Hong Kong Round Two

Wow! Sorry everyone. I’ve been back from my trip for 5 days now but uploading problems on wordpress/facebook have been plaguing me. Perhaps this has something to do with the Communist Party power change that was going on earlier this week. Coincidence? Most likely not.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Hong Kong via a dual overnight layover on the way to/from Vietnam. This month I had a chance to get to know her glorious self a little bit better while simultaneously getting caught up with my mountain trekking Uncle and Cousin. Score!
I just took the better part of last week off and spent some time in Hong Kong with a day side trip to Macau! This trip was also on the Uncle’s (significantly more impressive than mine) budget. Bye bye Chungking Mansions and 30HKD breakfasts. Hello gourmet food , taxis, and a nice hotel. YES!

This trip gave me more time to see the places I learned about in the fantastic novel , Noble House, by James Clavell. If you haven’t checked this author out before , proceed to do so. Noble House is a massive , more than 1000 page epic tome that takes place in 1960’s Hong Kong. It has multiple storylines intertwining , dozens of characters, and features some of the Taipans 大班 (bosses) of massive trading companies warring it out with each other all while dealing with spies , movie stars, and pirates. It’s some heavy sh*t.

As I was taking the windy road up to Hong Kong’s highest point (Victoria Peak) I could just imagine Ian Dunross (Main character from Noble House) gunning his high-powered sports car up the dangerously curving roads, I could envision the battle between developers to build the tallest buildings with the best views of Central consequently sparking up feuds with new apartments blocking the view from the older multimillionaire dollar apartments , I could see the fishing junks moored in Aberdeen waiting out the latest typhoon. I was transported to the real life settings of the book only 50 years later and 50 years more advanced. Hong Kong of now is a whole new beast. Even though Shanghai has three times the population , it feels small in comparison with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is packed into a small area resulting in a craze to build everything taller and closer together. I’ve never been in an environment that felt so urban.

This trip I revisited some of the biggies that I went to during my quick layovers . I had to show the Uncle and Cousin the classic Victoria Peak , Hong Kong skyline at night , and the Star Ferry trip across the harbor. I also got to use the extended time to check out new places in the city and make a trip over charming Macau.

Some of the highlights include :

a fortune-telling in the crowded Temple Street Night Market

betting on the horse races in Happy Valley

matching an insane Gangnam style dance competition in between betting on horses

learning Obama won the U.S presidency by reading the traditional characters on a newspaper in the morning

checking out the beautiful Wong Tai Sin temple and Hau Tin temple

seeing the touristy but slick night city skyline dance of the stars

and the food , oh my the God the food!
(but this is for a totally separate post)

and most importantly , catching up with my relatives!

I’m definitely not done with Hong Kong . I’ve fallen quite hard for the city and look forward to return visits in order to see more of it. I really want to head out to the out-of-the-way places : the little fishing villages on separate islands , the working class neighborhoods of Kowloon , and the functional monasteries all come to mind. The big Buddha on Lantau island has also been eluding me! I’ll be back Hong Kong!

Hong Kong – Layover #1

Hong Kong , easy and pricy. An enclave of Chinese culture without the authoritarian grasp of the CCP. An interesting mix of West and East , formed from thousands of years of mainland Chinese history and founded/ruled as a colony of the British empire. To me , Hong Kong is the very definition of urban. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated places with 7,103,700 people packed into 425 square miles. These numbers are a little tricky though as only about 25% of that land is developed with the rest being hilly green areas and country parks. This means all those people are actually crammed in a much smaller space! The result? Towering apartment blocks stretching into the sky with only very tiny alleyways separating the massive concrete structures, residential spaces above with , convenient stores , restaurants , shopping, below. A true concrete jungle.

We started out how most people start their trips to Hong Kong , the super easy , convenient , and comparatively (to Shanghai) expensive airport train. 24 minutes from the airport to the city in a comfy train. Nice compared to Hanoi where the methods of transport are all almost solely cut-throat taxi drivers looking to rip you off.

We didn’t have much money to spend on our trip so we opted for Hong Kong’s cheapest guesthouses in the infamous Chungking Mansions. The Mansions are a 17 story world microcosm. They are infamous for illegal immigrants , sex workers, and drugs. It’s also a backpacker hotspot for those looking to save money with 90 guesthouses and more than 1,000 beds. It’s also a place I wouldn’t want to be if a fire broke out. Not enough elevators and a confusing layout of stairwells with dead-ends make it a deathtrap. In addition it’s a place where low-scale globalization trade occurs with many hard-working honest traders from all over Asia, the Middle-East, and Africa carrying goods over in suitcases looking to make a sale. Estimates claim that nearly 20% of cell phones in Sub-Saharan Africa pass through the ChungKing Mansions.

