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Hong Kong, City of Contrasts

HONG KONG | Monday, 10 May 2010 | Views [691]

Hong Kong. What an impressive city! So grand and proud of it at that. So metropolitan and what a huge port! Our 20 minute train ride from the airport to the city led us by what I guess is one of many ports. This thing was gigantic. Both our jaws dropped. Hard to believe a port could really be that big. All the storage bins, thousands and thousands. My mind tried to phathom what all could be in them. Of course, there was no way of knowing. But it was from this first glimpse into Hong Kong that we knew we weren't in Vietnam anymore. Welcome back to the modern world (if Singapore hadn't hit home yet).

Being in Hong Kong was in a way a buffer from the reality check of getting back home to Portland. Imagine just how all these things were now novel to us after 3.5 months in strange lands. Public transportation you could rely on. Transportation that had a set price and we didn't pay more cause we were tourists. Drinking fountains! Yep, that's right. Who would of thought I would be happy to see drinking fountains. Free (drinkable) public water. How nice. And yet, after second guessing even brushing my teeth in running water for so long, I was still hesitant for some reason here. Oh, and free public restrooms, with toilet paper mind you (still holding out for the good stuff). Hong Kong was riddled with public restrooms. Quit nice, even on US standards. I guess the city was that proactive about trying to keep their streets clean. They understood the possible alternatives. And that is the key thing about Hong Kong.

It may be a huge business hub with a skyline you can stare for hours at dreaming of big city, international living. But it is a city with a very deep cultural history that it hasn't said goodbye to. Walk down a street lined with stores for PRADA, LOUIS VUITON, FENDI, etc., go around the corner, and there is an alley with still a few old buildings run by locals still holding onto the way of life that has sustained their family for centuries. With a few modern acceptances of course. Some parts of Hong Kong, while the historical buildings may be gone, the family business lives on in a stall out on the street. Stamp making, clothes, hawkers, antique dealers.

But man, the masses of people. THe high rises were unbelievable. And to think, that it is all living spaces. Our guesthouse while in Hong Kong is a perfect example of all these phenomenas. We stayed in a mansion. But I should tell you, this is not the type of mansion you probably are thinking. Chunking Mansion. Nestled on the main drag in the heart of the Kowloon District. A predominant shopping district with malls and very high end boutiques. Our place, on the 8th floor of a high rise. The whole entire high rise was all guesthouses! That's right. Individual flats that had long been converted. Cheap wooden walls got put up making a 2-3 BDR place a 10 BDR guesthouse. Tiny, tiny hallways. We actually somehow managed a corner room with a private toilet! Our window overlooked one of the new modern malls. Made for a good light show at night.

Just walking up to this place was like entering a different world though. Pass a very nice (huge) park. One block down you pass high end diamond dealers and clothing shops.  And then you come to our place. The demographic changes in a flash. What could we expect I guess in keeping with our budget. We were used to it at this point. It's just such a huge contrast to the neighborhood. Back to the description...Men out on the street hustling for all different things, rolexes, tailoring, handbags, "stay at my place. stay at my place. good price. good price. You have reservation?" Mostly Indian men at that. Good thing for us, it meant there had to be good Indian food around.

Actually, a large variety of ethnicities in the building. I think the biggest range of a melting pot I've ever had the privelage of being around. All the accents and languages being thrown around. One man I say holding a envelope addressed from the immigration bureau addressed to the refugee division. Got me to thinking that with everyone here, very few were white and very very few were probably there under the same pretenses we were. Walking into this place, while safe, just had a very ghetto feel compared to two blocks down the street. Amazing.

Our nightly return home meant waiting in line for the one elevator that went to our floor. The building was so huge, it was subdivided into 6 sections (that I know of). Each had their own elevator shaft. At each of these sections were two elevators. One stopped on the even numbered floors and one on the odd. Very thorough actually considering the mass numbers of people coming and going from this place. Leaving everyday we took the stairs. But even this was an adventure as the staircase didn't go straight down. On two separate flights you had to walk down a hall, through room into another stairwell. The stairs, only plopping you out on the alley with loads of trash and people sleeping. I sure many other things I turned a blind eye to as well. After 8 days of coming and going from this place, we never found a stairwell that took us to the main floor. I don't think it existed. The whole place was one big fire code hazard. I am positive of it! From the lack of free flowing traffic to the self additions put in by each residential unit.

On the main floor, there were businesses of all accords. Internet cafes, indian restaurants, money exchangers (hoards of them), cell phone shops, clothing shops, shoe shops, CD/DVD, dried goods, luggage, general stores. These were the types of stores though you had to rummage your way through and brush off any dust to read a label (I may exaggerate a little). Funny thing though. We found the money exchangers here to give the best rate in town. No exaggeration there! 

