July 3rd, 2019. From one big city to another, from sunshine to sauna: a night in Hong Kong
(Original post from March 24, 2020, edited in 2022)
The second longest flight of my life departed from California, Los Angeles on July 3rd, 2019. Destination: Hong Kong. The only reason this city, where restlessness and protests had in more quiet ways already started, showed up in my plans was due to it being my transit flight to Japan. The layover was 18 hours and I chose to take full advantage of it - Hong Kong allowed visa-free 30 days visit within the city limits, so I deliberately picked that flight option for the chance of experiencing a place that I would not otherwise have gone to. Why not spend the night comfortably in the city until morning and get some good night's sleep in a real bed?
I was sure I had completely finished with L.A. but there was still one little adventure I wish to share before getting to Hong Kong. It almost made me miss my flight, after all. Namely, at that time (maybe to this day) there was a really popular taxy share app among the locals called Lyft. The idea was that, to avoid paying for the whole solo taxy ride, you shared the car with other people having the same (very general) direction - you just had to enter your pick-up location and destination, and the system did the rest. I decided to give it a try with my taxi ride to the airport, which was not to be avoided anyway, and being on a somewhat money-saving mission, I liked that option of sharing the cost of the trip. Something I did not take into account, however, was time. In fact, it took a LOT of time to pick up people from different locations just to drive around in circles, or so it seemed to me because the clock was ticking. Being somewhat stuck in the car, I had no option but to sit and wait and keep my fingers crossed, while having a fun conversation with the driver who explained happily how the system worked and how it can take a lot of time, especially when there are no other cars in the area, so all people get dumped on one single driver, as long as there is space in the car. Nobody cares if someone has a flight to catch and he even strongly recommended never to use this option for important rides! Good to know... I was already in the car :D I thought to myself, if I'm meant to get to Japan there is no way I'm missing my flight, and put my trust in that. And I made it just in time, with about 40 minutes before my flight departure. Thankfully I did not have a bag to check in, so no worries. What a relief! In any case, if you'll ever be in my situation: pay the solo taxi, or go 3 hours earlier. At least! :) We'll end up paying anyway, either in time, money, or our nerves. Have your pick but do it consciously!
Finally on my way!
A little introduction to a real Asian feeling was actually created already on board of the Hong Kong Airlines flight where all the food served was Asian style - lunch and dinner. It simply made me smile, that's how good it felt! It had truly hit me. I'm finally on my way to ASIA for real!
I arrived on July 4th. (A sidenote: I'm still getting confused with all the traveling forward and backward in time, especially skipping a day due to the time shift, does it mean my life is one day shorter or do I get to live a day longer? Maybe this is why I keep getting the dates wrong, even in my private blog, and I have to repeatedly double-check them from my old emails and bookings. Not that the date matters so much at the end of the day but still. Something isn't right, have we jumped a timeline recently? :D). First things to really describe Asian atmosphere on my arrival were the shuttle car terminal doors covered in anime characters. You simply don't come across something like that anywhere else in the world! Another very characteristic phenomena, for which no cold land Estonian can truly prepare, was the extremely humid and hot climate... It was so easy not to realize, in air-conditioned spaces like airports and planes, and even after Californian sun in June, that the actual weather conditions can be cardinally different, even at 6 PM when I landed. The first moment I stepped outside from the pleasant coolness of the airport, my whole being was engulfed in a damp sauna-like air, like walking into a soft wall... A wet, 28 degree wall which left water droplets on my skin within only a few minutes. So this was the reality of the other side of the world? No going home now, have to manage! I don't, in fact, like heat much... :)
Of course, it was not the most unpleasant weather condition I found myself in during that summer which had only just begun. Far, far away from the coolness of European northern climate
The unrest and protests, which by now in tandem with a certain pandemic have cardinally changed life in Hong Kong, had only just started a few months back and were still calm and peaceful. I had been a little worried about it before my arrival but during my less than 24 hours in the city, I saw no signs of it. However, I did feel a certain heaviness or distress in the air, it was so bizarre. Perhaps it was only my interpretation but I was left with an impression that people are not happy there. Later on in my journey, of course, I heard opposite arguments from many "hongkongers" (I only found out the word exists about 2 days before I wrote this post originally, so I'm trying to use it at every possibility...) and also other travelers who had spent more time in the city that it was very ok to live in Hong Kong. Perhaps that was the time when things started quietly getting worse underneath the apparent peaceful surface. On the day I wrote all this down (March 2020), talking to one of the guests in my hostel who originates from that city, I found out that things were rather gloomy there already then - Hong Kong was no longer what it used to be. I remember that some of the busiest market streets were closed down mere 2 months after my short visit... But this story belongs to someone else.
