I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A foray in 4A

Right, I'm off to Singapore. Flight leaves in a little under 2 hours. I'm in seat 11A, not 4A, but because I shoved the Perth-Hong Kong flight in the last entry I failed to use that title then and I didn't want it to go to waste. Bah.

Hong Kong's a weird place. I love it and hate it. By day the heat is stifling, the weather awful, the streets drab and the skyline ugly. But by night the heat's wonderful, the streets a fantastic neon-fest and the skyline amazing. I'm probably suffering a bit from most-recent-place-is-the-best-place and need some more time to reflect (plus take in Singapore and Tokyo) but by the end of last night I really did think I could see myself living in Hong Kong ... but only from about 5pm each day. Perhaps there's somewhere nearby with a less nasty climate that I could commute to, heh. Mind you it's pretty arrogant on my part to even think like that. Here's me, from a fantastic country which people the world over flock to to live, and a country which many of the natives are starting to feel like the borders should go up, and I'm blithely hobnobbing it fatcat style around a bunch of the world's major cities and going "yeah, I could come here" as if it's a right, not a privilege. Pfft.

English Darren had told me I'd be mad if I didn't go out on my first night in Hong Kong, straight down to an electronics shop to buy a camera. Sorry Darren, I guess I'm mad. True to form I'd arrived at the hotel with no local currency nor any means of transport. I knew in advance that buying an Octopus Card was the right thing to do, and previous experience should have told me to get some bloody cash out at the airport 'n all, but I did neither. I didn't stay in the hotel room all night though, first off I went for a harbourside wander and had my first night time view of that skyline. Like, wow. Also loads of locals practising tai chi, or fishing over the side, some with rods and some with just lines. Took that in for a bit and then went inland, looking for a bank and something to eat. Found both: an HSBC and a 7-Eleven where I bought a sandwich and a diet coke. For about one pound twenty. Bargain. Explored a little bit more, the area is called Whampoa and is on the Hong Kong mainland (ie, Kowloon side). I don't think I knew until about a month ago that Hong Kong wasn't purely an island.

A few more misconceptions were laid to rest during my time here too come to think of it. For example, not all Chinese people look alike. In fact they range from slightly to massively different, all of 'em. Funny that, eh? Mind you they are short, and they do sound alike. That's because as well as having a fucking ridiculous form of writing (font manufacturers must hate the Chinese, there's almost fuck all you can do with it) the Cantonese language seems to have it in for accents. The tone of each word is so important that the meaning changes -- not subtly, as in variations on a single meaning, but the entire bloody word. So you could get a book with pronunciations in it, rubbishy Romanised versions of the words, but if you were a typical westerner who automatically attached the intonations you'd use in your first language, you'd probably end up talking total bollocks. Meanwhile the locals all sound the same because they have to use the same intonation as one another.

Oh for fucks sake. Flickr is really pissing me off these days. If I didn't already have 2500 photos on it I'd consider moving somewhere else like photobucket, or even reverting back to using gallery. No, wait, I wouldn't do that. But fucking hell. I've finally got a decent upload speed in this 'ere lounge but flickr still kicks me off midway through sending up 150-odd photos and now I've got to work out where it stopped, remove all the ones it managed from uploadr, and kick it off again. Gah!

Anyway. Yes. Chinese. Sound alike, short, don't all look alike. Also, I know some fellas have got a thing about yer Eastern women, in general and not just specific ones, but I've gotta say guys, it's not all Lucy Liu over here y'know. There's as many heifers as there are fit ones, it is -- shock horror! -- once again much like back home in terms of proportions.

*cough* That's enough anthropology to be getting on with, I think.

That was it for Friday night though. A wander around Whampoa and along the harbour front, then back in the hotel. Saturday started badly, as previously blogged about. Ridiculous weather, drenched in sweat after a walk, etc etc. So after that tiny hiccup I thought, look, sort it out Foreman. Fucking get out there, get some transport, go fucking sightseeing you arse. And I did. Firstly I got on the free hotel shuttle bus to Tsim Sha Tsui, the region on Kowloon side where there's a whole lot to do. Shitloads of electronics shops, people on street corners offering tailored suits or fake Rolexes, loads of other shops and bars and restaurants and hotels and museums and stuff. I just walked around taking it all in for a bit, then navigated to the customer service desk in the MTR (tube) station where I finally bought an Octopus Card. It's just like an Oyster card, except you can use it all over the fucking place, in shops and McDonald's and stuff.

With that in hand, loaded with HKD100 of travel, I returned to street level and walked to the Star Ferry terminal. You can get across to the island by tube, but where's the fun in that? The walk goes through a huge complex full of museums and stuff and I got stopped by a fella who wanted me to take his photo with the island side as a backdrop. I obliged but, really, the island side in daytime is fucking ugly.

