Date: 5th July 2012
My last day in Hong Kong was supposed to be spent at Ocean Park, but I woke up to this…
Realizing such weather would ruin a far off visit to a theme park and delay my departure to the airport, I decided not to go and sought to get a refund for my ticket. I bought it from Fiona at the hostel itself, but she hadn’t come in yet. I asked the housekeeper who was Filipino and her reaction went something along the lines of this: “You want a refund? Ha! No way… Fiona won’t give your money back… Chinese don’t do refunds!”, with a laugh.
When Fiona did show up, I told her I couldn’t go because it was raining all morning… which she knew. She mentioned “it’s bad luck to give refunds” according to (her) Chinese customs. Now I know Chinese attitudes towards money are a bit annoying, but I just had a smirk on my face upon hearing that. Eventually she did give my money back because she knew where I was yesterday and there was no way I could have gone as far as Ocean Park in that time.
Anyway, I still had to check out of the hostel, so I kept my bags at the lobby. Decided to eat an early lunch and went looking for a shawarma shop I had seen the day before.
I took it easy as the weather was still glum and I had a few hours to kill. Plus I stuffed myself knowing I wouldn’t eat again until dinner time.
Post-lunch, I roamed around Mong Kok and stepped into a few shopping centres… mostly to soak up some air-conditioning.
Feeling stupid that I simply wasted time and money coming this far for nothing, I decided to make the most of it. I stayed in the train and got off at Sheung Shui.
I would have loved to have gone across to China, but I couldn’t. I need a visa for China and my plan is to visit China and North Korea at a later date.
I had an odd encounter at this station though. While going back, a Mainland Chinese girl just randomly struck a conversation with me. She told me she was studying in Melbourne and staying with her relatives there. She only came to visit her parents in Shenzhen, but rather loudly told me how much she hated China compared to her life in Australia. I was a bit embarrassed talking to her because she was quite loud and that’s a big ‘no-no’ inside the trains.
But then I realized she just wanted to speak English with me… something foreigners experience quite often with residents from the mainland. I could tell from her grammatical mistakes and her often misplaced use of the word “fuck,” this girl had only recently acquired the ability to speak English. Probably why she’s studying in Australia. Anyway, she kept going on about how “free” she is in Australia and how much she dislikes the attitudes of the Chinese compared to the very friendly, carefree attitudes of the Aussies. Understandable, but I still felt she was going a bit far in slamming the country she grew up in and “its” ways, when she herself was far from perfect. Oh well, surely she’s not the only one.
Back at the hostel, I repacked my bags, freshened up and checked my e-mails one last time before I left.
Even though I had 8 full days in Hong Kong, I still couldn’t do all that I planned. I can’t believe I didn’t go to Ocean Park or Disneyland. Not that I was super-excited about the latter. Oh well, something for next time. This trip wasn’t all that bad though. I finally got to see my favourite K-pop group SNSD in Macau! But I also learned cyclone warnings are a way of life here and can seriously deter your plans. I wanted to explore the New Territories to get an idea of middle-class life in Hong Kong as well.
Still, having been to Singapore and now Hong Kong, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons. Both small city-states with virtually no resources to call its own other than geographical advantage. Both home to a burgeoning population, extremely wealthy (by state figures) and world-famous for many reasons. They both face fairly similar problems in certain aspects: trying to keep ‘some’ people out, limited space and an ever-increasing cost of living for the lower-to-middle class, especially in terms of housing.
While Singaporeans complain about “FTs*” Hong Kongers complain about “Mainlanders”. I didn’t experience much in terms of prejudice or racism, but I’m sure it’s there — especially towards darker skinned people. Then again, I didn’t experience much in terms of a “warm welcome” or “service with a smile” either. But I’ve now come to the conclusion that it’s not something the Chinese are very good at. Heck, I went looking for a Jollibee one day just to experience ‘Filipino service,’ and to have my food served with a genuine smile!
