Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hong Kong, China: This Doesn't Feel Like China

Hong Kong should really be its own country.  Nothing inflammatory here, but it is completely different from the rest of China.  I basically used Hong Kong as my leap pad out of China, as flights from Hong Kong were incredibly cheap to my next destination (to be revealed - obviously there need to be some fun surprises on the blog! I'm sure nobody cares that much, but humor me).

I've been to Hong Kong a couple times in the past, so I've seen a lot of the big sights already - Victoria Peak, that giant sitting Buddha statue, fancy dim sum, the street markets, Macau, those outdoor elevators that go up the side of the mountain, etc.  So this time around, I just did one of those I'm-not-going-to-see-all-the-sights-I'm-just-gonna-relax-and-enjoy-the-city for a day and a half.  

And it was great, because in Hong Kong I got the appreciate the little things that make it not like China: no one spits in the streets, everyone is able to speak English, GOOGLE WORKS again (as well as Facebook and Instagram and Gmail and everything else that was blocked in China), I didn't see people's bare feet being put all over everything (HUGE. THIS IS HUGE), and everything just felt a step above the "everyone's trying to rob me blind" feeling that you feel so often in China.

What It's All About:
Hong Kong is part of China, but it is not part of China. It feels kind of like an Asian New York - you have your numerous neighborhoods that are all different, some grittier than others, but it's generally a huge gleaming fancy mega city.  There's a different currency than China (HK dollars!), and there's different visa rules than China: you can enter HK without a visa if you're American (but not China) and Chinese people need visas to enter HK.  Last important difference, since it used to be a British colony (until its handover in 1997! SO RECENT), they call all the elevators "lifts."  

Um look at the nighttime skyline view of Hong Kong. We're definitely not in China anymore, Toto.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • My 2 night/1 day foray into Hong Kong, as told in pictures:

Landing into civilization! (Jokes. All jokes, I swear)

Checked into my hostel and then wandered out in the evening to the Temple Street Night Market

Everybody was sitting outside and eating spicy crabs

I love night markets. The price inflation here is crazy - some lady offered me a bracelet I was looking at for 70 HKD, and I walked away (the "walk away" method of bargaining is #1 best ever) and she chased me down and I ended up getting it for 20 HKD.

Oops, how did this end up here. Eh, you might as well see it. I think the pillow on the night bus in Kunming might have had fleas or bedbugs or something, because I had a weird line of bites up my neck. #Charming.  Please let me into your homes when I get back.

The view over Nathan Street (one of the busiest and most happening streets) in Kowloon, as seen from my hostel.  A lot of hostels here are in apartment buildings - mine was weirdly in 4 separate rooms on 4 separate floors of an apartment building. Front and center is a big mosque.

  • Day 1! I got coffee/breakfast with a girl from the hostel, then headed into Hong Kong island to wander around.  From what I've learned, Hong Kong is kind of like NYC - Hong Kong island is like Manhattan (and is actually an island!), where all the financial district and fancy things are.  Across the harbor is Kowloon, which is kind of like Brooklyn/Queens - it's got tons of stuff to see and hang out and do too, and things are slightly more affordable but people on Hong Kong island kind of are like, "Ohhh Kowloon" with an air of "you're not as good as we are" if you live there instead of HK island.  And they don't like to have to haul themselves out to Kowloon. I hate to say that I totally kind of get this...

I got myself a bag of egg tarts at a famous egg tart bakery called Tai Cheong Bakery. I had it in mind that I was gonna share with others. Right.

I like how random everything is! Like next to a major financial tower, a weird street cart selling hair ties and flags.

I am not proud to admit (ok I AM proud to admit), but I went to Starbucks to use their free WiFi to bang out some blog posts and found out that the WiFi code on the receipt only lasts for 30 minutes! (WTF Starbucks, I know you have more than enough money to provide free unlimitless WiFi!)  So I maybe went to the counter and gathered all the receipts left behind by other people and used all their WiFi codes so I could sit and blog in peace. #homeless

I got lost in the subway station and ended up in a fancy mall. Which reminded me exactly of Columbus Circle (it's a shopping center in NYC, get with the program), down to the fancy famous chef-sponsored open seating restaurant overlooking the foyer.

I like this ferris wheel. I want to ride it.

  • Then I rode the Star Ferry, the best deal in all of Hong Kong. It's the ferry boat between Hong Kong and Kowloon, and it provides maybe the most beautiful view of Hong Kong Harbour (spelled the British way, ATTENTION TO DETAIL folks), and it's still the same price it's always been since back in the day, which is around $0.50 USD.  And it took me back to the slum of Kowloon, where I was staying. Just kidding. About the slum part, not the part where I ended up back in Kowloon.  Anyhow. IT'S LIKE RIDING THE STATEN ISLAND FERRY FOR CHEAP-O AND GETTING A GORG-O VIEW OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY. HONG KONG REALLY IS NEW YORK, example #230.
  • And then it was perfect because the ferry drops you off right where you can get ridic amazing postcard views of Hong Kong from across the harbour.  

Views like this, complete with red junket boat. 

