Sunday, November 28, 2010

九龍 - Returning and Conclusion

-- 9 --

Mong Kok, Kowloon

733. The Portland at dark again.

Packed up, checked out, on the way. More notes once I'm actually on the plane with everything settled.

Ahead of me, the sun is coming up over the mountains to the south and east. Above me, the terminal ceiling vaults like a hangar. Ten days (well, eight out and about), almost as many pictures as festivals '09, a crapload of souvenirs, and I'm done with my first real vacation-vacation since 2005. It's a little weird, but then again it's been weird throughout here, as I so casually cross the globe and take in summer in November.

I dunno if I'll be back; it's affordable enough with the right constraints, and the climate makes it a good year-end vacation dump, but I do have other places to see, other continents to hit. The world is wide, and our time in it is limited.

On the basis of this trip, despite the limitations inherent in tourism, I feel I can check off Hong Kong, where I couldn't in '06. However, if all I saw was Hong Kong 2010, I wouldn't know what I missed, as the city drifts in and out of states and erases its tracks. Two points make a line; two perspectives on the same object and, given the angles, you can map it in 3D. I don't know what unreal things will come or go in the future, or what shadows of the past have vanished outside of southern Kowloon. Dresden remained mostly the same at four years' distance, and my brother attests to it as mostly the same after five. Hong Kong, though, is and will remain permanently in flux. The only constant is change.

Besides the tourist elements, Hong Kong is a must-visit for anyone who takes their politics seriously. In HK the markets run wild; this is a city that cannot understand why the Phillipines want to collect social insurance payments (Social Security tax equivalent) for domestics working in Hong Kong, and where the argument is seriously offered that if a minimum wage is imposed, incompetent businesses won't be able to survive by exploiting their workers. It is a socialdemocrat's nightmare -- but maybe also a libertarian's as well. Unless you try very hard to miss them, or never go further west than the IFC, east of the BOC, and only south by travelator in Central, you can't fail to notice the old people going around on the streets with boxes and carts of packing materials (nicked either out of the trash or, on occasion, out of shops that haven't put them out in the trash yet) to sell to junk dealers because their social insurance doesn't cover the rent, and if you watch the news for a week, you will get reports of people being injured by chunks of concrete falling off dilapidated housing. As noted before, practically everyone in HK rents, almost no one owns, and this is the "final product" of such markets: everyone owes their housing either to property tycoons or to the government, and nobody is invested in their own living arrangements. Taxes may be low, but with so many social works underwritten by the HKJC, venue of such (potential) shenanigans as described Wednesday, it may be fair to consider the city's gambling addiction as an additional that like all gambling-for-revenue streams is levied disproportionately on the poor and stupid.

To the extent that we address our fiscal crisis by cutting services to meet revenues rather than, dun dun dun, deciding on a level of services and finding a way to pay for them that doesn't involve kicking the problem down the road, the U.S. will grow to resemble Hong Kong. The rich will get richer and keep more of the pie; the rest of us can look forward to crumbling highrises and the illusory dream of hitting the jackpot at the races. That "status quo remaining only at the sufferance of China" thing is probably going to be in the mix as well.

This is, though, the whole point of traveling: to look at other societies and other systems and see what their advantages and tradeoffs are. This is something you don't see from the outside, but from the inside, it's hard to miss. You really wonder how many of the problems in American society dealing with globalization and the pace of change come from the abysmal passport figures (before you needed one at the Canadian/Mexican borders, it was 1 in 10 with a current pass and 1 in 7, lifetime) and, due to the oceans and distance involved, the expense of getting to experience a different society from the inside. As noted above, it takes two perspectives, and the knowledge of their displacement, to see things as they really are.

General preparedness review: I had about one fewer shirt and one fewer pair of mountain socks than really desirable. I didn't need either t-shirt, but will use one as an undershirt when I get out of the tropics and back to New England. I should have insoled my boots earlier; this made a huge, huge difference. Though I didn't need either the emergency pants or the raincoat, I'm not going to sacrifice either on and future trip. Space can be made up by not needing to bring back a beerbucket.

Boarding soon; time for security theater.

If I had contraband rather than K-On!, Railgun, and Sukuran junk in the inner pouch of my bag, it would not have been found by this check. Pure theater.

Gwailo talking about spending down HKD before going home. Dumb; this currency is pegged to RMB, and that's only going to appreciate. I've "made" about 15% by just holding onto my Maobucks from 2006, and as long as I might come back, it's not worth cashing out anything Chinese-backed.

I don't mind helping people, but I reiterate my general rule: if you cannot yourself military-press your carry-on over your head and heft it into the overhead bin, it ought to be checked, as it clearly cannot be "carried" "on".

11/15 (take 2)
New York, New York

American is looking for bumpees, since they did the moron thing and overbooked the plane. The deal sucks, though; $250 voucher is it. Coming back from Germany, my brother got a free hotel night and a large wad of cash. If they gave real incentives like that, people might take it.

Our little prisoner's-dilemma situation resolved -- the airline knuckled and pushed back departure, potentially to get a bigger craft. This isn't a surprising development in any respect; with shitty incentives like that, nobody is going to defect, especially on a Monday afternoon, so the airline throws a shitfit and cancels. This being so, it's worth noting: we have Acela in this corridor, and I got bullshit aggro on both the BOS-JFK legs of this trip. Don't like it, take the train; I definitely would if there was, y'know, a usable North Station-South Station link, or if I lived in town.

Despite the aggro, the flight still takes barely 35 minutes, so I got to Boston in good order, only missed one of the Blue Line buses, was glad to find that the TSA hadn't stolen anything out of my bag when they inspected it due to being full of weirdly-shaped metal objects, and got back in one piece. End of the road, at least for now.

734. Bonus track -- Mio-tan doing siqq bass drops khed with an appropriate background. Figma does other articulated K-On! figures with hardware, but not only did I not really have space for the rest of the band, I was pretty sure that Ricchan's hands wouldn't have any configuration that would imply a double gravity blast correctly, and that Yui would not include a face suggestive of alternating between chug riffs and pinch harmonic squeals. The dream of K-ONposted must remain a dream, at least till I can check the other kits. (Appropriate background courtesy of Maruta and Embryonic Devourment.)

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