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!

Hong Kong – Same Same but Different

    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.