Monday, March 31, 2008

One Night in Wan Chai . . . sans Sheryl

The Hong Kong Rugby 7s were this weekend. This is a huge weekend for sports fans in Hong Kong and it is very hard to get tickets to the event. Because I love watching college football in sports bars, I figured watching the Rugby 7s in a sports bar could be just as fun.

Lailany and I set out after work on Friday to a pub very close to the stadium where the games were being played.  We parked ourselves at the bar in front of the TVs, but no rugby! Asked the bartender why they were showing soccer and not rugby and he said they were going to be broadcasting the games tomorrow instead. HUH???!! Biggest sports weekend in Hong Kong and the pub is only planning to broadcast it one day out of three? So we missed the 7s that night and decided to meet up on Saturday to try again.

Met at Lailany's place on Saturday and walked over to one of the many British pubs on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai. Now, Lockhart Road is an attraction in itself -- pubs and restaurants all interspersed between strip clubs.

The Old China Hand is the name of the British pub where we started, and the games were playing on the TVs! We got there just in time to see England beat some other country (yeah, that's how into it we were!) and to also see USA get stomped badly by New Zealand (I think that was who they were against). I had forgotten how nice it was that bars in the U.S. banned smoking. Everyone was smoking inside the pub - ugh! Eric met up with us and we moved on to some Mexican restaurant for dinner (yes, even though I am not a big fan of Mexican food, I sucked it up and the burrito was pretty good -- maybe because I hadn't eaten all day, or maybe because I was missing Julie).

After dinner is when the fun really started and this is where I was wishing Sheryl had joined us -- she would've had a blast, and I was missing her. We wound up in another British pub (I have no idea what the name of it was) and spent the rest of the evening there. The DJ was spinning some good 80s music (mixed in with some Elvis and other oldies - which we thought was strange) and he was also taking requests.  We wanted to hear Madonna, so I asked the DJ to play "Like a Virgin" -- here is our DJ friend posing with us (and Flat Stanley - who was sent to me for a visit by my nephew, Zachary).

And here is a pic of me, Eric and Lailany -- once we remembered I had a camera, we were taking tons of pics (fortunately for you, my dear readers, I'll only be posting a few here)!

Pretty soon, we were partying and dancing with a bunch of people in the pub. These two guys were crazy drunk and a lot of fun (Sheryl, you would've died!).

I think they were dancing to "Down Under" here

We had stopped dancing long enough to pose with Minnie Mouse and this guy (who had a crush on Lailany)

Ummm, what was Minnie doing in a pub?!

A couple of hours later, we were greeted by the Hong Kong Police! I guess they were there to arrest someone or raid the place or something, but we asked them if they would pose for a picture with us and Flat Stanley (and they did!).

Eric, me and Flat Stanley with Hong Kong's finest

After the DJ played "Like a Virgin" -- yes, hours after I had requested it (even after a 2nd and 3rd request), we decided to head out and "home" -- me with a camera full of approximately 60 pictures!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We're In!!!

After a crazy, crazy week of furiously working with a "local" travel agent who understood a little English, it has finally been confirmed that Cindy is officially registered to run the Great Wall 10K and I am officially registered to run the Great Wall Marathon!

Our "Official Entry" forms!

Poor Cindy -- because of the time difference and the urgency of getting the registrations completed by the end of the day on March 17 (Hong Kong time), she was up all hours of the night filling out paperwork. Because our travel agent couldn't understand what we were trying to explain (that I am living in Hong Kong for three months, Cindy lives in California, and we wanted to register together to ensure we had the same hotel room), Cindy wound up filling out, scanning and emailing THREE registration forms -- all with different addresses! At practically the last minute before the registration deadline, we were told the registration forms were completed correctly and our credit cards were then promptly charged.

Let me tell you now that this is going to be the most expensive run I will probably ever do in my life, however, how many people get the opportunity to run the Great Wall (I'll actually be running it twice on the marathon course). And the best part is that I will be experiencing it with one of my best friends (I have to say "one of" because there are quite a few peeps in the world that claim Cindy IS their best friend and I don't want to piss them off).

Oh, this is going to be a piece of cake!

My plan from this point on is to climb as many steps as I can. I began my training this week in the gym (run, stair-climb, run, weights) and will gradually increase the time and distance in the coming weeks. I also discovered an awesome running trail nearby which has lots of steps and inclines, so I'll be out there on the weekends.

I don't have a time goal for this marathon, but I am estimating it to take close to 7 hours (after reading about the level of difficulty and average run times). If I can pull off a 6.5 hour run, I will be thrilled.  If not, and I can finish within the 8-hour timeframe for getting the medal, I will be satisfied. I am also planning on running with my camera and taking lots of pics along the way.

