Saturday, April 22, 2006

McDonald's Redeemed

First of all, let me say that all of this site, save for the words I type in, are in Chinese characters. That I am posting anything at all is a minor miracle.

I took the Duk Ling junk from Hong Kong Queen's Pier today to Kowloon. A wonderful, free trip courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism. Just book first.

So there I am in Kowloon, it's hot as Hades, and there's the good ol' McDonald's. At least there'll be a washroom, right? And it's lunch time.

In I go and lo and behold, there's a McCafe right at the entry. All air conditoned (it's 32C here and humid too) and no kids. Just a good generous cup of cappuccino and a sandwich.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Praise of McDonald's - Mostly

If you asked me to show you any of the McDonald's within a 10 km radius of my home. I'd be lost. I never go there when I am in Canada.

But on the road, that's the first place I go to -- for food that I know, for clean washrooms, and for directions -- there's most always someone on duty who speaks a bit of English.

Macau, Nanning, Beijing -- all great. Buenos Aires, Santiago, same thing. The burgers in Chile and Argentina were particularly fine -- must be the beef. And the avocado sauce. Separate expresso bars designated 'kid-free' were in every one. It was a delight.

But here in Hong Kong, I met my match. Yesterday I ordered a Chicken Fan-Tastic, grilled chicken on a special bun Assuming (wrongly) that McChicken is McChicken around the world, I unwrapped the small torpedo-shaped thing.

Inside, swimming in a white sauce that may have been mayo, oozing lettuce that had been warmed under the lights until it was yellow and slimy, was the chicken. The 'meat' was grey, and heavily peppered (which was the best thing about it), and of such a weird texture I found it disturbing to eat. I thought it may have been the slimy yellow hot lettuce, so pulled out most of it. But still the gelatinous texture.

Investigating further, I found that the chicken burger was a deboned but not de-skinned thigh that had been flattened with a very heavy object, then cooked in lots of grease. The skin wasn't crispy, nor were the blobs of fat -- just a gluety soggy mess.

For the rest of my time in Hong Kong, when at McDonald's, I will stick to Fanta.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

How to Board a Plane :: Asians Have It Right

Board a plane in North America, or much of Europe, for that matter (or memorably, once in Aukland, heading for the Cook Islands, and the pilot finally threatened to call security and spend the night on the tarmac if passengers didn't find a seat and sit in it), and you likely know the drill: Confusion, crowding and overheating. And that's just the boarding lounge.

Then they call the flight. But first, there's pre-boarding, which was fine when my kids were small and we got to go first. Though I stretched it out as long as I could, by the time the youngest was 12, we were getting funny looks from the staff.

Then there's a call for general boarding, by blocks of seats, or whatever method they choose. And no matter how many times the agents say to have boarding passes and passports ready to show, there're still those passengers who get to the front of the line, then seem surprised to be asked, and start rummaging.

Down the ramp to the plane we go, and join the log jam at the doorway, waiting to board. Not that the crew are holding us up, it's the passengers on board who stop to read every seat number, and finding theirs, stop dead in their tracks, and start sorting their bundles and bags.

Apparently it never occurs to them to step out of the aisle and into the row, to first let the people behind them go by, and *then* sort and stow their odds and ends. That they carry so many odd bundles and hog the overhead bins is a rant for another day.

I wish everyone one of these people would take a trip to Asia. China, say, Japan, even Thailand, for a crash course in how to board a plane efficiently so it can depart on schedule.

About 20 minutes before the departure time, passengers start to form a line: Single file, passports and boarding passes in one hand, and briefcases in the other. As soon as boarding is announced, they're off on a fast march down the ramp and onto the plane, into their seats and buckled in, glaring at tardy tourists who are following their usual routine.

Planes in China take off on time. They could everywhere, if all passengers would only do their bit.

All Packed and No Place To Go

Twenty-four hours from now, my flight should be fully boarded and waiting for take-off at Toronto's Pearson Airport. I am ready to go NOW.

With the 'forced' holiday days and store closings of the Easter long weekend, I used the time to get packed. Now I am ready to go, with a full day ahead of me and nothing planned. This is *almost* worse than being rushed and frazzled and stuffing things into bags as you leave for the airport, and panicking over things possibly forgotten. Now I have all day to second guess myself.

