First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hong Kong, Day 1: Standing in Line

Greetings from Asia's self-declared World City!

I'm here for two nights as a result of China's visa system. For short-term visitors, visas are available for a maximum of 90 days at a stretch, but you can get visas that allow multiple entries. For people who are in China more than 90 days (like myself), the usual trick is to go on a quick turnaround trip to Hong Kong - it's a part of China now, but operates semi-autonomously, so going to Hong Kong counts as exiting China for visa purposes, so when I re-enter I'll get a fresh 90 days from China.

Not that I'll need 90 - I forgot to shoot a picture of the Riceometer before I left Beijing, but as of tonight I am officially 2/3 through my exchange - 33 days remaining.

Anyway, so far my Hong Kong adventure has consisted mostly of standing in line. I was up at 5 am and to the ariport by 6:15 for an 8:00 departure. I got to the counter pretty quickly (for some reason, the Beijing airport has customs before ticketing. I guess it doesn't matter that much, but I've never seen that before) and got stuck behind a couple of Americans who were apparently organizing their entire trip on the spot with the economy-class ticket agent. They also were going to Hong Kong, but they were also trying to talk the agent through connections on other airlines to LAX and Dallas.

After 15 minutes, I was quietly invited to the first class counter and checked in. Then I went to immigration - a long line snaking back and forth. Call it another half hour to get my exit stamp. Then the usual line to get on the plane.

I got an exit seat (yay!) but it had no window (boo!) But I did meet Daryl, an American-turned-Hong Konger, originally from Baltimore, and a professional DJ. He must be pretty good - someone flew him to Beijing for one night to spin at a fashion show. Fascinating guy - has a masters in engineering, has lived all over the world (of course) and just following his passion, and apparently making a decent living at it. He comped me into his show in Hong Kong tonight, but I was too tired to make it. I'm so lame!

But anyway, in Hong Kong it took almost an hour to get through immigration. There were probably 8 queues, each snaking over maybe 200 yards, and in the line I chose, the officials with the stamps apparently were reading every word in each passport, memorizing it, reciting it to a stenographer, then taking a quiet moment to reflect on the nature of beauracracy before finally stamping the person through.

So I got through that and got to the bus that took me to my hotel in Causeway Bay. Nice place. Small rooms and not much of a view (I'm only on the 18th floor, so not very high by Hong Kong standards) but very polished and modern and well appointed.

Hong Kong is really a beautiful city in a lot of ways. It's a huge, polished metropolis with gleaming skyscrapers, of course, but people forget that it's stunning geography as well. It's a series of small, steep islands and peninsulas connected by magnificent bridges. Hong Kong island itself is heavily developed, of course, but with a tall central peak, much of the land is too steep to build, so you get this skirt of skyscrapers around a green center.

After settling in and a very short rest, I went exploring. I took the subway to the Central district and wandered for a bit, then decided to take the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak in the middle of Hong Kong island.

Beautiful, but more lines. The line to get up was about an hour (the tram ride itself takes 7 minutes) and a solid 50 minutes to come back down. But the tram is kinda cool - it's been in use since the 1880's and pretty much goes straight up the side of the mountain. It feels like the start of a roller coaster, with a 45 degree angle in places, but you're sitting in these rail cars.

After getting back down, I walked to the Lan Kwai Fong area in Central, which is packed with bars, restaurants and tourists. (It's actually where Daryl was playing, but 11:00 was too late.) I ate at an American-themed place called Al's Diner - overpriced, but at least the service was slow, so I couldn't order too much. Then subway home (the Hong Kong subway is EXCELLENT - clean, efficient, not too crowded, and easy to navigate even for a corn-fed Midwestern rube like me - "Subway, huh? How do you get the cattle in?") and laying low.

Sooooo verrry tired.

Anyway, here's some pictures and a video. More tomorrow!