Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Amsterdam part 3

From the middle of the Central Station – which is mostly under construction, but a great way to get anywhere in the city – you can easily walk down the main tourist street in Amsterdam. It’s all tourist gift shops and expensive fast food until you hit Dam Square.

In the middle of all the tourist traps is the Sex Museum. Ryan really wanted to see that. I was more curious than anything else. It’s a total tourist trap, but definitely worth a visit.

It’s not for prudes or the faint of heart. Some of the displays are extremely graphic. There were a lot of x-rated pictures and playing cards which seemed kind of pointless. You can easily find all of that online. There was a display of old sex pictures from 50 to 100 years ago – porn through the ages. That was more interesting. It shows that people have always been horn dogs.

What I liked were the mannequins and animatronics. They had a mini Red Light District with animatronic hookers & Johns. There was also an animatronic Marilyn Monroe.

animatronic Marilyn Monroe

animatronic hooker

porn through the ages

Monday, November 28, 2011

Amsterdam part 2

Dam Square is pretty much downtown Amsterdam. It has the Royal Palace – but the Queen doesn’t live there. The New Church – which is actually very old. Madame Tussaud’s wax museum – which is kind of creepy. And the National Monument – which reminded me of Trajan’s Column. I think it’s a European thing to have large poles in the middle of squares as monuments. We Americans never got into that.

Dam Square has a lot of tourist shopping and all kinds of food from all over the world. They were having some kind of electric car show one day and there were all these tiny electric cars all lined up across the square.

Royal Palace

car show @ Madame Tussaud’s wax museum

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving isn’t very popular in Hong Kong. I haven’t seen any restaurants with special Thanksgiving menus. I really wouldn’t consider fried rice & noodle soup a Thanksgiving dinner anyway. I’ve seen a few places with special menus, but nothing I consider Thanksgiving.

One place had roast duck & pumpkin soup. Another place had ham & baked potato soup. A lot of places had chicken – chicken is very popular in Hong Kong – but that’s not Thanksgiving to me.

What I really miss is this

There’s no pie to speak of here, let alone pumpkin pie. The Chinese have done some great things with food over the years, but they just don’t appreciate dessert.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Spa Day

Ryan got me the best gift for my birthday – a day of pampering at a luxurious spa. Hong Kong is famous for its spas, but I’ve never been to one – mostly because they’re expensive and we’ve been trying to save money. I guess now that we’ve spent most of it on Europe it’s ok to indulge a little bit extra.

A soon as I walked in the door I was treated like a princess. They gave me a cup of herbal tea and washed & massaged my feet. This alone would be great after a day of walking around, but there was so much more.

They wanted me to put on a robe and put my clothes in a basket. They said my clothes would be cleaned & pressed by the time I was finished. This seemed unnecessary since they were already pretty clean, but I realized by the end of the day that I was so scrubbed and detoxified that it only made sense to wear freshly laundered clothes. Some people probably go there after a day of walking around Hong Kong and getting hot & sweaty. Wearing those clothes after the spa wouldn’t be right.

The robe was purely for modesty since it didn’t stay on very long. They took me to an indoor homemade waterfall shower – it was basically a shower, but it looked like a tropical waterfall. A Chinese lady washed me with a salt scrub – like a bar of soap, but made with salt instead of soap. At first it was weird having a girl wash me. I’m pretty much used to bathing myself, except when Ryan joins me – and then he mostly just washes my boobs. It didn’t take long for me to relax and let the pampering happen.

After the shower they put me in a very hot bath. I love soaking in a bathtub and I wish we had one in our apartment, but this one was very hot. It was hard to get into at first, but I got used to it and as soon as I was ready to just sit there the whole day they had me get out and go into a cold bath. Going back & forth is supposed to help with circulation. After I got used to the cold bath they put me back in the hot one. I liked going from cold to hot better than hot to cold.

After I was cleaned and circulated I was back in my robe going to another room. The robe came off again and they had me lay face down on a table. They smeared mud all over my back, butt and legs. They put hot towels on the mud and very carefully helped me roll over. Then they smeared mud all over my front. That felt kind of weird because I could see what they were doing and also because they were very thorough – they put that mud everywhere! Once I was totally covered in mud from the neck down they wrapped me in hot towels. The towels were soaked in some kind of oil, but I couldn’t tell what it was. It smelled kind of like vanilla. After the towels, they wrapped me in a few layers of sheets and blankets. I was like a big human burrito.

While I lay there wrapped up one of them gently wiped my face with a hot towel. She gave me a mini face massage with some kind of sponge looking thing and then gave me a scalp massage – which was awesome! Ryan likes to play with my hair, but this lady really knew how to get in there and work it.

They unwrapped me and gave me a bottle of water – which I finished quickly after that mud wrap – and took me to another room. There was no robe this time, but I was totally covered in mud. They hosed me down with a removable shower head – every shower in Hong Kong has one – and scraped off the mud with a curved wooden stick. When I was completely mud free they toweled me off and rubbed lotion all over. Back on went the robe and we were off to yet another room.

