BootsnAll Travel Network

Where the Hell Am I?

Our first night in Hong Kong was a fairly uneventful one. After finding out the Happy Valley races weren’t on, Chris and I headed out to explore the surrounding area a bit and get some dinner. We wandered for just a few minutes and came to an Irish pub that was recommended in our guidebook, and headed in, basing our decision on the sole fact that English Premiership Football was being shown inside and Chris needed his fix. The pub was fairly full, but we managed to get a table in view of the big screen TV and browsed the standard Irish pub menu and ordered some drinks. I was quickly overcome by indecision, as there was food on the menu I hadn’t seen or even thought about in months: Caeser salad, chili, Reuben sandwiches.. It was a minefield of horribly bad for you, but incredibly tasty Western food that I had pushed back far into my subconscious, and it was now springing to life. I ordered a Caeser salad and some red wine and settled back to watch some football, unaware that the food cravings I didn’t even know I had would become stronger everyday that I spent in HK. This clearly wasn’t the China that I just spent three long weeks in; it was another place entirely.

After some much needed football viewing, drinks and food, we took a stroll down by the waterfront near the new Cultural Center and Star Ferry Terminal. Since we were staying in Kowloon, our view across the harbour was of Hong Kong Island, where all the big skycrapers and businesses are, and the night was lit up like a big lightshow. Trying to get a decent photo, however, of the skyline at night proved difficult, and no matter what we tried, the photos came out either blurry or too bright or too dark. We continued on down the waterfront, and came to a new exhibition called the Avenue of the Stars.This was a sort of random copy of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where numerous Chinese actors, most of which I had never heard of, had their handprints or statues and signatures. Getting the most attention was Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee statues, and people standing idiotically next them in full muscle poses. It was a nice night, but the days travel had taken its toll on us, and we headed back to our room in the luxurious Chongking mansions for some rest. The building was more empty than when we had left, but there were quite a few unsavory characters loitering around in front and in the lobby. Security was on in full force, and even though it was close to midnight, the small elevators were still crammed full of people. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in the building, but given the large amount of people around and the huge security they had in place, I felt reasonably safe. We finally managed two spaces in the small elevator and after getting ready for bed, fell asleep quickly to the BBC, something we hadn’t seen in weeks.

The next morning after a very late breakfast at the Deli France cafe, a staple of HK, we headed out to try and buy our rail passes. HK has a very convenient, safe and clean public transit system, something that any leader of a big city should see for his or her own eyes, and we wanted to try and save a bit of money by buying a pass. Since Chris also needed to go to the airport, there was a pass which included this expensive trip and we headed towards the nearest station to make the purchase. Unfortunately, we were told we needed to go to a station that was actually on the Airport Express line, and in our continuing wisdom, we decided it would be easy to walk there instead of paying for the train fare. After an easy walk through the park, we made our way towards the waterfront, where we thought we could get over to the train station. However, we quickly came to a concrete barrier, and entered an expensive hotel to try and find directions. After actually getting lost in the hotel complex full of shops and a big parking lot, we managed to head towards the right direction. Right after leaving the building, we heard rumbling in the distance and saw a massive black storm cloud heading our way. A torrential downpour started a few minutes later, and we headed for shelter in an underground passageway, our umbrellas and raincoats stored neatly back in our hotel. We waited until we thought it had let up, and headed for the train station. The rain picked up again for a bit, but since we were already soaked it didn’t much matter. After a few missed turns, we finally found the train station, and managed to purchase two different passes without much difficulty. Clutching our expensive passes, we quickly put them to use and headed for the train to take across the water to Hong Kong Island.

Not having any sort of plan, we got off the train at the first stop, and wandered around the downtown area of HK Island close to the water. There seemed to be an unexplainable large amount of women sitting everywhere, in groups playing cards and eating, in the subway stations, on the sidewalks, literally everywhere. We thought for a while that this was normal, that people were just in town shopping and waiting for their bus or train, but after a certain corner we came across some kind of demonstration or gathering for workers rights of Philipino women who work in HK, and the large amount of people everywhere was quickly explained. We got a view across the harbor to Kowloon, but the view was certainly less dramatic in that direction. The main thing we noticed was the amount of shops in HK, and while window shopping might have been fun, it was torture knowing we couldn’t really buy anything. There were also many restaurants that caught my eye, like Ruth’s Chris steakhouse among others, and the vision of a big steak and baked potato was now burned into my brain. Before heading back to Kowloon, we came upon a grocery store full of Western goods, and without thinking I quickly grabbed an insanely overpriced back of Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips. Familiar brand names jumped out at me, as did a large selection of real cheese, and a huge supply of different beers and wines I hadn’t seen in a long time, including of all things, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Before I spent my entire daily budget on junk food, Chris wisely dragged me out of the store. Instead of taking the train back to Kowloon, we hopped on the Star Ferry, which was a quick commuter ferry, and as it turned out, much cheaper than taking the train across. It was a short 10 minute ride across the harbor, and we took our obligatory photos as we headed towards Kowloon.

