Despite our many miscommunications and all efforts to the contrary, we managed to get on the right bus heading for Hong Kong! Yay, off to experience a new part of China…technically. It certainly does not feel like we are still in China. Our first clue that Hong Kong would be different from Guangzhou was when we were required to go through customs and immigration. No, Hong Kong is not under British control any longer. It hasn’t been since 1997, however we had to wait in line for over an hour, fill out forms, get our passports inspected and then stamped in order to get in. It was one of the most complex border crossings we have experienced yet, especially considering we didn’t really cross a border.
Hong Kong is a big place, but when discussing the city of Hong Kong, it really has two parts to it–the Hong Kong Island side and the Kowloon side. We are staying on the Kowloon side, in the heart of it all. This is as close to feeling like the middle of Times Square as I have felt on our trip thus far. We are surrounded by stores, bars and a slew of restaurants. When we walk down the street, we are approached every 15 seconds by a guy trying to sell us designer suits, watches and handbags. It certainly isn’t a place I would want to live or even visit for too long, but it is really convenient being in the center of it all. The Hong Kong Island side is the center for business and industry. The skyline is filled with mammoth buildings, each one more impressive than the next, touting their company name in bold neon lights. Every major bank and brand you can imagine has a spot on its waterfront, from HSBC to Hyundai. It is a short ferry ride from Kowloon and it rivals New York City in its visual spectacle of high rises and well-dressed business people.
These two sides of Hong Kong are part of what gives it a really awesome vibe. It is urban and chic, with high-end shopping that overshadows 5th Avenue any day of the week. But, at the same time it feels like an old city holding onto its traditions. The Kowloon side is known for its markets, where vendors sell everything from knock-off handbags to high-end electronics. As you might expect, nothing has a price marked and everything is negotiable. While walking through the Night Market, Phil saw a set of bowls he liked and when he asked the price, the lady told him they were $165 Hong Kong Dollars (about $22 USD). I immediately said that was too much and then the bargaining began. She said she’d give them to us for $150. When we walked away and said we had to think about it, she grabbed Phil, handed him a calculator and said, “How much? How much you want?” Phil punched in 100, figuring she’d say no. It took her a minute, but she said yes. I then began to dig through my wallet only to discover we only had $81 HKD. We told her we didn’t have enough, so she asked if we had any American money. We told her we didn’t and said we’d come back. As we began to walk away, she shook her head, sighed heavily and said, “Okay.” We were a little shocked. We couldn’t believe that our lack of cash led to half-price bowls. If only we had planned it that way we might be considered keen negotiators. Oh well, we’ll take it!
As you might imagine, a city with so much to offer is packed with tourists. In fact, this is probably the most touristy city we’ve visited thus far. That suits us fine, and it is really interesting to see all kinds of people and hear a dozen different languages being spoken in the span of 20 minutes. We are engaging in typical tourist activities, while also trying to involve ourselves with some locals. The best way we’ve found to do this is by talking with the people at our hostel, Hop Inn. They live and work in Hong Kong and have given us really excellent suggestions on local cuisine and places to get away from the tourists. They led us to our two favorite meals we’ve had in a while, and we found ourselves smiling when we were in the equivalent to a New York City diner, curt manager and all. It kind of felt like home. As for the local fare, they love their instant noodles and bread. My god, we have eaten so much bread we are turning into dough balls. I never associated Chinese food with bread, but they love it here. We had a hot buttered roll, drenched with sweetened condensed milk this morning. Amazing. I think I’ll be bringing that idea back with me!
We ended our day with an hour-long bus tour of the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. At 7pm it was only 90 degrees, much more tolerable than the heat of day. It was easy to forget our sweaty thighs as we cruised through the city. The streets, with neon signs hanging everywhere, are truly like something off a movie set. It is exactly what you picture in your mind when you think of Hong Kong. The tour ended with us on the waterfront, watching the nightly light display. The skyscrapers on the shoreline dance with lights and beam lasers into the night sky set in time with music. It was quite a vision–really spectacular. Tomorrow we continue to discover Hong Kong Island by heading out to the countryside, going to Stanley Market and maybe even visiting a fishing village. Phil also wants to head to Macau, but I’d hate for him to lose all of our money trying his hand at some Chinese table game he’s never played. Well, maybe he’ll have beginners luck!