Wow! The madness continues! Wrapping your head around Hong Kong is like learning Chinese overnight! If Japan has neon or fluorescent pockets, Hong Kong is just one big light bulb! Where did I read that New York is the city that never sleeps, but Hong Kong is the city that never stops! Bingo! We have now been here a little over a week, and not a second goes by without my ceasing to be amazed, due what I see, or more to the point, what is thrust upon me. Hong Kong is everything all at once, and this indeed involves the good, the bad, the ugly and the very ugly! This is “immersion” at its best. Read on.
I must say that Hong Kong has never been on my “I gotta go in a hurry” list, but I am so thankful that I made it here. It has been, and continues to be a lesson in motion. The Hong Kong Airport was a clear indication of what was to come. Both Alex and I were overawed by its opulence. There was not a solitary designer (we are taking Gucci and friends here) that wasn’t represented, and I saw more make-up and cosmetic counters than I could poke a few hundred sticks at. What were we in for? When we arrived, it was absolutely pouring outside. The skies were grey and hazed over, but no use waiting, as it looked relentless and not like it was going to stop in a hurry. So we simply organised to catch a bus into town.
I should mention that Alex and I have decided to let the rest of out ticket around-the-world expire. We had two stops left on it. In theory we were to fly from Hong Kong to Vietnam, make our way overland to Bangkok, and finally fly from Bangkok to Melbourne. Instead, we have decided to go to China, and then through to Vietnam and “parts” (read, we do not know yet!) of South-East Asia. We are still not sure as to exactly when we will be home. Up until now, we have not required visas for any of the countries we have visited (ask Alex how much he LOVES travelling on an Australian passport!), but we do need them for both China and Vietnam, which we are organising from here.
We were headed for Kowloon, which is where the bulk of the budget accommodation is. Hong Kong is actually a series of islands, as well as a portion that goes on to become mainland China. As we crossed several bridges, I figured that, minus the rain, the views would have been spectacular. Once off the bus, the “search” began! Yes, looking for a place to sleep, which may I add, after a year, we are soooooo over doing! But it’s one of those things that has to occur. After hours of searching (and let me tell you, Hong Kong is expensive, and that doesn’t exclude accommodation) we found a tiny but clean room with air-conditioning, TV, and a small bathroom with toilet. OK, so we had two single beds, but for around AUD $30.00 a night, that is a bargain in Hong Kong! It is always a relief when we finally find a place to stay, as the search can often be exhausting. In heat and humidity, it’s even worse.
So, where and how do I begin to describe Hong Kong? Hmm…east meets west? More like west overtakes east! Good shopping? Perhaps, I would say, one big shopping mall! Bargain shopping? Not so easy these days (the fakes are cheaper in Thailand)! Perhaps 20 years ago! Furthermore, I would add that it is often hard to walk solely on the footpaths, and that at some point you will have to walk under, into or through something….that eventually leads you to……more shopping, usually in the form of….another ….. mall! Where else in the world would you see people queuing up to enter a Louis Vuitton store? I have categorically never seen this many designer stores in my life. That is a huge statement, but it’s true! This is a place where Lexus car dealerships sit directly opposite a street full of prostitutes, where clothes advertisements (famous and expensive brands) come in the form of children (white of course!), and where almost every known cosmetic brand has a range which includes a skin whitener! I know, I went in to a pharmacy to check this out. And as if it’s not enough telling an Asian woman that she needs to be white, there are also sanitary pads sporting the word “white” all over them. What message does this convey? Where does the folly stop? It’s a place that makes you believe that your only food option is McDonald’s, and your only coffee option Starbucks! No, no, no…look around, despite the madness, there are other options!
Getting back to the kids in advertising – I wanted to spew each time I saw those advertisements with pouting lips, fingers being licked, breasts (well, whatever exists when you are no older than 14!), and make up packed on so thickly that it makes KISS look like they aren’t even wearing foundation. Again, give me a break! It’s funny how a 23 or 28 or even 35 year old, isn’t going to look like that…ever…..because you know what, REAL women have hips and boobs! Besides, has nobody ever told these advertisers that some of us DON’T want to look like that! I didn’t think it was a good look back when I was 14, and I can assure you that, it certainly does not appeal to me as a 39 year old! What next? Images of an unborn foetus holding an YSL handbag? At least they will have the size right! You don’t get much smaller than a foetus!
