Monday, December 15, 2008

Malaysia: Hong Kong Tourist for a Day

My adventure began in earnest before I even set foot on Malaysian soil. Our travel route included a long layover in Hong Kong after crossing the Pacific, so we decided to take advantage of this time. We had already arranged for a private tour guide to pick us up, and he met us on the other side of customs for my very first non-western cultural experience.

The tour guide took us on a tram ride up Victoria Peak. The tram was insane because it slowly crawled straight up the very steep mountain, making all of us Americans nervous. It was worth it, though, because the summit offered amazing views of the city and harbors. It's amazing how many people and skyscrapers they pack into Hong Kong! It wasn't all that astounding to me, having grown up thirty minutes outside of New York City in New Jersey, but I think some of our team's native Montanans felt a little overwhelmed.

After visiting Victoria Peak (and feeling lame after paying thirty-four Hong Kong dollars for an iced latte from Starbucks -- the last time I bought western food on this trip!), we headed back down into the city. There, we visited a market, where I had my first experience bartering. I felt so proud of myself for lowering the price on the earrings I bought. Afterward, I felt like the seller expected me to bargain lower, but I didn't mind! Feeling hungry, I purchased a little bun filled with red bean paste. It was so sweet! My team leader later informed me that I'd eaten a dessert instead of a sandwich substitute as I'd thought. However, the pastry seemed much safer than the meat that was being cooked and then showcased by street vendors.

It is very interesting to me that I didn't feel as if I was in a different country and culture while in Hong Kong. Instead, I felt like I was in New York City's Chinatown. Looking back at photos, howevever, it looks very not-American. Maybe I was simply zonked from the plane ride. All I know is that when I stepped off the plane in Malaysia, I immediately felt like I was very much not in Montana, or even America, anymore.

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"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King