I started this blog in late October of 2011, right before I moved to Europe to live for three years in Germany. Almost every country I’ve traveled to outside of the United States is recorded in this blog because I was writing in more or less real-time. There are three countries I visited before the blog began though. I don’t think I even still have any photos from the Bahamas. Canada was great, and it might get a blog post one of these days.
Then there’s Hong Kong.
Twelve years ago in September of 2008, I went to Hong Kong for two weeks for work. The days were occupied with computer nerdery, but the evenings were mine, and the weekend in the middle. Since it was three years before this blog was started, I wrote about my trip to Hong Kong on LiveJournal- remember LiveJournal? It was never committed to my WordPress blog until now, though, and NanoPoblano gives me a great reason to finally stop procrastinating and recap what I can remember of my time there, with an assist from my original notes from 2008. Past Steven is being helpful instead of being a dick for once.
There’s a lot to share, so I’m going to break it up into five posts. (Hey, my five weeks in Japan became 29 blog posts. Five posts is a breeze!) This post is kind of a rambling mess because I started with about 85-90 photos that I want to share from my Hong Kong trip and then separated them out into specific topics, one for each day. This batch is everything that didn’t fit into one of the other four.
My trip started on September 6th of 2008. I left for the Ft. Lauderdale airport at the ass-crack of dawn, connected in Newark New Jersey, and then it was just another sixteen hours to arrive in Hong Kong. All in all, I was traveling for about 24 hours. My original notes from 2008 say that the captain of my plane was, and I promise this is true, Captain Mike Fortune. What a great name for a pilot!
The biggest problem with this kind of travel, in my personal opinion, is a question of time. On the flight there, I watched Kung-Fu Panda, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and two episodes of Scrubs, plus had a meal- and still had roughly half the flight remaining. Sixteen hours is a long time to be in one of those metal tubes. I have trouble sleeping on airplanes, but I managed to doze a very small amount on this one, so I wasn’t completely wiped out on arrival.
After dealing with customs and passport control, we took a reasonably short airport express train ride to Tsim Sha Tsui, in Kowloon, and then on to the hotel.
My room was on the 16th floor, and it was teeny tiny. How teeny tiny, you might ask? I took this photo from the doorway of the bathroom near the main door of the hotel room. There was a bed, a desk, a chair, some tall windows looking down onto the neon-drenched city, and not much room for anything else. I had to keep moving my suitcase out of the way for the entire time I was there.
Once checked in, I needed to change some US dollars into Hong Kong dollars. There are three different banks authorized to print and distribute their own designs of Hong Kong dollars, alongside the Hong Kong government. This means that my bills did not always match each other in appearance- for someone used to the uniformly green all-the-same-size bills the United States uses, this was eye-opening. I did like the vibrant colors on that tenner though.
A quick note about food in Hong Kong… I appreciated that instead of water as a normal beverage with my meal, tea was always on hand. I also liked the omnipresence of chop sticks. And the hidden drawer in every table in some restaurants for other cutlery was genius.
A few nights before the trip ended, we had dinner with our Hong Kong colleagues at a local restaurant. The table was round, and they set an enormous lazy Susan in the middle, then they kept bringing food in waves. We spun the thing in the middle to serve ourselves. I tried Jellyfish, which had the taste and texture of crunchy cabbage. And I tried Thousand Year Egg, which was so-so. It looks awful, but the flavor isn’t a big deal. I also tried duck, but I could only stomach one bite of that- I saw them carving it, and it still had a bill. Luckily, I was rather buzzed on Tsingtao beer at the time.
Speaking of foodstuffs that squick me out, at one point the group got lost during lunch and we walked through an open-air market. The place was filled with pungent things- they had fish, eels in a basket, hanging meat, and foul-smelling vats of stuff that I dare not even describe. Just ew.
We used taxis several times going to and from the office. The red taxis were in the urban centers, and so we saw them close to the hotel in Kowloon and wherever the biggest crowds were. The green taxis are for new territories and we saw those when we were near the data center and office, away from the main city. There are also blue taxis in Lantau, but I didn’t see any of those.
This was also my first time in a city where people drive on the left instead of the right. The city streets were clearly labeled so that stupid Americans wouldn’t be hit by cars as they looked the wrong way while crossing the street. This particular photo is a bad example though, because this was a one-way street.
We used the train quite often over our two weeks because using taxis exclusively for a dozen people gets really expensive really fast. Every time I see the MTR logo on the front of a train, I immediately assume they’re Psi-Corps. (Yes, that’s a Babylon 5 joke.)
