Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Christmas Journey Part II: Hello, Hong Kong!

Monday morning finally came and it was time to set off for Hong Kong! After a refreshingly uneventful journey, including a stopover in Shanghai, I arrived at Hong Kong airport. From there, I was just a train ride away from Central where my friend Tiffany was waiting to meet me. Of course, there had to be some hitch – luckily, mine wasn’t too major. Turns out that the day I was flying out was incidentally my pay day. That’s meant to be a good thing, right? WRONG. As much as I looked, and as much as I asked at Customer Information, the airport terminal just didn’t have an ATM that would take my little-known Japanese Farmers’ Bank Card (I’m SUCH a country boy). So the only dollar I had to exchange for my journey was that which was already in my pocket. The awkward moment when you inadvertently end up travelling on a student budget.

Wallet significantly lighter than I’d hoped, the next few days were a blur of exploring, trying new foods (including a surprisingly good chicken feet salad) and generally soaking up the Hong Kong atmosphere. We shopped at the street markets, played at the local arcades, tried some interesting Asian deserts and explored the Hong Kong nightlife, too!

On the last day, me and Tiffany took the train to the Avenue of Stars to take in the beautiful Hong Kong skyline at night. It was a little too dark to get a photograph good enough to do justice to the scale and prettiness of all the city lights shimmering on the water at night, but we tried!

As a city, Hong Kong was certainly busier than any place I can remember in Japan. I mean, Tokyo’s probably busier, but my time there was spent during my first three days on the JET Programme when I was jetlagged, dazed and incapable of really appreciating it.  It just seemed like Hong Kong was constantly abuzz with traffic and people... certainly much more densely populated than what I’ve seen in Japan. It was also more of a sprawling patchwork of a city than any I’ve been to before – streets going up and down, jutting off at different angles and curling around; neon-lit shopping arcades and bustling pedestrian crossings set against arched trees jutting out from the city walls, sea views and inner-city temples. It certainly felt much more raw and organic than London or Tokyo.

On the usually-dull topic of traffic... I found myself caught off guard by how funny taking the local buses turned out to be. For the smaller buses, there’s just no such thing as a “bus stop”. If you want to get off, you just yell at the driver, he abruptly stops and you jump out. That also means that if you want to get on one, there’s no particular place you have to wait – you just wander the busy roads to wherever they happen to be heading.  Add into the mix some ridiculously bumpy Hong Kong roads and you’ve got yourself one hilarious experience. Organised chaos, for sure.

Somewhere amidst all of that, me and Tiffany took some time out to treat ourselves to a Thai massage. Well, I say “treat”... at one point, my little Thai masseuse climbed onto my back on all fours (using both her knees and her hands to work on my back), before rolling me over and contorting me into something I can only describe as resembling a human pretzel. Halfway through, I burst out laughing right in her face – not because it particularly tiggled, just because the way she was massaging me was so comical I couldn’t help but crack up. Luckily, she got it and burst out laughing too. Funny shit.

Coming from Japan, where a lot seems to be expended on learning English with very little gain, I was shocked to see how good the general level of English was in Hong Kong. Sometimes, I think half of the problem in Japan isn’t so much with ability, and more with the fact that people are so inhibited and conscious that their English is bad that even if they speak it a little bit, chances are you’ll never hear them dare to use it. Definitely something to be learnt from Hong Kong, Japan!

Having somehow stretched my pennies across an eventful four days in Hong Kong, it was time to say farewell to Tiffany and head off for the next leg of my Christmas adventure – to Beijing to meet Claire! Watch this space for Part III of my Christmas journey!


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