Travel is only Glamorous in Retrospect

This is my favorite quote about travel. Because it’s so true. Even if you have a really enjoyable trip, you will always look back on it more fondly – leaving out mishaps, hiccups and anything else that caused annoyances.

For the Hong Kong trip, we spent a lot of time wondering “are we having any fun yet?” while we were there. But now that we’re home (retrospect) we think: “yeah, that was pretty cool.”

No one can deny that Hong Kong is interesting. If Hong Kong has anything going for it, it’s at least an interesting place. But if you asked us “Is it a nice place, a fun place, an enjoyable place to visit?” Our answer would be a resounding “uhhh.” Was it relaxing? No.  But it was a great break from teaching even if it wasn’t exactly relaxing. All in all we saw some neat stuff and had a pretty neat time. It wasn’t a bad trip, just really really different.

Our journey begins on a Wednesday. We had to take a taxi to the train station where we had to wait for 2 hours for our train. Then we took the 3 hour train to Seoul. … It’s exhausting just writing about it, in short: nearly 12 hours after leaving Daejeon we boarded the plane.

It was a cheaper flight to leave at nine pm and arrive at midnight. But when we finally got through a two hour custsoms line (hooray for bureaucratic  pseudo-Chinese politics!) the “Airport Express Train” was pitch black and locked up. We were too late. Thus we stranded ourselves at 2 am in the airport.

What you should know about Hong Kong, is that it is a series of islands. Sortof, although it does touch proper-China  (we’ll call this PRC) at the top. So the airport is on Lantau Island but we needed to be on a different island – the island of Hong Kong. You can’t exactly walk anywhere. Unlike past trips where we’ve given up on trains or busses and just walked. Here, we couldn’t do that.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 2.55.33 PM
Hong Kong is made up of the New Territories, Kowloon, Lantau Island, Hong Kong and then other smaller islands everywhere (like Lamma Island)

We caught a bus which took us on the most ass-backwards ride of our life. It would go around and around a roundabout two or even three times as if the driver didn’t know where he was going. It took us almost a full hour just to get out of the airport area. While the bus was classified as a direct route to Hong Kong it was really catering to the employees at the airport. We went through back alleys and over tarmac-like roads to get to small employee-centered bus stops that were dead empty. Having spent 15 hours in-transit, we were getting a little restless (read: cranky) to get to a safe place to put our bags down and just go to bed.

Things got a little faster as we got away from the airport. Then the bus showed “Next stop: Central Station”- our stop. We get off and…. nothing. For one, it’s not Central Station. Secondly: there’s no one around. Just two prostitutes smoking near some trash, but they’re the only people we can see. At all.

It’s 4 am in Hong Kong and there’s nothing. It’s silent, there are no people, no busses, almost no taxis. We have no choice but to walk.  Hauling our bags and hoping Hong Kong is as safe as everyone says it is.

Considering the population density, walking through abandoned streets in the early morning was extremely surreal and interesting. So oddly peaceful – some of the only solitude and peace we would get during the whole trip. But after a while it became less interesting, though, and we wanted to lay down. So we tried to hail a taxi. Of which there were none because there was nobody on the streets.

We pulled the bag along, dipping it in and out of trash, puddles of water and over dead bugs. Why on earth are there no taxis? The largest cockroach I’ve ever seen, half the size of an adult fist blocked our path. It shook it’s wings at us, menacingly. “I’m going to fly right into your hair” it said. So we tried to give it a wide berth and in the process we we startled a Chihuahua sized rat which ran out in front of us. Okay, taxi. Please?

By sheer luck, or fate. Or maybe Hong Kong was finally done indoctrinating us, we found a crossroads where a taxi driver was napping.

Take us, please. So he did.

We couldn’t see the hotel until the next morning. It was too dark, but as we shoved the bag and each other against walls we knew it was small. The smallest hotel room we’ve ever been in. We actually really liked it.

Hong Kong has a huge problem with apartments and size. There are 40-square-feet rooms that whole families will live in (click here to see). Our hotel certainly wasn’t that small. But I could touch end to end.

 

 

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The bed was maybe a double. Chris took the picture from the door looking in. Almost the whole back wall are windows. To keep the light pouring in, the bathroom is made entirely of glass windows. So this made for an amazing view. But if (when) you sat on the toilet, you were looking right out a glass door at your partner. Not a good room to share if you didn’t know each other well.

Regardless, we had a fantastic view while showering. The windows on the outside were mirrored so no one could see in (at least in the day when there was no back light).

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View from the shower

 

Day 1

We woke up to Chinese shouting and slamming of doors. someone was repeatedly dropping something on the floor above us, and “HOUSE MAID” knock, knock knock was getting closer and closer. We had no choice but to get up.

