Monday, October 31, 2005

Being in the minority

In Hong Kong and Japan I realized that being in a place (a cafe, a subway car, etc) where everyone else is Asian and I am the only white does not bother me in any way. I stop even noticing it very fast. In contrast, being in places where I am the only white and everyone else is black makes me quite self-conscious and uncomfortable. I wonder why is that. The crime rates would be the obvious answer, but certainly not a complete one: I would feel uncomfortable if I walked into a place where a conference of, say, black ophtalmologists were held, and I am quite sure that ophtalmologists of any color are unlikely to contain a significant criminal element.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sunday with hiccuping bosses

Tomorrow is a big deadline at work, and people are working on weekend - at least part of the weekend.

Am feeling hungover and horny, but somehow still manage to write code. It even sorta works.

The bosses are here and they brought me a kebab. They also ate some kind of evil pizza and now they started hiccupping and can't stop.

The big party...

...was great. Thanks, everybody!

Yesterday I decided that I am not eating any cake ever again, but now I am hesitating.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Please bomb us! Please!"

Iran's democratically elected First Terrorist gave a speech calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Is that a good survival strategy? "There is that other country in the region that we want to wipe off the map, and, BTW, we are developing a nuclear program, but of course for peaceful purposes only, hehe"? Especially when that other country already has, ahem, developed a nuclear program for peaceful purposes only?

I understand of course that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like to meet Allah as soon as possible, and I wish him godspeed on that path, but somehow I doubt that most of his electorate share that desire.

Throwing pies at people

Just read a conversation about throwing pies at people is one blog's comments (the conversation was there, not the pie-throwing). Obviously I don't consider throwing pies at people (with the possible exception of Markus Drake) a worthwhile pursuit since there is a better use for both pies and people, and for a variety of other reasons. But one more thing that crossed my mind: if somebody suddenly threw a pie at me in a street I might hurt them pretty badly in confusion during the couple of moments it would take me to figure out that this is just a pie. I realize that real pie-throwers don't usually throw them at people in the street but at some public figures during some public events, but I think that eventually some unfortunate confused bodyguard will kill a pie-thrower.

Ugh. Throwing pies at people. Bad idea. Better bring those pies here.

Islamic Jihad's war against Israeli hedgehogs, or Hesari osaa taas

From today's Helsingin sanomat:

"Islamilainen jihad on julistanut sodan israelilaissiilejä vastaan ja olemme oikeutettuja sopiviin toimiin siviiliemme puolustamiseksi", Regev sanoi.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

03.10.05, Kyoto

Simo and I take the same train to Kyoto, Joy and Krabak are already there since the early morning because they took the night bus. I am afraid I am boring company because I sleep all the way there. I am still very tired for some reason (which later turns out to be flu).

Joy and Krabak meet us there and we go to a local kaiten-sushi place at the station. Kyoto station has a huge underground shopping arcade with lots of shops and restaurants. Then we go drop our stuff in our respective hotels. Ours is a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) fairly close to the station and we are greeted by a shy-looking middle-aged woman who keeps admiring Krabak's Japanese.

We start walking and find a huge temple. There is a partial moat full of big fish. (Later it turns out that such fish are pretty much are everywhere.) The temple is called Higashi Honganji, and this is a Buddhist temple. You can tell Buddhist temples from Shinto ones by a massive gate and also by the fact that English-language maps usually call the Buddhist ones temples and the Shinto ones shrines.

Both usually have a gate and an inner yard and the main building and some smaller ones. This one also has a big modern building that looks like it is giving birth to little temples.

We take our shoes off and walk in. The inside is golden and almost-empty and lined with tatami. There are passages to the other buildings of the temple.

A covered shopping street. There are many of those all over the country. In the streets old-style and modern-style buildings stand next to each other.

Next thing we find is Nijo castle, which also has a moat and walls with little towers. I like their pond, too.

The main building has a floor that makes birdlike sounds when you walk on it, so that the inhabitants would notice assasins in time. Nightingale floor, they call it.

We want to sit down for a while but it takes a long time to find a bench. When we finally find some benches they are at the highest point of the park and have pretty nice views.

