The AussieporeanComment

First Impressions: Hong Kong

The AussieporeanComment
First Impressions: Hong Kong

We arrived late into the night after laying over in Chicago and Tokyo, some 30 hours later. We had expected to be greeted with winter but it was still a mild 25ºC. Can I just say at this point, it is surreal to switch back to celsius? I never had any formula for the conversion but it would have never helped because numbers don't mean anything till you experience how it feels. I just know that anything starting at the low 70s is nice chill, anything below that goes into mild winter to omg-its-sofuken-cold territory (40s and below), above 75 is just right, above 80 is warm, above 90 is unbearable, stay inside turn up the AC...

Globalisation is a good thing. We booked an Uber and got to our Airbnb apartment in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island fairly painlessly, except the first shock of... stairs. Our driver pulled up to the top of a hill, which was also the foot of another hill and pointed to a block that looked like it was still being built and told us in canto that we've arrived. We looked on our phone GPS and insisted that he drive us to the lane right outside the apartment block, which was two lanes across. Turns out, he was right. The 'lane' on the map was not a traffic lane. But a foot traffic lane in front of the apartment entrance. He walked us to the doorstep after climbing up a few flights of stairs. We had 6 pieces of luggage between the two of us. Weighing a total of 300 lbs between them. Ok why am I still on the imperial scale....

Our move to a different city has truly begun.

Stairs

Stairs. Oh, how did we not realise you were the bane of Hong Kong Island? We've been through this! Hong Kong, for the uninitiated, is divided into two land masses, like Miami. There is the mainland immediately referred to as Kowloon and beyond (like downtown Miami and Miami-Dade county) and there is Hong Kong Island, separated by the waters, connected via causeway bridges, much like Miami Beach. And stairs are a unique feature on Hong Kong island. It is a very hilly terrain. Think San Francisco, if you've been. There are stairs and slopes everywhere. If you are not familiar and don't know where you are going, you could be lost in the maze of steps and end up being crippled by thigh crams you never ever felt in your life. We looked at several apartments on our first day here and our legs were killing us half way through it. All the way from Sheung Wan (where we are putting up for the week) to midlevels to Lan Kwai Fong. From old and musky to new but tiny, everything had a steep price.

Step and they come in lots of 50-100 a pop. 

Step and they come in lots of 50-100 a pop. 

Typically Hong Kong island is the more bougie (atas) part of life here. It also means it is more expensive. And truly so. Apartment rentals are easily 20 - 25% more than what you get on Kowloon side for smaller space. One bedders and studios will set you back (HKD 15,000) USD 1900 and upwards. Two bedrooms go into the HKD 20,000 range. Already, Hong Kong living conditions are notorious for being shoeboxes and pricey. We knew this to be so but were still shocked at how inhumanely tiny some of the bedrooms were, if you can call it a bedroom at all. Some of them looked like glorified storerooms and made me wonder how you'd even fit a human being sleeping horizontally. Is sleeping therefore a vertical option here in Hong Kong? Or people are supposedly tiny? I sound like an alien visiting earth for the first time...

Shoebox apartments ahead. Our friends call this building, The Dungeon.

Shoebox apartments ahead. Our friends call this building, The Dungeon.

We also quickly realise there are so many quirks in Hong Kong that does not make sense to the outsider. Like, for example, our apartment is on the 4th floor. You hit the number 4 button when you get into the lift. Yet when you arrive, it says 五楼,5th floor in mandarin. We thought it was a mistake but when we visited a few apartments it was the same. The mandarin count is always one level higher than the numeral. We asked if this was the norm and why it was so and our relator agent only offered the 'it's just the way things are in Hong Kong' answer.

The colours of calm and chaos. 

The colours of calm and chaos. 

Day 2 and 3 took us to Kowloon side. We were invited for the company BBQ and got to meet the rest of the HK team becoming like a bit of a welcome party. We got to meet true blue locals and partake in their rituals of drinking and merry making. Hong Kong locals have a great sense of humour, very happy and positive people. We found our way along with the locals to the wet market and saw the way locals buy their produce. You know it is fresh when the fish, even though cut up into pieces, are still alive and moving. Some might find it nauseating, together with the smell of the market. But I was in produce heaven. The colourful sights and sound was one that I was familiar with as a child accompanying the womenfolk of the family on marketing days. When I was old enough I used to go to the market on behalf of the family to pick up eggs and meat and run quick errands. But this was next level. It is way more crowded and way more chaotic. Not to mention the occasional splash of market juice when the stall peddlers smack together packets of shellfish, chop up meat, scrape off fish scales right before you. It is a baptism of sorts and we were quickly initiated into the fold of the land. What a special day it was, to be carrying bags of fresh seafood, meat and marinating them in time for the evening BBQ. We found ourselves eagerly taking on cooking duties at the outdoor grill, even though we were fresh strangers to the land. Food not just brings people together, they start you off on a great foot. And we were glad to jump right into it, skip the awkward first introductions as fresh off the plane folk and it paid off. Between drinking, cooking and passing the plate around, we found ourselves nicely assimilated with the crowd, even though we barely spoke canto and everyone here spoke canto - we somehow understood, by way of body language and the common asian context. And maybe that's the best way to learn and assimilate into a new culture. Take the plunge and the people will embrace you like family. Of course everyone speaks English but when you make an effort to converse with locals in their tongue, it makes a huge difference.

Fresh seafood
Fresh Produce
Team Hong Kong

The night ended off really nicely with us passing out in an Uber on our way back home to our temporary pad. Getting ready for the next full day's worth of more apartment hunting. Day 4, we are ready for you. 

HK City Skyline

Asian Australian food adventures in and out of the kitchen. Around the world. Like an oyster searching for it's pearl.