We had heard of how good “egg tarts” were, so we found a nearby bakery.

 

 

breakfast

 

The egg tarts were so so. What was really amazing were these beef pies. They were stir-fried beef in a sweet sauce inside an insanely flakey pie crust. Needless to say, we got this for breakfast a couple days in a row.

The strangeness of our early morning walk behind us, we went out exploring. Completely in awe of how city-ish this place is. Skyscrapers were absolutely everywhere. Obviously. But walking through them is so different than looking at a skyline. I could make an analogy here about rats in mazes or canyons or something. But none of it would do any justice.

We found our way to the bay and decided to cross and see the famous skyline. Somehow the skyline has been voted for as the best and has even won awards. Not sure how a skyline can win award.

We took a ferry. Which is where the beginning of all our problems began. You’re going to have to wait for skyline pictures for a bit, as we need to talk about something.

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Hong Kong maybe is or is not China, it depends on who you ask and what you want to believe. Regardless, its proximity to China, means it attracts many, many Chinese tourists and day-trippers.

And you should know that Chinese tourists are some of the worst tourists in the world.

We’re not being biased. PRC tourists are being seen as some of the worst tourists in the world by many others.

Outside the Louvre in Paris, there’s a sign in Mandarin which tells visitors not to defecate in the surrounding grounds. This sign is only written in Mandarin Chinese. No other nationality, it appears, needs to be reminded where it is and is not appropriate to shit in the vicinity of metropolitan France’s art museums. …With a stone, [a] 15-year-old carved “Ding Jinhao was here” into [a] 3,500-year-old building in Egypt. (source)

Guess when the PRCs main vacation time is? You guessed it. During the time we were there. As public servants, Chris and I had to take our vacation at the same time as pretty much every other public servant in Asia. There weren’t many tourists from America/Australia/Germany… just Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese.

Another issue arose. We were in a place that had been vaguely colonized by the British. They drive on the “other” side of the road there, and the English is all British spellings. So it was our mistake, to assume some of the amazingly polite British culture had rubbed off on Hong Kong.

It went quickly from sorry I bumped into you and oh excuse me, yes, after you to I’m going to shove you into the sea

It was in the highly populated tourist traps of Europe where Chris and I learned to blaze and absolutely plow through people. Something we had never done in Colorado. Between the population density of Hong Kong and masses of horrible PRC tourists, the old techniques were back. And harder than ever. This was  shove-or-be-shoved survival. We were shoulder checking, shoving and generally moving anyone who got in our way when we had to. But don’t judge too soon. If you were in a line, even with ropes and guards watching, some asshole would inevitably duck under all the ropes and physically remove you from your spot.

Which brings us back to the story. Taking the ferry. This was the eye opening moment where we realized  if we ever wanted to

  • reach the end of a line
  • buy something
  • get food
  • or get home

We were more likely than not going to have to shove and get aggressive.

Somehow we managed to get a ticket and onto the ferry. We were crossing a small patch of bay that separates the island of Hong Kong from the dingleberry of Hong Kong that dangles off of mainland China. This area is called “Kowloon” (see the map from earlier) but I would prefer to call it the Dingleberry because it truly dangles off of China the way a piece of fecal matter dangles off of an ass. Maybe that was a bit harsh. But we truly did not like the majority of Kowloon.

Kowloon was nothing but rich people buying Burberry, Tiffanys, Prada while destitute people tried to scam them. A bunch of Indian scammers would jump in front of you mid-stride and yell “WATCHES!??” “TAYLOOORED SUITS?!” into your face. Whiny protesters getting upset that you wouldn’t take their flyers or give them money; fake photographers and generally anyone trying to make a quick buck was in this area. Not to mention the “award winning skyline” attracts everyone and their cousin. It’s packed, there’s nothing to do if you aren’t wealthy or aren’t into a scam.

Seeking a moment of solitude, we found a nice park.

 

kowloon

From there we wandered aimlessly until we were off the beaten path. We found a place for lunch that barely spoke English (thats how you know it’s going to be good food).

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We had some fantastically greasy noodles in fantastic sauce. The best was the milk tea. What we imagine the recipe to be: put a teabag in some water for about 6 days until it is impossibly strong. Pour sugar and real cream (not milk, but thick, thick cream into the strong tea). Serve with ice.

On our way back we realized we had shoved too far too fast and hadn’t even stopped to look at the “award winning” skyline.

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It’s quite amazing, but impossible to photograph without a panorama. So for now, here is a single photo of about 1/8th of the skyline.

We spent a little time in an air conditioned mall then had dinner at a British pub.

Part Two – Days 2 and onward are in the next post.

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