As I walked through the Hong Kong Garden, a t-shirt caught my eye. It said, “Gettysburg College.” You don’t see many of those in the States, let alone in Southeast Asia. So, I had to stop its’ owner and say hello. You see, my late father went to Gettysburg. The owner of the shirt, it turned out, is the General Manager at the nearby J.W. Marriott, Mark Conklin. His daughters went to Gettysburg. The J.W. is the high-end hotel across the street from where I’m (ahem) staying.
Mark was kind enough to invite me for a drink upstairs in the Executive Lounge of his hotel. He told me one of the reasons for his hotel’s success is its ability to attract great people. Why? Because, unlike most of the rest of Southeast Asia, Marriott offers a 5-day workweek.
In any event, today I made it up to The Peak, which is the highest point (I think) on Hong Kong Island. The view was impressive. The ride up even more so. Based on my rough calculations seeing the queue (apparently they don’t have lines for things overseas), The Peak Tram carries approximately 10,000 people per day up to the top. It’s a very popular funicular first constructed in 1888. The grade varies between 4 degrees (basically flat) and 27 degrees (you’re basically lying down on the person behind you).
I was fortunate enough to be seated near an Australian family who all cheerfully said good morning to me. So I said, “Hello.” Mr. Australia — the lanky father — guffawed, “I can tell where YOU’RE from. Ha ha ha!” His daughter then turned to her mother and asked, “Mom, can I have some of your painkillers?” I didn’t hear whether her wish was granted because the tram turned a corner and I was on the other side of the car.
It’s no wonder everything is packed in here. There are 7 million people in the 425 square miles of Hong Kong. That’s about the size of Caswell County, NC (or a bit smaller than New York City, but with only about 3/4 of the land undeveloped). If you’d like to move in, you can grab a place but you’d better have a few bucks. A 1,000 square foot apartment will run you about US$25,000 per month. If that’s too much and you qualify for public housing, you can get a 100 square foot apartment for about US$250 per month.
I also took a ride on a Sampan where I was lucky enough to see two exciting things. First, some fisherman were tossing freshly caught octopus into their boat, and second, Jackie Chan’s yacht happened to be in port. It was a big day in the harbor!
There was also this group of men from Laos on the Sampan with me. They kept jumping to the front of the rickety boat, initiating a “thumbs up” signal, and shouting “PHOTO! PHOTO!” to one another. Every time they did it, I braced for a swim. Turns out, I should have had more faith in the 92-year-old Sampan Captain.
It’s good we didn’t take a dip because I can’t afford any more clothes other than the suit I bought. The Hong Kong Dollar is much stronger than our own (HK$1 = US$0.13). Stepping into a cab costs US$15. It’s difficult to eat for less than US$60. I think they probably charge me US$10 to leave my room. I now know how people in Alaska and Hawaii feel when they see “prices may be higher in AK and HI” on Wendy’s commercials.
Forgive me, dear readers. But in order to save some money, I had dinner at a cheap Irish Pub. I think you will tolerate the decision after hearing about my one-table-over neighbors: A pair of large fifty-something British men comparing stories about prostitutes. Yes, I was also shocked. And, although I left before their contest was complete, I think the one with the larger beer belly (a belly about the same size as all of me) won. He told a tale of accidentally picking up a transvestite in Barcelona. In retrospect, he decided that kicking her out of his hotel room was a mistake. “Woulda made a grate storay, uh? She ‘ad all de pahts.” The other agreed and said, “I’m surprised that ‘asn’t ‘appened to me yet.” They were waiting on their wives.