Saturday, October 30

And On Saturday We Go to Hong Kong

It feels a little strange to be doing day by day coverage of a trip I completed almost a week ago, but I refuse to leave this travelogue unfinished. Besides, if the stories didn't outlive the adventures it would be a sad set of adventures in the first place. So, the story of my last full day in the far east....

Saturday was an early morning since I had to get checked out of the hotel and through immigration to Hong Kong with enough time to explore a little. I collected my luggage, had some breakfast and was ready to meet Dave and Freya by 8:45. Interestingly, anything before 9 am is very early for Chinese business. Freya was going into Hong Kong with us since she regularly visits the island but there were some kind of traffic issues and they were running late. To pass the time I shot some video of the Baolilai Hotel lobby. The lobby is quite nice and always smelled like you were walking through a floral shop. The aroma of fresh lillies was almost an affront by the end of the week

After Freya made it over to pick us up we hauled me and all my luggage to the tran station to board the MTR, Hong Kong's efficient train/subway system. You can board the MTR in Shenzhen City after clearing immigration/customs from China into Hong Kong in the station. I didn't realize that HK and China were still so separate after the island's return from Britain. Still separate immigration, customs and even currency. So we stand in line for a while, get stamped out of China, fill out some forms, stand in another line, get stamped into Hong Kong, declare that we have nothing to declare, and we're on our way. Here's a video of the immigration line leaving China. Note the "no photos" sign, heh.

The MTR was quite nice and is a very popular way to get around. Public transport should be so nice stateside. The ride across the island to Kowloon and Hong Kong was actually very pretty. The mountains reminded me of North Georgia, but the peaks were steeper although not quite as tall. Throw in the subtropical plant life and housing that crawled in and out of the valleys and you have an absolutely stunning area. I would love to go back and explore some of the more natural areas in the area. I bet there's a small group of epats somewhere there with some really killer mountain biking in those hills.

We disembarked at the end of the blue line, one of the main stations. We found a storage service for my luggage and set off to explore Hong Kong. Our plan was to check out some of the older city and do some shopping in the street markets, then head over to the high end, newer districts to check out a couple of our supplier's screens and window shop. The first stop was a small temple near the train station that was quite beautiful. I don't know how old it was, but it was kind of dropped right in the middle of large apartment buildings. We were allowed inside where people were praying and leaving small gifts and incense. The altars were absolutely amazing and I was really touched by the same sense of the divine that I somestimes feel at the rail of our own altar during communion. You can believe in God as a superbeing or just as a higher concept that humans are trying to reach, but it was very obvious in that place that we are all reaching out to the same thing.

After leaving the temple we hit the bank to exchange our Yuan (or RMB) for some HKD and do a little shopping. The old streets are narrow and the signs sprout from the buildings on either side like some kind of forest growth, nearly meeting over the streets. The effect is a little vertigo inducing at times, but also kind of like a country lane with trees stretching over it. Then there are the market stalls....structures made out of poles and tenting, stretched tarps, folding tables, glass counters...and anything else. They spill off the sidewalks to almost meet in the middle of the streets inbetween the main roads, leaving a walking path 3-4 feet wide between their open fronts. Anything is available and thee streets are kind of organized by type of merchandise - wearables and accessories, electronics, household goods, etc. They were a little sensitive about photos - as I've mentioned before. Even the streetside food vendors gave my camera the stink-eye. This is one thing you'll just have to go see yourself.

As we got out onto the more mainstreets, the pedestrian traffic eased some and i was able to shoot a little.

Shortly after that we wedged ourself through the crowd for a tea break. This was probably one of the most crowded areas we experienced with people jostling and bumping on the narrow sidewalks.

Just afterward we found a street of shops all geared toward guys. They were all selling model cars, RC cars and airplanes, motorcycle accessories, ...and model guns. They were the strangest thing - full scale, super detailed fake guns of all varieties from pistols to grenade launchers. Plus you could buy accessories for all of them - different magazine clips, stocks, grips...on and on. I guess in a country where owning guns is illegal, this is the next best thing. I couldn't help but think of a US kid carrying one of these in public and the law enforcement response. Frightening.

Having wrapped up our shopping we took a cab to the other side of town - the new super-lux districts filled with Louis Vuitton, Armani, Tiffany, and many other things I can barely pronounce and never afford. Did I mention the wealth in HK is staggering at times? The cabs here deserve a discussion of their own. everyone of them is a Toyota Royal Crown Comfort of fairly recent vintage with an automatic rear door. easily half the cars in the street are these red and silver cabs. the back seats are rediculously roomy, although the interior rminded me of my '82 Corolla a LOT. The cabs seem very well regulated and are a good option for almost anyone. English is very common in the streets including the market sellers and the cab drivers. It may not be conversational, but if you know where you want to go, they can figure it out. Again, if public transport were this well organized and controlled here it would be a beautiful thing. The taxi actually took us to the ferry dock where we took the open ferry across to the new part of town. The ferry ride cost $2.40HK, about 50 cents US. The bay was clean and the sea smelled wonderful, just like the coast back home. It's such a difference from the waterways around a major US city that it was staggering.

The new side of the city looks like New York or Chicago - glass skyscrapers and luxury cars, super malls and Starbucks. It was something to see, but I'd rather be in the street markets.

After much walking about we grabbed a cab to pick up my bags from the train station and take us to my Hotel out by the airport. The 45 min trip cost us $190HK, about $25USD and gave us a great view of the deep water freight harbor and a 5km bridge that was reminiscient of the Golden Gate. The hotel was a Novatel and nice enough, although the service was lackluster after staying at the Baolilai for a week. I did ramble the attached outlet mall for a while, picking up a set of headphones in a chain electronics store and a travel pillow from a department store. Shopping in a foriegn depoartment store is a little surreal - some of it is so familiar and at the same time so alien.

The next morning I collected my luggage and caught the free airport shuttle, clearing customs and check in easily. I definitely want to come back to Hong Kong and spend more time. after the gritty, work-a-day landscape of Shenzhen, HK is a different world. One I want to know more about.

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