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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hellooooo Hong Kong! Land of Convenience

Day 2, Hong Kong, China

I arrive in Hong Kong, again early. Hong Kong airport is by far the BEST airport in the world! Okay besides the fact that they do not have free wi-fi but I think I can overlook that for its convenience. But really, if you have only a few days to spare (and you're nearby), fly to Hong Kong and you will surely make the most of your time!

I arrived in Hong Kong and it took me literally, less than 5 minutes to get through customs. Stamp. Stamp. Done. Bye! Go down to baggage. My bags quickly come out. Walk out, right there is the Airport Express counter. The Airport Express was the brainchild of some genius. Tokyo, take notes. Honolulu if we're going RAIL, this is how you need to do it. For either HKD100 ($12.80) one way or HKD180 ($23) round trip, you have bought yourself a ticket to a city only 24 minutes away.

Okay but that ISN'T the best part about arriving in Hong Kong. From baggage claim you are pushing your cart with all your bags; I had my large red back pack, my day pack, my ukulele (thank you Ukulele Hale) and a box of omiyage (presents). You get to the doors of the Airport Express and there are attendants there assisting you with getting your bag on the train. Well, they don't go into the train and put your bag nicely away rather they sort of throw your bag right on the other side of the door so if the doors were to close on you, at least you have your bags! Quickly sorted myself and put my bags away. 24 minutes later, I am at Hong Kong station. As I get off the train, there are carts lined up waiting to be used. I find a pay phone and call Lorraine.

Besides the many great things about Lorraine, what I admire most about her is her foresight! This girl had everything planned out for me. Came to meet me (she works nearby) loaded with her key and her cell phone. She knew that I wouldn't have a cell phone and would have a hard time getting in touch with her and she with me. She gives me all the information I need to get into her apartment including advice on any potential problems I may run into and what I should do. Such a logical thinker. I love it! How awesome is she? Then with my luggage now on a new cart, we exit the building and hop into a cab and she tells the driver where I'm going. A 15 minute cab ride later, I'm in Mid-Levels looking up at her apartment. My charge HKD31.5; do I give a tip?** As Americans we are accustomed to tipping for everything. Most other countries either don't tip or don't tip as much. I just gave him HKD32 and waited for his reaction. He seemed a little annoyed and I found my red backpack left stranded in the middle of the sidewalk right outside of the cab. I guess it was sufficient. Oh well, I'm trying to survive here. Get into the apartment, pass the doorman, no problem. I suppose it's good to look Asian in Hong Kong. You just fit in.

Their apartment is so nice! Small of course but it's Hong Kong with a population density four times that of Tokyo, so I heard. But despite the smallness of it, it was very trendy with a stylish decor and a nice peak at the harbor. Despite the small space, you're paying premium prices for the location and just the fact that it's Hong Kong; I don't even want to tell you how much a condo in Mid-Levels goes for! Basically most of us in Hawaii would NOT be able to afford something like this unless you increased your income by maybe 4x as much.

Anyway, I settle down and I phone an old Beijing friend, Sandra, who is now married and lives in Hong Kong. She advises me to meet her in Central at the Landmark Mall. She tells me to find the 'ask-a-later.' I wasn't really sure if this was the name of a bar or an area? Either way, I'll be on the lookout for the 'ask-a-later'. Later when I ring Sandra because I'm running late, I realize the 'ask-a-later' = escalator.

From mid-levels (atop hillside) down to the city center, there are walkways and escalators that take you down. It's rather unthinkable. Escalators that go from atop the hill all the way down to the city. Can you imagine escalators that ran from Mid-town Manhattan to the Financial Center? Again, Hong Kong = convenience. For some reason though, I don't really remember this when I would visit Stephanie when I would visit her often from Japan. First thought that came to mind, how much does this cost the city to operate? Why don't other cities do this? After finding the ask-a-later, I do manage to meet up with Sandra and along with her comes her friend Maria who also hails from Mainland China and has now also found her new home in Hong Kong. We share afternoon tea (coffee for me) and laughter over the course of 4 hours! It was great to just sit and have girl time.

Later that evening, I take a quick ferry ride to Tsim Tsa Tsui to catch a glimpse of the Harbor lights. Not knowing what to look for, I am not sure if I really saw what I was there to see. Either way, it was a nice view and a cheap HKD2 one way ($0.25) way to kill time before dinner plans with Lorraine, James, Evelina and Eugene.

Meet up with the group for dinner. Evelina is actually on her way to commence her 4 month round-the-world trip. This girl has actually done a round-the-world trip at least 3 times already?! My hero(ine). So being that it's Hong Kong, you can check your luggage in at Hong Kong station which is the first station on the Airport Express line. Get rid of your luggage and conveniently find yourself in the mall! So we had dinner there right above the train. Hawaii: take notes. We are an economy that depends on tourism. Why not make it easy for our guests when they come? Easy for them to spend money before they leave our island? The Honkeys have gotten it right.

Lorraine has also given me an octopus card and I find that this card has many great uses! It's basically a simple debit card that can be swiped at many places where it debits your account. You can load it up at several places including 7-11. Lorraine advises me to be on the lookout for the metro fare saver. She said that I'd see a lot of people tapping on it to get a HKD2 savings when riding the MTR. You gotta love the Chinese for giving you an offer that you can't resist! When I got about halfway down the escalators to the city, I see a bunch of people stopping at a machine. I must have found the fare saver. I am not really sure how it works but I saw several people who had several cards and swiped each one.

