Spinniní Silk

Part I: Hong Kong and China

by Christopher Moore and Biko Tabor

April 10-11, 1999

Chris: The morning came too soon. I woke up at my dadís house with Korn still ringing in my ears and a nagging headache from all of the head banging Cam and I participated in during the Rob Zombie/Korn show last night. I hopped into the shower to clear my head and hitched a ride with my dad to hook up with my fellow journalist, Biko and my mom, Annie at her house. Our good friend Rande, who seems to be moonlighting as a taxi driver, gave us a much appreciated lift to the airport.

Arriving at Sea-Tac, we began our search for my Aunt Lisa who was somewhere lost in the sea of spring breakers all searching for sunnier skies. Finding Lisa we wove our way to the front of the line which somewhat resembled that of a queue you would find at the "attraction of the month" in Disney World. Mom trustingly checked our bags with the Alaskan Airline representative through to Hong Kong and said a hail Mary on behalf of all of us. Having gotten through security without the pleasure of being strip searched by a big burly man wielding a magnetic wand, we found ourselves on a jammed packed airliner filled with young spring breakers headed for things that would make even the most liberal parent fret.

Upon arriving in L.A. we headed for the Cathay Pacific counter and then on to find Alf. Secure in the knowledge that Alf would be somewhere tucked behind the hermetically sealed chamber of the first class lounge and knowing full well we would be denied entry we joined the ranks of the proletariat and groveled for our crumbs at the nearest "golden arches". Making our way to the departure gate with minutes to spare, left us no choice but to fall in line with the mass of humanity waiting for the bus to ferry us to the next leg of our journey.


 

Biko: Boeing 747ís donít sound nearly as large as they are. Somehow, a number just canít represent the girth of the thing. Two and a half decks, it seats 405 people and somewhat resembles a blue whale made of steel. Apparently Cathay Pacific hasnít paid enough bribe money to the powers that be to get themselves a prime spot at LAX, as all 405 passengers (yes, even first class) had to be shuttled by bus, to the waiting gargantuan. Cathay Pacific did however have their very own cement building on the outskirts of the airport for loading purposes.

After three head counts, seems we were missing one person, and with some anticipation we taxied onto the runway and jetted off. Being my first flight over 6 hours, I knew nothing of the importance of a window seat. So with kindness, and my infinite search for karma, I gave up my seat to a man who was hoping to sit next to his wife for the next 14 or so hours. Ah, foolish me, you know what they say, live and learn.

For me the most memorable part of the flight was passing over Siberia, Russia. The emptiness of it is amazing. Our view was cloudless, and the glare of the sun bounced off the stark white snow and reflected back in our faces. This is truly no-mans land. 14 hours into the flight the captain came over the intercom and announced that we would be making an unscheduled stop in Taipei, Taiwan. It turns out, due to strong head winds we burned more fuel than anticipated and needed to make a pit stop for refueling.

After half an hour on the ground, just enough time to stretch, we were off again with our final destination just an hour away. 23 hours have passed since leaving Seattle and we are finally in Hong Kong, the "City of Life". As Alf and Lisa were riding in the front of the plane they speedily slipped through immigration and were waiting for us in baggage claim. Alfís luggage was already loaded onto his cart and we, fingers crosses eagerly eyed the conveyor belt for any sign of ours. This proved to be a complete waste of time. Turns out Annie just canít gratuitously throw out any old hail Mary. Our baggage had been left in the "City of Angels". Apparently, wherever Annie goes, her bags donít follow. Siena, Nairobi and now Hong Kong, where hasnít she lost her bags.

We filed a claim with the Ďhopefullyí delayed baggage desk and out through customs we went. Alf was waiting with our A+K guide and not one, but two chauffeurs from the Peninsula Hotel. We jumped into the forest green Rolls Royces for a half hour drive to the hotel. It only got better at the hotel. The Peninsula is amazingly beautiful, with a large fountain in the front courtyard and intricate designs on the windows. Awaiting us in our rooms were fresh flowers and bowls of fruits for us to sample from this area. Chris and I each took a long bubble bath while watching TV, Yes, each bathroom comes equipped with TV, phone, and radio to keep you occupied. I want you to know there are four phones in our suite alone and a fax machine! We ordered room service for a 2:00am dinner and then retired all curled up with our books for the night.


