Welcome to Joe and Nancy’s Southeast Asia blog. We're calling our little adventure “The Re-humanization Tour.” Thanks to the graciousness and generosity of our good friends, Sandy Sands and Constance Wise, our trip got off to a fine start at 3:30 am on Wednesday May 27 (Joe’s birthday). After about 24 hours of travel, we arrived in the very cosmopolitan and technologically sophisticated city of Hong Kong, China and rode a high-speed train from the airport to Hong Kong Island. We spent three fascinating days in the city giggling at the funny food (egg and macaroni soup for breakfast!), looking up in awe at the amazing number of skyscrapers crammed into the hillside of that small island, and walking by countless vendors of stinky dried fish. Some of the highlights of our visit included: 1) enjoying the views from the 55th floor of the International Financial Center 2 - which we think we heard was the 2nd tallest building in the world, 2) riding a seemingly endless series of outside escalators up the hills of the island through the SOHO district, 3) traveling by ferry to Lantsau Island to visit the world’s largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha and Po Lin Monastery,
Hong Kong Skyline
View from the 55th floor of the International Finance Center II, Hong Kong Island.
4) getting dim sum lessons from a lovely Chinese couple who we shared a table with at one of the oldest and most traditional tea houses in Hong Kong, and 5) touring the Hong Kong art museum.
One of the most interesting things about the city (to us) was how efficient and organized everything was. It seemed as if there was always someone (or several people) around whose job it was to maintain the appropriate flow of foot traffic in public spaces or to make sure that people went where they were supposed to go and did what they were supposed to do. There were great signs posted all over the city about the importance of proper hygiene for preventing the spread of disease, and many people wore masks over their mouths. (Actually, masks were so pervasive in Hong Kong that we noticed that it was fashionable to wear designer masks in bright colors and stylish designs). Other ubiquitous signs provided constant reassurance that door handles, countertops, or bathroom fixtures had been thoroughly disinfected in the last 30 minutes. Hong Kong probably had the cleanest public bathrooms in the world. There was nearly always an attendant (or two) who
Lian Tan Buddha
Lantsau Island, Hong Kong. Largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha in the world!
would swoop into your bathroom stall the minute you left in order to clean and disinfect the toilet before the next user arrived. It was amazing. Not a bad way to spend your money when you are the city with one of the highest proportions of billionaires in the world!
Although we were sad to leave Hong Kong, we were very excited to travel to Vietnam on Sunday night May 31. Because the plane was full, we got bumped up to business class for the 3 hour flight to Saigon. We sipped champagne and dined on lamb curry while we lounged in our reclining chairs on the 2nd floor of the jumbo jet. We were in for quite a change, however, when we arrived in the Pham Ngu Lao area of Saigon (also known as the “backpacker district”) at 11:00 pm and were dropped off at our hotel in the tiniest of dark alleys teeming with motorbikes, people, strong smells, and loud noises. We slept a little later than usual the next morning- partly because we were afraid to leave our little room and partly because we were hoping if we fell back asleep we’d wake up and be
Dim sum at the Hue Lueng Tea House, Hong Kong
We dont know what we ate, but it was really good and loads of fun. We shared a table with our new friends, Steve and Christine who gave us a lesson in traditional dim sum practice. They were a lovely couple - realtors - in case we ever want to buy a little place on the island!
back at the Marriott in Hong Kong. No such luck. We eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and into the amazingly loud, hot, crowded, smelly, polluted, treacherous and loveable city of Saigon. We walked around for a quite a while the first morning in somewhat of a stupor - wondering why it was that we wanted to come to this city in the first place. However, as the day progressed and the “culture shock” started to wear off, we slowly became more at ease. We spent some time in a lovely city park watching the Vietnamese play badminton and do their late afternoon stretching and “power walks.” We chatted it up with some young University students who were trying to hone their English skills, and quickly came to realize just how warm and friendly the city was, despite our initial impressions. Of course it doesn’t hurt that, with his white goatee, Joe bears an uncanny resemblance to Ho Chi Minh (Uncle Ho) himself. He’s a big hit with the Vietnamese who frequently stop him and comment on the likeness. It will certainly take a while, but we think we could get the hang of this Southeast Asia thing!
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