New Cities, New Adventures

For my next visa run and mini-vacation, I chose to go to “Asia’s World City” – Xianggang, in Mandarin, though most people are far more familiar with the name the city calls itself – Hong Kong. While technically part of China, like Puerto Rico to the U.S., it still works for getting my visa stamped because, for all intents and purposes, Hong Kong is essentially it’s own country, called “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. It has its own government, laws, language (Cantonese), and currency. Hong Kong’s money is awesome, it looks and feels like it comes from the future! The $10 bill is made of paper-thin plastic, and is pretty much impossible to tear with your hands.


Future money!

I first flew to the Chinese city of Shenzhen, which sits across a small river from Hong Kong. I did this because flying domestic is about half as expensive as an international flight. I took an illegal taxi cab from the airport to Luohu Railway station, which is where one can cross the border. During the hour long drive, I chatted with the driver, learning a few things about Shenzhen. He told me that it has the 4th highest GDP of any Chinese city, and it showed. Even though Beijing is #1 in GDP, Shenzhen seemed a lot cleaner and more modern, perhaps because it’s where many technology companies base their Chinese operations. It also reminded me a bit of Los Angeles, in that there were many palm trees and lush tropical plants. Going through customs was a breeze, I was issued a 90-day Hong Kong visa, and boarded the subway into the city. The whole process took about 15 minutes.


Hong Kong is pretty Fooking cool.

Hong Kong is an interesting experiment in what happens when East meets West. It was under British colonial rule until just 1997, when the British gave it back to China, and the influence of the United Kingdom definitely shows. Streets have names like “Nathan” and “Salisbury”, opposed to “Qisheng Rd” (the street I live on in Beijing). The architecture is most certainly British influenced, the streets are narrow, the cars drive on the left, and double decker buses wander the city streets. As a government, it seems to be much closer to a Western government than the Chinese one. Littering is punishable by a HKD$1500 fine (and judging by the pristine streets, it’s actually enforced, unlike on the mainland). The press is free – one of the first images I saw was coming in on the metro, on the onboard TV, was video of Hong Kong police fighting with protesters. Compare that to China’s “Jasmine Revolution”, of which no mention can be found in the news media there. The government is very preoccupied with the issue of public health… there’s PSAs everywhere reminding people that smoking kills, exercise is good, not to eat too much fatty foods, etc. The packs of cigarettes have images of lung and mouth cancer on them.

In a previous post, I mentioned that Beijing was a very international city. Well, I redact that statement – it’s only international relative to the rest of China. Beijing’s paltry quarter-million foreigners doesn’t even hold a flame to Hong Kong’s foreign population, which seems to be about 50% of the city. British, Australians, Americans, Africans, Indians, you name it, they’re all here. It’s also a very opulent city; I saw more Bentleys and Rolls Royces in the past couple of days than I have seen in my entire life up to that point! I even saw one big Rolls Royce with a custom license plate that simply said “CHESTER” or “FELIX” or some other similarly upper-crust sounding name.


A junk (that's what that boat's called) in front of the HK skyline.

The evening of my only full day in Hong Kong, I took the subway across the harbor (it goes underground beneath the water!), and caught a double decker bus up to “The Peak” – Victoria Peak, which offers amazing views of the city. The bus ride was an hour long, and I caught it at just the right time, arriving at the peak just as the sun was setting and the city began to light up. It was beautiful! I headed back towards my hotel, the luxurious Sheraton, and stopped at a bar on the way for some pizza and beer. Then I went for a swim (on the rooftop, no less) for the first time in six months, and took the nicest shower I’ve had since coming to China.

The view from Victoria Peak

The next day, I had to wake up at the ungodly early hour of 10 AM (gasp), check out of the hotel, call my taxi driver, etc. A few hours later I was back at Luohu going through customs. I was asking people who looked like they were taking a flight if they were headed to the airport, hoping to find someone to split the cab fare with. I found one guy, but he said he was traveling with not much money and was just going to take a bus there. I went on my way, but when I saw him a few minutes later, I thought what the hell, I have to pay the cab driver anyways, so I invited him along for the ride.