Monday, April 12, 1999

Chris: Ni Hoa and good morning to all from our suite at the world famous Peninsula Hotel, centrally located on the Kowloon waterfront. Five years ago the Erickson clan spent the twelve days of Christmas all together in this very hotel. Since then I have craved the taste of the breakfast hash browns found only on this room service menu. So what do you think my first move of the day was ... you guessed it, and they are still the best!

As some of you may know, my mom and I are not blessed with perfect vision, and Hong Kong being known for itís spec-tacular eye wear, we headed out bright and early in search of the perfect pair of specs. We had a blast trying on and deciding what fashion statement we would be sporting this season. After an hour and a half of optical pleasure we wandered the streets in search of the best bargains to be found on this side of the Pacific. Silk pajamas, chess sets, bronze buddhas, and robes went into our bags as we strolled through the back alleys of Hong Kong.


Biko: After the visually impaired got their glasses, we began to make our way back up Mody Road to our hotel. We went slowly savoring the sounds of the streets. Buses roaring down the street and men and women of all races talking, yelling, whispering, and bartering. Our first stop on the way back was into a shop to look at the silk kimonos for Annie and Lisaís niece, Ellie. The service was very nice and they ended up buying some. BikoOur next detour was into a shop where the soapstone chessboard display caught my eye and I stopped to admire its beauty. When the owner saw that I was looking, she immediately rushed out and invited me to see the others.

While I was looking at the chessboards and Annie and Lisa were fawning over hand held mirrors, Chris was able to find the highlight of the store. Chris has an uncanny ability to find anything remotely sexual amazingly fast in a store. It didnít fail him this time. Chris found small statues of different positions that you and a partner (or in some cases partners) could assume during ... well, just use your imagination.

After a few more shopping stops we found our way back to the hotel. Annie and Lisa went back out and Chris and I went to the spa. After a sauna and a jacuzzi, we headed for the room and dressed for dinner. We planned to eat at the Verandah, a nice restaurant in the hotel, but one look at our scruffy shoes and the guy at the door suggested we might be more comfortable dining in our room. Room service and a book left us ready to retire for a peaceful night sleep in Hong Kong.


Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Chris: Today will be our last full day in the "city of life". I personally believe that they should change this cityís name to "the city of lights". I have never seen so much neon. ChrisAnyway, looking out over the bustling Hong Kong harbor, we decided that we needed to catch a ride on one of the old junks that offer the "tourist on the run" a quick but concise feel for what occurs daily on this very important waterway. The weather even gave us its blessing as the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing.

We hugged the coastline on both sides of the harbor. The Hong Kong side, being the business heart of the city, offers every form of skyscraper imaginable. From glass to multi-colored to pyramid shapes with all the top hotels, banks, technology companies etc. vying for the best spot. On the Kowloon side the remnants of the old airport, the Cultural Center and Art Museum, not to mention the famous Star ferry terminal, which ferries passengers back and forth from the Kowloon side to the Hong Kong side, are all sights worth seeing. We witnessed hundreds of colorful Chinese junks, fishing boats, barges, cruise ships, houseboats etc. all weaving their way to various ports of call within the harbor. Our harbor tour ended with a bang: "the firing of the noon day gun".

Shopping was on the agenda for the afternoon. We stumbled upon an old Erickson haunt from years gone by, which housed some exquisite bronze stuff (like we really need any more bronze anything). Mom and Lisa, with tiny bronze Barbie dolls in tow left the family run shop relatively unscathed.


Biko: First off I need to share with all of you, I am not a big fan of the Golden Arches, but sometimes you are driven to desperation. Hoping that I would find something other than a Big Mac to sink my teeth into, such as, maybe some shark fin soup or bamboo fries. Alas, besides the regulars all I could find different was a Ginseng milkshake.

After our replenishing lunch, Chris and I went into the local music store, while Annie and Lisa went to pick up some film they had dropped off earlier. Considering that the store was three stories high, we figured we would be there for a while. We toured the building, listening to Chinese rap (me) and rock (Chris).

