24 Hours in Hong Kong
Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
25Trip End Ongoing
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I stared up at the monstrosity, fast-moving clouds obstructing my view of the full moon hanging above it. A bat screeched through the night sky, diving into the bushes below me. Every once in a while I'd hear music or laughter coming from inside the monstrosity--most likely from Bubba Gump Shrimp. I thought, "Well, I'd be laughing, too if I were eating battered and fried shrimp at the top of the world".
Then the timid sounds of the crickets and bats from the surrounding mountains would flow back over me and soothingly remind me that I was all alone.
Sleepless in Shanghai
Just 24 hours before I was curled up on the couch in my apartment next to my friends, head buried in a blanket. Even though I successfully muffled the piercing sounds of the cheap horror flick, I knew I wouldn't be getting any sleep after our Halloween movie night.
After lying in bed, eyes wide open, lights on for eight hours, I threw my passport, camera, wallet, and a book (Kafka on the Shore) into my bag and sluggishly shlepped to Pudong International Airport.
After finally drifting off on the plane, I was jolted awake when we touched down in Shenzhen, the city across the Chinese border from Hong Kong. Because of my visa, I need to leave the country and get stamped back in every two months. Lots of people fly into Shenzhen for their visa runs because it's half the price of the international flight to Hong Kong. I read online that I could take subways all the way from the Shenzhen Airport to the hostel in downtown Hong Kong. Piece of cake, right?
I stepped off the plane into humid, 80 degree weather and followed the large signs to the Shenzhen Metro. Excited to be in a new place with squished skyscrapers against the background of tropical mountains, I sat by a large window and eagerly watched the landscape flash by. Between the second and third stops, the train plunged underground and I napped for the next hour, slowly and confusedly opening my heavy eyelids between each station when Cantonese instructions came over the sound system.
At the border, I used my seasoned skills from hours spent at People's Square to give hawkers the stink eye so they'd leave me alone as I searched for customs. Down a dirty staircase at the back of a counterfeit goods shopping area, I found a line of annoyed and impatient laowai. This must be my spot! I quickly went through customs and boarded the (above-ground) train into Hong Kong.
Lei ho, sir, please song wo dao this difang.
On the subway in Shenzhen, instructions come in Mandarin, Cantonese, and then good ol' American English. In Hong Kong, the instructions were in Cantonese, Mandarin, and then British English. I didn't even know which one to listen to, much less what language I should speak. After another hour, when I arrived at the subway station close to my hostel, I still hadn't decided what to do. Sleepy as I was, I got into a cab. The driver said something in Cantonese, which I can't understand, and I'm pretty sure my answer was something like "Lei ho, sir, please song wo dao this difang."
He just looked at me like I was crazy. Now, come on, who wouldn't understand that?! Perfectly clear to me! I handed him the address and he kindly took me to the area near the street near my hostel. Thank you, kind siji.
Getting back to nature
Even though my flight out of Shenzhen left the next morning, I resolved to at least see Victoria Peak during my first trip to Hong Kong. A visa run blog I read said if you started during the day, you could climb up the mountain. Even though I didn't get to the peak until after dark, I still thought I could catch an invigorating whiff of wild nature before I returned to Shanghai's concrete jungle.
At dusk, I took the subway to Central and paid to take the tram up the mountain. I waited in the crowded station for about 30 minutes and then boarded the tram. It slowly pulled up to the top toward freedom, nature, and peace!
That's when I saw it: the monstrosity.
The PEAK of my Hong Kong Experience
The monstrosity is a giant, touristy department store on the top of Victoria Peak. As much as I hated it being there, I decided I'd go up as high as I could without paying for the "sky pass". And there it was on the top level of the monstrosity, the iconic building on Hong Kong's historic peak: none other than Bubba Gump Shrimp.
I hate to admit it, but I got sucked in. I was hungry, tired, and emotional and coconut shrimp sounded like it would hit the spot. With images of greasy, satisfying seafood in my head, I abashedly asked for a table for one.
"It's a two hour wait."
With ridiculous tears welling up in my sleepy eyes, I took the five escalators down and exited the monstrosity.
The secret garden
I walked as quickly as I could away from the crowds and the glare of the luminous monstrosity. Alone near a sign for a public toilet, I turned around and found myself face to face with the Hong Kong skyline. It took my breath away, and I slowly continued down the gently-lit, empty path. A short, metal gate closed the path off from a small set of steep stairs. Naturally, I hopped over and went down to see what was hidden below.
There was a large stone area with benches labeled with a old sign. "Old Peak Road Rest Garden". It might have been the top tourist spot before they built the monstrosity, but I found it completely abandoned. I sat on the bench for at least an hour, writing things down, snapping photos, reading, and letting the cool ocean air rush over me.
Feeling refreshed and inspired, I walked around the mountain, passing laughing couples and excited youngsters. I even smiled when I heard a kid whining to his dad in Chinglish.
Pandas in the Elevator
I waited until the tram was about to close and descended back into the whirlwind of downtown Hong Kong.
Exhausted and content, I smiled through the whole subway ride back to the hostel. And that's when the hallucinations began.
The elevator door opened and I got in...with four giant pandas. I stood awkwardly in the middle, surrounded by the silent pandas. One pushed the button for the hostel's floor. I thought maybe I should ask the pandas what they were doing in an elevator in Hong Kong. After all, shouldn't they be at home in Sichuan? But I couldn't for the life of me figure out which language I should use to ask them.
The elevator jolted as it started to ascend. "Uh, hey, what's up?" said the tallest panda. Ah, an American panda. Perfect. "Nothin'", I replied.
"The hostel's having a Halloween party on the roof. Wanna join?" asked the panda. "No, that's ok".
The party was probably just for pandas anyway.
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