Hong Kong Part 3/3: Monkeys and Buddha

Part One: Travel is Glamorous Only in Retrospect

Part Two: The Peak, Temple and Skyline

Monday:

Monday was my birthday. We couldn’t decide what to do. That was three days in a row that any plan we had was thrown out because it was going to be miserably busy. We finally decided to take the MTR (the subway- rather than the ferry) to the Dingleberry and try to find an H&M store as well as maybe finding those temples we missed out on when we were walking to nowhere (spoiler: we never do this).

Everything went pretty smoothly with the MTR.  It was so much better than the craziness of the ferry.

We got off at a market. It was pretty neat but not all that different than the markets in Seoul.  We wandered around for a while before we stumbled on a pet market. Because of the millions of apartments, people are almost always in the market for a fish. So it was mostly in a fish market.

Most fish were just in bags hung on a massive wall. Their price written in permanent marker on the bag. It was a little sad but it seemed like many people were interested in them.

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We saw a some shops selling kittens and dogs. The kittens were so playful and everyone was surprisingly being so respectful – not tapping on glass or trying to wake up the puppies that it wasn’t as terrible as you would maybe think it was. They honestly looked like they were all being cared for pretty well. Better than some of the puppy shops in Korea.

We made the mistake of going to H&M, a clothing store Chris and I really like from Europe. It was so packed you couldn’t even look at anything. Every single rack had someone next to it perusing.

On the way back someone tried to scam us with the ticket machine. Then I got completely screwed. I scanned my subway card but the dumbass lady in front of me stepped back  for no conceivable reason and got her stupid purse stuck on the turnstile. … You guessed it, when she pulled and untangled it, the turnstile turned and completely stole my ride. So I couldn’t get through to go to the subways. I kept scanning the card over and over, in disbelief that the world was so stupid. But it thought I was already in the subway area (the turnstile turned so how couldn’t I be) And of course it was during after-work traffic. So about a million and one people (seven million people, in fact) were pushing and crowding to get to the subway to get home. I was actually trapped between a crush of people and a small barricade. Chris was on the other side and there didn’t seem like any option but to go pay for another card. But that option was completely BS because the scammy money guy was back there.

This story seems like nothing now but at the time it was really crappy. I was more or less trapped against a metal gate as hundreds of people scanned their cards behind me. It didn’t really seem like I could get another ticket, much less get out of the spot where I was standing. Mostly, I was pissed because my ride was essentially stolen by peoples dumbassery.

I was pissed off. We finally found a customer help center on my side of the turnstile. I walked up looking for blood. Without really having to say much, my ticket was promptly recharged and I didn’t have to fork over another cent.

Honestly. That was my whole birthday. Some piss poor markets, a really neat fish and pet market, and then getting effed by public transport.

But all thats okay because Tuesday was the best day of the whole trip.

Tuesday

We had been noticing a pattern of every-other-day being a good day in Hong Kong. And the alternative days were either really boring, obnoxious or overwhelming. Given this Law of Hong Kong, today was destined to be a good day.  The best day so far had been spent on a man made trail on Victoria Peak. So we decided to go find a real trail on a real mountain.

Dragons Back is a really really popular hike here. So we immediately began researching anything else. We wanted to be in a position that, if god forbid, we got lost on a mountain, no one would ever find us (this is a joke – this feat would be impossible with the city surrounding the mountains) We craved, nay, required solitude.

Lonely Planet made some mention of “pesky monkeys” – we were immediately all in.

We took the MTR to a very off-the-beaten path part of Hong Kong. We could have/should have taken a taxi up the hill to the trail head, instead we began trekking up the very steep road.  It began sprinkling about halfway up. By the time we reached the end of the city road it was raining pretty hard. We had water, a phone and a “survival bracelet” but no umbrella or rain jackets. Our mistake. Oh well. We kept going.

The walk seemed like it was going nowhere. The rain didn’t look like it would let up. We almost considered heading down but we’re too stubborn for that. We hadn’t gotten to the trail head and didn’t know how far away it even was but we were not going to head down. It was the Law of Hong Kong, damnit, today was supposed to be good!

The day was looking like it was going to be a huge bust. The worst bust so far.