We met Annie and Lisa outside of the camera shop where Annie was pissed at what a poor job they had done processing her film. After walking on the streets for a while taking in the interesting smells, sights and sounds we found our way back to the Peninsula with plans of hitting the spa. Chris and I quickly put on our swim suits and grabbed the complimentary or I think compulsory spa robes and headed for a dip. The pool is located at the top of the Peninsula, giving bathers a sweeping view of the Hong Kong harbor skyline. On Chrisís insistence I took the cold plunge, twice. It was amazingly refreshing.

After a Jacuzzi and sauna we slipped back to the room and changed for dinner. We dressed in our best and were on time for our 7:00 reservation at Le Chesa where we dined on beef fondue and raclette. Yes, you did read that right we had Swiss food in China. Le Chesa is located in the Peninsula and is one of the finest in town.


Wednesday, April 14, 1999

Biko: Somehow I never seem to tire of the French toast they serve at the Peninsula, or should I say in our room at the Peninsula. Superb, delicious, mouth watering, lip smacking, mama mia, get the point? After a last taste of the egg dipped delight we went out into the streets for one farewell stroll around the city.

Annie, Chris, Alf and I took the Star ferry to Hong Kong island, the industrial/commercial part of Hong Kong. We walked along the waterfront for an hour and then caught the next ferry back. For the remainder of the day we hurried around the streets of Kowloon picking up our last minute purchases to be ready for our 3:30 departure for the airport to catch our flight to Xian.


Chris: Our journey down the Silk Road begins with our departure to Xian. We were driven to Hong Kongís new airport by two Rolls Royce limousines and escorted by our A&K rep Joanna Law, who by the way is an old friend of Alfís, to the first class check in counter. We were all seated in the front of the plane for this leg of our journey (can you believe it) so we headed straight for the executive lounge where we waited in luxury for or flight to be called (I somehow have the feeling the luxury ends here)

Our China Northwest flight left on time with all 10 passengers accounted for. 2 hours and 40 minutes later we landed in Xian and were met by Chinese armed guards on bikes. We were loaded onto a bus and shuttled to the immigration building, guards and all. Phew we all made it through and guess what our luggage was waiting for us. Having cleared customs without a hitch, our friendly Chinese guide Nie Yu Qing, spotted our group of weary travelers immediately and escorted us to our awaiting chariot (bus). Nie will be traveling with us the whole time we are in China and will deposit us into a Pakistani guideís hands when we reach the border some 11 days from now. We reached our hotel, The Shangri-La Golden Flower and found our rooms on the Horizon Club Floor, giving us a spectacular view of the city. Man was I wrong thinking the luxury was over.


Thursday, April 15, 1999

Chris: We were out in the streets of Xian bright and early and on our way to our first stop of the day. The Small Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist temple located in the heart of Xian. It was built during the Tang dynasty (618AD - 907AD). The temple is no longer used as a place of worship but is a place where local people come to hang out in its beautiful, peaceful gardens. Perhaps its most famous claim to fame is the unearthing of four finger bones of Buddha. Those are some pretty heavy bragging rights!

I was prepared for this to be your typical tourist trap, but instead we found peaceful garden settings with beautiful works of art. The drum bell, in the center of the gardens, when rung gave off a vibration that made your teeth shake. Next to it was the jade factory where we were subjected to the Chinese hard sell. With uncharacteristic resistance we managed to make it out the door unencumbered with friendship shop goodies and headed to our next obligatory CITS stop.


WarriorsBiko: The Terra-cotta Warriors of the First Emperor of China, Qin Sihuangdi. Many have heard of them, and seen the replicas, but how many people have actually seen the original warriors themselves? Well, as of today, five more Americans have witnessed the dusty warriors themselves. After our exquisite lunch at the Tang Dynasty restaurant we took the one hour drive out to Qin Sihuangdiís eternal army.

Before we reached our final destination however, we stopped to see how a country Chinese working family lived in their Cave House. We met a family which lived next door to the local school. They gave us a tour of their dwellings, and showed us the school and surrounding area. A couple of local men rushed up to us and were quick to point out and exaggerate our facial imperfections by making small cut outs of us on paper and then selling them for ten Yuan. After good byes we boarded our bus and continued on our way.

