HONG KONG PART 2: Not Suitable for Vegetarians
Hong Kong is perhaps most famous for it's shopping, and rightly so. There are shops everywhere you look; from the giant clinical designer label malls, to the tiniest little market stalls where an old man sits hunched over a sewing machine tailoring, there is something for all. I found the street markets to be of the highest entertainment value; some of the fake produce was hilarious, all manner of cheap reproduction label goods were on sale; Dolce & Gabbena tie anyone? How about some GAB clothing? I bought some Buma trainers.
My favourite pastime was to wander around the street markets which were selling food. Every street market, and most of the supermarkets were in fact aquariums and mini zoos. Now, I thought the Japanese ate some minging fodder, but the Chinese easily win the "Most Minging Food Eaten" prize without question. They like their food fresh, and it get's no fresher than this. Tanks of fish, bowls of crabs, shrimps, lobsters, buckets of clams, abalone, cages full of live chickens, cages full of huge frogs, boxes of live tortoises, nets full of turtles were all to be found amongst the market stalls.
I watched in grim fascination at a live turtle having its shell hacked off; a large eel being cut in half and put on display still writhing violently. Fish plucked from a tank and being chopped into thirds and sold still quivering. Some people weren't even bothering to have their supper killed, simply selecting the fish of choice, and taking it home live in a plastic bag. Several large fish had managed to leap from their tanks, only to find themselves flapping around in the gutter, while people walked passed un-obliging. Chickens feet, (apparently a specialty) and fish heads sat on trays, goats heads, and pig's heads hung from meat hooks; everything I saw was either live, or very recently deceased. It was somewhat barbaric to watch, but this is because in Britain and most other western countries, all this slaughtering goes on behind closed doors, thus removing us from the killing and in a way falsely sanitising the meat and fish we eat.
One thing I realised I'd missed a lot whilst in rural Japan was the variety of food. Like most large cities, you can eat pretty much any food from anywhere around the world in Hong Kong. It was great to be tucking into Thai curries, Chinese Dim Sum, Singapore Noodles, even just being able to buy a decent sandwich was great, and ironically, I even discovered some new Japanese food that I liked.
As my stay drew to an end, and I waited at the airport I strangely found myself looking forward to going "home". Once onboard the plane, it felt bizarrely comforting to be back in the bubble; back to only hearing Japanese again, and not understanding 95% of what was going on. I found myself at ease being the only foreigner on the plane, as it felt normal. Yes, I was looking forward to being home again. Looking forward to being home again, that was, until I went through customs. As I rolled up to the final barrier between me and my mountainous temporary homeland, a fresh faced young customs officer sparked into life, and beckoned I walk through his isle. "Oh, it's nice to be back in a country where the people are so friendly" I thought, and continued to sail through amongst my fellow Japanese passengers. But I was soon to be harshly reminded that I am still just a lone white buoy in a sea of sushi. His deceptive welcoming smile was in fact a "I've caught myself a gaijin! I've caught myself a gaijin!" smirk.
After asking me where I'd been, where I was from, and what I had in my bag, he produced a sheet with pictures of some weed, pills, coke, a gun and some bullets, and asked whether I had any of these items in my bag. I assured him that I had none of the above, but my word was not good enough. As every other Japanese passenger on the plane strode though without even eliciting a single question from the officers, I was trundled off to the special "Investigation Room" for special investigation.
When I first walked into the room and saw a torch, I began to worry how special the investigation was going to be. However, I am thankful to say that the latex gloves never materialised. I was then again shown the pictures of the weed, pills, coke, gun and bullets, and asked again if I had any of them on my person, just in case I had managed to buy some on the way from the customs desk, to the Investigation Room. I again denied possession of any of the said items, and then sat and watched as the young customs officer eagerly went through every item in my bags. He joyfully rifled through all my belongings occasionally confirming the identity of items that he knew the English for, whilst praying that he would find some weed, pills, coke, a gun or at least a few bullets.
"No, it's a surface to air missile, that runs on a mixture of weed, pills and coke - course it's a book."
Ironically, when it came to the only thing in my bag that might have got me in to a spot of bother, he didn't even give it a second look. You see, most effective drugs appear to be banned in Japan; simple things like Claritin (an anti-histamine drug for hay fever) is illegal. I had some of this and several other suspect medicines, but he didn't even bat an eye lid when he came across my selection of tablets.
I admit I was annoyed at this invasion of privacy, as it had been a long day and I just wanted to sleep, but I was to have the last laugh. After he was (dis)satisfied that I had no weed, pills, coke, guns or bullets, he then had the task of folding all my clothes away neatly and repacking. I am unfamiliar with the protocol a suspected drug and weapons trafficker is supposed to perform; do you help them pack away your things? I wasn't sure, so I just sat there quietly watching him, until he got to my dirty boxers, which he halved and quartered expertly. At this point I requested a photo of the two officers, dirty boxers in hand, but alas, permission was denied. So after about half an hour I was released without charge, and hit the cold streets of Nagoya, in search of the mythical capsule hotel. I eventually found what I sort, but that story will be told another time.
In all, we had a great time, and I would definitely recommend Hong Kong as somewhere you should experience at some point in your life. A big thanks goes out to Action Jackson for being an excellent tour guide, host, and financial advisor, and to the customs officers for their excellent packing skills.