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Taipei with my housemate – check out his video and top tourist tips! We love alliteration.

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Over the Lunar New Year Holiday, I visited the capital city of Taiwan with some friends. Here’s a short video of what I sampled and a list of reasons why you should visit too!

 

 

1. 101, or arguably the highest you can get whilst still inside a building

Though the building is no longer the tallest in the world, thanks to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, it can still  boast an impressive 1,669.9 feet, amassing to a total of 101 floors.

It still holds the Guinness World Record for fastest travelling elevator, driving directly upwards at nearly 38 miles per hour and, for the reasonable price of NT$450 (roughly under ten pounds sterling), offers an audio-tour of its penultimate floors and an indisputably unique view.

An excellent view of Taipei and once in a lifetime experience.

2. Temples

Taiwan is a fairly religious country on the whole, boasting nearly 15,000 temples…

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The Future of the MTR

The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) run as Hong Kong’s arteries, concentrated mainly in Kowloon and the island line on the north of the island, but extending to most places in Hong Kong. You can reach the border with China for $39 (about 3 quid) on it and it’s one of the most regular, cheapest and efficient transport methods in the world. Here’s a map of the current MTR at the beginning of 2013:

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They are currently expanding the MTR in a few places across the region and have released the map of what the MTR of a few years from now will look like, shown below. Click on it to expand it.

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It first intrigued me when we’ve been down to Aberdeen to check it out down there and saw the massive construction that’s going on there. Similarly, with our orientation hostel being further west than Sheung Wan, we asked why a place as populous as Kennedy Town didn’t have a MTR station. Don’t want to do a boring labelling of the map, but here are the big main features:

– The Blue Line is being extended at the West to Kennedy Town with stops at the HKU and Sai Ying Pun after Sheung Wan (the current terminus).

– There looks to be a new Lime Green line to Ocean Park, the region’s biggest theme park and tourist honey-pot. This continues to Lei Tung and South Horizons (big new fancy estates, presumably worth a lot of money if they’re connecting them to the line).

– The Blue Line will now terminate at Quarry Bay in the East, with the current Blue Line stations from Tai Koo to Chai Wan becoming a new Light Brown Line that will travel parallel to the Blue Line to Victoria Park and the Exhibition Centre and Tamar (named after the famous ship stationed in HK in colonial times). This would connect to the Hong Kong station built in 2010 underneath the huge ICC and ends up heading towards Lantau Island and the Airport.

– Recent news at the end of 2012 showed that China is investing massively in its high-speed networks. It looks like a new grey line from China crosses the border and terminates at Austin (good, cos there’s nothing there atm) as a ‘West Kowloon Terminus’. Don’t know what to make of this – probably good and easy to get to the mainland; but in a city already with its big prejudices with mainlanders and a lack of trust in the Beijing Government, is this a way China is trying to integrate itself with HK? Who knows…

– The Purple Line will go from a random Western LTR to a complete cross-Kowloon network from Tsuen Wan East to connect with the current Brown Line that can only be accessed from Tai Wai. This looks good. Don’t know who’d use it, but yeh, go for it.

-Extending the Green Line from Yau Ma Tei (current terminus) to Ho Man Tin and Whampoa (former dockyard, now property estate with a huge ship in the middle of it. Only in Asia…)

 

Anyway, I also came across this map – could be a sort of fan-fiction, guys with too much time sort of thing but looks like HUGE expansions. Could be the MTR of 2060 or something:

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That’s all well and good, but when will it end!???

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The plans look groovy for the next few years, connecting a lot of places. But some of the ideas I think people need to think very carefully on. Connecting little island south of HK Island seems like the ultimate mission, but what would become of the small Sampans, water taxis and Star Ferry if integration of the island and all of HK to China is what some people in the top jobs think is best for HK? I’m probably being a bit too sceptical of their intentions, but with only 35 years and counting until the end of the ‘One Region, Two Systems’ concept in place here, a full on Sinoisation is definitely on the table, whether it’s just not that in name here in 2013. Whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be good for Hong Kongers generally but let’s see. Hopefully one day it won’t just end up like this…

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Asian Vegas

On Saturday we headed to the Vegas of the East – Macau. I’d heard a lot of things about Macau – obviously you picture the Ocean’s 11 scene of Las Vegas for the casinos but also the beautiful Portuguese historical influence – but it was quite different to what I imagined it to be. We got a Groupon for $395 which included tickets for the Turbojet there and back, a meal at the Galaxy casino and hotel, an open-top tour bus ride and entry to Macau Tower’s observation deck (absolute bargain).

