I visited the Statue of Liberty, what could be more American than that?
On my way out of the office, one of my colleagues asked me if I was heading to the States – and I said, “no.” – but then I changed my answer: “Yes, I am actually going to the United States of America! I’m going to Guam!”
And so it was: Monday evening, 21:30, I stood before a US Immigration official who welcomed me “home” – of course that’s a loose term for me regardless of the facts, never mind the fact that I’d never actually been to Guam before.
Although Guam is part of the United States, it is only a territory and it does have its own customs regulations and form – the form I found incredibly peculiar. Although there were some questions concerning whether or not I was bringing in anything edible, there were more demographic questions, thus making me suspect I was filling out a marketing survey more than anything else. I loved the part where “Germany” was not one of the pre-printed options for “country of residence.”
Regardless, I got out of the airport and to my hotel in an incredibly short period of time. From the aircraft door opening to the time I opened my hotel room door was no more than 35 minutes.
I fell into bed.
Some Japanese tourists took my photo. I took theirs.
Tuesday I took a driving tour of the southern half of Guam – what a stunningly beautiful place. I don’t really know what I expected to see, but I can certainly assure you that it is more beautiful than I expected, with stunning vistas over the ocean. I stopped by the National Park Headquarters (the park preserves the battlefields from World War II; in an odd way this is new, refreshing, WWII history to me, and it doesn’t involve the Germans….) and a few other random spots.
Ga’an Point, Part of the War in the Pacific National Park.
Guam is not, some how, set up for individual tourists. Most of the tourists here are on package holidays and are schlepped from place to place on buses. Once I got south, there were few (but more than zero) tourists around.
Southern Guam’s coastline
The highlight of Tuesday was the Historic Inalahan Cultural Village Tour. For $10 (American, that is), I got a tour of early twentieth century life. One of the highlights, especially for me, is that I sampled coconut that did not make me gag. I’ve never really liked coconut, but when it’s split open right in front of you and the milk is right there, it’s quite refreshing. As is the actual coconut flesh, which I sampled.
Guam is the first place I’ve ever needed to chase a pig out from under my car.
Guam does have highly localized weather – I managed to drive through an epic downpour right by the airport – the kind of downpour where the streets turn into fast moving rivers. Ten minutes later, back at my hotel, the streets were dry and it looked like it hadn’t rained there at all (a situation rectified a few hours later when I wanted to take photos of the sunset—that did not happen).
More beautiful beaches. Guam has many of them.
Wednesday’s highlight was going to the Wednesday Night Market, a gathering where local food is in abundance as well as performances by local groups. I watched some youth dance (although ages are hard to ascertain) for awhile, enjoying the energy the performers gave off.
The dancers dancing.
The dancers in a mock battle.
The dancers performing, including the littlest dancer of all.
The dancers dancing.
Unfortunately I have to leave early Thursday – I’m off to the next stop on my adventure.
Guam is worth returning to.
Hong Kong Harbor at Night
So the raison d’être for my trip to Asia was Hong Kong – a follow on vacation to the trip that I took with a friend to New York City two years ago.
We’d enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to start doing it every second year – and after a series of conversations, we settled on Hong Kong. It was that or Singapore.
I can honestly say that I’m very happy that I have visited Hong Kong. It’s clear that living there is an interesting, dynamic, experience. Heck, on some level, I could imagine living there.
Typical Street Scene on Hong Kong Island.
But I can also honestly say that I’m in no particular rush to return to Hong Kong. I can visualize it as a stop over point on my way somewhere else, but it doesn’t seem like an actual destination to me – at least the tourist version of me.
There were, that said, some highlights to my trip.
Sunset View from Twenty-One Whitfield
First, we booked the perfect hotel, Twenty-One Whitfield. There is a lot to recommend this hotel – the location, which is not in a touristy area, is close to a metro station and, assuming you are on a high enough floor, comes with spectacular views of Hong Kong and its skyline. Further the room is extraordinarily designed; with virtually everything perfectly located and placed. My main quibble with the room is that the shower drain was not as good as it should have been – but in the gigantic scheme of things, it is a minor quibble.
View from Twenty-One Whitfield
The best thing that we did whilst in Hong Kong was to leave the city – we took a trip out to one of the “outer” islands, Cheung Chau. Cheung Chau is a nice place to visit – with a small population, lots of roads (paths) to wander. It turns out that one can go swimming in Hong Kong and have a grand old time on the beach.
I only noticed this health warning at the cemeteries in Hong Kong. Either late warning or a morbid reminder to people visiting their deceased friends and relatives.
If I were to move to Hong Kong, I would live on Cheung Chau or one of the other outer islands. I need not live in the city center.
