Nine days have passed since I left home, and only two nights have I gotten more than three hours of sleep.
I could blame the jetlag, dramatic culture changes, or the inability to quiet my mind.
However, I’ll just say it was the energy of Hong Kong itself that kept me moving.
Get Up and Go!
After being unfathomably tired every single night, I woke up by 4:00 am at the latest and could not go back to sleep. When I woke up I felt incredibly energized.
After spending so much time living in a quiet forest, placing myself into the middle of Asia’s World City was an unavoidable jolt.
I was wired from the momentum of the city all around me. Even though I knew I should try to sleep more, I was headed for the elevator lifts and going out into the city early every morning.
At home I would step out and see a bunch of lifeless houses in the quiet woods. Here, I walked out the door into the alley and was immediately engulfed into a swarm of movement.
Hundreds of people walking in all different directions. One, two, 15 double decker buses passing. A ding-ding (street tram) roaring past, and the occasional taxi and motorbike.
I became a small part of a big mob and walked down block after block on the seemingly small sidewalks. Next was to ride the overpacked escalator down into the MTR (Subway), shove your way onto the subway, ride a few stops, and then shove your way back off. Now repeat a few times.
It wasn’t as if I was making the choice to do any of this, the momentum of the city simply carried me around. Otherwise, I probably would’ve just sat and people watched. Good luck on finding any type of place to sit in Hong Kong on that note (you’ll have to head to the New Territories).
Wherever You Go, There You Are
The afternoon of my last day came just as quick as the morning of my first. At some point during the day, I was so desperately hungry that I had to stop and eat at McDonald’s. I hadn’t eaten at McDonald’s in around four years!
Well unless you counted the other three times I ate McDonald’s since I arrived in Hong Kong……what the hell.
There’s something painfully ironic about flying across the globe and eating McDonald’s. I spent most of my life waiting until I could leave my hometown where the only thing we had to eat was McDonald’s. I left home, moved to a new state, and now I make it to the other side of the world. What do I do? Eat a bunch of McDonald’s.
Obviously I didn’t want to eat a bunch of McDonald’s, but Hong Kong is the most expensive city in the world. Even more expensive than I had planned for. So be it.
On that note, I had Dim Sum at least three different times. That’s a whole other delicious story…
After spending the day in the New Territories near Ma On Shan Park, I rode back towards the heart of the city. In five days, I hadn’t really been able to just sit down and observe the city for an extended amount of time.
Beer Bay. An outdoor open air bar where it seemed all international guests were gathered. This was the first bar I had even seen in Hong Kong.
I know for a fact that there are more hiding in the city somewhere, but I never ran into one in the massive metal jungle.
Amazingly, one pint of Stella on tap cost less than a double cheeseburger at those damn McDonald’s. You just wouldn’t believe how many three and four story McDonald’s are crammed all over Hong Kong…
Anyways, I sat on the concrete steps facing the harbour. I spent nearly 30 minutes just observing all of the inner workings of the city around me.
Various ferries and boats drifted back and forth, people of all colors walked around the deck and onto the ferry piers.
There were around 25 different gentlemen in full suit and tie business apparel. Most of them were alone or congregating with just one other person. They were clearly all expats, working in Hong Kong.
Interestingly enough, every single one of them was furiously chain-smoking. I finished my Stella and went to get one more before I would depart. I realized I was the only person in the entire area out of about 100 people that was not smoking.
Small Town to World City
There was a French couple on the steps next to me, so I decided to ask for a light in attempt to start a conversation.
We ended up talking for nearly twenty minutes, as they shared their stories of their trip thus far. They were on holiday after finishing school and wanted to see the world before moving forward too far in life.
I occasionally had trouble understanding their words, but otherwise found their English to be just like anyone else I would talk to at home. They did not agree however, and kept deeply apologizing for how bad their English was.
I stated how big of a change Hong Kong was compared to where I grew up, and they stated they were from small towns as well. “Where we come from…..more caaa then ”
“Caaahhw….you say like that? CAAHW! Maeo—moo! Moo!”
Oh COW. Of course, yes! I know all about cows. He said there were more cows than people in his hometown.
I told them they were fortunate to speak two languages so well. They again refused and said their English was terrible. I told them I am just very bad with accents.
The ability to speak two different languages is one of the most versatile skills in today’s world. We discussed this and how through time, the continuation of people leaving their hometowns will help grow the world together.
They told me about the city of Xi’an in China which they had just visited. People had been approaching them again and again. They wanted to take photos of them, just because they were not Chinese.
The more people that leave their comfort zones to travel across borders, the closer we can all become. Just having a conversation with people from another country broadens both parties horizons beyond measure. We all agreed that we can work to further spread understanding across the globe just through travel.
Back to Kowloon
Before I went back to the hostel, I wanted to cross the harbor and view the incredible Hong Kong skyline one last time. I walked quickly toward the MTR station and rode it north back into Kowloon.
After coming back up to street level, I was stuck in an absolutely massive mob of people that barely moved. Kowloon is absolutely packed in all directions at night. Tens of thousands of people are out looking for food, going into shops, and soaking in the city.
There was music in the air, it sounded like traditional Chinese music. I realized I had a slight buzz and also had not eaten in about ten hours. I was absolutely starving, dead tired, and need to find my way back ‘home’.
I slowly shuffled through the crowds back towards the bay—opposite side of where I was moments ago. I was closer to the music.
Now that I can hear it clearly, it sounds like the most beautiful music I have ever heard. It could be the combination of the energy of the city, the beautiful skyline at dusk, and the buzz of being 9,000 miles away from home.
It was absolutely wonderful regardless. A woman was singing and a couple other gentlemen were playing traditional musical instruments which I can’t possibly name. I had many coins in my pocket that I was tired of carrying around, amounting to maybe $5 USD. I was leaving Hong Kong tomorrow, so they were useless.
