Hong Kong – get thee to a nunnery

We arrived in Hong Kong early in the morning. We had arranged to take a shuttle to our hotel, so headed to the desk and were promptly stickered and shepherded to sit and wait. Some half an hour later we were walked to our shuttle bus, a considerable distance from the terminal. As we drove from the airport my first impression (first time in Hong Kong) was amazement at the sheer size of everything. The apartment buildings, the bridges everything seems vast. I had always pictured Hong Kong to be a small tightly packed place, so did not realise how many different parts of it there are. As you head from the airport you can see some of the New Territories to the west of Hong Kong proper, and the huge bridges connecting the islands are breathtaking.

We arrived at out hotel in Mong Kok, The Cordis, and were sent up to the 36th floor for check in at the club lounge. As it was so early on the morning, we though perhaps we would not get a room for a while, but we were offered breakfast while they prepared our room, which was nice. We had a shower and a nap, then headed out to look for a laundry to get our washing done.

Side note on laundry while travelling: whenever you travel for more than a couple of weeks, you need to get laundry done. The way to do this differs in different parts of the world. Generally, we avoid using the hotel laundry service as it is invariably about twice the price of a local laundry. They send the laundry out to the same places but add their own mark-up. In Europe we have frequently used laundromats, which are readily available in most cities and work very well, they are also great places to meet people. In Asia, and other countries where labour is cheap, there are usually laundries which will wash, dry, fold and iron for reasonable prices. This was variable in India, quite expensive in Shimla, where the laundry sent the washing down to Siliguri (3 hour drive) to be done, but everywhere else it was reasonable and usually same day service. We check the hotel price list, then we know that anything less than that is a bonus. Here in Hong Kong, the hotel list showed to wash a T shirt cost $80 HK and jeans $100 HK each. That’s pretty expensive by any measure. We Googled nearby laundries and found one about 200 metres away, so took our bags of clothes to see how much it would cost. The lady weighed our washing, about 9 kgs all up. Cost for the lot was $140 HK; we dropped off it at about lunchtime and it was ready for pickup by 9pm. Great service, and so much cheaper than the hotel, all it took was a little bit of research and a little bit of effort carrying our washing to the place.

Hong Kong has a great metro service, the MTR, so we went to get ourselves an Octopus card which you load with credit and use for each trip. (I have since learned that there is a special one day pass for tourists for $65HK.) We bought our cards $150HK each, ready to explore. You can use the card on MTR, buses, ferries and public mini buses across the city, so it’s quite versatile. The MTR service is excellent, with trains running every couple of minutes; the trains are clean and airconditioned, the stations are clean and well sign posted, though complex in that they have exits in various directions, so making sure you know which one you need avoids unnecessary walking. You can walk underground here for kilometres, and also there are many overhead walkways with loads of escalators and travelators.

From our hotel lobby, we can walk across an elevated enclosed walkway to the Langham centre, which is a huge shopping centre, that sits above the Mong Kok MTR station. The whole complex is mind boggling complicated with escalators going in all directions, but if you follow the signs with the MTR symbol, you can easily find the station. It is all quite accessible by escalators as well as stairs and lifts. (I don’t think I have spent so much time on escalators in my whole life, as I have here in a few days in Hong Kong – they are everywhere in multitudes)

