Relfections on a few banking institutions

Hello All: Please note, the photos are not my own, my experiences are documented on film and will be shared at a later date. The photos are taken from the Internet to provide you with an immediate visual of the buildings I visited and examples of ATM installations in the various cities.

London:

The Bank of London was by far one of the most interesting experiences I had during my trip in regards to bank visits. The building is a huge marble wonder that takes up an entire block.  The main entrance is only stairs, no ramp in sight. I asked the guard in the front how do I get in with my scooter. He didn’t know and then went inside to find out, leaving me outside in the sun. He came back and said he would escort me around the back where I could gain entry, using the same entrance as the delivery trucks.  I had to wait for a different employee to come and find me to let me in through the delivery door, which is this huge 1920’s steel iron vault style door with a huge pirate ship wheel locking mechanism. We entered the building and ended up going through halls I wouldn’t have otherwise been allowed to see. I asked why there was no ramp and the response was because it’s a landmark building and the ramp would alter the facade too much.  According to the employee, they did have a ramp in front of the building but it became unstable and was removed.  However, installation of a new ramp has been prohibited because of the landmark status.

The ATMs or “cash points” as the British call them were all fairly high and I couldn’t use them while seated in my scooter. (Most ATMs in all the cities I visited were out of my reach if I remained seated in my scooter).

Athens:

The main entrance into The Bank of Greece in Athens has one small step. I looked for an accessible entrance and found none, so I was unable to enter the bank.  However, the  ATMs  located on the outside of the bank did not require climbing a step. I approached  the  ATMs while still on my scooter. But, to use the ATM to make a transaction I would have had to stand on my scooter seat.

Below is a photo of ATMs at  the Agricultural Bank of Greece in Central Athens. Note how high the screens and buttons are.

Hong Kong:
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority Information Centre (HKMA)
The HKMA is located in an elaborate, completely accessible modern skyscraper. The HKMA occupies 14 floors in the International Finance Centre; the museum/information centre is on the 55th floor, offering incredible views of Hong Kong. . However, all of the information is in Cantonese, so it’s not accessible for anyone who doesn’t speak or read Cantonese.


Above: ATMs at an HSBC branch in Hong Kong.
Seoul:

The ATMs in Seoul speak to you, really loudly. The first time I used an ATM, the volume frightened me, I thought someone was behind me. The ATMs are too high for me to use comfortably while on my scooter.

The Bank of Korea has a side entrance with a stair lift, installed alongside the stair handrails, that transports you on a small platform, up and down the stairs. I arrived 30 minutes before they closed and was told that I couldn’t go in because there wasn’t enough time. I pointed out I had half an hour and they eventually let me in. There were super steep ramps inside the building and minimal services to accommodate the disabled.

Day 23 – the east coast quaked as I arrived

The truly rare event of an earthquake on the east coast of course happened at 2 PM, the exact time  we began our descent after a 14 1/2 hour flight from Shanghai, which followed a 1 1/2 hour flight from Seoul. Because of this natural phenomenon we circled for almost an hour then finally landed.

I’m sure you are all desperately wondering about my experience in the Seoul airport…it was HORRIBLE. Perhaps the worst possible experience yet. Because I am so tired (I didn’t sleep on the plane) I’m just going to do a quick debrief. For those of you who want more, holler, but maybe wait ’till tomorrow:

  1. The airline asked me to pay for my scooter because it was excess baggage/luggage/overweight and over sized.
  2. Claimed they didn’t receive notification that I was traveling with my scooter  even though I had a confirmation number for the phone call, made the week prior, that alerted them to my scooter.
  3. They could/would not  guarantee my scooter would make it to JFK with me.
  4. They asked me to sign a waiver saying I was okay with my scooter not getting to JFK with me.
  5. They wouldn’t let me take my scooter to the gate.
  6. They kept pressing the issue whether or not my battery could be detached. I assured them it could and showed them, multiple times, how to detach it.

After lots of screaming and arguing on my part, a meeting of the minds on their part, and sheer moments of frustration and panic that I needed to find another airline to go home we achieved the following results:

  • I didn’t pay a penny for my scooter.
  •  They guaranteed my scooter would make it to JFK with me.
  • I tried to enlighten them in the error of their ways in telling me the scooter was on their record, asking me to pay for it  and then asking me to sign a  waiver releasing them of any responsibility for making sure my scooter would reach JFK, with me.
  •  I took my scooter to the gate.
  • The battery was dettached as promised.

To wrap up this blog here are 21 fun travel tips I’ve learned:

1. Always carry the address of where you are going and staying written out in the native language so that you may just show someone the address for help

2. Street vendors = bargaining central (at least in the area I was). Don’t be afraid to walk away from a vendor. You probably don’t need the item anyway.

