Sunday, 30 November 2008

Getting There: Hong Kong Part 2

Backtracking a bit (as I usually do, I know)...getting to Hong Kong proved to be more a problem than we ever thought when at four o'clock in the morning at the airport Immigration officials notified me I had to have an "exit permit" to leave the country. This was something I was supposed to have made a trip to the office in Intramuros to accomplish.

This was news to Edson and myself. We were under the mistaken assumption that if my visa was about to run out, they were kind of expecting me to be leaving the country anyway.

Oh, and with our plane leaving at 5:30am and the Immigration Office in Intramuros (over an hour away) opening at something like 8am that would mean I would miss our flight out.

Fortunately we were flying out of the new terminal. The new terminal has an immigration office there to handle these things that happen with great frequency. Before it opened in August I would have missed my flight and had to purchase another ticket for another day and likely pay fines for overstaying my visa due to the delay of the next flight.

Don't you love government red tape?

The office at the airport wasn't open yet, but we only had to wait about thirty minutes for it to do so. I paid 700 pesos ($14US) for an ECC fee (Whatever that is. Exit Clearance Certificate perhaps?), 10 pesos ($.20US) for a legal research fee (Tell me where else in the world a legal fee is only 20 cents!!), and 500 pesos ($10US) for an Express Lane Fee (Express Lane? There were only four of us there! And there's only one window...I suppose that is the express window.) That was twelve hundred and ten pesos ($24.20US) for a stamp that took about two minutes; meaning I paid that guy's salary for the next few days.

Another interesting thing to note was that the original immigration officer asked me for all the receipts for all the visa stamps in my passport. I had also assumed that if the stamp was in my passport I wouldn't need to bring along additional accompanying receipts from the immigration office proving I had paid for each of them. Isn't that why the stamps are there in the first place?

Well, we obviously made it on the plane in time and had long forgotten all about the morning in Manila by the time we were on our way to the top of Hong Kong - The Peak.
The Peak is the place to go for the best view of the Hong Kong skyline.Hazy with smog I know. Hong Kongers delight in telling everyone it is the fault of the industry on the mainland ruining the view of the Hong Kong skyline, not to mention its air quality.

Or browse/buy prints of Hong Kong:
Even better to me was a bit later, after a bagful of fresh Famous Amos chocolate chip raisin cookies, was this view from the other side of the hill:
We went back to our hotel, the Stanford, in Kowloon, and rested before dinner.

Here's our 9th floor view:And here's some shots we got of the city while driving about on the way to and from dinner:

And before we made our way back to the hotel to take a well-deserved and much-needed rest, we couldn't resist stopping by Victoria Harbor for the magnificent night view of Hong Kong's skyline:
Once back at the hotel, I think it took all of two or three minutes to fall asleep once we hit the bed!

Stay tuned for our day trip to Macau!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Hello from Hong Kong

Friday, November 21st. Edson and I landed in Hong Kong.

Within a few hours we were on our way up the mountains of Lantau Island to the Ngong Pin plateau and the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha.

It's a lot of steps up to that big Buddha.
Here I am with my Mr. Right and Mr. Wong, Simon Wong that is. Simon and I have been friends for over sixteen years, though we haven't seen each other for twelve years since he moved back to Hong Kong after college. He toured Edson and I around Hong Kong for our weekend stay there.

Below the Buddha sits the Lo Pin Monastery.

After one more look back at the giant Buddha and the purchase of some Buddha beads for our career and wealth, we were back on the cable car, riding down the mountain.
Note the beads around my wrist.
And you may also notice the bandage on Edson's hand. That is from a mishap on his flight a week earlier from Dubai which left a nasty bruise and a lot of pain. Fortunately for him, he had to wear it just two of our three days in Hong Kong.

More Hong Kong to come...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Crowded Cemetery

Here's another one of my un-timely posts.

Think back to November 1...

Day after Halloween...piles of candy...bite-size candy bars, hard candies, soft candies, the luscious, highly-prized chocolates...and the consumption of more candy than you've had since, well, last Halloween!

All the world was still on-edge wondering who the next president of the United States would be.

And millions of Filipinos were congregating in cemeteries throughout the archipelago observing All Souls Day. I was there with my camera and I've selected a sampling of the shots to share with you here.

