BootsnAll Travel Network

Hong Kong – My Gateway to Asia

My trip and arrival in Hong Kong was quite an exciting one. I boarded a Thai Airways flight in Perth for a seven hour flight to Bangkok. I sat next to an Englishman going on a business trip to Mongolia. We talked as the Thai Airways attendants proceeded to liquor us up. Before dinner (which we ordered from menus) I managed to put down two vodka drinks. During dinner which I believe was chicken tarragon I imbided on more vodka and wine. If this wasn’t enough, the flight attendants came through the cabin shortly after dinner providing passengers with a nice port. As this was an international flight, it was all free (or should I say I paid for it in my ticket). Finally the alcohol tray quit coming around and I was able to sleep. I arrived in Bangkok around 10:00 pm for my 10 hour layover. Much to my surprise, all the airport businesses were open and would remain open the entire night. In my wanderings, I came across a massage parlor that gave a 45 minute full body Thai massage for 500 baht (33 bath = 1 US dollar). This is expensive by Thai standards, but absurdly cheap by Australian standards. I had seen advertisements for Thai massages on the plane and was enticed. I couldn’t think of a better way to introduce myself to Asian culture. I was shown into a room and given a pair of cotton pajamas to put on. I then laid down on a mattress and was soon joined by a tiny Asian lady. The massage started out normally enough but soon turned into a contortionist act as she pushed my limbs into various unnatural positions and making my joints pop in places that I didn’t know that I had joints. She also used all four limbs massaging my back with her hands while using her feet on my legs. (Thank goodness she was small.) After this was over, I found a sofa in a lounge to try to get some sleep on. I boarded my flight at 8:00 am and arrived in Hong Kong around noon. During the flight, I was sitting next to an Indian lady (married to a German) who lived in Hong Kong. When I told her where I was staying she looked horrified and told me that she never goes in that area by herself. This of course didn’t give me high hopes about my accomodation choice. She also gave me her number to call her if I got in trouble.

On arrival in Hong Kong, I bought an octopus card. This card is used on all public transport and some stores in Hong Kong. It acts as a debit card and can be refilled at many places. It also gives you a small discount on the subway. I left the airport and found the bus that I was supposed to take. After 40 minutes, I was dropped off near Mirador Mansions in Kowloon across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island. I soon found the fifteen story building which looked very old. It is full of cheap hostels and guest houses. I went to the 16th floor per the address that I had and saw no guesthouse. I met a German guy also looking for the place. We circled the floor, tried to ask people, and finally found someone who told us it was on floor thirteen. Upon exiting the elevator on floor thirteen, we turned toward the apartment that supposedly held the hostel and ran into a wall of police. I was thinking well this is nice. They were interviewing a British man. One of the workers of the hostel ushered us into a random room and asked us to wait. While waiting, I was able to find out that the British man’s baggage had been thrown away while he was at the airport dropping someone off. Supposedly he had checked out and left his bags. He was demanding (rightly so) compensation. This actually went on throughout the day with the police returning several times and involving several shouting matches. (During my stay, my bag has remained chained to my bed.) I was checked into a four bed dorm. I was sharing with two Americans and a German. I also met an American from Abbieville, Louisiana staying in another dorm. The hostel had no kitchen so I could finally go out and eat without feeling somewhat guilty. The bathrooms were quite tiny. I basically have to stand on the toilet to take a shower. It was very clean though. I went out that night with the German staying in my room. We went to look at the nighttime Hong Kong skyline and to some markets. In the market, I bought a mirror (the bathrooms had none), a wallet, and some sunglasses. I had to bargain for the the sunglasses. This involved a Chinese lady coming up to me with a calculator and saying “Ï love you. You pay this” . She typed $HK300 (HK$7.8 = US$1)into the calculator. I replied “Thank You. But I pay this”. I typed $80 into the calculator. This exchange went on verbatim until we agreed on $150. We left the markets as it started to rain. It has rained nearly my entire time in Hong Kong, so I have seen most of the city from under an umbrella.

