Hong Kong, Aug ‘05

Not really a trip, but whenever I can, I try to turn a stop over in Hong Kong into at least 1 full night.  On my way home to Japan from Nepal in August 2005, I stopped in Hong Kong and experienced the usual sights and sounds I love about my favorite city in the world! 

Hong Kong highlighted in RED

On my way back from my successful trip to YAUC in Nepal, I made a point of stopping over in Hong Kong for a night.  By now I know my way around, and made a B-line for the Airport Express for the quick ride into Kowloon.  The train is so cool.  Not only is it silent, and really fast, but each seat has a personal entertainment center built in.  It’s only a 20 minute ride, but you can watch news, weather (always nice), airport, flight, and connection info, and English or Chinese TV.  It’s always an empty train so it seems rather luxurious.  It’s way more expensive than the bus, but it is just so easy, and fast that I figure it’s worth the HK$160 RT for the little time I have.  Also on the way back to the airport you can check in at the station.  This really puts me at ease because I know nothing can go wrong from then on (and there are no lines at the station).

Kowloon is where I always stay, and is by far the more Chinese side of the harbor.  Hong Kong is sort of a city state (even though it was handed back to China in 1997), and is VERY different from China.  It is mostly marsh and open land, but when people think of it, they usually thing of the high rises of Central.  THis is the business district, and includes the expat enclave and laods of high rise condos built up against the hills.  This part of Hong Kong is distinctively and island.  Across the water is Kowloon.  I think all of Hong Kong is technically detached form China (hence the common reference to “mainland China”) but for all intents and purposes, this is the mainland.  It is nothing like an island, and you can drive or take the train from here into China (through customs).  So, while still being Hong Kong, this is where the Chinese live and work, and Central is where the British live and work (not really, but more or less).  Central’s skyline is amazing, but as with any vertical city, it can be better appreciated from afar.  Kowloon to be exact.  Not only is Hong Kong more beautiful form this side of the water, but Kowloon is very Chinese, and with that comes Chinese prices.  Hong Kong is home to many 5 and 6 star hotels, and the best dining in Asia, but it’s all in Central.  Kowloon is where the Chinese and Indians live for cheap and sell their wares and food on the street (the way it should be in Asia!) .

So I head to a ghetto called Chung King Mansions which you may remember from many run-down scenes in Blade Runner.  It is the lowest of the low.  The most disgusting, dirty, sad place to stay in Hong Kong, and it is AWESOME!!!!!!  I LOVE it to death!!  God, it’s gross!!  I actually stay in it’s nicest establishment, which is really safe, and sort of clean.  Everyday, my walk in and out of my guesthouse is a culunary tour of the spiciest parts of Asia, a test of my awareness of pickpockets, and a asault on my senses with body odor, smelly fruits, and unidentifyable rotting seafoods.  It’s like the future, as predicted by a pesamist with a rude sense of humor.  It’s hell on Earth to be stuck in, and a trip into a sci-fi world to travel through.  Unfortunatly it is also probably here that I “lost” my return train ticket to the airport (what is is with pickpockets swiping my train tickets?).

So I checked into the Cosmic Guesthouse, and headed out to grab some street food locally.  The dining experience in Kowloon is purly a point and nod experience.  There are only menues in the tourist areas, and even then, for some reason, they are sometimes in Chinese.  I was in a tourist area, but not one of the main tourist areas, so I went to a noodle place I liked and got a Tsing Tao beer and some noodles that ended up having some very “flavorful” sea spong or lung inside that kind of put me off.  I re-ordered somthing else that I was more familiar with.  Food here isn’t as cheap as China, but it’s darn close.  Two meals and a 600ml beer set me back a whole US$5.  Not bad when across the water I could have satisfied the same hunger on US$500!

I was tired, so I called it a night early.  The next day I planned on making the most of my morning before catching my afternoon flight back to Tokyo.

My hotel room is a real treat.  I always ask for a different room because no 2 rooms are the smame at this strange guesthouse.  But all the rooms share some interesting qualities.  My favorite is that none of the rooms have (or need) any covers, but the best all are covered in white satin matress covers!  Satin!  The walls are all a 1950’s shade of blue, and if you’re lucky there’s a mirror somewhere.  The bathroom is one of these obsurd converted closets that have the sink literally above the toilet, and the broken showerhead literally above the sink.  You probably have to put at least 1 foot up on the toilet seat to stand in the bathroom at all.  The door is a mildew covered plastic folding thing that doesn’t close.  Not that you need privacy, because this is what you get for splurging on a private.  The one time I tried a dorm, I vowed never to return.  Things were much worse and I didn’t trust a single person in the overcrowded room.  I slept hugging my bag, with it locked to the bunkbed AND my leg.  At least in the Cosmic Guesthouse you can enjoy a peaceful nights sleep (if the heat doesn’t get to you).

The next morning I got up early and stored my suitcase with the reception (which most places here don’t even have! - you can tell it’s swank when there’s a reception!) so I could explore.  I took the best subway in the world under the harbor over to Central, and walked around a lot.  I also took the old Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak - Hong Kong island’s tallest hill.  The Peak Tram itself is a great experience.  The angle it gets pulled up is severe, and the views of the city are breathtaking.  At the top the new visitors center and view was under some serious constuction (due to finish in 2006).  I made my way around the peak to the boring shopping center (to use their bathroom), up toward the top (which I couldn’t seem to get to due to a radio tower’s fence), and then to the running path that circles around the hill.  It’s actually quite a long path that eventually branches off to many trails that lead down the various side of the hill.  I was kind of getting spooked by the time I got there because I was kind of in the wilderness and it had gotten dark.  No one was on the path at that time of night, and I suspected there was a good reason.  The path grips the cliff-like hillside and looks down into the city.  It’s really beautiful, but I was having a hard time enjoying it.  Eventually I found another path diverging off the running path and up the hill.  I thought I’d found a public exit, but it turned out to be a private entrance for 2 amazing masions!  They easily had the best location in all of Hong Kong, and while one was a beautiful, showy house, the other was abandoned, and being taken over by weeds.  I fantisized that such a dump might actually be affordable and that it would be amazing to somehow buy it, and fix it up.  But then the sound of some creepy cans or soemthing came out of no where and started getting closer.  I didn’t want to encounter anyone at night in this scary place so I started running up the driveway.  The driveway was very much in the middle of the jungle, and it was pretty scary.  I could hear noises all around me and just wanted to get out of there.  Eventually I came out and I was just 5 minutes from the Peak Tram station.  I was happy to be back on a well-lit road with people around.