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Archive for the 'Hong Kong' Category

In the Zone

Living so close to the border with Hong Kong poses one challenge in the form of mobile phone networks. Remember that Hong Kong and China are still 'one country, two systems' so the mobile phone coverage does not overlap between the two and all the carriers are different. Having to carry multiple SIM cards and swap them back and forth has the potential to be quite a pain.

So that users don't have to pay for international roaming and make international calls whenever they travel to Hong Kong, China Unicom and China Mobile both offer a dual zone SIM cards, which are rather neat. They automatically change number when in Hong Kong or Shenzhen and redirect calls automatically depending upon where they are at that particular time.

When I cross the border to Hong Kong I don't have to fumble around with changing SIM cards on the train or dropping them as I leave customs, like some others seem to do. I just simply use my phone like nothing has happened. )

Caveats: Make sure you get international roaming set up straight away. If you try to do it later it can be almost impossible. Most plans also don't allow sending of SMS from within Hong Kong.

Chunking appeal

Roof View of Chunking

The Chunking Mansion building in Hong Kong, which is full of hostels, has been there for a while. Built in about 1961 it looks like it's seen it's fair share of Hong Kong's history. Critical systems such as lifts and water are maintained but the building is steadily dilapidating around that as it supports yet another foreigner trying to make a living or have a kip.

A while back it must have been the case that there were some electrocutions so now everything is electrically earthed, and I mean everything. There are green and yellow wires screwed to just about every metal object. The plumbing, the bed, the window frames, the air conditioner, the hot water service, the TV mounting brackets… everything that's metal is earthed.

No Dumping Plumbing

Not only full of hostels, the building seems to poses all kinds of activities of an indescribable nature lurking down corridors or through doorways. There are Africans lugging huge bags leaking strange substances, young Middle Eastern men looking at you sideways, old Indian men who want to be your best friend, Chinese people squatting eating out of plastic containers, Africans watching TV as loudly as possible, Sri Lankan men wanting you to buy their food, Indian men wanting to sell you a suit, handbag, copy watch or tailors services and just about everyone touting their particular hostel. There's the whir and whine of clothing machinery, the crunch of packing machinery, the clink of money changers, the fragrant hues of middle eastern style meat barbecuing away and boxes and parcels going every which way. It's a hive of activity.

This frenetic multicultural activity is it's real appeal. Here there's practically the world living in a single building trying to eke out an existence. In 2006 people from 120 different countries stayed in hostels in Chunking Mansions. I can't think of too many other places like it.  

Hong Kong Hostels

View down Chunking

We've been spending quite a bit of time in Hong Kong over the past few months and rather than trek back and forth on successive days we've been staying in hostels in Tsim Sha Tsui. A round-trip back to Shenzhen on the KCR for two people costs HK$140 whereas we can get a self-contained hostel room for HK$150 - HK$200. This saves us a boat-load of time and gets us an early start on the next day. 

We always get a private room with a bathroom and most of the hostels have been quite good. Our AU$30 gets us an air conditioned room, a clean 140cm x 180cm bed with linen, mostly a clean pair of towels, some soap & loo paper and a bathroom with it's own instant hot water. There's usually a small TV too, that we don't use. The bathroom is more like a small wet room, with basin, toilet and shower head all occupying the same fully-tiled space, as is not uncommon in Asia. On the odd occasion where the hot water service hasn't been working it hasn't been a problem because it's been so hot and humid anyway.

Room 1 Bathroom Room 2

For about 5 or 6 weeks we tried different hostels before settling on one we liked the most. Most of TST's hostels are located in a building called Chunking Mansion which is on Nathan road. It's really easy to find and the entrance is located directly across the road from MTR station entrance E, so the convenience for travel is great. It's divided into A, B, C, D and E blocks with separate lifts for each. You can't move between blocks without going to the ground floor, but this isn't such a big problem. Each business or hostel has a sign on a board at each set of lifts so you can confirm which lifts you need and which floor to go to. The other place in TST to go for good hostels is Mirador Arcade, just a bit further up Nathan Road.

