Hyperactivity in Hong Kong
First port: Hong Kong.
This was one of the most mad days I have ever experienced.
Sunrise was at 6.30am, so a bunch of people were up on top deck to watch it rise over the city. We have decided to try and catch the sunrise over each city, whenever it is possible. Let’s see how that goes.
By 8.00am, the boat was moored, everything was set up, and a local Chinese drum and dragon dance was welcoming us onto our first spot of dry, still land in a week. A shuttle bus was the only form of transport allowed to go between the boat and the nearest subway station, so off we went. Almost all GET teachers and a few of the CCs (Communication Coordinators: translators) decided to make the first stop Yum Cha.
Yum cha literally means “drink tea”, and it’s a Chinese way of eating where many dishes are served to the table, each containing several small morsels of food. You sip on endlessly refilling tea as you pass the food around and talk. It’s a style of eating that encourages eating with friends and conversation, and there is always some interesting stuff on offer. For myself, I finally tried the infamous chicken feet.
As we were winding up yum cha, a new person joined our party – K! K was my friend way back in University in New Zealand, but graduated and left in around 2003. Her parents were from Hong Kong, so she went back to them and started working, and I never saw her again. Until now. She came out to meet us and spent the rest of the day with us and showing us around Hong Kong.
By 11.00am we were walking through Tsim Sha Tsui, checking out some of the more famous buildings, and heading down to the waterfront to the Avenue of Stars. All along the boardwalk are handprints in the cement of Hong Kong’s stars, much like Hollywood. I hadn’t heard of most of them, but there were a few familiar names in there, ending with a big action-posed statue of Bruce Lee.
We went back along the Avenue to the ferry station, and at about 12.00 caught one over to Hong Kong Island. Being back on the water was actually a strangely comforting feeling – a lot of people had felt that firm, unmoving ground was actually kind of unsettling after a week of adjusting to rocky seas. The rooms had seemed to sway and dance in an odd way. Once on Hong Kong Island, we managed to board a bus up to the top of Victoria Peak, with the best public view over Hong Kong.
The bus ride up had some amazing views of the city below, and at just after 1.00pm we made it to the top. After a few photos, I finally managed to get away with just K and have a good old catch up. Before meeting up, I was concerned that we might not have anything to talk about, and it would probably be pretty awkward. But it was great that after seven years, we were still able to talk perfectly comfortably, as if it had only been a month. After coffee and a bit of shopping around at the Peak (including one shop selling “Mini Che” products), we headed back down just after 2.30. We got off at Central station and went to a bookstore where K’s own line of greeting cards was being sold. She started her own business a couple of years ago, and it was awesome to see that one of my friends had actually succeeded in pulling it off.
After buying a couple of cards, we jumped on the historical double-decker tram running around the city. Despite having so many skyscrapers and such a modern image, Hong Kong still seems to have a lot of the old feel going. Many old buildings still stand, though they are in a state that would probably get them knocked down in other places. Also, going through the back streets, away from the glass and chrome, are many traditional stores and areas that are stubbornly sticking to the old ways.
The tram is a rickety old thing that lurches around the city on a track that the more modern city has tried to build itself around. Being as old as it is, it has holes for windows, but resting an arm out the window or sticking your head out to get a better look at something could be fatal, as many of the buildings have been built as close as possible, and come whizzing out of nowhere as you turn a corner. At about 4pm, we got off somewhere, meaning I could stretch out and stand again after the tram designed for carrying little Chinese people a metre tall (K had room to spare), and looked for the last thing I had to do in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was a British colony for a long time, and one perfect blend of the British presence with the local Chinese mentality was to take a peanut-butter sandwich, and deep-fry it. I figured this was one delicacy I had to try before I left, so K helped me prowl the streets until we found one place selling it. It tasted more or less like a deep-fried peanut butter sandwich. The sweetness level was blown though the roof by the extra maple syrup which comes poured all over the top.
After getting the last of that tiny heart attack down me, it was time to end my adventure in Hong Kong. At about 4.30 I said my goodbyes to K, thanked her for an awesome day, promised to meet up again sometime within the next seven years, and jumped on the subway to Kwai Fong station, the place where the Peace Boat shuttle bus would be waiting.
The shuttle bus was running late. All passengers on the boat are required to be back on board one hour before departure, not a minute later. As semi-staff, my limit is 30 minutes before that. The passengers waiting for the bus were not fazed, as they would still comfortably make their limit, but it looked like I would be about 5 minutes late. Being late means that at the next port, my boarding deadline (kisen limit in Japanese) would be a further 30 minutes earlier. Missing that one would mean that I would no longer be allowed to leave the ship in port. This is one thing the Boat does not mess around with. At all. I managed to have a nice little stress as I waited for the bus, but luckily managed end up boarding with 4 minutes to spare. Hopefully I can keep that up.
Back on the ship, everyone was in high spirits and excited about their first port visit. It had been the most insanely packed day of tourism I think I have ever experieffnced. From 9am to 5.30pm, I and everyone else had been running from place to place, trying to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of the place as possible. Luckily, Hong Kong is not too big a place, so most people could leave feeling more or less satisfied with their trip, but I wonder how people will feel in some of the bigger cities? I guess we will find out.
The boat pulled away from Hong Kong at 7pm, with everyone out on deck happy, talking, drinking, and thrilled about life as the last light faded from the sky and the Departure Song which is played when we leave each port was blast throughout the ship. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable day for everyone, and one last gift Hong Kong gave us was the most beautiful nightscape ever. Nearly all the people on the boat were talking about the “million-dollar view”, and it was amazing. The lights continued forever, until we finally reached the end, and they got smaller in the distance as we sailed out into the blackness of the open sea again, on our way to Vietnam.