3. Always buy a size bigger in a present, just in case.

4. Always surround any liquid bottles in a suitcase with plastic bags or plastic covering.

5. Try to learn at least a few local customs or words before going out.

6. Check directions/locations with concierge before leaving hotel

7. Try all food once.

8. When in Asia use chopsticks, you’ll impress.

9. Keep your camera accessible so that you take a lot of pictures.

10. Turn off your phone, if you can, while traveling internationally.

11. Check your hotel, they might have great combo deals of internet and food or even free wifi!

12. Minibar may or may not be free…and may or may not reflect a real bar.

13. Don’t be afraid to get lost.

14. Allow for travel time and getting lost time.

15. If you have a bad feeling about something, listen to it.

16. If you must fly more than 8 or so hours in a plane, definitely invest in business class. They treat you so much better.

17. Buy your own food at the gates because airline food is, well…airline food.

18. Travel light.

19. Don’t waste time eating and shopping in Western shops. Go for the real local flavor.

20. Don’t assume you’re going to remember everything, so jot down at least a few words every day. It’s worth it

21. Relax and enjoy the ride.

My next blog will be in the next few days and will have more reflections….

Night!

Day 22 – Last full day of the journey

Today was the perfect way to wrap up the trip and spend my last full day. Today’s research really explored the activities of the people behind the scenes of the disability movement. We left the hotel bright and early guided by our wonderful tour guide/translator. We went to the office of a Korean organization that is fighting for accessibility and making sure there is compliance with the Korean anti-discrimination law which is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act. They share their office with several NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) focused on the disability movement here in Seoul. I met a few people and heard about the history of the movement. It’s really incredible because it started only about 9 years ago. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it  started as a response to injuries and deaths caused by the lifts in the subway. The people I was speaking with insinuated that the number of incidents associated with the subway lifts were  covered up by the government and that the government installed lifts because it was a cheaper option than elevators. It was alarming to hear that if the movement hadn’t been started by these dedicated people the number of accidents resulting in injuries and/or deaths would have likely increased; because, according to my sources,  the government seemed to willingly ignore the issues. Since the movement is so new, the original “fighters” are still at the forefront and continue as the leaders; these are the people I met. After several interviews, including one with a person who has been arrested at demonstrations and jailed for several days at a time, without his wheelchair that he requires to facilitate his mobility, I was taken to the site of a current demonstration in the subway station by City Hall which is coincidentally the same stop for the Human Rights Commission building. The Human Rights Commission is the governmental organization responsible for accessibility issues. Right now the disability groups do not feel supported by the current administration and feel that the progress made in recent years is now halted.

The demonstration had around ten people, some visibly disabled and some not. They pitched a tent in the station and had signs and a petition to sign. I signed it as did Mark. I interviewed an individual at the demonstration about the issues: in addition to the the ongoing fight for accessible buses, since now only about 20% of the fleet  are accessible, they are also protesting against the current disability compensation which, they believe, does not afford the possibility of independent living.

I was then taken to the Human Rights Commission building where the air was thick with tension. I felt like I was moving through Jell-o. I was introduced to a research assistant who gave me booklets of information and basically said he wasn’t allowed to say anything more than the information he was giving me and could not respond to questions. The government is very secretive of all of this information. Why? I don’t know. It’s as if they don’t want people to know of the work they are doing, or not doing. Perhaps that’s it, since if they are choosing to not do anything they don’t want anyone to know that. It really was the most uncomfortable meeting I have ever attended. That pretty much ended my day so we headed back to the hotel and I packed for the final time.

Tonight is the last blog while away but I will post one tomorrow about my trip home and some random stories and reflections. I want to thank all of you again for reading my blog. Your support/comments are motivational for me.  Some of the people I have met along the way have been following along as well and I want to thank you for the generosity you showed me when I was in your city. I have met some truly remarkable people and I hope to stay in touch with you for years to come. This trip has been such an amazing journey for me, more than I could have ever hoped for and am so humbled by this entire experience. I hope that this is only the first part of what could be a lifelong project, I will not stop looking at accessibility around the world, you have my word. I am excited to go home to share stories and pictures and put my actual project together.  I wish I could travel to a few more places during this trip as I’m not ready for it to end. I know that it’s not actually ending but will continue, hopefully sooner than later.

Time for bed as I am leaving for the airport in five hours.

Night!

