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Trevor Stone's Journal
Those who can, do. The rest hyperlink.
Less Sleep, More Fun: How I Got 8 Passport Stamps in a Day and a Half 
25th-Feb-2008 08:51 pm
Trevor Stone Character
"You've crossed the line, bucko. Now you're dating internationally." This is inscribed in The Book mollybzz and I maintained of quotes, by-hand boggle games, and 88 auspicious things to do in China. It accompanies a diagram like so:
                       \.--- really complicated
                       /            portion
   Dating            te|      Not Dating
   *                 at|
International        io|
Date                 na|
                     l |.--- amorphous "it's
Monday               Da|     "complicated" zone
1-28                 te|     (on facebook)
9:30 am              Li|
Well, my four-week-long international date ended as I crossed the international date line, turning Monday night into Sunday night, which quickly became Monday morning. I got on a plane in Hong Kong around 8 on Monday morning. I spent about two hours several feet above Japan on early Monday afternoon. I left the land of ten feet above the land of the rising sun at 3 on Monday afternoon. I landed in Minneapolis (land of 10,000 ice sheets) before 11 on Monday morning. By quarter to five in the afternoon, I was having a burger and a beer at City Grille in Denver.
Time is an illusion.
Lunchtime doubly so.
Especially when you've slept like I have.
How's that?

On Saturday night I took a bus from Xiamen to Hong Kong. China has these creepy things called sleeper busses. They're half way between the stretcher busses from M*A*S*H and a regional bus. Beds are too small for big euro builds, you have to watch your stuff carefully, several dozen Chinese are coughing and smoking in the shared air space, and right when you're about to fall asleep, they stop the bus, make everyone get out, and serve a 不 好 吃 (not well eat) meal. The bus I took was nothing like that. Except the midnight meal portion. Those with money can bus overnight to Hong Kong on reclining leather seats with other folks well enough off that they can get respiratory ailments cured and smart enough to read the no smoking signs. I only remember waking up twice on the bus ride, but I got a lot of REM wakefulness with my eyes closed and song lyrics cycling through my head.

So Saturday: decent rest, but not much sleep.

At 7 AM on Sunday I passed through Chinese exit customs. Passport stamp #1. I then passed through Hong Kong customs. This is somewhat akin to going through customs when traveling from the U.S. to Puerto Rico. Except you can take a bus. Passport stamp #2.

The bus took us through the 山 of New Territories (山 is Chinese for both mountain and hill, Hong Kong's terrain fits somewhere between the two), down the Kowloon peninsula, and across to Hong Kong Island. I caught the metro to the ferry terminal and spent about an hour looking for a public toilet and following misleading signs to "Electronic Luggage Locker." Having finally found the latter (but not the former), I purchased a round-trip ferry ticket to Macau. Less than 4 hours after entering Hong Kong, I went through the exit process. Passport stamp #3. An hour later, I passed through Macau customs. This is somewhat akin to going through customs when traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico. Except the boat takes an hour. Passport stamp #4.

For the next six hours I wandered around Macau, admiring the yellow building with wraparound balconies, windy streets, and vendors selling breadlike products. There's lots to like about Chinese cuisine, but they don't really have bread down. The ethnic minorities have some tasty bread dishes (try a Naxi banana pancake) and the Muslim Chinese (physically indistinguishable from other Han except for the headgear) know how to make good breads, but on the whole, the last month didn't feature a lot of cooked non-rice flour. Ah, but the Portuguese know bread. I ate a curry fish roll, a green onion "pancake" (more like pan-fried bread circle), a beef curry and savory salad dressing crepe, and a bunch of connected round balls cooked on a waffle iron. Oh, and a mango smoothie.

Aside from tasty bread products, Macau has some good churches, a 500-year-old Chinese temple (maintained and currently used), and a bunch of hotels, casinos, and boutiques. It's billed as The Las Vegas of the East, but it's got some authentic old buildings. And typhoons instead of dust storms. If you're in that part of the world and any of that appeals to you, it's worth a short visit. Know, though, that stuff is significantly less expensive in China, so if your goal is to pick up clothes and gifts on the cheap, cross into the mainland. If your goal is to blow a lot of cash, Macao and its casinos and Hong Kong with its entertainment and shopping are good bets.