After the castle Joy and Krabak go to the ryokan to take a nap, and Simo and I wander off each in our own directions, although really I am also in need of a nap. However I decide that sightseeing is of a higher priority than napping, because I want to see all the temples. That was before I realized that there are more temples than people in this city. They often mark Buddhist temples with a swastika on the map, and Kyoto map has more swastikas than the Nazi party in 1939.

I get in a bus. Buses here are small and work in mysterious ways: people come in through the back door, take a piece of paper whose purpose is still unclear to me, and put money (220 yen) into a slot when leaving through the front door. I have a 500-yen day pass.

I decide to ride around and see at least the first 30 or 40 temples that way, but it is impossible because often there are temples on both sides of the street at the same time. At some point I become sleepy and decide to get out and see at least some temple properly. It turns out to be Heian Shrine, a Shinto temple in Helsinki subway colors. Apart from the main building and a nice-looking yard with funny trees it has the typical Shinto shrine gate, a hand-washing place and some turrets.

I catch the bus back, have some cake and tea at a cafe at the station and go to the ryokan to pick up Joy and Krabak. We meet Simo, go have some sushi and look for a bar. Finding a bar proves a challenge and we find some cheap food place that also welcomes drinkers, and have fun there.

In the evening we go back to the ryokan. The place has a fairly big room with three futons and a low table. Guests are supposed to leave their shoes by the door, and are given slippers, which are indeed very slippery. In the toilet there are separate toilet slippers. The room also has a water heater and cups and teabags, which is a blessing.

They have emptied their little hot water before its time, do we fill it up again and have a good time there (relaxing in the hot water and chatting, you perverts!).


The fucking Blogspot ate my post again!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Getting rid of the little Russian within, or better living through chemistry

No, don't take me literally, I am not pregnant.

For some reasons most Russians believe that drugs (at least the kind that a doctor prescribes) are bad for you. I have a theory that this belief has something to do with the quality of Russian drugs, but even then it is excessive. It is also a part of the belief that "anything unnatural is bad for you" in spite of the overwhelming evidence that life expectations have risen sharply with the invention of all these unnatural drug substances.

That, by the way, is why Russia has so many abortions and drug-resistant bacteria. When I was a teenager most young women who used birth-control pills at all used them by buying them and putting them in the drawer without actually eating them as directed. Then, if she missed a period, the woman would eat a whole month's supply at once. This often worked, too.

The drug-resistant bacteria appear when Russians in their infinite wisdom start eating antibiotics and then stop as soon as the symptoms disappear. And it's not like they don't know any better: the doctors that prescribe said antibiotics keep stressing that they should be taken until the bitter end; it's just that the population is not listening.

Now, I take my birth-control pills and my antibiotics properly, but I tend to lapse on much anything else. Yesterday during a work-related checkup I had a nurse actually remind me to take my medication.

The medication in question is nothing dramatic: various antihistamines (usually Kestine) and fluticasone propionate (a nasal spray that helps with runny nose). I have never had any side effects from either. So why the hell do I always need somebody to remind me to use these as the first resort and not the last?

Feeling much better today, BTW, after using the fluticasone propionate as directed.

Monday, October 24, 2005

02.10.05, Tokyo

I wake up early because the sun is shining and my ass is very sore (must have pulled some muscle while dragging the bags the day before). Actual getting up, however, takes some time for all of us, and it's after twelve when we finally go out. It's excruciatingly hot.

Ookayama (and, as I later learned, pretty much any other Tokyo neighborhood) is full of life in the ways in which neighborhood in Europe or the US almost never are. Here is Helsinki the area around some outlying subway or train station, with the exception of very big ones like Malmi, usually has some essential services, such as a supermarket, an ATM, a video rental place, a pharmacy and a bar. Japanese neighborhoods are more like downtowns of small towns, with lots of shops and restaurants, etc. Ookayama has a semi-pedestrian shopping street, a sort of main square around the subway station, a post office, two supermarkers, one big bookstore and at least two small ones, a few pharmacies, a few bakeries, pet stores, harware stores, a 100-yen store, many restaurants, etc. People walk or ride bikes within Ookayama because there is no public transportation apart from the subway, and no parking spaces. There does not even seem to be enough bicycle parking space for everyone.

