Postcard from Hong Kong

The Hong Kong morning started out with a reasonably priced (by American terms) buffet at the hotel, followed by a walk to the job’s address for tomorrow. I’d read that it was 10 minutes by cab, 25 minutes walking, so I wanted to see how viable walking was. It’s plenty viable – if you don’t get lost. Which I did. One of the first impressions was how the city too often seemed to have an aversion to street signs, particularly the ones I was looking for.
 
I enjoyed the walk/don’t walk systems. For the visually impaired, there’s a loud clicking that’s about one per second. That means “don’t go.” When the walk sign flashes, the clicks go to a quick, steady clicking. That means “go.” When it’s time to either hurry up or stay put, there are bursts of clicks.
 
Another welcome pedestrian aid was the big sign off the curb that would say “LOOK LEFT,” or “RIGHT,” especially helpful for those people that come from right-side driving cultures. Conversely, though, there seemed to be more right-side walking on the sidewalks. To continue with the conversity, the stairways in the subway stations were marked to walk on the left.
 
I finally got to the location and told the amused and charming receptionist about my mission. She looked it up and told me where it would be happening the next day at 9:00. “Can I come an hour early tomorrow to set up?” “Can you come at 8:30?” “It would be nice to make sure I have time to set up.” “We don’t open until 8:30.” “8:30 it is.”
 
The immediate mission accomplished, it was time to start checking the area out.
 
I think of places like Seoul, Auckland, and Sydney to be young towns, meaning that as you walk around the burg, the average age is substantially under mine. Hong Kong Central looked to be an older town. Lots of folks moving slowly, sometimes erratically, on sidewalks that were often too narrow to comfortably accommodate the weavery.
 
My first little adventure, starting the previous night, was unfortunately not all that uncommon for me. I had left my jacket in the taxi after being dropped off at the hotel. Later on, the front desk clerk Josie (probably not her real name) called up and said that a couple ladies had shown up, having found my jacket in the cab, telling the driver to go back to where he dropped off the last customer, and asked the hotel to track down the owner. They even stuck a note in the jacket pocket saying, “Hope this finds you. [Name] and [name]. Mbl [number].”
Yeah, I called that number the next day, thanked her (not sure which one it was) profusely, offered to pay for the additional cab fare they had to shell out. She was happy and dismissive. She was just ecstatic that the jacket had found its way. We had a nice chat before hanging up.
 
I told the story to a Hong Kongian (that can’t be the correct term, but Hong Kongite sounded worse) later and was told, “That wouldn’t have happened in mainland China.” It seems that there is still a strong culture and identity divide between these two merged peoples.
 
I’ve been told that if you want directions or explanation, just ask. People are friendly. By my experience so far, that is correct.
 
Back to the day’s events. I had lunch at a small neighborhood diner. Here is more the authentic experience. Tables are shared. When there’s a table that can fit eight, and there’s four people sitting there, it’s perfectly acceptable for one to pull up a chair and start ordering.
 
The cups, bowls, and spoons are brought out in a big bowl of very hot water. You wipe and swirl them in the hot water to presumably ensure that they’re clean and also presumably to have the dishes warm when you start to eat.
 
The dim sum (small portions of various things) was quite good. I was putting my chopsticks to good use, when it was suggested by an elder lady on the other side of the table to hold them differently (just FYI, I have been COMPLIMENTED by Oriental people over my finesse with the sticks). She demonstrated. I tried. Didn’t work.
 
I’m trying to remember how much the quite-filling and delicious lunch cost. I’m going to guess a couple or three bucks. Cash, no plastic, in the small neighborhood places. And no tips, unless you want to round up to the nearest 5 or 10 denomination.
 
I attempted to use the MTR, the public transportation rail system. It was confusing. A lot of rooting through menus. Well, I did get to where I wanted to go, so I got that going for me. As a non-urban guy, the whole finding your route, getting the ticket dispensed, and using it correctly was a suspenseful thing. It was with a feeling of relief that I got the green flash to go through the gates.
 
The subway trains are speedy, quiet, and their arrivals are enclosed at the stations so nobody jumps or gets pushed to the rails below.
 
The financial district was quite impressive, but not much to say about it that was a unique experience. The same as a lot of big urban districts with its own character. Loved the architecture of the symphony hall so much that I forgot to take a proper picture of it.
 
I ended up in Kowloon, after taking a ferry from the financial district. I’m going to guess the cost was about 40 cents. Wow.
 
I said early that Hong Kong Central seems like an older city. You know how impressions are shaped from what you see, and keep in mind that the singular thing you see isn’t a scientifically valid sampling. So don’t assume all of Hong Kong is like that.
 
Kowloon is the “younger city” part of the area. It’s the market district. The nice shops go on for block after block, maybe mile after mile. Compared to the more blue-collar feel (in urban terms) of the central district, Kowloon is more of the runway model.
 
People are as curious about us as I was about them. I got asked about the election. After giving my five-second summary, I said I didn’t want to talk politics.
 
I was asked if I owned a gun. I said no, and the statement was met with surprise. Apparently, gun ownership is assumed for every American. I was asked if it was safe where I lived. Yes, and i haven’t even heard of a burglary in my neighborhood. More surprise. Apparently, all of America is viewed as being in a crossfire.
 
By the way, if you want to change money, there are market clusters of money-converters in Kowloon, and the rate there is a WHOLE lot better than what you’ll get at the airport.
 
I stopped in a temple of sorts. Actually, it was sort of like a dignified storefront of temples. Lots of incense. Fortune-telling, written wishes, tributes to the dead, and conical forms of burning incense can be found in these places. There was one scene I’m going to remember for a while where the rays of the sun were coming through the grille of a skylight, illuminating the cones and incense smoke, looking ethereal and lovely. That one, I did want to take a picture of, but they ask that people put their cameras away inside.
 
I was distant from the ferry by then, so back to the MTR train station. It’s more expensive than ferries for a good reason. It runs in tunnels under the bay, and every train station itself shows a massive level of capital investment and upkeep. Really, quite an attractive subway system. But no one seems to know what MTR stands for. I suggested Metro Rail Transit and got a shrug back, sure, sounds good.
 
Back at the hotel, and it’s time to make sure I’m set for tomorrow. So work begins in earnest. But the acclimation day was sure fun.

— Grandpa

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