Hong Kong, run-on Day 1 and 2

We landed in Hong Kong in the evening, around 8. Our place is a short commute from the airport, befitting my dad, a lifetime airport employee (first at the site at Kai Tak, now part-time at the reclaimed island of Chek Lap Kok). We had just enough energy to unpack and eat dinner before succumbing to jetlag.

The first day was logistics. (No pictures, I kept forgetting to bring the camera and my mobile’s is best left for abstract art.) We went to the mall and I unlocked by Nokia 6020, free but trapped with Fido until yesterday afternoon. Later I also grabbed a local SIM – even on the international direct dialing prepaid card, international texts cost a quarter Canadian each ($1.80 HKD) – but I probably won’t use it much for voice, so I’ll be twittering or Jaiku-ing some, depending on how up to the task Twitter is feeling.

As always, transportation in Hong Kong is fascinating to behold. Boarding a sixteen-seater light bus, I foolishly fumbled around in my purse for my changepurse – not realizing that they use the Octopus self-deducting pass card now, as practically every other form of public transportation does. My dad also pointed out the large pixelboard sign at the front, which was showing the speedometer of the light bus. Some of the light buses had been caught driving at excessive speeds in order to make more runs and do more business. The pixelboards display the speed to passengers so that if they were found going above the speed limit, they could warn the driver to slow down or, in the most extreme cases, use their cameraphones to report the driver. The buses are also interesting because there are both independent buses (with the red-painted roof) and franchised buses (painted green), and don’t run on a fixed schedule, but leave in roughly 15-minute increments when the bus has secured an acceptable number of passengers. My dad noted this with reference to time – if he wasn’t in a hurry, he would take the light bus; if he was in a hurry, he would take the slightly more expensive larger bus that stopped a half-block from the mall.

I don’t take community shuttles in Vancouver, but I get the feeling that the light buses are being used in a comparable manner, though it outwardly looks very different. In Vancouver, community shuttles seem to either serve places without much public transit (such as Bowen Island, I imagine) or to provide a short-distance service to common hubs and areas. In Hong Kong, the light buses stop around the estates, where the proper bus service often doesn’t go, then go to popular destinations, allowing people to bypass major transit hubs. This mostly works because the density is ridiculous, of course. My dad’s estate is made up of four forty-story towers.

The Kwai Chung mall hasn’t changed substantially much since I was last there four years ago, but it reminded me of a recent jaunt I had in Burnaby. We were looking for places to unlock my phone at Metrotown. We went first, of course, to Crystal Mall, but everything closed up at 7pm, so we tried our luck at Metrotown. We asked one man tending one the kiosks whether he knew of any places doing unlocking there – he shook his head no. I remarked, disappointed, that Metrotown had gone legit.

This setup – the “legit” mall right next to the “less legit” mall – is what Kwai Chung has as well. At one, the upscale brands sell limited amounts in bright, comfortably-lit, spic-and-span storefronts tended by smiling, well-dressed staff. At the other, the stalls are crammed with huge stocks of everything imaginable, from jewelery and purses, to leggings, housewares, iPhones, and flowers, and the store keepers are slightly more pushy if you stop to browse. The lighting is fluorescent, refracted by mirrors and black stone surfaces; the oil smell crowds in from the food stalls at the far corners. It was a public holiday yesterday (a floater for the Dragon Boat festival day), so only about 60% of the less legit mall was even open for business.

Day 2 is family, family, family. Just now, my mom was following along with Mark Rowswell (aka. Dashan) on the TV, teaching us Mandarin ping-pong vocabulary and sentence structures on his show Sports in Chinese. We had the scones I bought with my dad’s Octopus card at the mall yesterday for breakfast. I hope I get to go hiking later this week.

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