I went with Renae and Michael to Hong Kong last weekend. It was a short trip, but I had a blast. Can’t wait to go back!
We took a long-distance bus from Foshan to Kowloon Bay on Friday evening. The trip took us 4.5 hours from start to finish, which included moving through customs. To cross the border, you have to get cleared on both sides, which means two long lines. I wondered how it would be to get stuck in the middle of the complex, in limbo between mainland China and Hong Kong. The thought made me very sad, so I only entertained it for a minute. Fortunately, we moved through both lines surprisingly fast.
We got off the bus at a quarter to 11 and headed straight to the hostel. The hostel was very small (a one-bedroom apartment crammed full of bunk beds and a hammock for the owner) and very bohemian. I’m amazed that we found it because it was hidden behind the skeleton of a street market that operates during the day, and the door to the building was as tiny and inconspicuous as the rest the lined the street. Renae happened to notice the door number right away but if I were alone, there’s no doubt that I would have missed it. The apartment was on the ninth floor accessible by only a single, narrow stairwell. I’m glad I decided to pack light!
I took a few pictures to show you what it looked like inside.
I’m not sure what to say about this, but…it’s a bookcase and so much more.
The coffee table in the center of the room:
Hiding behind the typewriter on the table is this thing. I was told that it’s a cake mold. I would’ve never guessed.
A wall painted with chalk-board paint and covered in messages from ghosts of the past…the guitar case says the name of the hostel: Tin Tong…and I guess if I had wanted to, I could’ve purchased a can of beer for 5 HKD.
A decoration? Those bottles look empty to me.
The view out of the window.
At the hostel, we met up with Rob, a college friend of Renae and Michael who was in Hong Kong on vacation from teaching elementary school in Seoul. Just a few minutes after arriving, we headed out to find first food and then a bar in Central.
We found cheap local food down a side alley. Someone saw us coming down a parallel alley and beckoned us to his restaurant. The first thing I saw on the menu was “fried baby pigeon.” Of course we ate it. It was surprisingly good. Like darker, richer chicken meat. No fat. The bird came whole with the head already separated but present. Rob took some interesting pictures of himself and the pigeon head. Our waitress made him promise to email the pictures to her so that she could blow them up and put them on the wall of the restaurant.
We found many bars in Central and hundreds of other foreigners. It was a carnival. Everyone we crossed, foreigner and native alike, seemed in the mood for a chat. Hong Kong is a friendly place.
When we returned from our night out, the city outside Tin Tong was completely quiet. I felt like we were in a ghost town. When we stepped out the next morning, however, it had transformed into a completely different place. No longer a skeleton, but a vibrant creature with antique cameras for eyes, plastic instruments for lungs, and cash for blood. I will go back to that very street to take advantage of some of the treasures I spotted there.
We booked a different hostel for our second night. The first thing we did on Saturday morning was head to the notorious Chungking Mansions to check in and drop our things off. Chungking Mansions is like no other place on Earth. It’s virtually a self-sustaining urban organism. This Wikipedia article pretty much sums it up. Inside there’s everything you could possibly need—currency exchange booths; curry restaurants; tiny stores selling clothes, luggage, groceries, knock-off Rolex watches, and Apple products; massage booths; salons; dirty magazine and playing card vendors; and a million and one hostels.
It’s a very liminal space. When I was inside the Mansions, I wasn’t sure if I was indeed indoors or stuck in an outdoor flea market. There were several instances when I happened across a fixture or other detail that I was used to seeing exclusively outside of a building. There were hawkers teaming around the shopping floors as they would on the street outside of Tin Tong Hostel. The actual boundary between inside and outside was blurred; the shops seemed to ooze out onto the sidewalks and alleys along the perimeter of the Mansions. Nothing seemed like it was in the right place, but then again, that place we were in clearly thrived off a different set of rules than I was familiar with. Actually, from what I could gather, there was only one rule and that was “anything goes.”
The variety of ethnicity represented in the Mansions is impressive. The hostel we stayed in was owned by Indians. I’ve heard that different ethnic sub-communities have formed within the different regions of the Chungking “neighborhood.” Once in a while tension builds, but on the whole, the inhabitants are pretty tolerant of each other. When I was inside the Mansions, I didn’t feel like I was in Hong Kong. I didn’t feel like I was anywhere, actually. What I felt was dizzy. Once I got off the main entrance floor, I had no sense of where I was located in the complex. It’s a maze. Also, being the superhostel complex that it is, the Mansions never close. The doors are always open, the lights are always on, the din runs 24 hours a day.