Typical Street Scene on Cheung Chau Island.
Beyond that, I am glad that I’ve wandered the city and seen its spectacularly boring, yet world famous, light show. We wandered the streets and markets around Mong Kok, visited the Hong Kong History Museum (entirely too broad in some respects, yet cutting history off as of 1997), and spent time exploring the area around our hotel.
The Violet cake shop had the best chocolate bun/bread item I have ever eaten in my life.
Random thought: there are incredibly inexpensive breakfasts in Hong Kong that are delightfully bland and filling – and come with the world’s worst coffee. Thankfully I found a Starbucks (well, several, but one reasonably close to the hotel).
The worst aspect of the trip, at least for me, is that I appear to have eaten something that violently disagreed with me. Basically I was incapacitated from about 12:30 Saturday until about 1:30 Sunday. I have no idea what it was that triggered this, but I can only say that I was grateful that I did not need to travel. My travel companion met me at my 5pm appointment Saturday and then made sure I got back to the hotel safely – oh yes, I bought a bespoke suit and it looks fantastic. Pictures later, after I have actually worn it.
Sunset view from The Peak.
Our last evening together we took the bus (not the tram) up to The Peak, where the sun was setting – it made for spectacular views, before grabbing a taxi down to Aberdeen and the Jumbo floating restaurant.
Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen.
Both of us left Hong Kong with the same feeling that I’ve described: we’re glad that we visited, but we don’t see any need to return.
On the other hand, I do want to return to Seoul.
Assuming my Monday has gone as planned, I will now have flown into or out of, every single United Airlines hub whilst flying an airplane that said United Airlines.
Today’s flights included Tokyo Narita and Guam — my last two airports. And historically, this includes Cleveland — which will soon no longer be a hub.
Here’s to SFO, LAX, DEN, ORD, CLE, IAD, EWR, NRT, and GUM.
Me and the South Korean Guard – I’m standing in North Korea
The last stop in Seoul for me was the DMZ – the space between North and South Korea where tensions are highest.
Except for me, the tension did not seem that great.
I took a tour from the “Service Club” – www.tourdmz.com – that featured Panmunjom, the place where the two countries face off the most. The tour I signed up for also included the 3rd Tunnel Tour – advice to anybody thinking about doing the DMZ tour: Panmunjom is the only part worth doing. The 3rd Tunnel tour and a stop at some overlook mainly took up time and did not really do much for me.
Not that the guard posed, he was just in that stance continuously.
On the way north from Seoul, our tour guide gave us lectures about camera use, behavior, being careful, etc… because it might be that the tour gets cancelled if our military escorts are not amused by our behavior. She then noted that this was more likely to happen if our guides were South Korean soldiers.
This South Korean soldier is guarding the door to the north
We got two American solider guides and they were incredibly relaxed – and it was rather sudden, at least to me, when we arrived at the Panmunjom site and entered the conference room, standing around the conference table that is half in the north and half in the south. I manage to stand in such a way, during the initial lecture, that my left half was south and my right half was north.
Outside the hut, facing the north, were South Korean soldiers – each in an incredibly tense posture.
The border is marked by the line running between the buildings about halfway down.
Yet, as I noted before, I never really felt the tension personally.
And although my passport wasn’t stamped, I can now add North Korea to the list of countries that I’ve visited.
Me in South Korea
Random notes for those who care:
- The English spoken by our South Korean tour guide was bad. This seems odd to me given that her job is to escort, speaking English, English speaking tour groups to the border on a regular basis.
- Seriously, do only the Panmunjom tour. The Third Tunnel tour was pointless – you get to see where the North Koreans were digging into the south but unless you know a lot about mining, it’s hard to read the evidence.
- I’m under the impression that the North-South tension has become background noise for most people living in Seoul. My university student tour guides never talked about it – except to ask me why I was interested in going on a tour of the DMZ.
Changing of the Guard ceremony at Gyeongbokgung.
After Sunday’s excellent adventures, I was looking forward to my Monday in Seoul – the plan called for me to meet my tour guides at 1pm at the Gyeongbokgung metro station – this left me a few hours to kill in the morning.
Which I did by hunting for a coffee shop recommended by my guidebook – but I failed to find it – instead I enjoyed some time wandering the streets of a local Seoul neighborhood. Eventually, after time killed, I made my way to our meeting point, where I met my tour guides, just in time to witness the changing of the guards at the Gyeongbokgung palace – the last time I witnessed such an event was in Prague.
Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Gyeongbokgung – the man on the drug is signalling the end.
Gyeongbokgung is an incredibly beautiful complex, filled with a plethora of interesting buildings – dating a long way back.
This is Gyeonghoeru — a lovely pavilion surrounded by water.
