Sunday, February 6, 2011

From Hong Kong, With Love

What an incredible week this was. I really didn't know what to expect from Hong Kong, but having spent a short time there, I am completely amazed and head over heels in love with the city.

I think it would be best to start off with a small history lesson about Hong Kong. Although HK is technically in China, it is a special administrative region, with its own government, rights and regulations. For instance, you can use youtube and facebook in HK although you wouldn't be able to in mainland China. HK was also colonized by the British and only in 1997 did they become independent. The colonization is so evident, it's almost frightening. HK felt, looked, sounded like London.

Hong Kong is an international city unlike any other I've ever been to. I feel it really gives its visitors the best of both worlds, offering both an Asian and European feel. When we were in London this summer, Andre took us to the "trendy" side of town, the East End. The west was always thought to be the swank part of town, but as of late it's become terribly posh and entirely too expensive. All the "cool" kids hang out on the east side of London and we saw this firsthand on our stroll down Brick Lane. I feel as if Hong Kong is the East End of Asia. As far as Korea is concerned, HK is definitely the hip kid in school. The young people in HK are so rebellious, they have free spirits, they aren't afraid to look and dress differently. Very rarely do I see that here in Busan (although I'm sure it's much more prevalent in Seoul) but almost every young person in HK dressed like they meant it. They had their own unique style. I really appreciated it.

HK had so much to offer. We saw skyscrapers and we saw beach and palm trees. The weather was absolutely goregous, about 70 degrees farenheit everyday. Compared to the brisk below freezing temperatures we've had of late in Korea, this was paradise. It was amazing to walk around with no winter coat.

Stacy and I went on this trip alone, not making any plans and just going with the flow. On her way to the airport, she found out that two other teachers we know in Busan, Jeff and Lauren, were also headed to HK. As it turns out, they stayed about three subways stops away from us. It's funny how things work out, especially when they are completely unpredicted. They stayed at the fairly famous ChungKing Mansions, a hostel that is absolutely sprawling in size (someone told us that it covers almost 5 blocks), though I must say I was much more satisfied with our accomodation. They said they saw a few cockroaches and the small rooms and shared bathrooms were less than desirable. Stacy and I stayed on Argyle Street, a very popular shopping area next to what is called the Ladies Market. We couldn't have asked for a better hostel. We paid about 20 dollars each night for our own bed and bathroom, central location, free internet and no bugs.

Being so close to Jeff and Lauren really worked out. We hadn't planned on hanging out in HK, but it was nice to have other people to go around with since we hadn't decided what we were going to do while on vacation. The first night there, we met Lauren, Jeff and his two friends from Chicago, Kevin and Mike. They both work in the city, but they had vacation time and flew to HK to celebrate. It was nice to talk to them about home and have conversations with people who actually know where Rantoul is on a map.

On the second day, we woke up early and had brunch at what I can only describe as an Asian Denny's. We ate cheap, delicious food then made our way to "The Avenue of the Stars," which is exactly like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, except with Asian celebrities. We recognized a few, like Jackie Chan, and took some hilarious pictures with the Bruce Lee statue. We also got our first view of the magniifcent HK skyline. Although disappointingly smoggy, it was still amazing to see. After this, we hoped to take cable cars to a tall peak for a grand view of the city and a gigantic Buddha, but once we got there we saw that the line was unbearably long. We were told it would be about a three hour wait which we attributed to the holiday, so we decided to skip on those plans. Instead, we headed to a park nearby and found solitude near the sea. The boys explored and found a small fishing village, while the girls laid around and basked in the sunshine. I laid under a tree and found my inner peace while enjoying the beautiful weather. That night there was a parade, but the crowds were once again incredibly huge. We got a few glances of the parade, but didn't feel like being smushed and pushed around. Instead, we went back to the Avenue of the Stars where there is a light show every night. It was a little cheesy with the 1984 synth-music, but it was remarkble to see, nonetheless.

The third day was my favorite in Hong Kong, without a doubt. I knew HK was a modern city, but I had no idea it was so green. Early in the morning, we took a ferry to an island named Lamma. The ride only took about half an hour and was calm for the most part. I think we were all pleasantly surprised when we stepped off the boat and onto the small island where there are absolutely no cars or roads. We saw seafood restaurants, small shops and marts, it was amazing. We got off at one port then walked around the beautiful island to the other port where we would depart. After walking around and browsing through shops, we ate right by the boardwalk and watched the sun go down on another beautiful day in Hong Kong. We quickly made our way back to the ferry and onto a bus that took us to Victoria's Peak. And when I say peak, I really mean we were at the peak of the city. The fireworks were that night and we were able to barely catch a glimpse over the crowd to see the magnificent display. But once everyone cleared out, we were really able to appreciate the view. I can't think of a skyline more beautiful than Hong Kong's from that summit. It was truly breathtaking.

Our last day in Hong Kong was a lazy one. We slept in and then took our time getting ready, finally making our way to an H&M to buy clothes that fit us the way they're supposed to. Good-bye paycheck!

We had a quick and easy flight home the next morning. During our layover in Shanghai, the man giving us our boarding passes asked us where we were going after Korea. "Busan is home," I said. It felt strangely comforting. I'm going to miss this country so damn much.

But aside from that, this trip was truly amazing in every sense of the word. It was so easy to navigate through HK and it seemed as though everyone spoke almost perfect English with British accents. And I mean everyone. People working in 7/11, waiters, strangers on the street offering to help when we were lost. The only part I had trouble adjusting to was money. Although everything was surprisngly cheap, the conversion threw me off a bit. To put it simply, one US dollar is equal to about 8 HK dollars. I would see a bottle of water for $8.50 and think I was going to go bankrupt after the first hour in the country, but it wound up only being a buck.

If anyone ever wanted to go to Hong Kong I would highly reccommend it. It's a truly international city with great people. The food was mediocre at best, but when that's your only "complaint," I think that really says something. We hadn't planned to spend vacation with the people we did, but I couldn't imagine it being any other way. They made this trip unforgettable and we had a lot of laughs and made memories that will last us all a lifetime. I'm so glad I got to experience Hong Kong for myself. When I first booked the flight, I thought I had made a mistake and was certain I spent too much for only a few days away. In hindsight, I would have spent double. This holiday was priceless.

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