Local streets usually have sidewalks painted on them, but nobody seems to care much. People walk and ride bikes all over the street and if a car shows up it moves very slowly and people and bikes usually let it pass. Most bikes have a basket built into them to put shopping bags into.

There is an unbelievable amount of cables in the air all over the country. That's because they don't keep cables in the ground on account of earthquakes.

We go to Shinjuku. The Shinjuku station is so full of people that it's hard to walk there but we make it out of there and go to Himawari sushi where we are supposed to meet Yoe and Sty and their friend Simo. Sty and Simo are there, and Yoe comes a minute later, carrying very cute boots that she bought from somewhere.

Himawari sushi is a kaiten-sushi restaurant, which means that people sit around a big counter and little plates of sushi move around on a conveyor belt. If you want something that is not there you can always ask. Plates usually contain two pieces of nigiri or four pieces of maki and are color-coded to show the price. Usually expensive fishes are, well, more expensive, but some places just have all sushi the same price and if the fish is expensive there are fewer peices of it. There are saucers for the soy sauce all around the counter, bottles of soy sauce, jars of pickled ginger, mugs, green teabags and faucets with hot water. In Himawari the usual price is about one euro per plate, and the quality is good. In other places prices and quality vary but I've never seen a really expensive kaiten-sushi place.

I discover the best fish ever, bintoro. It's pink and delicious and some kind of tuna.

After lunch Yoe helps me exchange my Japan Rail Pass exchange order for the actual pass, and then Yoe and Sty go somewhere and the rest of us buy some beers and go to the park that surrounds Meiji shrine. It's unbearably hot. At some point they close the park and kick us out, and we go to see the shrine itself. It's big and dark, and there is a lot of sacrificial sake.

After that we go to Harajuku, the neighborhood full of funnily-dressed teenagers and delicious-looking crepes and little stores with funny clothes.

At some point Simo goes home and we go to some tower in Shinjuku through a lot of underground tunnels. I am so tired I could drop and dissolve but I can't well miss the tower. From the tower we see lots of lights, and we also see that all large buildings and some small ones all over the city have some strange slowly-blinking red lights on them.

We go home, have tea, Joy and Krabak go to the night bus to Kyoto and I say hi to their hamsters and pass out.

Some links

Muttawa is back! In fact he has been back for a couple of months now after a long absence, and he is as good as ever.

Iowahawk has two great posts (This war Sucks and I hate my boss) by a guest blogger Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.

No children

Jukka's question made me think: I have always thought that I write a fair lot about myself here, and yet here is a person who has been following my blog for a long time and he is asking me about my biological clock. I guess I have never written about it, which is not surprising considering that most readers are people who know me in person and most of them know it already. But anyway, here goes:

I don't have children and I intend to keep it this way. I never liked them, never wanted them and have no intention to share my resources (time, money and energy) with them. Besides, there is absolutely no way I would have something that size in my pussy. No. Fucking. Way.

That said, this does not mean that I will eat your baby if I see it. I only eat particularly ill-behaved children.

Friday, October 21, 2005

01.10.05: in the air

In the morning I leave my subtropical Manhattanish paradise with a bit of regret and go to check lap cock. I mean Chek Lap Kok, the Hong Kong airport. My flight is Korean Air, through Seoul.

The airport is quite nice.

Amazing discovery number one: the Hong Kong-Seoul and Seoul-Tokyo flights use big planes (Boeing 747-400?) and not small ones like they use for flights inside Europe.

Amazing discovery number two: Korean Air feeds people real food that does not taste like airplane food. They had something that looked like a rather big smoked salmon salad, and you add rice and some sauce and seaweed to it and mix. Of course I needed the advice of the woman next to me to figure out how to eat it, but it was good.

Seoul airport must be the most confusing airport ever.

Tokyo is a sea of lights, not as intense as Hong Kong but endless.

We arrive more than an hour late, and I also get searched for the first time after leaving Russia. They only want to search the suitcase. Luckily they don't open my backpack, where the first thing they'd see would have been The Rape of Nanking.

In spite of the search I make it out of the airport in 25 minutes after landing, but still miss my train. The next one is 45 minutes later, and turned out to be a local and not an express. It takes forever, and at some point I realize that I might not make it to Nippori where Joy and Krabak are going to meet me before the last train that we are supposed to change to.

