Culture Shock

Trip Start Sep 01, 2004
Trip End Apr 25, 2005

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Flag of Hong Kong  ,
Friday, November 26, 2004


We are in Hong Kong for four days to get our China Visa and try to adapt to the changes from Africa to Asia. It was a two day process just to overcome the jet lag. I don't know if it was related to just being tired, the time our flight took, or just the radical change of culture, but this piece of travel took the greatest toll on us. We should be ready for Beijing by the time we arrive.

Hong Kong is an amazing place. Maybe not for everyone, but it has surprised us. We did the research before we left, but nothing that you read or anything people tell you, prepares you for the intensity, size, or pure energy that this place demonstrates wherever you go. We keep saying it's like a brand new San Francisco, only a hundred times larger. Nothing seems like it's older than five years and not a speck of dirt or garbage anywhere. There must be ten thousand little women with surgical masks, and big rubber gloves, just wandering around cleaning and polishing everything. The funny thing is that nothing seems even dusty that they are polishing. JoAnn thinks they are after germs, since the whole SAR thing. After seeing how clean and well dressed the construction workers are I think there is just a whole cultural thing going on. Speaking of construction, I have to tell you about the contrasts. All of their scaffolding is made of bamboo tied together with plastic twine. I mean even the 40 story buildings. The construction guys are like insects. They are constantly moving and their work sites have a zillion cones, signs, walls, barriers, and flagging, everywhere. Even the trenches they are digging seem to be swept clean every five minutes. They have these cute little padded jackets for their jack hammers, just to keep the noise down. Slow motion seems like about 200 mph here. It's almost a "Blade Runner" kind of place, if you know the movie. The transit system is like brand new everything, and it is so fast you almost get scared. When we first arrived I thought it was just because I was used to a very slow pace in Africa, but after four days even the doubledecker busses seem to be going 30-40 mph too fast. We really enjoy the mass transit everywhere we go, but this place is light years ahead of cities in the USA and UK. The thing that really strikes us is that probably less than one percent of the people here own a home or a car. The subways are fast, cheap, and clean. They are very hi-tech and have huge LCD monitors on the walls advertising everything, while you stand and wait the three minutes between trains. During rush hour they are incredibly busy and twice we were in that position where they just shove everyone on like sardines and hope the doors can close. I thought JoAnn was going to freak with her claustrophobia, but she didn't loose control or kill anyone. Judging by the incredible number of small restaurants, and very few food markets, we suspect everyone eats out at least one meal per day. Give me a break, how many times can you eat noodles for breakfast. Their work day seems to start about 9:30-10:30 in the morning and everyone is still on the streets after 9:00 in the evening.

Shopping. Nothing I can write here would prepare you for the shopping in Hong Kong. When we think of a really nice mall in California, it's maybe three stories and has 5-6 really well known international type high end, designer stores. Here the malls have the flash of Las Vegas, 5-6 stories above ground and 2-3 stories underground. The individual stores inside are smaller, so there are probably three to five times the number you would find in America, in each mall. The amazing thing is that the malls are everywhere. Within a 15 minute walk of our Hotel we counted 15-20, and that is such an incredibly small piece of Kowloon, which is just one neighborhood in Hong Kong. Some of the more quaint neighborhoods, that seem almost Europeian, have a zillion shops lining the narrow curving streets. I'm not a shopping guy but this place is so much more than sensory overload.

We spent one day going to see the Big Buddah on the other side of the bay. It's about an hour on the subway and another hour by bus to the top of this remote mountain. After climbing a long stairway you arrive at the base of this really cool, bronze, Buddah. Its about 100 foot tall, and has a huge bell that hangs in the base. You can see it sitting on top of the mountain from about 15 minutes away. We wandered around and watched a serious number of people lighting incense and burning prayer type papers. I could hardly breath. They gave you a free meatless lunch that was very generic. (Diane, I don't know how you can eat that stuff :^))

We took this old style tram to the top of a mountain overlooking the entire city. Of course there are two malls at the top. The view was neat and it really showed you how incredibly large this city is.

One evening we visited the night market and JoAnn got here palm, and face, read. The old guy said that she is stubborn, and that she shouldn't marry anyone with eyes smaller than her own. Since her nickname is "peanut eyes", and she even walks like she is stubborn, I think the guy had a very easy client to work with. Of course I exclaimed loudly, how insightful he was. There was everything that you could ever want to buy at the market. Lots of "stuff". I am so glad that we didn't have to buy any.

Today was planning for the next phase of travel. We did find a Hotel restaurant that was making a real, honest to God, Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't have the whole family with us, bummer, and we didn't have to eat with chop sticks either, and the food was great, with normal sized portions. I still missed JoAnn's rolls though! Today is a travel day so we are at the airport where there is free Internet, as long as you can stand up. There are no chairs here. We are looking forward to the cool weather in Beijing and will try and meet George as he is leaving China, if possible. They tell us travel in China is a huge act of patience. We hope our Africa experience will help. Thanks to everyone that writes, we love to hear from you. Stay healthy and warm.

Don and JoAnn
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kforeman on

so true
I'm studying in Kowloon right now.. you are right about the cleanliness here in HK.. it's amazing! I just came back from classes (a 15 minute walk in covered sidewalks) and I must have passed 5 women cleaning/dusting/sweeping. It just rained, too!

I'm going to Beijing in a week, so I read your entry from that as well.. and Catonese (spoken in HK) is generally thought to be harsher than Putonhua (which I am studying, and is in Beijing).. I have yet to hear the difference, though. I can't even see the facial differences in Asian faces.

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