Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wandering around the island...checking out views of very tall buildings

April 23, 2010 Friday -- Hong Kong & Kowloon

Today started out bright and sunny. By day’s end it was the typical gray skies so common to the Hong Kong area. We decided to just start walking and see what we found. The signage in this city is good. Didn’t take long for us to find a different MTR (subway) station not too far from our hotel. We didn’t want to backtrack the route we had followed to find the hotel yesterday; let’s see something new. The wall maps at each subway station make it easy to figure out where you might want to go. We opted to take the subway from Kowloon beneath Victoria Harbour to the Central district on “The Rock” (the main island of Hong Kong).

It was a short hike up a steep hill in the heart of shiny bright skyscrapers to the Peak Tram lower station, where we got in line with hundreds of other tourists to ride up that very steep hillside. It is funny that you don’t really notice how very steep it is as long as you look only within your tram car. But a quick look out the window at the tall buildings that appear almost sideways proves just how steep this climb really is! At the tram lower station there are replicas of the original gears used to operate the tram before it was converted to an electric system. Those were some very large gears! The twisted steel cables used today to control the tram are thicker than my wrists. The heat both from the ambient temperature as well as the heat and stress caused by running the tram cars up and down the steep hill cause the thick cables to stretch about a meter each day, which then contract overnight when not being used. (The gears in this photo are replicas of the original gears. They are almost 6-ft in diameter. Nothing like this is used today to power the tram up the steep peak.)

When we reached the top, we both were a bit annoyed to learn they wanted another additional $25 HKD each to go onto the observation deck. It wasn’t the price because that isn’t much money; it was the fact that they don’t include the observation deck in the tram ticket nor is there any sign stating that you will have to pay more when you reach the top. We were so annoyed by this that we refused to pay the additional fee. Instead, we went to the Bubba Gump restaurant one level down from the observation level and enjoyed the views from there. If we were going to have to pay anything additional, we might as well actually get something for the money spent. So we split an appetizer of absolutely delicious fried shrimp and Bill had a beer. This was our early lunch. The walls were clear glass and the views were great on this particular day – which is very unusual according to the guide books. Normally the view is obscured by smog and gray haze. We walked around the peak area quite awhile before taking the tram back down that steep track. It is so steep that passengers are seated backwards to descend the hill.At the bottom we re-traced our path back down the hill and walked over to Statue Park to sit and people watch for awhile; then strolled briefly through the expensive store section of town (Chanel, Versace, Armani, etc.). Hong Kong has a tram system very similar to the cable cars in San Francisco, except these double decker trams don’t go up any steep hills and remain on relatively flat streets. You can ride the tram any distance for a mere $2 HKD (about 26 cents USD). You can get off anywhere on the routes, but must pay $2 HKD each time you alight. We did not know it when we got on the tram, but each tram has the name of the area where it will turn around and head back on the same route. We boarded and were fortunate to be able to find space to get on the upper level. There are 2 tram tracks and the trams pass so close to one another that the passengers could touch hands out the windows if they wanted to.

Our tram ran eastward to the North Point area before it circled and started back westward toward the area near Statue Park. Part of the circling back on the route involved going down this very crowded street. Can't believe that tram actually made it down the middle of this street without hitting anyone or anything, although we did have to wait several minutes for the truck parked on the tram tracks while the driver unloaded deliveries so the street vendors.

We opted to just stay on the tram the entire trip until it returned back to where we originally boarded near the Central MTR station. This almost 2-hour trip cost us a whopping $2 HKD each; whereas, taking the double decker tour bus (with no guide commentary) for almost the same route costs $150 HKD each. The trams are a great inexpensive way to see the city.

Along the route we saw several very familiar brand names..........KFC..........7-Eleven..........even Circle K. This photo shows KFC on the second level and 7-Eleven on the ground level in the same building. Look closely at the photo on the right and you will see the sign for a Circle K. Later, we saw KFC and 7-Eleven all over the place in both Shanghai and Beijing. KFC has done a much better job of international placing than McDonald's. Although the products sold in these Asian KFC stores are not the same items sold in the USA. They feature a lot more noodle dishes with chicken and tend to have more vegetables. The McDonald's we saw in Hong Kong and Kowloon also sold noodle dishes for breakfast, topped with an egg and a piece of sausage. We ate breakfast in a McDonald's and found that the sausage is the real McDonald's sausage, not the disgusting junk they serve as sausage in McDonald's in New Zealand and in Australia.

And, believe it or not, some things don't change regardless of where you are in the world. The evangelists must be here in Hong Kong too, as evidenced by the ever popular sign stating that "Jesus is Lord." According to what I read, the population in this part of the world is still 90% Buddhist, but evangelists might be making some headway considering they have been trying to bring Christianity to Asia for about 500 years; first the Catholics and now the Protestants.

By the way, this particular 'corner' in Hong Kong reminds me very much of the well-known triangular block 'corner' in New York, the name of which escapes me at the moment. I believe it is in the SoHo district of NYC.

Buildings in Hong Kong rival those of any big city. My favorite was the Lippo building because it looked kind of like a leggo high-rise building.

We thought about taking the subway back out to Lantau Island and do the cable cars to the Big Buddha, but it was beginning to get dreary gray again and the wind was already beginning to pick back up. So we opted to take the ferry across Victoria Harbour back to Kowloon. This turned out to have been a wise choice. While on the ferry I deciphered the map and discovered that the ferry to Macau docks at a different area than what I had seen on the internet. So we decided to walk to the Macau ferry dock and check it out. We learned that the Macau ferry leaves from the China Mainland dock/building. The ticket counter clerk strongly advised that we buy tickets in advance – another difference than what I had read on the internet. We bought tickets for deluxe seating on the ferry from Kowloon to Macau for May 5 at 1700. We should arrive May 5 around 1430 at a not-too-distant station on the train from Beijing. Glad to have scoped out exactly where we will need to go and to have tickets already in hand.

By the time we returned to the hotel we were both beat. Didn’t seem like we had done much all day, but Bill figured we had walked at least 10 miles. Our feet sure felt like it! Relaxed in the room with Diet Coke and beer, and then headed out again to Bute Street area for more walking. People watching in the crowded streets is so entertaining. Grabbed an early dinner; stopped at a bakery for breakfast rolls and some snacks for the train trip Saturday night; then back for an early night. We had planned to go back to the Kowloon waterfront area and watch the light show on the Hong Kong skyscrapers tonight, but we were too tired. Heck, we’ve seen enough photos of it already…..and we have seen light shows on the Houston buildings at home so this is not a novelty for us.

Our internet time was up. Internet access costs $120 HKD per 24-hour period at each of the providers we have investigated. Tomorrow morning we probably will buy a single hour just so we can check email (and upload this posting) before heading to Shanghai. We will check out the Tsim Sha Tsui (called TST) area of Kowloon and also the TST East area before boarding the overnight train to Shanghai around 1500. Frankly, I can't see where the TST area can be any more interesting than the Bute Street area where we have walked so much the past 2 days.

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