Filipino cemeteries are crowded places, with the graves built one on top of another and extremely little space in between.
After sitting your kid atop the family grave you hand the candles up to him to light. Being an adult gives you the freedom to stay down on the ground so you don't kill yourself trying to climb up or down. And what could be worse than being killed climbing all over the family grave?!I was shooting these pictures while Edson's brother walked with me, to make sure I didn't get lost. It really took both of us to figure out how to navigate our way through the maze of graves. We were at the Catholic Cemetery of Bocaue, and all throughout people were shouting at me to take their pictures. (By the way: in the provincial areas I'm still "Joe" to Filipinos. In Manila nobody calls out to me that way. But in areas like these where foreigners are few and far between the old ways persist...or they all thought I'm Joe the Plumber...but that I doubt. One little boy was truly fascinated by me, so I took his picture and showed it to him...and boy, did that bring a smile to his face! Here he is with his mom:
Everyone who looks at this picture feels it is pretty creepy. Given the freshly cleaned graves all around with families congregating about, I just felt sad that this was the only grave in the entire cemetery left in total neglect. Vandals had even spray-painted on the cross in the wall.
Some more scenes.

This woman was one of many people who were selling snacks and refreshments inside the cemetery, and was nice enough to pose for me.
Another group who shouted at me to take their picture. They couldn't get the girl in front to turn around though.
The beauty of the candles illuminating the markers as the sun began to descend was great!
Edson and his family gathered around the grave of his grandparents, aunt, and great-grandparents.
A few more before the sun set:

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A Day In Quiapo

A few months back I opened my photo reflector to find, after 18 years of use, the gold reflective material was completely worn off. Time to buy a new one, but where? None of the stores around here sell anything but the basic camera equipment. Much like in the states, stores that sell a full line of equipment are few and far between, and usually located in out of the way places. Stands, lights, reflectors, "barn doors", gel filters, backgrounds....all scare off 95% of camera buyers. The perception is because the store sells that stuff, they can't possibly appreciate the needs of a parent who just wants a compact camera to take pictures of their kids, so the salesperson will try to sell them thousands of dollars worth of complicated gizmos instead.

In Manila, this means an excursion to Quiapo.

All the professional photographic supply stores are located within a couple blocks of each other there.

We bought the reflector, upgraded in the 21st century to a four-in-one unit featuring a zip-off layer enabling gold, silver, black, and white sides to use. So much for my old gold and white sides only model (now just white or white!).

Of course, this being my first trip to Quiapo, I took along a camera. Since it isn't the best part of Manila and extraordinarily crowded, I only took the compact. I would have loved to have brought the SLR, but repeated warnings not to do so prevailed, and it remained safe at home.

Our cab let us out across from Quiapo Church, officially known as Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The Black Nazarene is a much venerated statue of Jesus Christ inside the church which many people believe has miraculous attributes. Photography isn't allowed inside the church. Of course no one notified me of this until after I had already taken these!

The black speck at the altar in this shot is the aforementioned statue.

After that very brief stop, we were on our way to find the reflector.

We passed many street vendors selling just about everything.

See? I told you it is crowded. The very narrow street doesn't help a whole lot.
We got the reflector and continued to explore.

I's the second shot of produce. It's not that we were hungry, but the food looked so good.

Statue of former Manila mayor, Arsenio Lacson.

Though it looks foreboding, it didn't rain. Note the new lights. This is just one of dozens of frosted chandeliers that are the new lighting that line the MacArthur Bridge across the Pasig River.
Cute trike.
When I see scenes like this (and I see them e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e) I'm reminded of books Edson uses in his study of colonial architecture in the Philippines and the building America did here in the early twentieth century. When the US took over the Philippines from Spain the rivers and canals were found full of garbage. One of the steps taken to rid Manila of disease was cleaning up said garbage.As you can see, it is no longer a priority.

Moving on; here are some nice scenes and detail along Escolta Street:

I had to stop here and snap this picture!As soon as I saw it I was reminded of the time I was in fifth grade and Sr. Marie Stella assigned our class to write a paper on our patron saint. I have a completely pagan name, and in typical eleven-year-old delight believed this got me out of having to write a paper. I was told by Sr. Stella that not only was I going to write a paper, but that my name was James! There are many saints named James. I just picked one out and grumbled about the whole paper-writing ordeal until it was over.

It seems either there has been a St. J added since I was eleven, or someone here is gunning for sainthood, or there's a premature campaign to have me canonized. If Sr. Stella were around to hear me say that, I'm pretty sure I'd be writing about all the other saints named James now!

Then we came upon the gorgeous, art-deco Capitol Theatre!

She has most definitely seen better days, but it appears as if work is going on inside. Let's hope it is to refurbish.

Then we walked towards the China Town:

Talk about wires!
We ended our walk at Binondo Church
where we then caught a taxi for Malate, where Edson and I enjoyed a much-needed spa trip to end the day.