To quote Cindy:  "OMG, I can't wait!"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Sharon and Jerry "High Roller" Day

My new friend, Lailany, had invited me to join her and a couple other friends on a trip to Macau on Easter Saturday.  I was planning to go to Macau anyway and was happy to have someone to go with.  Lailany and Theresa were planning to stay there overnight and Eric wasn't because he has a dog to feed.  Since I didn't have a hotel room booked, I decided to go back with Eric.  So far, so good...

We planned to get an early start and meet up at 9:00.  Lailany and I met up with Eric and got on the MTR to meet Theresa at the ferry pier.  On the way there, Theresa called Eric and mentioned something about "passports" -- we all looked at each other . . . no one brought their passport with them!  We got to the pier and Theresa was swearing that she told Eric we needed our passports. Long story short -- we got TurboJet tix for 11:46 and it was 10:00.  Got back on the train and decided to meet up at Starbucks near the pier, since we all had to go our separate ways. I sprinted through the terminal to get my passport and get back -- good exercise!  The funny thing was that Lailany, Eric and I all wound up on the same train going back to the pier. We went to Starbucks to wait for Theresa (who already had her passport, but decided to go home to get something else) - we waited and waited for her! Finally decided to get to the boat since it was 11:30.

We  had just started to board when Theresa made her appearance, joking that you could board at the very last minute in spite of all the warnings that you need to be there 15 minutes in advance.

Our boat to Macau

The boat ride was fun -- high-speed ride across the bay/harbor/ocean -- we all debated that one. And then we saw the Sands in sight.  So, Macau is "supposed" to be the Vegas of Hong Kong, which is why this excursion was named for Sharon and Jerry.  Sharon and Jerry got married in Vegas last year, and, both were in Hong Kong two years ago and have been giving me all sorts of tips and suggestions -- including going to Macau.  So, this one's for you, Shar and Jer!

Vegas? Nah, it's only Macau

By this time, it is a little after 1:00, and Eric and I had return tix back for 5:20.  We figured we would get off the boat, get a cab, get lunch, go to a casino or two, have a couple of drinks, and head back to the pier.  Well, we got off the boat and then proceeded to push our way through thousands of people (and I mean, push - no one wanted to move) to the opposite end of the station where the "visitors" entry was. Of course, there were a ton of people on line and no one was moving! They weren't letting anyone in!  After about 15 minutes, they decided to start letting people in and let me tell you, we were on the SLOWEST line of all. The New Yorker in Lailany was coming out -- she was pissed and it was funny. Theresa was saying that it would take us hours to get a cab because of all the people there. I just wanted a drink! We finally had our passports stamped and were on our way. Another 20 or so minutes later, Theresa found us a bus. Theresa can speak Chinese, which was a huge time saver! We got off the bus and walked to the first gaudy hotel/casino we could find -- Hotel Lisboa.

Hotel Lisboa - Top

Hotel Lisboa - Bottom

I was desperate at this point for an Elvis sighting -- I didn't care if he was Chinese. But nope, no Elvis. However, we did see a huge casino and a bar, so we decided to eat and hang at the Lisboa (all the other suggested restaurants were booked solid because it was Easter weekend and we didn't really plan ahead). We had a very nice Chinese meal in the hotel -- ate a ton -- and then proceeded to the gambling floor.  Theresa headed straight for the tables and Eric, Lailany and I headed straight for the bar. Sipping my beer, I caught sight of the slot machines and decided to check them out. Sure enough, I found my favorite nickel slots (only these were Hong Kong nickel slots -- which amounted to LESS THAN A PENNY a game!). After spending about $15 Hong Kong on the slots, Eric and I decided we needed to get a cab back -- it was 4:45 at this point and we had a 5:20 departure.

Group pic inside Hotel Lisboa

We went outside to get a cab, and there was a line for the cabs! Unbelievable! At around 5:05, we got into a cab and told the driver to hurry. I commented to Eric that I felt like we were on "The Amazing Race" - he agreed. We got to the pier and ran inside only to find more lines (had to get our passports stamped yet again). At 5:23, our passports were stamped and we sprinted to the boat. Just made it - Theresa was right about getting there at the last minute!

While we only saw a little bit of Macau, it was still a fun day. I will definitely make a point of getting back there before I go home -- but I plan on waiting to go with Cindy when she is here in May!

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Tracy/Mayra Spiritual Hike

The Tracy/Mayra spiritual hike began on a beautiful Sunday morning. Not knowing what to expect, I put on some comfy jeans, my running shoes, and a light long-sleeved shirt (from the LA Marathon). Put some water, money and my hiking book in my backpack, and I was off.

I took the MTR to Tung Chung which is an approximate 45 minute train ride and found a mini-bus to take me to Shek Mun Kap village, which was the start of the hiking trail. Very quaint little village (if you could call it that), which had an outdoor "shop" for provisions for hikers - I guess it was the last stop before the climb.