After Hong Kong the public transportation in Tokyo is a rude awakening. They don't have any night transportation at all. OTOH, the Hong Kong transportation is serving a very densely populated area of 7 million and Tokyo transportation is serving a much more spread-out populationg of 35 million, so they are doing amazingly well considering the enormity of the task.

When I get upstairs at Nippori I am greeted with screams in Finnish: "Vera, get a ticket, quick! The last train leaves in five minutes!" Joy and Krabak are waving their arms and doing a fairly good imitation of a windmill. I run to the ticket machine, can't figure out how to use it (you are supposed to give it you old ticket in addition to the money, but with the help of Joy and locals I somehow manage, and we run to the train.

Tokyo has an uncountable number of subway lines (literally: you start counting them on a map, in the unlikely event that you have a map that shows them all, and you get confused pretty fast; Wikipedia says there are about 70 lines and 1000 stations) operated by at least 22 different companies. Like in Hong Kong, you pay as you go; unlike in Hong Kong, if you change from line 1 to line 2 and then to line 3, you pay to 3 different companies, and each ticket's price varies according to the distance. (If you buy a cheap ticket and then decide to travel a longer distance than it allows you have to pay the difference before exiting.) To avoid long ticket lines and general despair among citizenry 21 of the companies sell cards called Passnet that work much in the same way as HKL card with value, except that you don't load value on the card but just buy a new card every time the old one runs out. They come in denominations of 1000, 3000 and 5000 yen.

The biggest company of them all, JR East, does not use Passnet but instead has its own card named Suica. It works exactly like HKL card with value and like Octopus card in Hong Kong: you load value on it, use it, load more value. The first one costs 2000 yen of which 500 is deposit and 1500 value.

To alleviate the confusion (I am sure) and further point out differences between Passnet and Suica Passnet has to be fed to the ticket gate and then taken out of it, whereas Suica only has to be shown to it. Still, cards are your friends and make life easier.

Subway and trains and stations are the only places in Japan where you can see any useful information in English or at least in Latin alphabet. Stations have their names written in kanji, hiragana (apparently sometimes katakana but I haven't seen any) and Latin alphabet. Trains have displays that show the name of the next station, which lines you can change to and whether the doors will open on the right or on the left. They also announce it, in both Japanese and English. JR East has the best display of them all, and shows also the estimated arrival time of arrival to every station.

In comparison with the trip from the airport the trip from Nippori to Ookayama is quite short. There is a 10-minute walk from there, and we go to a store to buy some food first. The supermarket - more about it later - is open until one and has a lot of unrecognizable scary foods. I play it safe and buy yellowtail and green tea ice cream.

Japan also has lots of convenience stores open round the clock. They are called AmPm.

The most surprising thing is how small the houses are. I somehow imagined Tokyo to be a city of skyscrapers, much like Hong Kong, but most of the houses are just 2-3-storey high. It figures, Japan being such a seismically unstable place, but I had just never thought about it. Now I understand why they are so short of space.

Joy's and Krabak's apartment is very American in a heartwarming and unexpected way. That is, the inside is American; the outside is a bit more HOAS-style. They have a carpet floor and a fan and bathtub in the shower and even an American-style sink, which is kind of weird because it does not contain an American-style garbage disposer inside. For a second I am afraid that it has The American Problem, too, but no, the plumbing works perfectly well. (We might be a great nation, but a nation of great plumbers we are not.)

We sit on the floor and drink tea (they have the best hot-water device ever, I want one like that too! It heats the water and then keeps it hot.) and talk about life. I still can't believe that I am seeing real live Joy and Krabak.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Jet lag is better, and things at work are starting to work.

The apartment needs cleaning, but the thought of it is too overwhelming.

Credit card bills are impressive.

Turned 34 today. Bugger. Getting old.

Went to the hairdresser that Jari and Riitta and Mikko recommended (Elizabeth Skogster). Liked her a lot. Gonna become a regular customer. I was quite satisfied with the results from the pervious hairdressers (Hiusneito), too, but Elizabeth managed to achieve the same results without pulling my hair or dyeing my ears bright orange. She is fun to talk with, too.

That trip to Asia made me a lot happier. Should do it more often.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

30.09.05, Hong Kong

A visit to the Tin Hau tample in the morning. I mean the biggest Tin Hau temple. There are several temples in Hong Kong and most of them are named Tin Hau, much like most big churches in Belgium are named Onze Lieve Vrouw.

