Hong Kong an extended stay.
Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
13Trip End Sep 30, 2009
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Where I stayed
It seemed that in no time at all, and whilst in the air and en-route to our destination, that the pilot of our aircraft had began to announce our descent into Hong Kong. Also it seemed that no sooner had Dave started reading a magazine article out loud to me, that we were down, and taxiing to the arrivals terminal on Lantau Island. Time flies when your having fun. Lantau Island, incidentally is about a half hours drive for Hong Kong Island.
Like Dave, I had been to Hong Kong before and I always find it to be an exciting place for some reason. Maybe it's because of its rich history, with being ruled by the British for so many years before being handed back over to the Chinese Government. There is still a lot of infrastructure that is British, which is evident from driving across bridges and paying attention to road markings and different cultural icons from an era now long past. Having lived and worked in U.K. for three years, this had reminded me of things British that I was now once again observing. However, typical of Briton's post colonial legacy, Hong Kong seems to have a mixture of wealthy and not so wealthy people, living in contrast of ultra modern well kept and not so well maintained dwellings. Still, most buildings are high rise and the views from some of these places are just breathtakingly magnificent
We had travelled by bus from the airport, to our next place of rest which was located in Tim Sha Tsu or just TST for non Cantonese speaking travellers. On our way we had noted the very beautifully sculptured monuments and the tunnels that British engineers had left for the Chinese Government and the population in general to marvel at. The bus journey in itself was rather scenic, as it also took us past many other interesting looking places. Had we had more time, we would have loved to have stopped and observed the scene more closely. However, we had set our next travel priority on getting our back packs unloaded , showered and shaved, ready for the next photo shoot of HK.
The YMCA budget accommodation, may have at first conjured up an image of shoddy rooms and grimy kitchens, but believe me, this was relatively plush and not so budget accommodation. It cost plenty. Still we lapped it up and as usual we shared a two bedded room with a magnificent view of H. K. harbor and the Kowloon Ferry Terminal. The ferry terminal itself, was located just at the end of the same street, on which the YMCA building stood. All in all, our hotel, albeit YMCA , was very ritzy indeed.
Finally we were fully booked into our hotel and rested for our first day back in H K after years of not being here. The advantage, or so we initially thought, was that we would be able to locate familiar places, such as the MTR underground rail net work
We had originally intended to spend 4 days in HK and during this time also, pay for and pick up our visas for Vietnam. What could be simpler? After all, we had the directions for finding the Vietnamese Consulate, and had been informed by official sources, how much we would have to pay for these standard entry visas. It should have been a straight forward process, for these by now, two seasoned 'travel back packers', that go by the names, 'Derek and Dave'..."Yeah Right'...well read on!
Early next morning, we set off from our hotel to a place called "Wan Chai", which is traditionally HK's red light district. I'm sure however, that other above board business transactions also take place there. Wan Chai is also famous for its night life and restaurant cuisine.
The actual place we were to look for, was a building known as the "Great Smart Tower', to which we had been lead to believe , was located on a certain numbered building on "Wan Chai Road." However we soon discovered that the Chinese numbering system for commercial buildings, and for many others, do just not necessarily run in consecutive logical order, that one with much patience may expect
In the course of our by now, 'pilgrimage', we had stopped and asked many people, much of them Chinese, "Can you please tell us where Wan Chai Road is?" but most of the time, they just shrugged their shoulders, or just made out as if they had not heard our question in the first place, before scurrying off along their way. This annoyed both Dave and I,and It only added to our frustration. The glistening sweat on our foreheads, was now becoming quite visible
It had just turned high noon. We were lost and looking at the map, up the right way, sideways, upside down, back to front, or anyway you may care to orient that map. It just didn't seem to put us where we wanted to be. No!,.. we had crossed roads, climbed over passes and traversed subways. I asked one young 'student-ish' looking Chinese youth, who suddenly turned around to face me. I noticed his crossed eyed look and a raging case of acne. He surprisingly answered in good English and appeared to point in the general direction of where he was confident we should have been headed. I was just about to begin thinking that at last we may have begun to find our bearings, when a young policeman standing near by suddenly said.... "Wait,... don't believe him"... "he doesn't tell the truth"...and with that, they both walked off in different directions. Later that afternoon, I by chance, again happened to ask another Chinese youth the whereabouts of Wan Chai Road. He looked very nervous as he smoked his cigarette, but surprisingly answered in a broad Scottish Brogue. However, I was at first unable to understand what it was he was saying. Luckily Dave was able to decipher the directions we were given and at last, we were headed in the right direction. Which incidentally, turned out to be back in the opposite direction from which we had been travelling.