Here's a picture of a map of my journey up.

The red dots indicate where I started (on the right) and where I ended (on the left)

I started to follow the trail, which began with a steep incline and proceeded with steep, winding inclines and . . . wait for it . . . STEPS!  I have never seen as many steps in one city as I've encountered in Hong Kong.  This is good for me, and will hopefully firm my big butt (that was for you, Boyd!).  There were certain parts along the trail which gave me a choice - climb steps or climb without steps (of course, I chose the steps every time).

"Ancient" steps along the trail

After climbing for about 20 minutes, I started to notice the humidity and the sweat forming on my skin. Ugh - I did not dress properly for this! Took a swig of water and climbed on...

What I found to be amusing was that no one else was walking up!  Everyone I passed was walking down. I guess most people take a bus or cab up and hike down (which was suggested in the book) -- wimps!

Approximately 3 miles into the hike, I noticed there were a lot of very old Buddhist retreats and monasteries either in plain sight or hidden behind the trees. I could actually hear chanting. It was so cool -- Tracy would've LOVED it. I also saw some monks and nuns outside tending the garden at one of the monasteries. They nodded to me and I said, "hello" - as much as I wanted to take their picture, I respected their privacy. Then, after about another 20 minutes, I saw my destination up ahead!

Big Buddha looking at me sweating on the trail

A little farther down, I came to a crossroads -- I could either turn left and continue with a hike up Lantau Peak or proceed straight to the Buddha. Had I been dressed for hiking, I probably would've turned left, but I decided I would definitely do that hike another day (it looks AWESOME!). I walked past the Tea Garden Restaurant and lots of tea plants.

Tea Garden Restaurant

About a quarter of a mile past the restaurant, I finally made it to the Po Lin Monastery! The first thing to greet me was this sign.

Yeah! No worries about meat in my lunch!

By this time, I was hungry and looking forward to a fine vegetarian meal served by monks. But first, I thought I would check out the monastery.

Po Lin Monastery from the outside

As with all monasteries and temples that I visit or pass by, the smell of incense was very thick. The grounds were immaculate and the gardens were beautiful. There is a lot of love and care here, and Big Buddha looks over it all.

Big Buddha on the hill overlooking the Po Lin Monastery

After going into the monastery and walking around the grounds, I decided to get a bite to eat. They had a sit down lunch that was served by the monks - a set menu (which is common here in Hong Kong). I figured I would be adventurous and check it out, especially since there was a promise of no meat. I was seated at a table and joined a few seconds later by another single person. He was Chinese, but understood English, so I was happy about that. They brought us out some soup. It was very bland and I was not familiar with any of the vegetables inside of it except for mushrooms. I ate a bowl, but there was a lot left!  Then I was served the main course which was tofu with vegetables.  I love tofu and mushrooms, but the other vegetables on the plate were the two I hate the most -- celery and peppers!  So I picked out the tofu and mushrooms and left the celery and peppers on the plate.  Then the "spring rolls" came out.  I have no idea what was in them other than carrots and some strange looking veggies -- there were four and I ate two.  By that time, I was kinda full and I asked my new friend if it was rude to leave food on the plate. He had no clue -- so I made a run for it!  Didn't want to be rude, but didn't want to eat that stuff either.  Now it was time to burn it off by climbing up to the Big Buddha.
268 steps up to Buddha - I ran most of them

Wow! There was an awesome view of the monastery and Lantau Peak from the top of the steps. Buddha has some "Gods" surrounding him.  Here's a picture of two of them taken from the Buddha's seat.

Gods at Buddha's base

I wandered around the Buddha, taking it all in - awesome views, beautiful art, and hundreds of people.  One person was nice enough to take a picture of me.

Not his belly, but close enough - me rubbing the lotus leaf that Buddha sits on (for good luck!)

By this time, it was getting late and I thought I should head back.  I decided not to hike down (too afraid at this point of hurting my knees - I have a marathon coming up), so I got on the bus for a WILD ride down the mountain on a one-lane road!  Very cool!  Got to the bottom and made my way back to the train station.  Notice a huge outlet mall near the station and figured I would go in and take a look around.  Guess what I walked out with?  Hiking boots!

Oh, now for the Mayra part of the story.  I was on the train heading back to Causeway Bay, and sitting directly across from me was this family -- mom, dad, little girl and her younger brother. Mom was Chinese, dad was American, and kids were beautiful.  The kids were asleep and the parents were kinda falling asleep.  Just looking at them reminded me of Mayra, Jeff, Brooke and Zack.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I have a feeling I'm not in Burbank anymore...

Here's a bit of what I refer to as "Hong Kong huh?!'s" . . . or things that you will only find in Hong Kong.

