Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ten tips to make your visit to Hong Kong as smooth as the finest Chinese silk

Hong Kong is blessed with constant blue skies, a comfortable climate, and a notoriously polite population - no wonder it's so popular with tourists!  If you're planning on visiting, however, be wary of the "advice" given in guidebooks.   It's often outdated, irrelevant, or just plain wrong.  I'm here to help your trip go far more smoothly.  Please read and follow the tips below:

1.  Stand to the left on escalators.  This will allow you to more easily carry out a conversation with the friend beside you, and you needn't worry about anyone behind you - even if they're late to a job interview with CY Leung co-attended by an up-and-coming pseudomodel, they will never ask you to get out of the way.

2.  Hold your umbrella at eye level.  This accomplishes two things.  First, it obstructs your view so you don't see all those other pesky pedestrians crowding the sidewalk, and second, if anyone dares get too close the umbrella will poke them in the eye, giving them a polite indication that you have the right of way.  (Note that the Chinese are generally shorter in stature than gweilos, so you may have to hunch or crabwalk to execute this.)

3.  Don't be shy about throwing your rubbish on the ground.  Hong Kong maintains such a high employment rate by having people specially designated to tidy the streets.  Someone will be along to pick it up eventually.

4.  Don't hold the handrail.

5.  Hong Kong life is hectic and non-stop, and you're an important person - you've got colleagues to answer to, friends to catch up with, and your digital farm to tend.  So when you get a notification from your phone be sure to stop immediately - no matter where you are - and see to it.  Those behind you on the MTR stairs or sidewalk don't mind waiting patiently.

A good spot to check your text messages.

6.  Don't learn any Cantonese.  After all, English is one of the official languages of Hong Kong!  If someone can't understand you, simply speak quickly and loudly until they back away.  This is a gentle  and polite reminder that they need to brush up on their language skills.

7.  Traffic can be brutal.  The best way to cope with this is to honk your horn repeatedly for 20-second intervals.  Everyone around you will be doing the same, and this creates a feeling of community.  It's one of the ways fellow drivers say, "We're in this together, buddy!"

8.  Make sure you tip well at restaurants.  This way, the waitstaff will come to expect generous tips from other gweilos, and Hong Kong will become more Westernized - making future tourists more comfortable.

9.  During the lunch rush, don't decide what you want to order until you're at the front of the line.  In fact, I'd advise not even looking at the menu until then.  This will give you a chance to have the counter staff explain in detail what exactly is cow lung, anyway?  Can you get the chili noodles with no chili?  Does the tuna bun have fish in it?  These are important considerations.  Hong Kongers generally get an entire hour for lunch, so they won't mind waiting.

"Can I have my noodles with no oil?  Oh, and add cheese."

10.  Walking around Hong Kong - especially in the summer heat - can be exhausting.  If you need a small pick-me-up to keep you going, you can often find fruit in small bowls outside shops.  This is indicated by a small sign in Chinese, but you probably won't be able to read it, so just look for the burning incense beside it.  This is just one of the myriad ways Hong Kongers express their hospitality to foreigners.

The area along Victoria harbour is a popular spot for a relaxing stroll and peaceful self-reflection.

I hope these tips explain a bit more about how life in Hong Kong works, and helps you have a wonderful visit to this great city.  See you soon!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dim sum before bed: a cautionary tale

Buddha's fist dumplings and beer before I went to sleep.  The resulting dream:

The empress of China had a daughter, the next in line to the throne.  This daughter was a young blonde girl, seven years of age.  She had been badly (but not permanently) disfigured in a fire.  Her face had been burned black and was coated with a carbonized layer of skin covered in minute cracks.  It was clear that the flakes would fall off like black snow in the coming months, but for now her face was completely dark.

One day the empress-to-be went with her nanny to her favorite restaurant.  The maitre'd greeted them obsequiously, as always.  But then guests jumped up to meet them.  Madonna, J-Lo, and David Beckham had been waiting to join them for dinner.  The group was led through the ornate gold and red restaurant to the best table and seated with multiple waiters attending them.  When one waiter did not unfold the empress-to-be's napkin and place it in her lap as he normally did, she asked him why.  "These are the new royalty, madam", he said, gesturing to Madonna, J-Lo, and Beckham.

Just then, a pipe bomb exploded in the restaurant, immediately killing the pop stars but leaving the empress-to-be untouched.  She returned home safely with her nanny.

Upon returning home, she learned that she was to travel to Shanghai with her mother to their winter palace, where she was to spend the next six months.  She became despondent.  Her nanny reassured her that she would be there, and that when the black flakes began to snow from her face they would count them together, and every flake would be one "I love you."

Across the world, on an interstate highway in America, a license-checkpoint had been built.  One was to drive in, park their car, then be examined by the police.  While doing this, however, one was welcome to sample free soft drinks from a dispenser that stocked sodas in the flavors of maraschino cherry, pancake, and Dr. Pepper.


Friday, January 25, 2013

The joys of visiting home

I just got back from a month-long trip to the USA.  Great food, great friends, and more of those cringe-worthy "So where do you live?" interactions.  You know that feeling you get - maybe you're out shopping and the cashier wants your zip code, or maybe you're introduced by a friend as "visiting from out of town", and you desperately try to avoid saying it, but as soon as you're forced to utter the words "I live in Hong Kong" you get that sinking feeling in your stomach and you know what's coming.  

Actual comments I've gotten:

- Ooh!  Do you speak Japanese?  No.  NO.

- You must be really sick of sushi!  again - nope.

- Do they have cars in Hong Kong?  no.  We use rickshaws and domesticated dragons.

- (Upon learning my husband doesn't eat meat) - Wow!  Hong Kong must be a great place to be vegetarian!  um, no.

- OMG - how do you LIVE without Facebook??  sigh.

- I heard it's illegal to drink alcohol there.  what??  NO!  How the hell would I still be here?

- Do you ever worry you'll accidentally cross the border into North Korea and get arrested?  I... I don't even...

But then again, I got to spend a month eating Tex-Mex (one of the few cuisines still unavailable here) so I can't complain.

Now it's time to get back to watching anime, eating endangered species, buying used panties out of vending machines, and plotting the overthrow of capitalist pigs.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Another side of Hong Kong

Everyone's seen photos of the Hong Kong skyline - neon lights, skyscrapers, the crushing crowds - but there's another side of Hong Kong that lots of people don't bother investigating.  Tourists who are here only briefly (and even some residents) never take the time to check out the New Territories.  This is Hong Kong in the dead of winter:

Christmas and New Year with blue skies and 70-degree weather?  I'll take it.