Saturday March 5, 2016
Three days in Hong Kong. This was the longest time we've been in one place since departing from Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately, we've had no view from our stateroom since arriving here while the other side of the ship has a stunning view of the Hong Kong skyline. Oh well, what can you do?
The skyline here is quite spectacular -- lots of tall buildings, electronic billboards and even a laser show at eight o'clock every evening (the show was only so-so and it was hard to enjoy because it was pretty cold -- mid fifties and damp -- remember we've been in the tropics people).
We've had a couple of tours here but we also had one cancelled by the shore excursion office due to a "lack of participation" and we cancelled one of the tours (a nighttime one) ourselves because it seemed overly ambitious to do two tours in one day. Especially when neither of us were feeling well. I caught a nasty stomach virus when we were in Indonesia then after a couple of days I passed it on to Russell. He made the mistake of going to the infirmary and telling them his symptoms. Next thing we knew he was "quarantined" to the room for 24 hours! And they sent in a cleaning crew in haz-mat suits! Now of course neither of us are eager to return to the infirmary even though our symptoms have not completely abated. Not sure that's what they intended with their mandatory in-room quarantine but it seems to be common knowledge among other travelers on board that you shouldn't go to the doctor when feeling poorly.
The cruise-in to Hong Kong was quite spectacular and our pier was right in the middle of the action so that always makes things easier. There are quite a number of examples of fine architecture here in Hong Kong many of which I suspect you would recognize. I enjoyed seeing them. Of course there are a lot of poor architectural specimens as well. Indeed, some of them counted as amongst the ugliest buildings I've ever seen. So there you have it. It's a tall city, that's for sure. Our tour guide told us that thirty-two of the world's top 100 tallest buildings are located in Hong Kong and I believe it. But in addition to the number of high rises you also find situations like stores that are located on the twenty-second floor of a building and restaurants such as the one where we ate lunch today that was located on the fourth floor. It's quite different but it works.
What was different too was that there didn't seem to be a lot of people on the street in the central business district. We did experience a couple of crowded street scenes but for the most part it seemed that there were large areas with not a lot of strollers, almost no joggers, and just a few pedestrians. The city didn't seem (to me) to invite walking. Given the number of high rise apartment buildings this lack of pedestrian activity seemed strange. Also there were no (or perhaps I should say "not many") motorbikes or bicycles. They are expanding their metro and also there are a lot of buses so this would seem to be how the majority get around since we were told that owning a car was quite expensive and we experienced very little traffic.
What we did experience was a lot of consumer culture. Holy Moley -- this place is ground zero for shopping. The cruise terminal is attached to a mall called Harbour City which contains every ultra high end brand name that you've ever heard of plus a few that you probably don't know. It's crazy. For instance, they have a Gucci Kids store. Also Prada Kids, Burberry Kids, etc. Can you imagine? There must be a lot of well dressed children in these here parts. But the thing that kind of makes all this conspicuous consumption stick in my craw is that they don't seem to actually make anything here. The economy, near as I can figure, consists of retail, insurance, what they now call "logistics" and banking. Possibly also tourism. But that seems to be about it. Not much in the way of manufacturing or education or medicine. So it feels kind of dishonest to me or at least unhealthy. Even our tour guide confessed that some people say the Chinese religion is making money. This is not a good thing, IMHO (in my humble opinion). Most people, again according to our to our tour guide, get wealthy or have gotten wealthy from real estate which apparently is in non-stop demand. But apartments are extremely small. Another interesting thing is that people here actually want to get a spot in a public or government owned housing complex because the units are so much cheaper than free market apartments (but just as small).
So, it's an odd place. We took a couple of excellent tours. The first was entitled "Best of Hong Kong." It involved a visit to the flower market and the bird market (birds for sale as pets not meat). After that we visited the Jade Market (actually R & I went to a McDonalds's that we spotted; he for the bathroom I for French fries and a Diet Coke!). Next up was a tram ride to Victoria Peak. It was here that I realized how just about every single inch of Hong Kong has been claimed by someone or is being utilized for some purpose. I suppose that's true for most places/big cities but as we took the tram up the very steep hillside and I saw little gardens, tiny concrete patios, preposterous staircases and pathways, Hong Kong suddenly seemed both very crowded and very old to me.
Anyhow, we made it to the top of Victoria Peak. With most funiculars/tram rides there is usually a gift shop at either the bottom station or more frequently at the top and this tram was no exception. However, Hong Kong being Hong Kong meant that this was no little gift shop at the top. Oh no -- this was a mall! I kid you not -- an entire mall at the top of Victoria Peak with numerous places to eat and shop, shop, shop. I've never seen anything like it -- the classic little gift shop souped up on steroids and capital. Well, needless to say, we had lunch at one of the restaurants. It had a tremendous view and, as we have experienced on several of our excursions, the food was much better than it had to be/usually is in similar circumstances.