Rock on hiking trail with (perhaps) Chinese words of wisdom

Rock directly across from rock in previous picture with Chinese graffiti

Statues outside the IFC Mall

Look out, it's Astro Boy!

Only in Hong Kong will Elmo give this warning

The Leslee/Tamara Antiques Extravaganza

So last weekend when I was kinda forced out of my apartment by floor refinishing fumes, I got an early start and headed across the street to Starbucks to plan my day. Looking over my hiking book, I selected the "High West" hike, which is a 3-hour hike up through Victoria Peak. I also spotted a mini-hike that started off in the same area but would bring me to the Man Mo Temple. So I figured I would detour to the Temple, take some pictures and then make my way back to begin the High West hike.

Got off the MTR at Central and started looking around for the Mid-Levels Escalators, which is where I needed to start.  Walked in the wrong direction for about a mile when I decided I should probably turn around. Found a lot of nice people whom I asked to point me towards the Escalator, and they nodded and said hello to me. They had no idea what I was asking. Discovered a lot of cool things while I was lost: outdoor markets of Sheung Wan, huge mall at the International Finance Centre (IFC), and a few more Starbucks'.  Finally, after wandering around for approximately an hour, I found a police officer/security guard outside the IFC and I asked him where the Escalators were. Hooray! He understood me and also knew which direction to point me. Of course, they were hidden close by in yet another tall building.

I got on the Escalators and proceeded to make my way up, up, up through Soho.

Scene from the Mid-Levels Escalators (well, one of them)

I got off the Escalator at Staunton Street and wandered around looking at all the shops and restaurants, making my way to the Temple. Of course, the only way to the Temple was to climb and descend steps (but I did see some Hong Kong kitties along the way)!

Steps leading up (and down) to the Man Mo Temple

As soon as I walked into the Temple, I was hit hard with the smells of burning incense. The smell was so strong and the smoke was so thick, I felt I was in an alternate-reality version of a Buddhist night club (without the disco music, of course). I looked up, and sure enough, there were cones and cones of incense hanging from the ceiling, like thousands of sleeping bats in a cave. And they were all burning!

You can see the smoke in this picture of incense cones burning in the Temple

The Man Mo Temple is so named for two deities, Man (God of literature) and Mo (God of war), who represent a mix of Taoism and Buddhism. After wandering through the temple and almost coughing up a lung from the incense, I decided to walk down some more steps outside before heading back to begin my big hike. Let me tell you now that I never made it to High West that day. I had hit pay dirt in the form of the antiques district right off of Hollywood Road! Antique shops and street vendors galore! This is the Tamara/Leslee part of the hike, because when I was browsing through the shops, I instantly thought of them and how much they would enjoy experiencing this. I bargained and picked up a few things from the street vendors (but even though there were many, many items with Chairman Mao adorning them, I did not get those). I will definitely have to go back there before going home to the States.

Picture does not do it justice, but here is Cat Street in the Antiques District

With my bag full of some heavy items, I saw the climb ahead of me, sighed a bit, and then went on to my next adventure . . . The Peak.

Back up the stairs to walk some more

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend?

I had lunch with a new friend - let's call her Jo - on Friday and she had invited me to join her and some other friends to the launch of Ryder Diamonds at the HSBC Bank building in Central Hong Kong that night. Not having ventured far from Causeway Bay (other than my Happy Valley excursion), I decided it would be in my best interest to join her, meet some new people, experience Central HK, see some diamonds and drink champagne (did I mention that it was a cocktail party too?)

We took a cab to the HSBC building and the entire time, I was worried about how the heck I was gonna get back. I figured (hoped) if I took a cab back and said "Times Square," the driver would understand me.

We got to the bank and were directed into an elevator that brought us up, up, up high over Hong Kong. Wow! I wouldn't recommend this to anyone afraid of heights, but the view was spectacular. Unfortunately, because it was nighttime and because my so-called "good Nikon" digital camera isn't very good (or maybe because I can't figure out how to use it), I couldn't get a good shot of the view (damn digital camera flash!).

I did get a shot of the diamond necklace I wanted.

It actually looked better "live"!

Jo also had the opportunity to try on this fabulous bracelet.

After a few glasses of champagne, meeting some new people, and realizing that I could not afford that necklace (heck, the Great Wall Marathon is looking to cost me more than two of those necklaces - but that is a story for another blog), I decided it was time to head back to Causeway Bay. Luckily for me, my new friend, Anny, wanted to leave too. And, Anny knows her way around Hong Kong! She steered me towards the MTR, which at that point, was just another mystery to me and something I was cautious about trying. We got myself an "Octopus" card and then Anny pointed me in the right direction, and I was off and on the train! It took me less than 10 minutes to get back to my apartment! I fell in love with the MTR and my Octopus card at that moment. 

