Kowloon Neon

As the weather is wont to do whenever and wherever Katie and I travel, it started raining today in Hong Kong. The upside is that we were in Kowloon for most of the day, home to many a fine neon sign, and nothing shines brighter than neon in the rain.

I will get into some more narrative driven posts again soon, but for now here are some more pretty pics.

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Most shots are from or around Nathan Rd.

Living in colors: Hong Kong

I am simply amazed by the verticality of Hong Kong. We have basically done nothing but walk around since getting here, and the staggering height of the apartment buildings has been an obsession of my eyes (and camera) the whole time. I keep thinking it is a tick of the geography (this place is built on an incline) but it isn’t, they are really that tall. Today however I was doubly struck by the colors, primary blocks here, solid monoliths there, sister buildings twins but for their accents, most muted by sun or design pretending to fit in with its fellows.
Anyway, here are a bunch of pics:

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Street Art Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an incredible and vibrant city that I am really enjoying (except for the cost, which is crazy after Taiwan). Main roads are intersected in every direction by little alleys and byways filled with shops, and cafes, and so much street art! I don’t think I have made Katie too mad (yet), but I am sure me stopping us at every intersection is going to get old.

Sheung Wan and Central:

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I will likely be doing additional posts for other districts and will be adding attributions to this post shortly, so check back over the next several days if you are interested.

Adventures In Taiwanese Medicine

Having run out of time in those United States of America on out last major vaccine for the trip, Japanese Encephalitis, Katie and decided it would be okay to finish it on the road, especially after reading how much cheaper it would likely be in other countries.
Our first stop (and therefore first option) is Taiwan, so Taiwan it is. Knowing that many airports have travel clinics, this is our first attempt. After landing at 5:50am we had some time to kill as the SIM card stand would not open till 8 and the clinic 8:30. We passed the time getting coffee, finding our bus into the city, and walking around. The airport is filled with somewhat disturbing Welcome figures, which were as photogenic as anything else at that time of the morning. IMG_0584 Eventually 8 and then 8:30 rolled around.
SIM card = success.
Vaccine less so. After several minutes spent explaining and writing what we want we discover: 1) We are in the wrong spot and need to go vaguely leftward to another clinic, and 2) they only have one treatment.
So, with our first failure out of the way, Taipei hospital, here we come.

A few short days later it was time to pull the trigger, and thankfully I was able to find a XLB place near enough the hospital to make for a very likely lunch spot.
The hospital itself is an older brick building with a lot of civic charm including walking gardens and an odd fresco celebrating medical achievements and siamese twins… IMG_0581

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Having done a little reading on the interwebs, we were armed with the general knowledge that we wanted Family Medicine. Heading in one of the side entrances, we find a map and are on our way. When we are near enough to where we think we need to be, a reception desk is ready and waiting for us with a brisk moving line. Thanks to grades 1-5 and Bay Area coffee, I am very good at waiting in line. At the head of the queue however, we are met with a little more of a challenge. In spoken and written word we describe what we need. The woman at the desk does not think we are in the right place, and gets a doctor walking by to tell us we need Family Medicine up stairs. Our receptionist friend nods, that is what we need. Okay, onward to Family Medicine.
Up some additional stairs and down a hall or two, we find the culmination of our great search, and a line for a receptionist no less. As described above, we can queue very well. However, once again, resistance can at the front of said line.
After much conversation, we come to understand that A.M. doctors’ hours are over and we need to make an appointment at Reception. This stop was not for naught though, because we are given a note in Chinese that good money says will explain what is required back down at Reception.
And back to the first desk we go.
At the front of the line once again we proudly present our note. It’s appointment time! Wait, no. This is not where we want???? But, note… Oh, this is just a reception desk, not the Reception desk down in the lobby. Okay, moving on (weeks later I will discover this desk is for checking into the cancer ward).
Finally, we get to the lobby and the real reception area, a place that would have been very hard to miss if we had come in through the main entrance to begin with.
Here the wait is handled not by a line, but by taking a number and watching for your turn. This we do. IMG_0579

Once called, we present our note; success! A few short moments and two additional receptionists later, we have an appointment for 1:30.

——– Lunch Break (XLB very good, stinky tofu less so) ——-

Our appointment comes with a time, a clinic number, and a patient number. Our clinic room, 10, is back in Family Medicine, our time is 1:30, and our numbers are 6 (Katie) and 9 (me). We find the clinic quickly and for good measure check in at the desk, an unnecessary step, but it makes me feel better. IMG_0576

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Each clinic room has a “Now Serving” sign. Katie’s #6 is first up once the doctor comes back from lunch. After a few mins she waves me in as well. Katie has done much of the heavy lifting in regards to explaining what we need. My paperwork is quickly sorted out as well, mostly regarding getting my height, weight, and temp recoded (187cm, 79kg, and 36.2 celsius respectively).
This clinic is primarily for travel-related issues. It holds several testing instruments, a bed, a few chairs for patients, and a pair working desk for the doctor and her aide/scribe. I know this practice is becoming more common in the States, and it really does seem to make things run very efficiently. By the time the doctor has finished explaining everything, the aide has recorded it all and gotten our prescriptions ready. The doc reviews and signs, followed by a flurry of stamps from the aide, and we are ready to go back to reception with a grip of paper work.
In Reception luckily we get the same registrar as before, which speeds things up, and are all paid up and sent over to the pharmacy a few steps away across the lobby.
Here, prescriptions are doled out in an alpha-numeric system. Once your number (or any number higher) appears above your letter it is your turn to pick-up. Or rather it is the turn of the older Taiwanese dude with a number near yours to push his way up and get his prescription, then it is your turn. IMG_0574