Day 21 on August 21

The trip is quickly coming to a close and I can’t believe it has been 3 weeks, 3 weeks of an unimaginable journey. Today I had an interview with a woman who has cerebral palsy and is living in Seoul. She is not from Seoul but another town in Korea . She moved to Seoul because it is  more accessible than her hometown. It was an amazing interview, she is truly a force of nature, growing up in a place that did not accommodate her so she moved and relocated her entire life to a place that I find difficult to navigate. She briefly lived  in Vancouver and believes that Vancouver is more accessible than Seoul, but Seoul is the best she can find in Korea for now. Although an adult, she finds that people treat her like a child when they encounter her on the street. They  insist on helping her even though she does not need or want their help. Additionally, she find that older people, more so than younger people, give her problems.  I can understand this behavior because  the older generation is not used to people with disabilities moving about independently and enjoying a life equal to theirs.

After the interview I went out to Myeongdong, a shopping metropolis. I wasn’t quite prepared for the number of people, stores, malls, street vendors, and overall chaos, it was great. I had decided to walk so I didn’t have my scooter. If I had my scooter I would have found it very difficult, if not impossible, to go into the stores because they basically all had a small step in the front entrance and the stores are vey narrow.  The street vendors are  accessible since they are literally in the middle of the streets.  Myeongdong is situated within  a closed off area; no automobiles so it’s only pedestrian traffic. There are long streets up and down and left and right with street vendors lining either side and then behind them are the stores and malls. The cafes and restaurants are all upstairs or underground, it appears most of them are without elevators.  I looked but did not see any elevators; doesn’t mean there aren’t any, since I didn’t cover the entire area, but they would be hard to find. I went to a cafe and climbed to the third floor. I was hoping they served food as I was starving but it was more like a dessert cafe, which I ended up not minding. I ordered a chocolate float and that came with a piece of cake. I asked the waiter which one he liked better, the tiramisu or the chocolate mousse, he said tiramisu so I said ok but I think he brought me the mousse, doesn’t matter. The float was amazing, it was a cross between a milkshake and an ice cream float with chunks of rich chocolate and syrup and whipped cream. I then wandered the streets a bit more and came to a Fruit Alcohol Store. I wanted to buy a small bottle of something since it is so different but it was actually a restaurant so they don’t sell bottles. The store was in an underground cave, no elevator. It was all decked out with mood lighting, red and gold walls and dark wood frames and furniture,  it was quite elegant. I bought a few things here and there from the vendors, everything is so cheap compared to New York, at least  the items from the street vendors are cheap. I didn’t go into too many stores since they are way more expensive and I didn’t want to spend that kind of money. All the clothes and shoes are small sizes, I think I would have a lot of fun shopping here if I wanted to. The sizes are so small because the people on average are very small; very few people are considered to be overweight. I was deciding if the following is appropriate or not but either way I’m going to add this part because I thought it was amusing. There are a lot of lingerie/underwear shops as well and the largest selection is  the A cup size just to give you an idea of the size of the women. I am right around shoulder height for most women, so I’m not that much smaller. Anyways, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

We had Korean BBQ again for dinner, this time at  a neighborhood joint. It was good but not as good as the other night.  It  was fun being in a true Korean neighborhood restaurant with locals. They sure do like their Sujo (alcoholic drink kind of like sake).

One thing that is striking about Korean culture is that it has been greatly influenced by Japan since Japan occupied Korea  for such a long time. For example there are some buildings that architecturally mirror the Japanese style as well as movies and tv shows that have a Japanese style, like samurais and samurai fighting. The feeling towards the Japanese is that of general welcoming since the Japanese make up the largest percentage of the tourist industry. However, Korea in general is a bit suspicious of foreigners as a whole because of the repeated bad luck they’ve had in the recent century. But they do like and respect foreigners, I think especially when we try to respect their culture. For example, bowing instead of shaking hands, these small things can add up to a lot. And they make every effort to make us as comfortable as possible, it truly is outstanding.

Tomorrow is a busy day as I’m meeting up with the people I met the other night for dinner. They will  introduce me to several disability advocates in Seoul . Tomorrow is my my last day of my travels and I think it will be a fantastic one, truly focused on the goal of my research project. On Tuesday I leave bright and early and return to the United States.

Night!

Day 20

Today we slept in then headed out to the Bank of Korea Museum by taxi. I didn’t think there would be traffic at 3 pm on Saturday, but there was, a lot of traffic! It took what seemed like forever to go a short distance but we finally arrived. The accessible entrance was on the side and it took awhile to get someone to operate the stair lift (the lift that attaches to the side of a staircase and slides up and down). After visiting the museum we went across the street to the bank. The front entrance was level but was blocked by street vendors.The main part of the bank closes at 4:30 and we just missed it. so we went around to the side entrance to use an ATM but  ATM area  had a small step so we picked up my scooter.

