27 February 2006

Hong Kong, finis

After the first day of the actual conference I had thought I might blow off some of the other talks and do more exploring of HK. As it turned out I really enjoyed the other lectures so I ended up attending almost all of them. I did blow off the "How to use excel" practical session in favour of a nap, though. We settled into a nice pattern of getting up early to avail ourselves of the breakfast buffet, spending 8 hours at the university and generally going to bed early (despite how it may sound, it is pretty exhausting to have your brain turned on all day long).

Wednesday afternoon was the practical session I was supposedly jointly leading with Lon. His contribution consisted of introducing me and then sitting at the back of the room. I think it went pretty well; most people seemed to follow along and appreciate the wonders of Haploview. It's amazing, however, how easy it is to discover every single bug in a program if you have 40 people all simultaneously using it.  By the time it was over, though, I was done with all the official work for the week.

Shaun, Ben and I celebrated that night by checking out a couple of bars, including a pretty sweet hookah joint. We had a few cocktails and some apple-flavoured tobacco while basically chilling out. Thursday consisted of a couple of sessions that Shaun led, which were really impressive. He's definitely honed his presentation skills over the last few years and does a consistently awesome job. His slides are gorgeous, too — nary a one with just text. Thursday night turned out to be the ragiest of the week (and it still wasn't that crazy). We checked out a few different places in SoHo (the expat area) and theDeb came out to hang out with us.

Friday was the final day of the conference, followed by a closing banquet, which was, as usual, excellent. Most of the crew left on late flights that evening, but I had one more day since my flight out was at 11:30 PM on Saturday. I availed myself of the awesome city check-in for the Hong Kong airport on Saturday morning. Basically you can check into your flight and check your bags from a counter at the train station and then spend the day hanging out without lugging a lot of crap around. Yet another way that Hong Kong is vaguely futuristic.

After that I met up with theDeb who had to work on Saturday morning (evidently most Hong Kongers work 5.5 days a week). We putzed around the Central district for a while before deciding to make a very brief trip to Portugal's former colony nearby: Macau. The ferry takes about an hour and is a pretty bland trip (especially if it's foggy). The announcements for boarding times etc are made in: Cantonese, English, Mandarin and Portuguese, which is a bit overwhelming.

We walked from the hideous dockyard area up the hill to the old fort and remnants of an old Portuguese church. It felt a lot like Hong Kong, but occasionally sprinkled with bizarrely out of place Old European touches (like the tiled plazas and mediterranean looking houses). Macau has long had casinos, but has recently experienced a big boom in Vegas style monstrosities (along with replicas of ancient Rome and the like). The new Sands dominates the skyline when viewed from the water at night. We didn't manage to actually get into any of the casinos in our brief visit, because there were big queues outside waiting to get through metal detectors. Evidently a lot more security than the American versions (I'm thinking of the dozing 70 year olds who guard F-woods).

Macau has the same pseudo independent arrangement as HK (a Special Administrative Region of the PRC) but requires going through immigration coming and going from HK. So I have quite a few stamps from the trip there and back. In fact, when I went through emigration at the HK airport the officer looked quizzically at my passport because it had been stamped with an entry visa (returning from Macau) only an hour earlier. The airport express train whisked me to the airport (which is incredibly efficient) so that I got to the gate with loads of time to spare. All that was left was my trip home in seat 55G, which is the very last row of a 747-400, immediately adjacent to the toilet. Grrrreat. Even the stewardess commented that I had bad luck in seat choice.

Despite the distance to travel though, (next to the toilet or not) I'd definitely recommend checking out this bizarre mix of the Far East and the East End.

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