Communication is also a bit of a problem. Despite being branded “Asia’s Global city,” English isn’t as commonly spoken as I thought it would be. So Singapore gets the edge there. If you ask me which is city is more “awesome” — Hong Kong, hands down! I was in awe even before the flight landed! When taking the express train from the airport, I was still in a state of “wow”. Hong Kong is seriously impressive as a mega city, and surprisingly offers a lot more than people think. HK also feels more ‘real’ than Singapore, which my friend and ex-colleague rightfully described as being “too sterile”. Hong Kong still has some grit amongst its finely paved infrastructure, which by the way, is one the best I’ve seen!
Seriously, the MTR is amazing. The Octopus card is a system I would love other cities to emulate. Despite the roads not being very wide (due to space constraints), I still didn’t encounter too many traffic jams. If there’s a model city I would like to learn from for my hometown’s development, its Hong Kong. Not Singapore or Dubai. My hometown, Kannur, is a coastal town hilly and devoid of space, but if Hong Kong can work within its constraints, I’d love to learn how they did it.
The “one nation, two systems” policy is what remained post re-unification in 1997, but going by what I saw on the day of the 15th anniversary commemoration, there’s still resentment from Hong Kongers towards China. HKers obviously enjoy much more freedom than the average Chinese, they always have. It’s that very freedom that gave rise to the now-world famous Hong Kong cinema industry. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow and practically any Chinese star who made name for themselves, owes the film industry in Hong Kong — not China.
But now China is hard to ignore as there are over a 1 billion people there to watch Chinese-language cinema, and do business with. Despite Hong Kong’s reliance on China for trade, produce, and other essential commodities, the attitude of HKers towards visiting ‘mainlanders’ largely remains: “Spend your money here, but don’t stay”. You could say the same thing about Singapore whose populace often complain about “PRCs,” but both governments can do little about it purely because that’s where all the new wealth is coming from. Tourism and the whole travel industry in the region is focusing on passenger traffic growing from China.
As much as I support Hong Kongers fighting over the ever-increasing cases of internet censorship and their freedom of speech being restricted, I’m afraid their government is simply going to bow down to Beijing in the long-run. All because of money.
Foreign investors don’t set up offices in expensive Hong Kong only to do business with the island’s 7 million residents. They largely do it because HK is where they can also do business with China. Their attitude largely remains: “We love China! But we rather live in Hong Kong…”. It’s a slippery slope, but one investors can’t help but climb.
In the end, if you still ask me to choose between Hong Kong and Singapore as a place to live and work, I would choose Singapore. Why? Mostly because I’m Indian. Singapore is obviously a shorter plane ride away from home. Being South Indian, “my food” is easily available in Singapore, and so are most Indian food products. This is simply because Indians have been in Singapore for over a century. Other than Chungking Mansions, I didn’t come across too many Indians in Hong Kong.
But more importantly, I don’t know how much of Hong Kong city life I could handle. The cramped nature of this mega city makes you appreciate how much space India takes for granted. Rooms in Hong Kong are seriously small. It’s – no – joke!
I felt a sense of relief visiting the peace and calm of a village like Tai O after walking about in the city for six days. It would take some getting used to before settling down here.
Unfortunately it got delayed, by close to an hour! Then we had to switch gates. It was nearly 10pm by the time we were in the air, which sucked, because this meant I would be done with all the procedures at Suvarnabhumi Airport well past midnight!
I landed past midnight as expected and I hurried towards immigration to fill up my visa-on-arrival form. Unfortunately a flight from China just landed and a barrage of Chinese tourists came flooding in. Why is this annoying? Because most of them don’t speak English or Thai, which meant long waits at immigration.
I obviously missed the last train into the city, so I was forced to take a taxi. By the time I checked-in to my hotel in Sukhumvit, it was well past 1am and I was tired and frustrated.
One day in Bangkok
Still, it felt good to be back in Bangkok (and Thailand) after a gap of nearly two years. The last time I was here was in 2010. Thailand will always have a special place in my heart as this was the first SE Asian destination I visited ever since I began travelling abroad in 2009.
By the time I got up, it was already time to check-out. I dumped my bags at the reception and took the BTS to Siam Paragon.
I wouldn’t have to miss Thailand as much because I would be back in November. My Thailand 2012 series begins next!
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