You are supposed to behave yourself on the temple grounds.

The temple is fairly small and green. It looks exactly like one of those restaurants that are built to look like Chinese temples. Inside it's red and full of incense, and people come here, ask Tin Hau (that's a very popular goddess) for some favors and go away. Outside people are selling paper cars and suchlike that the worshippers can buy and burn and thus send to their deceased relatives in the other world. It is not clear what the deceased relatives need a paper car for.

Sheung Wan looks like a nice neighborhood, although it is full of shops selling some unidentifiable things.

Aberdeen is nice too. Here, like in many other places in Hong Kong, they have a mini-temple on a street corner.

Aberdeen harbor is full of little sampans that function both as taxis and as tourist rides. An ancient trident granny offers me a half-hour tour for $50HK, and I accept. She summons a sampan driven by a less-ancient multident granny, and I climb in. There are no safety precautions at all, you just step from a totally handrail-free embankment onto a car tyre in the front of the sampan. Not a ride for drunk people, but then I am sober. Local grannies hop to and from sampans with the same ease as London grannies hop to and from their scary buses.

The harbor features poor people's houseboats, rich people's houseboats, and huge floating restaurants.

Going from Aberdeen to Stanley - a beautiful bus ride. Stanley is not very impressive but has a nice outdoor market. Benka wants a funky watch, and I am not sure what she considers funky, so I buy 5 of them for about 4 euros each.

Repulse bay has a beautiful sandy beach which probably has at least fifty thousand trashcans. I like the buildings around it, too. There are lifeguards and shark nets out in the sea, but they still warn people not to swim during a shark alarm.

The ride back to the northern side of the island offers some great views. The sun is big and red and so clouded you can look at it directly.

In the evening I go shopping. DVDs (at least local ones) are hard to buy but I manage to find quite a few, and VCDs too (why are they so popular here? why?). I even find a few made-in-mainland-China Russian DVDs and try to buy them for my grandma but the cashier points out that grandma might not appreciate DVDs dubbed in Mandarin. Bought some books, too, and a few tiny little bottles of perfume. Also bought the best eyeliner ever: Meilin waterproof. Doesn't run, doen't smudge, doesn't irritate my eyes. Costs 1.5 euros. Should've bought more but who could have known?

For a change the dinner is in Spring Moon, a rather expensive restaurant in the Peninsula hotel. Worth every penny. too. Great food and great service, although drink (even water) prices are unspeakable. They recommend abalone soup and stuffed scallops. I am not sure what the scallops were stuffed with but whoever stuffed them sure knew what they were doing.

After dinner it's picture time again: Central viewed from Kowloon waterfront, the waterfront itself and Kowloon viewed from the upper deck of a bus.

Most of those neon signs are by the way held in place by bamboo sticks. Looks a bit scary but they seem to stay put.

29.09.05, Hong Kong

Victoria Peak looks great during the daytime, too.

I decide to take a bus through some outlying residential area just to see what it looks like. This is a rather typical view.

Check out the local film archive, which turns out to be closed on Thursdays, and go walking around Wan Chai for the rest of the afternoon.

Wan Chai is supposed to contain the red lights district, and I notice the red lights, but they turn out to be a food market. Nice lunch for one euro, by the way. Nine different deep-fried things that you get to pick.

The subway has glass doors on the platforms. It also has the whole subway map, and the maps in the trains have lights in them to show where we are and where we are going.

In the evening I go check out mid-levels escalator and SoHo. SoHo is a nice restaurant area with a lot of European restaurants for European prices. I have a drink and a look at the crowd in a bar there and bugger off to Lan Kwai Fong for some Thai food. Thai food tastes here the same as in the US, which is quite good.

28.09.05, Hong Kong, Macau

It takes time to get accustommed to the fact that not everywhere where something is written in Chinese is a Chinese restaurant.

Another thing that takes some time to get used to is that people do not try to stay out of each other's way: they seem to stand in the most inconvenient places, blocking everybody's way, and if you need to pass you just gently push them out of your way. This is expected and nobody seems to get upset about it in any way.

