Hong Kong Foobar

Tuesday, July 16, 1996
Harbour Buildings

Hong Kong Harbour

I think Hong Kong is a city that I could live in. I like being by the sea, and the interesting mixture of English and Cantonese. Unlike most of the other Asian cities I’ve visited it’s easy to get around because a large fraction of the population speak English. The public transport system is pretty good too, and I like the ferries.

Strangest thing is the way that people seem to amble everywhere as if they have no idea of where they’re going. Perhaps it’s because I was staying in the tourist area and people were shopping, but I don’t think so. Or perhaps they were just walking slowly to stay as long as possible in the blasting cold air from the air-conditioned shops.

Hong Kong Skyscrapers

But most of the time when I was walking around it seemed that if I wasn’t having to play tout slalom to avoid all the people handing out leaflets for tailors, trying to get me to stay at their hostel, or offering to sell me a ‘copy watch’ (fake Rolex), I’d be stuck behind a bunch of people ambling along the road, or even across it. I can see that the temperature might have had some effect, but it still seems strange for a city where ‘The business is business’.

The main exception to all of this are the schoolkids, who seem to rush everywhere at top speed, especially in museums. I have no idea at what age the metamorphosis occurs…

I returned to the same hostel/hotel as before, this time getting a larger room with no window. As before, the city was damn hot and the fan didn’t make too much difference. However, the room was cheap by Hong Kong standards. Very little else was, and although the immediate area was full of small, cheap-looking Chinese restaurants, almost all of them had menus only in Chinese. For the first time in years I had to resort to eating in McDonalds…

Hong Kong Clock Tower

The most annoying thing about the hostel was the wait for the lifts. They’re really slow and because of that lots of people press the call button then give up and take the stairs. Consequently the lifts stop at just about every floor and often noone’s there. As a result the lifts are even slower… Sometimes I had to queue for ten minutes just to get up to the thirteenth floor. I wasn’t climbing that many stairs in that heat!

The prize for the best cheap food in the city (or at least the best that I found) has to go to ‘Bon Appetit’, a Vietnamese noodle shop hidden away in a tiny alley on Hong Kong Island. For about HK$40 (about $5) you can get a large plate of noodles and a coconut milk and things drink. Shame I didn’t find it until late in my visit, as it was only a short walk and ferry ride away.

BTW, just for future reference, when I say ‘$’ I mean US dollars, and when I’m talking about local currency I’ll say ‘HK$’ or ‘S$’ or something like that.

The harbor ferries were pretty cool. I used them most of the time in preference to the MTR trains, partly because I was staying close to a ferry terminal and partly just because they’re more fun and definitely give a much better view.

Boat In The Harbour

Harbour Traffic

They’re split into two decks, the lower deck is for cheapskates like me who want to save $0.10 each way, but has the added advantage that you’re right down near the water and have no windows. This makes photography a lot easier, and Hong Kong is nothing if not photogenic. I eventually had to take strict control over my picture-taking urges as I was running through a worryingly expensive amount of film.

The ferry terminals try very hard to funnel people onto the upper deck to get their extra ten cents, to the extent of trying to hide the lower deck entrance away. I decided to try it out one day, and it’s a very different world up there. For your money you get a lot of upmarket shops and cable TV to watch as you wait. You also get your windows on the ferry, but I don’t see why you’d want them unless the weather was really bad.

I had planned to visit another net.friend here, but completely failed to find him. The phone number he’d sent didn’t work, and neither did the three others that Hong Kong Telecom gave me. I sent a postcard to the address he’d given so that he could call me, but that didn’t work either and I couldn’t work out where he was so I didn’t have chance to try to find it by foot. I had to make do by myself instead.

I spent some time checking out the job prospects as I thought I might want to come back next year. That’s a possibility, but the computer job market doesn’t seem as good as I’d been told. The Chinese takeover is another issue, but I’d hope they wouldn’t throw me out straight away. I’d hoped to talk to some of the employment agencies to find out what they thought, but they couldn’t manage anything more complicated than ‘send in your resume’.

The Mosque

The first full day I just went for a wander around Kowloon, and discovered Kowloon Park hidden away behind the Mosque. This was a Wednesday when all museums seem to be free, so I visited the History Museum inside the Park. Of course being free it was crowded with the aforementioned schoolkids. Hong Kong has certainly had a complicated history, and suffered from a lot of disasters in the last few decades.

