Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hong Kong in a Nutshell

The MTR in Hong Kong

Sara’s Top Four:

David’s Top Four:

Impressions:  Hong Kong is fantastic!  Renting an apartment for two weeks in the city (the longest we have stayed anywhere) made it even better.  It felt like we had our own place again, which was a treat.  Add to that an amazing city with so much to do and the chance to meet up with friends and it isn’t hard to see why we fell in love with Hong Kong.  

Food:  We did an entire post on dim sum in Hong Kong.  The food is fabulous in the city and there is an amazing variety.  From Asian foods to Western foods, very inexpensive to very expensive foods, HK has it all.  At the end of our stay, we both agreed that the food in HK is a big reason that it is such a great city.

Getting Around:  The HK metro system (the MTR) is excellent -- extensive, easy to use, and inexpensive.   On our first weekend, our friends Hannah and Dave recommended that we pick up an Octopus card rather than purchasing single-use tickets on the subway and needing exact change for buses and trams.  Wow!  What a difference a plastic card can make.  Rather than wasting time in line buying tickets and shuffling for exact change (or overpaying), we just tapped a card on a sensor.  Supermarkets and some restaurants even accepted the Octopus card for payment.  We were able to get reimbursed for any leftover value at the airport as we were leaving.  Very highly recommended for anyone going to HK! 

People:  It only took a day or so in Hong Kong before we noticed a really interesting phenomenon -- people walk really, really slowly.  For such a big and international city we were expecting to see people moving closer to the pace of New York or London.  Part of this can be attributed to the rampant texting (or gaming) while walking.  HK definitely is an international city -- the groups of expats from every country imaginable was staggering.  We saw more Americans, Canadians, and Brits than we had seen in months.  There is also a very large Filipino population in Hong Kong, most of whom serve as "helpers" in Hong Kong households.  Most of these helpers had Sundays off, which meant that as we walked around the city on Sundays we saw groups of mostly Filipino women sitting in parks, along sidewalks, under bridges, outside of buildings -- really anywhere that they could find a place in the shade -- talking, playing cards, and eating.

Where to Stay:   Because we knew we would be spending a few weeks in Hong Kong, we decided to use to rent an apartment.  We found a very well-priced apartment in the Sheung Wan neighborhood of Hong Kong Island.  We liked Sheung Wan.  It was very local while being less than a 10 minute walk from some bustling areas and not much farther to the Central-Mid-levels escalators. Before our trip we had to decide between staying on Hong Kong Island or across the harbor in Kowloon.  We would have been happy in either place, but we're glad we chose Hong Kong Island.  The hilly areas and diverse neighborhoods were fun to walk around, which is how we spent a lot of our time.  The metro and ferries make it very easy to get between the two.

Phone:  We wanted to be able to make local calls in Hong Kong because we would be there for so long and we would be meeting up with friends.  We bought a Peoples SIM card for our cell phone, and it worked great!  It only cost $10 USD at a shop in the Hong Kong airport and we had more than enough minutes to get through two weeks.

Clothing: Hong Kong is extremely metropolitan with men and women dressed very fashionably and no trend toward conservative dress like many other areas of Southeast Asia.

Shopping: The number of malls in Hong Kong is staggering.  I thought that we had a lot of malls in the U.S., but I have never seen anything like Hong Kong.  Malls of four stories or more were on every corner filled with every Western shop you can imagine as well as a slew of other shops we had never heard of before.  Hong Kong also has several large markets all over the city and countless other small markets.  One of the crazier markets sold birds and bird accessories.  Another of the smaller markets was dedicated to selling outlandish costumes.  If you can buy it anywhere, you can probably find it in Hong Kong.

Gambling:  The amount of gambling that we witnessed at the horse races and in Macau was unbelievable.  The Chinese gamblers are very serious and many are high-rollers.  It wasn't hard to see why Macau casinos earn more gaming revenue than their Las Vegas counterparts.  The difference was that the vibrant restaurant, club, and entertainment scene that is such a big part of Vegas is virtually nonexistent in Macau.  People are there to gamble, and that's all they seem to do!

Weather: Hong Kong was hot, especially in comparison to the cool weather we had just experienced in Nepal.  It was also extremely humid.  Leaving the apartment after a shower, we couldn't even make it as far as our MTR stop before breaking a sweat.  With the high humidity came some rain and fog, too.

Religion: The diversity Hong Kong extends to religion as well.  We saw Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and Confucianist temples.  The religious restrictions that we would learn about in China do not exist in Hong Kong.  

Politics:  Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China in 1997 (incidentally, around the same time that Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear, as we saw on the front page of an old newspaper in a museum).  It feels like a different country, and it will be interesting to follow to relationship develop between Hong Kong and the PRC.  We heard that many thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong on June 4, the anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre, to protest PRC limits on free speech.  It certainly seems like an uneasy relationship between the two.

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