Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Random Observations 1/26/2012

  • I mentioned this on FB the other day, but grocery shopping here in Hong Kong during the run up to Chinese New Year was absolutely INSANE.  Typically, a normal trip to a Hong Kong grocery store is about the same as shopping in an American grocery store during its most busy period.  But since it’s a tradition to give food gifts for Chinese New Year, the aisles here are even more packed with people, and everyone is pushing carts loaded with boxes of candy, cookies and the like to gift.  No big deal you may say, but the latter fact creates the problem as products in grocery stores here are densely packed, probably due to the fact that real estate is so expensive.  There is no extra space at the end of aisles or where you check out.  So, when I went last week, all of the checkout lanes in front of aisles were open, with carts lined up down each and every lane.  This, of course, made it impossible to actually shop as lanes are only two carts wide, and one cart width was being taken by people waiting to check out.  So, you had to abandon your cart to walk up the aisle to get anything, thereby clogging the ends of lanes with abandoned carts.  Total nightmare. 
  • Last week, we were blessed with beautiful weather for a few days – upper 60s, lower 70s and sunny.  In that kind of weather, indeed any time the sun is out, I wear sunglasses.  They’re part fashion statement, part eye protection, and part cover-up so I can observe around me without people noticing.  But in checking people out, I noticed that almost NO ONE wears sunglasses here.  I’m not sure why as you can find sunglasses on sale everywhere; apparently, the locals aren’t the ones purchasing them.
  • In fact, much of the purchasing around here is not driven by the locals; rather, Mainlanders come down in droves, attracted by the lack of sales tax on goods, particularly luxury goods.  Nowhere is this more evident than on Canton Road, which is where you’ll find all of the high end retailers.  Even more interesting to me, though, is the fact that the highest of these high end retailers have lines outside their boutiques.  I guess there are so many Mainlanders here buying expensive stuff, they have to regulate how many are in the store at any one time.  Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Channel, among others, all had lines at least a dozen deep.  Local residents are starting to resent this too.  The other day, a security guard prevented a local from taking pictures of these boutiques (along with the people in the lines); it seems that there may be some folks in these lines who don’t want people back home aware they’re here buying expensive stuff.  This brought about a protest from some locals who felt they were being treated unfairly as compared to the mainlanders.   Such resentment can been see in other places too; for example, there’s been a lot of rumbling about mainland women who come here to give birth, thus taking away spaces and resources from local women. 
  • Our warm weather last week was followed by cold weather this week; highs have been in the 40s.  I guess this is an unusually cold winter due to La Nina.  But, it’s not uncommon to have at least a few days each winter that are this cold.  Despite this fact, central heating is rare in Hong Kong, so we’ve had to make do with space heaters.  Let me tell you – space heaters do not get the job done.  While the boys do not seem to be affected by it, Doug and I definitely are.  That’s why I was happy to read the NYTimesarticle about brown fat yesterday.  Hopefully, all of this suffering is at least leading to some calories burned.
  •  On Monday, we went to the New Year’s Parade.  I couldn’t help but think of The Christmas Story – “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” – while we were there.  That’s right; the floats were all crummy commercials for a variety of tourist spots.  While there were some cool things (dragons, dancers in costumes, kung fu groups), it was a bit of a disappointment.
  • Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving Hong Kong.  I can’t believe it’s been five and a half months already, but it has.  I’ve loved our time here in Hong Kong; it’s amazing to me how much it’s become normal and comfortable.  For instance, when we arrived here, the airport seemed so different, so foreign, and so overwhelming.  But when we came back from Bali in December, the airport seemed so familiar and comforting.  As we prepare to tackle another strange city in a few weeks, I’m cheered by the fact that at some point Shanghai will feel as familiar as Hong Kong.  As a result, I feel far more confident about my ability to handle whatever awaits us in phase two of our adventure.

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