The building seems to be where a lot of African, Indian and Middle Eastern people seem to go. There are several food shops from each of those regions on the lower floors, lots of mobile phone outlets, places to buy your Indian coconut oil, all that sort of stuff. It's great fun exploring. You just have to learn to ignore the middle eastern guys who start offering you hashish as it gets late.

That marvellous free on-line encyclopaedia sums it up better than I ever could. 

The dumping ground

I am no longer surprised by some of the more unusual sights and sounds here in China, but this one rates a mention.

We boarded the KCR rail at the Luo Hu border crossing to go into Hong Kong last night. As we walked through the carriages, vainly hoping for a seat, we came across two vacant seats. As I sat down I noticed a very bad smell and Gail pointed at something on the floor, like footprints that had trodden in something they shouldn't have. I turned around and on the floor behind this seat was a horrid pile of yellow industrial waste poo all over the floor. Needless to say, we changed to another carriage, carefully dodging the mess on the floor.

The most probable cause would be a Chinese toddler with split pants (the Chinese don't use nappies) who simply couldn't hold it any longer. 

This begs the question, how does the KCR deal with this sort of thing? The trains simply run back and forth, back and forth. At the terminal stations a few cleaners with a broom and dustpan sweep the train but they don't have the capabilities to deal with this sort of mess. Every time the trains are stopped there are passengers getting on and off and then the trains are off again. The schedules are so tight there's no room to delay a train whilst a mess is cleaned up. The only thing I can think of is to pull the train out of the system at a terminal station and replace it with another train.

As it was, passengers riding in that car had to put up with this steaming pile the full length of the journey. 

HK Exotica

Back in Australia, have you seen sometimes how a car is put in a shopping centre or airport to promote it? Usually it's something like a $30,000 Mitsubishi or a similarly priced Holden. "Please madam, whilst you're buying pumpkins please consider to do likewise to our car."

Gallardo Spyder Brera

Maserati Ferrari

In Hong Kong it's different. Whilst visiting the Festival Walk shopping centre at Kowloon Tong they had a very different line up of cars on display: a Ferrari 599 GTB, a Maserati Quattroporte, an Alfa Romeo Brera and a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. Tax on these imported cars in HK can be as high as 100%. This is a shopping centre that blends all the big name clothing brands, high-end audio, imported food (the reason we were there!) an indoor ice rink, a good cinema and plenty of restaurants all together. If you're young, trendy, brand conscious and suffer from status anxiety then Festival Walk is the place to go.

All the cars

If an expensive car manufacturer did the same thing in Australia I can imagine the cars being surrounded by lots and lots of admirers but not by anyone who could actually afford to buy one. Unless they did so in Burnside… 

One tree left

The previous late night saw us rise a bit later than usual and a bit bleary-eyed on Sunday. The enthusiasm soon came back when a new adventure came to the fore -  Wozza and I planned to go to Hong Kong (the third time for me in as many days) to try and find a Pocket PC for him. Fortunately, he'd done his research and had settled on the O2 XDA Atom Life

After a few stops along the way we found ourselves braving the chaotic streets of Mongkok. After trying 5 or 6 shops we eventually found one that had the Atom Life in Black and in English (all prior shops only had English in white, Chinese in black) at an electronics store in the Mongkok computer market and negotiated a fair price. A little more trawling around and we emerged with the Atom, a Bluetooth headset, an Infra-red folding keyboard with PDA stand and a 2GB memory card.

Satisfied with our purchases we MTR-hopped down to Tsim Cha Tsui for a satisfying Spaghetti House lunch and then made our way to the KCR for the ride back to the border. 

At the end of this little adventure I realised how comfortable, familiar and complacent I've become regarding transport to/from/in Hong Kong. It seems like not a particularly big deal to jump through the Shenzhen Metro, the different border crossings, the KCR rail system, and then surf around on the Hong Kong MTR. Every single place we wanted to go to was accessible. Hong Kong really has nailed public transport.

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