Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hong Kong


3:50 p.m.:
I’m sitting in a darkened room where I slept all today as well as last night.  It’s day two of a severe migraine that was triggered, I think, by the tram ride Tom and I took across Victoria Island in Hong Kong.  We’ve been travelling by the city’s rail system but since it’s all underground, you can’t see what the city looks like.  Tuesday we had time to kill between lunch and dinner engagements so, after checking out Tom’s old neighbourhood, I suggested taking the tram to the end of the line and back again.  My reasoning was that it would require less effort in the heat than walking. 

I think it was sensory overload.  Hong Kong is a city of high-rises so dense that travelling on the road is like moving along the bottom of a deep canyon.  The buildings are a mixture of old and new, rusty and shiny, dishevelled and stately, but all are tall.  An example of the density is the community where Tom’s brother David lives.  In less than a square quarter mile, there are 51 apartment buildings.  Each is 24 stories high, each story has 8 condos.  That’s roughly 10,000 dwellings on the same size of land as the small, quarter-section farm in north-western Manitoba where my aunt and uncle lived their entire married lives.  This plot of land also includes schools, a mall and other community facilities.  Hong Kong is full of communities like this and the assault on the senses to one used to wide, open prairie and a city whose tallest building is 31 stories high and not much of a skyline to talk about, is immense.

Thankfully, David’s condo is by the sea, with a beautiful view of undeveloped hills across the water.  It’s a very peaceful scene and one I wish I had more time to enjoy.  Since arriving in Hong Kong Monday afternoon, we’ve been on a non-stop round of social engagements, visiting extended family and an old schoolmate, some of whom Tom hasn’t seen in over forty years. 

Last night, dinner was on the twenty-fifth floor of a building overlooking the harbour.  Interestingly, once the sun set, it was hard to see any but the closest high-rises because they weren’t lit up—I suppose to conserve energy.  What could be seen were the large, neon signs on the tops of the buildings advertising one mega-company or another.  The most intriguing of these signs was for Canon, the camera giant.  Its sign must have been at least a story and maybe two or three high.  The whole thing rotated slowly and kept catching my attention.

Everyone seems to be trying to outdo the others in where they take us to eat (it seems entertaining in a restaurant is preferred to entertaining in one’s home).  One cousin had booked us for the Hong Kong Jockey Club for lunch and then changed venue because she decided the food there wasn’t good enough.  Another cousin took us to the Ladies’ Recreational Club, which I found amusing, since the cousin is a man.  He said membership there costs about a million Canadian dollars.  It looked rather casual to me—far more casual than the other places we’ve eaten—and filled with adults and kids who had been or would be using the pool, tennis courts or other facilities.  We could have sat, overlooking the pool, but air-conditioning sounded more appealing. 

Travelling to Hong Kong from Yangshuo, Guangxi, China was quite an ordeal for us and took two days.  I’m so grateful to Mons and Ming for booking our flights and hotels in China for us.  It made things much easier.  We left the hotel in Yangshuo on foot, with a man from the hotel pushing our very heavy suitcases on a hand truck to the bus station.  What a confusing place!  But thankfully, he took charge of making sure we got on the right bus and off we went.  It was a rainy day, that Sunday, so it turned out to be quite okay that we would be stuck in the Guilin airport for seven or more hours.  It’s a brightly-lit, modern-looking place with coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques and an internet café where we hung out after we’d eaten and shopped.

From bus to airport in Guilin and then from airport to hotel in Shenzhen we took taxis—very long rides in taxis but so much easier than trying to negotiate public transit.  We didn’t arrive to our Shenzhen hotel until 1:00 a.m.  The taxi driver had a hard time finding it because the lobby of the hotel is on the fifth floor of the building and the signs weren’t very good.  It was confusing, even after leaving the taxi, trying to figure out what to do and where to go and, while the hotel itself was quite nice, the elevator lobbies were rather sketchy-looking and had me wondering what we were in for.

The next day we had to cross the border into Hong Kong.  We were within walking distance of it, but given the weight and size of our suitcases, we chose to take a taxi.  Thankfully, they’re not expensive in China—at least not where we were.  And then the fun began.  It was very reminiscent of the crossings between Johor Bahru, Malaysia and Singapore only we had all our luggage with us and took much longer.  We had long distances to walk in between long queues to stand in.  The actual dealing with immigration officers on each side of the border was quick and easy but the lines were interminable and the masses of people, crushing.  There was also the problem of trying to find elevators when there were no escalators and knowing exactly where to go at each step of the journey. 

Finally we were in Hong Kong, in the Metro (MRT) station.  Now we had to get an Octopus card (the multiple-use ticket for the MRT, trams and buses) and top up the one Mons had given us.  Again, the lines were long and moved slowly, so Tom handed me some money and took the suitcases into Starbuck’s to wait.  I was exhausted and needed some time to rest before tackling the MRT.  When I got to the wicket, I discovered I didn’t have enough money so the whole process would have to be gone through again.  I returned to Starbuck’s, ordered a mint tea, set it on the table where Tom was sitting and went to find a washroom.  There was a long line there as well!  Thankfully, the toilets in Hong Kong are the sitting variety, so that was one consolation, and when I got back to Tom and Starbuck’s to drink my tea, Tom went to take care of the Octopus cards.

Taking the MRT was its own adventure.  There are 11 different lines in Hong Kong that interconnect.  We were in the north-west corner of Hong Kong and needed to get to the south-east corner.  It involved changing trains three times for a total of four different trains, and figuring out where to go to catch each one, what line we were to change to, what was the destination of the line (because of the way the signs work), what stop to get off at and then make sure we didn’t miss the stop.  It also meant trying to jostle ourselves and luggage onto crowded trains, getting the heavy suitcases across the gaps between the platform and train each time we got on and off the train and making sure we didn’t get separated.  But we did it and got to the stop closest to David’s place with only one minor incident—we got off at the wrong stop and had to go back one station.  That wasn’t too bad.

10:30 p.m.:
We have less than two days left here before returning to Winnipeg.  I hope this migraine resolves itself in that time.  It dissipated some in the late afternoon/early evening but has come back in force again.  

2 comments:

Rob said...

Very interesting account of Hong Kong, a city which I love. In 2008, I stayed at the Regal Riverside in Shatin, Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

Praying for you! - Bonnie