I went to drop the coins by the performers, assuming they had a bucket. They all stopped playing and waved me off. “No! No! No!” while giving the biggest smiles I had seen from anybody in years.
As I made my way up to the ferry pier, there was another gentlemen playing music by himself. He did not look as well off as the other musicians, and there is where I left the extra coin weights.
Skyline from the Star Ferry
Riding the ferry back was quite relaxing, if not a little a bit bouncy in front at times for the small buzz I had. It can not be overstated, the view of Hong Kong from the harbour is absolutely stunning. After the ferry ride it was back onto the MTR for two stops to return home.
I forgot how long the walk from the Ferry Pier to the harbour was. It took probably nearly 20 minutes of additional walking to return, albeit was mostly on skybridges.
This provided the opportunity for even more glances at the skyline.
I finally made it to the MTR, and needed to ride two more stops back. I decided to check the balance on my Octopus Card before boarding and it was negative -14.50 HKD. How is that possible? I apparently had gotten part of my meal for free that day.
I returned to the hostel and decided to go to the 10th floor rooftop garden to see if anything was going on. Of course there was, as soon as I walked outside I heard, “Cheers…to FUCKING HONG KONG!” and a bunch of bottles clink.
Within 30 seconds a gentlemen from Vancouver, Canada was talking to me. He had just finished spending four months in Sri Lanka and Nepal. We quickly began discussing how busy Hong Kong was, how expensive everything was, and how there was a watch store on every damn corner.
Drowning in Watches
There are no words to describe how many watch stores there are throughout Hong Kong. While walking through the largest mall I have ever seen in my life, there was no less than 100 watch stores.
Probably much more than that. You could see 15 or more stores in a row with at least 50 watches in the window.
Out on the streets, it was no different. Watches were everywhere, on every corner, in every building. Hawkers tried to lure you down the street into their watch store.
At one point I was standing on a corner and could see four different Rolex Stores without taking a step.
Most Expensive City in the World
An Aussie had joined us on this discussion. After our collective rant on watch stores, we discussed how the people buying them surely could not be any happier for it. $25,000 spent on a watch, is that time and money well spent?
The person wearing that watch is going to spend the next 10 or 30 years riding the MTR back and forth to the same place and hearing “Please mind the gap” with little chance of escaping.
A couple of local younger Hong Kong guys were on the roof as well, and started talking about how horribly expensive it is to live in Hong Kong. One, who was absolutely loaded with great energy, did all of the talking.
“All we can afford is McDonald’s, that’s why you see so many of them. That’s why they so packed! And was is the double cheeseburger bullshit? Man that ain’t no burger! What is this shit!”
This young man told us many things about local culture, about how most everyone sticks together and that’s why the local food and merchandise street markets are so massively busy. They are the reason the costs stay down in what is otherwise the most expensive city in the world.
We talked about how it costs $4,000 per month to live in a tiny, 400 square foot apartment in Hong Kong. Worse off, the apartments do not even look nice on the outside. They are coated in what looks like 1950s public bathroom tile, and all of the plumbing is visible from the outside from rooftop to ground level.
I told him how where I’m from, you can own a 2,500 square foot two-story house with your own yard, and it can cost $600 per month.
“600 HUNDRED USA DOLLAH PER MO WHAT THE FUUC—LET’S SEE WHAT CAN I DO WITH 600 DOLLAR….UHHHHH…THIS BLUNT!?”
We were all laughing our asses off.
I told him about the kicker of this low cost of living, that there is nothing to do. Growing up in Hong Kong and going to the Midwest USA would be a massive loss of lifelong entertainment, food, and stimulation. Not to mention, the loss of his culture.
What Do You Want in Life?
Yin and Yang we spoke of. There is good and bad to all, there is always a balance in everything.
You can live in a massive city for $4000 per month, have everything in the world just down the sidewalk, and ride an MTR everywhere. You are stuck in a concrete jungle with noise, pollution, and massive stressed crowds everyday. You have nowhere to go to be alone, to relax, to think.
You can live in a small town for $400 per month, and enjoy peace, quiet and some nature. You can have close lifelong friends, and a feeling of stability. You are bored to death, there is nothing to do, nowhere to eat, no new people to meet, and little opportunity to improve your life.
English, You Speak It.
This young gentlemen spoke impeccable English with an attitude, like he had been living in the states his entire life. I told him how useful his skill could be, for any purpose. He told me plain as day that he does not speak any English.
“The fuck you talking about? You are speaking PERFECT English right now!” The Canadian was just laying back laughing.
“No man, I do not know any English. All I know is from all of the rap I listen to. WESSSSSIDE.” Now we were all laughing.
The fact was, he was speaking English very well, and even using proper grammar. He spoke with less pause and fumbling than even I could. If the two of us had to give a small public speech tomorrow, he would almost definitely do better than me.
However, his clouded judgment of himself made him think that he could not speak English and was stuck in Hong Kong. I told him otherwise, but he kept putting his head down, shrugging his shoulders, and saying “I don’t think so man.”
Eventually I couldn’t force myself to stay awake anymore, it was almost 1:00am HKT.
I made it to bed and tried to fall asleep, thinking how fast Hong Kong had flashed by me. I had just arrived, and now it was time to leave.
Communication is Key
Furthermore, I realized nearly all of my favorite conversations with strangers were with people that had a basic yet good grasp on the English language.
Why? Because we were just trying to communicate with each other. We just wanted to listen and try to understand each other.
There was no judgement. No attempt to impress. No daydreaming and waiting for your turn to speak.
Tomorrow afternoon, I was flying into Bangkok, Thailand, and I still had no idea what I was doing.