We changed it up a few times over the two weeks, but for the most part we took the train from Kowloon to a station closer to the office, and then a taxi the rest of the way.
After work, the group would go explore the city or strike out for dinner. This is a walk along D’aquilar Street, a tiny winding road with stairs alongside- it’s steeply uphill. Restaurants, bars, and clubs dotted the length of the street. The night of this photo, we ate at Al’s, because the canopy boasted the world’s best burgers.
A visit to D’aquilar Street on a subsequent night found us in an Australian restaurant, where I tried kangaroo meat. It was a little springy.
On one of the nights, I ate at a really excellent Irish pub– their corned beef and cabbage was delightful. I have found that in most cities around the world, there’s usually an Irish pub.
Three more pictures, and then I’ll wrap this post up. The first is just a random guy walking across the bridge as seen from our taxi on that first work-day. I saw a lot of people carrying parasols to protect them from the sun- this is a very good thing It was toasty-hot the whole time we were there.
On several occasions, I saw t-shirts with things on them that contained amusing bad translations. I saw one girl with a shirt that said Snatch, another with a shirt that said “Wide Love,” and yet another with a shirt that said, “I rove you.” But the best one so far was this girl’s shirt- it’s a recipe for something. I’m curious whether this was a deliberate thing or if she just saw English text and thought it was cool in the same way that Americans sometimes get things with Mandarin or Kanji on them just because they look neat.
During a bus ride across the island on my way to Thursday’s post, I saw a lot of fascinating things. This cemetery in particular was fascinating- the plots are so close together that for it took me a moment to parse that this was actually a burial ground.
Last but not least, a delicious blackcurrant soda called Ribena. When I had this in 2008, I thought it was a uniquely Hong Kong sort of thing to drink, but I have since learned that Ribena is actually a British product. The UK had transferred control of Hong Kong over to China only eleven years before my visit, in 1997, and there was still a great deal of British influence to be seen.
A short bulleted list of observations about Hong Kong that don’t really fit with any of the photographs:
- The chocolate in Hong Kong is better than the chocolate in the US. They import a lot of it from Singapore and Vietnam, and I think the cocoa levels are just higher than they are in the US. I had similar chocolate experiences in many other countries. The US just doesn’t do chocolate well.
- I saw quite a few American chains in Hong Kong. I ate at a McDonalds once, in the first week, when I was sick and needed to just eat something and down some Panadol and sleep off a fever. The McDonalds burger tasted the same, but the cheese was sharper. French fries are french fries no matter where you are; they were identical. I tried to take a photograph of the menu at Starbucks and I was politely asked to leave before I could take the photo. Twelve years later and I’m still not sure what that was about. I also saw Outback, TGI Fridays, Burger King, and, oddly, Popeye’s Fried Chicken in Hong Kong. I read somewhere that KFC does more business in China than in all of the United States, so I can kind of see where that’s going.
- 7-11 deserves its own bullet point. The 7-11 density in Hong Kong is HUGE. Walking to dinner on one of the nights, we must have passed one 7-11 every fifty yards. And they take the Octopus Card, which is excellent- the Octopus Card is the metro card for the MTR train system. You can recharge it, and it works in every train station, every 7-11, some other stores, and some vending machines. The Octopus Card was the single smartest purchase I made on this trip- it made a great many things much, much easier.
- The street hawkers were pushy and numerous- I was offered massage, luggage, “copywatch,” custom tailoring, hashish, and pretty girls. I’ve never been in a city with pushier people selling things on random street corners. This is one area where I definitely prefer being back in the US, where I’m completely ignored on street corners.
- Speaking of pushy and weird, I went with some of my coworkers to the local equivalent of a strip club, and it was nothing at all like a strip club in the US. For one thing, there were only about five or six people visible, and there was a slightly older woman who kept trying to get me to buy drinks for the girls. Looking back at this with the insight of hindsight, I think “buy drinks for the girls” might have been code for something very different. The whole experience was kind of uncomfortable and we didn’t stay long.
- After that, we went to a local friendly gay bar, and someone there asked me if I was Dan Savage. While I do not see even the slightest resemblance, it was a flattering question because let’s face it, he’s a good looking dude.
- I really enjoyed the sound of the city when I was going to sleep. I was sixteen stories up, so it was mostly muffled, but it was soothing to have the sound of other people nearby, to hear the low rumble of traffic. Looking back in hindsight, this might have been one of my first times sleeping in a large city.
Next up, Victoria Peak and the Kowloon waterfront!
Have you ever visited Hong Kong?
37/52 (and 16 of 30!)