Hong Kong

About Hong Kong

The Hong Kong city state, one of the Four Tigers, started out as a British colony, the beachhead for the invasion and subversion of China during, for instance, the Opium Wars, where the Europeans basically kept the nation addicted to opium and subservient.

In recent decades, they have been much more beneficient, as they only have control over Hong Kong and a treaty signed long ago cedes Hong Kong to China (as in the People's Republic of) on July 1, 1997. I arrived on May 24, 1997. This was not a coincidence.

I had wanted to see Hong Kong for quite some time. The change was going to be a big one, and I wanted to see HK before it got spoiled, or changed, or whatever happened. Nobody knew what was going to happen, that was the funny part.

Hong Kong Geography

Hong Kong is a peninsula and a set of islands on the underbelly of China. Hong Kong Island itself was the first part to be colonized, followed quickly after with the part of the peninsula that directly opposed it across the harbor. (On the map, this is the yellow part which is the most thickly populated.) Later on, the British conquered more of the peninsula, which became known as the New Territories.

Today, the part that's yellow is thickly encrusted with skyscrapers. The rest has varying levels of population. In fact there are completely uninhabited areas. Despite my travels in jungles and backwoods areas, the worst mosquitoes I encountered were in Hong Kong, believe it or not.
I stayed in Kowloon, in a district named Tsim Sha Tsui (say chim sa choy). My hotel was the Salsibury, on the bottom. My room overlooked Victoria Harbor. It was a spectacular view, day and night.

Hong Kong Movies

Hong Kong has been the source of a ton of cheezy action flicks, centering around the martial arts. Think Bruce Lee. These movies, made for the Chinese populace, get redubbed or subtitled into English. As you can imagine, the translation quality matches the movie quality. To get into the right frame of mind for this city, here are subtitles from Hong Kong movies translated into english. (The movies, incidentally, don't match the violence level of the town itself, just like American action movies and CNN don't reflect American life.)


So after one of the more painful flights of my life (trans-oceanic flights always are), we touched down in Hong Kong. My last day of work was May 22. I got on the flight May 24, in san francisco, in the late afternoon as I remember it. And I arrived in the morning of the 26th, quite a stretch. Because I flew over the international dateline and maybe nine timezones, May 25th got sortof vaporized into a two hour stretch that I wasn't aware of sometime over the east pacific. You know you're thinking it feels like bedtime and Hey! It's time to land soon! We're serving breakfast. I come out of these things pretty disoriented.

The airport seemed reasonable enough for someone who spent a lot of time flying in the US, Canada and Europe. English and Chinese were the main languages but of course there were people from all over.

My luggage was a backpack with detachable daypack. The backpack sortof also worked as a soft suitcase. Very cool. I check the soft suitcase and take on the daypack. The daypack became my in-the-moment companion for the whole trip.

Well, the airline lost my pack. Will certainly be on the next flight, sir. They took the name of the hotel, which I had booked in advance, fortunately, and said they'd send it over later that day.

Without a suitcase to carry, I asked around for how to get to the hotel. A cab was recommended, but they said it was only three miles, or three kilometers, I forget. Anyway, I decided to walk it. Get to know this city. It was a lot of fun.

The intervening part of town, the part that most tourists just taxi through, was thick with city. Sidewalks teeming with pedestirans, streets teeming with taxis, trucks, cars, motorbikes. Storefronts packed like sardines. Like Chinatown.

Hong Kong market All sorts of bakeries with wonderful smells coming out. I had no cash. I looked longingly at a few banks as I walked by - soon I'd have to get some cash. I was still a little bit afraid of this whole thing. On top of this, I realized I had grabbed the wrong bank cards on my way out of town. I was so worried about being ripped off, I was only taking three cards. Well, some of them ended up being the wrong cards, not disasters but they had tighter credit limits or balances, and I'd have to do some straightening out when I got back.

Well, still a bit a fraid of this, I went up to a bank machine and stuck in a card. I just wanted to do a credit balance or something, just experiement to see if contact could be achieved. Well, at one point the machine offered the card to me, I didn't grab it fast enough, and the card disappeared into the machine. And it wouldn't come out, no matter what I did.

I went into the bank to get my card back. They were very nice but insisted that the machine is only opened certain times of the day and I'd have to come back tomorrow to get it. This wasn't my only card, but this was yet another complication in a town that I didn't know, where 3/4 of everything is written in Chinese. I got directions on how to get there, written down so I could give it to a taxi driver.

