Monday, February 27, 2012

Not in Cambodia Any More

Megacity outside our hotel window
When did Dorothy say to Toto "We're not in Kansas anymore."?  Well I remember walking out of the Hong Kong Airport Friday night and right up to these glass sliding doors, the LED sign said "Next Train in 6 Minutes".  Where were the tracks?  Five and a half minutes later a phantom sidled up and the glass doors opened to reveal a sleek clean fast train and in two stops I was at a 5 star hotel and that's when I said "I'm not in Cambodia anymore".
Eddie showing the way
      My brother Eddie does international trading and was in Tokyo during the week and then had meetings in Hong Kong this week, so he invited me to spend the weekend with him.  It was great to see him and to do things together in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is really an incredible city.  Like Manhattan it is built on an island and has a dramatic skyline, but unlike Manhattan it is surrounded by mountains and islands that make the city more interesting and varied.  Although Hong Kong is the most crowded city in the world it has preserved a lot of green space and some of the islands that are part of Hong Kong are almost entirely preserved.  That means that the only way to develop is vertically.  Illustrative of this is that Eddie and I hold the record (along with many others who might be too inebriated to know) of having the highest draft beer in the world.  The Ozone Bar is at the 113 storey of the RitzCarlton Hotel.   I also might me one of the highest persons to sit in a hot tube at 76 storeys,  braving a chilling mist after I got off the elevator both before, and especially, after I got out of the 95 degree water.  Now I don't think Sir Edmund Hillary or Tensing Norgay hold either of those records and I did it on consecutive days.
Subway enterance
       A little history; Hong Kong was part of the British Commonwealth for years, but we all know that it is part of China.  In 1997 the British gave it back but at that time it was a wealthy city that was about as far from communism as you can get.  The millionaires and billionaires threatened to move to Vancouver if they were forced to share, so China proclaimed Hong Kong a Special Autonomous Region (SAR); one country two economic systems.  All the fat cats stayed and now China is moving more to the Hong Kong model.  Money talks and Hong Kong is the dominant financial center in SE Asia.  Hence Eddie's meetings and my visiting him there.
City lights
Afternoon inthe park
       We both like birds so on Saturday morning we took a ferry across Victoria Harbor and then out to Lamnar Island.  This is the largest island in the SAR and probably a real destination in the warm weather.  There are a cluster of restaurants near the ferry and than a lot of really nice cove beaches surround by rocky green hills.  Looks a little like Maine, but warmer.  Eddie and I totally mis-read the trail map, took the wrong trail that made our hike 3 hours instead of 40 minutes but we took it slow and had lunch at a really nice restaurant right on a beach.  As in Cambodia, not many birds.  The most common were Fishing Eagles, no gulls or crows, strange.  We were supposed to meet his friend to watch a rugby match but got back too late.  Ed went into the office to catch up on emails and I went to the 76 floor to establish what might be Guinness Record status.  Later that night we went out on the town and finished with an exciting call to Mom.  "Oh that's nice that you are in Asia together, but when are you coming home?"  Soon Mom. 
Green space
      Sunday we went to the Hong Kong Zoo.  Beautiful park, felt sorry for the animals and saw some cool "free" birds while sitting outside having coffee: mynars, some kind of warlber, a Red-whiskered Bulbul and a Masked Laughtingthrush.   We walked back toward the subway and had a great lunch and then said goodbye.  He went to meet a college friend and me to wonder how fast this weekend went.
The streets of Phnon Penh

 I clicked my heels together and before I knew it I was in the back of Samol's tuktuk and driving through the chaos and the mess and I couldn't help but say to myself "There is pno placeh like Phnom" (Penh, that is).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Out and About in Cambodia

Nice beach and no crowds
I've been getting out and doing things and have a lot of nice pictures that I would like to share.  Let's see, a couple of us went to Koh Kong for a long weekend and then out to a really nice, very isolated, island and spent the day snorkeling on a reef.  It was like being a guest in an aquarium.  Koh Kong was kind of a dreary place and we walked from the hotel to Pat's Bamboo Bar for dinner one night.  It was like stepping back into the 60s with Jimi and Van Morrison playing and everyone a there looking a little burned out.   Back at the hotel we watched the Australian Open Tennis and that was fun.  The next Sunday back in PP we again watched the finals with pretty boy Raffa against my man Novack in a really great 61/2 hour match at this sports bar with a giant screen.  Not only did Novack win but I made a bet with Amanda that he would and the winner paid for the upcoming trip to silk island. 
The wedding girl, Aka
Sambath and Vinh all dressd up
Showing all of Cambodia how to do the funky chicken
The fun table at last
I went to Aka's wedding and it was really fun.  So different from Pov's.  Aka works at the AK, the wine tasting place, and unlike Pov,  I don't think there is any money in either her or her husband's family.  But it was still a big party.  Everyone was dancing and having a great time.  Me, Diego (from Italy) and Jim (from New Zealand) were the representives from the AK along with Sambath and Vinh who work with Aka.  We didn't get there until after 9 o'clock so we missed all the ceremony but we got up and danced.  All the people there were so nice and really liked that we were having a good time.  Back at the table it was toast after toast with these Khmer guys putting scotch in our glasses of beer.  If I learn anything this year it will be to be more attentive and welcoming to people from other countries.

Nary, Nary and Naret on board
Part of the floating village
Then off to the silk island.  Don't you love the word silk.  When I flew in from Singapore I took Silkair, could there be a smoother ride, I don't think so, and the touch down, hardly felt.  The only problem with silk island was that they didn't "grow" silk there and it wasn't an island.  Hey, don't sweat the small stuff.   We had a Tuesday off and there were ten of us from school that made our way down to the river and then on a rented boat crossing two rivers to the Mekong and then to Koh Dach (Silk Island).  It really was a nice little river trip on a funky little boat. We passed a floating village and lots of fisherman.  We never left sight of the big buildings of Phnom Penh, but when we got off the boat on the far side of the river it was really beautiful rural country.   What they did on Koh Dach was weave in traditional way using hand looms.  Really pretty amazing.  They had no silk worms but imported raw silk from the provinces.  It is spun into thread of different thickness and qualities and then made into fabric.  Just outside of PP there are these really large clothing manufacturing centers where thousands of Cambodians work.  I've passed by them on the bus when they are letting out at 6pm and wondered what the working conditions are and how the workers, looks like mostly young women, are treated.  Well, the women on silk island were all crafts women and took real pride in what they did.   We tried our hand at using the loom and then all had lunch.  The nationalities sitting down at the table were American, Australian, Polish, Welsh and Cambodian.  Glad we all spoke English.  On the way back we passed this island that has just been connected to Phnom Penh by bridge and the apartment buildings and fancy river side homes show the changes that are coming to this city and country.  For the better or worse?  Just progress I guess.    
Nary working on the loom
Our group surrounded by silk
Leaving Koh Dach
Next on my list of things to do is meeting my brother Eddie in Hong Kong.  Looking forward to seeing him and seeing what that big city is like.