© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
The countries are listed in the order in which I first visited them.
Official Name: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China; Capital: Hong Kong; Language: Chinese (mostly Cantonese), English; Country Code: HK; Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)
My first visit there was in 1979, when it was still under British rule. I was travelling with my wife, and it was the first time we'd been outside our country of birth, Australia. We had a good look around Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and a bit of the New Territories. My second visit was more than 20 years later, after control had been transferred to the Chinese.
[Diary] United Airlines was offering a great fare to Hong Kong, and since I had nothing better to do, I booked a ticket to go and get some Chinese take-away food. Flight UA829, a Boeing 747-400 (Jumbo Jet, 2 aisles and 9 seats across), departed Chicago on time at 3:05 pm about one-third full, allowing people to take over up to three seats. I had exit seat 46A. Flying time was predicted to be 15:40 hours, possibly my longest ever non-stop flight. Distance, 7,787 miles. (My previous longest flights were Washington DC to Tokyo and LA/San Francisco to Sydney.) ETA was 7:15 pm the next day.
Five hours into the flight we were over the frozen Beaufort Sea just beyond the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Canada. Although on a map it might look like one would fly west and then south to get to Hong Kong from Chicago, we flew due north, over the Arctic. Whatever it takes to save money on the fuel bill, which, these days, is very high for one of these planes. As usual, in between movies, route maps at various magnifications were shown to let us know where we were. Seeing the earth from the North Pole perspective is quite different. Somewhere around there, we crossed the International Date Line, and moved from Friday to Saturday.
[Diary] I rode the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Tseun Wan line (red line) from Jordan station next to my hotel in Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island. I then walked to the Peak Tram terminal. It was quite hot and very humid. There was a long line for the tram, but the line moved quickly. The ride was very steep, and I shot video out the rear window. At the top, I walked around to some overlooks, strolled through a small shopping center, and had a milkshake at McDonalds. The views over the downtown area, across the harbor, and on the south side of the island were interesting, but somewhat clouded in a humid haze.
From there, I went back down the mountain to Hong Kong Park, a wonderful addition to the city. There is a huge aviary with many exotic parrots. One walks through it on platforms raised high in the trees. The whole thing is built into the side of a hill. The gardens are magnificent, and contain a large waterfall, some large ponds, wading birds, fish, and many turtles. Next door, there is a museum of tea ware, which I perused a while, as much to get into an air-conditioned place as for the exhibits.
[Diary] I strolled along the promenade on the south bank of Kowloon, and shot some video and stills of the harbor. I also chatted with a young English couple who had just arrived after four months in Australia. I consumed ice cream while watching the continuous harbor traffic.
From there, it was on to the Star Ferry terminal and surrounding shops. Then I went north through Kowloon Park back to my hotel, stopping off to buy some emergency rations. In my room, I snacked and read the daily English newspaper.
[Diary] Since my room came with a hot water kettle, I bought a packet of noodles and ate in. At 7:30 pm, I took the MTR south one stop and walked to the promenade to see the nightly 8-pm laser light show on the high-rise buildings across the harbor on Hong Kong Island. Then it was back home via the MTR. I walked 4–5 blocks along the famed Temple Street Night Market near my hotel. There were wall-to-wall stalls selling clothing, footwear, electronics, and bootleg CDs and DVDs.
[Diary] At the ferry terminal, I met a couple from Spain who were on the same tour as me. We rode first class on the ferry, which was called Xin Xing, departing at 10:30 for Mui Wo on Lantau Island. After a 15-minute wait, the three of us, seven Dutch tourists and their Flemish guide, two Chinese ladies and another few couples boarded the air-conditioned minibus and set off.
The first stop was a nice beach, where we spent 15 minutes. (Like most beaches there, it had a shark net around the swimming area.) The second stop was the Po Lin monastery and huge Tian Tan Buddha statue. We consumed an "interesting" vegetarian lunch, and spent two hours there. The final stop was the fishing village of Tai O, where houses are built on stilts over the water. It was rather rundown and much more like what I think of with respect to a Chinese village. Many stalls sold live and dried fish, drinks, and tourist junk. The ice cream and cream soda were definitely the best things in town. The hour there was more than enough.
[Diary] I went to the old Murray House building that has been pulled apart, stone by stone, transported down here from the city, and reassembled. Unfortunately, the instructions for how to do this were poorly recorded, and it took three years to figure out how to put it back together. And then they had six large columns spare, so they stuck them out front in a row.
