A Travellerspoint blog

Some downtime...and entering the People's Republic of China

We enter the PRC through to beautiful karst mountain countryside of Guilin

sunny 94 °F
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When we fell into bed Thursday night, after our excursion through Hong Kong, we decided to give the kids (and let's be honest, ourselves too!) some downtime in the morning. Our flight to Guilin was not until 4:10, and we had seen more of Hong Kong in 24 hours then we had ever planned to! So we let the kids sleep as late as they wanted, and figured we'd get the hotel breakfast and start introducing our group to some local dishes. We ended up with the four of us just enjoying some blogging, reading, and writing/drawing in the cozy little room Bruce and the girls were in.IMG_0397.jpg It was only a twin bed, so Bruce got forced into the "crack" of the pushed together beds, and the whole group was a little light on sleep. We would have to catch up later as events were in going to follow in quick fashion as we entered the PRC.

Most hotel breakfasts in tourist-land China consist of buffet style offerings with a mix of Asian and western choices. The four of us really dug into the breakfast because our exhaustive efforts on Victoria's Peak had also caused us to pass up on dinner. Now, we were going to make up for it. I went for a varied selections of both cuisines, especially the dim sum,IMG_0393.jpg90_IMG_0394.jpg

The kids loaded up on fruit, rice, waffles, bacon, juice, and this wonderful feast recharged our batteries for the day of travel ahead of us. We made the decision, based on our observation of Hong Kong's unpredictable traffic situation, to head out to the airport several hours early and simply hang out there for a while until our flight. We had not been able to acquire seat assignments, and hoped that a personal appearance at the Hong Kong Airlines ticket counter would resolve all of our questions.

We did the reverse of our process from the day before (bus, train, airport) like old pros, and found ourselves all checked-in and ready for flying into China's Mainland...four hours before our flight. One little detail remained to be resolved - the gate for our departure. This will come into play later on...

No one was hungry after our wonderful feast, but we were constantly up for cool refreshing drinks since arriving in Asia. Lo and behold what do we see? IMG_0405.jpgSTARBUCKS!! After a few refreshing Frappachinos (Does St. Louis have Red Bean and Green Tea Frappachinos?) We looked for things to do during our wait. The girls always have game booklets (Thank you Aunt Gloria), Laurie has a book to read, IMG_0403.jpgHayley has her iPadIMG_0404.jpg, and Bruce and Keith made good use of the free WiFi (Thank you Steve Jobs for FaceTime!) Eventually, we would need some lunch, and while it sounds blasphemous to be eating McDonald's on a trip to an area of the world with some of the world's great chefs, in the airport, it's better to get food that the kids are familiar with.

A short while after our fries, burgers, and chicken fingers (they don't like the term nuggets. I think it may refer to body parts unmentionable), we decided to go through security and go wait at the gate. Uh...wait a minute...no gate chosen yet. No problem. Let's just get past security and wait for the gate assignment. 2:30...3:00...3:15...uh...folks, the plane is supposed to leave at 4:10. And there is no "Hong Kong Airlines" desk to get answers from past security. And there is a "language problem."

Eventually, we find out that the plane hasn't arrived yet, and we do get a gate...at 3:45. So, we will be leaving late, which is fine, just so we know where to wait! Hayley picked up the iPad under the watchful eye of one of the locals in her age group. IMG_0406.jpg

When the time comes to get on board, you board a bus with, what fells like, half of China.large_IMG_0408.jpg

Then, we hauled our "carry-ons" up a rolling set of stairs, like we used to all the time at airports, to get on Hong Kong Express #8121. Some juice, a cookie (I guess their version of honey-roasted peanuts) and a few government films about how friendly all the government workers will be that will smilingly goes through the immigration procedures with you, we landed in Guilin!

We were met after customs by our guide, Sandy, and our driver Mr. Yang,IMG_0413.jpg and headed into the scenic landscapes that surround Guilin.IMG_0421.jpg It was a fascinating mixture of past and presentIMG_0414.jpg in one of the smaller major cities in southern China (only @700,000 in the city proper). The wonderful scenes make people-watching a real fulfilling experience!

We got into our Sheraton rooms latelarge_IMG_0429.jpg, because of our adventures in the Hong Kong Airport, ordered some pizza (the Chinese taught the Italians how...and still are masters!) and finished up for a big day Saturday on the Li River Cruise!

