Saturday, April 29, 2006

Thoughts from "The Other Nick"

Sorry it took so long for me to post, gang, but I've been busy trying to shuck the shells off all the seafood they serve around here (I've looked high and low but can't find a Red Lobster anywhere).

Seriously, this has been a great trip so far. Some general thoughts:

-- The plane trip was pretty painless, considering how far it was (14.5 hours to HK, then almost four more hours to Singapore). I was also astounded at the routing -- right over the North Pole. A few hours after we took off from Chicago, I looked at the map on the airplane to see where we were and I asked Nick, "Why the hell are we flying over Thunder Bay right now?" Not nearly as exotic as Russia and Mongolia, which we hit a few hours later.

-- Singapore is an absolute delight, once you get accustomed to the heat and humidity. It's unbelievably clean, and the people are unfailingly polite, contrary to what I've heard about Asians in general and their reactions to Americans in particular. The food is good, hearty and cheap. Public transportation is quick and convenient. I had been told three days there might be a little too much, but Nick and I agreed we could spend at least two more days there and not be bored (and maybe three, if you make sidetrips to Johor Bahru right next door in Malaysia and Bintan Island right next door in Indonesia). I definitely want to go back someday.

-- Singapore has four official languages (Chinese, Malay, Hindu and English), but English is the main language everybody speaks and also is the one on all the highway signs, advertisements, etc. There's an election going on there next week, and I saw a TV interview with the very Chinese-looking prime minister. He spoke English as if he just stepped out of Trafalgar Square, accent and all.

-- We've only been in Hong Kong less than a day, but I think I'm going to like this place, too. It's a pretty crazy city; imagine New York on steroids. But it's in a much more beautiful setting, with the harbor and the mountains. People here aren't as conversant in English as they were in Singapore (this in spite of English being an official language), but they are just as friendly. I tried my limited Cantonese on the cab driver last night on the way back from dinner -- simply "thank you" (pronounced "m'goy"). The guy reacted as if I'd just told him he won the lotto, high-fives and all.

-- I'm planning a sidetrip to Macau tomorrow. I've heard it's the Las Vegas of the East (and, in fact, will become busier than Vegas at some point next year, according to media accounts). Macau was a former Portuguese colony, so I'll be looking for some decent Port wine, as well as maybe a hot blackjack table. I'll let you guys know if I get comped for dinner.

-- One more thing -- Nick has (as usual) been an excellent traveling partner and has put up with me gracefully. His only problem is that he doesn't like to slam beers as much as I do, but Nick's friend Ed has arrived from Wichita (how many people, do you suppose, have flown from Wichita to Hong Kong over the years?) and seems to like a bit of the brew himself, so it's all good. :)

I'll probably be checking in again later. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogger.


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