The ATMs here talk to you but only if you do your transaction in Korean. But, there is an English option for transactions  so I was able to figure it out. The exchange rate here is so confusing. It’s 1000+ won to one dollar. Mark’s debit card got stuck so he used the phone located next to the ATM machine.  The language barrier proved too much, especially since he could not use hand signals. A customer next to us saw the gravity of the situation and offered his assistance even though he only spoke a little English. It was enough to help. He spoke on the phone and then handed the phone over saying someone who knows English would be coming and asked  if we’d be ok alone because he was busy. We nodded yes and thanked him for his help. He left then the operator hung up on us. We called back and someone who spoke English came back on the phone and informed us that in 10 minutes someone would be coming to help. We waited and sure enough in 10 minutes a bank worker came and opened the machine and retrieved the card. We were amazed. While the worker was opening the machine the original customer who translated for us came back with his friend who spoke more English to make sure we were ok. Mark and I were stunned by this generosity.

After the bank we wandered the streets for a bit and ended up in a mall to ask for directions. Turns out the subway stop we needed was beneath the mall.  When we reached the subway entrance I asked the worker in the ticket booth  if the elevator was close to the ticket booth.  He gave me a phone and on the line was someone saying we needed to go back out and find the other entrance where the elevator was located. This conversation lasted about 5 minutes. The operator was not helpful and kept giving me very vague instructions all ending with you need to find exit 3. I didn’t understand how to find exit 3. I told him I had no idea about locations or streets that I had been in Seoul for only 24 hours and I don’t speak Korean. He got annoyed with me and said if you don’t know anything how can I help you. I said exactly, I don’t know anything that’s why I need specific details and instructions and would it be possible if someone in the booth could lead me to where I needed to go. That is exactly what ended up happening. A booth manager led me out of the station into the mall, outside and across several streets, past a broken subway elevator and finally to a stair lift. The worker got confused several times along the way, so I have no idea how they expected me to find my way.  We finally got where we needed to be. It only took around an hour. The subway was clean and some signs were in English. We got on the train for a few stops then had to transfer. Transferring proved to be a bit difficult as there were no elevator signs for the new train we wanted. We found out there was no elevator just a very long stair lift. The next train was a bit longer of a ride but we finally arrived then had to take a taxi for the last leg of the trip. The taxi driver got very angry at me that I wanted to pay by credit card and kept telling me he doesn’t take cards even though I was looking at the card machine. He finally took the card then angrily stomped out of the car and unloaded my scooter. We think that he signaled to Mark that I was crazy, oh well. We had a fantastic meal, Korean BBQ, amazing! Fantastic! Delicious! Totally worth the crazy 2 hour journey to get there that should’ve only taken 30 minutes. They even brought me Belgian Chocolate Haagen Dazs ice cream when I asked for ice cream. I think they went to the corner store to buy it, customer service here is amazing! I am so full from the meal.

One last note. There’s an interesting balance between being polite and being completely selfish. In customer service settings the employees are beyond polite (except for my cab driver and operator on the phone in the subway). They go out of their way to make you as comfortable as possible (like when they brought me ice cream). But in the streets, when you’re traveling with the general public, it’s everyone for him/herself. People pushing and shoving and rushing to get to the front and absolutely not caring about anyone else. It’s so bizare, the two attitudes don’t logically fit together but somehow in this city they coexist. Alongside these behaviors  is the beautiful art of bowing. You bow when you greet someone, thank someone and at other points that I still have to pick up. It’s not just a slight bend of the back and on they go, people stop walking or moving, stand straight with perfect posture and arms at their sides and when they’re directly facing you, bow. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. The bows are so crisp and standard that if you blink you’ll miss it. I’m trying to smile and bow as much as possible to make up for my lack of verbal communication ability here.

That was today’s journey. Tomorrow I’ll have more tales for you.

Day 19 – Welcome to Seoul

I am in Seoul, my fifth and final destination. It was a short flight, only 3 hours and time difference is easy, only one hour ahead of Hong Kong.

The airport experience today wasn’t spectacular on Hong Kong’s end. I wasn’t able to take my scooter to the gate but I didn’t argue because that gave me leverage to get out of paying almost $400 in overweight charges. It was ridiculous. They only took Amex or cash. If I paid  cash I basically would’ve been maxed out and we’re not traveling with Amex. But, money crisis adverted, I got a wheelchair with a little lady pushing me. She was a riot. She knew we could not understand her but she still barked orders at us in Chinese. We insisted on going to get food since it was 7 am and we were starving. Someone translated this for us as our hand signals were not conveying the message. We went to McDonald’s….

