All of Hong Kong: From the back alleys of Kowloon to Victoria’s Peak…and a Tailor

First, I would like to apologise for the delay, we just got our internet hooked up on the ship.  As you reading this, we are actually cruising the South China Sea on our way to Hanoi.  I will post Day Two in Hong Kong a little later today, and then get us back on track.  I also hope to upload some more pictures soon as well.

Day One

Hong Kong is VAST!  There is not other word to describe its size.  I grew up going in and out of cities my entire life, but I have never seen anything the size of Hong Kong.  When Americans think of a large city, they think of New York, Chicago or LA; but, Hong Kong is many times those.  Standing on the edge of Hong Kong Harbor, every direction that you turn there are massive buildings.  Francis described it best, it looks like a Noir cartoonists view of a city.  There are many complexes that are several identical copies of the same building.  It is a brilliant way to quickly build a complex: design one building and then just copy it 4 or 5 times.  

When I woke up my first morning, I was still at the Hotel Dorsett in the Mongkok section of Kowloon.  Hong Kong is made of several sections, including two main on land areas: Kowloon and the New Territories, and several islands including the original Hong Kong Island and Lantau.  Francis had landed around 7am, and was picked up by the cruise line and taken to a hotel on the tip of Kowloon, near the ship.  Once he got WiFi, we were able to connect.  We decided that we would meet at the dock around 11am, when the line was planning to shuttle their guests from the staging hotel to the ship.  I made my way down to the concierge to begin planning something fun for the day, once Francis and I connected.  I had several friends give me ideas of things to do, so those suggestions combined with my own reading and exploration gave me some great perspective.  I decided to leave my hotel a little earlier than I had initially planned, wanting to get moving and not sit still.  

I grabbed a cab around 10:30am and headed to the Ocean Terminal, a large mall that is built on a pier in the downtown section of Kowloon called Tsim Sha-Tsui.  I arrived, and after wondering around with my luggage a bit, a Crystal representative escorted me down to the luggage drop off area.  As I was walking back to go back inside, something told me to look over my shoulder.  Sure enough, there was Francis, walking up behind me.  I waited for him to catch up, gave him a hug and welcomed him to Hong Kong.  We were standing on the south side of the Ocean Terminal pier, which gives one an amazing view of Hong Kong island and it’s vast over sized view of a mega New York.  We couldn’t wait to hit the town.  

We were able to get aboard the ship and get our room keys before our room was ready, which would save us from standing around waiting in a large queue to get it done later.  This worked out perfect, because neither Francis nor I are very good with just waiting around with nothing to do.  With keys in hand, we left the ship and set out to explore a bit of the city.

The Tailor

 Hong Kong is an amazing city for tailored clothes.  Every where you turn, there are ads for tailors offering amazing bespoke packages made from Zegna and other major fabric brands.  A typical deal might be HK$3,000 (US$420) for a bespoke suit, a jacket, two pairs of trousers, two shirts and a tie.  As a result, competition is fierce.  Standing inside the Ocean Terminal, just outside the door to the ship was a tailor of Indian continent descent, we’ll call him Taylor.  Taylor was fairly desperate for business.  He first tried to get my attention when I was looking to drop off my luggage, but I had no idea what he was looking to discuss.  Once Francis arrived, Taylor latched on to us; he saw TWO potential customers, and being as suave as Francis and I both are, I guess saw us as the perfect marks.  

 He stopped Francis and I when we were trying to get on board to get our keys and check in.  That’s when we discovered he was a tailor.  Once we knew what he was trying to sell us on, Francis said that we would be back in a bit, MISTAKE!  We were just interested in getting on board and getting set up a bit.  On the way back out, there was Taylor, ready to whisk us off to his shop.  “Well we would like to go and look around a bit,” said Francis, “We’ll be back.”  We laughed about his persistence on our way through the Ocean Terminal.   