Parujeong is a very ornamental library.
From there we wandered through an art market street, Insadong, before landing in the Bukchon Hanok Village – this being an area with wooden houses that look absolutely fantastic. Some place I would love to live.
Roofs of Bukchon Hanok Village
The brick work on the homes in Bukchon Hanok Village is stunning. This is just one example
When in Bukchon Hanok Village, you can lose sight of the fact that modern Seoul surrounds it — but not always.
My tour guides were again local university students, members of the Meteor Youth Voluntary Club – and to thank them for their free tour, I picked up the tab for our dinner at a local restaurant – where the fixings were good.
Dinner for three, Korean Style.
I must confess that I did not allot enough time to Seoul and to South Korea. It is worth more exploration – I got the feeling fairly quickly that I could live in Seoul—assuming, of course, that I could put the security situation out of my mind.
View from my hotel room in Seoul — third floor of the Hotel Manu. I would stay at Hotel Manu again.
My trip from Berlin to Seoul was long – and while none of the travel, in and of itself, was stressful, by the time I got to Seoul Saturday evening, I was completely and totally exhausted. I ended up eating an adequate dinner at my hotel and then going straight to bed.
Sunday I woke up bright-eyed and bushy tailed – I headed out, found coffee, and then wandered. I ended up wandering through a market before finding the Bank of Korea Museum (I’m on the money!) and eating some food on a stick.
Food on a stick: Big Dishes
After that I headed back to my hotel where I met up with a couple of local university students – members of the Meteor Youth Voluntary Club. Meteor members provide free tours of Seoul to foreign guests – in part so that they can practice their English. I’d asked for a tour guide and mentioned that I was interested in going to a baseball game – Sunday was the baseball game (there are no baseball games on Mondays in South Korea).
Kia Tigers vs Doosan Bears
Seoul is big – and it took us about 45 minutes to get out to the baseball stadium – and then we headed into the game. The game was fantastic fun – the weather could not have been more perfect and the home team won. South Koreans are much more like the Japanese when it comes to watching games than fans in the States. There was lots of cheering, music, and whatnot. It creates a festive environment.
Doosan Bears Fans (With Director) — the fans were led in their cheering throughout the entire game by the man on the box — and during breaks, cheerleaders danced.
After the game, we visited a park with Cherry Trees – unfortunately most of the trees had moved beyond the serious Cherry Blossom stage, but it was still really pretty.
Here I am with Cherry Blossoms!
After that I took the two out for dinner – I don’t recall what the style of food was called, but it was a really cool Korean experience: once we sat down, the restaurant rolled out gigantic pre-platted tables on carts and then slid the tables over the existing table—thus delivering something on the order of 30 dishes simultaneously. It also makes for incredibly fast cleanup and table turning.
Korean Dinner Delivery — the waiters (?) delivered the food on these carts, often running.
This was what on our table for three. It took about 2 seconds for the waiter to slide this right onto our table before she was off with her cart to pick up a dirty table.
My two Meteor hosts (I won’t name them here – they didn’t volunteer to be on my blog) were fantastic and both had excellent English. I really only ended up explaining myself a few times.
Where we ate dinner was right across the street from this. I have the restaurant’s business card, but the only way I could get back there is by knowing where this is.
After dinner we looked at (from across the street) the Olympic Torch from the Seoul Olympics and then headed into the Subway system – the only subway system I’ve ever seen with gas masks situated throughout the system.
Seoul Subway Safety: Gas Masks and other emergency safety equipment were in all of the metro stations I visited.
All-in-all a great day.
I want to tell you everything about my trip to Seoul – lots to tell, but I haven’t had time and, to be honest, the internet connection at my hotel (in one of the world’s most well connected countries) is a bit dodgy.
So you must wait.
However I wanted to share picture of my 5,000₩ / 3.45€ / US$4.75 dinner. I was going to go hunting for a fancy restaurant, but instead I stumbled into the nearby Namdaemun Market, then, looking inside a random hole in the wall, I saw this:
I found this randomly — I was walking through the Namdaemun Market, looked to the left, saw a hallway and saw people eating — so I went on in.
So I went in and picked an inviting counter – talk about a marketing intensive situation – I ordered something – I said noodles – and got some kind of default meal, starting with cold noodles as well as kimchi and some other green vegetable.
This was my first course — and I might note metal chopsticks are trickier than wooden chopsticks.
A few minutes later the hot portion of the meal arrived – an amazingly awesome dish of noodles in a hearty broth and other vegetables.
A few minutes later, my main course was presented to me. It tasted awesome!
At this point I didn’t actually know how much I was going to pay – I was hoping for the best. I saw a man sitting next to me pay 6,000₩ for his meal. Once I was done, the woman used some of her limited English: 5,000₩.
