Monday, August 20, 2012

Your Top 10 Questions about Hong Kong: Answered

I know you’re all dying to hear about my Hong Kong trip so that you’ll be able to plan your own in the near future. Instead of nattering on about my personal feelings of the city, allow me to answer your most pressing questions so that your own trip will go smoothly.

     1.      Can I drink the water?
I call this "Blurry City at Night because Elaine is Terrible
with Night Shots on her Camera and the Boat was Moving"
Probably. But the restaurants boil it first, if that’s any indication of the locals’ expectations of their water’s purity.

     2.      How should I get from the airport to my hotel?
Depends on the time of day. Since Faith (my traveling compatriot on this journey) and I arrived in the middle of the night, we took a taxi whose driver had a collection of god-only-knows-what-voodoo-creepy stuff on the dashboard and who drove literally double the speed limit.

     3.      Will I get lost in the city?
I hope so! Don’t be afraid to be lost: that’s one of the best parts of travel! That said, it’s a pretty straightforward city with a very navigable transit system. If you do find yourself scrabbling for directions, you’ll probably be able to find someone who speaks English well enough to help you out. The two times Faith and I asked for help, both people were fluent.
View from said hostel

     4.      What kind of Chinese should I be speaking?
Cantonese. Study up.

     5.      Where should I get my hotel?
Hong Kong Island. I recommend Hong Kong Hostel, located on Paterson St right next to a bunch of bus stops and the subway. It has creepy 3D pictures of cats on the walls, but the view from the balcony is great! Also, we saw no less than three runway models (live gods and goddesses of beauty) less than a block from the hostel.

     6.      Can I brush my teeth with the water?
Yes. Just don’t chug it.

     7.      What are the modern-day reminders that Hong Kong was a British Colony for much of its history?
They stare at you no matter where you go.
I’m glad you asked. From my vantage point: the large English-speaking population, international education, and a friendly reminder to “mind the gap” before entering the subway car. And it’s not an idle warning: the gaps between the platform and car are large enough for small children and puppies to fall through.

     8.      What geography do I need to be aware of?
The South Island, Lantau Island and the mainland are separated by Victoria Harbor and easily bypassed by superior bridge and tunnels systems. Lantau Island is home to the airport and an exceptionally large Buddha. The north part of Hong Kong Island and the central-southern tip of the mainland make up the city’s center.

     9.      What should I eat?
Yes. Though I wouldn’t recommend the duck eggs/minced pork option that I managed to order on my first evening in the city. It was less than delicious.

     10.  What’s the best thing about the city?
See? British! With English jokes about butts and boats!
It’s a tie between the air conditioning blasting out of buildings and cooling all the sidewalks and the amazing public transportation. Apparently Hong Kongians brag about their public transit: and they should. Subways come every two minutes (to platforms which are just as air-conditioned as the carriages) and I’ve never been on a system so intuitive. Every time we transferred lines, the line we wanted to go to was somehow directly in front of us! The only not well-air-conditioned transit system are the trams which were built in 1904 and are still widely used for quick hops around the city. They are super-cool. Old, but double-decker, and riding on them costs only 25 cents!

     11.  Please stop talking about the transportation.
No! The buses are double-decker and I loved them. We also rode on a minibus one time that probably almost killed three people as it swerved around mountains, but it went really fast and goes all over the island. Everything is easy and intuitive, navigation-wise. And to pay for everything, all you need is the famed and mysteriously named Octopus Card. You swipe it onto every bus, minibus, tram, and subway entrance and you’ve already paid. They’re very easy to charge up and if you plan it right, you can take the airport bus back with the card so you don’t have any extra money left on it!

Anyway, now I’m back in Korea where the subway platforms are not air-conditioned and I have to hike up a mountain in order to do my laundry. But Korea has good things too—like friends and treadmills, potable water, and cute art supply stores. But it’d be cool if we had a tram system, too. Just saying, President Lee Myung-Bak. Just saying.

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