An evening walk in the city
The things I remember most from Hong Kong were the sky-high, seemingly rather dirty and stained apartment buildings full of tiny lit up windows (it was already dark when I arrived but I saw them later in greater detail), bamboo scaffoldings, and the Avenue of stars, which is a part of the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade in the south. By the way, I rarely check up on the places I visit before my arrival; I like to experience everything knowing nothing (or only the bare minimum not to get lost or scammed), seeing everything through completely new and fresh eyes like a newborn. Feeling wonder. Discovering random streets and tiny details, unknown plants and birds and everything I cannot even name. Me stumbling on the Avenue of stars was completely random also. As I did not have much time (I wanted to get enough sleep before my next flight), then the most I probably did was to check Google Maps for my approximate location and maybe seeing, oh look, there's the sea quite close! Or did I even check that? I remember going out from my door and just starting walking (in a random direction?). What felt like a good direction to go to at the time. And I discovered myself near water in only a short while, on a promenade full of people who were enjoying the pleasantness of a warm evening. On the other shore, all I saw was an endless line of tall buildings in multi-coloured lights, like another city all on its own. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like it - it was just so magnificent! I bought some ice-cream from the nearby tourist kiosk where I also found some postcards with Bruce Lee holograms. It was his hometown, after all... I didn't buy any at the time, which I later regretted, of course :)
On the balustrade lining the waterfront I discovered some handprints, poured into bronze coloured metal. I had no idea where I even was :) Some of the names next to the handprints started sounding more familiar: Michelle Yeoh, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and of course Bruce Lee who had a faceprint made with tiny holes instead of hands. Oh, and also Tony Leung who I remembered from the movie Grandmaster which was such a visually enticing film. There must have been hundreds of them but I didn't recognize any others, perhaps some only very vaguely. I walked there for a long while, reading names, seeing people everywhere enjoying the evening. Suddenly, two Chinese women stopped me and gestured that they wanted my help taking their photo. Sure, I didn't mind, people ask every now and then. I reached out my hand to take their phone for the picture but they shook their heads, no-no, waving around, explaining in Chinese. I was so confused, I didn't have a clue what they were saying. Luckily, right next to us stood an Indian man who spoke both Chinese and English, and he was kind enough to translate for me - "No, they want to take a photo WITH YOU. You're like a celebrity here." Umm... I didn't fully understand what he meant with that but at that moment I was reminded of a little story my friend had once told me of her travels, about how locals always wanted to take photos with her - a blonde white woman; possibly somewhere in Asia also :) I was a bit flattered, said ok, sure, let's do it. It was so funny to me. I definitely didn't feel like anything special at that moment, with all the heat and messy hair and no make up or fancy clothes... Didn't even know what to say. At least they were happy to get a photo with a "celebrity". So why not bring joy into someone's life? Still, it was the last time I agreed to it - when I got asked again other times, I politely declined :) I didn't feel comfortable with putting the white race on a pedestal.
(I just Googled the Avenue of stars - I was trying to find out whether those handprints were made of bronze or brass for accuracy's sake :) Couldn't find anything past "elegant bronze colour" on the first glance but what I did discover for myself was that Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco! And that this Avenue was created as a Hong Kong version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame... (based on the search images, there should've been similar metal stars poured into the pavement somewhere as well, along with a large bronze Bruce Lee statue but I either didn't get that far - it's a really long promenade - or it was simply too dark to notice). A curious connection though, from the star parade at one end of the world to another in less than 24 hours! I'll add also that at least part of that incredible panoramic night view on the other shore should be Victoria Harbour whose skyline is apparently the most iconic attraction in Hong Kong. There, some information for the travel guide as well! And it's always great to discover things for yourself!)
Söögist ka natuke. Põhirubriik ikka. Kuna linnaavastamisaeg oli otsas, siis küsisin lihtsalt majutusasutuse nõuandeid lähedalasuva ehtsa hiina kiirtoidukoha kohta. Ikkagi Hiina ju? Ikka parem, kui kohalik Asian Aroma Tallinnas. Ei olnud! Vale koht või siis vale toit 🙂 Pettumus missugune, kuidagi hapu (kujuta ette magushapu ilma magusata?) ja imeliku maitsega riisinuudlid või riis, kuigi tellisin enda arvates midagi väga lihtsat ja “tuttavat”. Ma sõin need siiski ära, istudes üksi nurgalauas kohe välisukse kõrval, kohalikke võõramaa inimesi täis ruumis. Tee peal tagasi möödusin ühtesid kummalisi erkkollaseid koogikesi müüvast poekesest, ostsin kahese paki prooviks. Mangokoogid. Imehead! Neid küll soovitan, aga pole enam aimugi, kus neid müüdi… Aga pettumusest õhtusöögi üle aitasid nad üle saada küll!
Ahh, before I go, a few words about the accommodation as well. I suppose it could be described as another bad dream in terms of the western world and its understandings or standards :) But I wanted to familiarize myself with different kinds of living. A tiny room in a tiny apartment, on an upper floor of a huge apartment building. The entrance to the elevator of the residential part of the building was somewhere along a corridor, between the stalls of (mostly) Indian salesmen; it was sort of a small market, full of trash and constant shouts of "Miss, hostel?", "Miss, you need room?" Only one night, I'll survive. Sure, I was a little astounded but isn't one of the main ideas of traveling to see what the standards of normalcy in other places of the world are? For me, definitely. Judgment should be the first thing you leave behind when you step out of your door with a wish to see a different kind of world, and to enjoy it as well. My room was small but if it's clean, comes with a shower, and the bed allows good sleep, then everything else is already a luxury. Even the bothersome shouts downstairs could be brushed off with a smile to just continue on my way. At least I didn't have to go far for a bottle of water.
My bus back to the airport left at 8 in the morning. The weather had been tropically cloudy since my arrival but still very warm, now even with a certain freshness of the earlier time of day. I ate my second mango cake for breakfast. Mmmm! The bus stop was fortunately close and from the upper deck of the bus a lot of the city could be seen in daylight. Now it was also possible to see those nightly monster buildings, covered in thousand little lights, in their regular surroundings. The nature, however, wherever it could be seen, was simply beautiful. Exotic, unfamiliar, but my eyes simply rested upon its green lush colour. It didn't matter to me that it was just through the bus window - I made use of the opportunities I was given at the time.
Next stop: Kansai Airport, Osaka, Japan.