Hong Kong

I was recently in Hong Kong for a very brief period of time. This trip was a typical “Matt” deal. No planning, No research, Nothin’

After a stressful 12 hour flight next an irate seat hogger, I arrive. First task after clearing customs was to secure myself an “Octopus” card, as I would need one to travel around the Hong Kong metro without paying a fortune. I first stopped at a desk that said “Train Tickets” I asked at that desk if they sold Octopus cards. “NO”. He answered. You go over there! So I haul my bags over to another desk. At the next desk I ask the same question and am given a similar response: “Hmmmmmmmm……..  NO! Octopus card over there!”. So I head to yet another desk, once again asking the same question. He responds: “You want Octopus card!?!?” he says. “Two hundred dollar!”. I hand over my credit card… “NO!”. He points to a sign that says credit cards are accepted on all purchases except Octopus card. For crying out loud. I now drag my bags all the way back into the terminal and withdraw some cash. Queue up again and finally get the damn thing.

The next fantastic experience was my Hotel. Boy – What a fricking nightmare. It was so ridiculously westernised it drove me mad. The staff had fake American accents, the hotel had a phony western sounding name (when really it was a Chinese hotel registered under a Chinese name), all of the food was uber western, they had American style toilets (see previous post!) and this had to be the best part: Lifts that go… “Bing!” Like in the movies. Boy, those “binging” lifts had to be the pièce de résistance of the whole joint. The binging was so loud that you could clearly hear bings 3 floors above, and 3 floors below. In fact you could hear them so well that it was difficult to tell when a bing was for your floor. Multiply that by 6 lifts and you are literally standing there listening to a medley of binging, for a very long time I might add, as it took for ever for a lift to arrive. Argh!

So anyway, the rest of the visit. Well lets see… I went around on the metro stopping off at random places. Found a lot of very random stuff indeed. I really felt that I got to see the “Real”  Hong Kong. At one point I found myself in a very shabby slum like area which was very interesting indeed. After milling around for a while I was grabbed by a local and shouted at: “WHY YOU HERE? THIS AWEA NOT FOW TOUWISTS!” He dragged me over a map of the metro system and pointed at the connection between the Hong Kong metro, and the Shenzhen metro and said in a loud whisper: “CHINAaaaa….”. And I was immediately thinking: CHINA! Didn’t realise it was that easy to get to China from Hong Kong. Not that I had time. I had a flight to board in 4 hours time. Maybe next time.

Dadblasted American toilet strikes again

Last night I checked into my Hotel Room in Hong Kong. Upon opening the  bathroom door I noticed the dreaded brand name “AMERICAN STANDARD” on the porcelain. A quick look under the lid reveals my worst fears: An American style toilet. NOOOOO! God no! Not another one. I hate these things to the extent where my skin crawls just thinking about them. I’ve seen them in the USA, Canada and now Hong Kong.

How do you know you’ve got one? Easy. The waterline before flushing is high. Very high. Almost up to the brim of the bowl. On first sight one may think it’s blocked, but it’s not. They’re all like this.

Before I get bogged down with the details, let’s just take a few minutes to discuss the issues with such a hazardously high waterline:

Problem #1: Standing. Guys like to stand up while urinating and naturally this generates minor splashing. Because the bowl is always in a state of near overflowing, naturally some of that splash is going to leave the bowl and end up on either the urinator, or the floor.

Problem #2: Off-putting. Watching all of that water slowly turn *ahem* yellow isn’t exactly a good feeling. Aside from the obvious, you tend to sit there thinking about how you’re going to be forced to waste gallons of water after flushing, just to take a leak.

Problem #3: Sitting. Once again, this is a problem for guys. When you sit, things hang down. Water is down. Not nearly far enough down either. I’ve observed that the high tide line seems to vary from unit to unit. Sometimes you have a full inch of clearance, other times, nope.

Wait! I’ve barely started ranting about how incredibly freaking stupid these toilets are! Let’s move to the next area: The Flush.