I made my way to the hotel. In the process I got some cash and got to snack on the local food.

Hong Kong art center Along the waterfront of Kowloon, there's a big art museum complex. Very cool.

Hong Kong art center

Hong Kong proof Just before I got to my hotel I had another tourist take my picture, looking out over the harbor to downtown. Proof that I made it to Hong Kong.


OK so July 1 1997, Hong Kong gets turned over to China, in a treaty signed 99 years before, when the Communist revolution basically couldn't be forseen and China was still run by an emperor. I was there on May 24 through June 1, five weeks before that.

Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa had already been selected as the governor or whatever, of the "special administrative zone" that Hong Kong had already become. People that I spoke to were pretty optimistic. I was pretty pessimistic.

Hong Kong shoreline

Cheung Chau Island

I wanted to see "the islands", you know there's like 256 islands in the Hong Kong territory and as usual most are exposed rocks. I ended up seeing one of the smaller ones, but very nice and woodsy, even though there were many large villages I ended up wandering through. I rented a bike and went biking with a couple for a while. They were from American but they lived in Hong Kong. They were on vacation themselves, I think it was a weekend day.

Hong Kong seaview It was all very pretty and I thought about how nice the bigger island Lantau probably was.
Hong Kong path
Hong Kong path
Hong Kong path Somehow I got into photographing paths I was walking on during this trip. Here are some from the island.
Hong Kong cemetary On a hillside, I saw this Chinese cemetary. The tombstones typically had the photograph of the person who died. Click it to see a bigger image.

Hong Kong bird market


There's this little district, north of Tsim Sha Tsui, where there's sortof a bird market. Songbirds are sold as pets, and people are really into it.

Hong Kong bird market People feed crickets, live, to the bigger birds. The cricket industry is booming.

Hong Kong crickets

Hong Kong bird market

Hong Kong parrot This is a blonde haired woman looking at a parrot. This was taken in extremely low light conditions; but Photoshop recovered a little bit of image. All I had was cheap disposable cameras.

Hong Kong tilted


Downtown Hong Kong is congested and steep, especially as you get up the hill a little bit.

Hong Kong construction
The city seemed to be constantly under construction. Everybody has big plans, putting in more subway stations, more skyscrapers.

Hong Kong sidestreet Hong Kong street1

Hong Kong streetcars They have double decker streetcars that lumber along the main drag downtown. They're always going by. You pay a fixed fee, get on, and ride. One day I worked my way up to the front of one bus and just sat there all the way to the end, and back.

I found a storefront for a a business named "ABA".

Hong Kong aba

Hong Kong bondcenter The Bond center is named after a business/person named Bond, not because it's trading bonds or anything. By the time I'd gotten there, it had been renamed to, I dunno, the Leppe center or something, some different name. I was talking about this with a native and they got into an argument with someone else in the bus about whether Alan Bond was a greedy slimebag or an entrepreneurial hero. Whatever.

Hong Kong victoria

Above it all

(Click to see bigger version.)

Hong Kong island itself has a mountain peak right in the middle. They have a special inclined train that goes to the top. When you get there, there's a shopping mall and stuff. But I went for the view.

Hong Kong victoria

Hong Kong train station

New Territories

I spent one day going into the "new territories", the countryside, basically. They have a train system that works like bart, you just figure it out.

Hong Kong suburbs The countryside consists of small towns of about 1 million population. They can get quite thick in the middle, with compounds full of 25 story apartment buildings. Meanwhile the surrounding hills are covered with woods and farmland.

Hong Kong 10,000 buddhas right One place I went to was the Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas. Originally they had a log staircase going up, but when I was there, there was a system of escalators going up. I was having trouble with my feet because of all the walking I was doing, so I took it easy and took the escalator.

This is the right side. The houses all the way up the hill, if you walk into them, they all seem like mausoliums. There are plaques on the walls with people's pictures and lots of chinese writing. But I learned that the bodies or ashes aren't actually stored there. In some ways this is like a cemetary, because they sell out real estate the same way.

Hong Kong 10,000 buddhas left This is the left side.

Hong Kong 10,000 buddhas The actual buddhas, I guessed it was about 800. But it made a good story.

Hacker Heaven

Hong Kong cyberstore

To friend, around June 1
sorry but I kept on thinking that a cybercafe was just around the
corner.  Then I called and you weren't home, drat.  Evenings for you are
like late morning, noon, I'm usually out sightseeing.  And sometimes you
work late?  I guess I could call you at work.  I finally found your biz
card just like yesterday or so.  

