I arrived in Hong Kong Airport after a short hop from the Philippines. Having spent my that morning wandering around Manila, my first self assignment in Hong Kong, while waiting for my bags, was to go and freshen up before I was met by Brian and Lilly. Well freshening up really just means washing the days grime off my hands and face. So I wondered over to the airport loo's and put my hands under the faucet. I was promptly dispensed a load of soap. Perplexed, I worked the soap into a lather and put my hands under the faucet again. This time I was dispensed water. It seems that soap is mandatory in Hong Kong airport, or at least I think so ... and It was at this point that I realised that eight months in the third world had come to an end (Sorry China, while Beijing counts as first world, its not China...).
I was a little sad. I then spent the next few days trying to rid myself of some of the third world habits I picked up. The worst being searching for the 'used toilet paper bin' which I did not find in any Hong Kong toilet ... nor did I ever get the hang of drinking water from the tap, as I have already concluded its in fact soap. Nice and smelly soap mind you, even though Brian reliably tells me its ok to drink in Hong Kong.
After a late arrival and the following morning I headed out into one of the worlds most densely populated metropolises. And soon afterward I came across the first of many shopping malls. But I had a rather strange feeling. There was a fast food joint selling Chicken Adobo, Sinigang and Lechon (Roast Pig). Poker Face was blaring from the nearest shop. And there was a PNB Bank, which I now know is the Philippines National Bank. With every other face being Filipino, I realised I was back in the Philippines... I bought a coke, said a few words in Filipino to the shop attendant and got a huge smile. I later found out that there is a huge Filipino community living in Hong Kong, primarily working as home helpers for HK$ 3750 a month. That's £300 quid a month and about five times the average wage in the Philippines.
I came to Hong Kong on the recommendation of Paul 'Visit Brian and Lily in Hong Kong, it's really great' and so I did. I was expecting a dark, busy, skyscraper packed, people ignoring you version of Bladerunner. But no, it was a rather soothing and relaxing experience. I had no pressure to dart about seeing Hong Kong, yet during four days of leisurely wondering around I felt that I had got to know the place well, even though around every corner there was something new and different. And I have to say Hong Kong is surprisingly chilled-out for one of the most densely populated metropolises on earth. Some of my notable highlights are:
Goldfish Street: Being into aquariums I took a visit to Goldfish Street. As the name suggests, here you can buy just about any aquarium fish you can think of, many of them pre-bagged ready for a sale. I was really impressed ... within the space of a single block you could buy just about any tropical fish you could think of, not just your run of the mill guppies. Shame that many of the fish were suffering, but then its a lot less than under the butchers knife as you'll see later...
South East Asia Games: As it happened I was in Hong Kong for the opening of the East Asia Games. This is some sort of mini Olympics for the East Asian countries. I don't know the bounds of East Asia, but I have a sneaky suspicion that its rigged to draw an east-west line that means that China is going to win everything. Certainly every time I saw a game being played out there was a Chinese flag on the podium.
Fireworks Arm Race: Due to the start of the South East Asian game, Brian and I have the fortune of visiting the opening ceremony from one of the best viewing spots in the city. The ceremony went on for a whopping fifteen minutes, as if Hong Kong is in a giant Arms Race to build a bigger, louder and more spectacular show that the last host. It was simply the best fireworks show I have ever seen.
Cheap and rather cool gadgets: Very cool gadgets at rock bottom prices. Just as well, as I had my iPhone nicked in Manila and picked up a rather cheap iPod Nano as a temporary replacement.
If you want Thresher Shark fin soup, you'll find it here: If you want shark fin soup you'll find it here. You'll find fins by the thousands, and you wont find many sympathetic Cantonese to the plight of the sharks. In one shop, I pointed to the picture of the tail fin of a Thresher shark on my t-shirt and asked 'Do you have this fin ?"... he said no problem, "just give me five minute"
The longest elevator in the world: Honk Kong island is a rather steep place. So much so that they have the longest elevator in the world. Its actually a series of elevators which take you from sea level to the 'mid levels'. I don't know how high that is, but it took me a whopping 10 minutes walking up the series of elevators. Thats allot of steps. It would have been even quicker if one of the Belgium chaps in front of me understood the concept of standing on the right, but then again if i remember Belgium is rather flat! Apparently the elevator goes down in the morning rush hour and then up for the rest of the day. What I was left wondering is why they only built one elevator ? Why not two elevators: one always up and one always down?
Internet faster than your average Cheetah: Wow its fast, the fastest I've come across ever.Getting your fresh food skinned alive: Visit the fish market and watch frogs, terrapins, eels, crabs, big fish, small fish, yellow fish, you name it fish being skinned alive. It was quite extraordinary. The amazing part was one rather large fish which which was cut into several pieces for display, while the heart was still beating and the fish gasping for breath every few minute or two. I left with my jaw open and wondering how quickly the RSPCA would react if this was in the UK.
This is what China should have been like: Brian took me to visit a Buddhist Nunnery. It was rather good, with detailed architecture, original statues and spotlessly clean mix of old and new. I finally felt as if i was visiting the China that I was expecting to see several months ago.
and one of my favorites, Its got some Man Kei stores:
All in all Hong Kong is a rather relaxing and very interesting place. In a strange way, I also felt at home. Not only thanks to the hospitality of Brian and Lily, but also a quaint English pub where we drunk too much beer while listening to some hip Filipino band. Its right up there as one of the coolest cities I have visited.
Next stop New Zealand, via a rather scary ten hour flight. Gulp.