We are invited to Maria's abode located near the Peak the following day. Sandra has some morning meetings so I use the time to take care of some electronics shopping...Hong Kong has all the (cheap) electronics you can think of! I head down to Wan Chai to try and find some accesories for my netbook and also the right charger for my TV dual SIM phone that I bought in the Philippines. Somehow on my 2.5 months home, I misplaced my charger. I figured the chances of Hong Kong having the charger that I needed was better than trying to find it anywhere else. For USD$20, I find a small little cell phone shop near the MTR station and I end up buying a new charger, a new battery and a SIM card for my phone all for HKD150 ($20) after a little bargaining of course!

I call Sandra and we decide to meet on the bus to go to Maria's together. It was quite complicated trying to coordinate such a plan as I didn't know where I was and where I was going. Fortunately, I found Sandra and instead of her joining me on the bus, I got off and we took a taxi to Maria's place instead. Getting off the taxi at Maria's place, the first thing that came to mind was, am I at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas? Greek looking sculptures line the entrance and courtyard. You know you've entered big money.

We end up having afternoon tea in their private club in Bel-Air as it's called. After our afternoon tea, we go downstairs to the 'spa' where they have their indoor hot springs. The water could have been hotter but I'm not complaining. It was nice to relax and talk and for me, to listen to the two go back and forth in Mandarin.

After an hour or so, we go upstairs to see Maria's two little kiddies, 2 and 3 just before they're put to bed. Granted a great education at such a young age, these little tykes already have a good command of both English and Mandarin. Impressive if you ask me. Maria has never consumed alcohol before and for some reason thinks I'm an alcoholic so she opens a bottle of champagne for us. Feeling pressured, Sandra, Maria and I finish the entire bottle in an hour's time. Sandra and I try to convince Maria to come with us to Mongkok but she says she can't. I think it's partly because she's feeling tipsy. The kids are sleeping and Maria has two domestic helpers so she could come with us but she politely declines.

Sandra and I make our way to Mongkok known for their night market boasting cheap goods. The new battery that I have purchased has died and the new charger that I bought doesn't work on my phone. So instead, on impulse I leave the market with: a standalone battery charger for my cell phone battery, two sets of earphones for my iphone (selling it for USD$15 if anyone wants to buy it!), a new Gucci waist pouch (the one I brought had too many holes in it and finally the zipper broke!), before I knew it, I spent HKD350 ($41).

My time in Hong Kong is slowly coming to an end. I am leaving the following morning to commence my round-the-world trip! The only thing that I didn't get to do yet was to eat at Mos Burger to make my Hawaii friends jealous! (Jen and Kumi) :) Unfortunately, I only have x amount of meals in Hong Kong and Mos Burger is nowhere near when I need to eat. On my last and final day here, I end up meeting with Ellie, Nicole's (my best friend in Beijing) cousin. I met Ellie for the first time almost a year ago when I was in Hong Kong. Ellie coordinates a meet-up with her two other Japanese friends and one of the girl's 2 year old daughter. I invite Maria and the five of us end up having a nice lunch at Luk Yu Tea House, one of the older, traditional dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. Lorraine also tells me that there was a gang shooting that took place here some years ago. Lots of history if you ask me.

After lunch, Maria and I go by street car (so many transportation options here in this densely populated city!) back to the cell phone shop from the day before to see if I can either get another new phone charger or if I should just get a new phone? I ended up buying a new unlocked NOKIA phone. I surely need an unlocked phone when I travel to the different countries so for HKD 350 (USD$45) I walk away with a new cell phone. A whole lot of work and money for nothing in trying to salvage my Filipino phone! Should have just bought a new phone to begin with! Live and learn.

Maria and I spend the remaining afternoon overlooking the harbor at a coffee shop in the International Financial Center (the shopping mall that the Airport Express is in). I end up heading back to the apartment to pack up my things and make my way down back to IFC to meet up with Lorraine and James for my final dinner in Hong Kong.

I have so much crap! And so it takes me much longer to pack up (2 hours vs. 1 hour that I alloted). I was trying to squeeze all the omiyage that I had in my box into my backpack. Upon arrival in Johannesburg, I will be taking a flight out to Durban instead of staying in the city. The airlines that I bought my domestic ticket is on South Africa Airway's budget airlines, Mango Airlines, and I know they charge you for everything. I didn't want to be told that I would be charged for my extra box especially if I couldn't bring it on the plane so I tried to put as much as I could into my backback.

I finally get back to IFC and check in my luggage downstairs. Again, how many ways do I love thy city? Tokyo really needs to do something like this...supposedly TCAT (Tokyo City Airport Terminal) was their answer but it wasn't conveniently located which is probably what forced them to eventually close down. Check my bags in and I'm set to go. Meet up with Lorraine and James for my final supper in Hong Kong. I really enjoyed the meal here and coincidentally, turns out to be a Michelin rated restaurant!

Right before getting on to the plane, we manage to take some photos overlooking the harbor and of course, I finally have a chance to hold up my flag, a gift given to me by a new friend, Leilani! She literally brought me the flag hours before my departure to the airport! How awesome! This flag will go around the world with me and hopefully serve its purpose as a conversation starter! And just as I expected, it did! I got several people asking me what flag I was holding. Besides attempting to play the ukuele, I will have the rest of the world know about our flag!

And so the journey begins....leg 1

** I am told that when tipping taxis, it's customary to just round up so I did get it right.

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