Getting out of the mall, dockside, was exciting.  I mentioned in my previous post that Hong Kong is like New York and London are shoved together in an Asian location, but it is much more than that.  It is a multi-ethic city, art loving, wealth obsessed city, just like New York and London, but it is also surrounded by several symbols of the poorer and disadvantaged history of China.  On the southern tip of Kowloon, you are standing next to a mammoth shopping center with Armani, Zegna, and other wealthy trappings.  Rolls Royces roll by with wealthy occupants, while disfigured people with conditions that would have been resolved in infancy (like clubfoot) back home, kneel on pads while singing religious songs to a karaoke track begging for money.  A modern glitzy shopping center and concert hall sits next to the rusty Starr Ferry terminal with its antique ferry boats running back and forth across the harbor to Hong Kong Island, while buses rush in and out of the adjacent terminal.  It is very much a city of paradox. 

Francis and I began to make our way into the heart of Kowloon.  We had no map, nor any idea of where we were heading, we were just out to explore.  We worked our way around to a large, Vegas style complex called Heritage 1881.  In the center of this complex was a MASSIVE sculpture of a bouquet of flowers, which Francis had to get a picture of him looking like he was holding them for his wife Clarissa.  We then continued our way around.  Next to the MTR station (their subway system)  was a 1940s Hong Kong fire truck, with a plaque of their city’s fire fighting history.  

As we came out on the other side, out of no where, came Taylor.  “Ah, there you are.  This is my shop; you come to my shop.”  Francis looked a bit stunned, looking around as if to say, “Where the hell did you come from.”  Taylor was definitely persistent, not ready to accept defeat.  We tried to make our excuses, and Taylor was having none of it.  He began telling us that he had to get us measured so that he could have our suits done in time for the ships departure the next evening.  We finally managed to break away, at which time Francis asked, “How many of those guys are there?”  We would spend the rest of the day, trying to avoid Taylor and the location of his shop.  I hope that he managed to get at least one customer.  I did feel somewhat sorry for him if he was focused completely on Francis and me. 

I am very fortunate to have a near photographic memory and a love of maps.  I can look at a map, get a fairly good picture of an area and just wander.  I hate looking like a tourist and standing on a corner looking at a map while trying to figure out where I am.  Francis and I have a similar view of traveling, which is that getting lost is half the fun of travel.  I should mention that, this is the first time that Francis and I have actually traveled together.  It’s one thing to go to an amusement park, or on a day trip with someone; and, a very different thing to visit the other side of the globe in foreign speaking countries.  

As we wandered, we came across a park.  I knew from looking at my maps earlier, that this was Kowloon Park, a large Central Park like oasis in the center of the peninsula.  We wandered up into a small off shoot of the park which was set up as a children’s play area.  We eventually made our way over to the main section of the park.  Here, Francis and I would learn that we had a mutual fondness for signs that you would never see back home.  These signs were either different takes on ones that you would see back home, or ones that seem to lose something in their translation to English.  Now you would think that, since Hong Kong was an English colony that the signs in English would be fairly clear.  That is not always the case.

The Sign Said WHAT?

Back home, it is fairly common to see a sign in a park that says “Please do not feed the squirrels,” or some variation thereof.  One of the first signs we saw said, “No feeding of cat/dog.”  It made us wonder if there were large packs of cats and dogs wandering around in this metropolis.  No sooner had we noticed the sign did we notice a cute black cat sitting near the sidewalk in the park.  Pet animals do wander the city, and seem rather content.

As we explored on, we came to an idyllic little area of a pond, nestled into a wooded and flower lined nook with an ornamental pier that jutted out into the water.  A sign read, “Danger, Deep Water.”  The sign was hung over a life ring which had another sign warning that it was illegal to remove the ring.  As we wandered up to the water, expecting water deep enough for a school of dolphins, we noticed that it was probably no more than 18 inches deep.  I could only imagine what my friend Albert Lee would have said if asked about this, “When you are as short as we are, 18 inches is deep water.”  As we explored on, we found another little sign next to another body of water that read, “No release of fish or terrapin into the pond.”  Again, another sign that you wont see at home.  

