Friday, June 14, 2013

Hong Kong and Macau

It's been some time since my last vacation. Should have written this 5 months ago but now all that post-vacation excitement has worn off and am back to my pining for another, may be it's time to relive the past until the next one, whenever that is. :)

Juin had been inviting me to visit them for ages so finally decided this was it and there began our plans. Well, don't quite know where to start and how to describe a city. There's always so much more, an eclectic mix like any other city in the world, yet each city has it's own unique charm and brand and Hong Kong is no different.

It was a fabulous 7 day trip exploring the sights and sounds of Hong Kong and Macau, getting to stay with Rahul, Juin, and Aanchal at their fabulous apartment in the mountains of Repulse Bay overlooking the South China Sea. A view to die for. :) Maybe, I should let the pictures do the talking.

 The apartments at Repulse Bay overlooking the South China sea

Repulse Bay beach on a sunny winter morning

What I loved about the place is despite the crowds, in a city which is as congested as any Indian city, the public transportation system was so efficient whether it were the buses, MTR (Mass Transit Railway), ferries across islands...everything seemed to function like clockwork.

Some places to visit are the Peak for the fabulous panoramic views of Hong Kong city. We went twice: the first time for night shots and the second time for day shots and though it was a cloudy, foggy winter day, it didn't detract from the beauty.

My favorite was the trip to the Ngong Ping village to see the Big Buddha and Lantau Park. To get there, you can take the MTR till the Tung Chung station. Once you reach, it's walking distance to the Tung Chung Cable Car terminal. We did see several trekkers hiking across the Lantau Country Park to the village but I would recommend that you take the cable car because it not only saves time if you are on a short trip but the cable car ride by itself is an experience. The Standard Cabin costs around HKD 135 and the Crystal Cabin around HKD 220 but since we were there around New Year's, the holiday rates were a little higher and it cost around HKD 280 for a round trip by the Crystal cable car which is definitely worth it. You get panoramic views of the Airport, the Lantau country park, the South China Sea, the Tung Chung Bay below, and a fabulous view of the Big Buddha and the Ngong Ping village as you approach it.

 The cable car ride to Ngong Ping Village  

View of the airport from the cable car

 Across the South China sea into the Lantau National Park area

View of the Park from the Glass-bottom of the Cable Car

First glimpse of the Buddha from the Cable Car 

Gateway to Ngong Ping Village 

Almost there after the steep climb of several steps

View of the Village from the top 

Happy to be there after months of planning

Another place worth visiting is the sky100 observation deck located on the 100th floor of ICC, the tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong that offers a breathtaking 360° panoramic view of the city and the Victoria Harbour. We wanted to be there to view the fireworks on Dec 31 midnight, however it was booked for a private party, so we did an afternoon visit and got to view the last sunset of the year.

It was also fun exploring the streets of Wan chai and Kowloon and getting harbour shots of the skyline from the ferry. So had my fill of skyscrapers this vacation. Nature appeals to me more but the views from the harbour and the peak were just too fabulous to miss. For night clubs and restaurants, there are several around Wanchai and Stanley but my personal favorite was Soho where you have one of the longest escalators and you can just step off any exit along the way to visit any of the popular restaurants or night clubs.

Macau is another attraction you would not like to miss since it is just an hour away from Hong Kong by turbojet ferry. If it's just for a day, all you need to do is carry your passport, go to Sheung Wan Ferry Terminal, to book yourself a ticket to Macau. There are ferries plying almost every 15 minutes to half an hour during the day and one hour throughout the night so even if you get late while returning from Macau no worries. It costs around HKD 148 by Economy Class and around HKD 298 if you are travelling Super Class. Queues are there everywhere but immigration is efficient and a breeze. Visa on arrival at Hong Kong and Macau. Once we arrived at Macau, we negotiated with a cabbie to take us around some attractions and then drop us off at the Venetian. If you have time, there are buses plying from the terminal that take tourists around but Joy and I neither had the patience nor the time and we wanted a customized itinerary to suit ourselves because we knew exactly what we wanted to see and what we didn't want to see thanks to Aanchal's extensive inputs that she wrote down for us knowing what we liked. Some of the places to visit are at the Senado Square, that's the heart of the historic central part of Macau (if interested in history).

Ruins of St. Paul

The cannons at Mount Fortress. These canons were used once when the Dutch invaded Macau in 1622.

Museum of Macau

You can also visit the Macau Tower for some panoramic views of Macau city. By now, Joy and I had quite enough of panoramic views especially after the fabulous Ngong Ping village tour but decided to go for it  and quite enjoyed the bungee jumping ruckus that we got to view from the top. :)

We were lucky to get an interesting tour guide/cab driver who had some stories to share. He had swum across the China sea to Macau decades ago and made that his home. Throughout the tour, he had some interesting anecdotes about his life, the gambling, how it had taken a toll on the locals, the politics, the transition from the Portuguese to the Chinese. It was quite entertaining listening to his perspective and way of life. We finally bade him farewell at the Venetian.

Besides the rich Portuguese history that reminded me a lot of Goa, the mainstay of Macau are the casinos that are everywhere. There are around 33 casinos all across Macau such as the MGM Grand, Sands Macao, Casino Lisboa but due to lack of time we decided to visit only one and chose the Venetian. If gambling's for you, the hotels are all very grand and nice but somehow all these artificial man-made creations were not my idea of fun or beauty after the wonders of nature and the historical aspects of Macau.

