Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
March 13, 2005
I was just checking some statistics on my blog. I have written 37 blog entries and have received 217 separate comments!! Thanks everyone for their comments, I read them all and greatly anticipate them and do take to heart the thoughts and suggestions. Once again, thanks and keep 'em coming. There is no such thing as a stupid comment.
Today is Sunday afternoon, March 13th and I am in St. Andrews, Scotland. St. Andrews is the Home of Golf and one of my favorite places in the whole world. I feel very comfortable and at home here. This is my third visit to this city and it feels very familiar to me. It is so nice coming into a new place and knowing where things are and how to get around and find the places I need to find. It is especially nice after 3 or so months going from unfamiliar to unfamiliar places with the stress and anxiety attendant in doing so. There was no anxiety at all coming here.
Oh, I also love the Scottish accents of the women here. It really does something for me!!
And the golf is awesome and I'm hitting the ball great eventhough it's been in the 30's and low 40's with winds from 20-40 mph. Real Scottish golf, laddies and lassies.
Another U.K. related question for Patrick since he answered so eloquently the reason why the Brits drive on the wrong side of the road: Why don't people in the U.K. consistently walk on the left hand side of sidewalks? In America most people walk on the right hand side of a wide sidewalk facilitating the proper flow of pedestrians especially on a busy sidewalk. Here in the U.K. it is hard for me to stay consistent when walking around, I try to adhere to walking on the left side but get no cooperation from the Brits as half of them walk and the right and the other half walk on the left. It drives me nuts!!
I left off the last entry with getting on a flight north from Bangkok to Hong Kong. It's a 2 1/2 flight and an easy one to manage through the highly modern and efficient Hong Kong airport where all flights in and out are international flights.
North is not always a good direction to travel during winter time in the northern hemisphere. There is always the risk of colder, wetter weather the further you get away from the equator and the further you get away from tropical Southeast Asia.
Hong Kong is an amazing and incredible city. It is like no other city on earth and a place where the East collides with the West. Look at a map and find Hong Kong and you will find it's a small appendage (a very small one) just off the coast of China. It consists of a few islands, with the main one being Hong Kong Island and an attached territory of the mainland, primarily Kowloon and the New Territories.
Hong Kong is part of China but that was not always so. In 1842 Great Britain signed a treaty with China giving them territorial rights to Hong Kong and Kowloon for 150 years. That China ceded her territory to a foreign power tells of the relative balance of power and military might in those times. Despite it's huge size and population advatages over Great Britain they were at a substantial disadvantage in terms of military might and economic strength. Thus England took over Hong Kong as another one of it's colonies, one is wasn't destined to lose (as she lost all her other ones as her military and economic strength waned in comparison to the rest of the world) until the treaty with China ran its course.
On June 30, 1997 Great Britain officially handed over control of Hong Kong to China. There was great fear amongst the citizens of Hong Kong, most of whom are Chinese. Hong Kong was an economic powerhouse with a history steeped in capitalism while China, of course, is a Communist state with it's recent history steeped in socialism. How could the two vastly dissimiliar cultures, lifestyles and economies exist within the same country? Many thought that the huge Chinese state would just swallow Hong Kong and demand that it change its ways to conform to the communist model.
Fortunately wiser heads prevailed as the Chinses leadership recognized the economic powerhouse Hong Kong had become and realized that it would be detrimental and bad to force a change, there were too many economic positives for China as a whole in keeping Hong Kong a capitalistic society
Historically the astute Chinese have almost always chosen money over political ideology and this was the case here.
As part of the agreement signed with England in handing over Hong Kong, the Chinese pledged to allow Hong Kong to retain its pre-handover social, economic and legal systems for 50 years after 1997. Hong Kong as a "British-administered colony" would disappear and re-emerge as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. The Hong Kong SAR would be permitted to retain its capitalistic system after 1997 while across the border the Chinese would continue a system it labeled socialist. The Chinses catch phrase for this was "One Country, Two Systems". A very Chinese (and very effective) compromise!
Now Hong Kong has over 7 million people in a very small area. Most live within an area of about 200 square kilometers! In fact, one district in Kowloon is the most densely populated place on earth with 51,000 people per square kilometer!! All this is just nuts when you are trying to get around, there are just so many people on the streets, in their cars, on the buses and on the subway.
This is me on Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island:
There is no sense of personal space because there are so many people in the same place. It is cultural for the residents here and for Chinese in particular in large cities. You are constantly jostled around, run into, stepped in front of and treated quite rudely (by western standards) just walking along the sidewalks. No one says "pardon me" or "excuse me" or "I'm sorry" in English or Chinese and they rarely make eye contact even when you run into each other.
At first is pissed me off a bit but then I observed that everyone does this so it's every man (or woman) for themselves and if you knock someone out of the way on your way somewhere it's okay. So, once I learned the rules I had an advantage since I am taller and bigger than most Chinese. You just have to head straight for your intended destination no matter who is in your way because if you hesitate someone will knock you out of the way. It's been enlightening and fun!
