Hong Kong

Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Arriving at our hostel in Hong Kong was a strange experience. After taking the lift to the 15th floor we knocked patiently on the door of the Chunk Kiu Inn for a few minutes before a woman came around the corner and ushered us into a doctors surgery on the same floor. We tried to explain we wanted the hostel, and even if we did want a doctor our first port of call might be a hospital not a small room overrun with cats, but language barriers meant we ended up sat down in front of a Chinese doctor and an imposing operating table. He asked my name, looked through a large file and a large grin appeared on his face. Thankfully the doctor was also the owner of the guest house, and after taking a stupidly inflated amount of money off me because it was Christmas, set up a double bed in the waiting room for our 11 night stay.

Okay, so I made the last bit up, we were actually in a renovated operating room, but the scenario is not that far fetched because Hong Kong is so incredibly crowded. There isn't space for anything. Its not like there is hundreds of skyscrapers, its just that every building is at least 15stories high yet every road is less than 15m wide. The net result is pure people carnage. Christmas eve was particularly memorable because it took 1hour to walk half a mile on a street that was completely pedestrianised. The locals knew how to celebrate Christmas - its seemed like all 6million of its residents were partying on the streets. Until 3am hundreds of thousands of people sang Christmas songs in Cantonese but to traditionally English songs. After a while this was utterly baffling. I can understand that maybe the Cantonese of "we wish you a merry Christmas" fits neatly into the same tune, but carols like "silent night?" "Away in a manger!" You mean to tell me that they conjured words relating to the same theme for the whole length of that song? I was truly gob smacked with admiration.

If Christmas Eve was a day of celebration, Christmas day was just like any other in Hong Kong. Everyone went to work, public transport ran as normal, and we were one of the daily thousands making our way back across the border into China. We met up with fellow FatDog Alice and spent the next 2days with her family getting pampered in a health spa and getting thoroughly well fed. Chinese Christmas dinner wasn't turkey but a strange selection of other poultry including chicken feet, duck feet, goose and cold chicken. It was delicious but it was never going to beat your own mothers cooking. Alice's family gave us Chinese names for the day. I can't remember mine but Kerry literally translated as Gar-lay, which in Cantonese means Curry.

The border between China and Hong Kong is a strange place - not least because Hong Kong is officially part of China which makes the whole concept of a border crossing between the two places farcical. Basically you enter Shenzhen train station and to the left of platform 3 is a small corridor that takes you through two sets of customs and leaves you in the same train station but beside platform 8. China is markedly cheaper than Hong Kong for clothes and in the same train station, so somewhere above customs but officially in China, is a 5story shopping center with all kinds of fake goods at stupidly low prices.

Anyone who has been to Asia will understand what a scary place such shopping centers are - just walking past a shop somehow gives off a vibe which the shop assistant interprets as 'this man wants to spend 50quid on a fake Gucci bag, I must man handle him and shout loudly in his ear in order to seal the deal.' This place was by far the worst I have ever experienced and I had to use new tactics to scare off the shopkeepers. When they shouted "mister, you want bag, maybe watch", I replied with "sorry I only buy fake goods," and when they offered videos I would ask for something completely obscure like "have you got that pirate DVD of Sven Goran Erikson and Ulrika Johnson, you know, the one where they handcuff each other to the bed." However, I was speechless when an overweight 40year old women with a Kevin Keegan perm, smoking a fag, and with make up applied by a pneumatic drill, offered me a massage.

Between Boxing day and New Years Eve we did what every normal English person does - virtually nothing. One day we made it to an outer lying island with a minuscule piece of sand which made us extremely happy - how do beaches put such a smile on your face even when they're full of broken glass and have water that would give you pneumonia in seconds? Another day we were walking around near the central train station and there were about 1,500 women sat in cardboard boxes, eating picnics, by the side of the walkways. They obviously weren't homeless so it must be some sort of protest. I asked one woman what everyone was doing and she replied "its sunday" - "so, why are you sat around a cold train station in a box" - "sunday is our only day off, we come here every sunday." These women were nannies and cleaners, mainly from places like the Phillipines, who live with rich Hong Kong residents, and this was their social life. I found it a bit depressing but every single woman had a huge smile on their face.

So to New Years Eve. To say Alice was a complete and utter disappointment is an understatement. At 11:30 she was sick everywhere, nearly fainted in the pub and was put in a taxi in order to spend midnight in the comfort of the toilet bowl. We met up with Rich, who we had traveled though South West China with, and went to the only club that might play decent music. The promoter asked if I wanted to go on stage to do the countdown. It wasn't much of an honour seen as this club had a capacity of about 150 but I started babbling to her about the FatDog parties in England to justify being the chosen one.

Unfortunately the hideously terrible DJ had decided to choose his own mate and I was sent back to the dance floor as this goon said something along the lines of "5,4,3,2,1, happy new year." Show some enthusiasm you boring twat. I was about to launch into "Alright you fat dogs! 5,4,3,2,1 lets fucking have it Hong Kong...do you want me to mix that tune in DJ because your shit." At least make it memorable, this precise moments only comes round once a year. For the next 3hours it was a pretty standard affair of poorly mixed funky electro crap until out of nowhere some Japanese techno DJ had me and Rich raving on the speakers. By 5am the club was finally going off but Kerry picked this moment to vomit all over herself - hair included - and we had to walk the streets home with her looking like spaghetti Bolognese. There's nothing like a good chunder to see in the new year.

Stupidly hungover the next day we dragged ourselves, along with 70,000 others, to the horse racing. The racecourse was absolutely incredible. It had a 5tiered stand that stretched for 300m along the course, a paddock that accommodated over 10,000 people, and the whole first floor was only for bets made in excess of 70quid. The locals took it very seriously and over 2million pounds were being bet at the course on each race. Its a well known fact that hangovers induce severe indecisiveness so picking a horse to bet on was an extremely taxing process. I went for the simplest option of picking the ones with good names and lost a load of money on horses like 'Northerner' and 'King Prawn Supreme.' Kerry on the other hand, took 5 minutes in the paddock to examine the animals and won every time.

On our last day in Hong Kong we spent Kerry's winnings on tickets for the JB Group classic tennis event featuring 5 of the worlds top ten women. To be honest i find women's tennis on TV a bit boring. When you watch Wimbledon you can always switch channels and see a 30year old journeyman British wild-card male, ranked 30,570 in the world, enjoy his 56minutes of fame getting whipped by a Macedonian qualifier, and both obscure men seem to hit the ball significantly harder than the worlds number one woman. And Anna Kournikova retired. However, after watching women's tennis live I have a new found respect for their talent and power. It was astonishing how fast they can hit the ball. It was even more astonishing how long Venus Williams legs actually are - they are without doubt longer than the whole of Kerry. We watched 3 matches of absorbing tennis which were amazing apart from during the interval when we found that every food and drink tent was reserved for VIPs and sponsors wearing flash suits and generally looking like complete toffs. Some things will never change.

Anyway, that was Hong Kong, hopefully you also managed to celebrate the New Year with a good vomit. 
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