Hong Kong is like my second home, after Vancouver BC. So second and half, maybe. The moment I arrive here, I feel like I've never left.
I realized this when I arrived this time and, at 1 am we were in a taxi after taking the train in from the Airport. I was all ready to drop my bags and head out for something to eat. I was instantly energized after my nearly 16 hours of travel time.
We got to our hotel, checked in, got on the net and I checked in with the office and then went to get some food. I quickly did what I always do - orient myself to necessities and realized that I had some survival techniques that might be shared to my fellow Gwei Lo who may come over and have no idea what to do.
So, first a little Hong Kong 101
Hong Kong wants to give you some food, put a shirt on your back, and take your money. You can rank order these any way you want - and take your money should probably be at the top. But you can eat here non-stop and people generally do enjoy it if you enjoy it.
Hongers can be brusque, hurried, stressed people. However, I've found that if I look relaxed and like I'm enjoying myself, they quickly follow suit. Hongers communicate through and with food. It de-escalates tension and provides neutral space for enjoyment. This elevates its importance way higher than one would expect and results in the best restaurants you'll find anywhere. If you serve bad food, people quickly stop coming.
If you are buying anything, electronics, clothes, whatever, keep an octet calculator in your head. Divide the cost (for Americans) by 8 and that's its cost in the US dollars. If you don't think it's a good price, make a face and say, "Really?"
If they want to bargain, they'll offer something else. If not, just leave and look elsewhere. True bargaining I leave to Hongers. Also, it doesn't matter if a Honger can get it for 20% less, bargains are relative - if you think it is a good deal, buy it.
Oh, and you're in freaking Hong Kong, okay? Don't come here and buy a bunch of crap you can get at your local mall in the states. Make the most of Hong Kong.
As you can tell, I like Hong Kong a lot. It's an all night city, I'll have pictures of no one out in the morning and everyone out at night. There is no shortage of things to do and therefore I'll list none in this post. Look under Hong Kong in my topics for individual things I did. But my list would be a skimming.
I would never say that Hong Kong, as much as I love it, doesn't suck horribly. I swear, the official songbird of Hong Kong is the jackhammer. There are people and cars and even the walk / don't walk signs blare at you to tell you when it is okay to cross.
The air pollution here is really nasty now, since China went crazy for industrialization and has almost zero environmental regulations. So you get a lot of effluvia from China. Also, much like New York City, Hong Kong can be very smelly.
Hong Kong is also geographically isolated, being an island and a hillside. There's something like 12 million people here. This means it has the development to sustain all night living and great restaurants. But it also means you are jostled everywhere you go. But when you break the 5'10 line, you can see over everyone.
When you arrive and get to your hotel or place of residence, locate your nearest Watson's. You may think you never go to the drug store at home, but away you'll want to know exactly where it is. Watson's is easy to spot a mile away, whether the sign is in English or Chinese, due to its consistent blue and green branding.
This is the only place in HK you'll find Maalox or Saline Solution or several other things you may be used to. If you do not do this first, I will not be responsible.
I am quite used to talking dog syndrome, I will walk into a place and speak Cantonese to a person and they will be confused. I know my diction is perfect, but they are surprised to hear a white guy speaking Cantonese.
You might think this is a good reason not to bother learning any Cantonese. After all Cantonese is less of an actual language and more of a torture device. It is seriously the hardest to learn language I've ever encountered. There are elements of it that I swear were developed by sadistic linguist bastards anxious to cause international incidents and embarrassment.
However, if you know what certain things are and can say things like "mincee gnau yoch jok, yut tiew yao tiew, mm goy" which means Minced Beef Jok and Chinese Donut, please, people think you walk on water. You get great service, people are happy to see you the next day, and you quickly get adopted. Simply for ordering breakfast.
That's a fairly low barrier of entry and I like to take it. Again, food is the best, safest way to do that.
And, whatever you do, Hong Kong isn't Tokyo. And no matter how polite you want to be, don't pull out your Japanese and say "Hai Do Mo" here. It means something very very crude in Cantonese. So crude, in fact, it's what led me to the sadistic linguist theory.
The Octopus card is a stored value card sort of between a credit card and a card key to open an office door in thickness. With it you can ride the subway and buses, but it's also accepted at most convenience stories (7-11, Welcome), grocery stores (City Supers), restaurants, stores, coffee shops. If you want to avoid dealing with credits cards and cash, getting an Octopus Card and loading it was $3000 or so is a great way to get around town.
I tell people that it's impossible to get lost in HK, but I know that's not fair. People can get lost in their own bathroom under the right conditions. So here's what I would recommend:
1. Look for MTR exits. They show up all the time. Know your way from your MTR stop to your hotel. Then, if you are ever anywhere and lost in Hong Kong or Kowloon, find a subway station, look at the map, and reorient yourself.
2. Watch the major streets. HK and Kowloon aren't that big. Unless you do some serious walking, major streets should be an excellent guide.
3. Parks. Surprised? Hong Kong has a lot of parks and they are generally easy to spot down view corridors. They are also excellent wayfinding tools. (click on this link to see a map of Tsim Sha Tsui, select map and satellite and note the parks)
4. Don't use shops. You can walk five blocks and see four 7-11s, two Circle-Ks, three McDonalds ... so even if you use stateside multinationals as your guide, you will be screwed.
5. Ask someone. I find I know my way around HK better than many people who actually live here. They tend to just stop strangers and ask.
It's a lot easier to get on the net than it was when I started to come to HK. But that's true globally. For the most part, the Starbucks plague is just as virulent here as in the states. You can usually find one.
Simply boot up, sign in for Netvigator service. And go.
Also, get Plazes. You'll find many wifi locations mapped on plazes by myself and others. I'm ourfounder on plazes. Add me as a contact!
HK is very safe. I've been out at all times of the day and night in most parts of the city. There are pickpockets, those also come with density. But, you get the difference between robbed at gunpoint in Los Angeles or someone lifting your wallet and disappearing ... I'll take the latter.
Anyway, I deal with this by wearing tightish jeans, carrying my wallet and ID in my front pocket and wearing my blackberry holster backward - with the blackberry basically pushing into my side.
Pickpockets in HK and elsewhere love to cut open your clothes to get at your wallet. That makes the back pocket easy for them to get at.
I've never had the pleasure of someone picking my pocket here. One guy tried once on the tram in Prague. I merely had to acknowledge his existence and he stopped and went away. Pickpockets generally are not violent, just thieves.
Don't get too big for your britches. Thieves are also not lawful. Your goal is to get rid of them with a glance, not teach them a lesson.
Boy, I sure can go on about food. For a foodie, Hong Kong is a must visit. Eating here is simply heaven.
Like everywhere else, the best looking restaurant isn't always the best food. My wife and I seem to have a sixth sense for good food and when we know a place will be good it generally is. Even if it's about to fall over.
In HK, there's a lot of shiny, new, pretty restaurants that are good but not great. There are places located in a barely standing 1960s concrete building with chairs in the street where you can get the best food ever. Of course, there are also nice looking good restaurants.
So what to do? First, trust your instincts and allow yourself time to refine your instincts.
Second, eat everything. I don't care if it looks out of the ordinary - which for you there will be stuff that is. But, again, you paid money to come all the way to Hong Kong - eat the damn food. If you don't like it, don't eat it again. But give yourself a chance to find out what you actually do like.
And this isn't Mexico. I've had no problem with drinking water. Having said that, everyone likes bottled water everywhere.
I'll post pictures and discuss more of these things in detail later. But now, I'm going to go eat and do things.
Written at the Star House Starbucks in Kowloon, Hong Kong with Windows Live Writer.