Day 1: Hong Kong

Status: Survived.

I have officially made it through both the longest and sshorest days of my life. Well, certainly the shortest. As my dad pointed out, January 15, 2009, really only lasted a few hours for me. Because, we took off from SFO around midnight, and then probably crossed the International Date Line several hours later, making it January 16th. With that logic, January 16th has been going on for a while too. By the time I got into Hong Kong this morning and left my bag at the hotel concierge desk (whom I subsequently forgot to tip… oops!) at around 8:30 am, I was so awake and ready to go that I couldn’t figure out why nothing in the city was open except for 7-11’s and Starbucks.

Yes, you heard that right: Hong Kong is chock full of 7-11’s and Starbuckses. I wasn’t surprised because I’d been warned (about the 7-11’s at least), but, to the outsider, it seems like American imperialism at its finest. However, after spending a day wandering the streets here, I’ve come to a different conclusion: Hong Kong is the other New York, in its level of cosmopolitan-ness. I’m probably far from the first to decide this, but I’ve been contemplating it all day. You wouldn’t believe how many different languages I heard today. I couldn’t even identify them all. And we’re not just talking from tourists; I’m talking about business people walking down the street, getting lunch, riding buses, shopping, etc etc. It actually made me feel more at home, because I’m just so used to living places where I hear lots of different languages. What I found particularly interesting, though, was how, despite the fact that every third person was speaking English, it was when I heard people speaking French (two business guys walking by me, a woman sitting behind me on the bus) that I felt most at home. I guess I associate exploring alone in a big, foreign city with French, which does makes sense, though that’s not to say I’ve never felt similar feelings in New York, DC, and London.

But I digress. Let’s talk Hong Kong. My discoveries of the day:

1. Nothing really opens before 10 am, except the aforementioned stores, and Starbucks’ counterpart, Pacific Coffee Company (I think?). I discovered this AFTER I bought a SIM card for my supposedly-international phone, only to find that said phone didn’t like said SIM card, so I had to go find a new phone. Only, phone stores don’t open until 10, like everything else. So I took the ferry across the bay/channel/thing  (so beautiful at 9 in the morning! And empty!) and wandered purposefully around Central, the district near the shopping center where the phone stores were. I only say I wandered purposefully because everyone else was walking so purposefully that I felt I needed to as well, except I couldn’t figure out where they were going, because, well, nothing was open yet. Right.

2. They drive on the wrong side of the road here. Yes, I know, former British colony, etc etc. The reason this is a notable discovery is that I didn’t figure it out until around noon, when I was halfway through a 20- or 30-minute bus ride out to another part of the Island (Stanley – town/Market/beach/etc). I would blame it on the fact that most of the streets I was wandering before weren’t large enough for more than one car at a time, so I couldn’t have noticed, but, well, let’s face it, I think it was the jetlag.

3. Speaking of jetlag… not only do they drive on the wrong side, they walk on the wrong side. I actually tried to walk up an escalator going the wrong way today. Seriously. It was on the right side, so of course that’s the one I got on. Fortunately, no one else was around to notice. Or, if they did, they didn’t even laugh. It was about this time that I realized I was starting to be utterly exhausted and because Stanley is a relatively touristed area, I felt particularly lonely, seeing all these other tourists, hearing their English, wishing I had a friend to talk to. First day jitters, but still. A few nice people offered to take my picture, so there is proof that I was there, at least. Even if I do look like hell because I haven’t slept in ages.

4. High tea solves everything. After returning from my Stanley excursion, I checked into my hotel, and resisted the temptation to sleep by taking a shower and then heading over to the famed Peninsula Hotel for afternoon high tea. If I was nervous about sitting alone in the impressive, Edwardian room, I certainly didn’t let it on. When the waiter brought me a special little espresso cup of a pistachio tiramisu “for dessert” (they love pistachio here, I noticed, in my one meal of high tea…), and I didn’t see anyone else getting any, I felt special, and debated whether the waiters had sent it to me because they felt sorry for me, or because they were enchanted with me. I rejoiced in our special bond for a good fifteen minutes before I saw the girls at the table next to me start eating their own espresso cups of tiramisu that had apparently been placed on their table sometime before. Psh. Who wants dessert after high tea anyway? I was so stuffed I could only eat a bite.

5. If you ever come to Hong Kong, stay at the Peninsula. I wandered around it for a bit after tea, and all I have to say is, Wow. If you judge a place by its restrooms, there’s someone in the bathroom who goes through cleaning the toilet seats and handing you towels and squirting the soap into your hand. I was a little overwhelmed. If you judge a place by its live music in the lobby, they had a band playing songs from South Pacific and its contemporary musicals. If you judge a place by its ornateness and posh-ness of attitude without being too snobby, this place totally wins. The staff must get used to the tourists  because they were surprisingly patient with some tourists with kids, etc, despite the fact that everything seems so posh and nice. Points. If you just a place by it’s shopping, well, I hope you can afford Cartier and Tiffany.

That’s all for now. I’d write about my flight,  but it was nothing interesting, so I’ll spare you the details. Except to say that Cathay Pacific is way overrated – at least, their economy is. I much prefer Air France; I like their service better, all you who say they have bad service mid-flight, and the seats are bigger and more comfortable. Virgin Atlantic is also good. But, overall, my first trans-Pacific flight was a success.

More exciting stories to come! Stay tuned. (I’ll also probably update this post with pictures.)


4 Replies to “Day 1: Hong Kong”

  1. Hi Kate,

    You’ve barely hit the road, and yet such a compelling commentary already posted! High tea at the Penninsula sounds like my kind of activity – I’m savoring it vicariously through your eyes.

    Travel richly and safely! love, Lindsey

  2. Yay! Your post was long and satisfying. :) Did you get muffins (the English kind) during high tea? Did you fight with someone over the muffins? I’m guessing the answer to both is no, but I’m going to imagine it all the same.

  3. Okay, Kate…I know you were talking to ME when you said, “if you’re the kind of person who judges a place by their restrooms”! Don’t forget, the loos in the Australian rain forest are the finest. I hope you were channeling your sisters (yes, you have three) during high tea.
    Safe travels, my dear. I’m glad to see you have kept up your travel diaries.
    Love and hugs always.

  4. Hooray! Your blog is going to get me through the cold NY winter. I am so excited for you, and I cannot wait to read more!
    They walk on the wrong side of the road in Uganda too! Former British colonies…Psh. At least you didn’t walk into anyone. My first day in Uganda I smacked into a rather large and very intimidating Ugandan woman, and I almost knocked her suitcase off of her head. But I handled it well; I smiled awkwardly and ran away. Very mature.
    Be safe.

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