Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hong Kong, Day One

It is 6:30 on day 2, and I still have an hour and a half before they put out the coffee. It is a long wait. Tom has a sales conference in Hong Kong, and I am along for the ride. Munch is home with the grandparents.

After arriving at 7:00 on Saturday night, we got checked in to our VERY stylish hotel and hit the street. Pretty overwhelming. We did our best to keep ourselves awake until a reasonable hour by exploring the local megamall. Our hotel is not exactly in a touristy area. Not at all. We managed to find an ATM and spend our first HK dollars in a Hagen Daas cafe, with waiters and ice cream menus to boot. A western (read: white) family sat down across from us. We struck up a conversation - they had been in town for a month, having just moved from New Jersey along with their 5 children. Egads. The youngest girl at the table did not look altogether happy about the choices that had been made for her. They had agreed to move to Hong Kong for 3-5 years for the father's company. They had done the same in Argentina a number of years before. While I think this cultural exposure is wonderful for the kids, I have to wonder how it effects them and their ability to have relationships with others to uproot like that every couple of years.

First night was short - we woke at 5 and waited around the hotel room until 8. Good thing it is a nice room. Getting through jetlag in a crappy room is really rotten. This hotel has only 57 rooms, making it absolutely tiny by HK standards, where most hotels are dwarf the MGM Grand in Vegas. It is like a W, says Tom, without the attitude. We have been really charmed by how darned NICE everyone here is. Usually city life breeds indifference to the hoards around you. Out of necessity, I imagine. But here, everyone we talk to is just delightful. They sure make it seem like they are actually enjoying talking to you.

After some excellent strong coffee and a bite, we hit the pavement. I find that the best way to get my bearings in a city is simply to walk. So we walk. After two rather long bathroom breaks for Tom, we buy an Octopus card and head for the ferry terminal. The card is a payment system for all public transport, including buses, ferries, and trams, as well as commercial outlets like 7-11 (they are everywhere - seriously, every couple of blocks) and Starbucks (almost everywhere). We hop aboard a ferry to Lamma. A half hour later we are in another world - an island of small houses, a handful of restaurants, an no cars whatsoever. The scenery is alternately beautiful, lush, and dirty and corroded. We take the paved trail from the port town on one side of the island to the port town on the other - about an hour and a half journey. When we get to the other side of the island, we hungrily review the restaurant options and get ourselves seated. We have just an incredible meal - garlic prawns, salt and pepper calamari, two perfect clams topped with glass noodles and black bean sauce, sauteed lettuce, and fried rice. We down a couple of beers and several glasses of hot tea, which fend off the chill we get as our sweat evaporates. The bill comes to about $25.

We hop on another ferry back to Hong Kong Island. From shacks to massive, glittering highrises, which seem to defy gravity as they tower over the edge of the water. I'm heading downhill fast at this point. We make a run for the nearest massive mall, which we know will have a couple of coffee shops. We plop into red upholstered chairs and suck down our espresso drinks. An asian couple across from us has their eyes closed, and their hands clasped under the table. The woman is talking. They are praying. I think she is speaking in English. After several minutes, she stops, and her companion takes his turn. It strikes me that I never see people from non-Christian religions do this. Aside from a short prayer before eating, or blessing someone else, most religions keep their prayers for their homes and their places of worship. It seems strange to have this very personal experience in such a public venue.

I gotta walk until the caffeine kicks in. We head for the long escalator that goes from the Central area up through Soho. We get off in Soho and check out the stylish restaurants and interior design stores. On our way back down the hill, someone waves us over. "They are filming a movie. Jackie Chan!" How very cliche. Our first day in HK, and we are watching Jackie Chan filming a stunt. We watch for a good while. My camera ran out of batteries back on Lamma island, of course, so I can't take a picture. After the stunt is executed successfully, we continue on our way. Tom stops at an Apple retail store, and spends a LONG time talking to the employee about his job, and what his challenges are in HK.

We hop on the tram to get back to the hotel. We have an excellent vantage point on the second story of the tram to watch all of the thousands of Filipina maids as they congregate in parks and street overpasses. In the park, an skinny asian girl covers Gloria Gayner with her band as the women pack around the stage. Nobody dances. Men are jammed around the basketball court, watching a tournament. The players are extremely tall, and dressed in pink uniforms.

Eventually, we make it back to the hotel. We change, get our bearings, and head out for dinner. Dinner takes us back across town again, via metro, which takes far longer than we anticipated. We end up in a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant. The food is good, but not great. The bill is more than twice what we spent on lunch.

Finally, a tram ride back to the hotel, and bed. I manage to sleep soundly until 2:00. Today, we change hotels and Tom checks in for his conference. I tend on taking full advantage of our fancy digs at the Four Seasons while Tom is off doing "business."