As I've mentioned before, I was sent to HK a couple of weeks back, for the rollout of a project I've been involved with for about a year and a half. I'm not sure if it's right for me to be talking about the project here, so I won't delve into any specifics. I will however, bore you all with stories from my first trip anywhere remotely far from home.
First, the plane trip. Economy class (excuse me, fiesta class) on a PAL Airbus from NAIA2 to HK International on Thursday night. Food was okay, I've had worse, not really enough to turn me off airline food. The PAL flight attendants, as I later discussed with a male coworker, were quite not-young and, well, not-hot. Heh, probably unfair but you get a certain expectation from media, you know? The flight was short (less than two hours) and uneventful, no dizziness or pukathons for me, thanks, unlike when I take the eight-hour bus ride to Bicol. This may seem boring to seasoned fliers, but I liked that little map that told me at what location we were currently flying over. Neat!
As an engineering type, I also took notice of the plane itself. Is it normal that airplanes routinely jiggle and vibrate as the plane taxis? I understand that it's unavoidable as things like cars and trains do the same; but shouldn't things be a bit tighter on a plane? Still, didn't really bother me.
Upon landing, I got a glimpse of HK International Airport. I had heard it was huge, but didn't get to look around much as I was greeted at the boarding gate by two of the HK staff. Nice people, one of them bought me dinner at McDonald's although I told them I had already had the airline food. Afterwards, they took mo to The Peak, apparently a famous spot for tourists in Hong Kong. It's a mall-type thing on top of a rather high mountain. From the observation deck, you could see most of Hong Kong. From there I could see that Hong Kong was a very urbanized area, a lot more than Metro Manila.
After spending some time there, they drive me to the Staff Quarters near the HK office, where one of our RP staff has been staying for a month. The RP guy greets me, shows me upstairs, shows me the ropes, and I get some sleep.
The office building is right next to the block where the staff quarters was, barely a five-minute walk. I spent most of my time in HK between the office and the staff quarters. Truth be told, the trip wasn't really very exciting, as there was a lot of work to be done and not much time to goof around. I'll just note some things particularly interesting about being in a foreign country:
People speaking in an unintelligible language all the time. Probably the biggest hurdle to anything, it took surprisingly little getting used to the fact that I couldn't communicate perfectly with anyone, and with some people, not at all. On some occasions, I had to buy food or drinks through pointing and using hand signs to find out how much stuff was. When walking on the street, I'd turn my head whenever I hear someone speaking English, because it was quite unusual. Also, when dining out with the HK staff, I'd have to rely on them to order for me, since I can't read the menus. Which brings me to...
Foreign food. Anyone who knows me knows I'm quite a picky eater. I don't take to new foods very easily. But it's hard to refuse when you're a guest, so I got to taste more new stuff in my five and a half days in HK than I have for maybe the past three years. It's ok, I don't mind, even the veggies. The biggest problem was the fact that I have no idea how to use chopsticks, and almost every meal needs the use of chopsticks. At one point, I had to badger my co-RP staff to help me get food using the serving chopsticks. While I was there, I had some Taiwanese, Thai food, and of course, Chinese. Lots of Chinese. Oh, and an interesting side note: apparently foreign McDonald's have no McSpaghetti.
Religious issues I was unable to hear Mass on Sunday. We had to work most of the day, but I got off around 4PM. I asked one of the HK guys for directions to a Church (we were in Kowloon, I believe), but when I explained that I was Catholic, he didn't know what the term meant. (This is of course ridiculous to a Filipino; everbody knows what a Katoliko is!) After saying that my faith is similar to another RP staff who he had also met before, he gave me some instructions on where to find a Church. I walked around a bit, following his directions. Which eventually lead me to a Mosque. Ooookay. So I walked around some more (quite a bit actually, went up and down the same road couple of times), I found a place called "St Andrews Church", I guessed this was the place he was talking about. I walked in and asked around, found out they had a Mass around 6PM. So I waited for a bit. Around 5:45 I picked up a flier and noticed that it was in fact an Anglican Church (Is it a Protestant thing? Or something else? I'm not entirely sure), and I it's not the same so I went out looking again. I saw another Church, this time it was Lutheran. Around 6:30PM, I gave up, bought some dinner at McDonald's and took a taxi home. The next day one of the HK staff who said he was Christian told me there was a Catholic Church beside the Mosque...apparently it was a small one so I failed to notice it. From our discussion, I think there's quite a distinction here between "Christians" and "Catholics"; which is weird since I'm fairly sure Catholics are Christian. Anyway, I was wondering why it was so hard to find a Church in a place where...
There are so many Filipinos You can see 'em everywhere, as you walk along the main streets. Mostly tourists and domestic helpers, I believe. I could hear Tagalog being spoken on the street more often than English. Of course, maybe I should've asked one of them where I could go to Church...
Taxis are discplined This is of course, shocking to any Filipino! A sticker on the inside of every taxi tells you the rules: They can't turn down fares, they have to issue a receipt when asked, they must follow seatbelt laws, etc. Every taxi is equipped with a receipt machine, and every one of 'em is bright red so they're easy to spot. Overall, while I still experienced traffic jams over there, their traffic situation is still hella lot better than ours.
What else can I say? As I said, I didn't have much free time. They were kind enough to give me half the day off on Tuesday afternoon (my flight home was Tuesday evening), and they recommended some places I could go visit. So I went to Quarry Bay, about 2 MTR stations away from the office. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, though, so I ended up mostly wandering aimlessly, not buying anything 'cept for some food and drinks. I actually managed to walk all the way back to the office, and just decided to buy some chocolates from a supermarket to bring home.
On the flight home, PAL switched me to a much smaller plane, which sucked. :( I got to see more of HK Airport, and let me say...it's frickin' huge. I told the guys who brought me to the airport that NAIA2 is like a fourth of HK airport, but now I think it's more like a sixth. I'm told they even have some sort of moving platform thing for people whose gates are so frickin' far. It took 30 minutes for our plane to taxi, that should say something.
Anyway, got home around 11:30, bought some more goodies at the duty-free shop. Took a taxi home, arrived safe and sound. Told stories for an hour or so, then ... zzzzzz.