The first time I got to Hong Kong, it was a wonderful city state and still a Crown colony under the British.
This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Wednesday 6.2.1985, Hong Kong
Arrival on a flight from Taipei
Although it had its risks I decided to accept the offer from the British traveller in Taipei to fly with his ticket, under his name. The trick was that he had to join me to the airport and do the formalities. The reason was that the check-in procedure demanded his passport. For me, the remainder was to just walk through the passport and customs control, and it went without problems of any kind. They didn’t check passport and ticket at the same time.
(I didn’t feel very happy about this, and got a nasty feeling when two officials laughingly shouted “have a nice trip” and my name in one of the corridors leading out to the plane. It is quite possible that the arrangement had been detected but they didn’t care anyway.)
The airline was Singapore Airlines and the service was impeccable. The food was served on ceramic plates instead of the usual plastic, and it tasted excellent as well.
We landed in the afternoon and I took the bus into town. There I checked into a hostel that was recommended in my guidebook, “The On-your-own Guide to Asia”.
- IYAC, International Youth Accommodation Centre, at 21a Lock Road. Across the street from Chungking Mansions is the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Behind it is a smaller street. In 21a, 6th floor is the hostel and has in total about 30 beds in room and dorm. Living room, TV, kitchen at free disposal, many travellers. 2.8 USD for medium standard, but a nice place. Map
That evening I walked down to the Kowloon harbour and looked over to Hong Kong Island. The illuminated skyscrapers were fantastic to watch. It was exactly how I had been expecting Hong Kong to be, and how I wanted it to be when I had finally come to one of the places in the world that had always tempted me.
I was really looking forward to the days I would be staying here.
Thursday 7.2.1985, Hong Kong
The hostel is centrally placed in Kowloon so it was a fast walk down to the quay where the Star Ferry boats come and go. These vessels have been running steadily for many, many years and is manned by a crew in Donald Duck outfits. The fare is only six cents (US) as it has been for a long time. The ferry is still the best and easiest way to get across the harbour in spite of tunnels for both cars and tube to the other side.
I walked a bit around in the Central district kind of following a route the tourist authorities had laid. Here there were tall skyscrapers and small markets and bazaars in perfect union. (One might discuss the use of this last adjective.)
Then I took a double-decker tram to Causeway Bay and had a look there. I did the same in Kennedy Town on the other side of Central from Causeway Bay. I got to Kennedy Town on a minibus (Light Bus), the ones without fixed halts (0.5 USD).
Ordinary bus and tram is by the way very cheap. I only paid seven cents (US) from Central to Causeway Bay. And they are so lovably British. I actually thought it was very relieving how British inspired it was here compared to the two other countries I had travelled through, Japan and Taiwan. The Western influence and the Western content of these countries were for the most part limited to American. That can in my opinion become a bit too Yankee at the end of the day. (Despite this: I walked several times into a McDonald’s for hamburgers and a Coke.)
This evening I tried San Miguel beer, the local brew. The taste was excellent, if I may say so.
Letter to my family:
Hong Kong, 7.2.1985
Thank you for the letter I received in Taipei. Nice to hear that all I well (with you and with Norway). I never went to Osaka and therefore I didn’t receive that letter. When it comes to Beijing I plan to pay that city a visit, so I can pick up the letter then.
I came here to the Crown colony yesterday afternoon on a plane from Taipei. I found a cheap hotel listed in my handbook and had been recommended by a Canadian in Taiwan. It’s bed in a dormitory for about 2.7 USD a night together with 20-30 other travellers. The standard is ordinary but I actually got a clean sheet when I came. It is not every time that has happened.
The hostel is on the Kowloon side of the harbour. (Hong Kong is made of three “parts”: Hong Kong Island and Kowloon which are of an urban character, in addition to the more rural New Territories rented from China.
I went down to the harbour last night and looked over to the island: Just like the postcards, with tall shining skyscrapers up the hill. “Hong Kong!” I thought; and felt a rush of blood inside of me. Today I have been a little around the island and I must say I like it here. The city has an aura even though it can remind you of other big cities. I think I will stay here at least a week.
Tomorrow, on Friday, I’m thinking about applying for a visa to China and venture into the big UNKNOWN one time next week. How long I don’t know, but you can mail letters to Hong Kong where I’ll be returning, before Manila.
Mother is apparently wondering why I stayed so long in Japan. The reason was that I could not make myself leave the country until a minimum of places had been visited. But it has become expensive and I’ve used an incredible amount of money so far. Most of it has been for transportation. In Japan I also bought a camera lens (155 USD), watch and razor machine so that cost as well.
Well, I had better say something about what I’ve been up to.
