Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Danish exchange family in Hong Kong...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 – HONG KONG, China!
Misty and cloudy and warm and humid – 72 degrees
Up bright and early to see all the ships out in the sea waiting for their turn to pull into the harbor AND we wanted to be on the first bus to meet Elsebeth! We were at the Marco Polo Gateway at Ocean Terminal and then to the Star Ferry. Elsebeth is my Danish sister, from my year abroad with AFS in 1977-78. She and her family now live in Hong Kong on a 3-year teaching contract through the Hong Kong Baptist University. This is the same university we had stayed at previously visiting my OTHER AFS sister from Chile, whose partner was ALSO teaching at this university. Such a small world!!!

It was fantastic to see her!! We were not in Hong Kong today for sightseeing – just to hang out! We decided to come back to the ship and show her around since her time in the afternoon would be limited. We toured and ate and talked and ate and talked and ate! It is a beautiful ship and every time I see it through the eyes of someone who has never seen a cruise ship, it becomes even more magnificent. Class, style, colors, character, atmosphere…it is a lovely ship.

We took the bus downtown and then the subway and then the bus to Sha Tin, where they live. Their apartment is on the 8th floor with a great view of the high mountains. Most people probably don’t realize how tall the mountains are which surround the city. Hans Jorgen was working. Emil is 9 years old and he came home from school at 3. Jonas is 18 and Kristian is 14 and they came home at 3:30. Florence is their live-in housekeeper from the Philippines (very common here and not a luxury as in the USA and most other countries) and she made brownies for an afternoon snack. They changed their clothes and we backtracked to the ship.

The boys were amazed and awestruck. They all enjoy music and when we entered the theater, the musicians and entertainer were rehearsing for tonight’s show, which they really enjoyed. We toured the ship from top to bottom and ate in the buffet. Els had to teach a class so she and HJ were late arriving – 6:30! So we really only had about 15 minutes together to eat quickly and talk before they were off the boat again!!!
Jonas and Emil both said they wanted to be a stowaway!

But it was a wonderful time. Absolutely wonderful. It was so nice to catch up and hear the news and see how the boys have grown. Their English is fantastic, they are considerate and kind and mature and I was so proud of them!! They have grown into very nice young adults. And to see Els and HJ was the best. They have been married 23 years this May – hard to believe. We have shared very special moments in wonderful places around the globe! How fortunate we have been. Today in Hong Kong was definitely a day to remember. All too soon, it was time for them to leave the ship.

Gene and I ate in the restaurant by ourselves and enjoyed the meal and a wonderful table by the window. The port activity is amazing and this really has to be even larger than Shanghai and possibly one of the largest in the world. Containers are constantly being loaded and unloaded and ships are in every berth. The machinery they use is amazing and the trucks moving on winding paths throughout the port really give you the feel of hustle and bustle. Ryan Ahern was the pianist entertainer tonight.

We had a beautiful sail out with all the lights of Hong Kong ahead of us. Amazing skyscrapers and hotels and signs with moving ads and bright colors and fishing vessels…it was spectacular. I will always remember seeing the family and leaving with such beautiful sites around us.

Hong Kong, considered the buying and selling capital of the world was founded on the opium trade. Most people think only of Hong Kong Island but there are more than 266 islands in all. The northern border is the Guangdong Province and the south is the South China Sea. Hong Kong was a British dependency from the 1840s until July 1, 1997, when it passed to Chinese sovereignty (we were last here in February 1997!) as the Hong Kong special Administrative Region (SAR).

The British control of Hong Kong began in 1842, when China was forced to cede Hong Kong Island to Britain after the First Opium War. In 1984 Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which stipulated that Hong Kong return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong, literally meaning fragrant harbor, is derived from the area where fragrant wood products and incense were once traded. Victoria Harbour is one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world. Hong Kong is frequently described as a city where East meets West, a meeting reflected in its economic infrastructure, education, legal system and street culture. On one street corner there may be traditional Chinese shops selling Chinese herbal medicine, Buddhist paraphernalia or bowls of synthetic shark fin soup. But around the next, one may find theatres showing the latest Hollywood blockbuster, a British-style pub, a Catholic Church or a McDonald’s.

The official languages are Chinese and English. British rule may have ended a decade ago but Western culture is deeply ingrained in Hong Kong and coexists seamlessly with traditional philosophy and practices of the Orient. The population is 6.3M which means a population density of 15,194 people per square mile!!

“To know yet to think that one does not know is best. Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.” Lao-Tzu, 6th century BC