My second day in Hong Kong was spent trying to get a Chinese Visa and exploring Hong Kong Island. I left early in the morning with a map and umbrella in hand. I caught the metro and after some meandering, I found the Chinese Visa Office. Just as it so happened, China had raised the visa fees for the US on August 1 so I got to pay double. Hooray. I filled out the visa form, paid extra to expidite it, and was told to come back the next day. For those not in the know, Hong Kong Island is divided down the middle by very high and lush hills. Large buildings sit at the base and sometime on top of these hills. Every available space is filled with some sort of store selling everything from frogs to Armani suits (both fake and real). After leaving the visa office, I took a very steep tram up to the top of Victoria Peak. The train let me off at Peak Tower which again is basically a big shopping mall. I climbed to the observation platform but my views were limited by clouds. I then went to see the world’s longest escalator in the Soho district. I ended the tour by going up to the observation decks in the Bank of China and International Finance Center (tallest in Hong Kong at 80+ stories) buildings. One of the observation decks fittingly enough housed a money museum. During all this elevator riding I noticed that all the elevators stated that the buttons were disinfected hourly. That was nice of them although I think its a holdover from the SARS days. The only thing I bought that day was a used shirt for about $US1 from a church charity sale. I ended the day by watching the world’s largest light show. It takes place nightly at 8:00 and is set to music. Many of the skyscrapers on both sides of the harbor are linked and their lights flash on and off in sequence to the music in a multitude of colors. The tallest buildings have green lasers and spotlights on top which join in the fun. I had Vietnamese for supper that night. Upon returning to my dorm, I was told that I was being moved to a six bed dorm. They thought this was super great as I had more room. I didn’t feel like arguing and didn’t bother to explain that I book smaller dorms so that there are less people to wake me up. I don’t care about the floor space as I am ususally in the room just to sleep, not to ballroom dance.

On Friday, I went back into Hong Kong to get my visa. It was raining hard. There was a typhoon warning issued and by midafternoon. All the subways were closed as well as many businesses. Due to the rain, I mainly spent the day reading. I did manage to find a Korean barbecue place that was open for supper. I went to eat with an American that was trying to get a job in Hong Kong. While eating, we met another American who was teaching in Hong Kong. (For my first few days, Hong Kong was like America land. I wondered where they all were during my travels. Well I found them. They are here.) We decided to try to find a bar for an after dinner drink. I haven’t gone out in Hong Kong as it is really expensive to do so here. We went into a bar that only had three Asian ladies sitting at one table as patrons. As we were shown to the bar with words like “Handsome man you sit here”, the three Asian ladies whipped out their compacts and started applying make up. The guy we met in the restaurant decided he didn’t want to stay so we left. He said that you have to be careful in bars like this as you can be scammed into paying much higher prices. The typhoon never produced anything more than some strong rain.

On Saturday, I ventured further afield and went off to explore the New Territories. The New Territories are called this becaused they were ceded to the British about 40 years after Hong Kong was. I took the metro to the end of the line to the town of Tsuen Wan. I was a little dissapointed to discover that the area was as nearly built up as Kowloon with concrete condominiums sprouting everywhere. I first explored a traditonal Hakka Village House which was now a museum. It consisted of a central temple and kitchen with living quarters around the exterior. It was all contained inside of a wall. I then went to my first Buddhist temple. I stayed here about an hour going in and out of various rooms containing golden statues, beautiful glasswork, and incense burners. I know a little about Buddhism from my religious studies classes in college, but unfortunately most of the symbolism was lost on me. I wasn’t able to appreciate it much beyond the “Ooooh, that’s a pretty statue” level. As I was leaving the uppermost temple, I discovered a sign pointing up a worn path with Chinese characters on it. For those who have traveled with me before (Heidi), you know I couldn’t resist following as I often like to go where it seems other people aren’t. It sometimes leads to interesting places. Well it meandered its way steeply up a hill and ended up at a very run down temple with plasma TV’s in it?????. Mystified I made my way back to the main temple area. This time though there were monks performing a ceremony in front of the main altar. This involved chanting, playing drums, and ringing bells. Leaving the temple, I caught a bus to the next town where I then took the Light Rail to Lai Pei. Here there was another large temple and monastery. I soon found myself in a similar situation to when I was in cathedrals in Europe. I took loads of pictures at my first temple and then hardly any at the others as they sort of look the same. This worked out well this time though as I apparently had missed the “No Picture” sign on the door. As I whipped out my camera to photograph more Buddhas, I encountered a woman waving her hands at me. I apologized but could see her watching me during my remaining time in the temple. I guess to make sure I didn’t repeat the infraction. After much investigation, I then found the bus I needed to take to Kam Tin which supposedly had some ancient walled villages. Well the bus driver didn’t stop where he was supposed to and also told me the wrong stop. I exited the bus and couldn’t find anyone who had heard of the villages. I didn’t feel like paying more money to backtrack, so I got on another bus and headed to the town of Tai Po which had a large train station. I first headed north on the train to Fanling to try to see a Taoist temple (I was curious to see the difference). When I got there I found the temple was closed. So I hopped back on the train and made the long trip back to Kowloon.

