Monday, December 21, 2009

Back in the saddle again

Hong Kong was great - at least the conference was great; it was so involving that I never actually got to see any of Hong Kong itself. Impressions: fantastic public transportation and infrastructure, organized, over all quite wealthy (a shopping center on every block, and I'm not speaking metaphorically). My favorite part was that I could speak Mandarin to anyone and they wouldn't blink an eye. In the Mainland, you have to go through this song and dance ("Oh, you speak Chinese!") while people get over their surprise. Of course it is flattering, but also rather repetitive after a while. Interestingly, before 1997 I would probably not have been able to get around on Mandarin, since Cantonese is the majority language in Hong Kong and the Cantonese rightly saw Mandarin-only policies as a kind of language colonialism. But Beijing speaks Mandarin, and over the last twelve years it has been to Hong Kong's advantage to talk to Beijing, to negotiate its carefully balanced "one country, two systems" policy. And it is carefully balanced - different currency, different lifestyle; even the visa system is different. I thought I'd use my multiple-entry PRC visa, left over from the summer, to enter, but instead I got in on a 90-day stamp, no visa required, for US passport holders. (This will also probably be the last trip I take on this passport, which expires in March 2011. Rather nostalgic, actually.)

I worried at first about remembering to look right instead of left when crossing the street, but as it happened the subway stations and shopping malls and office buildings (and even the university where the conference was held) are connected with pedestrian walkways and tunnels. It was pouring rain the first two days I was there, but I didn't have to get an umbrella because I never had to go outside, despite the university being two subway stops away from the hotel.

The one thing I wouldn't do again is take a trans-Pacific flight while pregnant. I don't have much of a belly yet, but still, fitting into those teeny seats was a colossal drag, to say nothing of getting up all the time to pee. On top of it all I'd assumed the flight time from Honolulu to Taipei was comparable to Honolulu-Tokyo (six hours or less). Nope. It takes ELEVEN hours, during which (because it was technically a night flight from the point of view of Taipei time) we were fed at hour two and again at hour eight. And me without a snack. I could go six hours without eating before I was pregnant, but not now. Soooo hungry. And then in Taipei there was barely enough time to make the connection - certainly not enough time to find some Taiwanese currency and buy munchies. Sigh. Fortunately Taipei to Hong Kong is only about an hour and a half. Bizarrely, on the way back, I flew from Taipei to Honolulu via Tokyo, which you'd think would take longer; but in fact we spent less than eight hours in the air. I don't know how to understand this difference in flying time. Three extra hours? Where'd they go?

So I came home exhausted and jet-lagged, but it was a good trip intellectually and professionally. And now I don't have to go anywhere for a good long time, thank goodness.

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