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we got to Seoul, three hours later. The flight attendant who ushered me to my seat in Hong Kong started talking to the grounds crew in broken English that I needed a wheelchair. I understood what was happening. The grounds crew responded, in broken English, that they knew of my scooter and would  bring it up to me. The flight attendant demanded a wheelchair. I was grateful he was so adamant about making sure I was taken care of but he was missing the larger picture. So, a wheelchair picked me up and took me a whole 10 feet when there before us was my scooter. I happily jumped out of the wheelchair and onto my scooter. No one told me to go slowly and be careful like in Hong Kong, I was relieved.

We went to the bus stop since we were heading  to Seoul National University straight away for an interview. The workers at the bus terminal were a bit confused about  how to get my scooter on board; but I said, you’ll see, we’ll get it to work. The bus pulled up, white gloved driver and all, and  confusion really set in. A severe lack of verbal communication made it more frustrating as I don’t know any Korean and they know very little English. I demonstrated lifting the scooter with  my hands as best as possible and they picked it up but it wouldn’t fit in the belly of the bus. They tried to push it and weren’t stopping when I said stop, so I actually yelled wait. I wasn’t yelling at them but it was a very precarious situation. I showed them the release button and they then rolled it in the proper fashion closer to the bus.  Then one of the men assisted me in removing the seat and the scooter  fit into the space on the bus. I smiled and they smiled back, mission accomplished. It was a little over an hour ride to the university where we were picked up by assistants of my interviewee. The interview went well, some interesting points of culture, history, and  the government’s current position on disability. We also talked about some really impressive assistive technology and ideas for the future that will truly enable people with disabilities to have much more independence. Technology isn’t just great gadgets it is  a tool that can level the playing field between  able and disabled bodies.

After the interview we took a cab during rush hour, big mistake! It took almost 2 hours to get to the hotel. I was mortified being so late, I can’t stand being late. But the people I met with were so amazing and understanding. We went right to the restaurant.  I had a traditional Korean dish, no idea what I ate.  I was so hungry. We had to rush a bit because the restaurant was about to close. My company included a civil rights lawyer, an executive director of a prominent disability organization, and a few volunteers. After I scarfed down my food we went to a coffee shop that was staying open a little later than the restaurant. The conversation was amazing. Accessibility really only started in Seoul in 2002 as a result of the deaths of a disabled couple who fell off an elevator in the subway. Hunger strikes, demands, meetings, more strikes and much persistence went into changing policy and making the subway safer.  Up until recently children with disabilities didn’t attend school because they physically couldn’t get there. Some children relied on volunteers who would  volunteer their time at night to drive vans to pick up the children and take them to night school. It was the only way for disabled children to get an education. There are so many more stories but I’ll save some. On Monday I’m going to their office headquarters and meeting more activists. There is  a strike going on and they are taking me to that site as well.

That’s all for tonight, like many other nights, I’m exhausted. Time for bed. Tomorrow is a day of sightseeing.

Night!

Day 18

I like Hong Kong. I made this decision at the end of my day in the taxi from the tailor back to my hotel. Hong Kong is an amazing city, a truly tropical climate with skyscrapers and hills; stretching across several islands. The buildings are different colors (pink, purple, orange, blue, green, white, and of course some are glass). Who wouldn’t like this city?! Not to mention the absurd number of malls and outdoor markets. I need to come back to discover all parts of this city because there is only so much I can do in a few days.

BIG BUDDHA

As soon as Hong Kong was added to my itinerary, I knew I wanted to visit the Big Buddha; this massive  bronze statue of Buddha  sits atop the Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau Island. To reach Big Buddha you have to climb 200+ steps;  just to get to the steps you have to take a  25 minute cable car ride and then walk 1/4 of a mile to the entrance of the Buddha . It is not accessible, no lift to the top of the plateau. I suppose I could’ve taken my scooter on the cable car ride since there were ramps and lifts but getting it onto the cable car would’ve been tricky. Lantau Island has ramps and lifts everywhere except to reach the Bg Buddha.

Today was my hike to Big Buddha, scooterless and carrying as little as possible. I set out at 10:45 this morning, took my sunscreen, but like a bozo, forgot to put it on so I have a fist size burn on my chest. Not that bad, but I hope it will fade soon.

On the cable car to Big Buddha

The cable car ride is  hundreds of feet off the ground and carries you over water, hills, hiking paths, and at the very end, on the left hand side in the distance, you  see the Big Buddha. You can tell it’s at the top of a very tall plateau, larger than anything else within close proximity. We took the crystal cable car, which has a glass floor in addition to the standard glass windows.

 

 

It was cool to see the cabin’s shadow over the trees and water ways,  finally landing at the path leading to Big Buddha. I was determined to reach the Big Buddha as quickly as possible, ignoring the daunting distance between me and the top. I had already traveled thousands of miles so what’s a little hike?

