9 hours in Hong Kong

April 11, 2009

Hong Kong. Home for many movie stars I grew fond of during my childhood. After a spy exchange in North Korea, James Bond escaped from MI7’s rehabilitation facility in Hong Kong, arriving at a hotel drenched and unshaven.

My journey to Hong Kong was less eventful. Packed in a full Boeing 777 plane, I indulged in various Hongkongese cuisine and survived sixteen hours with only one trip to the lavatory by drinking only half a cup of water. A flight over Canada, the Arctic, Russia, Mongolia, China and an interview with a man in uniform half awake later, I arrived at Hong Kong dehydrated and unshaven.

First 2 Hours: Airport

I got out into one of the world’s busiest airport when it was empty as the fuel tank of the plane I just disembarked.

Being a transit hub, the airport had a fair share of passengers trying to nap before boarding the next flight, their sleep safely secured by the armrests in the middle of the chairs.

I tried to stay awake for the next train to the city that departs at 5:55am. The ticketing machines were not in service until 10 minutes before the first train. I wouldn’t want to miss a minute exploring the city.

Next 30 Minutes: Into the City

At 5:45am, I got a train ticket to the city before they removed the “No Service” notices from the machines.

The shuttle train was quiet and fast. If you like, you can use their free wireless Internet service along the 24 minute journey to the city centre.

The train made three stops – Tsing Yi, an island between the airport and Kowloon Peninsula; Kowloon, located west of the heart of Kowloon; and Hong Kong Station, located in the Hong Kong Island and sits underneath the International Finance Centre.

I took a set of escalators to the surface.

Another 30 Minutes: Getting Stuck

Right out of the station, giants greeted me.

Kowloon Station nested under five residential and one commercial skyscraper. On the surface, the station exits into a pleasant civic garden in the middle of the skyscrapers. Garden it may be, I couldn’t find any exits.

All I could find walking from end to end were fire exits that triggered alarms if I opened them. Security guards were wary of my presence, and promptly asked me to stop taking pictures of my adventure.

I went back into the station, tunnelled through the shopping complex attached to it, and found something close to an exit.

Aha! The outside! It looked just like any outsides around the world. A road, a path for pedestrians, traffic signals… Hong Kong wasn’t a continuous set of boxed-in walkway after all. Now how do I get to the outside?

I turned around and went back to the bus depot I just passed.

There it was, the light of the day casting a blue aura around the opening of this amalgamation of living, working and playing amenities. I couldn’t walk out of it faster.

Next 2 Hours: Just Walking Around

Right-hand driving was the first thing to get used to.

“Jesus is the Lord.” Says the banner.

Road signs for pedestrians painted on the roads were useful with the number of one way streets I walked across.

Learn to speak English like it’s built right into your tongue. Guaranteed. At least that’s what I think it meant in the picture.

The front of a vacant lot on a busy street was a struggle between those who have something to tell the world and those who actually own the space and don’t want them to.

503 Nathan Road looked like a fancy store, but it’s just an ad for rental space on the property itself.

Just 10 Minutes: Breakfast

My legs longed for a break after walking for hours with eight kilograms of camera equipment and a laptop in tow. There were a handful of restaurants opened at that hour, but it was difficult to choose without knowing what to expect.

Non-local options looked more inviting every time I passed it by…

Deciding that I was up and down the road for too long, I entered a restaurant that had a decent menu laid out on the street. A lady hurried me in and seated me with a man waiting for his breakfast, as she re-introduced me to the practice of sharing a table with others. A yellow label that read “Four Person Seating” proudly stuck itself next to the table number, reminding me that to address the situation awkward was itself, awkward. I looked at the man sitting across from me as he stared nonchalantly towards the back of me, my presence unacknowledged, while I withdrew my urge to an easy conversation with him.

I stared back down at my available options for the morning. The decent menu I was seduced to on the street wasn’t available during breakfast hours. It was a choice between ramen noodles and a continental breakfast that can be had a few doors down from my apartment in Canada.

I chose noodles. Maybe they taste different over here? The lady wrote down the price.

It came with a beverage of choice. Mine was a jolt of sugar, caffeine and catechins.

Cutleries were conveniently located under the tables.

Here it is. Spam, fried egg and noodles – all chewed and transported for further digestion under five minutes.

Next 2 Hours: Run to the Water

There were more hours left than I was willing to walk. I looked for a place where sitting down thirty minutes at a time seemed enjoyable. I headed south towards the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, where I could see Hong Kong Island.

I walked past a flight of stairs, its arms opened wide and the top intriguing. Curiosity got the best of me.

It was Kowloon Park.

I needed to be back to the unfinished tower in the middle of the picture within two hours to catch a train back to the airport.

“The Concept of Newton”:

I don’t think I want to be here during rush hour.

Peninsula Hotel:

The Avenue of Stars ran along the southern coast across from Hong Kong Island.

I sat down near a harbour and started writing down my notes. A girl approached me and asked me to photograph her group. I took a photo of them. Another girl came and asked for the same thing. I took another photo.

Then a professional fortune teller, heavily bearded, walked past me, stopped, took a good look at me and said, “You know, you have the face of good fortune. You are a very lucky guy.”

“Thanks.” I said with a smile.

“You will have a very lucky life,” he announced.

“Thanks.”

Getting more interested, he sat next to me, took out a piece of paper and a pencil.

“What’s your name?”

“Charles.” Charles was the first name I could think of. He wrote down “Charles.”

“Charles. You will have a good life. But it seems that you have a lot in your mind.”

“Mmm, you’re quite right.”

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“Pink.” I didn’t like pink.

“What do you like the most?”

“Hmm… Let me think about it. I think right now I would really like to be left alone.”

The professional fortune teller stood up and walked away.

I wasn’t the decent person he thought I was.

All the Time Left: Back to the Airport

It was easy to spot the tower where Kowloon Station was buried under. Getting there was trickier.

I thought this was the tower I was looking for. It wasn’t. I walked further up.

There it is! The station in sight, with a few more twists and turns, within reach.

You can check into your flight in Kowloon Station, including your baggages, saving you some time at the busy airport.

And then I was back in an aircraft, towards another country that drives on the other side of the road.

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