Elevated Reality; Surfing in Hong Kong

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Where I stayed
Kyoto Guest House, Tsim Sha Tsu
Couchsurfing on HK Island

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Sunday, December 11, 2011


Hong Kong is a futuristic city where pinstripe suits meet sweat pants on the elevated pedestrian walks, the city making creative use of prized real estate. The underground and overground transportation channels give the place a science fiction space station feel. Absolutely no sense of Communist oppression here.

The pinstripe suit set, mostly on the island and mostly of English cut, hurriedly breeze along the elevated walkways to the next meeting, a business lunch, or a purposeful stroll through one of the hundreds of upscale shopping malls. HK is still a major financial and international business center and you cannot sneeze without hitting an expat. The non-suit wearing public is easily much better dressed than their counterparts on mainland, China. Everyone makes an effort….. And where did the spitting, horn honking and disregard for rules go? We left that behind on the mainland. Hong Kong is not China. We should thank the Queen for that. Her rule may be ended but her influence holds on.

Hong Kong's skyline doesn’t try to match Shanghai’s for race to build the next new tall building contest. Hong Kong’s new building and redevelopment appears to be more pragmatic attempt to squeeze more living space into the natural limits of the island. Elevated covered walkways connect everything in the center. We probably walked as far as a kilometer without having to touch ground level pavement, and then only briefly before climbing back up on the walkways. The Central-Mid-Levels escalators were new news to us. The Hong Kong escalator system is an innovative approach to mass transit and has become a tourist site itself. (Wiki notes) The Central–Mid-levels escalators in Hong Kong is the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world. The entire system covers over 2600 feet (800 meters) in distance and elevates over 443 feet (135 meters) from bottom to top. The escalator runs downhill from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and uphill from 10:30am to midnight.

Except for the business traveler, I suppose most travelers stay in Hong Kong on a layover to another destination. Why not? It has a Chinese and colonial history laying in wait. And probably the best shopping in Asia! Why did we pick Hong Kong? Shopping and food!

Our goals for Hong Kong:
1)    Officially exit China so we could re-enter and begin our third 90 day stay
2)    Pick up a package from the USA at the GPO Poste Restante window
3)    Buy a new camera
4)    Buy a new computer
5)    See some sights and enjoy some international cuisine

Leaving our backpacks stored at the Loft in Shenzhen, we took a single half full bag to the Metro for our stay in Hong Kong. We would be staying with a generous Couchsurfing host for three nights. It was a great surprise to learn that our host has a very nice apartment on Hong Kong island.

Before leaving Shenzhen, we went on a quest to find the Subway Sandwiches restaurant. All we knew was that it was at the Guo Mao metro stop. First, we looked in the shopping malls that are part of the metro’s complex. Then we checked out side and were overwhelmed by the mass of towering skyscrapers, traffic and shear number of pedestrians in the area. Dave walked a block or two on the outside toward the Walmart. Finally, we found it by going the opposite direction from Walmart a quarter mile on the other side of Guomao on the third floor of yet another mall. We must have been desperate to spend an hour to find it. It does rank as some of the most 'non-Chinese’ food in China.

After one more metro stop, we were at Customs and Immigration at Luohu. Signs directed us out of the country of China’s exit, and then, to the Hong Kong entrance. It had the same look and feel, and processes, of a typical airport port of entry. We found an ATM immediately on the Hong Kong side and bought mass transit Octopus cards for the Hong Kong MRT and bus. The card certainly made our transport quick and convenient. But they charge a non-refundable 5HK ($0.64 USD) for the card itself. The 40+ kilometer, hour and 10 minute, ride into Central station required two train changes and about $42HK (or $5.40US)

The immigration lines were long and MTR trains crowded. But with all the signs in English, it was easy to get to Central Station. Our host’s instructions to his apartment on the 9th floor near the mid-levels were straight forward too. We rode the Central Mid-Levels Escalators and arrived at our host’s door at 9PM.

Dave knew exactly what camera model he wanted, a Lumix LX-5, and knew the best on-line prices. We were advised to go to Wan Chai District 灣仔區 because the shops there have a good reputation for decent prices and being legitimate. Other shops in Hong Kong are cheaper but known to have some swindlers. We followed the advice and shopped at Wai Chai. The first camera shop we priced the camera at turned out to be the cheapest of 5 or 6. We went back to close the deal at roughly the best USA Ebay price. The shop collected the money then paused as he prepared the camera. Then, he said there were other cameras that would meet our requirements better. It was odd that he was un-closing the deal, but we listened. He showed us a Leica and demonstrated its superior image side-by-side with the Lumix LX-5. All due to the 100% glass elements in the lens, he said. Yeah, it was better but also more than twice the price. Then he offered another choice, an Olympus XZ-1. Not Leica precision but still 100% glass elements, a larger image sensor and brighter lens (F1.8 vs. F2.0) and about 80 bucks more than the Lumix.  He shot a few images around the store and sure enough, they were sharper with more accurate colors on close ups and less white hot spot flair when shooting into florescent lights. An Olympus promotion gave a bigger 16GB class 10 SD card and the battery is the same as in our waterproof camera so we wouldn't need to buy another spare. We were sold and walked off the Olympus without any comparison shopping.

With the new netbook computer, the story was similar. Our old netbook had refused to come back alive for three days now. Although we didn’t have a particular replacement model in mind, Victor, quickly convinced us to forego the low end model and go with a Toshiba. He showed us a side-by-side comparison which seemed to show the Toshiba played back videos with less jitter…. I’d not have really noticed any difference with out the side-by-side comparison, but now we could see it. Victor also suggested putting our perfectly good old hard drive in a case so we could use it as a back-up drive. He reconfigured the drive so we could get to all our old files, we wouldn’t need to transfer anything to the new computer…. Another great salesman. We left satisfied customers!

Item 2, didn't go so smoothly. No package for us at the Poste Restante window. We checked each day for three days. We finished our three day welcome with our couchsurfing host and moved over to Kyoto Guesthouse on the 15th floor of the notorious Chunk King mansions. Just as we were paying our rent, I got the email from Yolanda that the package we were waiting for was returned to sender for "insufficient address." That seemed impossible since we cut and pasted the address info directly from the Hong Kong Post Office guide. But the package was in the US and not in Hong Kong for sure. Because hotels are so relatively expensive in Hong Kong, we decided to ask Yolanda to Fed-Ex the package to us in Shenzhen. We’ll wait for it there!

The sunny weather turned to grey so we cancelled our planned hiking in east Hong Kong.  Next time! We did have time for treating ourselves to more international food! Paisano's Pizza (in Wan Chai) serves sandwiches dripping in delicious sauce and cheese. The Indonesian place north of the Chungking mansions gave us a scrumptious 5 course dinner. And Le Velo Bakery and Cafe, also in Kowloon, has great coffee and pretty decent soup, sandwiches and lox! And we found a tiny Turkish restaurant that is dynamite. Let’s not forget the freshly made sashimi and take out sushi. And we got import items at International and Wellcome grocery stores. Items that cannot be found anywhere in China. And at reasonable prices. We were like thirsty people coming from the desert!

We went back to Shenzhen dragging our bag that was now stuffed to the gills! Door to door, from Kyoto Guest House to the Loft in Shenzhen, took about three hours, including walking from/to the hotels to metros, refunding our Octopus card, shopping at duty free, customs and passport clearance.
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