I've been back in New York for a few days now, and readjusting to life here has been slow and slightly painful. But I'm getting there. But my internal travel bug will never die. I'm going to try to keep the travel blog alive next year thanks to some frequent flyer mile tickets (Thanks to JetBlue, Virgin America and Northwest) and freelance gigs in some other cities. I still need to make it to L.A., Chicago and London to visit people that I promised, and I still need to work out getting to Montréal. And apparently no one wants to go to Iceland with me. Also, I might go back to Asia in the spring, as my mom wants me to come see her again. I'll probably stop in Tokyo again, since that's the cheapest way to go via Northwest. Along with seeing some more destinations in the Philippines (i.e. Chocolate Hills) I want to throw in an extra city, possibly Singapore. Any suggestions? Despite loving Thai food, I'm going to avoid Bangkok. Here's to hoping Manila doesn't undergo a coup next time I'm around.
On Friday, my mom and I said goodbye to Manila (even if for only three days as we have to go back on Monday to change planes to Tokyo), and headed for the airport to board a two-hour, Philippine Airlines flight to Hong Kong. For the first time on this whole trip, my flight was delayed. As my mom said, PAL stands for something else besides Philippine Airlines: Plane Always Late. Nevertheless, we still arrived in Hong Kong on time at 5 p.m. I even wished the flight was an hour longer just so I could sleep slightly longer. I was pretty delighted I finally got a window seat. Even though I've always known how massive Manila spans, it wasn't until I was in the air that I could full comprehend the scope of the metropolis, with just small buildings covering the land in every direction with pockets of skyscrapers scattered among the capital city. I've only arrived in and departed from Manila before dawn or in the pitch-black evening, so this was quite a sight to see on my first truly sunny, blue-sky day in the city during the trip. And two hours later, I got my first glimpse of the mountainous islands of Hong Kong. Even through the haze and fog coming from the South China Sea, the green-covered mountains were distinctly evident and different from those in the Philippines, as they aren't volcanic. Getting out of Hong Kong's airport and finding a shuttle to the hotel in Kowloon was pretty easy. I was pretty taken aback by the lack of security on both ends. Normally when I leave Manila for the U.S., they're stricter than American domestic security personnel. I didn't even go through customs in Hong Kong. I could have brought all of the liquids I wanted, including my hair spray that I left back in Manila because I was afraid it would be thrown away. I'll live.
Hong Kong's airport is a bit far from Kowloon, but it's easily accessible by metro or shuttle. My mom and I decided to take advantage of the ease of the shuttle, about $30 USD per person though. The only confusion was when after paying for the shuttle tickets, the shuttle company rep at the airport was showing me where to meet the driver, and he said the guy in the orange shirt. But there were a few guys in orange polo shirts, so I wasn't sure. Then he clarified, simply pointing and stating, "the fat boy." I kind of laughed and scoffed at the same time, not really sure how to respond since we're not that blunt (usually) in America. But I was really glad we took the shuttle because I got to really see the cityscapes of Kowloon and Hong Kong for the first time up close, and we went across the Tsing-Ma Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in HK and, as my tour guide later pointed out, longer than the Golden Gate Bridge. After coming from Manila, a smog-filled urban center with more traffic than any Los Angeles resident could imagine (unless they've been to India, which I've been told is worse), Hong Kong was like being on another planet, with actual lanes and speed limits. Even though there are seven million people in Hong Kong, there is still civility, or as my mom calls it, "organized chaos."
Based on the recommendations of two separate sources, we stayed at the Metropark Kowloon. Walking into the grandiose but modern lobby, my mom just said in awe, "Wow." However, there was a glitch. I must have missed something while booking the reservation online, although I don't know how or where I could have. There are three smoking floors in this hotel, and we somehow ended up with a room on one of them. I swear, walking into our room smelled like what I imagine a cigar lounge in Havana would smell like. I went back to the lobby and tried to see if we could get a room change, but the hotel, not surprisingly, was full and it wouldn't be possible. Considering the affordability for an excellent and plush hotel in Kowloon, the place is a steal, so of course it was full. My mom and I trudged back up to the room, where we held our breath until someone from housekeeping came by with some air freshener. The amenities in the room almost make up for it, including a plate of complimentary fruit upon arrival. Plus, I finally have free broadband internet in a room for the first time on this trip.
Considering the hotel is a bit of a distance from Nathan Road (the main street in Kowloon), and very far from Tsim Sha Tsui, the main shopping district on this half of Hong Kong, the hotel provides a free shuttle to these areas, which saves a lot on cabs and metro fares. Even though by this point I was extremely tired and hungry, we headed for the waterfront, where I confirmed that Hong Kong has the most beautiful skyline in the world. I love New York, but there's nothing compared to this:
And this photo doesn't capture all of it; my lens isn't wide enough.
I am truly proud to be an American again. I feel privileged to have been able to not only witness, but to vote for history and see an African-American become the president of the United States of America. This is not only a message to the world that we want change and to repair our image, it is a message to Americans on how far we have come and that anything is truly possible in this country. It reaffirms every value of this nation. And I'm especially glad that I was able to experience the night in Berkeley. Telegraph Avenue went absolutely insane! There were people crowded on the streets, people hanging from street lights, jumping on to the sides of buses. But it was all peaceful. Not to mention it was the only time I was happy to see a tree-sitter. (Video below soon...) I saw so many of my friends I haven't seen in months. Everyone was cheering "YES WE CAN" and "OBAMA" and "USA! USA!" as if we had just won every gold medal at the Olympics. The only thing that would have made me happier would have been to see Sarah Palin board a one-way flight back to Alaska. Or maybe to Russia.
Unfortunately, the evening was bittersweet. While I am proud of my country, I am ashamed of my home state. While even at this moment (9:51am PST), the San Francisco Chronicle still won't call the Proposition 8 race, it is clear that California will write hatred into its own constitution and literally divide us into first and second class citizens. It is applalling from the state that has a reputation and prides itself on being on the forefront of social change and being one of the first states to repeal laws against inter-racial marriage. Now it's a sham. I am not as proud of being a Californian as I was even just yesterday.
Nevertheless, the United States is on the right path again. For the last eight years, while I have always loved my country, many people including myself questioned the direction it was going in. I am very aware that the problems we face now will take years to repair, but I am confident now that it will get done.
And despite my renewed love and pride, I am leaving -- but just for two weeks -- as I'm boarding soon for Manila, via Tokyo Narita Airport. Unlike past trips I've taken outside of the U.S. in the last eight years, I'm not longer afraid of people heckling me. Peace out, America!
Only four more days until I bounce from New York City to San Francisco, and then across the other pond. Many props to my fellow interns Kelly, Brendan and Rip for helping me title this blog (and some future entry titles as well), along with those of my friends who were on gChat on Halloween when they should have been working. But the grand winner is Ms. Janet Fang with the above title, and her prize is a shiny package of fresh Fig Newtons. Honorable mentions include: Land of the Tequila Sunrise Are You There Blog? It's Me, Rachel March of the Rachels Blog to Nowhere Island in the Sun Memoirs of a Rachel Northwest Passage Southeast Passage Return of the King The King and I The Last King of Scotland
(I think the last one was a little off base...)