Posted by Kwpres 16:32 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains buildings people trees planes hotel Comments (0)

Hong Kong: Economic powerhouse in transition

How now red cow?

sunny 94 °F
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We awakened before the crack of dawn on Thursday to head early to Incheon International Airport for our trip to Hong Kong. Since we had an 8:10 departure time, and wanted to allow at least an hour to travel to the airport, and two hours before departure for check-in, that meant a 4 am wake-up.

The girls have been great, but it's also been challenging for youngsters who have never experienced jet lag. And a 12 hour jet lag is the "mother of all jet lags." (90's Saddam Hussein reference) The Seoul bus transfer system is well oiled and our departure from the PJ Hotel to Incheon was as smooth as it can be when trying to help two sleepy children to negotiate the streets of Seoul at 5 am! IMG_0373.jpg

As we have found in many cities on our trip so far, they local and national governments want to encourage tourism, and in Seoul, the bus system to and from the airport is very nice, efficient, and prompt. We boarded the bus from the same drop-off point that had led us to Hotel PJ, and made it to the airport in plenty of time. This allowed us the opportunity for a nice little snack of muffins and juiceIMG_0374.jpg before getting on our second, and unfortunately last, trip on Korean Airlines. I swear, I'd fly with them to Cleveland, if I had to go there! So we say goodbye to KAL...and...

...hello Hong Kong! The airport is on a different island from the main peninsula of Kowloon where most of Hong Kong's famous skyscrapers are located. It used to be only accessible by ferry, but there is now a fabulous express train/bus combination that gets you to the main hotels for us foreigners! We waited in the entryway for the train while Hayley scouted out how we would arrive at our final destination: The Kowloon Hotel.IMG_0380.jpg

The train has only a few stops before you disembark at a busy station where gloved attendants direct you to a fleet of buses. You put your luggage below, put your carry-ons in a holding area on the bus and are whisked downtown like the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom through the busy streets of Kowloon to a series of stops at the hotels most frequented by tourists. Hong Kong is constantly being rebuilt as older structures are torn down and water, sewage, and transit infrastructure is updated. Bruce found much of it unfamiliar from his visit just 8 years ago.

After getting settled in our two "cozy" rooms, it was off to see the town! We were right across the street from one of the finer hotels in Kowloon: The PeninsularIMG_0181.jpg. I know that because their internet was free; ours was not. So I just let Bruce blog last night and saved this blog for the free internet here in Guilin. More about Guilin in my nightime blog in a few hours.

Our main goal of the day was to get to Victoria's Peak for the storied nighttime view of Hong Kong. That quest would allow us to take in many of the sights in sound in the pursuit of that holy grail of tourism. Alas, it was more pursuit than we had bargained for! We started with a ride on the famous Star Ferry line. We would take it to the other side of the peninsula, closer to the Victoria Peak, take in inclined trolley tram to the top, have dinner, and then take in the sight as the city lights up! It started well enough on the ferry.IMG_0184.jpg It's a nice slow ride past the newer areas of Hong Kong where today's jet set live in penthouse apartments on the newest complexes. IMG_0188.jpg Hong Kong has been trying to manage it's future without losing grip on it's past. It's past is not merely British colonialism, but one of the most important ports of the world. It's also a major player in the asian economic story, and the Hong Kong trading floor's Hang Seng index is watched by as many investors as those who live and die by the Dow Jones or S & P averages. It's now playing a part in China's economic story on the international scene. How that will play out over time will be a fascinating story.

After the ferry ride, we took to walking the streets of Hong Kong to complete our journey to the Peak Tram. Much of Hong Kong's walkways are above the streets, winding through and around office complexes replete with restaurants and night clubs. We also noticed that almost all construction is NOT done with steel scaffolding. The scaffolding is still in bambooIMG_0192.jpg It was confusing, and we got lost several times. It was hot, muggy, and jet lag was an issue. I even turned on my cel data roaming to have Google maps get us out of the mess. Finally, we relented and had a taxi drive us to the tram stop. It was only five bucks. Hmmm...file that away somewhere in my noggin...

The tram is a real mob scene.IMG_0195.jpg You may wait a few hours in the tropical sun before you get loaded onto the tram. But the wait is worth it for the experience of going up the hill...and what you see up top.large_IMG_0384.jpg

It had been such a physically demanding day that we were finding energy a challengeIMG_0200.jpg
and no one really had much of an appetite...except for a taxi ride home and a nice waiting bed. Fortunately, sunset was upon us and we did stick it out enough to get that desired stunning shot of Hong Kong at night from Victoria's Peak.IMG_0388.jpglarge_IMG_0390.jpg

Now, it was time for four groggy traveler's to do another hour long wait to get on the tram going down. None of the taxi drivers wanted to take us to the hotel (too short a drive, but we were again, confused as to directions). I pulled out my iPhone (saved again!) turned on my cel data roaming, and started walking to the hotel. Hayley said, "let's take the subway" and we were able to get on the proper train going the proper direction, popped out of the underground, and complete the final few block to our hotel, and more importantly, our BEDS. We all crashed and looked forward to tomorrow, breakfast, and entering the People's Republic of China!