Finally after, spending nearly a whole day looking for Wan Chai Road, we at last intersected with our road and then began to look for the Great Smart Tower, in which we believed the Vietnamese Consulate was located .Well do you think we might have had much more luck finding this building, than we'd had finding the road upon which it stood? If 'you've guessed not, then you've guessed right..'. .We didn't!
Dave by this time, had begun looking at building numbers and had remarked they were all over the place such as were 'Browns Cows'. We walked that road up and down one side and then the other. This went on for hours. Dave for the first time on our travels, finally said he had just 'felt like giving in'. I had decided that I would give it just one more shot, for as futile as it all had seemed, when I suddenly saw in the reflection of a window, the words written in small gold coloured letters on a building "Great Smart Tower". We had arrived. But the really frustrating thing, was that we had passed by that very same building at least a dozen times, not seeing any numbers written on it whatsoever. What's more, something that should have taken us 45 minutes maximum, had taken us eight hours.
By the time we had located 'Wan Chai Road' and The 'Great Smart Tower' the sun hung low in the sky and we were in a hurry to locate the consulate and apply for our visas
The next morning Dave and I travelled effortlessly and soon after, were on the door step of the Great Smart Tower building,on Wan Chai Road
The actual cost of the visa itself, was to be a modest $300 HKD ( about $49 AUS ). However we were not going to pay him this extra extortionist amount, as I'm sure it would have gone directly into his pocket. Hence I termed the practice, ' Vietscam'. Also there were reported to be many rorts involving uniform clad officials, extorting extra money from Australian travellers and other western travellers abroad. Be that as it may, we laughed at the cunning of this consular buffoon
Dave and I had resigned ourselves to the fact, that we were going to be spending a lot more time in HK, than we at first had anticipated. Boy, what were we going to do now? ..You guessed it right again. "Yahoo".. we were going to try and cram as much as possible into an extra 4 days, before flying out again, this time to Vietnam.
We began by catching the 'Star Ferry' across HK Harbour and looking around at the places where Dave once worked and lived. Yes, he had lived in the Hilton Hotel and then later moved to the other end of HK, to a beautiful spot known as 'Repulse Bay'. There, he once again rented a magnificent high rise apartment overlooking the ocean. It had been some 20 years previous, but just the same it was really neat to walk around with your brother whom you had not seen for many years and also have him as your tour guide.
The heat and humidity were making things incredibly hard, but we made sure we ate and drank well to make up for the discomfort
During our stay at the YMCA we did on occasion meet a couple from South Africa. Their names were Teresa and Louis. We had struck up a conversation with them and also a young German couple, who had been visiting HK for the first time. Whilst standing in the laundry section of the building, we had begun to realize that we had really got a good conversation going and that's one thing about travel. I loved to meet and exchange stories with other travellers. I guess that's why Travel Pod website is so popular. What had originally been a routine wash day had turned into quite a discussion group with many different stories and laughs all around. "Yes",we did eventually get our washing and ironing done.
HK night life is really vibrant, with a fast moving city and the most colourful neon lights dazzling the tourist and motorist. We for most part of things, were pedestrians, but I think we saw more on foot than we would have otherwise. One sight in particular worth photographing was HK Harbour by night, as the lights from the buildings and the shipping reflect off the water in an amazing show of colours. If good vibrations really do exist then I was certainly beginning to pick up on them, as walking down by the harbour foreshore, I was almost overcome with a feeling of excitement mingled in with a sense of history
One peculiar happening was when we were about to cross the road in an area of HK known as city mid levels. There were a group of young people who would momentarily run into the center of the road intersection, scream and lay down on the roadway., their legs and arms spread wide. They would remain in that pose whilst the traffic light remained red. They had attempted this maneuver a number of times, and in as many minutes. At first, I had thought that they were all stark raving mad. Dave seemed to take a second glance and said, "its OK they are being filmed." I looked over to the other side of the road and sure enough there were the film director, lighting technicians, and other people you may expect to see from a film crew. I laughed as they all seemed to be having such a great time. It's a shame they couldn't have slotted 'Derek and Dave' into the script somewhere... "Oh. then well"yeah OK!!..