 

The walk passed quickly but since it was 90+ degrees out I was already sweating like a pig. I reached the staircaseS and stared them down. I set off and around 10 minutes later I was at the top. My foot cramped  but I just loosened it up and kept on going. I felt better that nearly everyone who got to the top was drenched in sweat and out of breath, much like I was. The staircaseS are right up the middle and when you get to the top Big Buddha’s face is right there, magnificent and majestic.

Majestic is the word that best describes this humbling experience. Seeing people, elderly people at that, climb all of the stairs to arrive at the top and say their prayers,  that perhaps they’ve been waiting all of their lives to offer,  is majestic. I just watched them for a bit. The Buddha is encircled by six other statues and  with offerings including money, food, drink etc. I walked around the statues taking in as much of the moment as possible.

At the end of my circling I ended up back in front of Buddha. I leaned back against the railing and watched as the sun, which was directly behind his head, was about to be covered by  big fluffy white clouds. I waited and watched. I wanted the clouds to cover the sun so that neither my camera nor I would be blinded by the sun’s rays while looking at Buddha’s face. The clouds were traveling swiftly and within minutes the sun was covered and Buddha’s face was larger than ever. His right hand is raised and bent at the elbow upwards so it looks like he is greeting you as well as delivering a blessing, his face is serious but friendly, and his left hand  palm is facing upwards as if to receive something from the person he is greeting.

After about an hour at the top I started my descent. It was easier than the ascent but still a lot of stairs to maneuver. I made it down without incident, Buddha was watching over me. Walking back to the cable car I was more relaxed, maybe because I had done what I set out do or maybe because I had been so humbled by the whole experience. We stopped in a few shops and I picked up a few good souvenirs (family)!  We took the standard cable car back but it was equally as beautiful. I saw planes landing at the airport and ships at sea, and fading in the distance was Big Buddha, I watched him until he was just a speck in the past.

Once back down in a cab we headed over to the Monetary Authority, as per our fiscal agent’s request. It’s a huge modern building with white gloved men at the door, assisting each guest out of their car and into the building. Exquisite cars passed by like Bentleys, but some I’ve never seen before. On the 55th floor is a small museum about the history of the banks etc in Hong Kong and some general info. The view again was amazing. We were right next to some buildings that participated in the Symphony of Light Show.

We then headed to the tailor for a fitting. The dress isn’t a dress yet but just a mock up but let me say it is gorgeous already. I love it!

Since our flight tomorrow (today already) is so early we called it an early day to leave time for packing and I even got some relaxation. I went to the jacuzzi and hung out by the pool for a bit. My legs thoroughly enjoyed the jacuzzi especially after the hike I had just made them endure.

Anyways, must pack and prepare for interviews. Should have marvelous things to report back on tomorrow, as I will be in Seoul and have a few things scheduled for tomorrow.

Night!

Day 17

Hong Kong is a hustle-bustle place. Lots of people, lots of street vendors, infinite number of malls with premium stores, and endless skyscrapers (until you get to the mountains or the water). I haven’t made up my mind if I like Hong Kong, not because of the crowds, crowds don’t intimidate me, it’s just a very unique  city and takes some getting used to.

It was a very busy day. My interviewee from yesterday arranged for his friend’s son, who goes to JHU, to meet me at 10 AM, take me around Hong Kong. and then join him later for lunch. My tour guide was very gracious. We met in the hotel lobby bright and early. He took us to the heritage museum near my hotel. It was great. I got a little culture in! We went to an exhibit on Cantonese Opera. It used to be very popular but now not so much. On display were hair pieces, clips, jewelry, shoes, dresses, and various other items. The shoes looked so uncomfortable, some were made to wrap up the feet so that you end up walking on your tippy toes, with no heel support. Cantonese Opera required the ability to sing, dance, act, walk in those shoes, and expertise in various forms of martial arts and combat scenes. Because so many skills were needed, according to my tour guide, only a handful of actors were successful and only a handful of those  became famous.

We then made our way to lunch, a traditional Cantonese lunch, just what I wanted. Joining us for lunch was my interviewee, his daughter, a colleague (but just for a short time), my JHU comrade, and Mark. I made a good impression by being able to use chopsticks! Then an even better impression by trying chicken feet. I can’t say I Ioved it but I can’t say I hated it. There were lots of bones and I’m not a bone person, I like my food to come without bones. But it was tasty, it had a good sauce. We had lots of tea as that is customary with lunch. The company was fantastic, I had a great time. We also had fried rice served out of a carved pineapple, shrimp dumplings, vegetable dumplings, tofu, rice noodles, and a few other dishes I can’t recall.

