Arrived here yesterday just after midday. Had a quick snack and fell asleep at 3pm before waking up at midnight for another light meal and a pint then sleeping through to 9am. Guess I needed a rest….
Today has been spent checking out the consulates and visa requirements plus seeing where the best place to stay is. On the visa front everything looks OK as long as the UK company booking the train tickets comes through. As a starter for 10 I’ve applied for the Chinese visa and it should be ready for Tue.
Accomodation is very different here. Guesthouses are converted flats in towerblocks of varying grottiness. By luck I pre-booked a nice place for the first couple of days however it offers virtually no possibility of meeting other travellers. The couple of places I saw today might (and only might) offer better social scenes but are definitely grottier. Its a kind of company vs cockroaches equation……..
Hong Kong had a couple of other surprises for me: its especially hot here at the moment so when 500,000+ people marched yesterday for democracy the local paper was amazed they did so in such heat. If the locals retreat in the face of it imagine what’s it’s like for someone of scottish blood. Role on Siberia… I had also expected that as an ex-British colony English would be more pervasive here. Not a bit of it, I saw far more English on signs and menus in Bangkok than I do here. I guess its good practice for China where nothing will be in an alphabet I recognise.
On the plus side it looks like a good, cheap curry isn’t beyond the bounds of probability and I may even have found a bar that doesn’t play continuous bubblegum pop… things are looking up.
I now have all 3 visas I need for my Trans-Siberian trip: Chinese, Mongolian and Russian. I’ve managed to get them faster than I expected so although I have no more direct business in Hong Kong I’ll stay until next week so I don’t run out of the 30 days on my Chinese visa.
Not that that is a bad thing, Hong Kong has surprised me by being a great place to visit and there are many things I’ve yet to see and do: the world’s longest escalator, the other side of Hong Kong island and the outer islands, the Star ferry and the trip up the peak at night….
I’ve been lucky that on my second full day here I met Chow Yin Ting (Edith) who spent her weekend and one evening showing me here home town and Cantonese cuisine. We had a ride on the Star ferry, saw a festival special music, fountain & firework display, drinks in the central business district, Tai Po Market, the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree, the Temple Street night markets, the Ladies Market, the Hong Kong Heritage Museam, Thai food in Kowloon City and the Chi Lin Nunnery.
By myself I’ve been up the peak, toured the central district, been to the bar strip of Wan Chai, the live Jazz at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand and had curry at the Chungking Mansions. Chungking is like nowhere else I know of. A large scruffy towerblock with a few floors of small shops at the bottom and residential accommodation above. Except many of the flats have been turned into guesthouses, business offices and Indian restaurants. Its and amazing place though I’m not sure I’d want to stay here. If you want to see something unique do a quick tour of this place before having a curry at the Delhi Club.
I’ll pad out this entry later and add some photos. Finally thanks again to Chow Yin Ting; as I predicted the guesthouses here are not good for meeting people and she has made a big difference to my time here.
It’s my last night in Hong Kong and as I’ve said before it has surprised me by how much I like it. Part of that must be down to Chow Yin Tang who was an excellent guide to the city, even if she took me places she had never been herself before. Thanks again to her for the places she took me and the others she recommended I head to.
The place itself is unreal, wherever it is possible build anything they build high rise buildings because land is at a premium. Even then you see a huge area of land recovered from the sea (the old airport, the new airport, the container port, the whole north end of Hong Kong Island) as well as towerblocks rising from unbelievably steep hillsides. Despite this, the ruggedness of the land means that much of the territory’s area is still unspoiled. Underpinning all this is an efficient public transport network so you can get to it all. This network includes an escalator chain that rises from the central business district to the residential area on the hill behind it. To go the entire length takes 20 – 30 min (I know as I did it). Nowhere else has anything like it.
Hong Kong’s favourite sport, pursuit and pastime has to be shopping. The density of shopping centres, department stores and malls has no equal anywhere else I’ve ever been. Only in markets, where Bangkok is king, does it not live up to expectation. If you are a shopaholic then Hong Kong is a fantasy destination, Disneyworld for those with empty goldcards.
Food and drink for all nations can be found here though its not cheap. Fairly cheap are little alleyway stalls but these present a problem. Through south-east asia most menus provided phonetic translations from their characters to the western alphabet. From this you could learn to recognise and pronounce (badly) dishes you like. Chinese restaurants don’t do this. It’s a problem as it seriously retards your learning of the language and no phrase book translates from characters to english (what order would you put them in??). A menu written entirely in characters (as most are) is entirely meaningless to foreigners (or more to the point, me). As it happens, any chinese I’ve learnt here isn’t much use later as they speak Cantonese here and use the complex character set, whilst most of China speaks mandarin and uses the simplified character set. Any attempts I have made to speak the lingo are met with questions as to whether I realise there are 5 tones in Chinese. I realise, I’m just bad at making them, plus two of them sound exactly the same to my ear. No problem Edith says, they’ll get the meaning when you make them part of a sentence. A sentence!!!! I’m struggling to say a few unrelated words here.
Hong Kong is a place seriously worth seeing. If you pass through the airport, extend your stopover for a couple of days. The place is busy, dramatic and different. The food is good and varied and an alright pub can be found with a little effort. I highly recommend the Lonely Planet for the area. Many travellers like the idea of being a travel book author but this is one of those that is so full of detail and so accurate that it intimidates you away from that career option.
What did I have as my last dinner here… a curry as they’re good here, I’ll have plenty of chances to eat Chinese over the next few weeks and I doubt I’ll come across another good Indian restaurant before Blighty.