Then someone went walking by with a cat. They had, apparently, taken their cat for a hike (??!!) and were hiking down. “That’s weird” we said. Then up ahead we saw something furry. Having just seen a cat we assumed – cat. That is a house cat. But it swung around the metal barricade like a total badass. Something cats cannot do. “Monkey!” I cried stopping Chris.

We watched it glide across the top of the metal gate easily like some kind of monkey monorail. We pursued at a distance.

Soon more monkeys came flying and twisting out of the trees to land on the metal and begin walking on it. Cars drove by, people passed, and they were unfazed. This was definitely their area, and they knew to stay on the metal to avoid getting hit on the roads.

We kept a very healthy distance until a monkey chose to walk by us at about 5 feet away. They were feral but had been corrupted by feeding. He didn’t look for food on us but he proved that they wouldn’t attack (or even care about you) if you didn’t provoke.

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From that point on we followed about 50 monkeys up the hill in an adorable monkey parade. Sometimes they were only a few feet away, other times we were all alone until the original Monorail Monkey would arrive again, acting as a caboose.

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Then the Monkey Parade stopped and everyone hung out for a bit. I’m not sure what they thought they were doing. But a crowd of hikers gathered and took photos. Maybe the monkeys were humoring us. Likely they were sizing us up for food. We took lots of pictures and enjoyed them before they swung away into the trees. And yeah, some strutted confidently across the street, too good for trees.

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Bottom right corner – Mr. Monorail Monkey
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Baby monkey was scared because of some nearby construction.

The awesomeness of the hike didn’t end there. In fact, we finally only just arrived at the trail-head. We could have turned back right there, satisfied. But we had only been walking on the street. We still needed to get out on a proper trail and get lost in a jungle.

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It didn’t take very far for the concrete steps to disappear and the views to begin.

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We didn’t know what trail we were on. We were on some kind-of complex-trail made up of 6+ segments that people could hike individually. We thought we were on one, we were probably on another. It didn’t really matter. At one point the rain stopped and we just kept powering along. We didn’t know where we would pop out or if we would have to turn around hike all the way back out.

We decided to go up Lions Rock and got this amazing view.

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The elevation was about 1,600 feet. It didn’t seem that impressive until we got down and looked back up at it. It makes the buildings look like legos.

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The clouds got darker and darker. The trail looked like it might continue on some but we didn’t want to get hit by lightning. An understandable choice.
lioinsrokOn the way back down we saw two more of the horrible spiny banana spiders. Still believing them to be the other banana spiders that will attack, we were a little frightened of walking under their exercise-ball sized webs.

Then came the rain. We thought we had been in the rain before. Now, NOW we were in the rain. The path became a stream of water flowing down and, still without umbrellas, we were forced to stop for a moment. We hitched our backpacks up over our heads and stood laughing at each other.

Now were were soaked and had no idea how far away from an exit we were. Our stuff got soaked. Our journals, passports, and the camera all got wet. We put the camera in the most waterproof place we could find and it turned out okay, but one of the travel journals  was pretty much ruined.

We hiked out in a few hours, still soaked. The rain eventually slowed somewhat but we liked it. We passed a pillbox military structure – when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in 1941 – on the same day as Pearl Harbor, in fact. These military outposts were set up and still remain. There’s nothing much to it now, but it made the incredible hike even more fantastic.

Just when the adventure seemed over, we saw two wild boars foraging in the bushes. They paid us no mind. They were rustling through leaves too furiously to be photographed – they’re just boar-y blurs so we won’t include a photo.

Wednesday

Wednesday is really really easy to write about. Nothing happened. It rained so badly that they closed the schools and opened emergency shelters for homeless.

More than 40cm of rain fell on parts of Hong Kong over the last 24 hours [from when we had been hiking]… delaying flights at the airport and closing schools.

The downpours came in short, sharp bursts, with the red rainstorm warning issued twice in six hours. (source)

It was the hardest rain I’ve ever seen or stood in. The rain was so huge and fat, and it fell so quickly that it hurt to be under it. We stayed in the hotel for the majority of the day and we regret nothing.

Thursday

Since we had lost a whole day on Wednesday we had to make a choice: miss the “Big Buddha” or miss Macau. Everyone had ranted and raved about how beautiful Macau was. Mainly it became a choice between long ferry ride or (what we thought to be) a shorter subway ride. So we picked the Big Buddha. We took the subway and arrived just as the rain began. We didn’t even want to take the cable cars up to the Big Buddha as they looked expensive and too pushy-Chinese-y. So we opted for the bus. Good thing because the views would have been bad and they suspended the cable cars because of the rain/lightning.