Official Name: Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China; Capital: Macau; Language: Chinese (various dialects), Portuguese, Macanese; Country Code: MO; Currency: Macanese pataca (MOP)
I spent a day there in 1979 while visiting Hong Kong. At the time, Macao was still a Portuguese colony. (Since then, control has reverted to the Chinese.) About the only thing I remember from that underwhelming day was that such day trips were all about "casinos and shopping", neither of which interested me or my wife. Frankly, we went because "it was there" and this was the start of our first trip abroad. I definitely remember one, quite unsettling aspect, however. On arrival, we had to leave our passports with the immigration office, and then collect them when we caught the ferry back to Hong Kong that evening. Although I'd only recently gotten my first passport, being separated from it in an unknown place didn't seem like a good idea.
Official Name: Republic of Singapore; Capital: Singapore; Language: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil; Country Code: SG; Currency: Singapore dollar (SGD)
My first visit there was in 1979, as a tourist. My second was a business trip more than 25 years later, by which time it was even more modernized; it had also lost some of its charm. Being right on the equator, the weather stays rather constant. (Can you say "Bloody HUMID"?)
My wife and I took several bus tours around parts of the island and over into southern Malaysia. One highlight was a delightful ride in a trishaw, a cart pulled by a wiry man on a bicycle. As he pointed out interesting places and things, he added emphasis by appending "No bullshit!" to each of his statements. He asked if we were on our honeymoon, and we replied that we'd been married three years. Then he asked how many children we had. When my wife replied, "None", he looked me up and down several times and then said to my wife, "He no good!" We told him we'd heard that a good place to eat was the Satay Club, and could he drop us there. Now the name had conjured up in our minds a fancy place possibly with a dress code, but when he dropped us at a public park, we learned it was an open-air place filled with grandfather-and-grandson pairs running BBQs. For a small amount of money, we feasted on satays with hot peanut sauce, salad and drinks. It was quite a fancy picnic.
[Diary] From my home in Northern Virginia to my hotel room in Singapore, it had taken 36½ hours, which, as best as I can recall, was the longest I'd taken to get anywhere in one trip. I don't recommend it. [I'd gone via Sydney, Australia.]
I unpacked and had a wonderfully hot shower. I thought that, perhaps, I'd have to burn the clothes I'd traveled in, but, instead, simply "stood them up in the corner". I connected to the outside world to find that my email had managed to follow me all the way to Singapore; surprise!
I got a map from the front desk, got some shopping and meal advice, and walked out into the very humid evening. Within 100 yards, I'd been propositioned at least 10 times by all kinds of young women wanting to "escort" me. I didn't stop to find out exactly what that meant, however.
In one building, I encountered more than a few exotic-looking "ladies" with very low necklines and very short hemlines. As I rode an elevator with several of them, I got a look up close—it was hard not to—and I decided that, in all probability, at least some of them were not of the female species.
Official Name: Malaysia; Capital: Kuala Lumpur; Language: Malaysian, English; Country Code: MY; Currency: Ringgit (MYR)
In 1979, I spent five days in and around the capital, in Malacca to the south, and on Penang Island to the north. Movies were very cheap and we saw one each day. For the premier of Superman, the shows were all sold out, so we bought tickets from a scalper. Even then the cost, at least by our standards, was still cheap. One interesting thing was that most people in attendance did not speak English; instead, they were reading one of the three sets of subtitles that covered the bottom half of the screen, while talking to each other. That made it hard for those few of us native-English speakers to hear the audio.
Official Name: Kingdom of Thailand; Capital: Bangkok; Language: Thai; Country Code: TH; Currency: Baht (THB)
It was June 1979, and it was a surprise to find the Bangkok airport "occupied" by armed troops. However, over the years, there have been regular "forced" changes of government. In any event, it had no adverse impact on our visit.
A highlight of our visit was a boat tour around Bangkok's extensive canal system. At Pattaya Beach (a popular place for R&R for Allied soldiers during the Vietnam War), I tried my hand at parasailing. We spent an interesting day visiting Kanchanaburi, site of the infamous WWII prison camps and the Bridge over the River Kwai.
Official Name: Republic of India; Capital: New Delhi; Language: Hindi, English; Country Code: IN; Currency: Indian rupee (INR)
We arrived in Bombay in June 1979 with the romantic idea of getting a rail pass and spending some weeks traveling the countryside. Instead, we spent much of the one day there trying to find a flight out. We were ticketed next for Athens, Greece, but as we couldn't get a flight there for days, we opted to bypass that city and go to Rome, Italy, instead. [Thirty five years later, I still haven't been to Greece.]
