The view from Hong Kong Island

We arrived in Hong Kong on the evening of Feb 10th after an 11 hour flight from Auckland. For those of you who have never been to a large Asian city, think of neon lights, and people. There are people everywhere all the time. Sunday night or Wednesday afternoon people clog the streets and subway. Vehicles are everywhere and not just cars, hundreds and hundreds of buses, most double deckers are zipping around packed to the gills. Don’t even think about jay-walking. Even walking around can be hard to navigate as your destination might be right across the street, but you can’t seem to find a way to get there. As soon as the sun sets the neon lights come out of hibernation. They are everywhere advertising everything. The sides of entire sky scrapers will be lit up advertising the newest TV, cell phone or any product you could think of. 

We took the high speed train and then a bus to Nathan Street in the Tsim Sha Tsui district. Our accommodation was in a 17 story building called the Chungking Mansions. It was a task finding our way through the labyrinth like inside of the buildings to the actual front desk of the guesthouse. There are 6 different elevators that all go to specific parts of the building, so if you need Elevator A, then Elevator B won’t do you any good. It was chaotic trying to find the right elevator while not trying to knock anyone over with the massive packs on our back, and fending off local “business” people trying to hawk food, souvenirs, electronics, knock off hand bags, and watches (“genuine” Rolex, good deal!) They were also handing out business cards for local tailors (“hand made good quality suits for cheap!”), and massage clinics (“good massage and cheap!”. No massage clinic open til 4 am was ever covered by my health benefits….) When we finally actually found the reception desk on the 10th floor, we were informed our room was on the 17th floor. We followed the porter through more hallways, down one flight of stairs only to then take the elevator up 7 floors. We finally arrived at our room. I am convinced that the few homeless people you see in the city are not down on their luck and left behind by society, I’m pretty sure the reason they sleep on the streets is there simply forgot how to get back to their apartments. 
The entrance to our newfound home- the Chungking Mansions
Since real estate in Hong Kong is probably some of the most expensive in the world, our room was not very big. It was about 10′ by 7′. (For those of you who ask, no I didn’t bring a measuring tape, I counted the tiles on the floor.) This is Including a bathroom. Think jail cell but with less floor space because there is a double bed instead of a bunk bed. That being said, having our own bathroom was a very nice treat that we hadn’t had in a while. It’s also nice that it reminds me of sailing as the bathroom layout is the same as a sailboat. The shower is the bathroom. The shower head is over the toilet and there is a drain on the floor. Just close the bathroom door, turn on the shower and you’re good to go. If you were really in a rush you could shower while on the toilet, talk about multi tasking!
Tsim Sha Tsui  a nice area, and we didn’t think our building was that bad. Libby googled it and we learned that Time Magazine rated it number 8 of the top ten things to see in Hong Kong!!! Then we read further…. Time said that it was -and I quote- a “Tower of vice” due to all the unsavoury types around, and questionable business transactions transpiring. They said it was so dubious that tourists just had to go take a look. They stopped just short of quoting Obi Wan Kenobi and calling it a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”. Well Time Magazine, we’ve only heard yelling loudly at night about 1/2 the nights we’ve been here. We’ve only seen one physical dispute, (and one party was nice enough to drag the other one into the alley out of sight as not to ruin the ambience), we’ve only been offered opium a couple of times, and the Indian food on the main level is delicious, cheap, and easy on the bowels. What else can you ask for?
Now before you get the wrong idea, Hong Kong is not the equivalent to a sea port in the 1700s frequented by pirates. Although it’s history isn’t too far off from that. Here’s a brief summary. When the British made contact with the Chinese they discovered tea. As well know the British lovvvvvvve their tea. Well China was a pretty isolated empire and would only take silver as payment. After a while they had so much silver that they didn’t want to trade with the British anymore. So would did the British do to tip the scales of trade in their favour? They did what any reasonable people would do. They got the Chinese addicted to opium.
The British were growing opium in plentiful supply in India at the time, and when they realized it would help them get their precious tea they started trading it illegally with the Chinese. The Chinese emperor strictly forbade this, but as I’m sure you’ve heard opium (a cousin of heroine) can be mildly addictive. With all this trade occurring The Chinese still wouldn’t allow the British to establish a settlement on their territory which had long been their goal. Long story short, a bunch of cannonballs were fired, a treaty was signed (The Treaty of Nanking in 1842) and the British were allowed to settle the island of Hong Kong. Along the way things were revised and the British also acquired the Kowloon Peninsula, The New Territories on the mainland, and a bunch of small islands. In the treaty it was declared that everything be turned over to the Chinese in 1997. This did occur, but the Chinese and British also agreed before the switch that nothing will change in Hong Kong for another 50 years. This is why Hong Kong is considered a “special administrative region” of China. This will prevent the full control of the Chinese government in Hong Kong until 2047. Unless of course they sign something else in 2046 to extend it again. It’s pretty bananas that most of the development here is post WWII. 
Are you still reading this? You’re not bored yet? That’s impressive, good job. Despite all my previous remarks about our lodging Hong Kong is an amazing city, and we do feel very safe here. There is amazing contrasts of East meets West, and old meets new. You see skyscrapers being built, and the scaffolding is made of bamboo. You see stores lit up with floor to ceiling neon lights. Some of those stores are pharmacies selling traditional Chinese medicine. They will even grind up the things they are selling when you buy them. Consumerism is RAMPANT here! The street we are on is lined with very high end stores including Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and on and on. One store front can literally have millions of dollars of jewelry and watches on display. We even saw a gold R2-D2 in a store front. I had to ask (so I can’t afford to buy it) it was going for the modest sum of 1.5 million CAD. 
For the Star Wars Fan That Has Everything
Now if you can’t afford or simply don’t want to shell out six or seven figures for an accessory you must have, you can head to the markets. The two main ones are The Ladies Market, and the Night Market. These are street markets and you can find a that Rolex watch that’s much more reasonably priced. You can even get yourself a “Sorny” alarm clock, or that “Star Wart” Lego you’ve been dying for. If you’re just hungry, there are street food stalls lining the the outside of the market and you can get some great grub and some big bottles of beer to fill you up. We did just that and it cost us under 30 dollars. Or don’t buy anything at all, just take it all in. As Libby aptly put it, the markets  “Have some Anthony Bourdain style going on”. 
A Long Time Ago In Galaxy Far Far Away……???
A kitchen at the Night Market. Delicious!
 In conclusion, make a visit to Hong Kong. You will have a great time. We met someone that described it as “China Lite”. We have not had any trouble communicating with people as most people know at least a little English. It’s easy to get around as signs and menus are in English and Chinese. Whether you spend your time eating, getting foot massages (15.00 for 1/2 hour!) sight seeing, or shopping you’ll enjoy yourself. Come soon because you may not be able to use Facebook after 2047, and bring an extra suitcase in case you end up buying a lot of things. Actually just buy another suitcase here, it will be cheaper.
Uh… 🙂