One morning whilst we were enjoying our breakfast, Dave suggested we might have a day trip to Macau and back on the boat.( Macau is an island, that had been ruled by the Portuguese for many years but was also handed back to the Chinese Government, so I am to believe.) The problem was that the Vietnamese Consulate had our Australian Passports
As we found our way around the area near our YMCA hotel, there did appear quite an annoyance in the form of dozens of 'Indian Hawkers', situated on every street corner selling business suits and/or, Rolex Copy watches. These guys were just so bloody persistent that they soon become "number one pest" to the western traveller passing by. They would wait, and once they saw you approaching from across the pedestrian crossing, suddenly "ambush" you.
At first we just smiled politely and said no thanks, we weren't interested, but then they would become even more persistent, hanging on to your arm and at times stepping in front of you. and just about yelling in your ear...with a script that went something like:
Indian Hawker: "Excuse me sir, I have copy of Rolex watch for you, very good very cheap"
Me: "No thanks.
Indian: "Stop Sir.and buy my luxury Rolex watch!!"
Me: " No thanks really not interested."
Indian: "Sir this watch very good quality."
Me: "No thanks I said , now let go of my arm."
Indian: "Sir this watch bring you very good fortune, improve your sex life"
Me: "No! look now get out of my way..let go of my arm Indian!"
Indian: "But Sir this watch..............
Me: "No look ..now piss off with your Rolex!!!
Indian:" You swore at me sir.."Not Very Nice of You Sir...I report you sir!..what's your name sir?"
Me: " My name...my name ,"John Wayne",and... me not like Indians bothering me".
This may have seemed impolite of me, but these Indian hawkers were not deterred and we intercepted them on every corner, for many city blocks, everyday add infinitum
At times Dave and I had to split up and go in different directions as the Indian hawkers, would single us out when they saw us on the approach. It was very nerve wracking to be hounded to death by these guys off loading their business suits and fake Rolex watches. They just wouldn't take No! for an answer.
Later that night as we lay in our beds, Dave and I had discussed the various happenings of the day and on top of our list were how we were going to avoid these Indian Hawkers. We were wanting to avoid being arrested ourselves, for eventually 'losing it' and "punching these guys in the face". Whilst this may not have been a very civilized option, and it never quite came to that, it certainly felt that it may have been "the most satifying thing we could have done" whilst on our stay in HK. Yes ok, sure these guys were out there only trying to make a living, but they were 'annoying us shitless' by blocking our way along the footpath.
As we lay disscussing this well into the early morning hours, I suddenly thought of a plan that may have proceeded something as follows: My self and Dave approach an Indian Hawker:
Me: "Excuse me Sir..we have plenty much 'boomerang and kangaroo wallet' for you
Indian hawker: Oh No
Me: "But Sahib...These, our kangaroo wallets very good quality..You buy one from me.!!!"
Indian: "Oh No!,No! No! What you think I am stupid. ?" What I want with your bloody boomerang and kangaroo wallet, when I have fake copy of Rolex watch and business suit?!!"
Me: But Sahib.. I beg of you"..Our boomerangs very good quality, good enough, even for you and your friends, re-sell on Hong Kong street corner, make good profit and then afford airline ticket back to India".
Indian: "What's this?" "You try and put one over me you."...
Me: But Sahib..come now, you must buy boomerang from me.. you sell again to someone else ..but unlike boomerang you not return."
Indian:" Look here you Aussy shit head."...
This second scenario, was never enacted of course, but it gave us a good laugh and also helped to put our troubles into perspective. As after all we were travelling and wouldn't necessarily have to put up with these guys for ever. No we'd just have to avoid them wherever possible
During our extended stay in HK, we did meet many different people and exchange stories with them. Some of our local day trips took us to such places on the other side of the island as Stanley Markets, where we saw many good things for sale but didn't buy much. We had only back packs with us and were really considering the room and the travel weight when booking our luggage into the flight departures at the airport. Every traveller is allowed only so much luggage weight before they would be charged steeply for being over weight. The idea was to keep it light and travel costs low. During our travel throughout South East Asia, we did a fairly good job of doing exactly that.