See the separate essay from August 2014, Travel – Memories of Japan.
Official Name: Republic of Korea; Capital: Seoul; Language: Korean; Country Code: KR; Currency: South Korean won (KRW)
I've had four trips there, three to the southern island of Jeju (sometimes written Cheju), and one to Busan.
[Diary] This trip, I was off on a 14-day trip around the world (take that, Phileas Fogg), taking in Milan, Italy, and then Jeju, Korea. Frankly, it would have been preferable to go west rather than east, but, unfortunately, that wasn't an option. There was one good bit of news, however; I was seated in Business Class all the way.
Now, for a trip like this one must prepare in advance. In my case, I had a 6-day "practice" trip, going west, to Yokohama, Japan, 13 hours non-stop each way. I got back from that little jaunt six days before this new trip started. So just when I'd nearly recovered from that big time change, I was heading off in the opposite direction for another.
… I arrived at my hotel as the sun started to set. Check in was smooth, and I made my way to my room. The new building had cavernous lobbies, lots of large paintings and sculptures, marble everywhere, and absolutely no-one in sight. It looked rather like a sanitarium for very wealthy people. You know, the sort of place one goes when one is a bit run down from too many dinner parties and polo events.
[Diary] If there is one thing I've learned from travel in Asia, is, "Never trust a toilet that plugs into an electrical outlet!" So, I disabled that (and its seat heater). However, to activate the room's lights, I needed to insert my room key into a slot on the wall. Yet each time I did that, my toilet's electronics re-booted! Can you say, "Over-engineered?" There was also an assortment of emergency gear, including a harness one could strap on and be lowered down the side of the building, but I never did figure out where one went to actually open a window large enough to climb out.
[Diary] Breakfast was included in the room rate and I was at the restaurant just before opening time, at 7 am. It was buffet style with the usual Asian and Western offerings along with a chef cooking custom eggs and omelets. While the Asians dug into their soups, fish, and salad, I looked at the cereal, sausage, and bacon. One thing that caught my eye as something to avoid, were the dark-black slices of preserved duck eggs. I'd have to be very hungry and eating in the dark before I'd put some of that in my mouth!
[Diary] At 6:30 pm, the social event started with a cocktail reception. At 7 o'clock, we moved into the banquet room, which was setup with circular tables each set for seven people. I sat with an American colleague of Chinese descent, and delegates from Ireland and Japan, among others. The meal involved 10 small courses of Korean food, which we ate with chopsticks. A spoon was also provided. So, just what does one get at a 10-course Korean banquet? 1. Abalone porridge; 2. Rice noodles and vegetables with sesame oil; 3. Poached baby abalone, green lettuce, soy vinaigrette; 4. Pan-fried fish and vegetable with egg batter; 5. Steamed king prawn; 6. Korean traditional buckwheat rolls with seafood and vegetables; 7. Grilled USA beef short ribs; 8. Sea weed and sea urchin roe soup; 9. Steamed rice and condiments; and 10. Rice punch and fresh fruit.
The entertainment part came in two stages, the first piece of which was a musical performance by a group in traditional dress playing traditional instruments plus a piano. Most of their music was modern, however. A woman "sang" a song that sounded pretty much to me like screeching, and at the end, I clapped because it was over!
Official Name: People's Republic of China; Capital: Beijing (formerly known as Peking); Language: Chinese (various dialects) and others; Country Code: CN; Currency: Renminbi (or yuan) (CNY)
I've had one visit to the mainland, in December; it was bloody freezing outdoors!
[Diary] I went outside the Beijing Airport (PEK) to the taxi line where it was below freezing. I drew a young guy who apparently wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500, and he showed me his "skills" on the way to my hotel. Throughout the 30-minute ride, I doubt we stayed in the same lane more than 15 seconds (I kid you not), and he was tailgating cars at 120 kph! To make it interesting, I couldn't find the piece of my seatbelt to clip my harness in. I found it best not to look at the road ahead and to sit back and think happy thoughts, like, "Was my will up to date?"
[Diary] A local colleague and his wife arrived and we drove by the Olympic village, through Tiananmen Square, and then to a large shopping district where we walked through local markets, department stores, and the county's biggest bookstore. Along the way, we stopped off for lunch at—surprise—a Chinese restaurant. Then it was on to a large supermarket to lay in a few supplies for my kitchen.