Tonight...entering the PRC and spending a good part of the day at Hong Kong International Airport!

See you soon from Yangsuo Province and the Moondance Boutique Resort!

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 14:46 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged me buildings skylines people children trains Comments (0)

A private DMZ Tour

Following in the footsteps of 1st Lieutenant John R. Preston

semi-overcast 90 °F
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Several weeks ago, I began a series of emails to set up a tour of the Demilitarized Zone just northwest of Seoul. A number of outfits offered this kind of tour but Bruce and I chose the USO because they had a good reputation, and I figured that they would have a more US military bent to their emphasis because of the USO connection. The tour is run by Koridoor Tours for the USO and the tour guide, Brendan, had been one of two people I had been exchanging emails with. Here is Brendan explaining one of the maps on our tour.large_IMG_0147.jpg

I had very strange vibes as we prepared to enter the DMZ for this tour. Dad had only just begun to open up a little about his experiences in Korea before he passed suddenly in 1990. There were so many questions that his history-teaching son wanted answers to! Over the last few weeks, in preparation for this trip, I had been reading some of his letters for the first time. I thought, with the help of Google Earth, that I had a pretty good handle on where he was in combat for much of his tour. It helped that he had kept one of his operational maps from his time there in charge of an artillery battery. large_DadsMap.jpeg Near the end of his tour, he was a military adviser to the Korean Marine Corps. This will come into play later in our story...

I know that he, along with others who had served in the Korean War, had been invited to come back and visit Korea, but he had no interest. I think there were many reasons, but it was only in the last few years I realized that there were demons there that he didn't care to resurrect. So, Bruce and I decided when we planned this trip that we would take a day in Seoul to go see some of the places where dad served. Many of his letters contain little hand drawn maps, some of them placing his patrols behind the Chinese lines. Now, we would go...his history-teaching son and his son who was born while he was fighting a war in these areas! It's amazing to see what Seoul has become in the 60 years (almost to the month) since the 1953 armistice was signed. The capital city was captured and recaptured 3 times in the war. Some of the pictures on the walls of the USO reflect the state of destruction in 1950 Seoul; and there were two more destructive battles to be fought there still! IMG_0359.jpg

Today, the city's main environs boast a population of over 25 million, and many major corporations (Samsung, KIA and Hyundai Motors stand out) call Seoul their home. The city would be unrecognizable to dad, all the rubble is gone and Seoul is bustling...Gangnam style! We started our day with one of the few places that seemed open at 7am (and that's a general time for when they opened) since we had an 8 am tour time. It's Dunkin' Donuts. IMG_0354.jpg Are we in Boston? Um...this ain't Boston creme! large_IMG_0355.jpg
Then it was off to the tour! My little cards came in handy as I handed the taxi driver a card that asked him to take us to the USO...in Korean. This had been sent to me by the kind folks at Kohidoor and worked like a charm. 7,500 Korean Won later(@ $7), we were there!

Our first stop was the Imjingak Peace Park. People were hoping that reunification was on the near horizon in 2002. More about that later. At the park, is a memorial to the fallen from the war.large_IMG_0149.jpg Also, there is the remains of a locomotive riddled with shrapnel during the attacks on the bridge,IMG_0150.jpg and the new bridge is right next to the remains of one of the destroyed bridges.IMG_0160.jpg When the fighting ended in 1953, over 12, 000 POWs were returned at a hastily built wooden bridge constructed on the pilings of a destroyed structure. Today, that bridge is known as the Bridge of Freedom, and it's midpoint, where you can't go further without cheesing off the Norks, is a wall full of wishes for peace, memorials to the fallen, and pleas from those who have relatives trapped in the North. large_IMG_0161.jpg

Our second stop would be my most challenging. In the 1970s, the Norks (North Koreans) had dug (actually blasted with dynamite) a number of tunnels through the granite underneath the ground (350 feet deep. This was no "Great Escape"; and it wasn't the "coal mining" operation that they lamely maintained.) The Third one has become a tourist site. The ROK government (Republic of Korea - south; as opposed to the People's Democratic Republic of Korea - North) used a massive diamond bit drill to create an intersecting tunnel in order to allow tourists to walk through parts of this infiltration tunnel. It kind of explains what, to the uninformed citizens of the world find puzzling, the South Koreans palpable distrust of the Norks. They know the North is capable of some pretty squirrely behavior (Dennis Rodman notwithstanding). So you see miles of barbed wire and armed outposts over large areas of rivers, even if they aren't right by the border.IMG_0144.jpg