At six I passed through Macau customs at the ferry terminal. Passport stamp #5. After half an hour waiting on the ferry, they announced the boat had another problem, so we all migrated to a new one. In the intervening time, the seas in the Pearl River delta had picked up, so somewhere around the halfway mark, a hundred people started vomiting in unison. Now that is entertaining cacophony. I only felt slightly queasy and all the bread in my stomach sat firm. Maybe the others had fancy casino lunches instead of saying om nom nom nom out loud while eating US$1 clumps of carbs. Suckers.

By 8 I had cleared Hong Kong customs for the second time in 13 hours. Passport stamp #3. I reclaimed my luggage and decided to follow Lonely Planet's suggestion for ethnic food in SoHo for dinner. After riding the longest escalator in the world several stops further than I'd intended and wandering around looking for an alley with good Thai, I settled on a good Vietnamese place. A combination of the $ currency symbol instead of 元 and the menu's entree prices after a month of great Chinese food for 10 to 35 yuan reminded me that I wasn't really in China any more, but Chinatown organized by the Brits.

With an early morning flight, I didn't want to spend HK$150 or more on a bed without an alarm clock, so I walked along the tip of Kowloon, photographing the Hong Kong skyline and then walked up Nathan Rd in search of a night club. Quintessential Hong Kong moment: six Asians in a rock band ended their set with a very good rendition of Play That Funky Music White Boy. Then the DJ started mixing (poorly) disco and other 70s hits. Then another band of four or five Asians (one might have been Filipino or Brazilian) took the stage and played a really bad version of Sweet Home Alabama.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd Rule: You're not allowed to play Sweet Home Alabama unless you've lived in or visited Alabama and enjoyed the experience.

The place was called All Night Long, but I didn't want to listen to bad versions of American songs of already questionable quality, so I decided to see what else was shaking in the New York of the east. At 2:30 on a Monday morning, the answer is apparently "not much." Maybe there are more all-night clubs on the Island. Or maybe they take Sunday nights easy. But the signs on sky scrapers had been turned off, the taxis were thinner, and a higher percentage of the open bars had pictures of scantily clad girls on their signs.

I found an open entrance to Kowloon Park, where my international date had begun four Mondays before. I hear New York's Central Park is a pretty dangerous place to be at 3:30 in the morning, but in Kowloon Park it's a very peaceful time to sit by a pool and reflect on a four-week date. I saw two other people walk through the gate at about the same time I did. I saw three security guards, one of whom was napping. I took a picture of some sleeping parrots. The only other folks awake were a flock of about 50 flamingos having a late night flamingathering.

So Sunday: lots of relaxation, but no sleep.

I took the 4:10 bus to Hong Kong International Airport, for some reason chiding myself for falling asleep for a few minutes and missing the quiet city scenery. You can't really check in at HKG before 6 AM, but I felt my time with the city was complete. I quickly went through security (5th of 7th airport not to notice or care about the tube of toothpaste in my carry-on bag) and Hong Kong departures. Passport stamp #7. My sleep plan worked, and I fell asleep shortly after the Pacific ocean got dark, waking up above a cloudy morning. I told three people at U.S. customs that I'm a { computer scientist, software engineer, computer programmer }, though I'm not sure how the answer would affect anything. Would they scan my bags if I said "second assistant pig-keeper?" What about "I don't work, that's why I was traveling in China, where life is cheap?" Passport stamp #8.

Back in Denver, I saw about six guys with beards as I got off the plane. It's good to be back in an environment where, on the off chance someone were to ask "Is your beard real," I can come up with a suitable comeback. I've never seen white folks yell out "¡Hola!" and then giggle whenever they see a Hispanic person walk down the street, but I'll accept bilingual public signs in my language in exchange for amusing locals with my greeting word.

I don't usually get hit by jet lag very bad. It's 10:30 PM local time and I'm fairly alert, but will probably get some good sleep soon, even though it's mid-afternoon China time. I won't go in to work until Wednesday, though, giving me a day to unpack, read mail, and loaf about in my hammock.

So Monday: perhaps 8 hours of napping, followed by a good night of sleep. But it is a 39 hour day.
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