Friday, December 14, 2012

Hong Kong Again

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We had a quick trip to Hong Kong.  It consisted of two days on a bus, two nights and one day in this financial center of AsiaHong Kong is expensive, fun, and crowded.  There is always something new to do, and never enough time to do it.
We ate a lot, drank a lot, and got some shopping done.  We got a few gifts and got them mailed at one of Hong Kong’s most excellent post offices.  Chinese post offices are horrifyingly slow, convoluted, and nigh impossible for a foreigner to negotiate without a native assistant.  Hong Kong post offices are just as easy to use as their American counterparts, the staff are friendly and helpful, and your stuff gets where it needs to go rather quickly.  A package will take about 10 days to get to its destination in the US.  If you mail something from China it apparently first gets sent to Mexico, where it languishes along with the rest of the Mexican mail for however many weeks are deemed necessary.  Or maybe not, but the Chinese postal service seems to have a different mission from other postal systems in the world.  It’s a secret of some sort, I think.
When various friends and colleagues found out we were headed to Hong Kong, we were tasked with multiple missions.  One friend wanted us to post some Christmas cards.  The rest gave us shopping lists.  Hong Kong has stuff that China doesn’t.  It also has stuff that China does have, but you have a better chance of it being what is advertised on the packaging than if you get it in China.  One of the most popular items for Chinese people to request from Hong Kong is baby formula, and powdered milk.  This is because a few years back, evil, low life, scum sucking, sociopathic dairy merchants deliberately added melamine to milk powder to make the crap they were selling appear to have enough protein to make it actual milk.  It caused deaths and permanent kidney damage to lots of babies and children.  Because of this, and many, many other incidents of tainted, mislabeled, and bogus products, people don’t trust what they get in China.
I have three colleagues who are pregnant, and they all requested prenatal powdered milk supplements.  (Buying milk products in Hong Kong and bringing them into China is actually a big business for people living on border.)  Another friend wanted a traditional medicine for his blood.  It’s made in China, but he knows that the stuff he gets in Hong Kong is the real deal. 
There are also products you can’t get in Zhanjiang.  We bought Doritos, Worcestershire sauce, basil and Dijon mustard for ourselves.  We also purchased Cheddar cheese, but it only got as far as the hotel room where it was devoured.
Hong Kong does not get up early.  If you want to enjoy a less frantic and crowded Hong Kong, get out on the streets around 7 am.  You can get a seat on the subway at 8 am sometimes.  It’s not a good time to go shopping, though.
One of the least endearing aspects of this city are the touts in Kowloon.  These are people, mostly Indian men, who approach all Caucasians on the sidewalk, shoving business cards and flyers in your face trying to get you to use a certain tailor, buy a counterfeit watch, or fake designer bags.  They also represent dive hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, and any other business that wants to piss off white pedestrians.  They are mostly concentrated in the areas of cheap hotels and flop houses. 
Chunking Mansions is a place swarming with touts.  It’s an old building stuffed with shops, money changers, and dive restaurants on the ground floor.  The floors above are chock full of cheap hotels.  These hotels may only take up a portion of a floor, and all are of the budget variety.  The place swarms with Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, and various other ethnic folks.  It has “atmosphere” and is a great place to experience first hand a feeling of being out of one’s comfort zone.  You get the strong impression that you can procure all kinds of nefarious things there, or perhaps plot a coup.  Nobody is friendly, even if you buy something from them, and glaring seems to be standard greeting for most.  I’ve stayed there a couple of times.  After the first stay, I believe I swore never to do so again, but managed to forget my promise to myself and tried another night.  I remembered why I made that pledge.  This trip we stayed in a non sketchy place.
We took a great boat ride around the harbor one night.  Everyone should ride a boat in Hong Kong, especially at night during Christmas season.
I’m on the bus going home now, and I think we may be an hour or so from the city.  I know this because the highway surface starts to get bumpy.  Highway funds seem to have found their way somewhere other than their intended purpose.
If you ever make a trip to Southeast Asia, try getting your flight routed through Hong Kong.  Ride a boat and stay in Chunking Mansions.  Eat great food and drink San Miguels.  Be rude to a tout.

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