Now I realize, these signs seem pretty innocent, similar to signs we might see at home, but with a regional focus.  But nothing could prepare me for the next sign, and to be honest, I still have no idea what the hell it means.  If it was only one sign, I could see that it was just a bad or unclear translation, but this sign appears everywhere in Hong Kong, above recycling stations.  It is a large green enameled sign that reads, “LITTER CUM RECYCLABLE COLLECTION BIN.”  No, I did not make a typo, that is exactly what it said.  Now I have heard of recycling many things, but THIS was a new one.  I still have no idea what prompted someone to chose that second word for the English translation, but, there it is.  Some signs, you just have to smile and laugh and of course, take a picture. 

More on signs as we travel on.

The Night Market and the Peak…sort of

I’m going to jump ahead a bit, because I could be here typing forever.  This trip is so full of adventures that I want to share it all, but that is just not practical.  Before I left, my friend Albert was incredibly helpful with introducing me to his culture.  This came in very handy as set out to explore Kowloon on our first night.  Albert had suggested that we explore the Night Market, and in Hong Kong that is Temple Street.  Several streets are closed off after dark and vendors set up rickety stands selling everything from iPhone cases and counterfeit purses to food and personal items.  It was a quick rush into the sights, sounds, and smells of Asia.  

Francis was still adjusting to the time difference and battling the jet lag, not having had the benefit of the extra hours and hotel room I had.  This made his first visit to a public toilet interesting.  Yes, there are western style toilets in Hong Kong, but many of the street side, public facilities are nothing more than a ceramic hole in the floor with two areas to put your feet.  Albert had given me some useful information about the use of these facilities, which I have not had to employ yet.  But it was a reminder that culture shock can hit you in the most unexpected of places.  

 While neither of us fully hungry, we were feeling slightly peckish, and both interested in sampling the local food.  We can always eat gourmet, top of the line food for free on the ship, but travel is about exploring and trying new things.  Francis and I looked around and finally settled on a Kowloon BBQ restaurant.  We both selected one dish, he chose the BBQ Pork over rice; me, the sweet and sour BBQ pork with vegetables.  Both were delicious; and, yes I know it was very similar to what we could get back home, but this was in Kowloon, and we were just getting into our comfort zone.  For some reason, the racks of stuffed grilled intestine just wasn’t striking our fancy at this moment.

To The Peak…sort of

My friend Jen had recommended that we go up to Victoria’s Peak on Hong Kong Island at night.  She told me that it was amazing to see all of Hong Kong lit up.  After our dinner in the Night Market, we made our way to the ferry terminal and made our first trip to Hong Kong island.  To us, it was late, since we were still adjusting our body clocks.  In reality, it was about 6:30pm or so.  Once we got over to the island, we grabbed a cab to head to the Peak Tram station.  

The Peak Tram was originally built by the English in the 1880s.  This funicular replaced the hand carried sedan chairs that the wealthy English employed to carry them up to their luxury homes on this steep and wooded mountain.  When we approached the station, the queue was enormous; 2 hours from the end point.  Forget it!  Neither of us had the patience or energy at this hour.  We also were not capable of thinking that we could have just taken a taxi up to the top.  We were tired, and our energy was running out.  So, we decided to wander around a bit and make our way back to the MTR station to get back to Kowloon.  

Hong Kong Island is a different feeling to Kowloon, it is much more like London with Harvey Nichols and M&S department stores, double decker buses and street cars.  The architecture is amazing, with a wonderful blend of the Victorian colonial, Art Deco financial boom and modern sky scrapers all crammed in together.  The walk was fun, exciting and just plain enjoyable.  We finally made our way to the MTR station and made our way back to the ship.  

Day two will be posted later.

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