After lunch,  my JHU buddy and my interviewee’s daughter joined Mark and me as we explored the markets and did some shopping. We went to the Ladies’ Market in Kowloon. It was blocks and blocks of tented vendors selling everything from Chinese knick-knacks to  designer “knock off”  bags and sunglasses. It was amazing. I spent a good while just wandering up and down the aisles trying to take in the massive amounts of items. Then I buckled down and got ready to bargain. I managed to do alright. Didn’t buy too much, I just had to have the experience of shopping in the markets.

We took a break and went into one of the luxury malls across the street and took in the air conditioning. We went to a Malayasian cafe. I tried green pound cake, delicious, and a dark cherry yogurt smoothie, again delicious. We then parted ways with our new friends and Mark and I headed off to find a taxi. I am so grateful  our friends shopped with us, did some translating and gave us some insight into Hong Kong. Can’t wait to return the favor.

Next I was on my way to the tailor. We took a taxi because the address is in between two MTR stops and not all the buses are  accessible. I didn’t want to wait until one pulled along that I could ride. Some of the buses in use right now are the older models. The taxis don’t have a ramp but the scooter can be put into the trunk. The tailor shop was a tricky one to navigate because of   one step into the building. The elevator to the tailor is at the end of a long hallway. But I’m glad I made it. My present to myself for making this journey and for having everything fall into place and go so well (I hope I’m not jinxing myself here) is a  custom made red silk dress with a little bolero jacket. I’m so excited, it will be gorgeous!

We had an unexpected adventure going from the tailor to the promenade to watch the Symphony of Lights. My scooter pooped out again, like it did in London. I knew what was wrong, but at least this time my scooter didn’t stop completely, it would stop and start and then stop and start again. I managed to keep it going long and far enough to get into a nearby hotel. Once in the hotel, Mark, with his handy dandy pocket knife contraption, pulled out a screw driver and opened the battery. The wire was loose as suspected and the tape I had applied was wearing off. Mark pulled out his beloved (cameraman) tape and stitched it right up, this time with much stronger tape.  I shouldn’t have any problems for awhile.

We continued right along on our journey to the Symphony of Lights. We got a little confused when we couldn’t cross a street but knew we had to get to the other side. Then we saw a sign for the Star Ferry with an arrow pointing down. The Star Ferry is a boat that you can ride and provides you with a water view of the light show.  It departs near to the viewing deck.  We  followed the arrow, took an elevator down to the substreet level area and then emerged  on the other side. We arrived 10 minutes before show time and got ideal “seats” (standing room only) at the front of the lookout bar. The show was ok, nothing amazing. I think the issue was that the skyline is already beautifully lit. Maybe, if at the start of the show the skyline was  pitch black it would make more of an impact. But, what do I know about light shows. After the show, we headed back to the hotel via the MTR. It was only two trains this time and didn’t take long, I even made all of the trains I should have been able to make. In other words, I didn’t miss any trains due to waiting for an employee with a ramp. The only disappointing part about the journey back to the hotel was the hotel shuttle. We’ve been taking the shuttle to and from  the hotel to the train station since it is quite a bit of a walk. And, the shuttle is free. The shuttle does not have a lift or ramp but all of the drivers have helped to lift the scooter on board without any hesitation. Tonight’s driver, however, was very unwilling to let the scooter onto the bus.  He said no just by  shaking his head and finger. I guess he thought better of it, as I would’ve had his job, and he finally opened the back so we loaded up the scooter, but he made minimal effort to help get the scooter on and off the shuttle.

Anyways, that was my day! A very long amazing day! Lots accomplished, lots discovered, lots learned, and still a lot to do tomorrow. Till then…

Night!

Day 16

I want to thank everyone again for all of the support!! I will  respond to individual questions/comments upon my return. I have so little time do anything else but what is scheduled. Please  don’t think I am ignoring you. I see your comments and value them!

Today I had an interview with a prominent advocate for the blind  in Hong Kong. We spoke a lot about the advancements of blind citizens here in Hong Kong and more specifically about the attitude of people towards the disabled. Up until the last 20 or so years, the general attitude, even that of public officials, was that the disabled are a “tolerated” population not a “welcomed” one. This attitude can still be identified in certain areas but it is no longer acceptable to think or feel this way and the government  has taken steps to make that clear.  My experiences in Hong Kong,  although I haven’t been here very long, are that people with disabilities, in general, are definitely treated well and respected. Of course, there are exceptions but there are exceptions everywhere with everything. One can argue that reliance on MTR empolyees to lay down the ramps (as referred to in my previous blog) may be seen as an insulting measure but it is not intended to be so. The MTR was built without a care in the world regarding accessibility, they are simply trying their best, using what they have,  to now make the MTR accessible to everyone. I don’t like it the way it is but I prefer it to a system that is impossible for me to use with my scooter. According to my interviewee, Hong Kong has come a long way  both in attitude as well as in  physical accommodations for the disabled.  He also believes in the concept of educating the young, while in school, about different types of disabilities and then how to respond to meeting someone with a disability;  what is polite and what is not. I would love to see that as part of a school curriculum. Implement a course called culture or something like that and talk about various topics not just disability but other worldly concerns. I would have loved that in school.