In Japan I was in the end very tired by all the temples etc. Very attractive and very interesting, but I had too much of it, so after the 40 hour long boat trip to Okinawa I have hardly been inside a temple.
Okinawa must be a nice place in summer. There were lots of beaches and if one rents diving equipment it is like swimming in a gigantic aquarium. I found the temperature very good (up to 20 degrees Celsius) and enough to rent a moped and go around island. There I saw attractive scenery and many war memorials. Okinawa was the scene of one of the largest battles in WW2. There still are American bases here, even though the occupation ended in 1972. I came there on Saturday, but left already on Tuesday. I had seen what there was to see.
Taipei: I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan by plane and found my hostel quite easily. (That handbook of mine is sure good to have!) The city is big (2.5 million) and dirty, and noisy. In any case I went round to see the sights.
The National Palace Museum was impressive. Chiang-Kai-Shek & Co. shipped over an incredible amount of art treasures when they fled from Mao in 1949. (But the Ming vases weren’t really that exciting, I felt.) On the way to the museum I went past the Grand Hotel, the grandest hotel I have ever seen. I initially thought it was a huge temple because it was built after a traditional Chinese recipe.
The next evening I went to the markets together with a Canadian. These Asian cities have several large markets, many indoors, where everything is being traded although food mostly. Here they stand and pick up roosters from baskets while bargaining over the price. Next to it other people stand chopping them to pieces. The smell of food is all over the place, so is blood. Fruit stands and vegetable stands in vast numbers. There are a lot of people everywhere and it is really exciting to walk around.
We had heard praises of the Snake market. But it was not that top. We did indeed see a few snakes getting killed and hung up on hooks twisting in cramps. The snake meat and blood was eaten (but not by us). It is supposed to increase virility.
Tortoises were apparently a favourite object for slaughter in this market. We saw one being stabbed onto a wooden board with an awl. Then the throat was cut and the blood mixed with liquor. We left. Right after I bought a kind of hamburger. I’m still wondering what kind of meat that was (!).
The rest of Taiwan was more interesting. I went on a four day bus-, hitchhiking-, hiking- and train-trip around the island. Beautiful scenery: High mountains (I went hiking at an altitude of 2500 metres), deep valleys and forests of a jungle-like character. Many places even beat the best of what Norway has to offer. And that tells something. I met some nice young people and promised to exchange letters with a girl (she’s with her boyfriend).
Back in Taipei I tried to find a cheap flight to Hong Kong. By far the cheapest was offered by a British at my hostel, but I had to travel illegally because the ticket was in his name. It went well, and here I am in bed writing this letter.
Well now. That was the travelling. I can tell some more about practical matters.
Hostels: I usually stay in dormitories. That is the cheapest. The beds in Asian countries are hard as a boardwalk with only a very thin mattress. The private hostels and the more official youth hostels are all fairly clean. They offer hot water for body wash (and laundry if they haven’t got a laundry machine) at least a few hours a day. Some have a common area for relaxation. They all have shared bath and toilet. (The Japanese bath is special. One washes the body squatting outside the bathtub. Then one steps into the tub which is filled with almost boiling water. And there you sit and relax, often with several others.) My hygiene is like at home – almost.
Health: I still haven’t got troubles of any kind.
Food: I eat out on cheap streets stalls. Japanese and Chinese food is always well prepared so the only danger comes from the plate. God knows how they wash their dishes. I often eat ingredients I haven’t got a clue what are, so it is exciting. Nonetheless I do get a bit too much rice. I still haven’t tasted potatoes or wholemeal bread. These street stalls often have their courses in big pots so I just point at what I want. They don’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese.
The locals: They are always nice and helpful. So much that I on occasions get embarrassed. How to return it?
Other travellers: Many white people around here. They either travel around like me or live permanently in one place for months taking odd jobs and/or study.
My luggage: The broad belt around my sailor sack keeps twisting and is almost impossible to hold flat. It keeps getting rounded, if you understand what I mean. The same is the case with my money belt. My sleeping bag has not yet been used, but I prefer to keep it – in case. I have managed to buy a shoulder strap for my little bag: very good.
Japan: Partly cloudy 5-15 °C
Okinawa: Partly cloudy/rain: 15 °C
Taiwan: Partly cloudy/rain: 12-20 °C
HK: Partly cloudy/rain: Up to 20 °C
China is supposed to be very cold.
That was all I can think of. I hope you are doing fine. I will send postcards from China.
Next letter: Lhasa.
Friday 8.2.1985, Hong Kong
A visit to HK Island and Aberdeen
Today as well I took the Star Ferry over to HK Island. I then went over to the other side of the island, to Stanley. It was a big surprise to see how different it was here compared to what I had seen the day before. While life in Central and Tsimhatsui in Kowloon is terribly hectic with lots of people and traffic; it was completely the opposite here.