I took of the robe again and lay down on the massage table. A Chinese lady covered my butt with a towel and dripped oil on my back. The towel seemed unnecessary since she’d just seen me completely naked. I wasn’t sure if it was for her modesty or mine. I went from robed to naked to toweled so many times it all seemed kind of silly.

The massage was great. She worked from my shoulders down to my butt then from my feet up to my butt. My butt seemed to be the center of gravity. Eventually she took the towel off and worked on my butt itself.

Normally, someone grabbing my butt doesn’t really do much for me, but she really knew what she was doing. The leg part was excellent! I need to find a much less expensive place to get leg massages on a regular basis.

When she had me turn over she put the towel back on – over part of me anyway. She did more shoulder work and worked on my arms. She gave a great hand massage that I wasn’t expecting. When you say massage I think shoulders & legs. When she was doing my stomach she worked her way up to my boobs. When she first touched them I was a little surprised. I wasn’t expecting a “special service” massage. This didn’t seem like that kind of place. A friend told me later that they always do your boobs during a full body massage – I guess that’s why they call it full body. You can tell it’s legitimate by the way they do it – if it feels like your boyfriend it’s special service, if it feels like a massage it’s a massage.

Again she went for the legs and again I was in heaven. A few times while she was doing my upper thighs she brushed against my special place, but it was more like good touch than bad touch. There were only a couple of times that day that I felt uncomfortable and I’m sure it’s more about things in my head than anything they were doing. Ryan says I’m uncomfortable with public nudity and that’s totally true.

After the massage a different Chinese lady sat me down in a very comfortable reclining chair and put seaweed goo all over my face. I was so relaxed and the chair was so comfortable that before I knew it I was asleep. The next thing I know I’m walking around the spa completely naked except for a towel wrapped around my hair. The spa is full of Japanese ladies in kimonos and they’re all bowing as I walk by. Then I see a sign in Chinese – that I can read – and it says “NO NUDITY!” with a big exclamation point. Suddenly all the Japanese ladies are pointing at me and giggling the way Japanese geishas do in movies. I take the towel off my head to cover my nudity and my hair is bright blue! I run out of the spa and onto the crowded Hong Kong sidewalk in only a towel and blue hair. It suddenly starts to rain and my towel and blue hair get wet. I run into a park and I’m in the middle of a nudist colony. There are a bunch of naked Chinese people looking at me and I see a sign in Chinese that says “NO TOWELS!” The naked Chinese people point at me and giggle like Japanese geishas.

One of the spa ladies woke me up and took the seaweed mask off my face. They did some more work on my face with lotions and oils and I don’t know what while 2 other Chinese ladies gave me a manicure & pedicure.

After they were completely finished with me they handed me my freshly laundered clothes all folded & pressed. When I was dressed and ready to leave I wondered how I should tip. I don’t even really know how many different ladies worked on me. What’s the standard tip for a day of pampered paradise? They told me not to tip at all. They said everything was included and fully paid.

After all that hard work I went home and took a nap. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better birthday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

21st Birthday

Happy birthday to me! I turn 21 tomorrow. That’s a big milestone where I come from because you can legally drink. Here in Hong Kong you can legally drink at 18. So now I can do what I’ve been able to do for almost a year. You can also legally drink at 18 in Rome & Amsterdam.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a year in Hong Kong. Things sure do change. When we came here we didn’t know anything about Hong Kong, Chinese culture, living in another country or speaking the language. A year later and I think I know how to get around Hong Kong pretty well. I’m just starting to understand the culture and how different it is to live in another country. I still can only say a few phrases in Chinese.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Amsterdam part 1

Our hotel in Amsterdam was very close to Dam Square, lots of shopping and Central Station in one direction and the Flower Market, lots of bars & clubs and all the museums in the other direction.

It seems like a pretty small city – much smaller than Rome – and you can walk to just about everything. If there’s something that’s too far to walk to, they have an excellent tram system that’s very easy to navigate and seems to go everywhere. Instead of paying with coins, you use a pre-paid card – it’s so much easier. Lots of cities have subway systems where you can’t see where you’re going. The Amsterdam trams are at street level and you can see everything. It’s like a fast, clean, comfortable and efficient bus that you don’t have to be poor & dirty to ride.

From our room we had a view of the canal and a couple of house boats. Some people live on boats in the canal full time.

We were also very close to an archeological museum that focuses on places like ancient Rome. Since we were just in Rome and saw the ancient sites in person, we didn’t really feel like looking at the museum version.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rome part 7

The Trevi Fountain needs no introduction. If you’ve ever been to Rome or seen any movies set in Rome you’ve seen it. Audrey Hepburn goes to it in “Roman Holiday”. Anita Ekberg swims in it in that Fellini movie. She was really beautiful back then.

They say if you throw a coin in the fountain you’ll return to Rome one day. I threw in a couple coins just to be sure.

It was also very crowded all the time, but it’s one of those things that everybody’s looking at from the same direction. You can take pictures of it on the busiest day and you’d never know there were a hundred people standing next to you when you did.