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We didn’t get time to go to the old historical sites, but did see the old town – the bit you never see when James Bond’s there. The main bit is definitely the Casinos though, and these really are MEGA Casinos. The famous ones like the Lisboa, we didn’t get to visit this time, but will definitely hit them up next time. We went to the supercasinos on Taipa island (the one with less Portuguese old buildings) and hit the Galaxy Hotel and Casino for some food, then met Tommy and Flintoff at The Venetian. This one had canals inside the place, with gondolas,  a sky with stars on the ceiling like the Trafford Centre, St Mark’s Square imitation etc. We even sampled some ‘Macau’ lager as we hit the casino in the City of Dreams. In total, I lost about $700 despite being a few hundred up at one point but proper enjoyed the trip and the time we spent there. Can see how some people become really addicted to it too, no windows or clocks makes time a weird concept when you’re inside.

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We had planned to stay during the night instead of book a room to stay over, so ended up getting the 3am ferry back to Hong Kong. Was a great weekend with the lads and we’ll definitely be hitting it again soon.

 

New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong, Fireworks and Temples

Not done a blog post in a while – the 2 weeks since we got back from the Philippines have been pretty quick but also nothing really interesting has happened. Apart from New Years Eve.

The day we got back from the airport, we had literally an afternoon to recover before we were off celebrating the New Year. At 8pm we met the group at the Harbour piers and got on our Junk Boat (massive shout to Ian once again for organising it). Cannot think of a better place to bring in the new year really – Hong Kong’s fireworks rival Sydney and London’s for expense and beauty and we would be yards away from them in the middle of the harbour (made better when I heard the crowds in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon peninsula were HUGE and couldn’t see most of them). Drinking dangerously high levels of gin and 12% Bear Beer, and in the company of great people we saw in the new year with a massive countdown…

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Don’t remember much after that…

Anyhow, getting back to work was not welcomed after more than a week in a beach paradise. Our students had exams so we were pretty under-utilised but Chatteris had prepared training for us after a few days in work, so we went to the office for a few days. I saw it as a much needed mid-term injection of TEFL training and ideas-sharing, which was made better with a ten-pin bowling trip on the Thursday.

Inbetween this, Nat and I went to the cinema twice to finally see The Hobbit and also Les Mis, which were very good films. It’s weird how British Hong Kong can be – film and popcorn for a couple of hours, I could have been in Ashton rather than Mong Kok, so it’s times like these when it’s great to get a feel of home again. We also booked our tickets to go to Taiwan for Chinese New Year, which should be great.

On Sunday we also headed to the Che Kung Temple near Sha Tin. It was fascinating to see all the worshippers doing their thang with incense sticks, the drums and chanting. And the design inside the temple was amazing, with this big bronze statue of a general in the middle:

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We also headed to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum after that, but got to say it was pretty naff. It struck me as a way for Chinese-nationalist Hong Kongers to be like ‘Remember how Chinese you are, so let’s stick a load of Chinese art, robes and Buddha statues that are loosely related to Hong Kong in a big building’. Overall, not really exciting but for $10 entry (80p) it wasn’t too bad. Kept us kids off the street anyhow.

We had Friday off work for claiming compensation leave, so me and Adrian had a great day testing out his new camera around TST and the island. We met the girls for Martinis and steak sandwiches in a place called Morton’s Steakhouse in TST, which was sweet because our hours don’t usually let us go there for the drink offers. Steph Carter’s mum was in town so we met her, headed to Erin and Sandy’s place for more drinks and then Aqua Bar in Yau Ma Tei before an early night on account of our big weekend trip. To the Vegas of the East, Macau.

Christmas in Paradise

So my first Christmas away from home was spent in the middle of 32 degree heat on white beaches with clear water. Paradise. I had read a few blogs of people who had travelled to the Philippines and Palawan especially and there’s a few things they omitted or did not expand upon which are pretty useful to know so I’ll try and do that here, as well as share Christmas 2012 with you.

Day 1: Tony, Soph, Adrian, Nat and I left Mong Kok MTR station at about 6am to get the Airport Express from Central station. Anyway, a really useful fact: you can check in at the station there if you’re running late, to save time at the airport which is a great idea. So for the first time since August 13th, I was back at Hong Kong International Airport. We headed off to Manila Clark airport and arrived there in the afternoon.