Oh, I am sure the original owners don't live there mind you. All hired help at this point. Our host, Lisa, an easy name to remember, was super kind, but paid help. I am not sure if she ever left the place. She lived in a room about the size of a closet. A twin size bed with a TV. Her rice maker was out in the hall, along with a fridge. I am not sure where she used the restroom?

She had to make a phone call when we tried haggling a price since we were planning on staying a while. SHe obviously was not authorized to make such decisions. But hey. When we asked if we could pay in US dollars (leftover from Cambodia still) all she had to do was say, 'let me check the exchange rate downstairs first.' Funny thing was, she showed us two rooms. One with two twins and private toilet with shower, TV. The second, cheaper than the first with also two beds, but one a twin and one 1/2 of a twin (do those even exist?), private toilet as well, just you had to stand on the toilet to use the shower, also TV. Eric asked, "is that even a bed?" He wasn't concerned about the bathroom that I was concerned of. And ironic thing was that I could of fit in the bathroom on top of the toilet. I am not so sure his height would of allowed him to. There were no rooms with one bed.

After negotiating a rate for staying a week, we were then confused on the room we were negotiating. Obviously we had a different room in mind than what she thought. It was cleared up by her saying, "ok. price ok. you choose room." We ask "Same price for either room now?" Yep. Ok. We'll take the larger. We got our room for cheaper than what the original price of the small room was.

Our time in Hong Kong consisted of daily get aways to various neighborhoods. Just checking out the big city sites. One full day spent negotiating our travel and stay in Macau. Hotels became a problem there as the airport volcano mass shutdown had caused hotels to kind of fill up. Figures, the last two days of our trip and we had to hustle for a reservation. The only other time we had made a reservation was in Singapore. Fitting though, as it ended up us paying for the most expensive room of our entire trip right at the end. Paying standard US rate. Yikes!! But hey, we got a nice room. One big bed. Clean, white sheets. Fluffy pillows. Hot shower that was separate from the room itself. We slept well here.

Getting our reservation was a drag. First, all the internet cafes we went to were full. Once we finally found one, when we had to return the following day, we only discovered it didn't exist anymore. Hummm. We aren't in Vietnam anymore, right? Our reservation got dropped three times (a process that took three days of trying, very frustrating to say the least). Never book through the Macau tourism office. Seriously! They need to get with the modern times. We eventually booked through another company and it went smooth as butter. Macau worth it though. Amazing to find so many casinos. But we got to see the Macau Cirque du Soleil show ZAIA. Great way to wrap up our trip.

Sites in Hong Kong: The Peak, Stanley Market, Temple St. Market, Kowloon District, Times Square, Art Museum, History Museum, Science Museum, Astronomy Museum, 8 o'clock nightly skyline light show, Hong Kong Arts Centre, various neighborhood and park walks.

Food in Hong Kong: Dim Sum---ahhhhh! Dumplings----in love! Noodles, can't get enough. Pastry, yum pastry. Tofu. Sushi (cheap yummy sushi). Oh, and do I need to mention Chinese? Our joke in thinking about dinner each day, "Well, I feel like Chinese."

Oh, one last thing. Our last minute rush of shopping. So our budget got a bit pushed at the end with accomodations, so why not stretch a little more right? You may only be here once? PLus, it's the end of our trip, so no more having to worry about lugging around heavy over packed luggage. We spent a day rounding up various kitchen equipment for Eric, things like Ceramic fermenting jars, heavy cleavers, bamboo steamers. You know, all that fun heavy, big bulky items! I was patient and helpful. I really was. And so was he when we found a wonderful tea shop. I ended up buying probably way too much CHinese tea to bring home. But I was like a kid in a candy store. Oh so yummy. At least I have enough I don't have to treasure it like I can't drink it now that we are home. It would go stale if I did that.

Our final treat to ourselves. Buying "Tea Cakes" of our wedding year. So we learned that like many things we like, tea (the right kind of tea) can actually be aged. Throw words like aging and fermenting our their and you get Eric's juices flowing any day (in relation to food/drinks that is). So like tea blocks. We have tea shapped in the form of a frisbee from 2007. We were instructed about how to properly store it and make and serve it. The owner encouraged us to use it as an anniversary item. She said 1 cake would last 50 years. Break off a little each year and see how the fermenting changes and enhances the tea. They had cakes over a century old in the store. They are treasured items just as old wine is back home. And priced accordingly as well. We bought two. One to break up through the years and one to keep whole for nostalgia sake.


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