A Shambles Ramble: Hong Kong (Part 1)
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
The other day, after watching a report on the state of Hong Kong after the new laws on “sedition” were introduced, I was hit with the realisation that my trip there in 2017 was certainly my last to a “free” Hong Kong. Whenever I go back, if I go back, the atmosphere will never be the same as it was when I visited. With this in mind, I have decided to publish the parts of my diary concerned with Hong Kong here, that anyone who failed to visit before the bell tolled might catch a glimpse of how it was.
14th December 2017
Well I’m now firmly settled into Hong Kong, having spent one night here now. I won’t regale you with the oh-so-interesting ‘Tales from the Airport™’. Suffice to say a lack of seating and almost lack of money made the wait nearly torturous, and it didn’t take long to pass out on the plane over. When I woke up, we were getting ready to land, and through my grogginess I somehow managed to eat breakfast at HK airport (they had butter so I was in ecstasy) and get the connecting train to Kowloon, the second stop on the three-stop route. Easiest route to follow ever. First impressions of Hong Kong from the train were of a city squeezed into the mountains. After only a few minutes we were straight into high-rises, and clustered high-rises at that. They were settled in the folds of these luxurious green hills, a far cry from Seoul’s winter wonderland. It gave the impression of an aggressive urbanisation competing against a still aggressive natural landscape and this only became more prevalent as I journeyed further in. The dockyard was massive; if you ever need reminding that Hong Kong has one of the largest economies in the world with an obscene amount of shipping going through it, take the airport express and sit in awe of the thousands of shipping containers and tens of cranes, motionless for now. It was a huge operation, and even though I was struggling to stay awake I couldn’t help but appreciate the scale of it all.
And still the high-rises kept coming. Soon there were skyscrapers. Once I was in the city proper, I realised how cute everything I’d said about the density of Tokyo had been. I was off the bus and walking into the hostel when it really hit me how much bigger Hong Kong is. It’s so big that they’ve had to build up instead of out, I guess because they’re constrained by geography, for now. The building I’m staying in, for example, is a mosaic of extractor fans and air conditioners. The entrance is almost completely obscured by banners and signs for the other businesses in the building, but once I got inside it was apparent that all the effort had been put into those outside advertisements. Someone was hammering in a room at the back. As I was waiting for the lift a man carted a wheelbarrow full of dry wall through the lobby. There was barely enough space for him to squeeze by with everyone waiting. There were two separate lifts for odd and even floors, and mine was full when it arrived. Floor 5 was completely nondescript. In fact, I could see people’s living rooms through open doors, so I thought I’d come to the wrong place. But rounding the corner I saw the hostel door. Clearly, considering the matchbox this place is, it was once a flat of some sort. Now it was a sardine can. There are nine people in my room. I’m in the top bunk of three beds and have just about enough space to sit upright. There’s a pipe running along the bottom of my bed, so I have to pull my legs out from under it before I can begin to get down, and this combined with the sheerness of the ladder means I have to perform a low swing to get onto it. People on top of people, buildings on top of buildings. Then I passed out from exhaustion after only having 3 hours of sleep in the last 32 hours.
When I woke up, I was famished. Luckily, I’m supposed to be meeting Athena for dinner later, so to kill time I’ve caught up on this diary. I really want to get it back up to date before it becomes a problem.
I keep forgetting to mention how I saw almost no bugs whilst I was in Japan. There were a few floaty things at some of the shrines, but I never saw a spider, not even a midge. In Seoul, there was at least a little fly or two. Here in Hong Kong, they even have butterflies, I guess because it’s still 20⁰C outside.