Oh yeah, one more thing about Chungking Mansions: The elevators have cameras in the them that feed into TVs located between the elevators on the first floor, so everybody who’s waiting in line to get up to his hostel can watch the people on the elevators. The cameras are positioned facing the doors, so you can track what floor the passengers are on and watch them as they smush on and off the elevators. I’m not sure what the purpose for the camera system is because it doesn’t help anyone get on or off the elevator any faster. It made me feel like a total creep to watch it. Talk about voyeuristic. I didn’t want to feel like a victim of the “eye” so I chose to stare straight into it until we got to our floor. I wonder who was staring back at me downstairs.
On Saturday night, Katie and company paid for a ride on the Peak Tram. It’s a funicular railway on Hong Kong Island. My guidebook recommends taking it at night so that you can see the whole city lit up. I’m glad we did. The lines were terribly long and the trip was no longer than five minutes each way, but we got to catch the light show that happens every night at 8 pm (I think) and cool off with the breeze on the sky bar at the very top.
A blurry photo that I took on the way up to the peak:
The view from the top:
There was a giant heart on the deck of the sky bar that people were taking pictures in front of. I joined in:
On Saturday night, we went to see a progressive house DJ on Hong Kong Island. Some German guy. (Grandmaster Flash was playing that night too and I really wanted to go, but my friends weren’t up for it. I decided it would be better to stick with the group instead of wondering off by myself.) We found a poster the night before that said the who/what/where/when but strangely enough didn’t say what venue. We went to where we thought it would be and found ourselves at the end of a busy street heading toward the highway and massive construction. Not exactly where a DJ might be, so we asked a stranger for help. He directed us to a shopping area a little further ahead and pointed out a giant mall. He was gigging a lot saying things like, “But it’s a little late…” We thought his directions were a little vague, so I asked him, “Will we recognize the place when we see it?” He said, “Oh yes, it’s very big.”
We get to the mall will low expectations of finding the venue, but an attitude of “what’ve we got to lose?” We discover that the mall is open and fully lit. At twenty to midnight. We go inside and stand completely still to see if we can hear anything at all that might sound like music or people, or even just a single living soul besides ourselves. Nothing. So we walk. The mall is gorgeous, by the way.
We finally hear some voices and discover a mall attendant at the information desk. He reads our hand-written address and notes, confirms that we are not in the right place, and directs us to the W Hotel that is attached to the mall a couple hundred feet in front of us. It isn’t until I actually step foot in the hotel (and hear music, thank God) that I realize that the “W” in the address on the poster stands for the hotel and not “West.” And that the stranger who gave us directions wasn’t laughing because he was nervous, he was laughing at the absurdity of four foreigners looking for a mall at midnight.
We ended up having a great time at the show and we had no problem getting back to our hostel afterward.
On Sunday, we ate lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant that Renae and Michael had been to before and really liked. The food was delicious and the prices very reasonable. I will go back!
Upon Entering, this is what you’d see:
The following pictures show some of what we ordered…
Finally, on our walk around town, we passed a few shops selling–among many other interesting things–birds nests. I think they’re intended for soup or tea.
The trip back to Foshan was horrible. Our bus left us at the border because we were the only three foreigners on the bus and took much longer than the rest of the passengers to get through customs. There was one line on the China side for foreigners and fifteen for Chinese nationals. We stood in line for over an hour. When we complained that our bus was going to leave us and that they should open another line for foreigners, we were hushed and told that our bus would wait and that we needed to be patient. It took up to ten minutes to process a single person. We were so incredibly frustrated. Of course, by the time surfaced on the other side of the border, our bus had left us, so we tired getting help from the bus company attendants. They were rude and completely unhelpful until we started being more demanding. Long story short, we ended up getting seats on another bus to Foshan and got back to the school close to midnight. The worst part about the trip back wasn’t even the hassle at customs, it was the unfortunate fact that we missed the hot water at the school, which meant that I had to wait until the evening after to shower for the first time since the Thursday before. That’s a total of four sweaty traveling days sans shower. I smelled like an orangutan and wanted to cry.