On Sunday, I met a group staying in the hostel who were going to the island of Lantau to see the world’s largest bronze Buddha. It weighs in at about 200 tons. We went out to the ferry terminal and took the one hour ride out to the island. One of the girls was quite green by the time we reached the island. We found the bus to take us to the Po Lin monastery which houses the Buddha. We climbed the 246 steps (Buddhist like stairs) to the Buddha. Unfortunately, it was so foggy and rainy that we couldn’t hardly make it out. This was disappointing as it wasn’t free. We did get to see some very nice murals that were in the pedestal supporting the statue. Descending the stairs, we went into the monastery itself and had a vegetarian lunch. No meat or alcohol was allowed in the monastery. Due to the nasty weather, we decided head back to Hong Kong after seeing the monastery.

Monday was probably my favorite day. I decided to go to Lamma Island. I had been putting it off waiting for the weather to clear but realized it probably wouldn’t. Before leaving the hostel, I ran into one of the workers. He apparently had found a can of partially used spray on deoderant somewhere. He tried to give it to me but I told him it wasn’t mine. He informed me that no it was as he put it “You take. Spray on if you meet good friend” (while making a spraying motion and sort of winking and grinning when saying good friend). Thanking him I took the deoderant and left. I promptly deposited it in the proper container outside. I then ran into a Buddhist Monk who was targeting foreigners for donations. He spotted me and of course asked for me a donation. He had me write down on his pad that I wanted peace and told me I would be very lucky in my business. He then wrote down a figure of $100. Now this greatly annoys me when someone asks for money and then tries to tell me how much to give. I promptly took the pad, scratched out the $100, and wrote in and gave him a $20. He didn’t seem very happy. I will probably have bad luck in business now. Anyway, back to Lamma Island. The island is an oasis away from the hectic Hong Kong lifestyle. No buildings over three stories are allowed and there are no cars or roads on the island. All transportation is by boat or foot. I headed off in a catamaran ferry that took me to Lamma Island. It dropped me off in the village of Sok Kwu Wan. This is a small fishing village mainly consisting of expensive seafood restaurants on the waterfront. I made my way through the village politely declining the many lunch invitations as I wasn’t hungry yet. On the edge of town there was a sign indicating the way to the main hiking trail leading to the village of Yung Shue Wan which is the main town on the island. I had plans to hike there, eat lunch, and take the ferry back. Well as it turned out, the sign also indicated that there was a loop trail that I could hike. It would take me back to Sok Kwu Wan before I started the main hike. It said the trail had a few steep sections and should take about 40 minutes. Well two hours, 900 feet climb, infinite amounts of stairs, and thoroughly sweaty and exhaused later, I ended up back at the sign. The trail intially climbed its way through some old graveyards. It then let me out onto a plateau between some high peaks where I got some great views. It was also at this time that the sun (the first I had seen it in nearly a week) came out. Despite the weather forecast calling for clouds and rain. There appeared to be a hole in the clouds right above the island. Climbing to the top of what I believe was the tallest peak on the island (with the help of hundreds ot steps), I got great panoramic views of the harbor. It was full of cargo ships and I could see some of the high rises of Hong Kong. I made my way back to Sok Kwu Wan passing through several villages with old people yelling hello at me. I decided to eat lunch before continuing my hike. I ate crab fried in honey and lemon pepper with a side of steamed rice. The crab was live until I ordered it. I washed it down with a very fragrant jasmine tea. This was the most expensive meal I ate while I was in Hong Kong. I then hiked to Yung Shue Wan getting more great views including Hong Kong’s main power plant. Whereas I was alone on my first hike, this hike was full of people making their way between the villages. The trail passed by a nice beach as well as an area where an old man was digging for clams in the sand. Another man noticed me watching him and told me “Money, very ancient”. Implying that this was how people have made a living here for quite a while. Finishing my hike, I took the ferry back to Kowloon.