I look out of the window, see lots of people with umbrellas, mutter something about the fucking rain and go out. It is sunny outside, but a lot of people are using umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. After a 10-minute walk I realize I need a sunblock and go to a drugstore.

Drugstores in Hong Kong have a lot of cosmetics, hair products, skin products and suchlike. There are some drugs too. The only painkiller in evidence is Panadol and other versions of acetaminophen/paracetamol, with ibuprofen nowhere to be seen, but, as I find out later, "ask and ye shall receive". They also sell tiny sample bottles of perfume, which is nice because it would take more than my lifetime to use up a bigger bottle. The sunblocks they have here are of unbelievable strength, up to 165 SPF.

There are many companies that ferry people between Hong Kong and Macau, they sail every 15 minutes or so and the tickets tend to cost between 12 and 15 euros one-way.

The trip across the Pearl river delta is one hour long. The delta is full of ships, from very modern to so ancient I keep suspecting them of being some sort of LARP boats.

In spite of being, technically, two autonomous regions of the same country, Hong Kong and Macau have full border formalities between them, which consist of checking all passports on the way in and on the way out, and filling out little pieces of paper each way. Also they check everyone's temperature by some infrared camera.

Macau waterfront is full of casinos built in some country's style. Everything everywhere is written in Chinese, Portuguese and quite often also English. The signs in Portuguese mislead one to assume that somebody somewhere out there might also speak Portuguese, but during the day I run into no such person. Few people speak English, too; I get by in my very, very bad Cantonese.

Macau has an old colonial center, which they keep in an immaculate condition. It's quite beautiful if somewhat small. The rest of it is built-up in high-rise buildings, much like Hong Kong. Just like Hong Kong, Macau is hilly, and two places that are 50 meters apart on the map can also be 100 meters apart vertically, which the map doesn't show you. The difference is, Hong Kong has escalators for that occasion, Macau mostly doesn't.

From the Largo do Senado (the historical/tourist center) I go by the way of a few narrow streets to Ruinas de San Paulo, the main tourist attraction. Why the ruined colonial church is a tourist attraction and the perfectly intact one is not, I am not sure.

There is a little temple beside the ruins.

There is a lot of little shops that sell beef and pork jerky and little crepe-like cookies, and feed you free samples. I never understood the point of jerky until I tasted it here. It's juicy and meaty.

Vela Latina, right across from the Largo do Senado, is a local fancy restaurant. 19 euros buy me a very good two-course dinner and a small (0.375l) bottle of wine.

I try to see more of the city, and it proves to be a pain. Macau is covered by a dense network of bus routes. Unfortunately they all work like night buses in Helsinki: they go all over the place and do not return quite the same way they went there. The routes are, therefore, in fact one-way and circular, and if you need to go the wrong way you are shit out of luck. The listings of the routes are available but decent maps aren't.

For some reason most balconies are fully covered with metal bars.

All the same things as in Hong Kong are forbidden here, and in addition allowing one's air conditioner to drip watr is forbidden too. I don't know how they go about it.

I come back to Hong Kong, notice that it is still reasonably clear and decideto go to Victoria Peak. The peak tram ride is rather fun by itself. The views from above are great.

Around midnight I go and check out the little outside restaurants near Temple street market. They have big dishes of seafood and ask you how you want it prepared. The shrimps wave their little legs in protest when I say that I want them in garlic sauce.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

27.09.05, Hong Kong: Ocean Park

Shit! Realized I forgot to bring spare contacts with me. Forget my head next.

No problem. Went to the nearest optician and bought 1.5 months worth of contacts for $120HK without any prescription or checkup. They do in fact require a person to have a prescription; it's just that they will take your word for it that you do if you happen to remember the numbers, and don't need to see an actual piece of paper.

Bought the aforementioned Octopus card and withrew some money from an ATM (that's "automatic teller machine" and not "alemman tason mies" for you cynics). One can survive on credit cards in Hong Kong but none of the cheaper places take them. Luckily the ATMs are as numerous as the public toilets.

Went to the Avenue of the Stars, which is a promenade on the southern tip of Kowloon. They have local movie stars' handprints. Recognized most of the names and was very proud of myself.

