Yesterday was another day of revisiting places of past significance. We took a double-decker bus over the mountain to the South Side of Hong Kong Island. First stop was Repulse Bay, a built-up enclave of pricey apartments for the well-to-do in Hong Kong and some of the expat community. My parents lived here for 12 years, from the late 1980s until the time of the Hong Kong handover to China in 1997. Their townhouse complex was still there, but it was surrounded by new developments and tall building. Hong Kong continually reinvents itself.
Next stop was Stanley Market, which used to be the home for knock-off brands, seconds, overruns and things that “fell off the back of the truck”. The market has gone upscale, but some of the stores had not changed and there will still bargains. We were surprised to see a Kazakhstan rugby shirt (our son was born in Kazakhstan), but Tim and A.J. ultimately opted to buy Zimbabwe and South African jerseys, respectively.
Following our shopping foray (which, darn, added three pounds to the weight of Tim’s bag), we met our old friend, Karen, who I first got to know 20 years ago when we were both new to Hong Kong. We knew a couple of other Jenns at the time and together we were known as “three Jenns and a Karen”! She married a Cathay Pilot and they have made their home in Hong Kong for the past two decades.
We spend a fantastic afternoon with Karen and her sons and another family (also old friends from way back), Alex and Nancy and their children. We reminisced about the old days, the small apartments we used to live in, the party scene, junk trips, mutual friends, favorite bars and so on. We got to hear about family life in Hong Kong and the current environment. Benefits include living in a safe, exciting city and having inexpensive live-in help (that can handle children care, house cleaning, errands and sometimes cooking). On the downside, schools are pricey and had to get into and rents are extremely expensive. Their weekends, like ours, are usually filled with kids’ sports. We spent a relaxing evening at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club where we had wine on the beach. Thank you, Karen and Nancy, for dinner and a great evening!
Here are some other random thoughts and observations about Hong Kong:
1. Everyone is in a hurry all the time.
2. Everyone has a smartphone (often bigger than the common iphones from back home) and they are often on it or listening to it.
3. Neon and billboards are alive and well. This is one of the most commercial places imaginable.
4. High-end luxury shopping is dominates the urban areas. There are crowded malls on top many of the subway stations with every designer imaginable represented. There are also people selling copy handbags and knock-off watches for those that don’t need or can’t afford the real thing.
5. In the downtown areas, 7-Elevens are on nearly every street. Sometimes you are stand in the doorway of one and see the next one around the corner! They are small stores, some about the size of a master closet.
7. The ladies are usually fashionably dressed. We are usually the most casually dressed people everywhere that we go.
8. The pollution is terrible. We have not had a clear day yet. Apparently this is a seasonal problem and at this time of year, the winds blown in the bad air from China.
9. Dogs are a new status symbol. We’ve seen fancy corgis in sweaters and highly groomed poodles in dresses.
10. We haven’t seen many stray dogs or cats. We’ve seen a few free-roaming animals on the outer islands, some with collars but no apparent owner is sight. All looked healthy and well-fed.
11. Hong Kong is cleaner that it used to be. Recycling containers are available and cute reusable bags abound.
12. It’s not uncommon to see people wear surgical masks over their faces to avoid spreading germs. Apparently if you’ve got a cold or cough, it’s expected that you will wear one in the office (this has been the case since the SARS epidemic in 2003).
13. The public transportation is excellent and efficient. The ferry is about 30 cents, subways rides just a dollar or two, and trains come every couple minutes!
14. Real estate here is among the most expensive in the world. Prices for small apartments start in the millions!
15. Public bathrooms have a mix of sitting and squatting toilets.
16. Ivory is still in fashion, sadly. All I can think of are the slaughter elephants (Africa is our last stop, so we’re seeing the ivory trade from both sides).
17. The Hong Kong locals don’t like all the mainland Chinese tourists with their uncouth ways and bad-manners. We heard a story about such tourists taking off their shoes and picking their feet at a five star restaurant.
18. It’s a mix of old and new. Always interesting.
19. Luxury cars abound. In four days, we saw the following cars: Porsches, Rolls Royce, Audi R8, Lamborghini and MacLaren, among others.
20. What will it be like in another ten years? See you again in 2023!
On to our next stop…. “One Night in Bangkok” before heading to the newly opened country of Burma.