Got the ferry across and instantly spotted the bus that goes to the Peak Tram. The Peak Tram isn't a tram, but a funicular railway, the steepest one in the world at that. It does go to the Peak, though. For someone without sea legs and who doesn't like heights this holiday appears to be a bit of a wrong 'un, but bear with me. I don't like boats that lean over or use, nay require, wind to operate, and there are only certain types of heights I don't like too. For example, going up this non-tram was great -- it's so steep the floors aren't flat, because people standing would fall over, and the seats all face upwards because you'd fall out the other way -- but once at the top I started to go up the escalators to the viewing platform, and it was those that fucked me up. In fact I didn't get all the way to the top because the ol' legs were giving out again and I thought I was going to rip the handrail off such was my grip on it, so I just went back to the ground floor and explored the little area at the, err, Peak.

By "explore the little area" I do, of course, mean "find somewhere to buy a diet coke". That done, I wandered around and took a few photos but really it wasn't that impressive a place. Just a few normal, western restaurants and shops. I'm sure the view is superb when the weather's clear and sunny -- in fact the tourist advice all says to visit the Peak on a clear day -- but I, along with everyone I spoke to on my days here, am convinced that the weather is never clear and sunny. Just smoggy and nasty. Even the local rag reports the air pollution level and uses "high" as the middle rating. Turns out that I went on probably the clearest day of my trip anyway (today it's raining).

I came back down from the top just by a regular bus rather than the tram again, saving myself nowhere near as much money as I thought I would, but it proved a good idea because the number 15 takes a proper windy route, heads past Happy Valley racecourse and through Wan Chai and lands me right back at Central station, which is exactly where I wanted to be because the next thing on my list was to ride the Central/Mid-levels escalator.

This is an 800m escalator that links, err, Central and the Mid-levels. It's not one long continuous thing, but a series of 'em. Nonetheless it's still fantastic. You can get halfway up into the city without ever going down to street level by using it, and the gaps are at handy points for big roads full of shops, reflexology foot clinics, or bars and restaurants. Take a look at how busy they are on the way up, pick your spot, and walk back down to the one you fancy at the next hop-off point. You have to walk down because the escalator only runs one way, up. Actually that's not strictly true: it runs down from, I think, 6am to 10am, because it's also a commuter route(!). Great fun though.

From the top I walked back down, zigzagging my way through various streets chosen not for any particular reason other than them looking interesting from the intersections. Eventually made my way back to the Star Ferry terminal and got a boat across to Hung Hom, the terminal just round the corner from my hotel. The Star ferries are ace -- the rows of seats can be changed to face backwards or forwards just by moving the back. I've a photo of it on the way up to flickr at the moment which will make it easier to explain and understand.

Back at the hotel I dropped me stuff off, shoved a different shirt on and went to one of the hotel bars. Goddamn happy hour, from 5pm 'til 8.30pm every drink was 2-for-1 and I got totally wasted, chatting to a welshman whose name I don't recall. Before his arrival I had been entertained by the pissed Aussie party across from me, who must surely have been drinking all day (probably watching one of the Grand Finals that was on that day) and were in full-on philosophy mode. Religion, war, the universe, the unseeableness of God, how alcohol should be banned, all kinds of stuff was going on over there.

Oddest thing about the bar was getting waiter service. A waiter would ask me what I wanted, and then tell the guy behind the bar. This wouldn't be odd if I hadn't actually been perched at the bar.

Bloody hell this language is odd. It seems to me that the speech and writing are so disconnected that things like learning a new place name must be ridiculous. You can't just tell someone on the phone what it's called, can you? 'cos you'd not know the signs for it. Would you? I need to read up on how Cantonese works. It confused me a lot when I saw two estate agents next to each other, one called HONG KONG PROPERTY and one called SUNRISE PROPERTY. I recognised the symbols for HONG KONG in the first one and thought, therefore, I'd be able to deduce the one for PROPERTY and spot that in the second one... but the non-Hong-Kong symbols weren't present. Sigh.

I have a question for believers. When you die, and go to heaven, are you stuck at the age you died at? Bit naff, that. Like, people who have the misfortune to lose a child when they're still a proper nipper, they must be looking forward to being reunited in heaven, but what if they're now a baby in perpetuity? So many nappies. But if they age, then, what, is heaven full of REALLY REALLY old people, just constantly aging? Or do people get to pick an age at which to stop? "I quite like it here, this'll do ta Lord"?

Hmm. It seems the philosophical nature of the drunk Aussies rubbed off on this drunk Englishman. Right, that's Saturday done and dusted, and I'm off to the service desk here to find out why my BA card number didn't make it onto this booking. I want my fucking miles, damn it. And a diet coke too for that matter.

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