Micah and I have to make trips to Hong Kong every couple of months. We have made a couple of trips this year so far and I would like to share my experience of Hong Kong with you. Until the first trip I hadn’t actually gotten to “meet” Hong Kong as I’ve really just ridden through shuttles to and from the airport or to a hotel at night.
There is much debate socially on whether Hong Kong is a part of China. Although, as agreements set forth, in the future Hong Kong will return to China’s control. As for now it is in a unique state of being in close relationship with China politically and yet still maintains its own government. I’ve even seen slogans about it being one country and two governing bodies. Hong Kong has wonderful and undeniable Chinese qualities from a common heritage; however, it has grown and developed in the last few decades that have given Hong Kong a unique flavor. And one of the things it is well-known is its cuisine (which I will hopefully be able to show you someday).
Hong Kong consists of several regions. Its total land area is just slightly over 2,755 km2 (1,064 sq miles). The most northern region is called the New Territories which holds the land that shares the border at the southern edge of Shenzhen. Following south you have the Kowloon Peninsula, then the Hong Kong Island and dozens of other islands spread around the much larger Hong Kong Island. The largest of these minor islands is called Lantau Island. These three regions are subdivided up into 18 city districts.
Since we have made two trips so far let me start with the first one (nice enough place to start right? lol). We stayed in Kowloon in the heart of Kowloon actually. Kowloon is a fairly famous area and it was wonderful to get to stay there—even if the hotel was comically small.
First let me describe how we arrived in Hong Kong. Of course you are crossing the border so you have to pass through security once on the China side and once again on the Hong Kong side. Though neither are that stressful when you travel via ferry. We took a bus down to the ferry and was able to board it about an hour later after we bought the tickets. We simply had to fill out the normal little forms when crossing the border and ran our baggage through an x-ray.
The ferry itself was really interesting. It was basically just a simple boat if you boil it down, lol. I’d never been on a ferry so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was simple: the VIP’s sat upstairs and everyone sat downstairs in a seating arrangement very similar to that of an airplane. There were lots of windows made frosted by the ocean sprays. After getting off the ferry and through security, we headed straight to the subway so that we could get on to our hotel.
The first big difference we found between China and Hong was here in the subway. Aside from various layout differences and minor aesthetics, there was a huge difference. Hong Kong subways have people–who speak very good English–stationed strategically throughout the subway to help guide people. Each person we came across through our trip was incredibly nice and courteous.
The subway smoothly took us to a block from our hotel, where we were quickly able to check in and get a bit of rest before heading out. Next time I will share with you more of the Hong Kong aside from the mass transit.
Let me know if you have questions or want to know more about something! We love getting comments and feedback. More about Hong Kong will soon follow!
Note: This is the second installment in the Arriving in China series. If you would like to read that section first, click here.
Chicago’s trippy lights and itinerary changes
Once we arrived in the Chicago airport we immediately scoped out the place and checked the flight board to make sure nothing had changed (as per the advice of the nice woman the previous day). Then we started exploring this new airport. Chicago airport is an odd place complete with displays and even intricate running lights in passenger tunnels.
During our several hour layover, we periodically checked the flight board verifying we were near the correct gate. However, throughout the day both the gate AND the terminal changed twice—we did a lot of walking. Some of the changes were extreme going from opposite end to opposite end of the airport. Eventually, we were able to board the flight to Hong Kong!
International flight with international coke
I remember having a turbulent mixture of both excitement and nervousness–everything was new to me and everything was fascinating to me. International flights, for those that have never been, are very different than domestic flights. For one, it is common place to have your very own headphone jack and a personal TV on the back of the seat in front of you for your own personal viewing pleasure. No more having to watch a single large screen at the front and playing head ping pong with the inevitable tall person in between you and the screen (as was what Micah told me happened on his first flight). We started this flight knowing it was going to be about 14 hours, though it ended up being 16.5, because it had to go around a large ocean storm at some point.
I was a bit anxious on how I would do with the air turbulence. Logically, turbulence makes sense and thus is not something I would see as a point of worry. However, I’m not the bravest person in the world and so was not sure how I would react. When it first happened it startled me but I didn’t have much of a reaction. It was very similar to riding in a car when it crossed from a paved road to a washboard road and back to a paved road. In other words it was no big deal for me; there were screams or gasps around the plane.
The selection of entertainment was amazing. There was TV shows, movies, music, some sports and news casts, and even some basic games (i.e. solitaire, Tetris, and zumba). However, I have to say the food was a little less than desired. I think a packed lunch from a quick store would have been better, but we were able to drink Chinese Coca Cola! My biggest problem with the meal was that since I was gluten free at the time I couldn’t eat about 70% of the miserly food they supplied us. The biggest meal was a small bag of chips with a sandwich made of cold deli meat on a small bagel. All the snacks except the peanuts were bread based and so I couldn’t eat them either. Micah got to eat what I couldn’t, he was well fed.
