Sunday, February 22, 2009

hong kong (about a month overdue)

1 A Day in HK < from mid january>

So I arrived late last night in HK and had a pretty good day. The hostel sucks but other then that things have been going about as well as I could ask for. Last night I arrived at around 10pm and everything at Hong Kong airport was very fast and very efficient- on par with dallas fort worth (which was empty when I xferred from my eze → dfw to dfw → nrt marathon) and the tokyo airport for the best airports i've ever been at. Much much better then Tokyo was the commute from the airport to downtown. Whereas in Tokyo the options are, $300 cab (no joke), a $30 express train that takes 1.5 hrs, switching between an express train and then a local train for about $22 that takes a bit longer then 1.5 hrs or paying $12 and taking 2 hours and taking a local and then a non express train in Hong Kong it was about $13 and took 25 minutes. (I realize that Tokyos got a lot of people and real estate is v. expensive etc. but, I took that journey 5 times over the course of a month)

The hostel sucks. I arrived at around 11pm and the first thing I need to do when entering the building is fill out a piece of paper with my name, nationality, passport # and date of birth. Evidently its to prevent crime or something in the area. I should get a picture of the entrance but everything was boarded down with those metal shutters you see everywhere. Great start. There are people just 'hanging out' in these corridors of closed shops, talking on cell phones or just loitering. Not the kind of place I want to be- although certainly a lot safer then if I were to walk past the same situation in a US city.

Anyways, the upstairs looks like something straight out of a jackie chan movie. You know, the scene where there are like 50 triads chasing after Jackie so he runs through an old decrepit multi story building that also houses illegal immigrants working in a sweat shop and all looking at jackie with sad eyes when he busts in so then he must also protect as he fights improbably with random household appliances against guys on motorcycles with nun chucks. I'll post pictures eventually (I remember that I'm behind on the japan ones and will get to those later as well) but keep in mind that this place sucks. I guess its a decent experience though as on the hostel information sheet it mentions that “more then 70% of hong kong residents live in these types of buildings”

Luckily my hostel is decorated decently on the interior, but I'll be moving out of here after 1 more night. I have definitely seen some evidence that that 70% figure is probably true. There are some very nice parts of Hong Kong (which I've seen a tiny bit of but will see more of later) but one thing I have definitely noticed is that a lot of buildings look “okay” on the outside but once you enter inside they are old, falling apart and not taken care of at all. Its kindof weird, and I don't think I've done a very good job capturing it with my camera ( although thats a difficult task to say the least) but on the street level I don't think I've ever seen as many signs hawking rolex's anywhere else then in Hong Kong, but often you look at that same building, or the one next to it and you see half the apartment units look like the walls are falling apart and have what look to be 20 year old air conditioning units and a bunch of laundry hanging out the window.

Anyways, my main goals for the day were... see a museum, find a new place and do some research on finding a pingpong coach. I did well on both counts. For a new place to stay it seemed that it is impossible (or very very difficult) to find a nice place with a good location for under $100 a night. But I found one for close to $50. Thanks to Noah and Leon, who pointed me to the website I was able to book the ramada (no dad it is not the peninsula hotel) for literally 1/4th its normal fare. Awesome. Unfortunately its prices skyrocket back once Chinese new years starts, but i'll bite the bullet for that 1 or 2 nights and stay somewhere not so nice again.

Re: pingpong, I found a club and will get a lesson tomorrow. Price was a tiny bit more then I would like, but if he's good, and I think he can help me a lot then I'll pressure him for a discount based on me getting a lot of coaching over the next 10-12 days that I am here. I also made a post on a message board about coaching and someone gave me the number of a guy who was on the Hong Kong table tennis team- which basically means he is insanely good ( and he speaks english reasonably well or so i'm told) so I will probably try and explore that option as well. But at my level, given my lack of any playing over the past 4 years, the most important thing will be finding a coach who communicates and meshes with me well.

After pingpong I had a bite to eat, went back to the hostel, took it easy and then headed for the Wednesday night horse race. When I was there I tried to find some white people (there are a lot of them here) to get a drink with and have a good time. Luckily right through the gate I met 2 guys, one whose teaching english, and his cousin who was visiting.

In general I really dislike betting on things that I know I am a dog in. But this was pretty fun. Thanks to the Hong Kong dollar being “weak” (its pegged at 7.8:1), I was able to make bets of 20 HKD which, although being only truly worth about $2.50, felt like a lot more. You get to be really close to the action at this horse track, and another added attraction that makes it really cool is how downtown the track is. Standing by the track you just see big buildings all around you.

The highlight (or lowlight) of the night was when, after a few beers we made one of the cousins pick a horse by randomly pointing at the list with his eyes closed. Of course he picked the horse that had the lowest chance of winning at something stupid, like 50 to 1. The other cousin then goes on some rant about how his friend last time couldn't win anything to save his life and did that (picked with his eyes closed) for his last race and won. So we had to bet on this pathetic horse that had never won anything before. So what the hell- whats $2.50? We all place bets on the horse. The race starts and we don't hear anything about it. Okay whatever. Then about ¼ of the way in, we see it on the screen (we were at track level so we could only see the big screen when they were on the other side) that its in 2nd place. And we are just kindof laughing saying “oh yeah sure it'll burn out, it'll burn out”. Then it jumps into 1st place. But still the race is about a 1/3 of the way done, not even and again, most horses who are in the lead in the beginning lose- they just lose steam being out in front. By about halfway through its fallen back into 2nd and we're there saying oh yeah i'm sure he'll finish last now. But then we keep watching (of course) and he's hanging in there. Seems to be pretty close to the leader. I realize (and say) “oh man jockey is going nuts. The horse in the lead is starting to lose his lead and a new challenger is coming around from the other corner. We're getting excited. “Come on!!!!” we're all screaming. We see them running toward the finish, 3 horses neck and neck. We're screaming “COME ONNNNN”, the guys behind us are screaming something in Chinese and the group of Brits down the track are screaming too. And in an instant its over. We need the replay to confirm it, but we lose by literally 4 inches. What a bummer.

I picked one winning horse, his name was Engineering Wonder. I should've called it a night after that one.

Anyways in other news, I had food poisoning again ( I guess I didn't chronicle it the 1st time it happened- it was right after the Hiroshima post) and both times were very bad- ie, I couldn't take/hold anything down, lot of pain, lot of lying in bed/ talking to my mom asking why me.

/// i should've posted this a while ago and in general im pretty bad about this whole blogging thing. but eh maybe blogging just isn't for me. since hk i went to sydney for 3 days then new zealand for 2 weeks with noah and leon and getting to see a good friend from high school as well. good times all around. then i flew home, spent 3 great days with my parents and now i'm in toronto with kristin- enjoying the chance to see and catch up with a bunch of good friends.