[Diary] Our tour bus parked down a small mountain from the Great Wall. To get near the top we each sat in a sled-like device and were pulled up 20 people at a time, through a tunnel and then out in the vicious cold wind. At the end, we were right next to the base of a section of wall, where the really serious work began. The goal was to hike/climb to the top-most point, which didn't seem all that far away. And, horizontally speaking, it wasn't. But the vertical climb was a different matter, especially as we not only had to go up, but over each rise, we seemed to go way down again. I decided to concentrate on the walk rather than take pictures and video, and to do those on the way back. The wall is one heck of a structure and was built over a 2,000+-year period. Although it was supposed to keep out the Mongol hordes, I kept asking myself why the Mongols would want to attack over those mountains anyway even if no wall existed. (I think it was built simply as a way to keep unemployment down!) Although the whole walk was very steep, I did okay on the sections that had steps. At least they were level and I could rest occasionally. However, some parts were just flat stones at a steep angle, and coming down on those was difficult. The surrounding countryside was harsh, almost semi-desert. I had dressed warmly with a knitted cap and windproof hood over that, plus gloves. However, each time I took my gloves off to take pictures or video, my hands got cold very quickly.
[Diary] Another local friend and colleague arrived at my hotel with a car and driver. We drove to Tiananmen Square, the world largest square. It was built after the Chinese Revolution and occupies the space between the main South gate of the city and the main North gate, just on the edge of the Forbidden City. The driver dropped us in front of the People's Congress building. We crossed the street and went through a security checkpoint into the square where we went to Chairman Mao's mausoleum, but it was closed on Mondays. Don't you just hate that when that happens? We walked all around the square and looked at the elaborate gates and the buildings that housed them. On the north side, we went through three sets of city gates and their accompanying plazas. In one plaza, we watched groups of soldiers engaged in some marching drills.
After lunch, we drove to the Olympic Park where the driver dropped us near the main Bird's Nest stadium. We got admission tickets and went inside for a look around. The 80,000 seat stadium was functional as well as a piece of art. During the games, an athletic track went around the ground while the inside space served as a soccer field, among other things. However, now, it was covered in man-made snow, which was being produced by a number of machines. A large crew was setting up for a Snow Festival. After a short walk around the plaza, we headed to the Blue Cube, a large cube-like building that housed the water sports. It contains a large swimming area with wave pool, and many people were swimming there. The public can also use the practice pool, and a number of people were swimming laps. The main pool is only used for competitions and is next to the diving pool.
[Diary] First stop was the Summer Palace, a place where emperors "escaped" the Forbidden City from spring to late summer. It consisted of some 600 acres three quarters being a man-made lake the soil and mud from which had been used to build a very large hill. The lake was frozen over and the wind started to blow. I looked around a few buildings, but when I heard music and singing, I made my way up a hill to locate the source. I found a very enthusiastic group of pensioners and others singing from songbooks. A choir performed and a number of musicians played wind instruments and drums. I captured a whole song on video. An elderly man approached me and asked me where I was from, shook my hand vigorously, and welcomed me to China and Beijing.
After lunch, we drove to the Forbidden City where the extended families of 20+ royal dynasties lived for some hundreds of years, during which time it was off-limits to all others. A series of very large and elaborate gates lead to the inner sanctums. There are more than 8,000 rooms! I shot some video, but each gate or door led to an even bigger and fancier set of rooms and courtyards that it really was too much. Very quickly, I had overdosed. It certainly was impressive, however. It has only been open to the public for 20+ years.
Then, it was on to the Temple of Heaven, a place that was visited twice each year by the emperor who took part in major ceremonies to pray for a good harvest and on the winter solstice to pray for a good next season. Nearby was a teahouse, and we dropped in for a tea ceremony. The hostess explained the process and prepared five different teas for us to taste. I particularly liked the leeche and rose petal tea. The staff tried hard to sell us all kinds of tea and tea-related utensils, but the prices were quite high.
[Diary] I scanned through some articles in the China Daily, and came across the following text in relation to American diplomacy: "Historians know well that the US has never been half as idealistic as it likes to see itself; … The spirit invoked by the Statue of Liberty, embracing the poor and huddled masses, still shines brighter that all the lights in new York City, but somewhere during the transition from an ordinary nation to an overextended military power, the US lost touch with its better angels and set itself on the road to being the new Rome." Hmm, some food for thought. "Bloody Communist propaganda", you say? But no, it was written by one Phillip J. Cunningham, a visiting fellow at Cornell University, New York.
For the most part, I've enjoyed my time in Asia. I've found the people to be very industrious and friendly. One important lesson I learned there during my very first trip is that not all red sauces are ketchup!
Bucket List: A couple of destinations intrigue me: Ankor Wat, Cambodia and the tiny country of Bhutan.