For Alex and I, Hong Kong has been about really taking in what human nature is all about, and even where, globally, we are headed. We have been repulsed by the greed, and saddened by both companies’ coercion as well as people’s obvious pressure for the need to conform. For heaven’s sake, I saw a shop sporting “skinny jeans”, with one of the styles called “salad”! It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that the image being portrayed here is that if you are thin you are worthwhile! Nothing new here, is it ladies? And I had to laugh when, in another store, I tried on a pair of size 8 shorts which fit me comfortably. Give me (another) break! Huge I am not, but size 8? So, what does that make a real size 8, a minus 4! Again, what image is being portrayed?
Now onto another favourite topic of mine, McDonald’s! I have been to several in Hong Kong. Buy something? You have to be kidding! I used to think that they were great for using the bathroom, but to be perfectly honest, they have been filthy here! On a few occasions I almost passed out when I saw the age of some of the people, or should I say children, working there too. One kid looked so young that I walked out and cried! Ah, and then there is the “set-up”; as soon as you walk in, there is a glass cabinet full of McDonald’s toys, so before your child has had time to say, “Mummy I want a hamburger”, it has probably said, “Mummy I want a toy”. So….one Happy Meal and a toy later……most of the food gets ditched, whilst the toy is the joy of the child’s life! This marketing to youngsters is horrendous! And to be fair, McDonald’s is not the only company who is doing it! Doubly horrendous is the amount of food that gets wasted whilst so many people in the world are starving. In light of our views on this (Alex is in total accordance), we both had to laugh when we saw what somebody had scribbled onto a poster we saw near the ferry terminal, “McDiabetes,McDisease, McObesity”(I promise I didn’t write it). Ironically, it is written under the word fiction? McDonald’s is crap! Is that fact or fiction?
When you are in the thick of it, it’s actually hard to believe that Hong Kong is lush and fertile, but it is. We have visited places with superb viewpoints and vistas, which are testimony to the fact that there is life beyond the buzzing commercial heart-beat for which this “country” is known for (its correct name is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It was actually passed back from British to Chinese “ownership” in 1997). One of these was visiting the Bank of China building, in the area known as Central, and going up to its public viewing gallery on the 43rd floor. The panoramic view over the bay, and from where we could see the area of Tsim Sha Tsui where we are staying, was spectacular. Having said that, the entire central area, on both sides of the bay, and for several kilometres on each side, is covered with skyscrapers. At nighttime, you do not need to be up high to feel like you are in a neon vacuum! We also took the “Peak Tram“, which is a double reversible funicular railway, which takes you 1.4 kilometres up a hill, with a gradient of between 4 and 27 degrees. Some 7 minutes and 396 metres above sea level later, voila, there is a 360 degree view of Hong Kong! And spectacular it was! I hate to harp on, but the final and eventual view can only be obtained by going up several escalators, which pass yet more shops and commercial garbage. Yes, you can ignore them….but the point is, that you have to pass through them. We stayed at the top for several hours, and watched as day turned into night. It was breathtaking to see the lights on all the skyscrapers come on slowly, until the sky was completely black, and below was a sea of lights. And they say that New York has skyscrapers! I tell you what, it has some competition here. It is up here that we met Chris and Rita, a lovely Austrian/ Indonesian couple who live in Vienna. We exchanged e-mails and Rita told us to look them up when we go to Austria. I told her that we had only been there recently. Chris also told us how beautiful Indonesia was and that we should consider going there. I am not sure if I need any more encouragement. My quest to see the entire world seems to be insatiable!
Hong Kong has 6.9 million people packed into a land area of about 1,100 square kilometres, but those people are squeezed onto only about 10% of the available land space. The problems this has produced are many, including smog, smells (some identified, and some not), clutter and clangor! We have first hand experience, waking up at 8.00am sharp each morning to the tunes of a multitude of jack hammers, as they paved the way, for what looks like yet another shopping area! Also, Hong Kong is hot but more so, it’s humid. All of this together can be both draining and taxing on the system. It is imperative to drink copious amounts of water here, in order to stay hydrated. At first, even that did not seem to help. I got a ripper of a migraine on our second day, to the point of vomiting. In general I in particular have felt quite affected by the climate changes on this trip, and in a year, we have had several.