Here is found the better villa neighbourhoods, and the tone was calm, laidback and life goes on without much ado. In Stanley there was a good beach and an exciting clothes- and souvenir market.
I took a bus onwards through Repulse Bay to Aberdeen which was livelier as many ordinary Chinese live here. The floating village, with around 20,000 people living on junks in the harbour, is world famous. It was in my opinion not particularly interesting. Perhaps I didn’t see it all because a heavy rainfall made me wet all through and all I could think of was to make a hasty return.
Getting a fake Chinese student card
I dropped by Time Travels in the 16th floor of the Chungking Mansions, this conglomerate of guest houses of all kinds and all purposes (amongst others rooms on an hourly basis). There I booked a visa to China, paid 8 USD and was told to come back on Monday. Fairly fast delivery actually.
The same place, the same evening I bought a fake student ID-card from Taiwan. The man selling it was a sleazy guy, but I managed to bargain the price down to 10 USD. The normal price is 50, I had heard, and that is what he demanded.
This card is apparently a wise thing to bring into China. The case is that China views Taiwan as part of mainland-China and students there receive large discounts on trains and so on. Such an ID-card has been used by many travellers in China, with great success. The danger is that so many have used them that the authorities must have become aware of it, and presumably take their precautions. I took the chance, as there was little to lose and much to gain.
Saturday 9.2.1985, Hong Kong
I wished to see the remainder of Hong Kong Island today, so in spite of an overcast sky I was aiming at Victoria Peak, the mountain top in the middle of the island. It provides on a clear day great views in all directions.
I took the funicular to the top. The view over Kowloon was not the best so I walked around the top a bit. It was a nice walk in peaceful surroundings. When I returned to the other side the weather had become better and the view was great. It is an impressive sight, all these skyscrapers, although they can have an ugly appearance.
The Jade market
I took the funicular back down and jumped on the metro. It took me over to the other side and a bit further to the north, to the Jade market and Jordan Road. I’ve not got a clue about jade and was not even going to buy something. I was only curious and did get to see enough of this mineral. (Of course I will not account for how genuine everything that was sold actually was.)
Afterwards I walked the streets in the same area. They were crowded, and the reason was all the shops and street stalls. It was interesting to study life on the streets here, outside the central business and office areas further downtown.
Returning, I jumped on a bus saying Star Ferry and figured on ending there sooner or later (bus no. 8, 8 cents US). Later was most appropriate, because it took a large round trip of the residential areas around here, and I was sitting for a long while with worried feelings. Finally it turned in the right direction and the result was that I got an excellent and cheap sightseeing trip in Kowloon.
Later in the evening I went over to the island to Poor Man’s Nightclub which despite its name is a market. Here they sell souvenirs, clothes (including incredibly cheap Lacoste branded shirts and sweaters) and there are several street stalls and cafes which for the most part have seafood. Interesting.
Sunday 10.2.1985, Hong Kong
Today I did absolutely nothing. I was just relaxing at the IYAC all day. That is good too, once in a while.
Monday 11.2.1985, Hong Kong
Train or boat to Guangzhou?
My plan was to pick up my visa this afternoon and take the local train to Guangzhou (Canton) tomorrow. But then I got to talk to two Danish boys at the hostel, Finn and Torsten, and they were thinking of taking the ferry tonight. It would be arriving tomorrow morning.
I’m like this: When I’ve finally decided to travel, I’d like to go at once; and besides the Danes had much good to say about the ferry. The end of the story was that the three of us went and bought tickets for a dormitory on board. It cost us 10 US, fairly expensive. The train would have been cheaper according to my estimates.
I went up to Time Travel and picked up my visa. It took its time before they came with it, the clock was ticking past seven and the ferry was leaving at nine. Eventually I got my visa. It turned out that they had it in the desk drawer all the time just to irritate.
While waiting I got into contact with a Canadian who was there for the same purpose as I. It turned out that he had been to McDonald’s today, like me. We wouldn’t get a chance to eat such a typical Western meal in China.
The boat into China proper
The boat trip was not much. It was too dark to see anything of the river and nothing to do on board. The beer was shockingly expensive; we had to pay 4 USD for a plain, little milk glass of that fluid (the alcohol that is).
The only positive thing to say about my journey into China on this means of transportation is that it is simple. One doesn’t have to change trains at the border like on the cheapest train alternative. Besides one saves time in a way, as no daylight time is spent travelling.
The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.
Next chapter: Southern China: From Hong Kong to Guangzhou and Guilin