Just remember that things aren't as easy for me, there's always seems to
be some crisis.  My flight to vietnam got moved to 8 hours earlier so I
missed it.  They say always call to confirm, surprise this is what
happens when you don't.  

cathay pacific.  they also lost my luggage on the way in.  So i left the
airport with just my daypack, and so i decided to try to walk across
town to the hotel.  Worked OK actually.  As I went i found some place to
get local currency.  Then I was fooling with a bank machine and it ate
one of my cards.  I had to go back the next day to retrieve the card.  

I have used seven differennt kinds of transportation.  No eight.  Nine
if you count the plane.  Ten if you count walking.  Eleven if you count
escalators, twelve elevators.  OK maybe they dont' count.  lemme see:
1) MTR "subway" system, works like bart with magnetic cards
2) Tram double decker things on HK island, $1.60 every time you get off
3) the Peak Tram, goes to the top of the mountain, $23 round trip
4) Star Ferry, $2 to cross the harbor, either direction (that's 25c in
5) Koowloon-China Railroad, like five bucks, magnetic cards again
6) taxis, six bucks US goes a long way, $10 to go under the harbor in
7) Hovercraft to Cheung Chau island
8) regular ferry back from Cheung Chau island
9) regular busses
10) mini busses
fuck and it all makes sense to me.  I had to use the Kowloon China
railroad to get to this part of Kowloon to get to the cybercafe.  makes
no sense.  they need a subway station out here, real bad.  

> sigh. back to my beer.

funny you mention.  It's amazingly hard to get a good beer out here. 
Unless you go to a pub that cares, you're stuck with the same tired
laundry list of American mass-market beers and their european and se
asian clones.  Carlsberg, San Miguel, Heinekin, they all taste the same
and they suck.  it's so refreshing to get a good microbrewery beer, i
found a place in wanchai last night that had some good local brews.  

Wanchai is like columbus/broadway in SF with the strip joints and
jarheaded sailors walking the streets looking for jarhead thrills.  BUT
like in SF thereee are some good places and good people to meet.  I met
these two guys and we were talking about politics and "the handover".  I
got stuff to write in my web page for this ... it's sad.  The chinese
are going to fuck up hong kong, it's a lovely town.  

> oh here's a parting, inspirational phrase from a cd that I listened to
> tonight, Leslie Spit Trio, they are Canadian:
> "...if you can't see through the night, turn around and see the rising sun..."

wow, that's what i'm doing these days.  Some days I get up 6am and start
to plan my day.  But nottoday, i woke up at 9am, turns out an hour after
my plane took off.  (they rescheduled on me.) 

Bruce, june 1

> Just a quick note to ask if you will send a Letter of Reference to
> the Search Committee Chair for a System Administrator position.
> Unfortunately, the deadline is May 29!  Neither Debbie or I thought
> I was eligble for the position, but I am....

OK i sent an email, but it's late, like early sunday morning your time. 
(same batch as this email.)

> P.S.  When do you leave for your trip?

i left.  i'm in a cybercafe in a burb of Hong Kong.  The map to get here
was all wrong, i just kept on asking people.  They gave me a card that
shows how to get here, it's correct but all in chinese.  I guess I could
hand it to the taxidriver.

I didn't even know this place existed till today.  And I was like one
klick from here a couple of times already.  Like a needle in a
haystack.  I've probably walked past a few hundred commercial
establishments today alone.  sheesh.  it's like chinatown, cept as big
as the whole bay area.

mail sent to bonadio@well.com i'll get when i get back.  mail sent to
allan@nbn.com is what i will check from cybercafes.  please don't send
me jokes while i'm traveling, some cybercafes charge per email!  but
like this one only charges for food and drinks while you're sitting here

Greg, June 2. Remember that I'm scheduled to meet him in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi, Indonesia, on June 26.

i'm tuning into more cybercafes.  There seems to be four in malaysia, all
in KL.  

Indonesia: two in Jakarta, one in Denpasar, one in Palembang (south
sumatra).  Unfortunately none in ujung pandang. I have notes and info on
all of them if you care.  

Finally found one in Hong Kong.  It's all a bunch of kids, i'm the only
traveler here, and one of the few who speaks english.  

still on track for the 26th.  as if you'll get this email before then...

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