The first flush of one of these is a real surprise. You thought you knew how a toilet was meant to flush, but no. These things have a dazzlingly complex flush process which simply blows the mind. Upon pressing the lever the following happens:

1: The Bowl begins to drain out of the incredibly tiny, easily blocked hole at the bottom, swirling either clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on which hemisphere you’re in.

2: As the bowl drains out some water starts to flow down from the sides. There also appears to be a “Jet” of clean water at the bottom pushing the dirty water out.

3: Once the bowl is fully drained it then begins to fill alllll the way up again.

Wow. Considering that the flush lever has no mechanical connection to the bowl. How the hell does all of that work? That is one hell of a feat of fluid dynamics. I’ve spent a lot of time studying these things trying to understand what on earth is going on during flush but remain stumped.

Because the design of these toilets is so incredibly braindead, they’re highly prone to both blocking and flooding. Lets imagine this scenario: You’ve just flushed it and weren’t happy that it all went down, so you hang around and let the Cistern half fill, then flush it again. Oops! Even though you haven’t blocked it, you now have a flood on your hands and you had better run as you’re about to be standing in toilet water. Because the design is so astoundingly crap, the “Jet” of water needs to be sufficiently strong in order to push the existing water out of the bottom of the bowl. Because the cistern was only half filled, the pressure was less. Your bowl is already full and now there’s another half a cistern full on the way with nowhere to go except around your feet. Now there’s a trail of loo water running out of the bathroom, under your Hotel room door and out into the hallway. Crap.

Blockages? You bet. The whole flushing mechanism is so astonishingly ineffective that almost nothing can be flushed down it without some level of blockage.

American Standard? They can keep it.

Stockholm

A few months ago myself and a couple of friends picked up some dirt cheap airline tickets to Stockholm. Better still, we were flying into the flagship Arlanda Airport, not the ex-military base, poor excuse for an Airport Ryanair flights land at, requiring a further hour and a half of bus travel to get to Stockholm. Nope, we arrived in style.

Stockholm is a city that knows all about snow, unlike London which shuts down when a centimetre of snow falls. We were greeted by a fleet of 8 snow graders driving down the runway in formation quickly and efficiently clearing the enormous volumes of snow, leaving flights running smoothly.

We hopped on the Arlanda express train into the centre which was so incredibly smooth that upon departing the station I did not instantly realise that it was, in fact, us that was departing, not the station. Exactly 20 minutes and 0.00000 seconds later we arrive in Stockholm. We’re soon queueing at the central station for taxis that did not seem to be arriving. It was -11 degrees Celsius outside and this was not fun. We eventually gave up and wandered down the road a bit and found a taxi that would take us to our boat that we were to stay on.

Yep, we stayed on a boat. It sounded like a real good idea at the time of booking but actually it was pretty rubbish. I did not get any sleep the first night due to constant coming and going of other guests throughout the night. Everything was creaky and groaning making sleep for light sleepers like me more or less impossible.

The next morning we ventured out into the extreme cold to find breakfast wearing many many layers of clothing. The first day was mostly spent by wandering around in the old town which is on one of the islands in the harbour. Everyone seemed cheerful, doing their Christmas shopping with layers and layers of padding on.

On the second day we attempted to have breakfast in an area of town that we were told was good for food venues. Well that didn’t work out. We didn’t find anything that was open and finally had to settle on a less-than-satisfying breakfast at Burger King.

We then ventured over to the Vasa museum which contained a 17th centuary warship which was famous for having being built, then sinking on its maiden voyage after short 1.5KM trip. D’oh! Sadly I didn’t get many good pictures as my camera was still frozen up for most of the time I spent inside the museum.

Interesting fun fact I learned in Stockholm: When it’s darn cold i.e. -10 degrees, You can’t make Snowmen or Snowballs. The snow is so darn dry that it won’t stick to its self. Does that suck or what!

