13.01.2006 - 14.01.2006
I am writing at a 24-hours PC-room in Hong Kong right across the Virginia hotel. I am the only foreigner here. All the 30 or so computers are occupied by young Chinese teenage boys and girls playing loud and noisy computer games. Once in a while one of them wins a game and screams in excitement. Most of them are smoking or sipping on their Coca Cola. There is an air-con working hard to keep the place breathable. Some Chinese style Rock & Roll is been played in the background and the Australian crocodile hunter is showing off his abusing skills on a TV hanging from the ceiling. It's 2:30 in the morning.
The train left Shanghai at 10:40 yesterday morning and got to Hong Kong at 15:30 today. 29.5 hours later! The train stopped every hour or so. It was very frustrating when the train sat still for a long time and none of the staff would explain why. I was told that the ride is only 26 hours.
On the train I met the nicest person I've ever seen in my life. A Philippine man who was looking for a job in China and Hong Kong. We had some long conversation about everything, life in Canada, Iran, Philippines, China, Hong Kong, about our retirement dreams, etc. When we got to Hong Kong, he helped me to find the exchange bureau and held my luggage while I ran to the bathroom. The train's bathrooms get locked one hour before the arrival. First I thought that is because the train is unstable and it's dangerous to walk around while the train is slowing down. But then I was told that the reason is the waste that is flushed out of the toilet into the railroad! They don't want any of that stuff around the major cities. But obviously they don't care much about the smaller towns. halfway between major cities. Why don't they just place a big bucket underneath the toilets?
At the Kowloon train station I hopped into a cab and got off at the hostel I had in mind, one that I had found on the Internet with relatively good reviews. I checked in and jumped into the shower. The shower felt so good so I took my time until the water started to get cold. As soon as I stepped out of the shower, I saw a huge cockroach wandering around the room, inspecting my luggage. Screaming, I ran to the office, asked the owner to go to my room and kill the bastard. Then I tiptoed to the room, carefully got dressed, and ran out for a tour around the island. The owner gave me directions to the busiest market in the area. Walking around the Lady's Market, I couldn't stop thinking about the poor cockroach whose life I took away, and possibly other similar bugs hanging around my room with possibly similar destiny. Cockroaches sleep during the day and get out at night so I decided to spend the whole night pounding coffee and staring at my watch at Starbucks. Suddenly I saw a sign above my head saying Virginia Hotel, luxury rooms for 78 Hong Kong dollars for two hours! I went in to see how bad the rooms are and what the rate is per night. The hotel was actually very nice, spotless and very quiet. I guess it's a love motel like the ones in Korea because they advertise it for hourly rent. But I found out that the rate for one whole night is almost the same as the other hostel I was at earlier, 190 Hong Kong dollar per weeknight, 220 for weekends. After the cockroach event, I knew what I was going to do. I went straight back to the hostel, which is two subway stations away from Virginia hotel and picked up my luggage. The owner of the hostel didn't agree when I asked him to refund me half of the fee and said he just had to let a customer go because he didn't have any rooms. I didn't insist, he made sense. But why would anyone want to stay in that place?
At the hostel I got a tourist booklet describing several walk routes around Hong Kong with different themes. I'm going to pick one, probably a shopping route and see how far I can walk in my heels tomorrow. The street markets are huge. When they say shop till you drop, they are probably referring to Hong Kong. The prices are not as low as Beijing and Xi'an, but compared to North America they're still much better.
Hong Kong's Subway is by far THE best subway system I've ever been to. Everything is illustrated on touch screens in English and Cantonese. To buy a ticket, you go to a computer screen and press on your destination. Then it tells you how much it would be. You put your coin in and get your ticket. No need to try to tell the ticket agent the station's name with your funny accent and get a funny look back. While you're waiting, next train's arrival time is announced on the speakers. There is a sliding door around separating the railroad from the platforms, making it impossible to commit suicide or murder. The lines, directions, stops and transfer points are well illustrated everywhere. A dynamic map with a moving arrow shows where the train is and what the next station is while the next stop is being announce in Cantonese and English on speakers. Each station has several exists, each of which contains a letter and a number, for example D3, and no two names are the same. On the map, at the subway stations, and on the streets, there are large maps listing all the tourist sites and attractions in the area. It's excellent. There is no way you get lost or confused. This subway system is built for dummies with no sense of direction what so ever!