This tunnel was at an extreme angle, making descending and ascending very challenging. Also, most Koreans are not as tall as Bruce and Keith, so the tunnel averages around 5' 1" in height. The Norks would have come through four abreast, so that an estimated 30,000 soldiers an hour could have emerged before they would be discovered. So there we are, walking down at steep angled tunnel for 350 meters, in order to bend over through 300 meters of rough granite tunneling. You have to wear a hard hat to tour this. Good thing; I would have been unconscious after 2 minutes. This tunnel has a reputation for being extremely strenuous, so I had been swimming to get in shape for it. It's a good thing. I had to stop for a while a few times on the way up. No pictures are allowed, so I have none to put in here. Sorry folks.

After the tunnel, we went to see a short film explaining the DMZ as a result of the armistice of 1953, and then went to the Dora Observatory...and had the thrill of the trip so far. At the top of the Observatory, there is this plaque: large_KMCUSMCPlaque.jpg
The point is in the bottom third of the plaque: This was a hill held by the KMC...right next to Hill 122, also known as "Bunker Hill". My dad wrote a lot about his action on Bunker Hill, and if you scroll to his map up top, you can see where he wrote "Bunker Hill" in blue letters. Later on, he was attached as an adviser to the KMC, and spent a lot of time on Hill 155...where we were standing. As a history teacher, I'm a great advocate of going to the ground to understand battles. But this was personal; and quite exhilarating.

Again, the closest I could get with a camera was a shot quite a bit back from the crest of the hill, where dad's bunkers would have had a view of the entire enemy line (and the main reason they had to fight back so many attempts by the Chinese to take the hill, as the plaque spells out) large_IMG_0173.jpg I imagined the many hours, related in his letters to mom that I've been reading, where dad and Lt. Kim, his KMC counterpart, discussed their dreams for the future. I'm not sure they could have imagined the South Korea we have seen today. He certainly couldn't have imagined his sons going back to China in their quest to connect Bruce's adopted daughters with their heritage! It was a really fun moment for me, and a very happy one because I knew my dad to be a kind, forgiving, and perceptive man. He would have appreciated my delight at my thrill of this family history and historical location.

We headed to the nearby Dorasan Transit Center to see the beautiful train station. Many South Koreans hoped this station would someday be used in a unified Korea. Alas, with the exception of a few minor pilot programs, it's an expensive testimony to the continued silliness of the North Korean penchant for saber-rattling and unpredictability. A short video of us at the station is here:

With that, we headed back to the USO, using my little laminated cards to get a taxi back to the Hotel PJ (we discovered it stands for "prestige & joy"), and had our first authentic Korean food. IMG_0367.jpg The girls had pasta in a bread bowl (like soup in a bowl...but not soup!) and Bruce and I had bimimbap. IMG_0368.jpg It's kind of beef, with noodles, vegetables, and other unidentified organic matter. I kid...it was delicious, though spicy enough to make my nose run, but not enough to cause discomfort. We paid our fare and headed up to our rooms to relax; it's been a pretty busy 48 hours. As I write this, Bruce has finished his blogging for the day and is restructuring his luggage. He's resisting a nap, because we need to go to bed early, but later than now to prevent being wide awake at 2:00 am or something! We need to leave for the airport around 5:00 am tomorrow to catch our 8:10 am flight to Hong Kong. Both girls have collapsed (Laurie first, Hayley fought it, but lost ;) ) And Uncle Keith will go back over this for a while and retire to his room and repack his stuff...or something. I don't know. It's almost 7:00PM here, and I should hit the sack no later than 10:00.

I will look forward to picking this up tomorrow evening, local time, at the Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong. Hopefully, by then, we will pics of the city and the Victoria Peak!

Till then,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 02:23 Archived in South Korea Tagged landscapes bridges buildings skylines people trains war korean Comments (2)

Over the Pole and into Seoul

We establish our first Asian adventure in Korea

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Going from Boston to JFK was a hop, skip, and a plop. But getting ready for our 14 hour flight to Seoul seemed daunting. Bruce and Jo had gone on Korean Air when they went to meet Laurie in 2003 so we decided to take KE for our first leg of our journey even if it was a bit more. We later realized we had bought at just the right time and we had an experience that reminded us of what air travel can be like.