This trip to Hong Kong was the first trip I have ever taken completely solo, without either someone going with me, or someone to meet me on the other side, and I realized that, traveling alone is kind of boring! Things are so much better when you have someone, anyone, to share experiences, good and bad, with. At this point, it had been 2 whole days since I had had a real conversation with anybody, so chatting with my new friend from London was a very welcome change. He lives in a small city in central China, where he is one of only two foreigners! That was fun for three weeks in Jiangxi, but I don’t think I could handle it long term, like I do in Beijing. Before we could set off, we had to find the taxi driver, who I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with trying to find each other. All I could understand the driver saying on the phone was “I’m wearing a black shirt!” and “I’m at the entrance!”, but there were dozens of entrances spread across a few different levels. Eventually, I gave up on trying to use my Chinese to find this guy, and handed my phone to a random stranger, who told the guy where we were. I’ve done this many times before when I was lost, and Chinese strangers always seem so willing to oblige me and help me out.

The drive back to the airport was fun, having someone to converse with. The British guy confirmed my suspicions that Hong Kong was just like London, and we talked about the cultural differences between central China and big cities like Beijing. He has to suffer with being stared at all the time for being white, I’m really glad that that doesn’t happen so much in Beijing. He also told me that he lived in India for a year, and proved wrong my misconception that Indian people use their left hands instead of toilet paper (and he lived in a rural village there). Other than that, the drive was mostly uneventful, except for something hilarious I saw: An old man standing on the side of the highway, holding a stick. Attached to the stick, by a piece of rope, was a tortoise, which was moving its legs as though it was trying to walk on air away from this man. I have no idea what he was trying to accomplish by dangling a tortoise over the shoulder of the highway, but it was good for a laugh.

I didn't get a chance to take a picture, so I illustrated it instead!

Chinese airlines are awesome. They remind me of what I imagine the golden age of the airline industry was like in the United States; they serve hot meals, even on the shortest of flights1, and the stewardesses are exclusively beautiful young women. They actually hand out free newspapers; I don’t think I’ve seen that on an American airline in years! On the flight back to Beijing, I experienced something I had never before seen on a flight… as we began our descent from cruising altitude, the stewardesses came into the aisle, like they do when they give the safety demonstration, and began to conduct all the passengers in some stretches and calisthenic exercises! It was hilarious to watch (and participate!), as everyone rolled their necks and clapped their hands to “yi, er, san! Yi, er, san!” [one, two, three]. I stopped the exercises long enough to take this picture, and then resumed with what must have been the biggest grin plastered on my face. Everyone else was acting like this was totally normal, but I’ve taken numerous domestic flights within China and have never seen that before.

1 Delta Airlines: Here, we hope these five peanuts and 2 ounces of soda will tide you over for the four hour flight!

Plane exercises

Welp, that’s it for this update! I’m still not sure what my next adventure here in China will be, so stay tuned! If you would like to receive my posts in your email inbox, simply go to the bottom of the page, and enter your email address in the box that says “Email Subscription”. You won’t receive any spam, I promise!

The rest of my Hong Kong photos can be found here.

6 Responses to New Cities, New Adventures

  1. Aunt Kathy says:

    great photos Jake. The night shot from Victoria Peak is beautiful. I especially appreciate your drawing of “man with tortoise” !

  2. Peg says:

    Hi, Jake. Great report on Hong Kong, but just what is an “illegal’ cab ride?? You continue to amaze me with your adventurous spirit and writing ability. Stay well.

    • jake says:

      Hey Peg, nice to hear from you! Illegal cab rides are unlicensed taxi cabs. The drivers will wait outside of airports or subway stations, and walk around asking if you need a ride. In Chinese they call them hei che (hay chuh)- black cars, and the benefit is that you negotiate a price ahead of time to get to your destination. You can usually haggle them down to cheaper than a regular cab ride as well.

  3. Dad says:

    Jake, it sounds like you have had another great adventure. Hong Kong looks like a very cool city. I wonder if it has changed much since 1997?

    I agree with Aunt Kathy, I like your tortoise illustration and the Victoria Peak photo.

  4. Dad says:

    I just viewed your other pictures. Hong Kong reminds me of New York City in a lot of ways. Take care.

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