After a refreshing shower and change of clothes, we headed out to explore a bit more of Kowloon. Not even thinking of eating Chinese food in any sense, we headed towards an Indian restaurant in our building and had some really good curry and Kingfisher beers. The restaurant was obviously popular, and after we had finished, we were politely stared at until we got the hint to leave, and as we got up they hurried to move our table to accomodate a large party. Heading down Nathan Road, the main tourist street in Kowloon, we walked past shop after shop, full of electronics, clothes and jewelry. We continued on until we found the Temple Street night market, which was a few long streets full of junk really. Disappointed by the market, we turned and headed down another street, only to find that the market actually continued on further down, and we realized we had been at a small offshoot of the real market. Not in the market for much, we looked through all the stalls of cheap clothes, watches, sunglasses and souvenirs with faint curiousity, but didn’t buy anything. The day had quickly gotten away from us, and it was already past nine, not so late but after a tiring day of wandering and getting lost, we gave in and headed home, taking the long way around down by the waterfront again to enjoy the view.

Monday morning, being a weekday, meant one clear thing to me, and that was to head to the Chinese consulate for another visa. In my infinite wisdom, I failed to realize that I needed a multi-entry visa to China. Since I was in Hong Kong, I had in fact left China, something which is strange to me since HK is part of China, but alas, they have their own immigration policies and border crossings, and now my Chinese visa was all but worthless once I had entered HK. So, I had two options: either fly to Vietnam, which would cost me about $400, or get another Chinese visa costing about $35 and head overland to VIetnam. Clearly, I didn’t want to spent that kind of money on a flight, so we headed towards the consulate early in the morning. Though getting a bit lost trying to find the place, we eventually did and lined up with hundreds of other people to wait for it to open. Finally at 9am, the line started moving and we were quickly ushered through security and upstairs. Despite the large amount of people, it was an entirely orderly affair, since we were given a number and just waited until it popped up on the screen. I had quickly filled out my application, and handed it over with my passport and a passport photo to the woman behind the screen. She quickly glanced at it, and asked me to fill out my employers address. Crap, why did I do that? Under Occupation, I had filled in Health Care, and after explaining that I actually wasn’t working at this very minute, she asked me to write Unemployed instead. That’s not good, I thought to myself. They could very well reject my application based solely on that, as I’m sure any consulate for the US would do. But she seemed nonplussed, and told me to pick up my visa in two days, where I would then pay for the visa. This seems to easy, I thought to myself, but shrugged as there was nothing else to do. Needing breakfast, we headed towards a coffee shop for an incredibly good cup of real drip coffee and a bagel with cream cheese, where visions of Jaffa bagels in my work building danced in my head.

Tearing ourselves away from the comfy chairs, we headed back towards the waterfront and the main bus terminal, where we, for once, easily found the bus that would take us to Stanley Market. Stanley was a small area on Hong Kong Island and hosted a huge market everyday. Being a sucker for markets anyway, and since Chris needed some last minute souvenirs, gifts and such, it was an easy decision to head over there and take a good look around. We had at one point looked on the map and thought it would make a nice walk, but we quickly found we were lucky we hadn’t tried, as the bus wound its way up and around fairly steep hills and climbs. We also passed by the Happy Valley racecourse which was cool to see, but we were going too fast to take a picture. After a scenic journey, we found ourselves in the vast market and set out to try and get some good deals. Some of my shirts were a little worse for wear, so I tried to find a few cheap replacements, while searched in vain for some cheap shoes and sandals to take home. We ended up browsing in the market for a few hours probably, and after making some last minute purchases, headed out for some lunch, at Deli France again, and then found our way back to the bus. We had actually managed to plan out the day quite well, and it was late afternoon as we got off the bus and headed on foot to the Victoria Peak tram station, a tram that would take us up to the high point of Hong Kong Island for a view of the city. We walked around the big complex and “treated” ourselves to a McDonald’s ice cream sundae. The views were nice, but our desire to sit down was only fulfilled on a concrete border wall, as there was not one seat to enjoy the view on, which was kind of annoying. Finishing our ice creams and game of dominoes, we headed back towards the front to get a view of the skyline. Chris has a borderline obsession with getting views from up high, as witnessed by our bizarre evening in Kuala Lumpur, and this was no different, as we not only got the view during daylight hours but at night, again difficult but we managed to get a view good shots. Despite the bright lights below, it got dark very quickly, and the area around the tram full of shops and restaurants quickly filled with hundreds of people wanting their own view. Finally relinquishing our spot along the wall, we headed inside and browsed through the shops there. Commenting earlier that I didn’t understand why you would go all the way up the tram to do shopping, I was corrected after Chris found the perfect gifts for his nephews back home and quickly bought them. Realizing the ice cream didn’t do anything to quench our hunger, we made our way down and back across to Kowloon, where cheaper dinner was in order than what could be found on HK island. Not realizing how late it was, many bars had stopped serving food, and we went back to Delaney’s, our Irish pub from the first night, for some snack food and drinks. LIke almost every other day, we were tired from walking around and from the heat, and after a few drinks we went back to our hotel. We knew we needed to get to bed fairly early, as it would be Chris’s last day and we had a ton of stuff to do.

D-day. Allowing ourselves to sleep in a little bit, we started to pack our things for the big move. I would be moving to another hotel as I couldn’t afford our current place on my own, and Chris needed to pack for his trip home and move his stuff to my new place since his flight wasn’t until late in the evening. After a quick breakfast, we packed and checked out of one hotel and into another, which was seemingly  more “backpacker” friendly than our other place and I hoped to meet a few people. We headed down into our building and found a reliable place for Chris to get his photos burned onto a CD for me. AFter that, we kind of looked at each other and shrugged; we actually didn’t have that much to do as we had thought, so we headed for the waterfront for some last views of the harbor and HK island. I finally got Chris to try a Starbucks coffee, something he stubbornly resisted, though he didn’t quite admit to liking it, and we sat out on the steps of the Cultural center and watched the world go by. It was a nice day, no rain, and there were a lot of people just milling around, walking to and from all the museums in the complex and taking their lunch breaks on the water. It was really peaceful and relaxing, something we hadn’t allowed ourselves much of in the past month of whirlwind travel. We were quickly reminded that we were in fact in Hong Kong and not China, when a security guard came and asked me not to lie down on the steps, which would have been laughable in China. Along with the huge fine for spitting in Hong Kong, where if in place in China every man would be bankrupt, HK was a much more orderly but culturally vibrant place than mainland China. Looking at my watch, I knew that we needed to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner, so we gradually got up and shuffled away towards the chaos of Nathan Road. After showering and finishing packing Chris’s backpack for his journey home, we looked through our guidebook to decide on a nice dinner place. It was quickly decided that we had to try a place called Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill, a chain restaurant I had seen in Singapore, and we headed towards the vast shopping mall along the harbor where it was.

We walked into the restaurant, and I instantly knew I was going to enjoy this meal. The wood paneling, the dark lighting, the Chicago posters everywhere, it was like a big mixture of every steak house at home. We were quickly taken to a nice booth and settled into the red leather seats. The staff was overly friendly, and brought us menus and water, tap water in a glass with ice no less. Another hard decision I knew, looking at the menu. Steak, burgers, chicken wings! One funny thing was on the menu, it stated “Beware: We serve American portions.” Slightly worried that this would be a disappointing meal, I took the plunge and ordered a ribeye and a baked potato and Chris ordered ribs.. They brought us our drinks, a huge gin and tonic for me and beer for Chris, and it occured to me that I could have been sitting in this restaurant at home. Every detail was there; the stupid photographs of people who had visited the restaurant, the A1 steaksauce on the tables, the steak knives they brought us after we had ordered. It was perfect. Now the food, well, it was great. It wasn’t just good steak “for Asia” it was actually a really good steak, perfectly cooked which doesn’t even happen at home all the time, and loads of sour cream for my baked potato. While eating, I looked around and noticed that the group of Chinese at the table next to us was eating Chinese style, even though they were at a Western restaurant. They had ordered 6 different dishes, a steak, a salad, a pasta, etc, and were sharing it all between the 6 of them. I thought that was a great idea, since halfway through a big steak, I tend to get sick of eating it, and this time was no different, giving Chris some of mine in exchange for a rib. A nice glass of red wine rounded out my meal, and I was completely satisfied. But I knew that I would probably regret that meal, as i would eventually have to return to eating Chinese and local food. But no matter, for now it was good and completely enjoyable.

After stuffing ourselves, we headed back to our hotel to pick up Chris’s stuff and head towards the airport. Even though his flight wasn’t until 11, we didn’t know how long it would take to get there and wanting to make sure we were early, we left about 8pm. Hong Kong has an amazing system for getting to their airport, and it works insanely well, at least for us. At many stops all around the city, a shuttle bus picks up Airport express train passengers, for free if you can imagine it, and takes them to the nearest Airport express train station. After picking up a few more people at three different stops, we took the short 10 minute ride to the train station, and once we arrived, realized that Chris could check in for his flight at the train station. Knowing that this was something Mayor Daley was considering trying to do in downtown Chicago, I was instantly intrigued, and watched with amazement as Chris walked straight up to the British Airways counter, no line, checked in his bag and got his boarding pass. We then headed downstairs and got on a brand new express train, which leaves every 15 minutes or so, and zipped along for 20 minutes to the airport. Plush seats with TV screens like you might find on a new airplane showed us the weather in 50 different cities around the world and current stock reports, and before we knew it, we got to the airport. Chris got his HK$50 refund back on his train pass, and we set off to find a something to drink and somewhere to sit, as we had in fact now 2 hours to kill. The airport was huge, modern, clean and totally fantastic, and we sat and had something to drink and talked and looked at photos. We sat there for so long, to the point I actually started to think Chris might now miss his flight, and we got up and walked towards the security checkpoint. I obviously couldn’t go in, so we said our goodbyes under the watchful and curious eyes of the security guards. It was time to say go, and Chris finally walked through the gate and out of sight. It was late, I was in Hong Kong at the aiport, and after more than a month, I was alone again.

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