Friday, May 01, 2009

One Way Ticket to Hong Kong, Please....

Hong Kong really was the dynamic metropolis that I always thought it was. The question I was left with on my return flight to Seoul was “What am I doing in Korea, when I could be living in a city like Hong Kong!”

As some of you may know, I spent this past weekend in Hong Kong. It is a city unlike others, where the Western and Eastern cultures really do meet. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get from place to place and how friendly the Hong Kongers were!

I was taken back when I arrived at Victoria Harbor. Looking across the harbor toward Hong Kong Island, you could easily see the resemblance to Sydney, New York, and even Chicago. Hong Kong has the hustle and bustle of New York. The streets are lined with tall sky scrapers and your favorite high end designers are on every street corner. It’s truly a cosmopolitan kind of city. At the same time it was unique like Chicago, and one from Chicago would also appreciate the architecture that I saw in Hong Kong. Victoria Harbor could easily be mistaken for Sydney and Hong Kong even has its own building that looks like the Sydney Opera House.

To think that the bustling city of Hong Kong was just a bunch of fishing villages in the 1800’s just surprises me. In the 1840’s Britain claimed the area of Hong Kong following the First Opium War with China. The Ching Dynasty (if I remember correctly from my tour) tried to stop the British, but was unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 1997 that Hong Kong was handed back over to China. However, having been to both Shanghai and Beijing before, Hong Kong is NOT China. When in Hong Kong you do not refer to the people as “Chinese” you refer to them at Hong Kongers. Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy- including free speech (something that you don’t see under the Communist rule in Beijing). The best part is if you're from America (and I'm sure many other countries too) you do not need a visa for Hong Kong! And thank god for that because the Chinese charge Americans $120 dollars for a visa! Having purchased these single entry visas twice before, I was relieved that I didn't have to make this purchase again!

I definitely could see some of the British influence still lingering in Hong Kong, and although it was subtle, it's still there. For starters, double decker buses are everywhere! If you've ever been to London, then you know how awesome the double decker buses are. And the best thing is that they are cheap to ride, and take you to almost any part of Hong Kong or the surrounding islands. Also, on the subway or MRT as it's known in Hong Kong, they will warn you to "Mind the Gap" -- which is a catchphrase used in London when embarking or disembarking the "tube". I also was amused that Queen Elizabeth's picture was still on the 1 dollar Hong Kong coin. The best part though had to be that I could speak English pretty freely in Hong Kong and most of the people could understand me and help me! The only problem I had was with taxi drivers, and they would use a walkie talkie to get an English translator.

Day One I arrived into Hong Kong International at around 11 am. Of course it was raining, as it seems to rain any time I travel. I found my way to the A21 bus, paid my 33 Hong Kong dollars and set off to find my hotel. Luckily, I did some research prior to my trip and I knew that the A21 bus was going to drop me off right in front of my hotel, The Prudential. I chose to stay here because of location. Let me tell you, the most important part of booking a hotel is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. My hotel was on Nathan Road, the busiest road in Kowloon. It was directly above the Jordan MRT (subway) so getting from place to place was going to be easy! The subway in Hong Kong can take you almost anywhere that you want to go. I feel like when people travel, if they have never been a big city before they would be overwhelmed by the subway, but if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong, don't fear it!

After checking into my hotel, I took a hot shower and was on my way. With my Hong Kong map in my hand and an umbrella in the other I decided to find a coffee shop, grab a sandwich, and map out my day. I decided on checking out the jade market since it was in close proximity to where I was. Lately, I've been on a kick to buy things for my sister. When I travel I try to find her something that would be expensive to buy in America, but reasonably inexpensive to buy here. For example, when I was in Beijing in September I bought both my mom and my sister pearl earrings and matching necklace. The best part is that I got to pick out each individual pearl that was going to be used and I watched the lady strand them. After picking out a case and a clasp, they were ready. So, what does one buy for a thirteen year old girl at the Jade Market-- well JADE, of course. I followed around a group of girls who looked to be around 20. I saw what they were buying, and I let my bargaining skills go to work. I finally decided on a jade bracelet. I'm sure when my sister opens it she's going to assume that it came from "Claire’s" or some other cheap boutique you can find in the states. However, it's real jade. I'm sure she won't appreciate it now, but in ten years she's going to think its super cool to not only have pearls, but real jade too.

