Thurs. Dec. 5: Melbourne. Sat. we just went downtown etc. Sun. we went to St. Kilda Beach south of the city. Lots of craft tables selling stuff on Sundays. Mon. walked thru some of the gardens in one of the parks. Also went to a Swedish church where P. & U. read Swedish magazines and papers. Tue. took Christmas pictures of P. & U. for them to send home. Wed. walked thru Chinatown (one street) and had a good Chinese lunch. Also cut U.'s hair! Did pretty well too. Now it's her turn to cut mine. Today we walked down the Italian street and had pizza. Went to the planetarium for $3--good show speculating about the star of Bethlehem. They think it was Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the sky, and it happened 3 times in the year they think Jesus was born--7 BC. Either March, August, or December. Bought the L.P. ("Lonely Planet") Thailand book. My mom is sending our L.P. South-East Asia book to Perth. Considering buying L.P. Singapore & Malaysia. Last night K. & I went to a slide show on trekking in Nepal. Got us both really psyched! Fantastic scenery. This company has really nice tours (treks) but costs a lot. Have to settle for something cheaper or do it on our own with the tea houses & villages spaced every few miles. We're all reading and thinking about Asia now, looking at exchange rates and getting excited about how cheap things are. I really am glad we came to Australia--but we've seen quite a lot in the last 6 weeks, and we're ready for the unfamiliar. I'm sure Asia will have plenty of that. It's strange--Asia and Africa seemed like my least favorite places when we left. But now the scare of the unknown is gone--probably because we're quite comfortable with long-term traveling now. And I'm really looking forward to them--more than Europe--something I didn't know I'd ever say. After looking thru a million souvenir shops and seeing the same things, I decided to send home Christmas cards saying I'll get them all gifts from "some country, some time during the trip". Now there's no rush, I can find something good, and I don't have to worry about the slow Christmas mail.
Thu. Dec. 12: Adelaide. Said goodbye to P & U for 19 days--they left by bus to Sydney Saturday night and will go to Brisbane before flying to Singapore on the 24th. Plan is for them to meet us at the airport when we arrive on the 26th. We flew stand-by to Adelaide Sunday and made it on. The flight only goes once a week, so it was either stand-by or a 9 1/2 hour bus ride the next day. Not only did we get on, we got moved up to business class!! First time for Kathey to see what bus. class is like. It was fun. Adelaide is very unimpressive. Not much to do, and not very big. First night was horrible. Stayed at Rucksacker's hostel for $10. It was hot and no screens on the window, so we had lots of mosquitoes. Didn't get much sleep--ended up using repellent. Changed to Metropolitan Hotel for $14 for twin room (2 twin beds). (A "double" is one large bed). It's an old hotel over a pub. Ok, but no kitchen, although the pub does have ok lunches for $2.50-$3.00. We eat there for lunch and have sandwiches for dinner. (No cheap places nearby for dinner--everything closes at 5 pm!) Had problems with mosquitoes here too, (even though they have screens!) so finally bought nets to cover the beds. We'd planned on getting them for Asia & Africa anyway. Trying them out tonight. Haven't done much here tourist-wise. Looking forward to Perth, and even more, Hong Kong. My mom mailed 8 rolls of film to Perth, but no S.E. Asia book--too expensive to ship. We got lucky and found one at a used bookstore for only $9. New price is $20! (New ones are available everywhere). Bought L.P. Thailand in Melbourne. Decided not to get Singapore/Malaysia book yet--will probably use P & U's. Still need L.P. West Asia though for Nepal & India. Got a letter from my grandfather and one from a good friend at work--Sheryl T. Tues. the 10th was Kathey's and my 4 month wedding anniversary, and Sun. the 15th will be 3 months on the trip. Going well so far--still thinking a lot about Asia.