It was pretty close to our hotel so we went there a few times on the way to other places. It’s like Avenue of the Stars in Hong Kong – once you’ve seen it you’ve seen it. There’s not much reason to go back, but I always walk along the harbor whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

Trevi Fountain

Vittorio Emanuele Monument

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rome part 6

The Sistine Chapel was always at the top of my list of things to see in Rome. Michelangelo was a genius! To get to it you have to go through a few other rooms with art by people like Raphael and Bernini. The whole Vatican museum was very impressive.

You’re not allowed to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel – and it’s a rule they take seriously! I saw a few people try to sneak out their cameras and the guards were on them right away. You can’t get any good shots anyway unless you have a very good camera. The room is too dark without flash and flash won’t work because the ceiling is too far away. You can take pictures in the main hall of St. Peter’s church, but they don’t want you to use flash.

After waiting in a very long line to get into the church, we waited in a very long line to go to the top of the huge dome. There’s an elevator that goes to the top, but that line was ridiculous. Instead we waited in a shorter line to climb up hundreds of stairs! At the end you’re in a very narrow spiral staircase with hundreds of other people. It’s too small to stop and take a break and too crowded to let others pass. Getting to the top was hell, but the views of Rome can’t be beat.

We went to St. Angelo’s Castle on the way to St. Peter’s, but it paled in comparison. I guess it’s pretty good as far as ancient forts go, but St. Peter’s is one of the architectural wonders of the world.

St. Peter's Square

Michelangelo's Pieta

St. Angelo’s Castle

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rome part 5

The Roman Forum is what’s left of the capital of the Roman Empire. What’s now ruins & rocks used to be the streets & buildings were Julius Caesar was killed, the Senate planned all their wars and Nero watched everything burn.

It’s a very short walk from the Colosseum. Everyone goes there – and so did we of course – but I liked the Forum better. The Colosseum was always crowded and you couldn’t really walk around and take everything in because it was just a mass of people – I guess the way it was back when they used it to kill people. The Forum was never too crowded. I got the impression that people walked by it on their way to the Colosseum and didn’t really know what it was.

To get into the Colosseum you have to wait in a long line to buy a ticket, wait in a long line to get in, pass a security check – kind of like going to a modern sports stadium. To get into the Forum you just walk in and walk around. It’s free.

The Colosseum is impressive and it’s great to imagine all the spectacle that went on there, but for historical impact I’ll take the Forum.

Roman Forum


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rome part 4

Trajan’s Forum is what’s left of a public square built by the Roman emperor Trajan. I don’t know much about him, but apparently he won a few wars and built a lot of stuff in Rome that’s still around – in ruin form at least.

The main part is Trajan’s Market – which was a market in the same sense that we use it. It was basically a large shopping mall with all kinds of shops, a food court and even apartments – they also had concerts. This is where the government gave people free baskets of wheat to keep everyone in line.

Trajan’s Column is a large pole dedicated to the emperor.

Trajan's Forum

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rome part 3

Our hotel in Rome was very close to the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, Roman Forum and Trajan’s Forum – we passed all of them every day. The Vittorio Emanuele Monument is a very large building dedicated to the first president of Italy. It’s not nearly as old as most of the famous buildings in Rome, but it was right around the corner from out hotel.

The hotel had a dining patio on the roof with great views toward St. Peter’s church. It was also very close to several excellent Italian restaurants. I love Italian food and I can never seem to find a good restaurant in Hong Kong. There’s a great pizzeria near the island, across the street from Surdyk’s and the best little Italian deli in Victory near Crystal Lake – but I haven’t found anything in Hong Kong. Our hotel in Rome was surrounded by great food.

Traffic at Vittorio Emanuele

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween 2011

We went to a big Halloween party Monday – I didn’t even know most of the people there. At least I don’t think I knew them. It was kind of hard to tell who was who with the costumes.

Ryan was a lazy zombie – actually he looked more like himself watching sports on TV than a person in a costume. Kevin was a pirate – not as cute as Johnny Depp, but not bad either. Lily was Lady Gaga – she had a bad wig, weird sunglasses and she wore a decorated garbage bag. It was pretty funny. I was a devil. I get to play a princess at work so I thought I’d go the other way.

There were a lot of Harry Potter and Avatar costumes and a few Lady Gagas – but Lily’s was the funniest. I guess Lady Gaga is a good choice for a Halloween costume – she dresses like it’s Halloween all year.

There were too many people in the apartment where they held the party so people spilled out into the hallways. I don’t know how the neighbors felt about that. Halloween isn’t a traditional Chinese holiday, but a lot of expats live in that building so the locals are probably used to rowdy noise by now.

It got pretty hot even with all the doors & windows open – it may be October, but it’s nowhere close to cold in Hong Kong. Lily’s garbage bag was steaming her so she took it off and spent half the party in her wig & underwear. That still worked out for a Lady Gaga costume. Half the girls were dressed like hookers anyway so no one noticed.