Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hong Kong Crash Course

Written at about 12:30am on Oct 20, 2010

My arrival in Hong Kong started out well: an easy flight with an easy landing (no more super-sideways altitude drops, like they used to be at a different airport); made it right through customs and baggage claim (had to check my bigger pack, because it was too heavy for a carry on with Air India); found my way to the buses and even found the bus I was supposed to take. The only negative thing is that I left my nice neck pillow on the plane and didn’t realize it until too late. Ah, well… if I had to lose something, that was a good thing to lose, as I haven’t used it much yet.

A month or so ago, before I left the US, I contacted a girl in Hong Kong via the couchsurfing website. Her name is Mika and she is a 32-year-old clerk in Kowloon. She agreed to host me for a night or two when I first arrived in Hong Kong, meaning I could sleep at her apartment and she might be able to show me around a bit. I love couchsurfing!

Anyway, Mika (pronounced Mee-ka) had given me the directions to buy an Octopus card at the airport, find the E23 bus and ride that bus to the end of it’s route to Tsz Wan Shan South. An Octopus card is a metro fare card that loads up fare for buses, trains and MTRs (subways). I bought that at the transportation desk in the airport quite easily. After going to the wrong side of the bus pickup area, I managed to find the line for E23. People seemed nice, directing me the right way when I asked where that particular bus was. Then the bus arrived and it was a double-decker bus, so I clambered directly to the top.

The ride through Hong Kong and Kowloon was incredible! I could seen the mountains of Lantau Island, as well as the hills of Hong Kong. The sun was just setting so it added a romantic air to everything I saw, being a big orangey-gold color sinking down. I could see skyscraper type buildings everywhere, and the occasional fantastic bridge lit up. I had the euphoric feeling of arriving in a new country!

After awhile, I started to fret: was I on the right bus? I was taking up two seats with my packs and myself, so people would climb up the bus stairs, look around for a seat, frown, and go back downstairs. The bus was pretty full at a couple points. The bus would careen up to a bus stop, the name of which I couldn’t discern anywhere, and then the driver would stomp on the gas and away we’d go! I was reminded of that bus in the the Harry Potter books…

Anyway, I started to panic. Would I know when we reached the last stop, since I couldn’t tell what stops we were at? I’d grabbed some pamphlets and maps at the airport, but I couldn’t find Tsz Wan Shan South on any of them; nor could I find any bus route maps. So, I asked people around me and got fairly clipped, short answers. One younger girl even rolled her eyes at me and was kinda snotty when she answered! Very different from Korea. I eventually went down to the first floor of the bus and asked the driver at a long stop. His first response when I said “Tsz Wan Shan South?” was: “No airport! no airport!” I blinked, frowned, and repeated myself more slowly. He gesticulated and I think he said “Last station!”

So I stood behind the driver and waited, panicking a little more. I was worried because I’d thought the bus ride would take about 45 minutes or an hour, but it was going on an hour and a half at this point. I waited it out until a woman gestured for me to sit down. I blurted out that I didn’t know where I was going and she ended up having me get off the bus with her two stops early and pointed me towards the McDonald’s I was supposed to meet Mika at. Also, I was supposed to meet Jeff there. Jeff, for those that don’t know him, is a friend of mine from when I was stationed in Montana with the Air Force. Jeff is lucky enough to be attending a grad school for a business management degree, which has him do some classes in foreign countries! In fact, he is the reason Hong Kong got put on my list!

Anyway, I was late. I worried that Mika would have left already, or that Jeff would be wondering where I was. When I finally made it to the McDonald’s… it was crowded, but no Jeff and no one who seemed to be Mika. I did have MIka’s cell phone number, so I set out to change a bill into coins and find a pay phone.

That took half an hour, included many people scowling at me and waving me away when I asked for coins or for help, and ended with a bus driver on break loaning me his cell phone. I reached Mika and she said she’d be at McDonald’s in five minutes. I went back and three seconds after I arrived, Jeff showed up! He also had been wandering around, a little lost and confused, having found a different McDonald’s and realizing it wasn’t the right one somehow. Then Mika showed up and we all introduced ourselves and sat down. I had bought some fries and a coke… yes, I ate at a McDonald’s, forgive me!… so while I munched on those we got acquainted.

Once the fries were gone, we all headed for Mika’s flat, where I was able to put down my bags and take a quick, cool shower, which felt awesome. Then we were off to explore the area a bit. With Mika leading, the three of us hopped on a minibus and went to Sai Yeung Choi Street South, letting the foot traffic, bright lights and hustle bustle wash over our senses. Both Jeff and I needed to eat dinner, so Mika took us to a place known, apparently, for it’s pork chops. What I noticed most was the pirate theme, complete with plastic life sized figures swinging from rafters or climbing down the stair rails. Both Jeff and I had pork chops, although mine was in a white curry sauce and his was in a tomato sauce. Both tasted quite good. At Mika’s recommendation, I had a coconut milk and red bean drink, which was sweet and cold and totally strange – and delicious!

After dinner, we headed out to walk around for a bit. Once we passed a MTR station, Jeff departed, since he had a quiz online that he had to complete by 11pm and it was past 10pm. Mika and I went to the Ladies Market and were perusing the booths of glitter, silk and goodies when all of the sudden, my sandal disintegrated. To give some background, my mom had given me a pair of her sandals for my trip when I couldn’t seem to find any that I liked. Unfortunately, she’d apparently already given them a good run, because this was my first time wearing them on this trip and the sole of the left sandal started flapping in the wind.

We spent the next hour wandering around the markets and the malls looking for an emergency pair of flip flops. Amazingly enough, it actually took that hour: most of the stores have stopped selling summer shoes and moved to the autumn line, which does NOT include flip flops. Finally, we found a pair, for cheap, and away mom’s sandals went to the trash. My replacement flip flops will become my shower shoes, because they’re plastic and I can’t walk much in them without pain between my toes.

We wandered for a bit more, looking at markets both open air and indoors and me just gaping around me like a fish out of water. Eventually, we headed back to Mika’s flat, not getting there until after midnight. The wooden futon was unfolded in the living room of Mika’s flat, with a comforter style blanket for a mattress, a pillow, and a light blanket laid out for me. I got on the desktop internet for a few minutes, and then I had to crash.


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