Thursday, 9 February 2017

Hong Kong part 1

My first journey to Hong Kong starts on a Saturday morning in Guiyang in January 2016. Yes, these are images from last year. A dream is about to become reality. I have wanted to visit Hong Kong for many years, but never made it that far. The reasons were either not enough money (Hong Kong is apparently the most expensive place on earth) or not enough time. Friends who have been there before me said that you need at least a week to see it and if you travel from Europe you will be jet lagged for either half or the entire duration of your stay. And since you travel that far, it would be a shame to see only Hong Kong and nothing else. Which is true and that's why I've decided to visit Macau as well.
Well, since I am in Asia, things are different and it is a lot easier to travel to places in southeast Asia or even Korea and Japan. It's what the Chinese call Spring Break now (I wonder why they call it spring break as it is in the middle of the winter), in other words, it's Chinese New Year and all schools close for five or six weeks. Businesses and basically the entire country shuts for a week and whoever has money or family elsewhere travels somewhere. This is more than half of China. Whoever stays behind has to face some hard times. Restaurants, shops, food places, cinemas, supermarkets, basically everything closes for several days. If you plan to travel somewhere, plan your stay and book hotels and tickets in advance. I for my part booked several weeks before this day. Finding a flight ticket from Guiyang to Hong Kong wasn't difficult, but finding a hotel in Hong Kong took me a week. The problems are the following: the rooms are expensive, they are tiny, some are without a window, some face a noisy street, some have no heating, etc, etc. I needed one that is somewhere central and in the vicinity of a metro station. All those budget hotels and hostels may be very cheap, but they are a catastrophe. The mattresses are bug infested, the rooms are shabby and dirty, the rooms are noisy, tiny, etc. I opted for something more comfortable. My tip is, don't look for anything under four stars. The hotel should have either four of five stars. I found out that the price difference between three and four stars and four and five stars is not that big, and it is worth paying more. In the end I chose a four star hotel because it is centrally located, it's just a stone's throw away from a metro station and WIFI is included. Most five star hotels charge you for WIFI and are far away from a metro station.
My flight is in the early afternoon, but as I live in Jinyang, which is in the outskirts of Guiyang and the journey to the airport is long and time consuming, I decide to leave early. I was told by a Canadian colleague that it's two hours by bus and about 45 minutes by taxi. As you can't ring and book a taxi in this city, you have to walk to a street and hail one. This is what I do. I walk for about ten minutes with my heavy luggage to a busy street and wait. A quarter of an hour later an empty taxi stops, I tell the driver the destination through the open window and show him a card with Chinese characters on it, he nods, gets out and lifts my luggage into the boot and the journey begins. Three quarters of an hour later and 75 Yuan (7 pounds) poorer, I am standing with my luggage at Longdongbao Airport. I find my way to the check-in desk. I check in and have to sit for over an hour, because I am too early and the security checkpoint is still closed. I feel hungry and need something to eat. The apple from this morning was not enough. I don't want to go to any of the restaurants in the airport, because there will be a meal on the plane, and it would be a shame if my stomach is full already. Yeah right! 
More people gather around me on the benches and wait. I am surprised to see that I am the only foreigner. Where are all the other expats? I know that most of them fly either home or to some other countries in Asia and some somewhere in China. Finally the security people come and open the checkpoint and we wave with our tickets and passports, which are checked and our hand luggage gets scanned and a security lady seems to enjoy grabbing my bum and other parts of my body while checking me and my pockets. I then walk to the gate and have to wait once again. When the gate opens I see only very few people queueing up. When I board the plane I see that it's only two handful of passengers who spread over the seats. As someone is sitting next to my booked seat, I walk to the end of the cabin and take a seat in the last row. We take off and my empty stomach starts making noises. Finally the stewardesses push the trolleys with the food and I am happy as a child. Well, a few seconds later, I am deeply disappointed, because all we get is a bottle of water and some biscuits (photo below). There is no food, no meal, just those biscuits!
Luckily the journey to Hong Kong doesn't last long. An hour and fifteen minutes later we arrive in Hong Kong. It is a hassle to go through emigration, but we move quickly. They seem to be very organised. I get my luggage from the belt and walk straight to the McDonald's in front of me. 
Since there is no metro from the airport to the city, you need to take a special train. The journey doesn't last long and you get off at the central station. From there I have to take the metro for two stops, then walk for a while towards the B1 exit of Sai Ying Pun station and then I have to walk once around the block. My room is high up and has a great view, but it is rather small and the design looks cheesy and retro, as if it was from the 1970s.
I make myself comfortable and make a plan for the next few days. I want to walk as much as possible and use the metro as little as possible, but first I will need some Hong Kong Dollars and something for breakfast. I ask at the reception if they know a money exchange office nearby and they tell me that there is one just down the road. I will pay it a visit in the morning. But now I walk to the supermarket around the corner and see that prices are a lot higher than in Guiyang and that you find many western goods, like diet Pepsi, which is not available even in Carrefour and Walmart in Guiyang. Since it is a warm and pleasant night, I walk a bit around the area and notice many things I will talk about in my next posts. What surprises me is the temperature. It was very wet, windy, damp and cold in Guiyang, but it is pleasantly warm here. 

Bottle of water and biscuits on the plane.
Grand City Hotel and surrounding area
My room in the Grand City Hotel. If you look closely to the left you will see a curtain. The bathroom is behind it. There's no door separating the bathroom from the rest.

The view at night

Good morning world!

Here I am walking towards the centre. This is a shop that sells new year's and other Chinese things.

2016 was the year of the monkey.
Hollywood Road park - a small oasis within tall buildings

Narrow streets, red taxis, tall buildings, one way streets, left hand driving like in Britain and other Commonwealth countries.
Mean looking guys.

Bamboo scaffolding 

Man Mo Temple - a Taoist temple

One of Hong Kong’s oldest temples and a declared monument, atmospheric Man Mo Temple is dedicated to the gods of literature (‘Man’), holding a writing brush, and of war (‘Mo’), wielding a sword. Built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants, it was, besides a place of worship, a court of arbitration for local disputes when trust was thin between the Chinese and the colonialists. Oaths taken at this Taoist temple (often accompanied by the ritual beheading of a rooster) were accepted by the colonial government.
Outside the main entrance are four gilt plaques on poles that used to be carried around at processions. Two describe the gods being worshipped inside, one requests silence and a show of respect within the temple’s grounds, and the last warns menstruating women to keep out of the main hall. Inside the temple are two 19th-century sedan chairs with elaborate carvings, used to carry the two gods during festivals.
Lending the temple its beguiling and smoky air are rows of large earth-coloured spirals suspended from the roof, like strange fungi in an upside-down garden. These are incense coils burned as offerings by worshippers.
Off to the side is Lit Shing Kung, the ‘saints’ palace’, a place of worship for other Buddhist and Taoist deities. Another hall, Kung Sor (‘public meeting place’), used to serve as a court of justice to settle disputes among the Chinese community before the modern judicial system was introduced. A couplet at the entrance urges those entering to leave their selfish interests and prejudices outside. Fortune-tellers beckon from inside. 
Source: Lonely Planet

I saw a wonderful photo of this temple in a brochure and decided to pay it a visit. It took me a while to find it, not because I got lost, but because I didn't see it and didn't recognise it as such. The photo in the brochure had nothing in common with the photo you see here.

Spend a while in here and your clothes will smell sweetly for days.

I have been told that names of dead people are written on what looks like book covers and people come here to mourn and bring them fruit and light up candles.

If you would like to read more by me, you can find my novel At Night and my travelogue from Ar'ar in the Saudi desert on Amazon.

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