Having spent nearly two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, plus another week in Singapore, we thought we had Asian cities handled. Coming to Hong Kong, we figured it would just be more of the same: bright lights, busy streets, honking taxis, the like. In a sense, were right. Hong is all of this and more. Way more.
Thanks to Air Asia, we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Macau for the grand total of $40 (that’s for both of us, not each). Of course, for that price, we had a red-eye flight and touched down in Macau just after 2AM. With not much else to do, we found some flat benches in the airport terminal, unrolled our sleep sheets, and nodded off for a few hours of unrestful sleep. When daylight came along, we packed up our stuff, and boarded a bus for the Macau-Hong Kong ferry terminal. Driving through Macau was pretty weird—it’s billed as the Las Vegas of Asia. True to it’s word, there are myriad casinos lining the streets, many highly themed: an ancient Portugese fishing village, a fiery volcano, a replica Coliseum. Additionally, Macau has very strong Portuguese roots, so much of the normal architecture (ie.- unthemed) has this Chinese-Portugese mix—Portugese tile walls framing Chinese dragon sculptures and such. Very strange, but all in all, from our short bus tour, Macau seems like a nice place.
Upon reaching the ferry terminal we purchased two tickets for Hong Kong island, which cost 120 Macau. By this point, we were both starting to feel pretty excited as the reality of being in China was starting dawn on us.
The ferry ride was comfortable and uneventful. The ferry was a modern ship complete with airline style seats (we even had to buckle our seatbelts), LCD screens, and food service. We were both feeling pretty haggard from not having slept much the night before, so we ordered some Pu-erh tea, which came in small styrofoam cups.
Once we had docked in Hong Kong, we both just kind of stared for a few minutes, trying to get our bearings. Hong Kong is simply immense. It’s like an assault on your eyes; everywhere you look are big buildings, blinking neon lights (a favorite accessory here it seems), digital billboards. Even though I was dressed in long pants and even wearing shoes (first time in quite a few month), I kept having this mental image of me standing in boardshorts, looking up at the tall buildings, and saying, Dude, where’s the beach?. Hong Kong is by far the largest city I’ve been too. Julie has been to New York (I have not) and she says Hong Kong easily exceeds it in it’s sheer power to overwhelm. In the truest sense, I felt like a country-bumpkin.
We grabbed a double room at the Wang Fat hostel located in Causeway Bay and set off for some sightseeing. I wish here I could give you some sort of overview of the city, but in all honesty, I can’t. We wandered for hours and I don’t think we took in even a fraction of the city. All I can tell you is there are lots of lights, lots of buses (cool old-school double deckers one too), lots of cabs, more malls (all with fancy neon lights), and more people than I have ever seen in one place at one time. The fancy highrises are awe-inspiring. You get the sense that extremely wealthy businessmen have taken up the hobby of building them as a way of outdoing each other. Remember the movie American Psycho? Remember the way everyone would show off their business cards, in a contest to see who had the nicest one, even though they were all stark white with black lettering? Well, I think high-rises are treated the same in Hong Kong. They are a display of wealth and grandeur on the largest scale (hopefully without the pre-meditated murder and admittedly with a little more creativity).
Our primary mission in Hong Kong was obtaining our visas for China. The Chinese embassy is located on the waterfront. It is a stoic, black building rising out of the streets of Hong Kong, resembling in no small way Lord Sauron’s tower in Lord of the Rings. If China is truly trying to open itself to tourism, they may want to start with a new architect. Just walking into the building is intimidating, and it doesn’t help that armed guards go through your belongings as you walk through a metal detector. Of course, Julie and I had never had to apply for a visa before, so much of this may have just been perception. As with anything beaurocratic in nature, to obtain a visa, we had to take a number. We were 241, and looking at the number display above the help counter, we realized they were only on 199. While we were waiting, we filled out the visa application form, which was relatively painless, and waited. While waiting, we met an English man who had been living in Hong Kong for many years. It turns out he is mac user as well. It’s so odd how two people with nothing in common can sit and talk for hours about Apple. When our number was called, we went up to the counter and handed our applications and our passports through the bullet proof glass to the woman on the other side. She looked it over, asked us to clarify a few things (I put “consultant” as my occupation, and she wanted to know what kind), and then told us to come back in two days (we could have had it done in 1 day but it cost nearly twice as much).
The next day Julie was hellbent on eating dimsum for breakfast, so we headed to Central, in search of the Luk Yu Teahouse, which, according to the guidebooks, is the quintessential Dim Sum eating experience. When we found the restaurant, we entered the lobby, but were quickly ushered back out the door and up a set of stairs to the side of the building. Seats at the Luk Yu Teahouse are coveted, and apparently businessman stake their reputation on an ability to get good seats. Well, seeing as we are pretty unimportant, we got a table located upstairs right next tot he door for the bathroom. Regardless, the restaurant was charming, having an old-world feel not very common in modern asian cities. We were served green tea and began our feast (my favorite thing about Dim Sum is you get to just start eating). We had egg rolls, shrimp balls, pork buns, and more. The food was delicious, though there may have been a placebo effect from simply being Hong Kong.
Next we headded for Kowloon, on the otherside of Hong Kong Harbor,for the local sport—shopping. Now there is many types of shopping in Hong Kong. There is the upscale kind found in malls all over the city, where debutantes shop for Gucci, Armani, Louis Vitton, and the like. There is the ultra-exlusive kind, often found in malls attached to big, expensive hotels, like the Mandarin Oriental (we tried this kind when Julie wanted to look at jewelry from Alex Sepkus. Entering the jewelry stored required us getting buzzed in through a series of doors, the next of which would only open after the one behind us had been sealed shut. Although I suppose it is appropriate as the jewelry store had merchandise exceeding the worth of many small countries. Here, please refer back to the Dude, where’s the beach comment? from paragraph five). Kowloon, to my utter joy, is none of these. Kowloon is the knock-off portion of Hong Kong. Here you can also find Armani and Gucci, only it’s not, because almost nothing costs more than five bucks. Lacking the copyright laws of the Western world, you can buy a fake version of just about anything here. I took great pleasure wandering the street stalls looking at all the cheap crap for sale. Wanting to purchase something, but no wanting to carry anything big, I finally settled on a zippo-knockoff lighter, which cost less than $1US. We also picked up some local knick-knacks for gifts back home (please note here, knick-knacks will be distributed according to comment counts on the blog, not that we’re counting or anything).
Believe it or not, we actually had come to Kowloon for a reason besides cheap knock-offs. We were told we could find some reasonable outdoor stores in the area. After five months of traveling, we needed to replace some things that had broken on the road. Namely, Julie’s over-stuffed Mountain Smith Rambler backpack was giving out, with a tear in the fabric holding the main compartment together (look for a full review of this bag shortly). We found a store called the Overlander, which holds a good supply of mountaineering equipment, including a wide variety of backpacks. We settled on a 55L bag from Cerrotorre, a Korean company. I also picked up a Petzl headlamp, as I had accidentally left mine behind in Semporna and had been missing it ever since.
Two days later our Chinese visas were waiting for us at the embassy. Picking them up was painless, and only cost HK$390 a piece. With our visas in hand, we spent our final afternoon in Hong Kong preparing for our entry into China—namely, a twenty-three hour train ride from Hong Kong to Shanghai, our first stop in mainland China.