What an amazing bargain.
A perfect ending to a day that included the DMZ.
These two pictures should give away where I am in all of… oh… a minute.
Done guessing? I’m in Hong Kong.
This is the start of my Asian Adventure – it’s a mild, easy, start: I took the long way here, flying via Tokyo on ANA. I had no way of forecasting this – the alternative (and less expensive) would have been to fly Lufthansa. Of course, when I bought the ticket I didn’t know that the Lufthansa pilots would go on strike, but they did.
I ended up training it from Berlin to Frankfurt a day early – the Berlin-Frankfurt flight was supposed to be Lufthansa – in order to make sure I caught my ANA flight. The huge plus was that I got to visit friends who I’ve shamefully neglected. The evening passed in a flash – and suddenly it was well after 10pm and we headed to bed.
The long route here meant that I could fly on ANA’s 787, which is a totally awesome airplane. Seriously. The flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo is not long enough: I would love to have spent another hour or two on the plane.
Connecting was a breeze and, albeit 30 minutes late, I was quickly getting to know Hong Kong.
The most hilarious thing, from my perspective, is how I’ve been treated at the hotel: I have elite status with the chain because I have elite status with United Airlines. Beyond that, I have not, since the 1990s, stayed in any branch of this hotel—yet I was allowed to check in through the executive lounge, I was escorted there, and I was upgraded to a suite – not a big suite, but suffice it to say I have two toilets, a living room, and a bedroom. Given that the people in the room next to my living room were living it up earlier, I am glad that my bedroom is completely and totally isolated from anybody else. Once I shut my bedroom door, I cannot hear a thing. I bet somebody could pound on my front door and I wouldn’t hear it.
I achieved my main goals of the day: First, get an Octopus card (to access local public transit) and, second, order a bespoke suit and ten shirts. I’ve dropped a serious amount of cash on this – and been carefully measured. While I’m out-of-town (that sounds odd) visiting another Asian city, my suit and shirts will be readied, and next week, when I am back, I will go in for the next round of fittings.
On the way back to my hotel I started getting hungry – and I needed to find a loo. Given that I’d been in the city for a grand total of four hours, I don’t have an internal loo-search knowledge nor do I know loo-etiquette—but I found one in the mall at the end of subway/train line – and was relieved to discover that, unlike Germany, there wasn’t somebody there demanding money.
The other problem is that I was starting to feel tired – so I knew that my decision-making abilities were rapidly going downhill. I did decide against McDonald’s and I decided against a restaurant in the mall that was virtually empty.
And this is where I am happy with my hotel: the Executive Lounge serves finger foods and refreshments starting at 17:30. I got back to the hotel at 17:25. That made the decision easy and I was sound asleep by 18:30.
Of course it’s now midnight and I am wide awake – but my suitcase has been carefully repacked.
And I’m hungry.
Now that I no longer have anything left in storage Stateside (although my Mom might beg to differ), all of my precious belongings are with me in Berlin – the most precious of which are memories.
Like, for example, my calendars – from 1994 through 2002, I kept paper calendars with all my exams, appointments, and… at times… ticket stubs. After finding the calendars, I was swept away – and I actually now wish I had a “calendar” where I stored all my memories. Sure the Google Calendar is great, but there’s something to be said for the tangible memories.
Four of my calendars. Each holding precious memories.
My notes for today, in 2004, suggest that I was on my way to the RMCMA – Rocky Mountain Collegiate Media Association – conference – which was held in Denver. I do believe that was the conference where I was elected to the association’s board.
A year later, I was on my way to Washington D.C., one of three students awarded a scholarship to attend the Center for Study of the Presidency Symposium. Or maybe I was already there. I’m not sure – my calendar suggests I left two different days – so I don’t actually know. I don’t even have airline and flight information recorded! My how my habits have changed in that regard.
The most interesting “anniversary” like thing I found for March 24 came in 2000 – a short note written at the top of the column: “Glasses Day!” – I’d had my first eye exam at 2:30 on March 21, 2000.
What a random thing to discover – I have been wearing glasses for 14 years.
Selfie at Cloud Gate
It’s been a kind of weird trip to Chicago – taking care of more personal issues than I had planned on. On the plus side, my shit is out of my friend’s basement—I do believe that I don’t have any remnants of life in stateside storage.
I guess I’m officially in Germany.
Cloud Gate — the whole bean thing!
Because of the personal shit, I haven’t had time to do that much “touristy” shit in Chicago. With my limited free time, I did make it to the Loop and visited what is probably Chicago’s most famous piece of art – the Cloud Gate.
Lots of interesting people watching in the area…