more HK stories

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I don’t want to let go. I’m retracing memories, trying to keep them fresh like a taste I want to hold in my mouth.
I touched down on my home turf – from Hong Kong to Hell’s Kitchen-to a pattern of turning on the cell phone, digging through the mail, unpacking the suitcase. It seemed to fall into place too quickly, as if there was supposed to be something cataclysmic that should’ve happened. But this is the sign of a good trip- everything is ready to be picked up right where you left off.
Still, I don’t want to step into it here too deep. I still want to tread in where I was.
So I’m going to share the Hong Kong stories I didn’t get to earlier and a few others I never got to publish. It haunts me to think that the image of fishing the cell phone out of the porta potty – funny as it was – might be the final image some have of China. That wasn’t the final story, just a silly prelude to a few more. I love telling these stories so I’m going to indulge myself. 20111217-091037.jpg

Getting to Hong Kong was a display of paranoid planning. After going through the wallet ordeal, I was going to be a traveling fortress. I had all my money on me and that had to last he rest of the trip. I no longer had an ATM card to get more money, so I had to hold on tight to what I had. I was going to be traveling alone on an overnight ‘hard sleeper’ for eleven hours. The hard sleepers are long compartments with three bunks on each side of the walls that section off the trains. There are no doors between these walls, so it’s sort of like a rolling dormitory. I had the top bunk, which means you only have two feet of space to the ceiling but at least no one will be crawling down your bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I’d heard stories of people waking up to find their backpack slashed open with a knife and a “five finger discount” on their valuables, so I didn’t put anything important there. Instead, I sewed it into my bra. Two square packs of money protruded through my bra as if I had been a victim of angular breast implants gone horribly, wrong. I safety pinned my cargo pant pockets to seal in my passport and my son (the iPhone), put the earplugs in and slept like a warm embryo. I made sure to make friends with people around me, who were as sweet and kind as anyone can be, so I felt tucked in by their security.
Morning came without a worry and I climbed down to sit by the window and eat my just-add-water noodles and coffee. The views began to get tropical and metropolitan as we made our way to Shenzhen – the ‘shipping capital to the world” as commercials had told me over and over when I had watched TV in the mainland.
Once off the train, I walked to the Hong Kong side. After months of traveling, my backpack had gotten really heavy and slugging through customs and immigration made me wonder if some Chinese stowaway was sitting on top of it. Going to Hong Kong is like going to another country, although it’s still part of China. They have their own currency – (the Hong Kong dollar) and their own leader who is (in keeping with the financial status of the region) called the “CEO” of Hong Kong. Even Chinese nationals must go through these steps to enter Hong Kong and Hong Kong residents must get a visa to go to to China.
So… here’s some interesting historical trivia that many of you may already know and want to skip, but I found fascinating and want to share….
Hong Kong was ceded to the British after a lengthy battle that involved opium. When English merchants arrived in 1793 to do business with the Chinese, the Emperor basically said ‘we don’t need your money’ and denied them their commerce. The English decided they could offer something other than money and began using opium as their ‘currency”. They bought tea, silk porcelain, etc. and paid for it with opium they had cheaply acquired from India. It wasn’t long before the Emperor noticed that silver was diminishing while addiction was growing, so he ordered all opium stockpiles to be demolished. The British retaliated by bombing Chinese ports for two years until finally, an “agreement” was reached. The British would now trade in money and the Chinese would accept their money and by the way, they were going to take the islands referred to as Hong Kong for 99 years. After 99 years it would go back to China but there would be another 50 years of transition time and then after this 150 year period, China would fully re-acquire Hong Kong. The 99 year mark hit in 1997 and although Hong Kong was handed back to China, it decided to keep it generally as it was, giving rise to the “One country, two systems” principal. In 50 years, something else will happen (that I don’t fully understand) where Hong Kong will also hand back its capitalism (fat chance there).
Traveling through Hong Kong makes you wonder if this might be what mainland China will be like in 20 years. Futuristic skyscrapers growing out of vintage decay, solid infrastructure and an insatiable thirst for wealth.
Housing in Hong Kong makes New York apartments seem palatial. A normal sized bedroom is about 5X10 feet and many families of 4 or more live in less than 450 square feet. It’s surprising considering that there’s thousands of acres of untouched land surrounding this sardine city. Thank God a friend of a friend took mercy on me and let me stay at his place. Michael is a dear friend of my dear friend Brooke and has been living in Hong Kong for 5 years.
I was fortunate to get to tag along with him and see what his Hong Kong life is like. He is the number one foreign voice over artist in Hong Kong. I went to the studio to watch him do voice overs for a Japanese cartoon and met some of the other actors. There’s a thriving community of ex-pat theater in Hong Kong and the actors all seem to be traveling to some Asian hotspot when they get free time. Within three days I was wondering what it would take for Don and I to move there.
Despite the pockets of butt to butt crowdedness, I loved the diversity of what it offered – beaches, mountains, back alley discoveries, super city efficiency and close proximity to great Asian get-aways.
On Wednesday nights Hong Kong has horse races and half the city seems to come out for it. Maybe I should have checked the horses belly; rumor has it that they fix the races by giving some of the horses water before the race to slow them down. My horse clearly didn’t hear my inspirational threats from 200 feet away and so I lost 4 bucks.
Near the racetracks are double decker cable cars that look like something Oliver Twist might be driving (except for the ads they’re covered in). I went back to that part of the city the next day and sat at the top of the cable cars with a great view (and comfortable feet) picking out all the interesting and bizarre shops I later went to on the way back.
When I was in Macau – the Chinese island inhabited by the Portuguese – I found some great tid-bits.
This is a plate that a Chinese porcelain maker created based on stories he had heard of the crucifixion. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen an asian Jesus.