I enjoyed Stockholm but photographically speaking it was a bit of a downer for me. Throughout the whole weekend I was dogged down with tiredness and coldness making it difficult to concentrate.

Budapest

On the 12th of November I flew out to Budapest for 2 days. This was to be my first time in Eastern Europe. Except it wasn’t very eastern, rather more western actually. We found ourselves in what I did not realise was a former Soviet state, with few obvious signs of this communist past. Today they have all of the western like stuff there: Modern cars, McDonalds every few hundred meters, Tesco but no KFC (What’s that all about?)

The City is divided into two parts: Buda, and Pest. Buda on the west of the River Danube, and Pest on the East. Buda is a nice touristy area with a big palace and lots of other cool looking stuff, but me being me, I found other things more interesting:

What are these wooden troughs all over the place? Heaps of buildings have these erected at their base. Well it turns out they’re for catching bits and pieces that fall off the buildings. What an eyesore! Yes sir, I have visited my first Non-stinking-rich country (where everything in the inner city is usually perfect and immaculate).

Because we were only there 2 days we didn’t see an awful lot. On the first day we went on a “Free” Walking tour. Well if by “Free” you mean “Not free” then yes, it was free. I’m used to doing walking tours where donations are appreciated at the end but this mob practically has us in cuffs until we’d paid up. This did leave a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth if nothing else. Still, We got to see places and were told the stories, even if a little fleeced afterwards.

On the second day we visited the House of Terror which despite having a slightly misleading name (Well in my opinion it does) was a Soviet history Museum. We finished the weekend with a visit to the Turkish Baths (Left behind after that pesky Turkish occupation) which unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of as it was an absolutely spectacular place!

Monopoly pub crawl IV

On October the 30th I attended my fourth Monopoly board pub crawl, where a bunch of drunken (usually Aussies) visit 26 pubs scattered around the London version of the original Atlantic City board (Yes, would you believe it, London came later on).

It’s one of these things I just love about London. No matter how many times I do it, I just don’t get sick of it. My favourite part comes at about 11PM when we’re all staggering down Carnaby street completely hammered, it looks amazing at night and in my opinion it’s even more amazing when intoxicated!

It’s basically the same drill every time, turn up at Elephant & Castle around 10AM and head off. Being with Aussies there is only one choice of drink: Fosters; that’s probably a good thing though as although it’s hard to drink, it’s the least alcoholic. It’s mandatory to have a drink at each and every pub but honestly: I rarely manage this. Usually by about 4-5PM I’m so full of bubbles from the countless pints of Aussie crap beer that I have to skip a pub or two.

The real challenge in the Monopoly pub crawl is actually finishing it. I’ve only truthfully finished it once. The first time I was too hammered and had to retreat around 10PM. The second time: Ditto. The third time: I made it to the last pub but it had just closed. Damn. We ended up going to a club nearby which was a bit disappointing.

Only on the fourth and most recent attempt did I finally finish the damn thing. Yay. Although things did get a little frantic approaching the last pub — Myself and two people I was with had lost the rest of the crew. We were stuffed. One with a smartphone (and the only with the leaders phone number) had the usual 11PM flat battery and of course was only chance of contacting the rest of the group. Eventually after half an hour of wandering around we came across another member, also lost, who had actually had some battery and useful phone numbers enabling us to contact the rest of the group. We got there. Phew. We almost gave up.

I hope to do another one next year!

Darn those pesky digital cameras

After looking at this amusing page, I’m once again filled with the feeling that digital cameras *may* have actually ruined the original pleasures of the average snapshooter. Boy do we take a lot of crap photos these days or what? We don’t even have to care before we take a picture. Why even bother making an effort to make it look good, when this free media permits us to produce crap pictures all day without feeling bad about it?

There was once a time when we only had 36 shots on a roll, which cost us money each time we took one. We were forced to care about the pictures we took. The satisfaction was far greater when they turned out well, and the heartbreak far stronger when they flopped.