I didn’t have any other adventures today as the timing of the interview didn’t allow us to go out beforehand or after we finished talking.

The food has been different. I’ve been trying it regularly, not liking everything, but some is delicious. The free snacks in the hotel’s business centre include amazing pork dumplings. I look forward to tomorrow’s lunch as I’m sure it will be a wonderful  quintessential Chinese meal.

Tomorrow will be a busy day! I’m off to the markets and to see a tailor  about having something made for especially for me, every girl’s dream! I’m also having lunch with my interviewee, his friend and his friend’s son who also goes to Johns Hopkins, small world. And then on Thursday I hope to be able to see the world’s largest sitting Buddha. It should play out to be a wonderful last few days in Hong Kong.

Night my loyal beloved readers!

Day 15

I was up starting at 2 AM. Jet lag really has me going. At first I made myself a cup of tea hoping that would do the trip but it didn’t. I turned on one of my favorite movies, the Holiday, but that didn’t help either. Around 4 AM I ordered one Tiramisu. It was delicious, but still no luck on the sleep front. I finally gave up and at 7am I began getting ready for my day, a day that had already begun hours before. Off to the MTR (subway system) to meet my mom’s friend’s friend who was gracious enough to meet up with me, (we only knew each other via emails), and show us around. We took three trains to get to our destination which wasn’t far, just required lots of “interchanges” or switching MTR lines. The Pro about the MTR – all stations are accessible, at least to my knowledge and experiences so far; the Con – none of the stations are independently  accessible by the passenger. The passenger, me, has to rely on the workers in the MTR to work the stair lifts ( a platform that moves up and down the stairs; takes the place of a standard lift) and to take care of the gap between the train and the platform at each station  which requires a ramp that the worker takes out and puts down. What is incredible is  that when I boarded the train the worker who put down the ramp and helped  me onto that train called ahead to my destination station and without a doubt a worker was  waiting with a ramp to help me off the train. Con- it can take some time to get the ramp  and for the worker to get you onto the train, it does not seem like their highest priority. As a proud New Yorker, I’m used to being in a rush, for example, making the train as it is  coming into the station just as you’re walking down the stairs and especially if you’re almost on the platform. But I couldn’t do this in Hong Kong,  because I had to first find the person to handle the ramp, then the employee had to find the ramp, then they had to position me at the exact spot on the platform for me to board  the right car with the ramp. I missed up to three trains. My  issue  is that everyone else is running into the first train that pulls up so why can’t I? I don’t want to watch people pile in and out of trains. However, their precision with getting  me onto the trains with the ramps is outstanding. It’s great that all stations have been made accessible but the lack of independence it facilitates is frustrating.

Additionally, the layout is pretty poor. If they are going to require anyone who needs assistance to contact the workers on the platform (all platforms have a booth with customer service and other employees) the workers and the booth should be close to the lift so that there is no confusion where to find them and to find them quickly. The ramp should also be stored in the booth so that it can be quickly accessed which wasn’t the case a few times. And lastly, the car that the scooters and wheelchairs are expected to utilize should also stop close to the booth. Sometimes you have to go to the opposite side of the track to find help.

One thing I got very frustrated with is the number of times employees in the MTR and other tourist sites we visited told me to go slowly on my scooter  and follow their path exactly. (I wasn’t going to run into anyone!)They make a whole big scene making sure  people don’t walk in my path at all. It’s far too much and no need for it. I guess it’s just the culture difference.

I went in a few service elevators, one coming out of the Admiralty Station to go to the Hong Kong Park which was full of garbage and gross and the other was to go to the top of the Peak. Hong Kong Park was lovely. We went to an Aviary and a traditional Chinese tea. It is hot in Hong Kong, very tropical, humid heat. And it’s a mountainous area so it’s up and down hills and mountains in the heat. It’s quite draining, even though I was on my scooter.

We went up to the Peak in a tram. You’re pretty much above everything and can see forever. It’s amazing.

That’s all for now, I’m exhausted and falling asleep as I write this. Maybe in the morning I’ll come back and add more detail.

Night!