Hong Kong - Endurance Sightseeing

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June 7th 2007
Published: June 7th 2007
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So after Thailand it was on to Hong Kong. Working for Trailfinders for the past year has made it near impossible to just get a straightforward flight somewhere. I'd spend my free time looking at tickets and flight routes and working out how to get the most possible out of precious time off. So our one-way ticket to Seoul was padded out with stopovers in both Thailand and Hong Kong for much the same price and the employment agency was paying for it anyway so why not? Thailand was somewhere I really wanted to go back to (and probably always will - this was the third visit) and Hong Kong was somewhere I'd always wanted to go. Pretty impressive it was too.

Hong Kong is the kind of place where if you're just having a short stopover you will collapse into bed at the end of the day feeling like you won't be able to get up again: as evidenced by the picture of Paul after a day of heavy-duty sightseeing. We also had the added element of adventure in that we had run out of time to get our Korean work visas in England, so we were going to have to get them whilst in Hong Kong. Our arrival saw us running through subway stations and streets with fully loaded backpacks, trying to get to the embassy before it closed. Unfortunately we didn't make it, but no matter, how hard could it be to get a Korean work visa on a Friday when your flight out is on the following Monday? Just because you've spent the past year advising people not to book flights before getting the visa, doesn't mean you're actually going to follow that advice.

Fortunately we managed to forget about the visa situation because Hong Kong is awesome. We got the impressively steep tram up Victoria Peak for amazing views of not just the skyscraper-packed city but the surrounding lush vegetation and the outlying islands. The peak has a great birds-eye view of the harbour too; the water is a swirling mass of boats. We went down to the harbour itself and were lucky enough to arrive there just before the start of a sound and light show. Undoubtedly a must-see/hear, the sky is taken over every night by multicoloured laser beams and searchlights, all moving and flashing in symphony with the music. The buildings get in on the show too, all with their own unique colours and patterns of light building to the final crescendo; it's pretty spectacular. Added to this are the crowds of people all looking skywards and showing their appreciation with the loudest and most enthusiastic ohhhs and ahhhs possible. I kept getting the giggles; it's seriously worth going just to experience the sound of human wonder and awe in synchrony. AAHHHH!! OHHHHH!!

As well as these two must-sees/hears we also went on the must-do Star Ferry. It's short but stunning, especially at night. The ferries go back to 1874 and they feel suitably old-fashioned and insignificant in comparison to the dizzying skyscrapers that approach as it chugs across Victoria Harbour. The next day we visited Sheung Wan, a very traditional area of Hong Kong, which is full of Chinese shops selling ancient traditional medicines and 'themed' streets where all the shops along them sell the same - often quite bizarre - thing such as snake's skin, bird's nests or shark's fin. My favourite themed street was the street of goldfish; the outside walls of the shops are covered in tiny individual bags of fish for a quick and easy sale. The insides are full of tanks and everything you could ever need as a fish owner. The street was packed too, with people jostling, inspecting and haggling over fish.

This stands in stark contrast to the modernity of Central with the world's costliest building, HSBC, sitting proud and smug with the slogan 'amassing the power of wealth' - does that strike anyone else as a bit bolshy? and arrogant? and 'here-at-globo-gym-we're-better-than-you'? What happened to 'the world's local bank'? That sounded so caring and friendly but I suppose 'amassing the power of wealth' is more in keeping with the area: the architecture of Central didn't come cheap, especially when you have to get the Feng Shui experts in to ensure the Chi is positive.

During all this sightseeing we were getting regularly accosted by schoolboys with clipboards wanting us to take part in surveys. Of course, the first few times we were enthusiastic - we were soon to be English teachers after all. Our enthusiasm began to dwindle once we realised how lengthy they were (about 20 minutes in one case) and how uninteresting the subject matter was to us. It all seemed to focus around fast-food and convenience stores: 'Which does better burgers, McDonalds or Burger King?' 'How convenient do you think convenience stores are on a scale of 1-5?'

We were quite keen to see something other than the city itself because Hong Kong isn't just a city: there are beaches, villages and trekking as well (no wonder the Hong Kong tourism board kicks ass; what an easy job they have). So we got on an old-style local bus and rode out of the skyscrapers to the cleaner air of the green south-eastern corner of Hong Kong Island. The ride itself was worth it, I’d always imagined the whole of Hong Kong island to be developed but there is a surprising amount of green and there were some pretty good views of the coastline and outlying islands (I say 'pretty good' because all views in Hong Kong are seen through the haze of air pollution; clear days are supposedly pretty rare). We had planned to go for a trek but this was our last day and we were pretty exhausted, so we had a wander around the village of Shek O and ate Thai curry which made me feel a bit guilty. Whilst travelling I normally always eat the cuisine of the country that I'm in (if I'm only there for limited time): it seems kind of a waste not to try as much of the cuisine as possible and that way you avoid culinary sacrilege (Italian in Cuba being a prime suspect 'spaghetti' becomes noodles covered in mayonnaise), but the justification for this particular transgression was the diabolical Chinese food we'd experienced the night before. The menu was massive - probably about 20 pages. This was partly because every dish had a picture but I struggled to find anything. This was definitely because every dish had a picture and nothing looked like food. It looked like animals on a plate, because it was of course and I really shouldn't have had a problem with this, but I like the chicken on my plate to look white and meaty, not like it's just had a haircut and a bit of sauce slapped on its chest. Anyway, we selected the least animal-like, most food-like thing we could but it appears that the brain rules the palate because it didn't taste very nice (or maybe that's being unnecessarily generous and it actually wasn't very nice). Of course, we had good Chinese food in Hong Kong too but this place was strictly for the initiated. Enough of the lengthy digression, the Thai curry was great (and was to be our last for quite some time) and we followed it by lazing on the beach, recovering from the rigours of sightseeing and preparing for the early dash to the embassy before our flight to Korea.

As I'm sure you'll have guessed by the fact that we've been working in Korea for a couple of months now, we did manage to get our work visas at the embassy. It marked the end of quite a stressful paperwork-filled period of trying to get everything in place in what, by all rights, shouldn't have been enough time. It involved getting official sealed documents from our university, which had to be resent because they were unsealed the first time and therefore completely useless; redrafting and agreeing on the contract; fedexing out immigration forms, signed contracts, degree certificates and photos to the school; the school sending the forms to immigration to issue us with a number; us taking the number to an embassy along with more forms in order for them to actually start processing the visa. Trying to find out about this process was even harder. The agency and the school were amazed how quickly after accepting the job offer we were on our way with work visas issued. We were pretty relieved and got ourselves to the airport to start the final leg of our one-way to Korea. It also marked the end of the 'holiday' and the start of a very different experience. I was pretty nervous flying to Korea because without having any idea whether we would even like the country we had agreed to live and work there for a full year.

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hooo raahh!

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