It keeps raining, or rather starts and stops all the time. On the Avenue of the Stars you can actually see small areas of rain approaching over the mountains from the south. The locals tend to stream into stores and subway stations when the rain starts and out when it ends.

I keep getting confused because they use the word "subway" to mean a pedestrian underpass. The actual subway is called MTR.

During one rain I take refuge under some roof on the Avenue of the Stars. Some cleanly dressed guy in a Sikh turban looks at my face and says "I can see you are very lucky today" and tries to predict many good things in my future, and then asks for money. I tell him to bugger off. Later I see many more such guys each of whom starts the conversation with those same words. I start telling them "I gave at the office". They look confused.

The Ocean park has seals and dolphins and sharks and fish that eat kiinankaali and birds and fucking butterflies and everything that a decent ocean park should have, and two giant pandas in addition, but the best thing is the cable car that connects the lower part of the park with the upper parts. It's a very long ride with great views.

The park is full of organized tour groups of rather ill-behaved mainland tourists (the funny thing is that small "disorganized" groups of mainland tourists behave much better) who stare at my tits and point and summon each other to take a look. One of them stretches his neck so far while riding the escalator that he actually runs into a tree. In addition at least some of them use the toilets by climbing up on the bowl and crouching there, and at least one of them falls off.

I get back home and go to the nearest supermarket. There a cute young guy tries to pick me up, but, alas, one look on his face is enough to tell me that I cannot bet my freedom for the next n years on my belief that the guy has in fact turned eighteen. He claims to be 23 but looks 15. He also claims that he would like to be just friends, but I know what kind of friendship you normally get from total strangers with an erection so big that they have trouble walking.

Night market in Mongkok sells watches, ribbons, hairpins, scarves, jewelry and suchlike. More fun to look at than to shop. I buy some hairsticks.

I buy some pastry (they have very good pastries here) from a bakery and a takeout dinner from Pak Lin restaurant. The dish contains eel and sea blubber, but nobody seems to be able to explain what a sea blubber is. Whatever it was, I don't recommend it, but the eel was good.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hong Kong: observations

The city is all high-rise, like some huge subtropical Manhattan. In fact more so, because Manhattan does have low parts. Rumor has it there are a few one-family houses in Hong Kong as well, but they are somewhere out there far away and I have not seen any. In Kowloon, in the north of Hong Kong island and in some parts near the sea the houses stand very densely together, but most of the Hong Kong island is mountains with forests on them.

Life is everywhere, day and night, and it's not scary anywhere.

Air conditioning is your friend, and is everywhere. History books say people used to live here before the invention of air conditioners, but I don't believe them.

Seven-eleven is your friend too. Seven-elevens and K-stores (probably not the sames ones as in Finland) are everywhere and open all night. You can buy condoms and beer and green tea ice cream and other necessities. The real supermarkets are called Wellcome and Parknshop and tend to be hidden inside shopping malls and department stores.

There is a lot of shopping malls. They usually have somewhere near the entrance a list of what's inside. In Chinese. At first I thought the city has no bookstores, nor internet cafes, but later I found them upstairs in the malls.

The public transportation is the best ever: The subway runs quite often and fairly late, the buses run night and day and there are a lot of them. But they really do need a some routing application (like reittiopas) or at least a good map with the routes. I have not seen any map with all the bus routes, although the maps of individual bus routes are at every bus stop. The subway map is all over the subway, too. All the maps are in Chinese and English, which is nice. The prices are low but quite unpredictable: subway costs depend on where you get in and where you get out, bus costs depends on the bus route and where you get in, Star ferry cost depends on whether you are on the upper or lower deck, and the regular tram and peak tram have each their own fixed cost. All of the above has to be paid for in exact change, unless you get an Octopus card. This is like the HKL card, except that you can't load time on it, only money. You can unload the money too, so don't worry about loading too much. The transportation is fairly cheap, with the cheapest being the Star ferry's lower deck (0.17 euros) and the most expensive being the peak tram (2 euros), with most costing 0.30-0.40 euros.

Almost every window has an air conditioner unit sticking out of it. Also, every self-respecting Hong Kong apartment has a balcony decorated with garlands of underwear. The purpose of this display is not quite clear to me, because it is always raining anyway - they can't possibly expect the underwear to dry there.