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I also learned that tea came from China in two places. If it came from Canton it was pronounced something like ‘Cha”, so as it was carried to places as India and Japan, they kept some variation of the name. Likewise, if the tea came from Fukien it was pronounced something like “tea” so variations of that name traveled to England and most European countries. So there ya go. Something to talk about next time you go to a PTA meeting.

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I already shared all the video I thought to take while I was there, but I wanted to pass these stories on before they evaporate from my peabrain. I still have another post or two about China in me and then, who knows…. I’ve had so much fun doing this, maybe I’ll continue it if anyone is along for the ride.
In the mean time, may the white lady of love bring joy to your day.

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3 Comments on “more HK stories”

  1. Janie Olivares says:

    Laura,

    I have traveled with you the pasted few months by reading your stories. I would love to continue to read your stories so count me in. “I am along for the ride” In fact I am alreading looking forward to your next story. Have a wonderful Holiday!

  2. Gretchen Penny says:

    Laura, I have loved your stories and these add-ons from Hong Kong were fun, too. When we went to HK in March, our hotel was right across the street from the horse race track you visited. In fact, we could watch half the race (one side of the track) from our hotel room. When we saw the races on Wednesday night, we vowed to go there another night, not realizing that this wonderful and popular event happened so close to us….but only one night a week! We missed our only chance at the races, but there is a great museum in that building, too, so we learned about the horse race history of HK, instead.

    We could catch the double-decker bus right around the corner from our hotel, too, and it sounds like it is a similar ride to the one you had on the street car. We were told by friends to sit on the top deck for a ride to Stanley Market, which we did. I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE!!!! That ride on the top deck around the mountain roads to the other side of the island was as scary as any roller coaster I have ever taken!

    Hong Kong is a fascinating place and, like you said, NOTHING like the rest of China. Very slick, very expensive with lots of very wealthly people–and very British. At the history museum, they have a wonderful exhibit that maps out the opium history you described. Fascinating stuff.

    Anyway, I am along for the ride, as you say, so I will read all the stories you care to publish! Keep ’em coming…..

  3. Christina Roberts Gerhardt says:

    Laura,
    While my chaotic life does not allow me the luxury at this time to travel, I have so enjoyed “traveling” to China though your stories! Please travel again soon so that I too can “travel” with you! Thanks for sharing so many of your great adventures! Many blessings for a wonderful Holiday!


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