After the Jade Market, I walked through a temple. It was much smaller than the traditional temples here in Korea. In Hong Kong there are three dominant religions- Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Like in many Asian countries, Buddhism seems to be the most commonly practiced. Buddhists believe in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama or "The Buddha" (the Awakened One). When you go to temples in Asia, it is common to light incents and pray to the Buddha. The Buddha statues are usually gold and very large, also centered in the middle of the temple for all to see and worship. You usually stick incents straight up and put them into a pot of sand. In Hong Kong it is typical to light 3 incents, since 3 is a lucky number.

In the afternoon I went to Victoria Harbor to get a view of Hong Kong Island. I was disappointing that it was overcast, but the view was still wonderful. I walked around the pier and snapped some photos before finding the ferry and wandering over to Hong Kong Island. I walked around Hong Kong Island in search of the foreigner district known as “Soho”. After being unsuccessful and literally running into a parade, I decided to head back and find my friend Ivania (who was also in Hong Kong at the same time).

That night Ivania came to my hotel and we headed back to the Kowloon Public Pier to catch a ‘”junk” boat to see the Symphony of Lights Cruise on Victoria Harbor. Each night the lights on the buildings in Hong Kong Island light up simultaneously with music. The cruise rides down Victoria Harbor, and makes for a good time. Ivania and I met a Brazilian family who were living in Singapore, and we enjoyed the two hour boat ride while conversing with the family and drinking plenty of white wine. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how much of the light show I actually saw. Afterwards, we scoped out the area for dinner and had dinner at the San Francisco Steak House located on one of top floors of a huge building over-looking the Harbor. The meal was delicious, and afterwards we called it a night.

Day Two I was up and out by 8 am to join a tour that would show me some of the more popular sites in HK. On the agenda was another temple, a tram up to the highest point in HK, a stop at a jewelry store, a boat ride through the old fishing markets, and an afternoon of shopping at Stanley Market. Stanley Market is a large open-air market that was on the coast. Had it been a sunny day I would have skipped the shopping and went to Repulse Bay (the best beach in HK which the tour guide commonly referred to it as the Waikiki of Hong Kong. Sometimes I like organized trips and other times I don't. While this one was fine and the people were friendly I hate that I have to go by someone else's clock. There were times that we would get somewhere and only have twenty minutes or so to look around, take photos, take in the history. This is why I am hesitant to book my summer vacation trip to Cambodia through a tour company. "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, we just arrived at Angkor Wat and you should be back on the bus in 30 minutes" --- HA. After the tour was over, I decided to stay at Stanley market where I enjoyed a cold beer, a chicken pita sandwich, and a view of the bay.

I eventually made my way back to Hong Kong Island where I came across an H&M, while this definitely isn't anything special to Hong Kong, I still made some damage. Living in Seoul, I hardly can get clothes that fit this sexy body of mine, so whenever I get the chance to shop I do it! An hour later and a shopping bag full of clothes I was determined to stay out of the rain. I did as any other man in the rain would do- I found a coffee shop that had free Internet. When that got boring, I found a sauna where I was able to take a hot shower and sit in a steam room. This was relaxing and actually what I needed after walking around Hong Kong for 2 days in flip flops and consequently in the rain. By ten p.m I found my way to Hong Kong International and boarded my plane back to Seoul. One last surprise, I got a free upgrade to business class (more to come on this at a later date). I arrived back into Seoul at 4:40 am and I was back at my desk at work at 9. Traveling isn't for everyone, but even short trip like this are amazing for me!

1 comment:

sarah said...

i WANT to go to hong kong!

i have bene in the airport 4 times. how sad that i have never stepped outside?!