The flight crew of KE 82 were gracious, patient, attentive, tireless, joyful, creative in solving problems, and, with the exception of one young man, all women. They came to the airport looking like they would be walking the runway at a fashion show, rather than an airport! By the end of the trip, many of us felt like something on the floor of a theater after a Saturday morning matinee. The crew was as effervescent as ever. Bruce and I remarked again and again that this KAL crew was showing the world that it can[i] be done. We saw them line up before entering the jet in JFK and it looked like their version of the pre-game meeting at the Super Bowl! large_IMG_0318.jpg

Once onboard, we settled into our "new economy" seats in KAL's massive A380 Airbus. I sent a text to my bride, who remarked, it looks as big as an apartment building. True...but how many buildings hold over 400 people?! It's a 3-4-3 configuration, and we had chosen a row of four near the front (and the bathrooms) We were excited to get on our way! IMG_0320.jpg

Food was tasty and nicely presentedIMG_0329

IMG_0329

And once we landed, we promptly got on a very nice bus for our trip to our hotel!IMG_0332.jpg After a bit of excitement trying to find our hotel (which was only "one block" away) we checked in, dumped our luggage, and headed off for some quick Korean cuisine...at Burger King! IMG_0346

IMG_0346

Finally, it was time to head home. We scouted out some eating places for the morning. It's going to be a quick beginning to the day as we head to the Seoul USO for a tour of the DMZ between the two Koreas. IMG_0348.jpg

On our way back, we had a glimpse of the active small stores around our hotel. Perhaps tomorrow, we can be a little more adventuresome than Burger King!IMG_0350.jpg

It's late and I must rise in a few hours. Good night, all!

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 07:51 Archived in South Korea Tagged me buildings children night planes hotel Comments (1)

Beginnings in Beantown

Boston, where it all began, is where we begin

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Bruce and the girls were in Boston today and yesterday for a reunion of the families who had gone to Anhui province in 2003 from the Boston area to pick up their daughters. Hayley was in the group and the Prestons have been to a few of those reunions before. From the pictures Bruce has been posting, it looks like a lovely time is being had by all. But Monday morning, the real fun begins!

I am gearing myself up for a real air traveler's feast over the next 20 days. It began in my familiar home airfield of Lambert International airport. I had to leave right after church, so I blitzed through security and proceeded to the CPK express for a "cup" of tortilla soup. 90_image.jpg

I wasn't a third of the way through when my flight was called. I think I will learn a lot about modern air travel in this little excursion. I have always loved flying Southwest. Would it still be one of the more enjoyable flying experiences? They made a reputation based on wit, personality, and a humane approach to no-frills transportation. But how would a joyous snack of peanuts and coke do in a world of technology and slow economic growth?

SWA now has WiFi in many of their aircraft. Their plan is to pretty much equip the fleet. I decided to try it out. It's 8 bucks for the flight. So, for much of the 2 hours and 45 minutes of my STL to BOS flight, I was able to iMessage my wife, email some data, check on my reservations, and watch a simulated version of today's Cardinals game. The last 30 minutes I was pretty much frozen. I suspect that many others logged in when they had finished their LUV snacks. Something SWA is going to have to address. It's early in the game, but I think future versions of inflight online services will solve these issues.

I know. I also question whether there shouldn't be some time when one isn't hooked in to technology. I still saw plenty of people listening to music or audiobooks, watching video or reading e-books, and other interactions. For many, flying is an interruption in their lives that has them trapped in a metal tube with strangers, out of touch with events transpiring while they are isolated at 39,000 feet. I'm looking at a 14+ hour flight to Seoul tomorrow. Besides catching a few ZZZs, I would like to perhaps do some blogging, check out some more details for our pre-PRC part of the trip (we are guideless for that) and see how my Cards do Monday night against the resurgent LA Dodgers. Surprisingly, it's unclear that Korean Air has inflight internet. That surprises me. They have a reputation for technology and service. Unfortunately, it appears they had an early version of inflight internet in the early 2000s. I think they may have taken a bath on it. I'm pretty sure American has it for our return flight over the Pacific. It will be interesting to compare it to my SWA experience.

For now, I want to try to begin to get myself onto Asian time schedule, which is generally 13-14 hours ahead of us. So for now, I'm going to wrap things up here at the Four Points Sheraton Logan. large_F96227962219AC6817F35373EC105463.jpg

Tomorrow will begin a day of airports, air flight, ending at the Hotel PJ in Seoul!

Posted by Kwpres 18:53 Archived in USA Tagged hotel boston Comments (1)

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