Hong Kong - phewy! (CONTAINS VIDEO)
Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
115Trip End Mar 21, 2008
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The hospitality of Shige and Mayumi has been amazing, as it has been with all our hosts so far. One thing I will take out of this trip is the importance of being a good host. A small sacrifice on the part of the host makes all the difference for a weary traveller, so we are very grateful to all the wonderful people who have put us up so far. Particularly considering that we are on our own for a while now - no familiar folks to bludge off.
But, onwards and upwards and all that. Today we fly to Hong Kong, that crazy Chinese city with the remnants of 150+ years of British rule and now home to around seven million people. The first thing we notice on the bus from the airport is the dozens and dozens of high-rise apartment blocks, lined up in big rows. Hong Kong is a very crowded city, confined by unalterable geographical boundaries and it has expanded upwards to accommodate its burgeoning population. We also notice the change in living standard between here and Japan. Cleanliness is often a gauge of a country's prosperity and you can see quite clearly the extra garbage, grimier buildings and shabbier people of Hong Kong compared to Japan. On the flip side, the compressed nature of the city does give it a kind of manic vibrancy, a vigorous urgency, with everything happening right here. In Japan we were continually surrounded by people but they always seemed to be headed somewhere else. In Hong Kong, there is nowhere else to go, so everywhere is busy with activity.
Our hotel is on the third floor of a large building in the shopping district of Causeway Bay. Because of the British development here, most place names are in English, making it easier for us to get around. The Wang Fat Hostel is kind of cramped, as you'd imagine in such a tightly-packed city, but we have a nice room to ourselves with a double bed and a TV. The TV is actually more in the way than anything else, seeing as there's nothing on it we can watch.
Once settled, we squeeze out to try and find some dinner. Although the streets of Tokyo and Osaka were full of people, we could almost always walk at a normal pace. Here in Hong kong the footpaths are narrow and you are constantly jostling with people walking on both sides, guys pushing trollies or carrying boxes and the occasional cyclist who reckons the road traffic is too slow. Add some rain into the equation and everyone suddenly has to walk underneath the narrow awnings, cutting the footpath in half. The main streets at night are a fiesta of neon signs, spewing out so much light that street lights aren't even necessary. Huge signs of Chinese characters mix with their English translations, cars honk their horns as if auditioning for a band, and hawkers stand outside every restaurant to entice diners inside.
We are hungry but we aren't brave enough to eat just anywhere. Our first criteria is that there can't be any chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, cats, dogs or any other animal hanging, skinned, from a hook in the window. Second, no member of staff can be either developing or releasing an enormous gob of phlegm within eye- or ear-shot. Third, no rats, mice or other rodents can be seen scurrying across the floor or slurping on leftover soup. Our pickiness eliminates almost all the restaurants around our hostel so we have to push further afield. Eventually we find one that not only meets our criteria but even has English menus, comfortable chairs and tablecloths. The menu looks great so we order some spring rolls, beef and mushrooms in soup, and noodles with spicy minced beef. The entire meal is, how shall I put it, disgusting. For a start, the beef and mushrooms is served still boiling so the beef jiggles around as if alive, and the meat is 98% fat. The spicy minced beef is cold and sloppy, and the 'spring rolls' are white, bland tubes of thick vermicelli. We feel as though we ought to be adventurous, so we try a few mouthfuls but it is really hard going and we feel really quite nauseous afterwards.
Where I stayed