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's In a Name?

I've decided to name my hikes/excursions after my friends. A lot of my experiences here in Hong Kong remind me of my friends back home. I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful group of friends with interests as diverse as my own.

That said, I need to backtrack and rename my "Cemetery Gates" blog as "The J.B. and Cindy (Michelle, Theresa, and Dena) Cemetery Tour." Now, all five of these fine people share my views on the beauty of old cemeteries. I have had the pleasure of exploring cemeteries with both J.B. and Cindy, but still need to experience this with my other friends (which is why their names are in parentheses).

It must also be noted that each of these experiences is preceded (and sometimes concluded) with a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, which is my daily tribute to Amby, and ends with a documentation of the day in my travel books (and on this blog), which has been encouraged by my favorite world travelers, Barbara and Julie.

Coming up -- the "Leslee/Tamara Antiques Extravaganza" and the "Tracy/Mayra Spiritual Hike."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Does Urethane Kill?

Someone had the brilliant idea to refinish the hardwood floors in the apartment next to mine two days ago. So, for the second night in a row, I'm sleeping in a different apartment (one that is even smaller than mine - if you can believe that!).  I walked into the apartment after work last night and almost fell over from the fumes. This morning, I went back into the apartment and it was still bad - I was in there long enough to take a shower and get dressed and I felt light-headed. So, I spent the entire day walking all over (and up, and down) Central Hong Kong. Got back to my apartment around 9ish and while it was much better than this morning, it's still bad. I'm afraid if I sleep there, I won't wake up. 

So, between all the walking, stair climbing, and breathing in deadly fumes, I'd say my training for the Great Wall Marathon is going well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I have a new boyfriend in Hong Kong. He spends quality time with me every night before I go to sleep. He keeps me from getting homesick and provides me with hours of mindless entertainment. We have a long-distance relationship (he is in Burbank), but it doesn't make a difference. His name is Sling.

We met in January at the Best of CES show on the Disney Studio lot and it was love at first sight. He made me realize that I could be the number one gal in his life, even at 7,000 miles away, and even if I come home from work late. He doesn't care and is always there when I need him. Every day is Valentine's Day with Sling! 

Sling brings me "Big Brother"! "The Young & The Restless"! "The Biggest Loser"! "Lost"! "CLEAN HOUSE"! And while you may be shaking your head at the guilty pleasures of my American TV, let me tell you that anything (and I mean anything) beats Chinese TV.
Sling lets me control my TV and DVR box back in Burbank so that I can watch anything I want on my Mac here at Shama. My TV remote even appears on my computer. Not only can I watch live TV (including my cable movie channels), but also stuff I've recorded on the DVR. And I can set up additional shows to record. How cool is that?!

The Simpsons on my Mac!

So, if you are like me, living far away from your TV, and can't do without your weekly dosage of Niecy and handsome "go-to" guy Matt, or Victor Newman and the daily happenings in Genoa City, or the sleaze-fest that is Big Brother, go out and get yourself a Sling - you'll be glad you did!

Matt and the foolishness whenever I want!

(Just want to wish my sweet niece a happy, happy birthday.  I can't believe it was 19 years ago today when the sister first screamed out those labor pains and brought you into our world. Love you lots, Jessica!)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ahhhh Choo!

I typically sneeze maybe 10 times per year. 

The last time I was sick with a cold/flu was in 1998 (and yes, I remember this vividly because I really thought I was dying and even went to the emergency room).

In the two weeks leading up to my departure from the States, I successfully avoided catching the flu bug that attacked more than half of my friends in Burbank - even though some of them insisted on coming to the office to spread their germs ;)

In the last two days, I:
  • Sneezed more than 10 times
  • Woke up with a sore throat and stuffy head

Days of My Life

Typical Work Day in Burbank:
06:00Wake up, check email, shower, dress
07:30Leave for work
07:45Arrive at work; check email; begin tasks for the day
08:30Walk to Starbucks for daily fix with my fabulous pals (Amby, Julie, Michelle, Theresa)
09:00Finish off my Caramel Macchiato (non-fat, one pump vanilla), and continue working on tasks
12:00Lunch break (sometimes at my desk; sometimes with my pals sitting outside somewhere when they force me to)
12:15 or 13:00 Finish lunch and continue working on tasks
14:30Optional run to Starbucks (depending on Amby and how the day is going)
17:30Leave work
17:45Arrive at gym; get on treadmill for 65 minutes followed by stair climber for 20-25 minutes
19:15ishLeave gym and head home
19:20Arrive home, shower, eat, and catch up on TV
22:00Crawl into bed; turn on TV to watch reruns of Seinfeld
22:20ishFall asleep

