Where am I?
What is this place?
Seemingly familiar , yet very different. It feels like China , but isn’t. Everyone looks Chinese but will most likely vehemently deny it. I’m from Hong Kong not China!
Welcome to Hong Kong International Airport. The ancient Chinese characters beam down at me. However, I can only kind of , sort of read them. All that time studying and learning to read on Mainland China , and now I’m confronted by more bizarre , more complex , morphlings of what I learned. My brain is in overdrive trying to make the connections between the simplified characters used on the mainland and the traditional characters still used by Taiwan , Hong Kong , and many overseas Chinese communities.
Inserting my Unionpay bank card into a Bank of China ATM at the airport , I receive unfamiliar paper currency adorned with fish and dragons. Most tellingly , gone is the gaze of Chairman Mao’s ugly mug. The beady eyes no longer following me from every bill.
Stepping onto the airport express train , announcements speed out of the speakers and barrage my ears. I can’t understand anymore! But then they switch over to Putonghua which many of you might know as Mandarin. Though Mandarin is taught in schools , Cantonese is the language of Hong Kong.
Arriving in Kowloon station we search out the K3 free airport hotel bus . My girlfriend cowers behind me , urging me to go ahead and ask for directions. She’s nervous , fearful the Hong Kongnese will shun her Mandarin and her mainland ways. An older man seems our halted motions and our searching eyes , comes over and helps us in impeccable English. The bus driver also has great English as he instructs to get off at the first stop to make it Chungking Mansions. This would never happen in Shanghai.
After getting off the bus , I’m almost nailed by a red, speeding , double-decker bus. Right , right British style driving on the left side of the road. This will make things difficult.
It’s late , we’re exhausted , and hungry after we check in and get our bags dropped off. Walking around not many food options are apparent. We spot the ubiquitous golden arch , symbol of the fat masses back in America , and saunter over. I’m greeted in perfect English and order in English. Weird. On the rare occasions I’ve stopped in to McDonald’s in Shanghai it seems like the cashiers are afraid , hiding behind the register , pointing blindly at the menu , hoping you will just go away. If you start speaking Mandarin , their relief is palpable in the air.
After some chicken nuggets , it’s past midnight. Stopping in at a convenient store , I pick up the Tsingtao Beer that’s not sold in China. 5% Alcohol. Stronger. Better. Yummy. I like this place.
I like the differences , both big and small , and it’s part of what drives me to travel. What drinks do they have here? How’s the food? Wow, look at the temple architecture style! No bicycles?
After some sleep (little because we went to bed at 1 a.m and were up at 6:00 a.m to take full advantage of the partial day in HK) I was ready to see what else this little enclave from the mainland, where Facebook , Youtube , and elections are to be had , had to offer.