Hong Kong is like Blade Runner with Parks and Walking Collisionsby mo on 02/19/2012
6 Reasons Hong Kong feels like being in Blade Runner:
1. Hong Kong looks like Blade Runner. Duh.
2. It never seems to sleep (e.g. everything happens at night).
3. Similar mixture of Asian people/food/languages with western ones
4. Both have pretty reasonable technological advancement. I think HK has fewer replicants, but at least they have full cell connectivity EVERYWHERE in the metro, even in tunnels. Good job making progress towards the expected tech accomplishments by 2019, HK.
5. In both places people mostly seem to mind their own business, and not stare at you or care what you’re doing. Unless you’re Harrison Ford, in a bar. That man cannot seem to stay out of trouble in bars.
6. Blade Runner would’ve been filmed in Hong Kong if it could’ve. (Thanks Marquis!)
Looks like Blade Runner
City. Mountains. Water. Three of my favorite things, together. In fact, I think this should be a requirement for any city (I suppose it sorta was back in the day, when boats were the only thing going on.)
As far as cities go, Hong Kong is GOOD-LOOKING. First of all, it has some sexy topology. Flying into Hong Kong is a definitively 3D experience. You feel like you’re docking your spaceship in Coruscant rather than landing on a 2D map.
The Peak Tram is probably the most touristy thing I’ve done in my LIFE, but one way or another you MUST get yourself up to Victoria Peak. Non-negotiable.
Or you can cross over to the peninsula (the Kowloon side) and you get a crazy-nice view of HK Island. The nightly light show starts at 8 PM, which will make you wonder if the entire city is actually a TV screen. Cue a creepy-crawly feeling about consumerist modern society, slight existential questioning, and cheesy light-show music.
So take your pick. Blade Runner, Coruscant, Batman, Ghost in the Shell, or pretty much any other vertical city with flying spaceships that seems only to operate at night, and you’ve got the city layout down.
English and Cantonese
British rule technically ended in Hong Kong in 1997, and Catonese and English are the two official languages, yet I was surprised to see how much English there was around. Every sign, most menus, even our elevator signage (see previous post). Having never been in Asia outside of Japan before, where I could speak the language, this felt very weird at first due to the high crossover between written Chinese and written Japanese. I could ~read the signs, but they all were translated into English anyway, and I couldn’t understand what anyone around me was saying.
It felt like I was in Tokyo, except someone had removed the part of my brain that knows Japanese (a perennial fear/nightmare of mine) and simultaneously subtitled the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Gahhhh.
Before embarking, I learned a tiny, tiny amount of Cantonese (via Pimsleur) which was almost entirely useless, except for of course, the two things Pimsleur is ALWAYS good for:
1) Knowing what the cab driver was talking about when you hop in and he’s like, “Bindouh wa?” (SHOCKER, it means, “where to?”) Sidenote: cabs are really cheap there. You can effectively cross the city for about $9 USD and there’s no tipping. There are cabs everywhere. Never feel stranded after 1 AM when the MTR stops).
2) Flirting in clubs when locals ask if you can speak any Cantonese, and then blurting out the one or two sentences you can actually say (but at least you can say them WELL, thanks to the Pimsleur repetition strategy). Seriously, this is the main application of Pimsleur and I think they know it. They teach you “I can’t speak [language you're learning]“, “beer”, “wine”, and “your place or my place?” with a few other things thrown in on the side. I see where all this is going, 1960s-era language method).
Mostly, getting by on English was very doable, though we didn’t go anywhere particularly remote. Most people at stores and restaurants aren’t going to speak English to you like at all, but they will ~understand what you say and do the right thing. They just won’t really speak in sentences to you. If you ask for something, they sort of look at you and often spew something off in Cantonese to another restaurant worker, etc. It was disconcerting enough that if I lived there, I would definitely want to pick up more Cantonese, though I imagine it would be hard to get practice since you’re not fully immersed in it often.