The bus was way too long, it took us on the most roundabout way possible but after 45 minutes we were there and we had seen feral buffalo (no pics, sorry) so it wasn’t too bad.

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We explored the temple first. buddhaThen we began up the stairs.

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We enjoyed one last British pub meal before packing our things and heading home the next day.

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Hong Kong Part 2/3: The Peak, Temple, and Skyline

Part One: Travel is Glamorous in Retrospect

Day Two

The weather was sunny and beautiful when we woke up. We had heard of so many ruined views and sights because of fog and smog so we figured we should take advantage of the sunny weather. Victoria Peak has perhaps better views than the skyline so we decided to go there.

Us and pretty much everyone else.

We actually had to join a queue just to cross the street. From there it was lines and lines and lines to get tickets and to get into the tram. We had talked about hiking up the mountain but thought it would take too much time. And everyones advice was “don’t do it in August you’ll die of heat stroke.” While packed in between the PRC tourists getting shoved around we figured it probably could have taken the same amount of time. Somehow, though, we made it onto the tram and up the mountain.

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We took a thousand pictures and couldn’t get enough of it. It was so strange to be on a mountain overlooking such a mass of a city.

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From a couple different sides of the mountain

It got more amazing, though, as we decided to walk around the mountain. We took Luggard Road which circumnavigates the peak. No one else was doing it, which was the most attractive part.

Immediately starting the little hike we were completely encapsulated in green forest. Banyan trees (the ones with vines that just pour onto every every stair or crack in the sidewalk). There was bamboo, palm fronds as tall as a human and the widest leaves I’ve ever seen.

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It was almost unbelievable that there was this much forest and green when there was the mass of city just down below.

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Then there were the bugs. The cicadas, mosquitos, and ants were expected. What we didn’t expect were “Stick Bugs” (see the upper left picture next to the leaves). And then Banana Spiders. God help us all.

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These are ginormous, spiny horrible looking creatures. I’ve heard them called “Banana Spiders” which sucks because there are other real banana spiders which are super poisonous and so aggressive they’ll actually come after you.

So these ones are not that kind. But we thought they were at the time – we had horrible feeling of doom every time we saw them.

Hungry, we found a dim sum (steamed filled dumpling) restaurant.


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We were thoroughly sunburned after our little hike so we waited in line for the tram back down. Then went in search of sunblock. On our way we saw this little alley that was just so stereotypical of what you think of when you think of Hong Kong:

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For the second night in a row we ate at a British pub. We were horribly desperate for British food after being in Korea for 6 months. You can find hamburgers and pizza easily. But pies or fish and chips… not so much.

Day 3

We were really worried because it was Saturday. If the crowds were bad on weekdays from tourists we were worried about what the onslaught of locals would bring. We stayed in the hotel for a while, brainstorming ideas before we decided to cross to Dingleberry again and try to find some temples or anything else. Those seemed like less likely tourist spots.

We made it across and began walking around but we made a mistake in how far away it was. When we were in London we were walking over 10 miles a day. One day we even figured we walked 30 miles round trip. So nothing has ever really been “too far” away for us. BUT when you factor in the scammers and all the tourists it takes much, much longer to get from point A to B. So in the end we turned back, a little frustrated. Nothing to show for the day but some cool pictures of buildings and signs. (so not a total loss).

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On the way back on the ferry we saw the “junk’ boat which made for the most stereotypical photo of Hong Kong yet. DSC02160

Day 4

Still the weekend. It was the same as yesterday – we stayed in the hotel as long as we could brainstorming what options there were for us. Everything seemed too busy. And since it wasn’t just about seeing Hong Kong – it was about relaxing on our vacation. And damnit, if we didn’t want to go outside then we weren’t going to.

Almost 1.5 hours later we decided we had to leave eventually if we ever wanted some breakfast. So we went and had an English breakfast. Placated some, we did some shopping and decided to ride the worlds longest escalator. Because why not? We explored restaurants and shops along the way which was very nice. Then at the top we were already half way up Victorias Peak. We had had such a nice time last time we decided to explore a bit, mainly at the base of some massive skyscrapers.