The food has been OK, but I must confess that I find the food a tad bland and oily after other Asian cuisines such as Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese. Having just come from Japan, we have been a little disappointed. The noodle soups have been fine, although I have to “pretend” that I do not know that they are cooked in some type of animal broth…noodles and veggies for me, broth for Alex! Seriously, if you are travelling for as long as we are, there has to be some leeway on the “vegetarian path” otherwise it becomes impossible. When trying to make my vegetarianism understood, Alex has devised the, “My wife doesn’t eat anything with eyes!”. They seem to get that concept, well kind of, anyway! We have also found a great coffee place, which supports the local community, makes great coffee as well as the fact that it costs half the price of Starbucks. Red Moment Coffee Express is literally a hole in the wall in an area called Wan Chai. Mok (who is from Hong Kong) and his staff are always friendly and helpful, and we have become “locals” frequenting the place most days to buy a coffee, or two! They have a variety of different coffees from around the globe, as well as snacks and sandwiches, at very reasonable prices. If you come to Hong Kong, ask around for this tiny place, you will pleasantly rewarded! Let’s support the locals!
Despite passing through several shopping areas which, as mentioned prior, often happens by default as you must pass through them, we have also enjoyed visiting several of the night markets, such as the Temple St Night Market and the Ladies’ Night Market. These are all great people-watching places, and it’s interesting to see individuals buying up like there’s no tomorrow. And I am talking locals as well as foreigners, actually, possibly more locals. Hong Kong truly comes alive at night, and it is fascinating to see people shopping obsessively and compulsively…..everything, anything, things that they need and things that they don’t!
Each night the HK’s Victoria Harbour comes alive with “A Symphony of Lights“, which is the largest permanent light and sound show in the world. I must admit that it is truly impressive, with buildings on both sides of the harbour lighting up, and laser beams and lights flickering all over the place. As we are staying close by, we have seen it both in its entirety, as well as in bits and pieces on several other occasions. It’s always full of people, as well as a multitude of photographers ready to take a snap (with their wide angled cameras of course!) of you up against the infamous backdrop of the harbour. Another Hong Kong landmark is the Star Ferry, which takes you across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island in around 7 minutes. Alex and I have used it almost daily. Naturally, the views of both sides of the harbour are pretty impressive, as seen from the water.
We have also done several other things. We visited the Museum of Art, with Hong Kong and Chinese art as its core, as well as the Space Museum, which was fascinating. What lies”beyond us” never ceases to amaze as well as perplex me. We visited both of these places on a rainy day. As it is the rainy season here at present, when it rains, although it may not last for long, it pours! We also did a cruise of the harbour on an old Chinese junk (ship or a large vessel), called the Dukling. These one hour tours of Hong Kong’s infamous bay are free, and are organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The particular junk we were on, complete with red sails, is the last sailing junk in Hong Kong, and is one of the country’s most famous icons. Here I met a group of Aussie sisters-in-law, Lee, Janet, Jeanette, Joy and her daughter Emily. What a great bunch. It was great having a chin-wag with some people from the home-land!
Now, it just wouldn’t be fair to say that HK is just one big shopping mall, without at least venturing out to see what lies beyond all of this. So, we decided to do a day trip out to Lamma Island, and were suitably impressed. No skyscrapers here, and only a short ferry ride away it was like another world. It is actually Hong Kong’s third largest island, although it’s only 13.6 square kilometres. The island abounds with seafood restaurants, but also has some great walking and hiking trail. We landed at Yung Shue Wan, and walked the 4 kilometre” family trail” to Sok Kwu Wan where you can then take the ferry back to Hong Kong Island. It was a very pretty and scenic walk. Along the way, we met, and continued to walk with Irina, a Russian/ American working in Hong Kong. It was interesting to hear her point of view on Hong Kong, and the lifestyle one lives here. Along the way we stopped at a shack along the trail selling a tofu dessert. Made by Lamma’s “tofu grandma”, the “Ah Por Fu” (literally, Grandma’s mean curd) was sensational!