After a nice Portuguese lunch at the Madeira and walking and exploring the grand corridors and shops of the Venetian for a couple of hours, we decided to head to the terminal to get back. Almost all the hotels have free shuttle services every hour so we just hopped onto one to take us back to the terminal where we could get a ferry back to Hong Kong. Macau has much more to offer so I would advise staying at least one or two nights to explore the islands.

Loads of folks told us to visit Disneyland but decided to give that a skip coz we had no interest in visiting some American fantasy land in Hong Kong and miss out on the local flavors. If we had kids, we might have gone, but the idea of wasting a day to see man-made castles and disney characters, and amusement park rides really didn't appeal to us but if you are interested, you should definitely go. I am a very fussy traveller and before each trip I do a lot of research on the internet, talk to people who may have visited, and then plan where I would like to go and what I would like to do and Disneyland was a big no for us though I do know people who had loads of fun.

Another thing was shopping. We were quite fed up of seeing the same clonish designer boutiques that are now dotted all across the world. Every MTR station had a glitzy mall above and I can understand why people asked us to go shopping but then again what can I say! The handicrafts and local wares of Nagaland appealed to me much more. Read this interesting line on Twitter today posted by Anupam Kher and thought of Hong Kong though it's applicable to every city where these same clonish malls exist: "One of the weaknesses of our age is our apparent inability to distinguish our needs from our greed." For us a vacation is about the experience, the people you meet, and the local flavors, sights, and sound. Until my next...the Konkan coast beckons.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Jiah Khan

Jiah Khan's suicide got me thinking. It's hard accepting lopsided relationships and it's true life's not fair. There are millions who go through unrequited love but does that mean one needs to resort to suicide? If a relationship doesn't work for you, shouldn't you just gracefully exit? We are so fixated on that one particular door that sometimes we fail to see the million other doors waiting to be discovered and explored. Isn't that true for so many of us?

I do agree it's sad that her life had to end this way. Similar to everyone else, when I first heard the news, I thought it was the pressure of living up to people's expectations and her dwindling career fortunes that made her take this drastic step. Been reading several articles, the ones that stayed with me were posts by Ramgopal Varma and Gul Panag. Reading their views, I kept thinking to myself was it worth dying for because she was still so young and had so much to live for.

Then as the day progressed, more news came trickling in about the suicide note, her dreams, hopes, despair, and a volatile, abusive relationship. He did sound quite an ill-mannered, brute of a ****head and deserves to be punished for abetment of suicide but still wondered was there really no other way out but suicide? Couldn't she have walked out on such a loser who showed her no respect? Living in modern, cosmopolitan Mumbai, weren't there options available for her to move on? Was she a prisoner under some bondage?

Aren't relationships all about adding some value to your life? Since this was clearly not working and he was abusive and insulting, wasn't it self-destructive on her part to stick around? I know it's tough at that point of time when one's mind is in turmoil and denial with all kinds of conflicting thoughts but the sensible thing to do would have been to walk out. Guess it's easy to think of possible solutions here, but then again how would we react if we went through the same intensity of the pain or emotions unless we put ourselves in her shoes! And that intensity or obsession called love can also be a dangerous killer where all good sense flies out of the window.

Reading her letter, it is sad thinking about the mental and physical trauma she had to go through at the hands of a clearly delusional and dangerous psychopath. And it's scary to think that there are so many of these psychopaths out there. They roam freely among us in all stratas of society. It's a gray area so nobody wants to acknowledge that such people require psychiatric care and counselling because that will mean admitting there is a problem. Some are so dangerous that they should be locked up. Even parents look the other way and treat it as bad temper or immaturity when their offspring is actually a threat to society. Though this is violent and unacceptable behavior, there is a thin line so it's still not considered a crime. Having known and heard of so many friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have undergone similar abuse and trauma, wonder if there is some way we can reach out and help such folks caught in these hopeless situations. Shouldn't there be awareness created of such offenders?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The last few days, amidst all the brouhaha about scams, IPL, politicians etc etc that we are inundated with in the news, there were two folks that caught my eye even amidst controversy. Well, not many will agree and am sure everyone has their own conflicting views which they most certainly are entitled to, but here's my take.

The first was Neha Sambri who wed Ankit Chavan, the cricketer accused of spot fixing during the IPL. Every article I read used strong terms to denounce him: disgraced, tainted, accused. On social networking sites, there were a lot of tweets and updates questioning her decision to go ahead with the wedding and some even mocking her foolishness. I think she displayed amazing strength of character on her part to stand by someone through the tough times and not just abandon him the moment controversy struck. Whether it was the right or wrong decision, only time will tell but I felt it was a nice thing to do in this self-centred, fast-paced world. After all, life is filled with ups and downs and the people who stand by you through both the good and bad times are the ones who really matter.

The other was Michael Douglas who faced a lot of flak and tons of brick-bats for his "cancer disclosure" but it takes guts putting yourself out in front of the world, cutting through all the BS, and telling it the way it is, right or not. There have been conflicting stories and statements issued by his spokespersons but that didn't stop the humor and judgement about his revelations on my timeline. Irrespective of how and why a person catches a disease, be it cancer or AIDS, I feel they need our support. Having seen my near and dear ones go through the suffering, may be I am a tad too sensitive when I hear the word "cancer" but oh well that's how I feel. It was brave of him not to sugar coat his experience and hopefully the awareness created may help save other lives in future.

While on that topic, some optimistic news I read here. Hope there will soon be a cure for this dreaded disease.