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DSC02185The day got better when we found a Mexican food restaurant on the way back down. We’ve tried Mexican food a few times abroad and it was utter failure. Unless we’ve forgotten what Mexican food tastes like, I think this one was actually really successful.

DSC02197From there we waddled around until we came across a temple. Bringing some much needed peace into the trip. People were minding their own business and even the other tourists were being very respectful.

 

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Spirally cones of incense at the top

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We looked around at “Cats Alley” a place where stolen goods used to end up to be resold. Now its just touristy knockoffs of communist era goods and fake jade. Still fun to look at though.

We took a long break in the hotel before deciding we needed to see the skyline at night.

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We still have another 4 days to profile so we’ll cut it off here. Stay tuned for tales of the rest of the vacation including fish markets, wild monkeys and massive Buddhas.

Travel is only Glamorous in Retrospect

This is my favorite quote about travel. Because it’s so true. Even if you have a really enjoyable trip, you will always look back on it more fondly – leaving out mishaps, hiccups and anything else that caused annoyances.

For the Hong Kong trip, we spent a lot of time wondering “are we having any fun yet?” while we were there. But now that we’re home (retrospect) we think: “yeah, that was pretty cool.”

No one can deny that Hong Kong is interesting. If Hong Kong has anything going for it, it’s at least an interesting place. But if you asked us “Is it a nice place, a fun place, an enjoyable place to visit?” Our answer would be a resounding “uhhh.” Was it relaxing? No.  But it was a great break from teaching even if it wasn’t exactly relaxing. All in all we saw some neat stuff and had a pretty neat time. It wasn’t a bad trip, just really really different.

Our journey begins on a Wednesday. We had to take a taxi to the train station where we had to wait for 2 hours for our train. Then we took the 3 hour train to Seoul. … It’s exhausting just writing about it, in short: nearly 12 hours after leaving Daejeon we boarded the plane.

It was a cheaper flight to leave at nine pm and arrive at midnight. But when we finally got through a two hour custsoms line (hooray for bureaucratic  pseudo-Chinese politics!) the “Airport Express Train” was pitch black and locked up. We were too late. Thus we stranded ourselves at 2 am in the airport.

What you should know about Hong Kong, is that it is a series of islands. Sortof, although it does touch proper-China  (we’ll call this PRC) at the top. So the airport is on Lantau Island but we needed to be on a different island – the island of Hong Kong. You can’t exactly walk anywhere. Unlike past trips where we’ve given up on trains or busses and just walked. Here, we couldn’t do that.

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Hong Kong is made up of the New Territories, Kowloon, Lantau Island, Hong Kong and then other smaller islands everywhere (like Lamma Island)

We caught a bus which took us on the most ass-backwards ride of our life. It would go around and around a roundabout two or even three times as if the driver didn’t know where he was going. It took us almost a full hour just to get out of the airport area. While the bus was classified as a direct route to Hong Kong it was really catering to the employees at the airport. We went through back alleys and over tarmac-like roads to get to small employee-centered bus stops that were dead empty. Having spent 15 hours in-transit, we were getting a little restless (read: cranky) to get to a safe place to put our bags down and just go to bed.

Things got a little faster as we got away from the airport. Then the bus showed “Next stop: Central Station”- our stop. We get off and…. nothing. For one, it’s not Central Station. Secondly: there’s no one around. Just two prostitutes smoking near some trash, but they’re the only people we can see. At all.

It’s 4 am in Hong Kong and there’s nothing. It’s silent, there are no people, no busses, almost no taxis. We have no choice but to walk.  Hauling our bags and hoping Hong Kong is as safe as everyone says it is.

Considering the population density, walking through abandoned streets in the early morning was extremely surreal and interesting. So oddly peaceful – some of the only solitude and peace we would get during the whole trip. But after a while it became less interesting, though, and we wanted to lay down. So we tried to hail a taxi. Of which there were none because there was nobody on the streets.

We pulled the bag along, dipping it in and out of trash, puddles of water and over dead bugs. Why on earth are there no taxis? The largest cockroach I’ve ever seen, half the size of an adult fist blocked our path. It shook it’s wings at us, menacingly. “I’m going to fly right into your hair” it said. So we tried to give it a wide berth and in the process we we startled a Chihuahua sized rat which ran out in front of us. Okay, taxi. Please?