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One thing I noticed early on was how cheap everything is – the currency ‘pesos’ is at the current conversion rate of 0.01 for 1 peso. A 35 peso hot dog was 52p for example and Airport tax was 40 pesos. Hong Kong Dollar went really far there – we had about HKD 2500 for 8 days and that was just enough – so less than 200 quid which is what you’d easily spend in a weekend in say Paris. I’d also heard a few horror stories about taxis in Manila but at the airport door there were air conditioned mini vans all lined up and for a decent price (about 800 pesos each), the driver took us all the way to Manila airport on a 2 hour drive (we’re talking about ₤12 for a taxi ride that long, I spend more in a taxi after a night out in Manchester…). Manila took dodgy but we stayed on the main roads and highways and despite beggars coming up to the car windows at traffic lights trying to sell things, we avoided anything too dodgy. Everyone speaks perfect English as well – a 6 year old there speaks much better than my students in Hong Kong! We flew then from Manila Domestic Airport after a nice steakhouse meal, and landed in Puerto Princesa City Airport 2 hours later, to a pick-up that the hostel had arranged. Guy holding a card saying my name was a life win and a cross off the bucket list! The Hostel was called ‘Dallas Inn’ and was a beautiful place with staff who couldn’t do enough for us. At 300 pesos a night (₤4.50) it was a bargain, and the staff organised all the activities I’m going to mention here. Anyone going to Palawan, I can’t recommend this place enough to you! http://www.dallasinnpalawan.com/.

We met up with the rest of our group at a bar on the main street, where 7% Red Horse cost between 70p and ₤1.08 for a litre. And it can be bought from a pharmacy!

Christmas Eve: This was Christmas Eve and the hostel had organised for us to visit the Underground River, one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. We woke early and got in another air-con shuttle van that took us the 2 hours to Sabang Beach. It’s a great system we have there because everything is far away and tourists like to avoid the crowded public buses (which look more like funky metal vans), the shuttle vans take everyone and the tour guide looks after you pretty much 9-5 while you’re with them. They fed us at a Filipino buffet in Sabang and we had to wait a while to get a boat. The Mayor (who is advertised everywhere and pretty much worshipped) made it so only local people could run the tourism, so local Filipinos captain the boats. The waves were getting pretty rough and a lot of the boats refused to go out again, which made it difficult for us to get one. We finally did and it got us safely to the island with the Underground River. Monkeys were everywhere, and a few Mountain Lizards too. Here’s our group at the start of the tour.

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It reached nearly 24km into the rock and 8m deep, the tour guide told us a lot about it too. We headed back on some of the last boats to leave, and were lucky to see it as it turns out the waves were from the edge of the tropical typhoon that had hit the central Philippines at that time and had killed 17 people! We headed back to the hostel and went out for a meal and drinks again. It turned Christmas Day when there was 5 of us squashed into a Tuk-Tuk taxi (shown below) while singing ‘Fairytale of New York’. And met a guy called John from the Basque Country back at the hostel, had drinks with him talking for hours.

Christmas Day: We woke up early as we were heading out to Honda Bay for island hopping all day. A 2 hour shuttle bus ride and we were there in intense Christmas Day heat. The catamaran-style boat took us to 3 islands during the day – a turtle-shaped jetty where we could go snorkelling (beautiful coral and loads of exotic fish there), Isla Pandan and Starfish Island where there were loads of Mangroves. Won’t say too much about them but it was pretty much paradise – white sand, clear water, so much fun  and beautiful scenery. We found starfish, Adrian threw one like a frisbee (it wasn’t harmed…), jumping off a jetty, had a Filipino lunch prepared by the tour guide, lots of beers and an epic time.

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That night the hostel family included us in their meal (proper nice spread) and their traditional game of pulling a string over a high bar with a surprise gift in a sandwich bag on the end of the string. I won 50 pesos, Tony got 2 fried fish that stunk and Adrian got an orange… but was proper nice of the family to include us. We met up with the other guys at a restaurant, did our Secret Santa and had more beers to finish Crimbo Day.

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Boxing Day: We took it easy today because of the past couple of days being pretty hectic with meeting times etc. We headed down to the wharf, saw a huge Christmas tree set up by the town, and had a nice seafood lunch with a bucket of Red Horse in a restaurant. Nat also had a flight that night so it called for a dead chilled day. Beers, hammock, the works.

Day 5: We met a sound guy called Nate from Wisconsin in our dorm, a NET from Seoul in South Korea, who was heading to El Nido today so we joined him later in the day and took the 5 hour trip up north. So boring sleeping and listening to music but it seemed to pass OK. We arrived in El Nido late at night and in keeping with the Christmas story, there was no room at the inn. Apparently, the storm that had cancelled that day’s tours had caused people to stay another night in El Nido, coupled with the people who had made the trip, there was nowhere to stay. We ended up meeting another guy called Tom who teaches in Shanghai and finally found a place on the next beach along, who let us stay on the floor of the restaurant on mattresses from the sun loungers. Wasn’t ideal but we could shower and got a big breakfast so we weren’t complaining.