Standing in line for the elevator (it took like half a hour) , I certainly didn’t feel like I was in Hong Kong. I waited in line hearing African French , seeing dudes with long black beards and turbans stroll by , and smelling Indian curries. I was accosted by guys with Bollywood accents trying to get me to stay in their guesthouses. I was comforted by fellow backpackers also sweating , looking lost , and trying to find their way in this maze.

I couldn’t complain about the guesthouse. The manager was really friendly and I guess $50 for a closet with an adjoining toilet/shower closet is a good deal for space strapped Hong Kong. ( $25 would get me a really nice spacious hotel with free breakfast in Hanoi and $3 dollars got me a bigger room in rural Sagada, Philippines). If you want to save some cash in Hk don’t be scared of the Chungking Mansions and go stay at the Apple Hostel!

Chungking Mansions

Waiting in Line in Chungking Mansions

We got checked in, and dropped all our stuff off pretty late ,but we went on a night stroll down to the Star Ferry terminal. It was too late to see the famous skyline all lit up but it was still cool. We got to watch some fisherman hook a huge fish and see the fish drop on a lady’s back who was trying to pose with it. Stopping in at the convenient store on the way back, we were shocked at how much more expensive everything was.

Late night skyline view.

Water = 2x to 3x the price of Shanghai.
Instant Noodles = 3x the price
Beer = 50% more.
The sticker shock would only continue the next day.

With a limited time-frame we were checked out by 6:00 am and on the road. First things first, we took the ferry over to Hong Kong island , totally oblivious to the fact that the day before had seen a ferry sinking with 30 some deaths. Fortunately our trip was smoother, we had wondered why there were so few people on board. Arriving in Central we hopped one of the double-decker buses and went up to Victoria Peak , the classic view of Hong Kong from up high. I was a bit taken aback at the price (9.50 HKD is about 2-3 times the price I would pay in Shanghai for a similar distance on a bus). It was worth the $1.22 USD though for the windy trip up through the mountainous HK terrain. Upon reaching the top we took in the cool air and the great views. It was a bit foggy/smoggy but still insanely impressive. We hopped on one of the famous cable cars to go down and we were glad we choose the bus to go up. The lines for the ride up the mountain via tram were very , very long.

Bus ride up to the peak.

View from the peak.

Cable Car line to the peak.

After the tram ride we were down in the heart of things and took a long walk down Queen’s Road. We were in awe all how tall and how closely packed Hong Kong is . Apartment buildings soared overheard with only tiny alleys separating them. It felt like the most city like environment I had ever been in. While I loved it , it made me realize how nice Shanghai’s tree-lined former French Concession really is.

City

City.

We had fun walking through Central and saw some great examples of the whole East meets West thing. Shops selling deer antlers (with skull!) and deer fetuses peacefully existed with pizza places and fine Dutch cheeses. Constipated cats guarded dry seafood, old men in roast duck restaurants spoke great English , ladies in chadors shopped for the newest fashions while business suited men drank beer on plastic seats at plastic tables on the street. From somewhere incense wafted out into the air. What a place!

Deer Fetuses. You thought I was kidding.

After all those deer fetuses , it certainly does call for a Carlsberg.

Soooo tall!

After wandering around and getting tired we decided to take the subway over to Causeway Bay. This area is known for its massive shopping malls , and well more shopping malls. We just wanted to relax (and I needed to find a good place to poop , me being somewhat wary from Shanghai’s bathrooms.)

After taking a breather and dropping off some of my burdens , it was time to head back over to Kowloon side to grab our things and head off to the airport.

We had enough time to get off at Jordan Station and walk down HK’s “Golden Mile” Nathan Street. We stopped in at Tsim Tsa Tsui park and all of a sudden I was hearing Tagalog and seeing dark skin everywhere. Wha? Manila? Where I am? I had strolled into the park and right into the midst of a Filipina domestic maid party. Everyone was Filipino. Brought back some good memories of my month in the Philippines.

Filipinos in the Park.

Awesome new and the old shot.

We hurried back to the hostel , grabbed our things , and hit the airport express. Next stop Hanoi!