Though all in all the flight wasn’t bad except one minor incident between myself and a very rude steward. I tried to obey the seatbelt signs, so I waited and waited and
waited to use the restroom all the while watching a dozen more people over several hours get up and go. Finally, after reaching the point of decision wherein I had to decide between disobeying the never changing seatbelt sign or having an accident in my seat: I chose to disobey the seat and follow the others to the queue. A steward looked straight at me and screamed at ME, only ME “Can’t you read?! Get back in your seat!” He never even looked at the others; it was like they were invisible. I was so shocked by being screamed at in such a public place that I went back to my seat. A woman walked by and I felt sorry for the chewing out I was sure he would give her. So I listened…nothing. Again a man walked by and the same thing happened, which is to say nothing at all. So I screwed up my courage, which wasn’t too hard considering I was edging into a boiled indignation. Why would he yell at me and no one else? I was angry now.
So when I passed him to stand in line. He looked at me and took a deep breath to, I presume, yell at me further. I cut him off telling him something like “If you’re going to chastise people for getting up while the seatbelt sign is on, then do so but don’t pick out the one person you feel you can kowtow and scream at her. Now if you don’t want me to use the restroom when the sign is on then have the sign changed more often. I have been waiting for HOURS. Or would you prefer to have to do some cleaning?” He stepped back, glared at me and huffed, but never said a word to me for the remainder of the 9 hours. Once I turned back to face towards the front of the line I was surprised with a few smiles and nods from the others in line. Though, I can’t say that the matter was closed since he repeatedly skipped over me if he was unfortunate enough to be assigned as the server to my area for a meal, snack, or drink. The first time it happened I had to ask for my meal. One of the stewardesses caught on and served me when she’d pass by. I made sure to thank you as much as possible.
Hong kong arrival, So much luggage and no one to help the Americans
After we arrived in Hong Kong, we found our way to the luggage area. At this point, I deeply regretted almost every single item we brought. Since we were moving our entire lives to China we pushed our bags to the limit and took advantage of the maximum allowed luggage per person. It was exhausting pulling all those pieces of luggage through the airport; thankfully early in our commute across the airport we found a trolley cart to ease our burden.
We followed the signs directing us to Mainland China transportation. Hong Kong is famous for their hospitality, so we didn’t worry about not speaking Chinese Mandarin or Cantonese. We also didn’t worry because it is an international hub making it necessary for there to be English speakers and because were English signs everywhere. So we were safe in assuming someone would speak English, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. For whatever reason, NO ONE spoke English and no one wanted to help the stupid Americans by finding someone that could speak English. After 2.5 days of traveling and having just disembarked a 16.5 hour flight we were exhausted, and my patience was thin at best.
After my attempts to find an English speaker failed and even my attempts to use my Chinese-English dictionary on my phone to communicate also failed, Micah went off to try and figure out how to use the pay phone in order to phone his boss. I watched the luggage and kept trying to communicate, but each attempt and each HOUR was draining me more and more. By the time the second guard started his shift and his repetitive staring at me while walking past yet again and watching the clerks talk about me, I silently broke into tears. I tried to hide them but it was no use. Micah had no luck figuring out the phones. We were just stuck there in the lobby with English signs that taunted us with messages which told us we could buy a ticket for Mainland transport in that lobby from their kind clerks. Our only hope was a new shift of clerks in the morning (12 hours away), who could and would help us. We’d have to sleep in the lobby.
Finally, a new woman came in to start her shift. She took one look at me in all my pitifulness and Micah’s frantic look while trying to use the internet to figure something out and she decided we needed help. She came over to us and pulled us over to her desk where she amid very few English words, some dictionary look ups, and a lot of charades finally figured out what we needed and wanted and helped us get on our way. As we were standing in the line waiting for the shuttle to come pick us and others up, I heard and watched her yelling at all the others and pointing at us.
I do remember her very kind smile when I looked up the word for “thank you” on my phone and showed her. I put as much emphasis in my eyes as possible, but I’m sure the fact that I was still occasionally brushing away tears expressed all she needed from me. She spoke softly to me and smiled, waved and headed back to row of desks where she started to yell at the others as I watched unabashedly.
I know I’ll never see her again but I won’t soon forget how kind she was toward us. She was one of the positive people I thought back to in the following weeks.
Welcome to a dark HK, Micah’s relief and my excitement.
So finally aboard the shuttle, luggage loaded, documentation stacked on the dash board and everyone seated, we started off. I remember thinking that I was sad my very first glimpse of a foreign country would be at night when I wouldn’t be able to see much of anything. Micah was wide eyed and taking in as much as he could. He had his arm around me and sat so close to me. He was also pointing things out for me to look at because I don’t see well at night. Despite not having too much to see, Hong Kong still showed us some of its luster. I remember just being dumbfounded with how beautiful it looked even in the limited sight of night. Micah whispered promises of coming back to Hong Kong to explore its beauty someday, a new adventure in the midst of another. I made a similar promise as well.
This series, Arriving in China, continues with the next leg of our journey: Part 3, Shenzhen.