in NZ. We were able to dine out in one of the Circular Quay restaurants last night and didn't even get cold!

So, what have we done whilst here?

We've been up the City Tower and got lots of photos to remind us of the last time we were here. Little seems to have changed, but then again everyone tells us that the city has changed, so we are mystified as to what we have 'forgotten' in the 13 years since that visit. We do remember the preparations for the 2000 Olympics, even though they were then still 4 years away. Maybe memory fails to record the little things that residents do notice. This is the opposite of what I would have expected.

Of course we've visited the Opera House and even went on a guided tour around the inside of it this time. It was excellent and the commentary from our guide was humorous and informative. I think that it helped that she was so obviously a real opera fan. We were unable to go into the main theatre area as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was rehearsing for this evening's show.

We've also been across to Manly on the ferry to meet our family friend and to spend the afternoon (raining again....) being chauffered around the beaches on that side of the Harbour. Thanks Tess. Hope to see you and Dave in the UK next year. The harbour at Sydney really is beautiful and the Bridge and Opera House really set it off a treat. Our hotel (The Old Sydney Holiday Inn) has a good view across Circular Quay towards the Opera House and with the Bridge just behind us. Superb!

Tomorrow we plan to visit Darling Harbour and Bondi Beach before meeting up with a few of the local radio amateurs here in the Sydney area.

I will probably not have access to the Web again until we reach Hong Kong on Saturday, so this will probably be the last blog from Australia............

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

And yet more rain!

We are now back in Aukland and thanks to some poor map reading, we've seen a little of the North Shore region of the city.

In spite of the rain we were able to visit the Huka Falls again, on the way back to Aukland. This time we were able to see the falls from the land side. It's still impressive so see 100m wide, 4m deep water chanel into a 4m wide, 10m deep channel before pouring over the falls. The roar is deafening!
We were able to contact Kevin Murphy in Hamilton and met up for lunch. This was followed by a visit to Kevin's company for a look round the repair facilities. Even Shirley was fascinated to see all the activities going on there! Thanks Kevin.
Tomorrow morning (at some disgusting hour of the morning) we are off to Sydney. More blogs from the New Zealand 'western island'.............