As if our short 4 kilometre hike wasn’t enough, we decided to do another trail, which was supposed to be 2 hours round-trip, beginning and culminating at Sok Kwu Wan (which is where the other trail had finished). About 40 minutes into the walk (which was deserted, tranquil and peaceful, as it was 5.00pm and there was nobody else around), we saw another sign saying Ling Kok Shan, and pointing upwards. No heights or times were mentioned, but it couldn’t be that far up….or could it? We began walking, up, and up, and up, and some 20 minutes later, we realised that this was no 2 minutes away lookout. Having said that, we were on the trail now, and as Alex said to me, “You just love a challenge, don’t you Ombs!”. He knows me only too well! I wasn’t going to stop until I hit the peak, which in all fairness was not too far away. As we walked higher and higher, the views over the lush and undulating little island, totally surrounded by water were arresting. Some 40 minutes later we hit the peak (which was 250 above sea level), sweating like we’d run a marathon. The only ones up there, we were presented with a sumptuous sunset, with the sun appearing like an orange ball of fire. I felt so at peace, and once again, I felt like we were being shown a little bit of paradise! As we started to descend, in the other direction, we realised that the trail did not go back down and join onto the original one. As it was getting dark, our only option was to go down the same way we came up. OK, so we did not have a flashlight when we should have, but hey, there’s nothing like an adventure, so we powered down that hill like nobody’s business. Once down, we walked back to the ferry terminal. Easy peasy! Actually, we were knackered! It feels so amazing to be fit and healthy enough to do this! Our bodies are our temples, and we should treat them as such! More than often, we do not. After this, it was a ferry ride back and to bed!
Onto some practical things. We have managed to organise a Vietnamese visa by going directly to the Vietnamese Embassy, and we are now waiting to collect our Chinese one, which we also organised by going directly to the Embassy. We also both managed to get a haircut too. Mine was just a trim, to give it some style, and Alex’s was to reshape his wig! It should be illegal for men to have hair that thick! If I could only have 10% of the hair that Alex has! We found a place called Hair Spa, which looked modern, professional and funky. Sunky did a great job on my hair! (Thanks Sunky, this is the best cut I have had in ages), and Angel an equally good job on Alex’s.
Alex has also finally bought a new pair of hiking shoes. Without going into specifics, he bought a pair of Hi-Tec hiking shoes back in Costa Rica, which pretty much began falling apart from day dot. They came with a company guarantee, regarding what to do should they be defective, complete with a message from a Mr Frank van Wezel, who is the chairman of Hi-Tec Sports, stating that he stands behind this pledge. What a load of hocus pocus! Despite several e-mails to this man about the rapidly deteriorating state of Alex’s shoes, we really got no help whatsoever. I lie, he did say that we could change them in the USA! And of course, we would fly there just to do this. My ensuing e-mails to him were useless, and we got no help or assistance at all. The bottom line is that the care factor was zero! Please take the time to look at the state of Alex’s shoes, and when choosing a brand of footwear, ask yourself if this is what you want! Boo and hiss to Hi – Tec! Frank van Wesel, if you cannot stand behind a promise, don’t make it in the first place!
Finally, we have had a few laughs at some of the wording on different signage we have seen. Rather than being misspelt, it is the way that they actually read in English. You have to appreciate a fashion store being called “Wanko” and a restaurant called “Fu Kee”. What about “Wah Kee” snacks, Pui Kee Arts, and a head lice remover whose brand is “Falic”? But my favourite has got to be the words “Wan Kee” directly beneath a Nike sign! Ya gotta love that! Many of you know only how much that one floated mine (and Alex’s ) boat! So what you have is wanko clothes, wankee shoes and fukee food! I hope no offence is taken here, as I am sure that there are words in English which read in an equally ridiculous manner in some other languages.
A few more days in Hong Kong, and off to China we will go.
“I went into a McDonald’s yesterday and said, ‘I’d like some fries’. The girl at the counter said, ‘Would you like some fries with that?’ ” (Jay Leno 1950 – )………I know I am a shit-stirrer, but I just could not resist this one!
NOTE 1: If you have not seen the movie Super Size Me , take a look at it. It chronicles the adventures of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock eating nothing but McDonalds for a month. Click onto the McDonalds link here to see what he has to say about his experience! I also recommend a book called Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, which examines the history and growth of fast food restaurants in American culture. Both Alex and I have read it, and admit that it is an intoxicating read!