As I mentioned before Hong Kong is a very prosperous city and had done well under British leadership (despite the British leadership :-) ). By Asian standards it is a highly educated society with a literacy rate of 93%. Education is free and compulsory for 9 years. This is in vastly different than any other Asian country and helps explain its relative affluence and prosperity.
In a city so compressed and crowded it is important to have good mass transit and Hong Kong surely does! It's subway system (MTR) goes most places in the territory and does it quickly, efficiently and effectively. I rode it numerous times in my 6 days and never waited more than 3 minutes for the next train. It is fast, clean, on time and crowded. On some of the trains there was no need to hold onto a pole or strap because you are wedged in so tightly you can't fall down.
I read in the newspaper there about a recent increase in groppers on the MTR. It seems people are taking advantage of the packed trains to anonymously "cop a feel" on unsuspecting riders. I can see how easy it would be to do so on the MTR but can report that I was never violated in this way nor did I ever take advantage of the situation.
The coolest thing about the MTR was how they integrated it with the airport. There is a special rail line that takes people to and from the airport and, combined with buses, takes poeple to and from most of the hotels in the territory. It is a quick, inexpensive way to get to and from the airport. But the best part of this service is that you can check your luggage with your airline at an MTR station in town before getting on the train for the 30 minute ride to the airport. No dragging around your stuff and standing in line at the airport. Just awesome and what a great model for other progressive cities in the world. I just wish more cities had the vision and leadership to copy Hong Kong's model.
I spent most of my 6 days walking around Hong Kong Island and Kowloon checking out the tourist attractions and seeing the museums. I stayed 2 nights on the Island and 4 in Kowloon but went back and forth on the MTR on a daily basis depending on what I wanted to see that day. The weather was much different than anything I had been used to on this trip. It was foggy and overcast most of the time with temperatures of about 65-70 degrees (compared to the 85-100 I was used to) and it rained or sprinkled most of the time.
One of the difficulties I encountered in Hong Kong while walking around when it rained had to do with umbrellas. When it rained thousands and thousands of umbrellas came out as you would expect (although I never carried one - traveler don't carry umbrellas!). The difficulty came into play due to my height relative to the average Chinese. Since I am taller the side of their umbrellas comes to the height of my eyes and since most of the umbrellas had metal tips I felt the risk of getting poked in the eye a constant threat. It never did happen though!
One day I decided to visit Macau. Macau is another Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. Until December 31, 1999 it was a colony of Portugal. Macau is technically a separate country from Hong Kong (not sure why) and I did get a new stamp in my passport from the trip. It was an hour long ferry trip south from Hong Kong and, unfortunately, the seas were a bit rough and the scenery not as good as it could have been.
Macau is mostly known for its casinos. They are the only legal ones in China and do a tremendous business. Chinese and Asians in general love to gamble, it is in their mindset and in their culture and Macau is the closest place for many to play legally in a casino. Until last year a fellow (a very rich fellow) named Stanley Ho had a monopoly on casino ownership in Macau. This monopoly came under Portuguese governance and I'm sure there were no kickbacks, bribes or anything else that was typically paid to do business in Asia :-)
Anyway, Stanley Ho opened up a dozen or so casino-hotels in Macau that are very unlike anything we see in the U.S. There are very few slot machines, many private rooms, lots of smoke, no ventilation, low ceilings, poor service... But crowded and very popular.
The Chinese took away this monopoly and two American companies won rights to build and operate a casino there. The Sands (same company as The Venetian in Las Vegas) recently opened its casino and it is very, very Las Vegas-like with slots machines, buffets, entertainment, high ceilings and a service culture. They were really crowded when I was there and is making a ton of money (based on public documents). Steve Wynn is opening up a similiar resort next year.
Spending the day in the Macau casinos reminded me of my time at Harrah's Skagit Valley Casino in Northwest Washington State. Our primary clientele were Hong Kong residents visiting Vancouver or first generation Chinese immigrants to Vancouver. The people, their behavior and their gambling habits really brought back good memories for me!
Once again, the Chinese love to gamble and it is projected that by 2007 Macau will overtake Las Vegas as the highest grossing (revenue) gambling destination!!
Back in Hong Kong the most amazing thing to me after the hordes of people was the shopping. Shopping, shopping, shopping EVERYWHERE. Every brand name store in the world is here and people come from all over the world to shop in Hong Kong. I just don't get it! Consumerism rules and it is boarderline obscene in how it is marketed and in your face everywhere in Hong Kong. But it works and must make the people, business and the government tons of money.
Even in downtown Hong Kong you see stuff like this:
After six days here I decided to leave Asia for now. I just felt it was time to go somewhere else and on a whim decided London was the place. One day later I was on a plane to take the 24 hour trip (with layover in Bahrain) and I'm glad I did!
Here is the picture I discussed in the last blog entry of me in London at the Phantom of the Opera:
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on March 13, 2005 10:39 AM
Category: HONG KONG
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