Sat. Dec. 14: Adelaide. Nets worked great. Got large thumbtacks for hanging from walls or ceilings, and duct tape in case of brick. Didn't do much Fri, which is much like the whole week so far. Concerned at how fast the money is going in Aust. and wanting to get moving. Flight to Perth only goes on Sundays also, so have to stay a week here. Today we went walking north of the river and happened on to the cricket oval--with a game in progress! Usual price is $14, but we asked about discounts, and looked like the poor backpackers we are, and got in for half price. Also because we were American--first time that's worked for us so far! The guy at the gate said we wouldn't understand the rules anyway--ha ha. But he called his grandson over (who was waiting for his grandfather to get off of work, and was very bored), and he sat down with us and explained all the rules.
Game was India vs. W. Indies. India won. Two days ago we watched a cricket match on TV and began learning the rules, so this was a lot of fun. I'm quite impressed with the game. Other good news is that we finally made it past the waiting list for the flight H.K. to Sing. on the 24th! So we'll spend Xmas with P. & U. after all. Happy B'day Mother!
Thurs. Dec. 19: Hong Kong. Sun. and Mon. were pretty terrible. Sun we got up at 5:30, packed, ate, and took a taxi to the airport. Flew to Perth, and took an airport skybus (US$6) to the YHA on William St. After checking in and buying groceries, we both tried to sleep for a while--we were really tired. Had a small room that smelled like mold or dust, with no windows, only a skylight. Had mosquitoes so we used the nets. Only slept an hour or so, and not well. That night the restaurant below our room was having a party, and the music went to 5 am! But when it stopped, we heard a girl crying from the restaurant. After a while we got the feeling she was in trouble so we talked with the YHA manager. Long story, but police came twice, there was talk of a rape, but the girl left with the guy. Now it's time to get up, and we're really exhausted! Moved to another YHA (after walking around looking for a place for a long time in the heat) and finally got to lie down about 2 pm. But the day (Mon.) was one of the hottest they'd had in a while--about 106 degrees F (41 degrees C)!! And no fans! Slept for maybe 2 hours. The temp. only went down to 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) that night (by about 4 am), so it was hot all night too. (That night was a record temp. for a low). Also had to get up at 1 am to put up the nets. So now it's Tues., and we've had enough! So we moved to the Airways Hotel and got a fantastic room for $63. Double bed (with real mattresses), A/C, a fridge, a TV, a phone, an alarm clock, and our own bathroom! Absolute paradise. Got a great night's sleep and thoroughly enjoyed the room.
Hong Kong exchange rate:
Got up early Wed. and flew to H.K. Had a 5 hr. flight to Singapore, then a 1 hr. layover, then 3 hrs. to H.K., arriving after dark at 6:30. Looked through some brochures, and talked to a few hostel people outside, then took a taxi to the "Club Hostel" at 714 Shanghai St. in Mong Kok, a part of northern Kowloon, which is the mainland part of H.K. Feels safe here even though it looks pretty bad in some places. Lots of neon at night, and lots of people out late on the streets.
We walked around an outdoor market and were immediately impressed by how cheap everything is. Went to H.K. Central today (the island part). Room is $45 (US$6.10) for 4-share. Can of beer was $4 (US 50 cents), and a Big Mac is $8.90 (US$1.15). Took a bus for $1.90, then a ferry for $1.20 (US 16 cents) to get to HK. Went to the GPO and got a letter from my grandfather, a postcard from Dan & Trish who are traveling for 4 weeks and in Bangkok right now, a B'day card for Kathey from my family, and a Christmas box for both of us from my family. Box contained stockings filled with candy and fruitcake, and a wrapped present we'll open Christmas day. Also Polaroids from Thanksgiving at home. In Perth we sent home 7 rolls of film (#7-13), some papers, and the L.P. Aust. book. Sent it Tues. 12/17/91. Cost A$19.50, 986g. (In case we have to trace it later.)