Typical Work Day in Hong Kong:
01:00Wake up, look at clock, go back to bed
02:00Wake up, look at clock, go back to bed
03:00Wake up, look at clock, go back to bed
04:00Wake up, look at clock, go back to bed
05:00Wake up, get dressed, go to gym
05:20Arrive at gym; get on treadmill for 65 minutes followed by stair climber for 20-25 minutes (soon to be preceded by weights for 20 mins)
07:00ishLeave gym and head home
07:02Arrive home, shower, get dressed
08:30Leave for work
08:32Arrive at work; check email; begin tasks for the day
09:30Walk to Starbucks for daily fix all by myself :(
09:45Finish off my Caramel Macchiato (non-fat, one pump vanilla), and continue working on tasks
13:00Lunch break
13:05Finish lunch and continue working on tasks
15:30Optional run to Starbucks (depending on how hungry/tired I am)
19:30-20:00Leave work
19:32-20:02Arrive home, eat something, and catch up on American TV on computer (yeah, Slingbox!)
22:00Crawl into bed; turn on TV to watch some Chinese stuff
22:05ishFall asleep

Saturday, March 8, 2008


My calves hurt - apparently all of the training I've done on the Stairmaster at the gym is no match for the steps around Hong Kong. The walk, or climb, through the Muslim Cemetery yesterday could be considered my pre-training for the Great Wall Marathon in May.

The ascent

The descent

Cemetery Gates

"So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
all those people, all those lives, where are they now?
With loves and hates and passions just like mine
they were born and then they lived and then they died
it's so unfair, I want to cry..."
Cemetery Gates - The Smiths

Saturday, March 8 (happy birthday to the father!) is the first full day I have to explore my new surroundings. Henri had given me this fabulous "Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong" and the first hike that caught my eye was the Happy Valley Cemeteries Hike. I've always been fascinated with cemeteries. They are serene, peaceful, and sad at the same time. Whenever I am in a new city, I always try to visit one or more cemeteries. Looking at the headstones and wondering about the lives people led is just so fascinating to me. This particular walking tour covered cemeteries of many faiths. My first stop was the Jewish Cemetery. I was the only one in this cemetery; however, by the looks of the stones on the graves (a Jewish tradition), it seems that people do visit to pay their respects. I took a picture of this headstone because this guy was born in Brooklyn, NY - my birthplace too!

Below is a picture of the gardens surrounding graves in the Parsee Indian Cemetery, my next stop. In every cemetery I visited today, there were groundskeepers and gardeners out tending the site.  This was by far the most breathtaking with flowers, bushes and bonsai plants.

A little farther down is the Hong Kong Cemetery (known before the handover by the British as the Colonial Cemetery). I was greeted at the entrance by the lovely warning sign below. 

This cemetery is very wild - graves are close together and the site itself is sprawling, with many paths and steps. One of the main roads runs adjacent to the cemetery so it does not try to hide itself from being in the middle of the city.

After exploring the dead at rest in the Hong Kong Cemetery, it was time to move on to St. Michael's Roman Catholic Cemetery. Space is tight here and everything appears to be crammed it - it is truly a sight to behold. I noticed that a lot of the Chinese add pictures of the deceased on the headstones.

Also in this cemetery, I discovered a Gardner plot - the whole family is buried there. Made me wonder if this is something the mother has considered so that we are with her in eternity as we are in life (ha ha!).

My last stop was to the Muslim Cemetery. This is another cemetery that is packed in - it isn't necessarily sprawling; however, graves are situated wherever space can be found on a very large hill overlooking the city.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Whatta Wild Week!

Sunday, March 2: Ran and barely finished the L.A. Marathon. Did a ton of laundry. Met with Rene, who will be staying at my place while I am away and while he is in the midst of moving into his new home.

Monday, March 3: Really sore legs (unusual for me, but not surprised since it was the longest I had run in more than a month). Packed, packed and packed some more. Went to the eye doctor about a weird bump on my eyelid that I had for weeks and figured I should get it checked before leaving. He didn't like what he saw and sent me to another doctor. Three hours later, I was home to finish packing. 

In case you're wondering, I've never been to Asia before and had no idea about food, so I packed a little kit for me (it will probably only get me through two weeks and then I will have to beg/bribe/plead for someone to send more, unless Hong Kong is not as "third world" as I am making it out to be).

Tuesday, March 4: Woke up early to ensure I had packed enough (two suitcases, a large duffel bag and my computer backpack should do it), and then I waited for the cab. Got to the airport, checked in, and an hour later I was on the plane. The flight itself was pretty uneventful. Thanks to my wonderful friends, I had magazines, chocolate, writing journals, books about Hong Kong and other goodies to keep me occupied during the 14 hour flight.

