I have now, officially left China. This is evident in the Hong Kong train station from the large stations where you can be pulled aside for SARS inspections, body heat scanners as well as metal detectors to check if you’re sick and loud announcements on any escalator in English warning you to be careful and ‘Please don’t look only at your mobile phone.’ The door handles had a sign on them saying ‘These handles are disinfected at least 8 times a day.’ This kind of health aware, safety conscious mentality was literally a foreign concept for most of my time in China. I suffered from culture shock in Hong Kong because of the difference (which meant I got it out of the way before going home so I didn’t suffer from reverse culture shock there). The first adventure in Hong Kong was trying to close my bank account. The branches on mainland China assured me this was the best thing to do as they wouldn’t let me through security at Hong Kong with so much cash and that I could close it very easily by asking for a E17 form. It turns out this form does not exist and I cannot close a Chinese bank account in Hong Kong or even make large withdrawals. All I can do is use my atm card. The smarmy guy in the bank was really unhelpful and told me I’d just have to leave my money there in case I returned. So I decided feck him, withdrew the maximum amount of money from my account that was allowed every day, paid for everything by card and went shopping. I think there’s 17 cents left in my account today. You need to change your money to Hong Kong dollars, there are lots of places willing to do it but I’d avoid everything other than Western Union. Everything’s much more expensive in Hong Kong, much closer to Western prices. Culture Shock factors:
- I got a really good sandwich, with real bacon, cheese, and avocado (all of which I’d missed while in China).
- Everyone spoke English.
- They had UK sockets.
- I couldn’t find any of the things I had gotten used to in China, or any of the things I wanted to buy but had been waiting until Hong Kong as I didn’t want to carry them around (such as Baijiu or dried Sichuan peppers)
- It is a huge, towering city, full of sky scrapers like I’ve never seen.
- It’s home to the most densely populated street in the world in Mong Mok area.
- It was so easy to navigate, evreything’s laid out logically, everyone’s friendly and everyone speaks English
- Just when I thought it couldn’t get any hotter
- Nobody spits in the street
- There is no excessive, unnecessary beeping of car horns
- The internet is free, open and uncensored
Victoria Park is very cool. It’s really high and you get to it via a steep tram ride. There’s a nice café and a lovely walk around the top. Great views across Hong Kong.
Afterwards I got a ferry across the water to Kowloon. The way people spoke about Kowloon to me before arriving in Hong Kong it sounded like a seedy, crowded place. So I was surprised when it was big and open and bright and full of fresh air. There’s a big promenade by the sea with a nice (hot) breeze. There was a ‘walk of stars’ similar to the one in Hollywood but with Asian actors.
There’s also lots of museums. The art museum was okay, but my favourite bit was their absolutely Baltic air conditioning system. The space museum is worth a visit, especially if you have kids, it’s really interactive. A couple of us got fruit and sushi in a local supermarket and sat in the hostel chatting until late. I met an Irish guy who was going for a job interview in Hong Kong.
LKF (Lan Kwai Fong) is the nightlife area of Hong Kong. Street after street of bars and clubs and restaurants. We bought a few bottles of beer and drank them while walking around and soaking up the atmosphere. We also got Dim Sum (my first time ever eating Dim Sum). I spent a day in Macau with another girl. It’s a former Portuguese colony and is another Special Administrative Region. It looks after internal affairs while China looks after external affairs (basically Home Rule). It is one of the richest cities in the world and relies on gambling and tourism. You have to go through immigration to get to Macau which took a lot longer than the immigration to get to Hong Kong. All the Casinos offer courtesy buses from the ferry stop so we got one to the Lisboa which is supposed to be one of the biggest. The wealth is obscene, we could wander around inside the Casino and there were clearly people who had been there since early morning, surrounded by gold and chandeliers playing games whose buy in was thousands of dollars. Interestingly, there were no bars or drinks served.
The streets of old town can be very crowded and uncomfortable. There’s a dominican church which offers brief shade and respite but St. Paul’s Cathedral is well worth a visit. Only the facade is left. There’s also old fort walls which you can climb, topped by canons and a museum. The museum is pretty interesting, showing the history of China, the West and Macau. There was also a cool crystal maze style game you could play.
There were loads of restaurants and things all over China that were recommended in the Lonely Planet. However, nearly all were shut down and Macau was no exception. the Lonely Planet was indispensable for sightseeing but when it came to restaurants and things China moves too quickly for it. The queues for the ferry back were insane, we missed two before we finally caught one. We ended up missing the symphony of lights, where skyscrapers are lit up in bright colours across the bay. Hong Kong is a great city for just wandering around. The next day I went for a really long walk, found a toy market, drank brown sugar coffee, had a duck Jian Bing (this pancake wrap thing that I’d become addicted to in Dalian), saw Man Mo temple, loads of “Antiques” shops, a Western market, some of the really fancy high-end shops, the temple street night market is really fun, the ladies market not so much (same junk as everywhere else), and again missed the symphony of lights because I got lost.
And that’s basically it. After that it’s homeward bound for me. I just had to squeeze everything into my suitcase, met a friend for coffee at the airport and had my first wonton soup there. I also wanted to buy a bottle of Baijiu to bring home to my Dad but had to wait until after I’d gone through security because of the liquid limits and the fact that there was no space in my bag. When they checked my boarding card and saw I was stopping over in Dubai they got really nervous and kept asking me wasn’t I worried about offending Muslims by bringing alcohol to Dubai. They wouldn’t believe any research I had done or websites I showed them that it was fine so long as it was in a sealed bag. Eventually after about 4 different duty frees one finally accepted that my final destination was Dublin, that I was only stopping over in Dubai, that we like drink in Ireland and are rarely offended by it and yes, I could buy a bottle of Baijiu on the condition that I signed a note agreeing not to complain if it was confiscated. Another shop refused because they claimed that under no circumstances could you bring alcohol on a plane. They refused to listen to me pointing out the fact that they were selling alcohol in an airport, where did they expect people to bring it? And then finally another shop sold it to me no problem, no questions asked. I would nearly have been disappointed if my last experience in China/Hong Kong had been consistent or logical or organised.