Greetings! I am now into the second week of my stay in Nepal. I am starting this blog and this website as an all-in-one digital platform for documenting my research, my travel experiences and my reflections as I work toward completing a PhD in Sociology at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
Over the coming two years, I will plan on posting entries that speak to both the professional and research-oriented aspects of my sojourn here, but will also post travel and lifestyle-oriented entries that may be of interest to family and friends back home, as well as independent travelers and travel enthusiasts interested in exchanging advice about new places and experiences. These two areas of my website will become better developed as my time here progresses, and as I better familiarize myself with the additional features of this platform.
For now, I wish to start by blog by reflecting on the element of time. William Connolly (2011) describes a world of multiple open systems, set on different temporal registers that can periodically resonate together to produce profound and unpredictable changes. Though the content of this book, The World of Becoming, contains more complex philosophical arguments than I will detail in this blog, I found myself returning to the idea of multiple temporal registers as I boarded a Cathay Pacific flight from SFO-HKG a little over a week ago.
The flight to Hong Kong from the US is long. Very, very long. I departed on a Thursday evening and landed at Chep Lap Kok Saturday morning roughly 15 hours later. Given how long my stop-over was, I decided to go through immigration and go into Hong Kong for the day, as I had never been there before, despite all my previous travels in that part of the world.
After clearing immigration, I decided to take a bus rather than the express train into the city center, having heard that the train runs mostly below ground while the bus has panoramic views of the harbor and skyline on its way into Hong Kong Island from the airport. It seemed every bus came by except for the one I was waiting for. Dawn became day. Birds continued chirpping, fluttered around, and returned to the pavement to peck for crumbs. As I waited, I noticed a sign saying "exact change only" and realized I had nothing smaller than a HKD$50 note for a HKD$40 fare. I thought about running back into the airport to make some change, but didn't want to miss the bus after how long I'd been waiting. Birds chirpped. Birds fluttered. I waited some more. The bus came.
The driver was initially displeased to see my $50 note. Saying "OK" didn't seem to help at first. Not wanting to seem like a too much of a stooge speaking Mandarin in Hong Kong, I quickly decided to bite the bullet a say a tonal mei you (I don't have) - a phrase that's heard ubiquitously across Mainland China. The driver caught my drift, I paid my $50 into the farebox and boarded the bus.
The bus was an enclosed double decker and I managed to get a seat in the very front row of the upper deck with sweeping, open views of the road ahead. At first, the initial drive in reminded me very much of the trip in from Incheon Airport. Both airports are on steep, hilly islands and both islands have clusters of identical looking high-rises packed into their narrow coastal plains. Central Honk Kong, though, is much less spread out than Seoul and its skyline more sharply vertical. At some point, the bus entered a tunnel and the Year of the Fire Monkey gave way to the Year of the Fire Rooster - an event that commences with the timing of the new moon, which occurred a few minutes after 8am local time.
I grew up thinking I was a tiger. I'm not sure when I first came to that belief. Perhaps it was while eating at a Chinese restaurant. Perhaps it was at pre-school or Kindergarten. Either way, that longstanding belief was only first challenged back in 2008 when my Korean co-teacher in Incheon wanted to know my "animal year", as she called it. I told her I was a tiger, but when she heard my actual date of birth she said she wasn't too sure. After consulting a pocket guide she had in her desk (she was quite superstitious) she asked me if I knew my actual birth time. Once I told her what it was, she informed me that, no, I was not a tiger. I had had it wrong all along. I was, in fact, an ox. Because the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year/Seollal is a lunar holiday, and because I was born only a couple hours before the new moon that year, I was one of the very last of the year of the ox.
The bus exited the tunnel and careened around a corner onto Hong Kong Island, entering a canyon of high rises. Wikipedia claims that Hong Kong has the second largest number of high rises in the world, though every local source I encountered claimed Hong Kong for first place. Whichever one you want to believe, I had never seen a city where every single building looked at least 20 stories tall. Yet despite the high density of buildings, the streets were completely empty. An utter ghost town.
Being the first day of Spring Festival virtually everything was closed other than convenience stores and international fast food outlets, of which McDonald's and Yoshinoya were the most prominent. The tram to the Hong Kong Island peak was open and running and crowded with visitors, though, I rode the tram to the top for the panorama postcard views of the Hong Kong skyline and harbor. Pity I don't have a camera yet, but I will add some open domain pics of the view to this entry, for anyone who is interested.
There was only one area of Hong Kong Island that wasn't void of inhabitants. Around one of the central subway stations, many hawkers and vendors from the Indian Subcontinent were selling T-shirts and knock-off bags, with crowds of shoppers bringing foot-traffic to a standstill. Eventually, I got really hungry walking around the mostly empty city and decided to go back to the airport to wait for my flight to Kathmandu.
The Hong Kong airport turned out to be every bit as fascinating for wandering around and people watching as any place in the city center, with dozens of airlines and destinations that are not served from North America. More time passed, and eventually it came time to board the Dragonair flight on to Nepal. When I landed in KTM it was the Nepal year 2073. It was a long trip indeed. Nepal uses the Gregorian calendar for visas and tourist publications and other items aimed at foreigners, but domestically, the Buddhist-inspired calendar is widely used. It was a Saturday night. I started my trip on Thursday afternoon. I checked into a guesthouse and slept.