I was going to walk down to the harbor, but on the way I passed the Space Museum and spotted the magic word ‘OMNIMAX’ and decided I’d better stop to visit. I hadn’t been in an OMNIMAX cinema since I was last in Boston and couldn’t really miss this one. The museum was a bit low-level for me, but I did rather want to try out the 1/6 gravity simulator. Unfortunately the queue would take longer to clear than the time I had before the films. I actually learnt a few things about cosmology from the Stephen Hawkings film, and ‘The Living Sea’ was entertaining, if preachy.

The only big tourist thing I did was to visit Victoria Peak, which I was told was compulsory. This is the highest point on Hong Kong Island, from where you get a great view of the city. I took the Peak Tramway, which has been carrying people up a steep incline in cable-powered trams for over a century now. I must say, the city looks a lot different when you’re inclined at over forty-five degrees to the horizontal!

At the end of the tramway is a large shopping center and most people seem to just stop there to admire the view while they shop. I also found the famous pagoda which appears in so many guidebook and postcard pictures taken from the Peak. While I was there yet another TV crew turned up, this time from the ‘Home Shopping Network’. I wonder how many more times I’ll be filmed on this trip…

Victoria Park

Hong Kong is surprisingly green. I’d expected the whole island to be covered with skyscrapers, but in fact it’s only some parts of the coast. Once you get more than about 500m from the sea you’re out in the wilds.

Not being a wimp, I decided to make the trek to the real Peak, about 150m above. I began the climb with some trepidation as it was surrounded by dark gray clouds – I’d picked a bad day to visit. The walk was long and steep, and the lampposts on the first stretch of road were covered with announcements of eternal love. Angel was either the most sought-after or most desperate, as almost everyone seemed to have been in love with her at some point…

Halfway there the rain began to pour. Luckily I’d stopped to take some photos next to a busstop, so I hurried over to the shelter and waited it out. A few more dedicated people passed by in both directions, but the rain was so hard that I could barely see them from more than twenty meters away.

As the rain stopped I carried on, past apartment blocks with vast numbers of Mercedes and BMWs parked outside. This was clearly a rich part of town. I stopped for a brief look at Victoria Park in the drizzle, and was the only person there, then followed the path up towards the peak. It split into two but I continued along what appeared to be the correct route according to my guide book. Ahead loomed a large collection of communications towers with microwave dishes pointing in various directions. The path lead in front of it but was very overgrown and I didn’t think I’d be going any further without a machete.

Skyscrapers From Hong Kong Park

I gave up, assuming that I’d either taken the wrong route or that so few people bothered with the climb that nature had retaken the path. It certainly appeared to have taken a dislike to the lampposts as many of them had their tops torn off. Either way, I was about as high as I could get on the Island so I spent a while taking pictures before heading back. This was a little complicated as the clouds which had been raining on the Peak when the city was in sunshine were now raining on the city while the Peak was in sunshine.

I walked slowly back to the shopping mall and stopped to eat. The sun set and I watched the city in the darkness for a while from the Pagoda, which rapidly filled up with crowds. In the distance on the seafront I could see the intermittent flashes as people photographed each other down there. It looked rather like a space battle from ‘Star Wars’.

Returning to Kowloon the reason was obvious. The Promenade was packed with people (mostly young Chinese) snuggling up with their SOs and watching the ships go by… or most often not watching the ships go by.

Hong Kong Park was another strange place to visit. It’s designed to look very artificial, and is surrounded by huge skyscrapers. Somehow they seem to go together with the artifical lakes and waterfalls. Most of the Park seemed to be full of people with huge lenses on their cameras taking closeup pictures of the flowers.

Since I had a few dollars left over I spent my last evening in Hong Kong watching Independence Day. Hmm, I can’t say it’s my favorite film, but at least Jeff Goldblum wasn’t as hideous as he was in Jurassic Park (I’m still waiting for the interactive version where you can choose who gets eaten; he’s top of the list). Somehow believable plots seem to go out of the window any time Hollywood gets near SF…

Hong King By Neon Light

I am, however, starting to feel rather like a cyberpunk myself, sitting in cheap hotels in Asia typing away on my laptop, with net access a perpetual problem. Aside from China, Hong Kong is the worst place I’ve been for net access. There was a club which met on Saturdays and allowed people to use the Net, but that’s now closed. There’s also a Net Mongolian Restaurant, but that’s expensive and you don’t get to use the Net much. There’s rumored to be a Net Hairdresser. But for another few days, no Net Cafe.

Luckily I switched on the TV for a couple of minutes one night and spotted an announcement for a new computer mall which was opening, so I took a trip down there. There is a Net Cafe there, but it’s not open yet. However, they did let me use their computers free for a few hours so I managed to check my mail and sort out my trip to Taiwan. Otherwise I’d have been in big trouble and failed to meet anyone there either!

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