Being alone in this place has made me feel like a huge tourist, and I haven’t had the courage to go whole hog and snap pics of everything. Plus, I didn’t know how long my phone would last, and I didn’t have wifi anyway, so I kept my first trip fairly low tech. Future notes will definitely have pretty pictures.
After a 15 hour plane ride, I had to negotiate the Hong Kong metro system to the University with luggage in tow. This required:
Exchanging money at the airport. My rule of thumb is that US$1 = HK$8, roughly, but the airport was exchanging at a rate of 1 to 7, which sucks. But I knew I had some trains to catch and maybe a cab ride or two, plus I was starving, so I changed out 60 bucks, figuring that would get me around and fed for the night.
Three train changes. There’s a special train from the airport into the city, and then a metro across the city, and another across the bay into Kowloon.
A cab ride from the train station into the university.
I had to do all this without a working phone, which is basically the only thing that keeps me alive on a daily basis. Luckily I saved a map of the university, and directions to my building; otherwise, I was depending on the public transportation system and the kindness of strangers.
So first of all, the Hong Kong subway system is amazing. The trains are huge, maybe 50% wider than New York trains, they all have clear wifi signal (but have to pay for it, and I didn’t), and clear cell reception (half the people on the train were on their phones). The loudspeaker system was clear as a bell, the trains were clean as a whistle, there were (working!) animated signs telling you exactly what stop you were at and where you were going and how long it would be before you got there. It took me all of 20 seconds to figure out what I was doing; for comparison, it took an extended Thanksgiving weekend before I cracked the New York subway system. Exchanges between trains was also incredibly easy. The trains are also entirely enclosed in glass, which opens onto the platform when the trains arrive, so everything was air conditioned and comfortable. No weird smelly drafts from the tunnels, no rats, no homeless or (visibly) crazy people. A+++ would ride again.
The one thing that didn’t work was the metro card. All the ticket machines were either single-ride machines, or machines for refilling your Octopus card (seriously), which I didn’t have and couldn’t figure out how to get. That meant I had to buy a new ticket every time, and that I couldn’t just scan it against the reader but had to insert it into a little slot. People waiting in line found this annoying.
Once I got underground in Hong Kong proper, I could immediately tell I was in a major city without even coming above ground. Everyone was young and fashionably dressed, or old and exhausted in business attire. The young people were all very attractive, most of them doing the hipster thing in name brands that even I recognize. Big messy hair brushed over their faces, thick black glasses, Converse sneakers. Quite a few girls in sassy school girl outfits.
I only saw two people wearing hats of any kind. Both were ratty old ball caps, worn by people who looked like either cooks or janitors. I wonder if its a low class thing to be wearing a hat. Meh, my Android hat is awesome. Cold dead hands.
I’ve spent the last year following cell phones rabidly, and though I saw a few dozen iPhones, I didn’t recognize most of the devices people were carrying. They were all shapes and sized and colors, things you would never see in the hands of an American suburbanite. This is clearly the future.
In any case, I finally get to the right stop and exit the subway system and breathe my first lungfull of Hong Kong air, and immediately after the first cigarette I’ve had in 18 hours. It was good. While smoking, I wandered around for a taxi stand. The directions on my phone said that the taxis would be ‘right out front’, but I only saw a single dude in an unmarked black car. Still, I had no idea what I was looking for, so I asked “Taxi?” He shot me a dirty look and rolled up his window. After I passed him I realized that he was in a fancy BMW, and I probably seriously insulted him. Oops.
I turned the corner and saw a row of clearly marked taxis, and jumped in the first one and said ‘University’ and was shuttled off. Hong Kong drives on the left side of the road (as in Brittian), but they drive incredibly fast in zippy little cars along very narrow windy mountain roads. That is, most of the cars are zippy little Japanese numbers, but they share the road with a huge number of minivans and massive, top-heavy double-decker busses, who are going just as fast around corners as everything else. Most intersections are roundabouts, and I am still unconvinced that human brains have the processing power to actually navigate these death circles.
In any case, I made it to the university, found the residence towers, and after waiting for about 30 minutes for someone to check me in, I found my room. Wireless: check. Toilet: check. I bought an outlet converter before I left Champaign, and it seemed to be charging my phone fine but when I plugged in mhy laptop cord the whole pack started buzzing and beeping in a way that made it sound alive and very unhappy. Turns out I fried the cord, so my lap top can’t get power.
But nevermind that, I was hungry and I wanted to see the city. So I put my stuff together, made sure I was properly equipped, and went back to the bus stop. I was done traveling, now it was time to explore.