The people are small and Chinese. Lots of cute guys. People are fairly friendly and seem to be quite accustommed to foreigners. Apart from the recent immigrants from the mainland, they speak English like Finns speak Swedish: about a fourth of them speak it well and almost everyone speaks it somehow. There are a lot of mainland tourists. Hong Kongers seem to like them about as much as Finns like Russians, and probably for the same reasons.

There are signs everywhere telling people not to litter, not to spit, and sometimes also not to piss or spray graffiti. The violators are threatened with fines of 1000-1500 $HK (100-150 euros), and during my stay I did not see anyone actually do any of the above. The no-smoking signs also tend to be obeyed.

Unlike most other cities that urge their residents not to litter or piss in public, Hong Kong actually provides toilets and trash cans for citizens to piss and litter into. This wonderful city is surely blessed with more public toilets than all of our great nation. All of them, mind you, are clean, free and equipped with toilet paper. Trash cans are everywhere, too.

The streets are, surprisingly, not very congested. Not even during the rush hour.

The people get overexcited if you try to speak bad Cantonese to them. They tend to summon other salespeople, etc., to look at the talking wonder.

Hong Kong is, surprisingly, not the best place to buy Hong Kong DVDs, due to the fact that the locals seem to prefer the VCD format for some reason. I bought some VCDs too but I prefer DVDs.

I think I am in love with this city already.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

26.10.05, Hong Kong: a fucking huge Chinatown

I wake up in the plane, go to the window that's near the toilet and look down at Russia. Contrary to all expectations the sight of the old fatherland does not evoke particularly strong emotions: seeing it from 10 kilometers in the air is sort of like seeing a spider under some glass.

Later comes the Central Asia, which looks like some lunar landscape, and China with some high mountains. Finally the plane starts descending towards the Hong Kong airport, which is nicely named Chek Lap Kok. For some reason the pilot does not mention the name.

After a lot of walking I get outside where the airport buses are. This city surely has the best connections to and from the airport ever, but why does the whole place feel like a giant sauna?

The bus goes straight to the hotel. All the stops are announced in Cantonese, English and Mandarin, and numbered to make keeping track easier.

I have heard many times the words "so many neon lights that it's as light at night as during the daytime" applied to many places. On Nathan road in Monk Kok it's actually true. The street is incredibly crowded, too. It's 7 pm.

The hotel (Tatami Hampton) makes me fill out some paper, takes 100 $HK (about 10 euros) as a deposit for the key and the air conditioner remote control, and warns me that they are rather spartan.

The room is most surely the smallest hotel room in the world. There is no remote control for the TV because you can reach it from everywhere by hand. There is a water heater, which is nice, and even a cup. The TV has a "no photographing" sign on it, which of course prompts me to take a picture of it.

I go out and south down Nathan road. It's very light there and very crowded all the way. Lots of stores selling a lot of dried something - I am not sure I want to know what. Also lots of Indian-looking people who follow you (any white person, I assume) in the streets and try to sell you watches and purses. They are quite annoying.

At Tsim Sha Tsui the stores become fancier but the watch peddlers are still there. There is also a mosque and a lot of men with beards there. Looks like some holiday.

There is a Häagen-Dazs cafe that sell green tea ice cream. Yummy.

Finally I reach the Star Ferry pier, and see that they are having fireworks. Nice of them. The ferry looks ancient, has different prices for upper and lower decks (about 22 and 17 euro cents respectively), has air conditioning in some parts of it and weird benches that can be flipped to face either way. The view is great.

Central is as full of light as Kowloon but has a lot fewer people. There is a lot of police on the waterfront, almost half of them women. They don't look like they are expecting a lot of action.

I walk to Lan Kwai Fong, which is supposed to be some restaurant place. It's beautiful but a bit disappointing because most restaurants there are western and I want Cantonese. Finally I find some restaurant of the Tsui Wah chain. Against all my expectations they have a whole floor for non-smokers. They also have beef tongue with fried noodles that has a lot more tongue in it than one would expect. Delicious meal, five euros, and i manage to eat with chopsticks for the first time in my life.

Walk back to the Star Ferry and Mong Kok. A strong rain comes and scares away all the watch peddlers.

I still ain't dead

I am back, and here is the photographic evidence of whatever I was doing for the last three weeks. The reports are forthcoming.