Upon our arrival at the archeological dig, we hurried out of our bus and into the road leading up to the Terra-cotta Warriors site and fought our way to the ticket stand. Once inside the confinement, we were able to proceed to a building containing two bronze chariots dug up with the Warriors. Nie explained what the chariots were for and what they were made of {bronze, decorated with gold and silver} and we were on our way to our next stop, a Chinese movie in a 360 degree theater. I was able to get no useful information from it due to its Chinese speaking narrator.

Terra cottaThankful to be out of the crowded theater, we moved to excavation pit number 1. Number one housed most of Qinís clay army, mostly infantry, horses, and officers. After soaking in the enriching sight, we sauntered over to pit number 2. Number two wasnít quite as interesting as one, but it was quite an experience to see the archeologists working on the excavation of the warriors. After a quick walk around, we headed to the last pit, number 3. Number three was thought to be the Headquarters for the whole army. There was a very small amount of warriors, but the color on them was very well preserved. After admiring the generals, we exited the dig site and managed our way back to the bus.

On our way back we had another detour, this time it was to Huaqing Hot Springs, a hot spring resort where many people go to relax and enjoy the beautiful mountain surroundings. When we reached our hotel, we collapsed in an exhausted heap and awaited our evening.

We were picked up at 6:00 and delivered at the Thousand Year Old Restaurant. We enjoyed the local cuisine Hot Pot. You are given a boiling pot of chicken broth and several choice foods to cook in it. After a filling dinner, we were shuttled to the Tang Dynasty Restaurant, this time for the amazing cultural presentation. A mixture of song and dance, the presentation gave us a taste of the local culture. At 10:00 we finally returned to our hotel and got some well needed rest.


Friday, April 16, 1999

Biko: After another run of the mill breakfast, we headed for the Big Goose Pagoda. The name comes from one of the builderís many adventures along the silk road. Xuan Zhuang, the monk that built the pagoda, was praying for water at a monastery he was staying at. After many hours of non-stop praying, he became exhausted and hungry. He prayed for relief so that he could continue praying for water. At the moment of his prayer a goose fell from the sky to his feet. He was so thankful he vowed to name a pagoda after it.

Alf, Chris and I climbed to the top of the seven story pagoda while Annie and Lisa photographed the daily worshipers lighting incense and praying. At the top of the pagoda we could look out and witness the beautiful and exotic sights below. Monks, residents and schoolchildren alike came to this special place to pray to Buddha. Hundreds of Buddhists and tourists flocked in the courtyards and temples sightseeing and praying.

Sad to leave this wonderful Buddhist sanctuary, we bundled up our stuff and headed in the direction of the history museum. The museum houses Shaanxi province's history through the past six dynasties. Though amazed, the ancient relics didnít hold the magic that the big goose did. After a morning full of cultural enriching we made our way back to the bus and it was off in search of lunch.


Chris: We found ourselves at a place called the Dumpling Palace, a restaurant located in the Muslim section of Xian where they serve every shape and flavor of dumpling ranging from walnut to pigeon. After our exotic meal of these "interesting packets" much to the dismay of our guide we elected to change our itinerary, and skip the CITS regulated stop and soak up some of the local action in and around the downtown streets of Xian. We stumbled upon a big department store and decided to have a look. Perfume, shoes, makeup, anything and everything you would find in the west could be had in this mall. We hardly believe we were in China, what a far cry from the Friendship stores of yesteryears.

We were not on a quest for luxury but in need of culture shock, so we headed back out into the bicycle filled streets and found our way to the nearest market. Upon entering this noisy, smelly, dirty place I felt like I was truly in a foreign land. You could find anything from snakes to pigeons to frogs to fresh and not so fresh vegetables to fish to crayfish to rabbits to turtles. Basically anything that you could boil in a pot and serve at your next dinner party could be had. We moseyed down the market street staring at all of the tasty treats when we realized we were not the only ones staring at things. We found ourselves being the center of attention of quite a few local people who couldnít quite figure us out. Just our luck it started to rain so we raced through the streets back to the Muslim section and found our driver Mr. Lee waiting patiently to take us back to the hotel.

With our wake up call set for 4:30 we ordered room service and hit the sack early.

Next: Dunhuang and Urumqi

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