Wednesday, March 5: I arrived in Hong Kong at around 7:00 p.m. Hong Kong time (that's 14 hours ahead of L.A.). Got through immigration/customs without incident and met the driver that was taking me to my apartment. First impression is "WOW" - what a wild city full of water, people, lights, buildings, boats, bridges, more lights, more people, more buildings. It seemed as if there was a contest between architects to design not only the tallest building, but as many similar buildings in the same area. There are many of the same types of buildings in clusters (reminds me of Trump Towers in Coney Island where my Aunt Carol lives - but on a much grander scale). Of course, I couldn't sleep this night, so I spent a lot of time unpacking.

After unpacking, I realized I forgot my beloved Saltines!

Thursday, March 6 and Friday March 7: First days of work. Henri (my boss in Hong Kong), met me on Thursday morning and we walked across the street to the office building. My commute is phenomenal! I thought my 3 mile commute in Burbank was great, but this is awesome! The Times Square building houses a huge (~14 floors) shopping and dining mall, with a grocery store in the basement, and offices up to 40 or so floors - and miracle of miracles, Starbucks is on the 3rd floor! My office is on the 21st floor.

L.A. Marathon

Up until two days before the Los Angeles Marathon, I wasn't even planning on running it. You see, I found out a few weeks ago that I would be working in Hong Kong for three months. After the Tour de Palm Springs, I really planned on focusing on my running; however, with planning, packing, and saying goodbye to friends, I only got in one semi-long (11 mile) run and one 10K treadmill workout. By Thursday before the race, I was panicked. I had already made arrangements to fly to Hong Kong on the Tuesday after - taking Monday off to finish packing. I was so stressed with wrapping things up at the office and home, that I couldn't even think about running 26.2 miles.

Then, a funny thing happened. I realized I probably needed to do this run in order to alleviate some of the stress. So....I went to pick up my race packet on Saturday morning, hardly slept on Saturday night, and made my way downtown very, very early on Sunday morning. The tricky thing about the L.A. Marathon is that it is now a point-to-point course. So, I had to decide if I wanted to park near the start (Studio City) or the finish (Downtown). I thought it might be better to park at the finish so that I could get home right away. What this meant is that after parking and taking the Metro to the start, I pretty much had a 90-minute wait before the race to stress out even more.

I was really amazed at the beginning at how fast the miles seemed to arrive. I wasn't running fast because I was trying to pace myself for a sub-5 hour run. By the 1/2, I was on track, feeling good and decided I didn't need to eat that Accelerade gel pack or grab one of the millions of oranges that were handed out on the course. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the finish - I slowed down. I mean, really slowed down. I was hurting and out of energy. I gulped down two Advil, the Accelerade gel, a handful of pretzels from a nice man, and two cups of water. Too little, too late. By mile 19, my goal of a sub-5 hour run turned into "just finishing." I don't even think you could call what I was doing at that point running. It was more like limping and hopping!  At mile 20, I grabbed what I thought was a water cup and took a gulp - it was beer! Now, I love my beer; however, at this point, it did not help. By mile 24, I decided it was time to walk. I walked almost that entire mile and picked up into a trot just before mile 25 to the finish. 

I finished in 5:21:08 - worse than Disney and so far beyond my goal -- but, I finished (here's the photo that proves it). Lesson learned: don't run a marathon after you've only run two times in the two weeks leading up to it and are stressed about relocating to another part of the world two days after it.

Tour de Palm Springs

In my ever so crazy quest to attempt to train for an Ironman, even though I still can't swim, I had made the decision to join some of my Disney Tri Team friends in the Tour de Palm Springs. This is a 100-mile bike ride through Palm Springs, and since I've never been to Palm Springs before, I figured it would be a great way to see the city. Michael and Carolyn both convinced me that I could do it during one of our weekend long rides (at that point, a long ride for me was about 35 miles). 

After completing the WDW Marathon, I returned to Burbank and re-joined the Saturday morning riders to train for the February 9 ride. You need to understand that riding in southern California at 8:30 on a Saturday morning in January and February is not something that a gal who spent most of her life living in Orlando looks forward to. It is COLD and WINDY! COLD! WINDY! And, ironically, as I ride, I am looking at SNOW-COVERED mountains! And, no, one does not fully warm up on one of these rides unless the temperature climbs and the winds subside. But, with the encouragement and support of the fabulous folks on the Tri Team, I continued to show up for these training rides.

Unlike the WDW Marathon expo, the Tour de Palm Springs packet pick-up was a breeze. On Friday, I left work early, drove to Palm Springs, picked up my packet, drove to my hotel (thanks to the sister, I got a great rate at the Marriott in Palm Desert), and settled in to get some rest. As usual, didn't sleep much that night - kept waking up every hour. As I was racking my bike on my car at 5:00 in the morning, I realized that athletes are crazy people. We pay lots of money to race, give up a social life for training (though you could argue that training becomes one's social life), and wake up at ungodly hours to wait for even more hours (mostly in COLD temps) before the actual start. I quickly tell myself that it is all worth it for the glory of finishing, bragging and getting the coveted medal to add to my collection.