By sheer luck, or fate. Or maybe Hong Kong was finally done indoctrinating us, we found a crossroads where a taxi driver was napping.

Take us, please. So he did.

We couldn’t see the hotel until the next morning. It was too dark, but as we shoved the bag and each other against walls we knew it was small. The smallest hotel room we’ve ever been in. We actually really liked it.

Hong Kong has a huge problem with apartments and size. There are 40-square-feet rooms that whole families will live in (click here to see). Our hotel certainly wasn’t that small. But I could touch end to end.

 

 

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The bed was maybe a double. Chris took the picture from the door looking in. Almost the whole back wall are windows. To keep the light pouring in, the bathroom is made entirely of glass windows. So this made for an amazing view. But if (when) you sat on the toilet, you were looking right out a glass door at your partner. Not a good room to share if you didn’t know each other well.

Regardless, we had a fantastic view while showering. The windows on the outside were mirrored so no one could see in (at least in the day when there was no back light).

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View from the shower

 

Day 1

We woke up to Chinese shouting and slamming of doors. someone was repeatedly dropping something on the floor above us, and “HOUSE MAID” knock, knock knock was getting closer and closer. We had no choice but to get up.

We had heard of how good “egg tarts” were, so we found a nearby bakery.

 

 

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The egg tarts were so so. What was really amazing were these beef pies. They were stir-fried beef in a sweet sauce inside an insanely flakey pie crust. Needless to say, we got this for breakfast a couple days in a row.

The strangeness of our early morning walk behind us, we went out exploring. Completely in awe of how city-ish this place is. Skyscrapers were absolutely everywhere. Obviously. But walking through them is so different than looking at a skyline. I could make an analogy here about rats in mazes or canyons or something. But none of it would do any justice.

We found our way to the bay and decided to cross and see the famous skyline. Somehow the skyline has been voted for as the best and has even won awards. Not sure how a skyline can win award.

We took a ferry. Which is where the beginning of all our problems began. You’re going to have to wait for skyline pictures for a bit, as we need to talk about something.

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Hong Kong maybe is or is not China, it depends on who you ask and what you want to believe. Regardless, its proximity to China, means it attracts many, many Chinese tourists and day-trippers.

And you should know that Chinese tourists are some of the worst tourists in the world.

We’re not being biased. PRC tourists are being seen as some of the worst tourists in the world by many others.

Outside the Louvre in Paris, there’s a sign in Mandarin which tells visitors not to defecate in the surrounding grounds. This sign is only written in Mandarin Chinese. No other nationality, it appears, needs to be reminded where it is and is not appropriate to shit in the vicinity of metropolitan France’s art museums. …With a stone, [a] 15-year-old carved “Ding Jinhao was here” into [a] 3,500-year-old building in Egypt. (source)

Guess when the PRCs main vacation time is? You guessed it. During the time we were there. As public servants, Chris and I had to take our vacation at the same time as pretty much every other public servant in Asia. There weren’t many tourists from America/Australia/Germany… just Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese.

Another issue arose. We were in a place that had been vaguely colonized by the British. They drive on the “other” side of the road there, and the English is all British spellings. So it was our mistake, to assume some of the amazingly polite British culture had rubbed off on Hong Kong.

It went quickly from sorry I bumped into you and oh excuse me, yes, after you to I’m going to shove you into the sea

It was in the highly populated tourist traps of Europe where Chris and I learned to blaze and absolutely plow through people. Something we had never done in Colorado. Between the population density of Hong Kong and masses of horrible PRC tourists, the old techniques were back. And harder than ever. This was  shove-or-be-shoved survival. We were shoulder checking, shoving and generally moving anyone who got in our way when we had to. But don’t judge too soon. If you were in a line, even with ropes and guards watching, some asshole would inevitably duck under all the ropes and physically remove you from your spot.

Which brings us back to the story. Taking the ferry. This was the eye opening moment where we realized  if we ever wanted to

  • reach the end of a line
  • buy something
  • get food
  • or get home

We were more likely than not going to have to shove and get aggressive.

