Hong Kong had the uncanny ability to make me feel like an absolute midget and an absolute giant all at the same time. The sky forever seemed an unfathomable distance away beyond the tops of buildings scraping the stratosphere, but I was definitely a good fifty centimetres closer than the average of the local population. I spent a few nights there last year when travelling from New Zealand to Europe to catch up with a very short friend of mine called Rachel, who showed me around like a tourist and like a local.
So my trip started with me in hysterics at the airport because somebody was holding up a sign for somebody called “Wang” and my sleep deprivation and immature mind couldn’t cope with this. I spilled some of my terrible Starbucks coffee on the airport floor as I struggled to contain my inner child. Luckily, Rachel wasn’t around to see that.
When Rachel and I (eventually) found each other we jumped in a cab and delivered my diminished luggage (my guitar had decided to go on a holiday of it’s own in sunny Brisbane, but did, in time, find it’s way back to my loving arms) to her extremely humble abode a little while out of downtown. Then we immediately went out for dinner to catch up with some more friends. I was quite famished as airplane food is often not so filling and, let’s be honest, I eat like my life depends on it (quickly, in vast amounts and usually without chewing), so I was looking forward to a nice big plate of comfort food. Rachel had other ideas;
“Oh yeah. This is Jellyfish.”
It had to be done. Apparently it wasn’t good jellyfish, but I rather enjoyed it. Something I really love about how they eat over there is how all of their food is shared – be it ordering steamed dumplings or having a “hot pot” – it all just goes in the middle of the table and on a first come, first serve basis, everybody shamelessly dives in. This is fantastic as a traveller as you get to sample so many different dishes in a short amount of time, and while your friends are peering fairly indiscreetly over to see if you’re going to grab yourself a chicken foot or two and are trying not to laugh at your ‘better than most caucasians but in reality, rather shit’ chopstick skills it does encourage a feeling of community. If somebody has compromised the hot-pot, we’ll all fall ill together.
So far I’ve mentioned hot pots twice and not told you about them. A hot pot is a universe of endless combination possibilities, and while traditionally they seem quite refined and standard, in my brain there are a million different flavours you can create. The concept is simple; you have a big bowl in the middle of the table filled with a broth or soup type protrusion, and you are then served a variety of raw meats and vegetables to then simmer in the broth until cooked. There were a few sad looking vegetables as I may, despite promising “broccoli, I won’t let go”, have lost control of my chopsticks a few times and failed to find the stranded piece of food in question. I now understand the ending to titanic.
I will mention how heart sinking it is when a whole restaurant of asians is laughing at you for your chopstick failings. It’s not my fault I grew up in a westernised environment when using chopsticks was basically an act of bravery, or a challenge to see who could make the least mess at the Chinese restaurant. I was completely in awe as I watched Rachel cut up a piece of cake with two pieces of wood instead of a knife. I’m still not entirely sure it’s possible. I do now always have a pair of chopsticks with me (an item that wasn’t in Lisa’s van (another story for another day)) and I use them whenever I cook myself a stir-fry or something to that degree. I feel it’s a skill I must improve on to become more cultured. When I master the chopstick, I will transcend into a greater being.
(Me, after failing with chopsticks, knife and fork pathetically in hand)
Enough about food. It’s all I ever speak, think and dream about. As I mentioned earlier, I was being hosted by a friend of mine. Rachel is a short, sometimes sarcastic, always hilarious and usually very smily and happy girl from Hong Kong (not China!) whom I met while picking grapes in Tasmania. She is short, even for somebody from Hong Kong, and I’m surprised she doesn’t constantly live in fear of being kidnapped. Did I mention she is short? She is often spotted with an old-school film SLR and awesome hats. Rachel is a rather cool girl. She lives in an apartment with her family, which is apparently pretty standard over there. The space is somewhat diminished, in that I think there were six of them sharing what was effectively smaller than my one bedroom flat in England. Personal space is measured in centimetres and not rooms. It’s eye opening to see in reality, but nobody seems to mind. My designated sleeping space was a pile of blankets on the floor which had to be moved to exit the apartment through the front door. My theory is this – a fish will only grow to accomodate the size of the bowl that it lives in – maybe this is why people from Hong Kong are so short; maybe the small apartments are to blame. Still, it takes longer for the rain to reach their heads. There’s a whole world down there I am completely oblivious to, where hostel showers are never too low and the temperature is always warmer where you are closer to satan.
And while all of that sounds like a complaint, it’s not. I had a roof over my head, a comfortable bed, pleasant company and everything I could possibly need. I was very happy.
On my first real day in Hong Kong we explored the city. It’s a strange blend of endless glass modern day gotham city style architecture and older, more homely buildings which look like they’re falling to shreds, but strangely enough both worlds are barely separated. There is an escalator with seemingly no start and no end, which confused me. We went up to a peak on a tram which I thought was pretty steep, but got progressively perpendicular until standing up became like fighting off the alcohol at three in the morning when you can no longer feel your legs. The view at the top was impressive and quite tranquil as we overlooked the chaos and anarchy of the bustling streets far below. Well, anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty three feet (if you get that, you’re my hero). We drank fantastic coffee in an impossibly small cafe at the end of the smallest, tightest, darkest alley. We watched the laser show at Victoria harbour and I banged my head on public transport systems and failed with chopsticks. I don’t normally like big cities, but I was enjoying Hong Kong.
(The view from the awkwardly angled tram)
(The alley out of the tiny coffee shop)
My next adventure was out of the city and into the hills. Contrary to what you might think, Hong Kong is largely forested and not urbanised. We took the glass bottomed gondola into the sky to see the Big Buddha, which I most definitely did not high five, and then spent the afternoon chasing pink dolphins and walking around the quirky fishing village called Tai-O, before catching a ferry back to the city under a bridge under construction which seemingly had no end (possibly where the escalator begins?). I watched an aeroplane fly through the setting sun as it romantically disappeared behind a layer of smog. We ate sushi and I failed with chopsticks.
I had an unusual experience on my last day when riding the metro, after saying goodbye to Rachel. The station was packed with people and they had to physically push us all onto the train. As the doors closed I had a moment of serenity. Sure, there was absolutely no room to even breathe, but I was a good couple of heads above the rest of the people on the train and I could see all the way down to the next caucasian right at the other end of the coach who was awkwardly waving at me. A voice at my feet yelled “what’s going on? I can’t see anything.”
“Some tourist is waving at me.” I responded.
“Well why aren’t you waving back?” I didn’t really know how to respond so I awkwardly wove back.
I think Hong Kong deserves a second look when passing through. I think it’s a misunderstood city with a lot more to offer than endless windows and pollution. There’s a plethora of hiking trails, cultural oddities, uncomfortable foods, beautiful cityscapes, chopstick failings and adventures to experience. Rachel was a fantastic and generous host who looked after me well and also did a good job of making me feel tall. Did I mention she’s short?
I’m going to summarise and review my time in Hong Kong as such;
– Tom @ indieroad