Today, I mostly am just hanging around and doing some errands. I uploaded my Hong Kong pictures. I also went and bought a ferry ticket to Nansha, China. Tomorrow, I will leave Hong Kong and enter China by boat. My first stop will be Guangzhou where I will stay for a few days with a friend of a friend.

Observations (Oh so many where to begin)

1. Squat Toilet Update: I have seen the enemy but as of yet have not had to engage.
2. Umbrella Wars: Many peole here like to carry around what seems like their own personal beach umbrella. As you can imagine, this leads to much jostling and ducking when walking on the side walks as they are packed.
3. Elevator Buttons: They are hard on elevator buttons here. The residents here seem to feel that repeatedly jamming the elevator buttons will make it work faster. I have never seen the open, close, and elevator call buttons used so much in all my life.
4. Sellers: The streets around my hostels (not nearly as bad as the Indian lady made it seem) are full of Indian men trying to sell you fake watches and tailored suits. I walk down the street being followed by Indian men saying “Copy watch”, “Suit” and Asian ladies saying “Foot Massage”. I usually ignore them or make them go away if they follow me by staring them down as I am bigger than they are. Another guy and myself did go one time with one of the copy watch people. We negotiated a price of $600 for three fake, though nice, watches. It was quite the setup involving catalogs, guards watching for police, and runners bringing watches in and out. We went to pay him and he informed us he meant $600 US dollars. We told him he must be joking and left.
5. Articles (a, an, the): I already miss them and am starting to find myself not using them and saying things like “I like watch” There are no articles in Mandarin. This is why they don’t often use them when they speak in English.
6. Signage: Getting around Hong Kong is very easy. Most signs are in English (sometime poorly) and Mandarin (Cantonese).
7. Chopsticks: Upon my arrival here, I was hopeless at chopsticks and the waitstaff would come running with a fork as soon as I picked them up and dropped my food. The New Territories has fewer foreigners than Kowloon. When I ate lunch there, I once again attempted to use chopsticks. I ended up with half the restaurant (not exaggerating) trying to give me chopstick lessons and smiling at my attempts. I felt just a smidge self conscious. Lately I have been doing better and am making it through complete meals with just chopsticks. I still drop the food a lot and look clumsy while doing it as I still get offered forks which I turn down.

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3 Responses to “Hong Kong – My Gateway to Asia”

  1. Gashwin Says:

    MWAHAHAHA … no wonder everyone ditches you — it’s the deoderant! (ot lack thereof!) 🙂

    So, getting stomped on in a massage parlor is your idea of Asian (by which I suspect you mean East/South East Asian) culture? Hmm.

    If you’re missing articles in China, you’ll mis s them even more in the subcontinent. I don’t think articles reappear until Southwest Asia — Arabic has them, and (I think, but am not sure) Persian.

    Its’ also neat to see that you’ve got the knack of bargaining. Half a lifetime of growing up in India hasn’t taught that skill to me. It’ll come in very handy in the subcontinent as well.

    Good talking to you today. Enjoy China!

  2. Posted from India India
  3. admin Says:

    My bargaining skills are driven by the fact that I am somewhat tight with money. Also my deoderant was fine. This new deoderant was if I met a “good friend”.

  4. Posted from China China
  5. Erica Says:

    I’m glad i found your blog. Have been enjoying reading all of it. Thanks – u have a flair for writing good travel blogs.

  6. Posted from Malaysia Malaysia
  7. Heidi Says:

    Any “good friends” yet?

    Maybe the plasma screen TVs in the temple at the top of the hill were for security, like if someone tried to steel a golden Buddha statue at the main temple down below? Just a guess.

    I’m really envious this time. After piddling with it for years, I’ve recently taken up yoga for real. No, I’m not converting to Buddhism; I’m still quite Christian, thank you. But there are many, many universal techniques and philosophies in Buddhism. It actually does make you feel more peaceful. Plus I can touch my head to my knees now. If you get a chance to try yoga, I highly recommend it.

    Eat some vegetarian food for me.

  8. Posted from United States United States
  9. admin Says:

    Are you vegetarian now? As far as yoga, when you can scratch your back with your big toe then you will know you have made it.

  10. Posted from Australia Australia

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