Somehow we managed to get a ticket and onto the ferry. We were crossing a small patch of bay that separates the island of Hong Kong from the dingleberry of Hong Kong that dangles off of mainland China. This area is called “Kowloon” (see the map from earlier) but I would prefer to call it the Dingleberry because it truly dangles off of China the way a piece of fecal matter dangles off of an ass. Maybe that was a bit harsh. But we truly did not like the majority of Kowloon.

Kowloon was nothing but rich people buying Burberry, Tiffanys, Prada while destitute people tried to scam them. A bunch of Indian scammers would jump in front of you mid-stride and yell “WATCHES!??” “TAYLOOORED SUITS?!” into your face. Whiny protesters getting upset that you wouldn’t take their flyers or give them money; fake photographers and generally anyone trying to make a quick buck was in this area. Not to mention the “award winning skyline” attracts everyone and their cousin. It’s packed, there’s nothing to do if you aren’t wealthy or aren’t into a scam.

Seeking a moment of solitude, we found a nice park.

 

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From there we wandered aimlessly until we were off the beaten path. We found a place for lunch that barely spoke English (thats how you know it’s going to be good food).

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We had some fantastically greasy noodles in fantastic sauce. The best was the milk tea. What we imagine the recipe to be: put a teabag in some water for about 6 days until it is impossibly strong. Pour sugar and real cream (not milk, but thick, thick cream into the strong tea). Serve with ice.

On our way back we realized we had shoved too far too fast and hadn’t even stopped to look at the “award winning” skyline.

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It’s quite amazing, but impossible to photograph without a panorama. So for now, here is a single photo of about 1/8th of the skyline.

We spent a little time in an air conditioned mall then had dinner at a British pub.

Part Two – Days 2 and onward are in the next post.

Typhoons

Coming from SW Colorado, we’re extremely landlocked.  So when we first heard “typhoon” we were, understandably confused. For one, we don’t use the word “typhoon” in America. And two, we have never experienced anything like it (no hurricanes).

A few weeks ago there was “Super Typhoon Neoguri” that was supposed to absolutely wreck Japan. Korea was supposed to get some flooding in the south (the south of the south, yeah.). With a quick google search we learned that our area gets 15-60 typhoons every year. So it left us wondering… what is a typhoon?  How close is it to being a hurricane? A tropical storm? Does it have anything to do with monsoons?

Laugh all you want. When you come from a super landlocked place, you have to ask these things.

  • A typhoon is a hurricane. So not a tropical storm and not really a monsoon. Although you can have “typhoon season” about as much as you can have “monsoon season”
  • Hurricanes, typhoons, and even cyclones, are actually all the same exact thing. But because the English language is stupid and we over-name everything, these storm-names can only be assigned to certain regions.
  • A “hurricane” is only the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific. Which explains why Americans take the word “hurricane” more seriously than “typhoon.”
  • In the Northwest Pacific (Asia!) you call it a  “typhoon” and in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean you would say “cyclone.”

We are, actually a little pleased to report, that we are now in the middle/at risk of two typhoons. “Typhoon Nakri”  which was supposed to be “dangerous for the nation” all day today left us with a little sprinkle of rain during the day and its raining just a little now. Everything is quite fine. Then Typhoon Halong is coming for us.

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Right for us. Unless, of course, it changes course.

If it does hit us we’ll just get some windy days and possible flooding. We’re not too worried. Typhoons aren’t really lethal here – a bad one hit in 2012 that killed one person.

But where we are,  in the scientific research town of Gwanpyeong. We’ve got great big gutters and some hills even have their own concrete gutters to stop mudslides.There aren’t even enough mountains to create mudslides. The river, I guess, could flood, but it seems unlikely. If everything goes to hell, we are almost on the top story of our apartment.

If anything we’re probably too cheery about this. Theres something interesting about experiencing a “hurricane” when you’ve seen nothing but drought. The clouds have been big and beautiful, the rain has been warm. Yeah, we got soaked twice, but thats the nature of going outside in late July/August even in Colorado.

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It’s hard not to like it. Between blustery typhoon-y winds and the summer, the skies are finally clear. No smog, no fog and no yellow dust. We saw stars for the first time in months recently – very exciting. Also we saw a sunset – very rare (partially because we’re facing the wrong way in the apartment).

Most importantly, the wind from all the rain has left the apartment a little cooler.

Say what you want. So far it’s actually been beneficial to us.

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