There is a "light show" every night at 8pm, which everyone makes a huge deal over and people crowd the harbour to watch - and not to be a hater, but really only one building participates in the light show. Like it stands there and blinks crazily to the music, and the rest of the 99 buildings are just like "meh" and do nothing.


Then I returned to the hostel, met a new hostel friend named Julie from Boston, and we went to dinner right around the corner at a hole-in-the-wall, Michelin-starred dumpling place.

It was so hyped up that there was only one kind of dumpling left (some kind of black truffle dumpling or something). So I bought two. And a watermelon juice. It was delicious.

  • Julie and I went and mingled back in the hostel - I had intentions of going to bed so I could leisurely get up and pack and head to the airport for my mid-day flight, but it turns out Thursday nights are Ladies' nights! Which means free drinks at a lot of places! Maybe we'll just go out for one drink...

Our first stop was a Pokemon-themed club - we only stayed for 10 minutes because one of the guys couldn't get in, but that was ok because all Julie and I wanted were the free Pikachu ears. CHECK.

Hong Kong is expensive (NYC, IS THAT YOU) - so everyone goes to the 7-11 and buys drinks and drinks them on the street outside

Ladies' night! Is that a drink you had to purchase with your own money, guy next to me?? THAT'S UNFORTUNATE.
Really though, these are friends from the hostel whose names I have forgotten but the girl is from Canada and the boy is from Australia, and that's all I know.

The crazy party nightlife - we went to Hong Kong island to go out.....because HK = Manhattan....you know

And then Julie and I didn't want to pay for an exorbitant taxi back to Kowloon and the subway had stopped running for the night, and the pizza man Julie bought her 2am pizza from on the street goes "just take the minibus over there! It'll take you to Kowloon!"  So we ended up randomly on this minibus with no idea where it'd drop us off. It was a steal. It was 1/10 the price of a taxi and it even had this classy sign inside it!

  • And with that, comes the end of my mini-Hong Kong adventure!  It was perfect.  

Farewell, China!
Larger picture-wise, this actually marked the end of my China adventures (even though I've made it very clear, I'm sure, that HK hardly counts)!  I feel like I need to write a good-bye ode to China.

In general though, I know I expressed certain displeasures (mostly jokingly, I swear!) with a lot of parts of this country.  And it is all true, I don't take it back: the people, in general, are shockingly rude. There is definitely a lack of decorum, especially in public. Waiting in lines is an exercise in futility, and if done long enough, will definitely drive you insane.  Cleanliness levels are often questionable.  It's exceedingly hard to get around - you can't find a single person who speaks English, and there are minimal (and I mean minimal) facilities to help you if you don't speak Chinese.  The toilets will make you cry (especially if you encounter the public ones, which basically consist of a long ditch and no doors and you're expected to squat over the ditch, all while you literally see everyone else's business running down said ditch).  And there are way, way too many people. Pushing. Shouting. Elbowing. Everywhere. At all times.

But that comes with the territory. And the sights, the unbelievable beauty in some parts of the most populated country in the world, make it all worth it.  There's something beautiful about going somewhere that feels totally off the regular tourist grid. So many parts of China are pretty inaccessible unless you A.) join a tour group, or B.) speak Chinese.  And for being able to fall into the latter is something that makes me feel incredibly lucky.  China is a totally different world.  And when you go, you immerse yourself fully in that world. There's no coddling or only getting to see the "tourist face" of the country, or anything else. You dive in, headfirst (really you're thrown in, if I'm being accurate).  And in spite of all the crazy things you're not used to, there is a certain marvel, or the constant feeling of being in complete awe when you see all the things you get to see, and know all the things that has made the country what it is.  For me, getting to stand on the Great Wall and see its massive scale and how it winds over hilltops and mountains as far as you can see - or taking in the thousands and thousands of life-size stone warriors in rows with insane amounts of detail on every one, just because an emperor thought it'd help him in the afterlife - or standing on top of a mountain that looks exactly like a Chinese painting, with equal parts fog, craggy stone, and trees - or wandering through insane football-field sized gardens dotted with pagodas and lakes and picturesque bridges and knowing it used to be an important official's personal garden, just bc he wanted a nice place to chill - and then adding in the vast, ridiculous, drama-filled, rich history of it all - it is truly a country that is not only awe-inspiring, but leaves you speechless. Seriously. There are sometimes no words. 

I spent 6 weeks in China in total.  It may have meant a little more to me because it's the homeland of my homeland, and it was wild for me just to walk around and be like "omg this is where my people are from. In another life, I could have been born here. I could be related to some of these people. Except for that one spitting over there, obviously he and I share no genetics at all" (I am digressing here).  But getting to spend the time to experience China and live it and get to know it was a huge blessing on this trip for me. It was one of the richest experiences I've gotten to have, and I am beyond appreciative of the opportunity. China is a truly amazing place.  Children peeing in the streets included.

I promise I'm done now! Sorry for the novel.  Bye, China! I'll see you in the future again at some point, I'm sure, but for now - I'm moving on to the last dregs of my adventure!

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