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A Ferry Ride (and a World) Away

From Macau, we rode on a high speed catamaran to Kowloon. It took less than an hour, but the captain apologized over the intercom for the delay, due to choppy waters. Every time we hit a wave we flew through the air, the groups of excited/freightened tourists yelled/gasped. Yann was excited, I was scared. From the ferry terminal, our hotel was only a few minutes walk away. We were headed to Chungking Mansions the seediest and cheapest location in all of Hong Kong. For the first time in months were at a multi-ethnic destination, restricted to a kilometer radius around the Chungking Mansions. Alot of badmouthing goes on about the infamous appartment block, but Yann and I loved it. Each floor of the building has a handful of different budget guesthouses. We arrived, jumped in the elevator, randomly chose floor number seven, and ended up with a cozy, quiet double room for really a spectacular price, considering the cost of everything else in Hong Kong (a 2007 study ranked the cost of living in Hong Kong as 5th highest among 143 countries, the cost of rental accomodation is highest in the world, so you have to be happy with a 16$/night room). Hong Kong Island and Kowloon make up one of the most densily populated areas in the world. Just walking down the sidewalk was challenging. After first afternoon in the city, we felt completely overwhelmed. We also felt shabby and underdressed. Our torn pants and stained t-shirts just weren't going to cut it here. Here's a list of just a few of the many differences between Hong Kong and the Mainland which traumatised us:
-People queue up
-Cars stop at crosswalks and red lights
-People generally refrain from jay walking
-Fines for spitting and smoking in public places
-Driving on the left side of the road
-Where's the street food?
-Why the hell is this public washroom so clean?
-We can flush our toilet paper?
-The souvenirs are still hideously tacky, but are 10 times more expensive
-McDonald's is the cheapest dining option
-No internet firewall
-Drinkable tap water
-Expensive internet cafes
-Non-expats in the Starbucks
-People speak English
Sadly, in five days in Hong Kong we didn't eat a single Cantonese meal. We had decided we would splurge on a Sunday dim sum, but then decided it just wasn't worth the money. We ate delicious (and cheap) Indian food from a small take-out counter on the ground floor of the Chunking Mansions every night. The building is full of Indian and African restaurants, serving the migrant workers hungry for a taste of home who make up most of the staff. Kowloon, is actually attached to mainland China but is a ten minute ferry ride away from Hong Kong Island, home to the main business district and famous skyline. We spent a day there, taking a ride on tram to Victoria Peak, and got disappointing views hazy city below (although we agreed that on a clear day, if they exist, the view would be incredible). On our last day in the city we visited the flower market and the bird market, which were both interesting, but seemed a little bit to clean and ordered compared with other Asian markets. Hong Kong is a demanding city. It's fast paced, crowded and just too business oriented. The main activity seems to be shopping, and you get the impressions that the city is made up of one shopping mall after another. While we were there, we frequently sought out the quiet of our tiny hotel room. Strangely, the place which in alot of ways most resembled home, was the hardest place for us to adjust to.

3 comments:

Fred said...

Unbelievable! This might sound a little corny :-), but thanks for sharing your journey with us.....welcome back.

Merry Christmas!

Lindsay said...

Just so you know:
A/ We did manage to eat one Cantonese meals in our time in Hong Kong, but we had to head out to the suburbs, to the sort of place where the English menu was dug out from under the counter, and had the dust blown off it.
B/ At long last I escaped from Hong Kong, and I'm back to being a laowai in China. Feels much more familiar too.

Enjoy the real world...

Jean said...

It is so strange to read this eight months after your trip is over.But i appareciate your comment about the hardest to adjust to is that which seems closest to our home. Indeed! Home seemed strange when I got home...very weird...

Papa