First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hong Kong, Day 2: A Ferry Tale

You know, if more tourists could be satisfied with just riding public transportation, cities wouldn't have to TRY so hard.

Take me, for example. Today, my one full day in Hong Kong, I rode the subway 6 times and the ferry 5 times, and I had an excellent day.

It's late, so I'll spare you inconsequential details like my complimentary breakfast (eggs, rice, bacon, sliced pears, coffee and apple juice) and give you a rundown of some of the things I learned in Hong Kong today.

1. ) The Star Ferry is cool
It takes less than 10 minutes from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, but you get awesome views, a little breeze and a unique cultural experience all in one.

2.) Hong Kong, on the other hand, is hot
You've heard the expression about giving blood, sweat and tears? Well, all Hong Kong wants is your sweat. It was close to 100 today and EXTREMELY steamy. I would have sweat running down my neck in streams just standing there. I actually brought a bandanna with me, which I would occasionally use to mop my forehead and neck while saying thing like "My LAWS, it certainly is hotter than when that nasty ol' General Sherman burned Great-Grandmamars house in Atlanta, wouldn't you agree, Jethro?" Which is why I tried to spend as much time as I could inside.

3.) The Hong Kong Museum of History is also cool (and air conditioned)
A suggestion from Rachael back home, and an excellent one. After taking the ferry to Kowloon, I walked about a mile to the museum (leaving giant moist footprints to follow home, like a perspiration-soaked Hansel and Gretel.) I spent about two and a half hours there, learning about everything from the formation of the island (it has something to do with geology) to its cultural heritage (mostly Asian) to the occupation by the Japanese in WWII (Hong Kong still seems a teeny tiny bit bitter - don't think they're alone in that one) to modern history (best part was the display of cheap plastic toys to demonstrate their dominance of the toy industry in the 70's and 80's -- I could have sent them to my parent's basement.)

They even built a replica of a 19th century Hong Kong street, complete with shops, houses, a schoolroom and more. I was entertained to note that one replica of a warehouse featured one particular food item rather prominently:

4.) Mong Kok: Everything you need, lots more things you're afraid to touch
If you're like me, you often need a $15,000 Rolex watch. At the same time, you also often need to buy whole, dried fish in bulk from a cardboard box. If only there was some place where you could take care of ALL your most important needs at once! Well, dream no more, my friend. I have found your Shangri La.

From the museum I went north to the Mong Kok district at the suggestion of my boss in Beijing to look at cell phones. It was insane. There were cell phone shops EVERYWHERE. At one point I walked through a door between two small cell phone shops, and it was like the wardrobe to Narnia -- if Narnia consisted entirely of tiny cell phone shops crammed cheek to jowel (which I think was C.S. Lewis' original vision - he was way ahead of his time.) Seriously, there were at least 30 shops selling all kinds of phones. I looked at a couple models I'm intrigued by (the new Sony Ericsson s500i looks really cool) but didn't buy anything.

I walked around a little more, and not only found the Rolex/dried fish area (they were literally 2 doors apart), but also a Chinese jewelry store chain that had opened stores on three of the four corners of one intersection, plus another one less than a block away (apparently they need jewelry like we need Starbucks) and another person selling what I HOPE was dried fish - they were these leathery-looking fillets, some in a box, some artfully displayed on top of a mailbox to catch the discerning dried-mystery-flesh shopper's eye.

5.) Ferry Quest: Note to self : check the map first
I got back to Hong Kong island (via ferry, natch) by 4:15 and decided to take a ferry to one of the outlying islands. I had just missed the ferry to Lantau, so I bought passage on the next ferry to anywhere.

Well, it turned out to be a little further than I thought. An hour later, after passing Gilligan's Island, the Island of Dr. Moreau and the island where the LOST survivors are, we finally pulled into port at Cheung Chau, which can't be ALL that remote, since it has both a Circle K and a 7-11:

I was in Cheung Chau long enough to develop this comprehensive walking tour:

STEP 1: Come down the ferry's exit ramp to the street and take a left (north) on the harbor road.

STEP 2: Walk about 20 feet.
  • POINT OF INTEREST: To your left will be a person selling newspapers.
STEP 3: Take a left (west) into the ferry terminal entrance.

The ferry departed for Hong Kong less than 5 minutes later.

6.) Dinner and a Show is a good way to wind up
After freshening up, I went to the Intercontinental Hotel on the Kowloon side for dinner and to watch the nightly light show they do here. The skyscrapers synchronize their light and lasers and basically turn the entire skyline into a giant Laser Zeppelin at the Planetarium type of show. The Intercontinental (another Rachael suggestion) is a great place to watch it as they built their lobby bar and restaurant with huge panoramic windows that give a view of the whole harbor.

The Intercontinental is nothing to sneeze at, either. There was a Lamborghini in the parking area, if that tells you anything. It was cavernous but plush, with dim lights, low modern furniture, a jazz quartet playing standards and bossanova (and pretty well at that), and white-coated servers at attention. It was filled with Chinese (of course), Japanese, Arabs, Americans, British and Germans. Not a cheap place by any stretch, but for one night I felt like a jet-set hipster.

Here's a little video. Sorry, the audio isn't so good:

Oh, and that guy at the end is bringing me my Jameson's, no ice. ;)

7.) Take lots of pictures
A day in the life of Hong Kong and Kowloon, in 10 pictures: