The first thing you notice when walk into the YMCA in Hong Kong is the smell of chlorine. “It really is a YMCA”, I said to the nice American bloke I’d met at the airport who was also staying here.
In the queue at customs he’d asked me where I’d obtained the map of Hong Kong. And then minutes later, we were both wandering around in that “I’m totally lost” daze that tourists often find themselves in. “Are you lost?”, I said to him, while at the same time wondering about his background: American accent but with Eurasian features.
We established quickly we were both headed in the same direction, and thanks to a Chinese woman with an American accent who recognised the confused look on our faces, were given easy directions towards the Y.
The place I’m staying is on the island of Kowloon, just across from the main business district of Hong Kong. And so far, it’s the only part of Hong Kong that I’ve visited. Prior to this, my only knowledge of Hong Kong came from my sister.
She lived in Hong Kong during the late 1960s and early 1970s when her husband was in the army. She actually had two children born here which means, technically speaking, they’re entitled to EU passports. I remember as a child seeing her documentation which at the time listed her as “British”.
She actually hated the place, which I put much of which down to her being a young woman with three kids under 5 a long way from home in a totally different culture to the one in which she’d grown up.
Ever since then I’ve been curious about the place. And then of course there was the handover, and all of that stuff which, as a student of politics, I’ve also found very interesting. Thus, when in planning my trip, I had the chance for a stop-over in Hong Kong, I jumped at the chance.
As you come in from the airport it’s the same Hong Kong that I remember from my sister’s photographs: those tall, very similar apartment blocks. Except now, of course, they’re forty years older and looking a little worse for wear.
But arriving in Kowloon was nothing like I expected. And looking over at the Central District is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Both in the daytime and at night, the city is spectacular. And so much larger than Sydney. I’m sure the CBD is three or four times the size of Sydney’s, so it’s something I’ve found almost incomprehensible.
I spent most of the afternoon wandering around the town taking in the sights. I popped in for a late lunch and enjoyed one of my all-time favourite meals: BBQ Pork with Rice. Tonight I’ve also wandered around some of the food courts to get an idea of how ordinary Hong Kong people eat, as opposed to the Western tourists I’m surrounded by here at the YMCA. Mostly, it’s like the food you find in Chinatown, except here, they all seem to eat dinner watching a soap opera of some kind which was screening on televisions everywhere.
As I walked around I was also constantly approached by men. In fact, I’ve never been approached by so many men in such a short period of time.
“No I don’t want a suit. And I don’t want a watch. And I don’t want to have sex with you”. These are the phrases that have been going through my head over the last few hours since arriving earlier today in Hong Kong. Honestly, I’ve lost count of the number of men (all of them Indian looking) who have come up to me today offering all sorts of things. Don’t they know I’m an Australian at the end of a 10 week European holiday, barely able to afford breakfast, let alone buy a suit?
With the intensity of the heat and the humidity becoming all a little too much, I came back to the Y, for a swim and for a sleep.
Although I normally sleep well on planes, I had a terrible night’s sleep last night. Part of it, of course, had to do with the time zone change. But there was also the nearby baby who was clearly of “teething” age, the man in front of me couldn’t sit still, and the woman next to me who took up more than her fair share of space, despite her dimunitive frame.
Tonight I’m back at the Y (I love saying that) watching a bit of television and trying to reflect on the culture shock I’ve experienced since arriving.