Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hong Kong

Adding a note: This blog is apparently banned in Mainland China (but not Hong Kong) -- so I may not have too many updates until I leave China. It appears that I can update the blog but not view it in Mainland China where I am currently located.

Well, it is hard to believe that I woke up in the morning in California, flew to Asia, and was out exploring Hong Kong later that same evening. A round trip costs less than a week's median wages in the US and when I got to the HK airport, I stuck a little card in a machine and accessed my own funds in local HK currency which were instantly dispensed to me -- Marco Polo would have been impressed.

Hong Kong is just a fascinating city -- think San Francisco but with 5 times the density and commercialization. The street scene is full of life. And the sidewalks are a swarming sea of humanity.

25 Meters From My Hostel

This city is more expensive than most that I will be visiting so I am economizing here with a small and extremely clean private room in a hostel for US$23 per night in an almost perfect location in the Kowloon section of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a very safe place and with seamless public transport -- I can get almost anywhere I want quickly for an average of about 1 US dollar using the underground subway. And I took the long trip from the airport to my hostel by air-conditioned bus for about 5 US dollars.

Both Hong Kong and Macau are Special Administrative Regions of China as of 1997 and 1999, respectively. When ranked as a separate country, Hong Kong has the fifth highest per capita purchasing power in the world. There is every manner of electronics shop here lining the streets for blocks on end and the night markets sell anything you could imagine -- although I have seen most of the same goods already at the Dollar Store and Walmart in the US.

Hong Kong is a great place to shop.

On my first night a storm came out of nowhere while I was out walking. As my five dollar Walmart umbrella popped inside out from the wind/rain burst I felt as if I was holding up a banana skin to protect myself from a hurricane. I thought to myself, I have got to get a new "Hong Kong quality" umbrella able to take this kind of weather. But then I looked and the guy in front of me had the same *exact* umbrella -- after all, you know where all this stuff is made. . . .

Thank goodness for the fact that many speak some English here because my Cantonese is basically non-existent. I spent several hours studying on the plane, but without someone to help me with pronunciation, my efforts are completely useless so far. I couldn't even make a lady at the hostel here understand the Cantonese word for towel -- so I gave up and used a simple hand communication which she instantly understood -- she then said the word which was pronounced quite a bit differently than my attempt.

There is a whole section of businesses run by Indians downtown here selling food, tailored suits and shirts, etc. And yes, my favorite Indian restaurant is expanding (laughs)!

Now for the first time, I fully understand the Opium wars of the 19th century that led to British hegemony in Hong Kong and trade matters and transformed the region. The Hong Kong History Museum really does a great job of communicating the history of the island in what seemed to be a mostly unbiased fashion (although playing down the popular discontent with the undemocratic Chinese adminstration of Hong Kong)

Seeing the sights and experiencing the city of Hong Kong has been a great way for me to ease into China. On Friday, August 31, I am leaving for Guangzhou in Mainland China to meet up with my friend, Helen. It is about a 3.5 hour bus ride from downtown Hong Kong. Since Helen speaks Cantonese, she may be able to tell me what I am eating sometimes -- I think I tried octupus sushi tonight with a mustard and soy type sauce, but I am really not sure . . . . I met up with a couple of Korean girls who wanted to practice English during my last few hours here but I had to get going to catch the bus to the Mainland.

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