Tag Archives: travel

Hong Kong — SFO

Safely through Immigration and Customs, I’m now in one of the United Airlines lounges at San Francisco.  I must continue to say that the mobile TSA app, and TSA PRE, were two of my wisest ever expenses!  I flew through the whole process from landing to arrival at the lounge in less than 30 minutes.

Luggage is safely set for the next flight, including my two new suits and five new shirts custom made for me at Sam’s Tailor in Hong Kong.

I must also say that United Airlines Economy Class (I did not score the upgrade to Business First) is a miserable experience.  Comfort is lacking, food is poor, service is smilingly surly.  I can’t imagine how ugly the 11 hours of flight would have been in standard Economy.


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J and I were talking on Wednesday evening; the conversation was wide-ranging. I have traveled more widely than he has. And he wondered how I had found Hong Kong in comparison with other cities.

My first thought was about me. I had forgotten how hard it is to travel someplace – even with a fine tour guide who knows the language – where one is constantly bombarded by unfamiliar sounds and scents.

In Europe I see letters and words that make sense, even in Eastern Europe. At least something is familiar. And I hear occasional words that resonate. This is not so in China or another country that uses a different alphabet.

Add this: the food is so radically different in China, as are the customs in dining. The smells are unusual and unfamiliar. And at times sickening (as in curdled tofu).

Add this: cities tire. Cities mean more walking that I normally do. They mean dealing with crowds on sidewalks and in public places. Hong Kong contains areas that are very hilly. And Hong Kong is always a place where sidewalks are not easily shared. (Even J commented on how tired he was each day.)

Add this: cultural mores are vastly different.  I vigilantly seek not to pass judgment based on my own standards.  And that’s exhausting.

Hong Kong is tiring. Invigorating. Beautiful. But tiring.


Hong Kong is also a marvel of urban planning. Streets are drivable because of the numerous elevated roadways that take pressure off of the grid. Space is used wisely, with small parks and soccer pitches tucked into every small piece of available space.

The Metro stations are small cities in and of themselves. Exits are well-planned and integrated into buildings, parks, streetscapes. Signage is coherent. They are clean. Customer service is paramount. (All of this is so NOT the case in Chicago or New York.) The Hong Kong MTR is a marvel!

And the airport shuttle?  Even Heathrow could learn a thing from the MTR airport shuttle!

But then . . .Chinese clarity and order break down. The Wednesday trip to the botanical garden was a challenge, with minimal signage and no clarity on maps or in person about the ‘how’ of getting there. Even J said “Why do they make this so difficult?” I could report daily examples of little frustrations that, had I been king, would not have happened in a world ruled by my logic.

But I am not emperor.

I tried learning more Cantonese this week. J kept laughing at me. While Mandarin and Cantonese (spoken in Guangyi, Macau, and Hong Kong) are written the same, the speaking of them is in fact two different languages. Cantonese is also a tonal language, but pronunciations from Mandarin can vary slightly, or totally. Let’s just say my Cantonese is essentially non-existent.


Other thoughts:

  • I saw fewer bugs than ever in any city I’ve ever visited.
  • I also saw exactly two pigeons the whole time I was in Kong Kong, and no seagulls whatsoever.
  • And I saw stern signs prohibiting the feeding of birds, with a stiff fine attached.
  • What I did see was cattle grazing widely at Ngong Ping village on Lantau Island, and begging pieces of fruit – yes, cows begging! – from visitors.
  • The fervor of faith was apparent at the Buddhist and Toaist temples. And the smell of incense is a lovely thing indeed.
  • Red was everywhere as the locals gear up for the Chinese New Year in late January.
  • In any culture, little old men gather to josh and tease and share stories. I saw this clearly on the bus as we returned from Stanley town. We stopped at athe Wilson Trail trailhead, and onto the bus came a dozen or so older men who had been on the trail together – walking sticks, towels to wick away the sweat, sensible walking shoes. In listening to their chatter and their familiar energy, had I closed my eyes I could just as easily been at the local in Bolivar on a Tuesday morning as they guys all gathered for their coffee and tall tales, or as I remember well at the sale barn cafe in Lamoni when the farmers gathered before the day’s work began.
  • Roast goose is not as good as it looks. And a mouthful of Chinese mustard on the roast goose is enough to water the eyes.
  • A slight sunburn in January is not a bad thing at all, if it comes from two days at Repulse Bay beach.