This brings me to make some comparisons between Hong Kong and India around queuing etiquette and general public social behaviour. These are only my observations and not intended to draw any conclusions about Indian or Hong Kong Chinese people. It seems to me that people in Hong Kong are more compliant with rules and social norms. There are signs with rules for where to stand for the train, where to walk on the pavement etc, and people largely obey these rules. People form orderly queues, and wait for passengers to disembark before getting on the train; it’s all quite ordered and polite.  In India, queueing etiquette seems non-existent, getting into trains or lifts is a free for all, you have to fight your way to get anywhere, and frankly lane markings on roads in India are a waste of paint; no-one stays in their lane, it’s as if they don’t exist at all. It feels like rules in India are made to be broken, and that only policing keeps people from breaking them. For example, in India in places where there are long queues, there are security people with whistles and sticks to keep everyone in line, any attempt at queue jumping is pounced upon by these fellows who wildly blow their whistles and wave their big sticks around, in one place the guy had a shotgun. No such controls are needed here in Hong Kong, people just queue politely without anyone telling them to do so. Interestingly, though, in India on crowded transport I was offered a seat by young men on several occasions, however that hasn’t happened here in Hong Kong. We took the bus up to the peak as the tram service is not running at present, and the bus was packed, so we had to stand up. It was difficult standing and hanging on as the bus went around sharp corners and stopped and started, yet no-one offered us a seat, and we were the oldest people on the bus by a long shot. At one point a man in the seat beside me got up to get off the bus, so I thought, here’s my chance for a seat, but I was not quick enough, a young woman almost bowled me over and jumped into the seat barely before the man had moved.

We visited the Nan Lian garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery, which was a peaceful place with lots of what I would call giant bonsai trees, they were cut and controlled like bonsai, but were almost normal sized. The nunnery is a retreat for Buddhist nuns and is built entirely from wood without the use of nails, apparently. (though I did see some screws)

We caught up with Neil’s cousin Roderick, who lives here, for lunch at a pub that sells Moondog beer, which was nice, and he showed us around a few places and gave some ideas on what to visit.

Shopping: this seems like it’s a national pastime here, I have never seen so many shops…everywhere you look there are shops, and so many shopping malls with all the big name international brands as well as local markets and small shops along the streets. I heard someone say “there used to be a temple here, but now it’s a shopping mall” and thought, you could say that for most of Hong Kong. When we went up to the peak, at the top there is a shopping centre, with souvenir shops, restaurants, even jewellery and sunglasses all available as you head up to the viewing terrace, via multiple escalators (which costs you $55) where there are professional photographers set up trying to get your business. Plenty of people were happy to fork out for professional photos of themselves with Hong Kong in the background. We stayed here for a while mostly people watching, ever incredulous at the degree of narcissism of people so busy taking pictures of themselves, they are oblivious to what’s going on around them, and oblivious to me taking their pictures. 😊 We did witness two marriage proposals while we were there; I assume this is a regular occurrence here.

Hong Kong from The Peak
Panorama shot

Whilst here we visited the Temple street market and had dinner at a street restaurant selling spicy crabs and other delicacies. We had some spicy prawns and spicy beans which were good. As the restaurant was busy, two Korean men shared our table, they ordered their food and a beer, then one took a flask out of his pocket and poured some clear spirit into his and his companion’s glass before topping up with beer. He saw us watching and offered Neil some of what turned out to be Korean Saki, apparently is was quite good. They smiled and bowed as we left. Sometimes when travelling you have little encounters like this that make things all the more interesting.

We also took a ferry out to Cheung Chau island and walked around to the beach there and had some lunch at a seafood restaurant on the waterfront, which was a bit of a tourist trap, average food for high prices, but the ferry ride was good and gave excellent views of the city from the water.

Here are some street market pictures, check out the guy at the pork butcher with no shirt.

One evening we headed down to the harbour, in front of the cultural centre to watch the evening light show. The video was taken with my phone, not sure why the lights are flaring.

Tomorrow is our last day here, then we fly out to Melbourne and back home. It’s been an interesting time in Hong Kong, the weather has been a little dull, although it was sunny today. It’s a very different place to anything in India or even Australia. Hong Kong feels like a 21st Century city; so modern and fast paced, excellent public transport and shiny shopping malls, bright city lights and tall skyscrapers every where you look. At night I can almost imagine I will see flying cars from the Jetson’s zooming around the buildings. There is a lot to do here, and I think we could definitely return another time. Thanks Hong Kong, till we meet again.

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