The only total Failure to Communicate situation happened when I was trying to buy laundry detergent. From 7-11. Then a drugstore. Then a grocery. Then finding it in the grocery. Each time, I struggled greatly with what the appropriate charade for “laundry detergent” is. It’s really hard to point at your own clothing in a meaningful way, without pointing at yourself. I eventually did find laundry detergent, no tears involved, but in the future I would have looked up the word before setting out for something that you don’t know is FOR SURE at 7-11.
Where the Fuck Do You Walk?
HK has a population density that’s allegedly the same as Manhattan (70k per square mile in the developed parts) but it feels roughly 4x as crowded. Seriously, PEOPLE, they’re everywhere. Japan sort of immunized me to crowded asian cities (Osaka Loop line before a concert, anyone? Tokyo at rush hour?) but there were two very weird things about Hong Kong and crowds:
1) The subways are not that crowded. In fact, even at rush hour, I don’t think my body ever touched strangers’ bodies inside the trains. The train *stations* were incredibly crowded — hordes of people on the escalators, going through the turnstiles… the throughput of the MTR was highly impressive, but each individual train car was still comfortable. Rush hour in Tokyo, you are being sardined into the train car by the 7 people you’re effectively spooning with, and you’d better hope your hands and your phone were already at eye level, because you won’t have room to move your arms. But in Hong Kong, I saw people actually WAIT FOR THE NEXT TRAIN instead of cramming in. No one touched each other — perhaps they have a more British sense of personal space?
2) There is no correct side to walk on. UMMM!??!?! This is my first encounter with a culture that has not figured it out. In the US (and most of Europe I’ve been to), walk on the right. In Japan, walk on the left. And on escalators, there’s a standing side and a waiting side (in Japan which side is which depends on whether you’re in Kansai or Kanto, but in each place it’s at least CONSISTENT).
But no, in Hong Kong, just… MADNESS. CLOWNTOWN. Escalators were (generally) stand-right walk-left, but once you got off the escalator, the staircase might be the opposite way, and once you’re on the street GOOD LUCK, KIDS. The worst part is that in train stations, there are often arrows on the floor/walls to direct traffic, and from station to station, which side the arrows are on varies. Is that *really* necessary?
In light of this, I advise against walking-and-texting in Hong Kong.
I think the ambivalence about which side to walk on contributes to the overcrowdedness and mass chaos. Team Ramen also felt it might be indicative of a culture that was sort of refusing to make up its mind about some things.
Simple solution: spaceships and flying cars.
HECTIC!!! Hong Kong: 5 Places
1) Tsim Sha Tsui, for the food. Kowloon side, first MTR station. Come here 7 PM or later and it will just be madness. It’s also where some amazing food goes on. In this particular picture, where we got spicy crab and ate on the street (around Temple Street, probs), but Tsim Sha Tsui is also where we got Hot Pot, Korean food, Indian food, etc. Just be prepared for dinner to take a while, and that you probably will have to wait. The locals don’t seem to have a huge drinking culture, instead food culture is central, and people seem to spend all evening at dinner. Restaurants will be just as busy at 7 PM as 11 PM, and I never saw one closed before like, midnight (San Francisco can we do this, pretty please?)
I think too much spice/garlic to the crab ratio at this place, but spicy crab is theoretically a good idea
2) Ladies’ Market – I bought an excellent purse here. You’ll have to bargain for stuff; start with ~half the asking price. Also, do Temple Street at night.
4) Causeway Bay if you want to shop like you’re a teenage girl in Osaka (which I do). Go to SOGO in the morning, Island Beverly Centre after 1 or 2 PM (they only open in the afternoon, presumably for the schoolgirls), and visit all the shoe/clothing stores along Lockhart Road just north of SOGO. World Trade Centre (another block north) for your Uniqlo and MUJI fix. Takoyaki is in the basement of SOGO, as expected. Also, go to Retrostone for vintage stuff.
