Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hong Kong

Sunday morning we took the train to Hong Kong. It was a travel day and by the time we reached our new apartment we were all tired. The high speed train Guangzhou-Hong Kong, seems very slow, but it's a very civilised way of travel. From the station we changed three subway trains - it's a breeze to navigate their metro. Some people say it is the best in the world, but I prefer the Paris Metro with their one price fits all. You can stay all day underground in Paris for one euro, here the cost increases with every station travelled and the ticket is time limited.

Hong Kong was a special attraction since I was a little boy. I read the “Eighty days around the world” and I was curious to see their port. Then the events of 1997 added their share of interest. Hong Kong was under British jurisdiction for almost 150 years and at some point was one of the most developed cities in the world. I remember reading 20 years ago about their economic and social policies and the cost of their development. But 14 years ago it was taken back by China. Is there anything left? YES, there is. They drive on the right, they speak English and use it in all the signing, the political freedom is just a pretext, but the economical freedom is there and the city is doing quite well. There is a border with China and we got a note in our passports that we cannot return without getting another visa. In Hong Kong we didn't need a visa, we got a stamp and permission to stay for 90 days.

Our new apartment was just a tiny room with an open kitchen, a simple bed, a couch and one extra mattress. The first apartment I rented on - the building was sold, I got my money back. The contact person for Wimdu was involved and she offered her own apartment, but that had some flooding a few days before our arrival. She asked a friend if we can stay in her place, she would have payed her directly. The friend's apartment was taken, she said that she had another place, we should go there. So we came to stay in the fourth place, by this time I couldn't care less. I had no idea how many beds we would have, how the place would look, I was just happy that we had a roof over our heads. It was a 30 story building, the elevator said 33, but they don't have the 4th (sounds like death) or the 13th floor. It was up the hill and close to the mountain. From the roof terrace we could see the harbour, at least a big part of it. We were on the main island of Hong Kong at the North Point.
Lime Habitat, the place were we stayed for three nights

First day we just went around the building looking for a restaurant. We found a market, bought food and ate at home. We bought a lot expecting that on the New Year's day everything would be closed.

It looked quiet and eery when we woke up the next day, but by noon there were lots of people in the street and the stores were open. There was some atmosphere of joy and holiday despite the rain and cold. We could see the sky so we decided to try the tram up the mountain. It is the main attraction in Hong Kong and it is a gorgeous view over the bay. There were plenty of tourists waiting at the tram, a good hour queue. I was surprised by the lack of organization, but in the end everybody got in the tram and we had our five minute ride.

As this old tram makes it up the mountain I wonder "what's all the fuss about?" but a moment later I can feel the whole thing making a real effort to keep going, the standing passengers are turned toward horizontal and we are pushed in the back rest. The floor actually has horizontal "steps" and at times that can be really useful. There is no special view because it is in the woods, still it is fun. The ride ends in a huge 5-6 story construction with lots of shops and restaurants and with an expensive terrace with 360-degree view. It was raining by now and the fog was raising, but we did get an idea about the whole thing. As usual, no shopping for us. They should design an easy way for people like us to get out of these buildings, but they want you trapped there, maybe you'll spend some money. It took forever to find the exit and then we had the best part: walking downhill all the way, most of the time in the forest, it was a great outdoors experience in one of the busiest cities in the world. There were problems, Ileana Ruxandra being hit really bad by a pole, Maria falling and ruining her special gloves. There were great views of the bay and the skyscrapers, some amazing birds and more views of the tram.
Getting ready to go up the mountain

Ioan in Hong Kong

Picture taken by Ioan!

Coming down the mountain, passing by countless sky scrapers
Back on the flat side of the island

By the evening, Ileana fell too, she slipped off the bed while getting at the foldable table. Ioan had an amazing reflex catching the soup bowls!
Late in the evening we went on the Kowloon peninsula were they have the annual New Year Parade. It was special, despite the crowds and the trouble of finding a good viewing spot. Ioan was amazing again, he found a way to get upfront, climb on a piece of fence and film most of the performances. They had several special areas, with paid seating, very expensive. The people in the parade would do some dance or performance there and the rest of the time would just walk and wave. So having Ioan in front made us all feel better, we have some recordings. The girls also made in the front row on the side and had a good time.

Ioan sitting on a pole, above everybody else

Eventually he got a comfortable sit on a fence!

Countless performances passed by for almost two hours

After a lot of debate we decided to spend our next day on the Lantau island. There is a monastery, a huge Buddha and a special 20 minute gondola ride up the mountain. It will end up being the longest and most expensive trip to Starbucks ever made. One hot chocolate and one mint tea for the total price of 300 HK dollars ($38) and about two hours in the subway! It was raining, foggy, plus a long line at a sold out ride! So Ileana and the children returned to the apartment and I spend another couple of hours in the city. I visited Mong Kok, the busiest, most crowded place on Earth, but it wasn't worth the trouble. I returned to the apartment exhausted and tired of the cold and rain. That made us all agree not to get out in the city again that night. It was the night of the fireworks for the New Year and we would see a little of it from the top of our building.

The busiest place in the world

Another side of Hong Kong

An example of how we saw the fireworks

Last day in Hong Kong was a quick visit to the Space Museum. You can experience how gravity on the moon feels like and a lot of other great things. Wednesday the museum is free. Ioan read all about it and he wanted to see it. Unfortunately they don't tell you that this particular exhibit comes with long lines, one hour on-one hour off schedule and only 10-15 people per hour can get it. Plus the lower limit is 40 kg and Ioan only has 31! Big disappointment but we got past it. We walked a bit on the promenade, took the Star ferry back and then we took off to Macau.

Sky scrapers

Modern architecture

Hong Kong Panorama

This was Hong Kong for us. It was nice, reasonably affordable, we saw it, we liked a few things, we're done with it. With a ton of money people could go to the distraction parks, eat in fancy restaurants and not much else. Just that my children wouldn't go to Disneyland even if money wouldn't be an issue!

The nature is great, but not this time of the year. The city is great, but not that special. The high rise buildings are great, but how long can someone watch skyscrapers? There is little history, a tram, 100 years old, a church, 150 years old. Not much really. The city is so clean and functions to perfection, but I really didn't like the threatening announcements everywhere. Makes me wonder. If civilized urban living comes at this cost, is it really worth it?
This is a real sign and they mean it!

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