A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Friday, January 07, 2005

PART 1: Hong Kong for Beginners

This Christmas holiday saw Sam and me head to Hong Kong to visit a Scotsman by the name of Action Jackson who is currently living and working there. For those of you who are geographically challenged, let me first give you an introduction to this area of the planet.

Hong Kong is an area officially belonging to China, after the British handed rule back to the Chinese in 1997 having had a 99 year lease on the territory. However, it struck me that Hong Kong is much more like a country in it’s own right, compared to say Scotland, for example, which always bangs on about how its a different country to England, when in reality there is less difference between the two compared to the difference between Hong Kong and China.

For example, Hong Kong has it’s own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar. The border between itself and China is only half open, meaning that mainland Chinese cannot cross freely, and must apply for special visas if they want to enter or work there, and there is a very multicultural feel to the place. The British influence however is still very obvious; they drive on the left (the rest of China drive on the right), they have a funky little tram system, they use British plugs, and English is widely spoken.

Despite these differences, Hong Kong is still ruled by the Chinese government, though there are constant pushes for a full democracy. Currently the area is known as a SAR (Special Administrative Region). It is highly unlikely that the Chinese will relinquish power of such as profitable area, so it will most likely stay forever under their control.

Before I touched down in Kong, I was guilty of believing that Hong Kong was just one gigantic, pulsating, metropolis city, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that HK offers much in the way of natural beauty too. Most people tend to think Hong Kong Island = Hong Kong, but in fact, the total area of HK consists of several islands, and a sizeable chunk of the China mainland called the New Territories. All are connected by frequent ferries, or by the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) a super modern, highly efficient underground system which puts the London tube to shame.

We had booked into a guesthouse smack bang in the centre of the shopping district on Hong Kong Island. Weary from our early flight from Nagoya, we eventually located the correct high rise building, and rang the bell of the owner of the guesthouse on the 15th floor. A woman beckoned us into a rather small, slightly decrepit apartment, full of cats, to wait until the manager could deal with us. I sat down and looked around at the paraphernalia surrounding me; large glass jars full of dried plants, dried mushrooms, and dried seahorses filled the shelves. It transpired that the manager was also a Chinese doctor and was busy performing acupuncture on some middle aged man. However, perhaps worried that we might take our business elsewhere, he simply slid a curtain across to hide the patient in the tiny treatment room, and took to the more pressing task at hand; lightening our wallets.

We were led to our room, walking past grotty looking flats, with a slightly uneasy feeling in our stomachs. We finally dumped our bags on the floor and collapsed on the rock hard beds in silence. It was around this time that Sam (girl) burst into tears. “It’s horrible” she sobbed. I had to admit it wasn’t quite how it looked on the website, but it was clean, cheap, and in a good location, and her tears soon dried up when she realised our close proximity to several high class shoe shops.

The first thing I noticed when we stepped out of our luxury accommodation into the street below, was the insane volume of people. Coming from little Ono, where two’s company and three’s a crowd, I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. As soon as we stepped foot outside the hotel we joined the furious rapids of people swirling past, and it was impossible to walk in a straight line for more than two seconds, as you were constantly being buffeted around by the bubbling masses. I noticed frequent adverts on the TV warning people to “stay calm in a crowd”, and it was easy to see how you could lose it, but I found it an energising experience being amongst so many, having been used to being around so few. Indeed, the city of Hong Kong is an extremely fast paced, fast living, stimulating place which made a refreshing change to the quite calm of Ono.

Action Jackson, yet another friend of ours made during our stay in Whistler Canada, lives in an area called Wan Chai. This is close to the port, and has a long history of being a red light district, which is one of the reasons that Action and his pals like the area so much. Meeting Action’s circle of friends was quite an eye opener. For starters they are all considerably older than him. He has been endearingly named “The Kid” by them, and is quickly learning the benefits of being a western male in Hong Kong. I heard tell of a weekly event nicknamed “Church” from Action’s 48 year old house mate Mario. Every Sunday the Philipino and Inodnesian housemaids of which there are many, have their day off, but they have a curfew, so must be back in their employers homes by 9pm. So, they pile into the clubs of Wan Chai at 4 o clock in the day and go crazy. It appears a western male can have his choice of ladies, for the price of an orange juice and a taxi fare, apparently something which many western males in Hong Kong seem to take advantage of.

One of the things I liked most about the city was its compactness. Due to the geographical limitations of the sea on one side and mountains on the other, the urban sprawl is confined to one area. The city is also located on a number of levels, from the sea level central zones, right up to most affluent “Peak” residential areas. Hence it is easy to escape from the mayhem and head to mountains, and deserted beaches which are only an hour or so out of the city. With Action Jackson as our tour guide, we got to see the perfect mix of hectic city life as well as escaping to the lesser know beautiful white sand beaches, blue sea bays, and the lush green mountains.

New Years eve was spent on the 15th floor of a plush apartment in the affluent “Mid Levels” area. This area can be reached by the worlds longest escalator which takes people down the mountain in the mornings and then reverses its direction in the evenings. We crashed a friend of a friend of a friend's party before heading to an ex-pat bar in town. It was good fun, and showcased the interesting mix of nationalities that Hong Kong attracts. I conversed with at least one of the following nationalities during the evenings celebrations: Scottish, English, American, Canadian, German, Mongolian, Zimbabwean, Chinese and Indian. It was apparently the coldest New Years Day in 40 years, and a frost warning was issued for certain parts of the territory. I watched with amusement TV interviews with people who had awoken early on New Years Day especially to go and bear witness to the frost. “It was awesome – I’ve never seen anything like it” one impressed man declared. Unfortunately I was feeling a touch delicate, so I missed out on the rare phenomenon.

Part 2: “Not Suitable For Vegetarians” coming soon.


Blogger Lewis said...

I can't wait for the next instalment!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 1:17:00 pm


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