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Vial in hand, the last step of the process is to go to the, “injection room” and get our shot. Okay, where is that…
We look around, no signs, shit…
There are a lot of retirees in orange vests that seem to be helping people. We are people, we need help, “Ni Hao” retired lady in orange vest. Here, look at this bag I have, where does this bag go, I say with my eyes. And off we go!
First stop, a blood donation room, that makes sense, cause needles. This is very likely the thinking of our new friend as well, but no. The nurse there directs her, who in-turn walks us down a few halls to an elevator, then though an indeterminate and unrepeatable number of turns to arrive at, you guessed it, Family Medicine! “Shei shei”, orange vest friend.
Next to the clinics is an open room with a nurse. Here nurse, have my bag. You need my passport, okay. Shot time! Katie does the same, and we are one step closer to our eventual immunity to all known aliments. IMG_0575

In Taiwan, the immunization serum they use for Japanese Encephalitis is a three-shot regiment rather than two in the states. Our one in the US counted as the first one here, so we needed to come back for one more. So upon returning to Taipei after our adventures elsewhere in Taiwan it was back to the Hospital for James and Katie, but this time we were in the know.
Our appointment was set up the last time we were here, so events went as follows:
9:01 – Arrive for our 9:00 appointment block.
9:04 – Go into our appointment.
9:17 – Pay for our second appointment and prescription.
9:21 – Prescription in hand
9:31 – Both of us have received our shots.
– 30 mins in and out!
As bureaucratic as this whole process was, we did it with minimal issue, and between the two appointments, without insurance in Taiwan (though I think my FSA should cover it), the total cost was a little under $40 a person, compared to the $265 per shot per person in the US.
I cannot imagine navigating Kaiser without knowing the language (I do know the language and can barely manage it) and even if you managed it, the outrages comparative costs are enough to stop you from putting in the effort.

Sanxiantai Taiwan: More than a walking bridge

We made our way to Sanxiantai with very low expectations, believing we would find a very photogenic bridge to a small island, overcrowded with tourists. It’s true, that is all there, but the island holds an amazing hike with truly breath taking views and a unique / dramatically changing landscape. Also, thanks to the fact we went on a weekday, and the weather was overcast and windy, the abundant tourist issue took care of itself the further we trekked.

First up the bridge and beach, mainland side:

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Now, onto the island proper. The walk starts with a raised wood path. At the onset, the surrounding vegetation is well above even my head, but this gives way to misty views of the mainland and sea:

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Once, past this path, it really gets impressive. The original path washed out, and visitors are not really informed that you can scrabble on, but not stopped either. You move through a rocky lunar stretch and then up to an abandoned lighthouse. Views abound.

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There are two paths around the center of the island, so a few more photo ops greeted us on the return trek out.

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The Alleys of Tainan, Taiwan

Tainan is a historic city in the south west of Taiwan. The former capital of the country, it has a long past much of which predates automobile. There are certainly big roads here, but much of the city is connected by tiny alleys, where all the living is actually done.
Here are a few random pics I snagged on our walks:

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A Path Apart

Currently I live in the East Bay, on the island city of Alameda. Every day I take casual car pool into the city and am dropped off in SOMA at the base of the FiDi. The walk to work is almost mile exactly. I find that as street lights change I walk a few different routes to get to where I am going, but almost invariably, I find myself using a small throughway that connects Battery with Sansome at the head of Commercial.

The path has brick work circles that radiate over one and other in a repeating pattern. On one side, a empty fountain boasting a large patinaed copper sphere that would spew water from its many crates and craters if there were water to spew, on the other is a Dimitri Hadzi bronze work that I have never been able to bring myself to like. By all account this is just a narrow pedestrian ally, but I gravitate to it everyday (or at least five of seven).

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A few days ago I set my mind to figure out why I like this walkway so much, as it really has a lot of strikes against it. It is dark, a little under-peopled, and even though it is kept very clean, by city street standards, it is always ripe with the smell of cigarettes. What I came up with is this: under the mundane facade, this is one of the secret places of San Francisco.

As I write this post I am finding it very hard to convey what is so compelling about this short stretch. In the end, I don’t think I will be able to get it down exactly. There is the oddly fancy exterior ramp-stairs-thing that is artfully built between the two buildings it joins. This path lets the few who use it enter their office buildings from the second floor. There are the works of public art. There is the ash tray (one of the only public ones I can think of left in the city). In short, this is a place apart. There are no cars and few people. Those that know about it, found it through happenstance, not because they were looking for it. Every day I pass small congregations of smokers stepping off the street for a a moment of quiet and to enjoy of something they know they should not like.

This is a haven hidden just a block from the Transamerica building, and a few scent more from North Beach, and Chinatown. A tourist has no purchase here. Even if one were to find it, it would hold no weigh for them. It would not be a secret smocking spot, or a under peopled short cut, or back way into the second floor of their building. It would simply be a forgettable ally with a very forgettable Hadzi sculpture (would it really have been so hard to snag one of the amazing Armand Arman ribboned figures that seem to litter this stretch of the FiDi?). Certainly not a stretch to be remembered, let alone camera-worthy.

Every city has innumerable places like this, but it take a lot of time to find them, and even when you have, it take a lot more to recognize them for what they are. A few weeks ago Katie put up a post about all the places we want to go on our trip. I love the idea of a gap year and I really do want this thing to be an around the world trek; quite literally I want to travel this world’s circumference. But what I am coming to terms with more and more as we get closer, is that we cannot really think about this like a vacation. The constant need to try the best thing and never waste a second and always eating and seeing and doing is just not doable over the course of an entire year. And what’s more, that is the best thing about it. In a year we have the luxury of time. Even in the locations we end up staying for a month or more, I don’t think we will have the opportunity to find the secret places – but we will at least have the time enough to try.