Parking in an iHop lot very close to the start, I got on my bike and immediately saw some folks from the Disneyland Resort tri team. Then, I ran into Nabil, our Tri Team captain and all-around inspiration. We made our way to the start to meet up with the rest of the group (or at least those we could find). Carolyn and Michael were already there. The entire ride was great. While everyone rode at different paces, we regrouped at the SAG stops to rest and refuel. My only complaint about the event was that after about 50 or so miles, there weren't any real directions. So, if you were not following (or near) someone familiar with the course, you could very easily get lost. Case in point - Michael was ahead of me around mile 95 and made a wrong turn, which took him 5 miles off course.

For a perfectly detailed (and fun) account of this ride, check out Wedgie's blog post.

Now I have to get off the bike and start running again . . . the Los Angeles Marathon is March 2!

WDW Marathon

Okay, okay, so I haven't been focused on keeping my resolution to write more. But all of that changes, starting today! I have a couple of stories to back-blog first, beginning with my experience of running the Walt Disney World Marathon for the 4th time in 25 years (and the first time in approximately 10 years!)

I knew this was going to be a challenging run from the start. First, I had that nagging ankle pain that appeared from nowhere during an 18 mile run two weeks prior to the marathon.  

Then, I noticed the bottom of my precious Nikes were worn all the way down (with less than a week until the race) and not one shoe or sporting goods store in all of central Florida had another pair in a size 6. Thank God for Internet shopping,, and Federal Express! I received my shoes with one day to go, and believe me, running a marathon is not the best way to break in new shoes.

Then, the expo... Word of advice: do NOT, under any circumstances, go to a marathon expo when you need to be somewhere else in two hours.  I had the bright idea of going on the second day (of three)  at 3:00 p.m. (leaving work a bit early), to avoid the crowds. Ha! It seemed like everyone running the darn race had the same idea. After parking about 2 miles away, walking to the expo center (at the Wide World of Sports Complex), and wasting precious minutes trying to navigate my way around people and exhibit booths to find the packet pick up area, I was already an hour into it. Then, got my packet and wouldn't you know it, they had me listed to start in Coral H! No way was I gonna start with the walkers - I just completed the OUC 1/2 Marathon in 2:10:27 and wanted to start with the 4:30 pace group. Well, a little note about trying to get your starting position changed for the WDW Marathon - you must prove your time in a previous race. So, there I am, at Runner Relations, on my Blackberry, trying to download race results from the OUC 1/2, and of course, I'm losing even more time and the connection is not working properly and then some little note about a missing Java application appears, and I am ready to cry. The woman helping me suggested I go back downstairs, wait on line for a computer and then print the results and best of all, that was free! Oh joy -- like I needed to hear that. I guess my look of despair and hopelessness got to her, because she just slapped a Coral C sticker on my bib and told me to have a good run. Then, after all that racing around, I was ready to meet my family for dinner (just in time, too) and the mother calls to inform me that she would not be meeting us for dinner because of some tiff with my sister. So, in all, it was pretty comical - I wound up driving to the parents house and going for sushi with the mother (the sushi was pretty darn good, too!).

Saturday night - tried to sleep, but was worried that the brother would forget his word of waking me up at 4:15 am. As is always the case with me the night before a race, I got very little sleep. Kept waking up every hour and checking the clock. Finally, at about 4:10, I just got up and got dressed. The brother appeared at 4:20 - true to his word - to wake me, only to find I was all ready to go. Made the drive to Epcot and found that even though I arrived early, they were not letting anyone park in the Epcot lot and redirecting traffic to the Magic Kingdom. No way was I gonna park there and then deal with the crowds of the monorail (and I was thinking after the race, not before). So, being my ever so clever self, I drove to the BoardWalk, showed my employee ID, and parked there. Took the bus to the start. It was the first thing that went right.

What can I say about the actual race? Well, I started with the 4:30 pace group, but didn't end with them. I actually got ahead of them and ran the first half in pretty good time (I think it was about 2:15). But, as I slowly grew to remember, the Disney course is just very BORING. Sure, you run through the parks, but that is only a few miles in total. Getting to each park is just so boring and even though they try, they cannot make it exciting. So, by mile 18, I was pretty much bored, hurting, and falling behind. I finished the race in 5:05:09 - not bad for my first marathon in years, but certainly not where I would have liked to be (after giving up on the 4:30 time, I was hoping for a sub 5:00). What does this tell me? Well, I have to really start ramping up the training if I want to run L.A. in under 5 hours. But first, need to get back to Burbank and pick up my training for the Tour de Palm Springs.