Sat. Dec. 21: H.K. Fri. we took the subway to southern Kowloon for $3.50 (US 45 cents) and a taxi to the east side to get my shaver fixed. My Norelco is just like a Philips, so the Philips repair place fixed it in about an hour for $240 (US$31.20). Then went to the GPO and got a Christmas card from Mary & David (Kathey's aunt and uncle), and Kathey got 2 B'day cards. Today we took clothes to a laundry place for $17 for 8 pounds. (No facilities at hostel--takes up too much room.) Also went to see the planetarium show at the Space theater at the Culture Center. Not bad--not as good as Melbourne. Cost $20. (US$2.60) Thought we'd get to skip the dreaded Xmas shopping this year, but spent the rest of the day looking for gifts for each other--with no luck. Also need to find a B'day present for Kathey--the 23rd. This hostel is very small. Room barely holds two bunk beds (which are about 2 inches too short for me). Bathroom is about 3 feet square and includes the shower--toilet gets very wet. Kitchen is also small, but it too is quite functional. It's comfortable here even though small. Living room has a TV and a couple of couches. Also a stereo for playing tapes which is a nice change. About 15 people here--some for weeks while they work. Even though I feel comfortable, it's strange to look out the window between the tall residential buildings. Or to walk down the streets of northern Kowloon where we are--things look so old and run down--so neglected. At night the streets and sidewalks are full of people and trash. But every morning it's all cleaned up. Thousands of signs on the tall buildings and hanging over the streets. In HK central (business part) the crosswalks and sidewalks are packed with people--most in suits and dresses--lots of expensive cars, briefcases, and especially portable phones & car phones. Crosswalks are crazy because of all the taxis and buses racing around, honking at the pedestrians. A lot of haze (pollution?) around HK central, so the view from the ferry is limited. But somehow, with all the crowdedness, racing around, and ugliness, it's very interesting here. I like being here (temporarily anyway).
Shopping is the major tourist attraction here. I've never seen so much stuff for sale. Tons of jewelry, watches, cameras, and electronics everywhere. Also lots of clothing shops and suit stores. Even though the buses are packed (and the ceilings are too low for me to stand up) and we've yet to sit down on the subway, people don't seem threatening. Not as polite and nice as the Japanese, but definitely not the "don't look at me" feeling I got in New York. Lots of English spoken, especially in the stores, but even though it's governed by England, this place is very Chinese. I read that HK is, "More Chinese than China, and more capitalistic than the States." Tourism and international business are equally big here. Lots of people using HK as a base for China travel. Someday I'd like to travel around China, Korea, Japan, etc. There's lots to see in China. They say it's very cheap (even compared to HK), more rugged travel, but still a lot of English spoken and lots of travelers.
Sun. Dec. 22: Hong Kong. Went to Aberdeen by bus. It's a small suburb of HK on the southern coast of HK island. Lots of junks and sampans (Chinese wooden boats) and old women trying to get you to pay for a harbor cruise. Took a free ride on the shuttle boat to the "Jumbo" floating restaurant. Interesting building and ride.
Then walked to a small, old temple--interesting, but not as nice or well-kept as the ones in Japan. Something strange about HK... Walking down a street you smell a few hundred things, including bus exhaust, fish, trash, pollution, smoke, and a certain type of food cooking that I haven't been able to identify, but that seems to be everywhere. Last night we tried to be brave and find a new rest. for dinner. (We'd been eating at one nearby that was cheap, but not very good.) Walked up and down several streets looking, but either they were too expensive, or they didn't speak a word of English and had no English menus. Tried to get by anyway, but they didn't seem very interested in helping. So gave up and ate at McDonald's. Cheating, I know, but you can only go so far when you're hungry. Found a couple of lunch places though. Found a food court, and there's usually fast food places (or push-carts--similar to hot dog stands) near the ferries etc.
Fri. Dec. 27: Singapore. Mon was Kathey's B-day. Got her a big birthday cake decorated with fruit and the words "Happy Birthday" in Chinese and "Kathey" in English. Had 25 candles, and the people at the hostel helped sing (and eat).
I found out that the Chinese who only speak a limited amount of English usually only know words related to what they sell. It's very hard to explain anything else, so I consider the cake somewhat of an accomplishment.