Two of my fave stores: Apostrophe, where I walked in and asked to buy the jacket the shopkeeper was wearing. She said “Okay but you should wear it in brown.” (hers was black). I tried on both colors and she was right (They always are. Ugh, I love shopping in Asia.) Second store, BESS, felt like an Anthro for slightly more edgy but equally rich girls. I purchased the only jacket I could afford.
5) Happy Valley horse races in Wan Chai on Wednesday Nights. Full of old ex-pats gambling on horses and drinking beer. Starts at 7, last race happens around 11 PM so you have a nice wide window in which to get dinner in Tsim Sha Tsui and then head to Wan Chai.
Now that you think you’re going to explode, time to chill out.
Calm Hong Kong: 5 Places
1) Kowloon Walled City Park – This used to be a super-dense mishmash of apartments built on top of each other, and very slummy, back in the day. Sounded pretty creepy and horrible, but it was demolished in the 90s and now there’s a nice park there instead. There’s bonsai! We went at dusk and it was peaceful though maybe a bit eerie.
A gate and some old stones are the only thing left, and we did many a photoshoot there. Here’s Boyce swaggin’ it by the ruins.
2) Hong Kong Park
There’s an excellent tower, from which I took the first picture in this post. Also, we were pretty big fans of the Tai Chi garden and its many statues we abused.
3) Place on the way down from the central mid-level escalators
The Central Mid-level escalators is the longest set of covered, outdoor escalators in the world (FUN FACT!) and riding them takes you on a walking tour of SoHo (lots of nice-looking restaurants) but without the walking. Eventually if you ride ALL the escalators (this takes a while) you end up alone at the end, the tourists mysteriously having disappeared from your side (how did they all know when to get off, anyway?) You’re standing on a road in super-residential Hong Kong. So what now? Luckily, I have the answer for you.
Turn left, and walk down Conduit Road for a while, until you see this staircase. Then take it, and you’ll be in a magical world under the roads, and the coolest place we found in Hong Kong.
I like it because it’s quiet, peaceful, and green, but you’re still reminded that you’re in Hong Kong since there are literally cars driving over your head. Real jungle meets concrete jungle. I also found a good spot to perch.
After you pass by this point, you will wander into the Botanical Gardens/Zoo, which had a very Jurassic Park feel to it.
4) Cyberport – It’s not really near anything, but I befriended some Australians who lived out here and this is the view they wake up to. Daily. UMMM??? The only thing better than finding awesome views while on hikes is finding them in your living room. So either go befriend some randos who live here too, or else try to get similar views from HKU.
I learned in HK and Singapore that I have a thing for views with lots of cargo ships and islands in the distance.
5) Hong Kong University of Science and Technology – More crazy views and an entirely vertical school.
This is where Nelson is studying abroad (so jelly that he’s still in HK) and the layout of this school is ridiculous.
All the classes are in a single building and then you take a 10-story elevator down to the dorm (no floors in between, it’s pretty much a vertical tube), and then take another 10-story elevator down and you’re ON THE BEACH.
A few last tips about places
- If you like running, try Happy Valley (awesome view, you get to feel like a horse) and Victoria Park (nice running track, workout equipment scattered around it).
- Go to 7-11 religiously. It is your Japanese snack food haven, source of hydration, entertainment while waiting, and cell phone minute replenishment. They are everywhere.
- Stay somewhere convenient. We Airbnb‘d places in Wan Chai and Tin Hau for 5 days each, and these were crazy convenient and almost as cheap as hostels. Tin Hau was also next door to Victoria Park and Causeway Bay, so a good base for shopaholics. Beware though that your place may be so nice that you just stay in all day, watching Breaking Bad and reading metafilter. There’s no shame in that though, as you have all night to go eat dinner, watch horses race, and experience the Cantonese magic that is Hong Kong.
Wondering where’s the dim sum? Worry not. Posts on HK food and partying, plus all the Singapore stuff, coming up!