By 6:30 yesterday I was incredibly hungry, so before meeting Athena I ventured out to find a cornershop. The mad thing about here is that because everything’s been built up instead of out, each high-rise is its own mini mall with at least three foot massage parlours on different floors. Finding a basic little shop meant wading through a throng of people and, strangely, Indian men trying to flog knock-off watches and handbags. That was a bit surprising. Still, I found a 7/11, and I’d just finished the last of the raisin bun when Athena recognised me before I her. I wasn’t expecting her to be as formally dressed as she was, but I forgot that she was a businesswoman now. It was weird to see her in this new role, especially when compared to the university persona I’m more familiar with. She assured me that it wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed, and she was slightly envious of my travelling. In turn I assured her that I would much rather have money to buy food. It’s like a before and after. Anyway, it was a very sweet reunion: the second – and last -friend from home I’ll see on this trip. She took me to Yum Cha, and Instagram-bait restaurant. And to be fair, it was really good food. The reason I say it’s Instagram-bait is because the dim sum was in the shape of adorable little pigs and birds. They were little balls filled with pork and custard, for the pig and bird, respectively. They had little ears, eyes, and noses, and were delicious to eat. There were also these green beans deep fried in this salty yolk batter that was really very nice indeed. Little radish cubes were slightly spicy and tasty as hell, and free red tea, for a change. Little seems to be the word of the day. I seriously need to expand my vocabulary.
I asked Athena for a few phrases and attempted to order water, but before I’d even finished my sentence the waitress turned to Athena and said, “I’m sorry I don’t speak English.” She proceeded to talk in Mandarin with her. And the whole time I was thinking: was that not right? Did I say it wrong? But Athena said it was fine, so I don’t understand. Mm goi. We had a nice catch-up while we were eating. We talked a surprising amount about Korea and Japan, especially about Athena’s descent into a K-Pop hole and the multi-faceted culture of modern Japan. She spent one summer with her family watching nothing but K-dramas, and she had her first crush on a K-pop boyband member. She agreed with me that people in South Korea are way cooler than people in Japan; they’re more confident, dress better, more fashionable, and are much more comfortable with intimacy. In her opinion, it’s the repression of sexuality in Japan that created the otaku culture, and is why the suicide rates, stories about serial murderers and cannibals etc. are not so uncommon. That’s probably the main difference between those two places I suppose, although I have yet to see what it’s like here. The Rape of Nanjing came up (as it does) and Athena’s description of some of the atrocities committed there made it difficult for me to continue eating. She made a point of mentioning John Rabe, a Nazi, setting up a protection zone in the city to protect the civilians, and just fact-checking his name and reading up on it now is appalling. No wonder East-Asian countries have such poor relations with Japan. Thankfully, the conversation turned more positive once we finished and went for a walk down by the harbour. We got a great view of the other side of the bank, all lit up with Christmas lights and overburdened with skyscrapers set against a backdrop of dark mountains (so overburdened that the natural bank has been superseded by artificial ones and the buildings basically sit on the sea). It was a good first night in Hong Kong, but when I got to bed, I slept the sleep of the dead.
Hooray I’m caught up to today! I went for a walk around the area, went to the park, and had McDonald’s for lunch. See, that’s what this diary COULD have ended up as. A series of small uninformative bullet points. Aren’t I nice to you Alex?
Visited a shrine in the South which was fine I suppose. The air inside was thick with incense from the metric ton they were burning, and the floor was full of ash. I don’t remember much about Taoism, not that I’d learnt that much in the first place, so I wasn’t sure as to whom the figures people were bowing to depicted. I decided to walk back to the underground a few stops back as I headed home. It led me through some funky alleys and even whole buildings that doubled as malls and walkways. I even stumbled across an M&S and got excited over all the cheese. Outside the Central Government Offices the ‘Best of British’ event was happening; a showcase of a select few British products (but actually a pop-up pub, with the Ashes playing on a big screen). The music cut out a one point because the guy got a call on his phone, and so for a good half a minute the default iPhone jingle was playing over the speakers. A woman and I locked eyes and laughed at the ineptitude of it all. Then I came back, swapped my bed for one that had just been vacated nearer the floor, and decided not to go for dim sum with hostel people since I’d just had that yesterday. I quite fancy some sweet and sour chicken. Or lemon chicken. Mmm…
(Editor’s note: ‘Yesterday’ refers to the 14th December, as at this point I was writing on the 15th).