After a really long day yesterday, we’ve arrived in Hong Kong and have found ourselves in a completely different world. Since we finished packing Monday night, when we woke up yesterday morning, all we had to do was have our final coffee in Baoding, fold the sheets, and drag our luggage down the four flights of stairs one last time. The school sent a car to pick us up and take us to the train station and with that, along with the company of Li Laoshi, we were on our way. We had no problems getting our tickets or into the train station (other than they stopped us to look at the pocket knife Duncan had in the bag we intend to check at the airport – but they didn’t take it) and soon enough we were in our first class (super comfy) seats on a fast train down the East coast of the country, one final time. We were thrilled to discover that we got complimentary snacks and Cokes as soon as we boarded the train but other than that, the ten-hour ride was uneventful (but very comfortable and quiet). We passed the time by reading, talking, sleeping, and (most interestingly) observing the changing scenery the farther South we traveled. Once again, I was reminded of how gorgeous South China can be, especially compared to the North (and Baoding).
Traveling the length of the country through the countryside was a fitting (and very enjoyable) way for us to say goodbye to Mainland China.
The problems started when we got off the train and began the long traverse to our hostel. We arrived in Shenzhen at 6:16 but didn’t make it to our hostel until 9:30. What with several money exchanges, multiple checkpoints through customs (twice we had to get out of line to fill out papers we didn’t know we were supposed to have when we got in the line), ten million escalators, metal bars at every entrance and exit spaced about two feet apart (making lugging our six bags of our life in China stuff quite frustrating), and four subway line transfers that resulted in one stubbed toe, one scraped knee, and (today) very sore shoulders, necks, arms, and backs we were pretty grumpy when we got to the hostel. Once we did find the hostel we climbed four flights of stairs to check-in only to discover that they don’t (even though they said they would) accept RMB and we had to use my credit card to check-in (and hope that it didn’t get declined since we’re in a new country). The card went through and we got checked in but then we had move all our luggage back down the four flights of stairs, across the street, and up five more flights of stairs to get into the tiniest room I’ve ever been in (that’s not a closet). Hong Kong is known for having ridiculously tiny housing for ridiculously high prices and considering how much we paid for our “room” at the hostel, I totally believe it. We may be at the second highest rated hostel in Hong Kong but on top of the tiny rooms it also can’t boast a restaurant or a bar – something we were looking forward to after our ten-hour ride on the train and difficult trek through the subway (called the Mass Transit Railway – MTR – in Hong Kong). By the time we’d settled into the hostel and were ready to head out, it was 10pm so the restaurants we’d eyed on the way in were closed. This ended up being just fine because we went to the 24-hour McDonald’s across the street and found “real” Western food – chicken nuggets, French fries, sweet and sour sauce, and an iced coffee have never tasted so good!
Fed, clean, settled, and caffeinated we were much happier and went on a mini-wander around our block to see what Hong Kong was all about and we’ve concluded that Hong Kong and Mainland China are truly different places. We feel like we are more in the west (I think it feels just like NYC) than any part of the world we’ve been in for the past ten months. And the things we are noticing (culture shock) are so fascinating and kind of hilarious to us. First off, Hong Kong is definitely an international city. In a five-minute walk down the block we heard Mandarin, Cantonese, English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Everything is written in English and in Chinese (traditional characters) and (a big deal for us) everything we’ve done (ordering food, exchanging money, going through customs) has been done in spoken English. We were so taken aback by the process of ordering our food in English that Duncan and I both (separately) misunderstood what the people behind the counter were saying to us because we were expecting Chinese instead of English (Duncan kept thinking the guy behind the counter was saying “what’s that” so he kept repeating his order and I responded with “Alyssa” when the lady asked me if I wanted whipped cream and I thought she asked me for my name on the order). Another thing that has really shocked us is the nudity in advertising – it seems like there are naked women everywhere! We’ve also been shocked by the Internet (fastest Internet in the world and no more firewall of China!), flushing toilet paper (instead of throwing it away), people wearing baseball hats, and “civilized” behaviour. People wait for lights to change, no one is hawking loogies, people say “sorry” and “excuse me” when they bump into you, they clean up after themselves in restaurants, there’s no honking (and people drive on the “wrong” side of the road), there’s no burning plastic, and people smell like perfume and cologne. The hardest thing we have to deal with right now is the fact that almost everyone speaks English so when we talk to each other, other people are likely to understand us. We’ve developed a bad habit of just talking to each other about anything and everything around us (since it’s pretty likely that people wouldn’t understand us in Baoding) and we’re making a conscious effort to end that here in Hong Kong.
Overall, I think it was a good idea for us to come to Hong Kong before arriving in the US because it will serve as a culture-shock transition period. I’m really enjoying taking note of all the similarities and differences between our life in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and the US.
The rest of today will be spent wandering around and getting our bearings and tomorrow we will begin exploring and touring. As a side note, today is the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, and international media has said that there are massive protests going on all over Hong Kong. We have not seen nor heard anything about protests since we’ve been here and the only thing we know about is a candlelight vigil scheduled for tonight. We are staying safe and all is well!
Thanks for following along and until next time,