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Random Wednesday observations

  1. There’s nothing like the threat of riots to keep people off the streets.  I’ve never ever witnessed I-170 as empty at 6 p.m. as it was on Tuesday when I was in the taxi from the airport.
  2. Airport VIP lounges are nice places to relax for an hour.
  3. You know you look like a local when two ultra-Orthodox Jewish men ask you for directions in the airport.
  4. Trader Joe’s chili lime cashews are more spicy than they appear at first taste.
  5. Samson is the best snuggle-dog ever.
  6. Talking by chat apps with people from around the world is a true life pleasure.
  7. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  8. Hiring new faculty is another of life’s true pleasures.
  9. I miss the mountains.
  10. Jo Malone products are ridiculously overpriced, but so worth it!

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Alas

Sir Colin Davis is ill and has withdrawn from the performance next week with the London Symphony Orchestra.  Alas.

Now I must decide yet again: to come back to London for the LSO and Elgar with a Russian conductor, or to stay in Cambridge for Evensong at King’s and Eucharist at John’s.

What an embarrassing wealth of options now present themselves!

To home and back

At 7.30 p.m., I am back in Saint Louis after making the return trip from Lee’s Summit today, non-stop, in three hours and 23 minutes.  Samson slept the whole way, from the moment I got on I-70 in Independence to the moment I pulled up on Lawn Place.

While I took my D-XLR camera, I didn’t use it.  In fact, this whole trip was spent in driving, sleeping, eating, or visiting.  I suppose that’s what a whirlwind 23 hours in my hometown should be.

My father is having surgery on Thursday for cancer in his lymph nodes.  The cancer is consistent with a merkel cell that was removed from his arm two years ago.  He is a man of extraordinary religious faith, and will weather this latest ill health with dignity and aplomb, if also some soreness.  Further biopsies will determine what further course of action is necessary.

Meanwhile, my sister Karen is recovering well from surgery on her wrist.  I enjoyed laughing with her today!  And Beth and Robert and kids are all fine.  Anna will be 16 soon; both boys are in elementary school, one at either end of the age range.

Sadly, Aunt Esther has noticeably aged (she is 100, after all) in the last three months.  The sparkle is gone from her eyes, and she had a certain look that I’d not seen in her before.  I wonder if today’s brief visit will be my last.  I asked her to hang on until Christmas, but she hung on until 100, and truth-be-told she deserves a rest.

Here are shots from the last two days:

Montreal Sunday

[For some reason, this did not publish on Sunday.  So here it is, four days late.]

It’s been a quiet day in Montreal.

I woke with the sun this morning, then closed the night curtains tighter so I could sleep a while longer.

My breakfast was a bacon, cheese, and apple crepe from a restaurant around the corner on Rue Peel.

And then I walked a ways -just about a mile – to church, arriving at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in quite a state of damp sweatiness!

I chose to attend the Anglo-Catholic parish in town this morning, and of course was glad to be there, but I found the experience a bit frustrating.  None of the music that the congregation was expected to sing was available in print; one must have insider knowledge in order to participate.  This is one of my peeves about churches of many denominations!  Making your way through the missal or the prayer book is tough enough if one is unfamiliar, but wanting to sing and not being allowed to is truly a travesty.

The church was not air-conditioned, and Montreal is having a hot month, so I never did really cool down.  I walked back to the hotel, took off my black silk shirt, and napped for a few.  After lunch of a salad, I enjoyed the Napoleon exhibit at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, just down the street from my hotel.

And then it was time for more church, this time Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, the seat of the Diocese of Montreal in the Anglican Church of Canada.  The walk was only about 15 minutes, but lordy, the humidity and heat took a toll on me.

Another cool-off followed, then dinner at a Mexican place on Rue Peel.  (I shan’t go back there again.) I was oddly amused by the couple next to me, fighting alternately in English and French.

And now, after a shower, I’m tired and weary.  My feet hurt.  I’m staying in to watch Olympics, write post-cards, and read a book.

Montreal feels very much like a more European city.  French is the predominant language in this province, and all greetings and personal transactions start with French before moving to English.  (I walked into the hotel this evening to a concierge saying “Beau soir.  Good evening.”  This kind of greeting is standard.)  Menus are printed in French with English underneath.  At both services today in Anglican churches, at least one reading and several prayers were in French.

The city centre is quite walkable.  I expect a bit of a hike tomorrow to Old Montreal, though!  Much of the isle (for this is the Island of Montreal) is connected by subway, with an extensive public transport system.  I’ll see the Saint Lawrence River tomorrow as I’m in the old town.

Montreal street scenes