Note to self (& other would-be travelers): Never travel with backpacks instead of suitcases when your bags weigh 60 pounds and your backpack straps are highly uncomfortable.
Before I started on this trip I convinced myself that it would be easier to travel to unknown places (i.e. possibly on rough terrain) with back packs rather than suitcases, as traveling in India two years ago with two large suitcases proved difficult. Now I realized I’d much prefer the suitcases. I managed to pack my entire life for 2-3 years into four bags – a large backpack, a small backpack (which I wear on my front), a duffle bag in one hand and a garment bag in the other. When I have all four of them hanging off me it looks pretty ridiculous, and I drew quite a few stares as I walked through the streets of Hong Kong from the airport to my hostel. I’ll include a picture here sometime soon.
The hostel in which I spent the first night is called the Oriental Pearl, located in the Chungking Mansions, a large mall/ apartment complex in the heart of the Kowloon district, downtown Hong Kong. The same hostel is actually described by the author of the book “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven,” a memoir about two women traveling in China in the early 1980s (for anyone whose been to China though, the book is not that good). Unlike the rest of the city, it seems like the building and the hostel haven’t changed much in 30 years, as there are still lots of sketchy characters hanging around the entrance, the elevator up to the hostel still has paper sidings on two of the walls, and the rooms are hot and cramped with broken AC systems.
|My tiny little, four person suite|
The ground floor of this complex is filled with stalls selling knock-off phones, watches, shoes, cloths and everything else commonly found in China. Surprisingly there are also quite a few Indians and Africans working and living around this area, which I suspect is not characteristic of the rest of Hong Kong. Skyscrapers densely enclose the street outside with shops at their base, and bright neon signs advertising various stores and products. It looks a lot like New York, but with some distinctly Asian characteristics (i.e. signs with Chinese characters). I’ll be staying here for one night, then hopefully heading off to Yunnan tomorrow morning.
Aside from the sketchy Chungking Mansions however, what I’ve seen of the city so far is quite interesting. As I was riding the train in from the airport, we passed lots of high-rise apartments nestled into the sides of mountains. In fact I’ve never seen such tall apartments before – some of them are as tall as commercial skyscrapers that you’d expect to find in the middle of the city. Being located on a mountainous island makes land very limited though, so I guess they have to compensate somehow. This evening my friend Jenna treated our friend Siauxi and me to an all you can eat Korean BBQ (where you actually cook the meat yourself on a heated platter in the middle of your table), in the more upscale center of the city. Hong Kong even has its own Times Square, and the area again did look strikingly like downtown New York.
|The street outside the Chungking Mansions|
Tomorrow starts what will probably a pretty complex travel route (I have to go from Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Guangzhou to Kunming to Lijiang…) with plenty of surprises along the way. I’m going to brace myself and hope for the best.