Day 6: Another relaxed day was on the cards because of all the travelling. Checked out the main street, beers in a bar, great food and Adrian playing guitar as we sat on the beach. Delight. That evening we had dinner in a live reggae place, at a table on the sand with the sea touching our feet and ran into Nate randomly. He recommended we stay another day (staaaayyy nowwww…) and go Island Hopping rather than our plan to get the 1pm bus back to Puerto Princesa. After a beer-influenced agreement to stay on the floor of his beach hut for our last night we changed our arrangements and did that…

Day 7: We got up early to meet our Captain for the day, Richard, who took us out to 5 of the best spots in El Nido. We did snorkelling, swimming, beaches and had a beaut of a meal that he made – he smoked tuna steaks in a cave on one of the islands the traditional way, delicious. You can choose which tour to do (A,B,C or D) all from 700-900 pesos each for the day. We went to all the places you get when you type ‘El Nido’ into Google: Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Big Lagoon Simizu Island and the Seven Commandos island. We even fed fish remains to a wild Mountain Lizard, Steve Irwin -style – little fella’s shown below. Here are a few of the pics but they don’t do the place justice, far too beautiful there:

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We spent the night in Nate’s beach hut like I said, but not before we watched probably the world’s most beautiful sunset in Coron. We’re talking iMac wallpaper beautiful here, absolutely stunning.
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Day 8: Our last day we woke at 6am, got the 7am shuttle back to Puerto Princesa, chilled there for a bit then headed to the airport for 6pm, 20:45 flight to Manila, got in a shuttle taxi that took us back to Clark airport until 1am on New Year’s Eve, slept outside the airport for 3 hours, then checked in, slept waiting for the 07:05 flight back to Hong Kong. 24 hours of sporadic sleeping and lots of travelling but well worth it. Was one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. So good they turned it into a movie…

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

24 degrees in Aberdeen?

Had a slow week at work this week as we’d already had our big monthly event for the kids – the Christmas Party – and the deadline day for the students’ forms (ones that say they’ve participated in English activities with us) had passed too. We’ve been watching films with a brew for days now, which is a great way to spend the last couple of weeks in work before the holidays. The kids (who are 19-21 years old) also really love making Christmas cards and paper snowflakes. I stopped doing this like mid-Primary School, so it’s very very weird to see them getting their kicks out of stuff like this. Just to show how much I’ve enjoyed this week at school, here’s a picture:
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Been a busy week after school preparing for the pantomime which will be next Tuesday, 18th December. So not highly exciting waiting around during rehearsals especially since I’m only in scenes 1 and 6, but we make the best of it dicking around backstage and having a laugh. Wednesday night was good going to Jack, Jordan and Ian’s place for Homemade Mulled Wine and snacks, when we did the Secret Santa for Palawan, as there’s about 16 (-ish) of us going. On Friday night, we went out for Steph S’s birthday – Pub Golf style. Went down as one of the best nights we’ve had here yet – went to a lot of new places, met new people and had the normal Chatteris banter with everyone.  Thanks to Steph for organising it and getting some good drink deals!

598517_10151335858987040_952226682_nSaturday was football training and hangover day, as per. And at night we headed to Molly’s flat for a surprise half-birthday Irish party (we supplied the Baileys), and it was Davis’ actual birthday too. Great night there and although we weren’t on it with the beers to our usual standard it was still a great house party. Sunday was a more lively day. Nat and I went to Aberdeen in the morning to check it out. Not the seaside town I expected, with the main road right next to the harbour, and lots of local boat owners shouting their offers for a boat ride (one even sailing from the other side of the harbour…). Interestingly we saw the MTR Extension line under construction, which will be great when it’s completed. But it balls-ed up access to the famous Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant so we had to get a taxi there. It was 24 degrees there, and I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops…bit different to the Scottish Aberdeen on 16th December.

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Nice place, Aberdeen, but it lacked the charm of Stanley that made me want to stay in Hong Kong for years. So after seeing the sights there, we got the bus to Stanley and its beauty didn’t disappoint again. Awesome views and great vibe there. Even saw some Carol Singers in the 24 degree heat.

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We met up with Adrian there and got some beers to watch the sunset on some rocks, looking out in the harbour. We had bought a fresh young coconut to drink while we walked down there, but to be honest it had one of the rankest tastes ever. Felt I’d drank some medicine and had that strong nasal feeling like you get when you inhale paint or something. So we tipped the coconut milk out and filled it with beer instead. Course we did.
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Me, Nat and Aids

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San Miguel in a Coconut.

We ended the week with a brew and the Stollen Mum had sent me over, watching Pax (Jeremy Paxman’s Empire). Joe would be proud. Another great week.