Maybe there’s no difference after all.

Luxembourg

A few friends and I recent went on a weekend trip to Luxembourg. Luxembourg is one of those countries I had to visit to be fully aware of, I mean, I knew it existed before I went but that was about it. Bordered between France and Germany it is a tiny country (Smaller than London) which is the only Grand Duchy left in the world (That means that it’s ruled by a Duke instead of a King).

Upon arrival, I felt like I was in France again. I found myself frantically looking around for something to distinguish it from France. Perhaps in the end, the only key differences I could find were that perhaps 30% of spoken language was German, and the people were less– *ahem* aloof. I’m not particularly good at spotting these things. It is a very wealthy country so naturally were unable to find ugliness *anywhere*.

On the second day we went to visit the small village of Vainden (Pictured above). The primary reason for our visit was Vainden Castle (more information here) however I personally found the village its self more interesting as I’ve seen one heck of a lot of castles and they’re starting to all blur into one.

Vainden was a staggeringly beautiful place despite the rubbish weather. It goes on my list of places “I’d like to spend a few days in, but sadly never will”.

Evening with Trey Ratcliffe: Man behind the (HDR) empire

I recently turned up to a photowalk by the infamous Trey Ratcliffe (Seen here on the night) commander of the great stuckincustoms empire. His work attracts either adoration or disgust. Nothing in between. My opinion: Does it really matter what his style is? He’s got an army of many thousands of followers lining his pockets. He must be producing something worth looking at to achieve that kind of following. Who wouldn’t want that?

Off to London City Airport

What? I hear you say. You’re excited about going an airport?!

In short, sort of. London has 5 airports in total: 2 premium airline airports: Heathrow, London City and 3 budget airline airports: Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. Every frequently travelling Kiwi in London has most certainly done at least 4 of those airports to death, almost always with the exception of London City. The few that have been there rave about it. Every time I book travel I just can’t ever seem to get a flight out of there, and if there is one, it’s always outrageously expensive.

The key problem is that it’s setup for bankers travelling to financial centres such as Frankfurt, Zurich etc who more-often-than-not aren’t short of the needed cash to use this very central terminal.

Damnit. Enough with this. I’m going to use that airport even if it bankrupts me in the process. Tonight I’m flying out to Luxembourg on a silly little turboprop plane with a set of tickets that were actually reasonably priced. Woohoo: All 5 airports down.

A nation in search of a new identity

For a long time now it has been apparent that New Zealand no longer wants to identify its self with the British and its monarchy. With years of mumblings about changing the flag and the odd murmur about becoming a republic, it appears that we are destined for change.

But what will our new identity be? To me it appears to be blunderingly obvious now: Sports. The other day I came across this article.  Yes, our planes are going to be ‘all black’, Just like our passports have recently become and our flag is likely to become in the near future. Notice the term I used there? “All black”. I don’t need to tiptoe around the matter of the All Blacks being our de-facto flag carrier (Air New Zealand is only playing second fiddle in this match) but where are they carrying that flag to?

I’ve lived in Europe for nearly 3 years now and one thing that could not be more apparent is this: No one cares about Rugby. Oh, wait, yes someone does care, A bunch of antipodeans in a Walkabout bar on a Saturday morning. Yes, sure, a lot of European countries have Rugby teams but really, no one watches it. It’s all about Football here (Or Soccer, whatever you may call it). I don’t even need to mention how insignificant Rugby is in the USA.

So it appears that we have chosen an identity that only matters in the antipodes (think Tri-Nations). Okay so we have some other sports teams too with “Black” in the name but no one outside of the antipodes has heard of them either. Oops. Why are we so worried about proving ourselves on the world stage by wholly and entirely branding ourselves with our sports teams? I don’t know. I understand the mentality but that doesn’t mean I agree with it.

Okay so all of this might be a bit cynical but I ask: Who was black first? The All Blacks of course.