I think I will go garden and enjoy the day.

I will try to update from the 'road' in Hong Kong and Kota Kinabalu, but I will be on the move a lot, with very full days in Hong Kong. And though this trip is part work, it's also part holiday, so I may as well enjoy the freedom from the iBook for a few weeks. I will be back at it soon enough.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Countdown to Departure Date

One week from today I will be midway between Vancouver and Hong Kong, a fact that hit home suddenly a few days ago. I realized I had better check my list and see what's still to be done.

Most of my travel gear is always set to go, so packing is usually fast. However, when I need to replace a major item, like hiking shoes, the 'shopping' part can eat up a lot of time. Like this trip. I need new travel pants (see previous blog rant) and have gone through a lot of stores looking for something that meets at least most of my needs.

Today I bought a new pair, though I spent more than I had wanted to. They should last a long time, barring serious misfortune, like say, a tiger claws them to shreds. I had decided against the convertible (zip-off into shorts) style, as I found over the last 4 years, I had not once used this feature. And bonus: They are black, and close enough to a fashion style that I can now jettison the black dress slacks from my suitcase. Going with one pair of pants on me, one in the wash and one clean: My limit. And 5 tops that go with each pair of pants. With the jacket (cool in B.C. and Toronto, so I do need one), I have 20 possible outfit combinations.

I uploaded the web pages I had been working on today, so starting tomorrow, I can focus on getting ready for my trip. With this being a holiday week, the stores will be closed on Good Friday, and madhouses on Saturday, so I had best buy anything I still need to by Thursday.

Not my usual pithy travel thoughts, but my focus has narrowed.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Traveling men versus traveling women

As much as I enjoy traveling, I am denied adventures available to men.

Like Paul Theroux. I could work out from now to the end of my days, and never have the upper body strength needed to paddle a kayak around the South Pacific as Theroux did in the Happy Isles of Oceania.

Or like my fellow countryman Charles Montgomery, in The Last Heathen. Even if I wanted to knock back a slurry of pre-masticated kava root, "no women were permitted in the nakamal" -- the kava drinking ceremony on Tanna, an island in Vanuatu.

Indeed, a solitary woman flirts with harassment should she sit in a bar of an evening, no matter if it's a neighbourhood pub at home or a strange one halfway around the world. As a woman, there are just some things I cannot or will not do.

There is one woman, whose name escapes me, who traveled 'like a man'. Some years ago, I read her account of her trip in Mongolia. All alone, she paddled a kayak along rivers crusted with morning ice, drank hairy, buttery yak milk in yurts along the way, and then wrote a book about it. I was, and still am, filled with awe and admiration.

But there is a large up side to being a solo female traveler: Other women talk to me, whereas they wouldn't approach a man (Well, there are exceptions, but we are talking travel here, not 'profession'.) I am thinking of an older woman who started chatting while we were waiting to buy tickets for a Parramatta boat to the Olympic site in Sydney. In a few minutes, she told me her spouse -- high school sweetheart, second marriage for them both -- had been driving her crazy, and as soon as they got back to the States, she was divorcing him.

Or the gentle Srilankan lady who kept me company outside a dance show in Kandy. She had traveled from a smaller town for surgery. I learned much about the medical system and family life in that half hour. She kept shaking her head in response to my comments, a bit disconcerting at first, as her words conveyed agreement. It took me a few minutes to remember that Srilankan head nodding for 'yes' and 'no' is opposite from ours. I can only imagine what she thought of my own thoughtful nods.

These conversations happen often, and add much to my experience of a place, and for this especially, I am glad I am a woman.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Why We Travel

Travel writer extraordinaire Pico Iyer wrote a story about this in Salon Travel:

"We travel, then, in search of both self and anonymity -- and, of course, in finding the one we apprehend the other. Abroad, we are wonderfully free of caste and job and standing . . . people cannot put a name or a tag to us. And precisely because we are clarified in this way, and freed of inessential labels, we have the opportunity to come into contact with more essential parts of ourselves (which may begin to explain why we feel most alive when we are far from home)."

Amen, Pico!