Singapore exchange rate:
Tues (Xmas Eve) we flew to Singapore and met Per & Ulrika at the airport--no problems. A girl in HK had told us about the "Palace Hotel", and Tony Wheeler (founder of Lonely Planet and author of the S.E. Asia book) said it was good and that he'd stayed there several months researching the first edition in 1975. So we all took a taxi. We pay about 60% with the exchange rate, so we're always saying to ourselves "multiply by 6". Double room is S$24--S$12 each (US$7.20). Took a bus that night to Orchard Rd., the big shopping district, and walked around with about a million other people. They had the road blocked off and all decorated with lights and signs. Christmas is big here, whether it's for religious reasons or not. I think it's the shopping that they like.
Kathey and I exchanged presents, and we had two small things for P & U too. So we all opened them on Xmas Eve. Wed. (Xmas) we opened the present from my family--it was a tape of Xmas music from Radio City Music Hall in NY. K. and I had seen the Xmas show there two years ago. Went back to Orchard Rd. and Per looked for a particular Walkman. There are tons of malls, horizontal and vertical, filled with shops just like in HK. None of them have prices marked, which is the indicator that you're supposed to bargain. It's a big game, and none of us are very good at it. Lots of people walking around their shops trying to get you to come "take a look", and they all want to either sell me a Cartier watch or make me a suit, which I think is kind of funny considering how we travel. Walked through the Hard Rock Cafe and took a picture of the 4 of us out front. Thurs. was our first chance to go to the GPO (closed on Xmas day) so that's where we went first. K. got a letter or two and I got one card from Susan & Steve J. (my cousin and her husband). We had expected a box from K's friends and another from her mom--also I'd been told I'd get a letter or two from my friends. We're into a different part of the trip now. First, our schedule is changing more rapidly, and we won't be in a fixed place for as long as we were in Aust. So it will be harder for people to mail stuff to us. After 3 months something changed. We have somehow proven ourselves to ourselves and realize we can do this. We also realize that the first 3 months were a vacation, or a warm-up, getting ready for Asia. We're adjusting to a couple of things at a time. In HK it was the crowdedness, the language problem, the "uncivilized-ness", and the food problem. Here it's the "squat" toilets and the (very) cold showers. (Along with the stuff from HK, of course). We all feel very strong though, optimistic about the "new" changes in store for us in Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, and India. Laundry is a problem here. Almost impossible to find self-service machines or a cheap place to do it for you. Finally took our stuff to the 36th floor of the International Plaza and had it done in 3 hours for $9. (US$5.40).
Fri. went to Orchard Rd. again and to Raffle's Hotel, which is a very old, very nice hotel. Minimum price is $600 for a single. Went inside--lots of people in uniform calling you sir and opening doors. Big change from "Hello, take a look at the watches?" Then walked to the GPO and saw some stuff along the way. Saw the Cricket Ground, Gov. buildings, a cathedral, and the Merlion fountain at the river. It's half mermaid, half lion. Singapore means "Lion City"--and you see lots of things about lions here. Actually they say that the guy that named the city probably saw a Bengal Tiger, not a lion, 'cause there aren't any here. Got a card from Yukiko K., my friend in Japan. Eating is a problem, but we're all getting better at it. The problem isn't liking the food, it's finding something. The small food stalls at the food courts have good cheap food, but all signs are in Chinese, and everyone's looking at you when you come in 'cause you're the only Westerners in the room. But by asking enough questions you can find rice or noodles with some meat for about $2.00 (US$1.20) pretty easily. K, P, & U went to a grocery store last night and had a fantastic time buying things they hadn't seen in 3 1/2 months, including Pop Tarts (K's favorite food), Honey-Nut Cheerios, Reece's Peanut Butter Cups, lychees (K's new favorite fruit), and Swedish chocolate. Spent too much, but it's ok. We needed a few "last luxuries" before heading to Malaysia. Went to the Thai Embassy and applied for a visa. Tourist visa is 2 months, and you can't go past that without a good reason. Left our passports, $28 (US$17) each, and 2 photos each. It'll be ready Mon. afternoon. Wore our "good" clothes, but wasn't necessary, here at least, 'cause everything was straight forward paperwork. Started our Malaria pills last Sat.--we're taking Mefloquine (Larium is the brand name) since some areas are Chloriquine-resistant. Have to take one a week for 4 wks, then one every other week. No side effects so far.