After lunch we headed to Aberdeen, another neighborhood of Hong King were we took a sampan ride for fifteen minutes around the harbor. It was filled, predictably, with million dollar yachts (many of which were sporting custom covers which begs the question how infrequently must one (not) use a yacht for ten thousand square feet of custom covers to become a worthwhile expenditure?) but also, more unexpectedly, with broken down fishing boats.
Back on the bus we headed to our final stop of the day -- Stanley Market. Stanley is a suburb of Hong Kong and I had heard a lot of talk about the Stanley Market -- how big it was, how amazing, etc. So admittedly my expectations were high but I have to say even taking that into consideration it was a big let down. I didn't find it to be that large, nor was I tempted by any of the merchandise. The prices I heard from some members of our group were high and the vendors were not really willing to bargain. Now I will say it was cleaner and more organized/professional looking than I expected. Also the vendors were, thankfully, not aggressive in the slightest degree. I don't think I need to go back though some people on the cruise think the place is fantastic and make it a point to visit it whenever they are in Hong Kong. So, go figure. "One man's poison ... " I suppose.
On Day Two we took a tour that was somewhat misleadingly named "Ancient Hong Kong." The sights that we visited had for the most part no great age though they did reflect traditional activity. Our first stop was a Taoist temple but before we got there our tour guide -- who spoke very good English -- explained to us the geography of the region by using the various parts of her face ("My nose is the Kowloon Peninsula, Hong Kong Island is my chin, China is my hair, etc."). It was too funny but I must say rather effective. Anyhow, most of the sights we visited on this tour were in an area of Hong Kong called New Territories. This is along the border with China and definitely a less visited area.
As I was saying, we visited a Taoist Temple. It was very smokey as it was filled with incense. She explained some of the symbolism to us before we left and visited the local food market. This too was very interesting. It was full of people (not at all unwilling to bump into you) and lots of strange looking dried up things, lots of very fresh produce and lots of pork, including parts that I have never seen for sale before (e.g., the snout!) I watched as an older customer reached out and picked up a piece of raw pork (to inspect it prior to purchase) with her bare hand. Yikes! But for the most part the market was cleaner than I had thought it might be.
Next we visited two different "ancestral halls". These are buildings constructed by a clan to demonstrate a family's importance, longevity, achievements, etc. They also include space for family meetings, ceremonies, and instruction. As I mentioned earlier neither of these halls was particularly old (200 years at the most) but they did represent traditional construction as well as traditional behavior. One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was "unofficial" though. We got to observe dozens of people filling bags and luggage with items that they were smuggling into China. Apparently what they do is take a local bus across the border, hand off the goods to someone on the other side and then travel back to do it all over again. They can make several trips in a day and earn as much as one hundred dollars in U.S. currency. You wouldn't think the Chinese officials would allow it but they must because it was all happening pretty much out in the open.
Back on the bus, we returned to the ship but not before we passed by the largest cargo port I have ever seen. It was simply enormous. Unfortunately we were traveling on a highway and though we did try to get some photos I am certain none of them did it justice. The scale of modern life can sometimes take my breath away.
Day Three in Hong Kong got off to a late start -- deliberately because the shops don't open much before noon. We really were not too sure where we were going (or what we were looking for) so inevitably we were quickly overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Fortunately, we were able to take a step back from the brink (me -- "Fine, I am just going back to the ship!") and decided that food might not be a bad idea. We had lunch at a very good Indian Vegetarian restaurant that R found using his Happy Cow vegan app where we were served by a surly late teen while watching the street scene taking place four floors below us.
After lunch we felt better and managed to do some shopping -- "When in Rome ..." and all that. R got himself a handsome shirt (most unusual for him to spend money on something for himself) while I got a really nice reversible jacket (amongst other things) at Paul & Shark (a European brand we discovered over the summer). We were back on the boat in time to have dinner in the dining room. Unfortunately our dining table is on the same side of the ship as our cabin which meant we were once again treated to a dismal view. Oh well. As I said before (and with great profundity) "What can you do?"
Overall, I would say we had a fine time in Hong Kong. It was certainly nice to be in one spot for two nights/three days. I am glad that we didn't overdo it what with our "delicate" condition at the moment. Was it my favorite place? Probably not but it was interesting and different. Do I need to rent an apartment there? No. But would I come back? Yes definitely -- if only for the shopping;)
Some people say we got carried away with the high fashion shopping here in Hong King but I think these two outfits will look great on us!