Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hong Kong--my home: 26 days--26 observations

It's been 26 days since we arrived in Hong Kong on my 44th birthday (July 29th). So I have decided to give you 26 observations about my new home city in no particular order, with some pictures thrown in to make it more interesting (here are the Cliff men in downtown HK last week):

1. It's hot and humid here. Actually, temperature-wise, it's not so bad. In the 90s. But the humidity is also in the 90s, which means when you step outside, you drip. I really don't mind so much. I'd rather be hot than cold. I'm told this is the hottest time of year.

2. It's smoggy. (Well, OK, not always as bad as this photo from the peak...)The air quality is pretty horrid. Hong Kong gets all the down wind from mainland China and there are several cities with millions of people that aren't far away.

3. A week before we arrived, there was a level 10 typhoon (Vicente, by name), the worst one in 10 years, that uprooted a great many trees. Apparently this made the air even worse.

4. Hong Kong natives make fun of the mainland Chinese.

5. There are 40+ story buildings everywhere. We are the most vertical city in the world. Because HK is mountainous, land suited to build on is at a premium. 7.1 million people in about 426 sq miles, or about 16,500 per sq mile. As a comparison,  Maine has 41 people per sq mile. Then again, NYC has less land mass and more people, but the people are spread out more evenly. HK has much unused land.

6. Chicken feet are a delicacy.

7. If you ask for water in a "local" restaurant, it will be hot. If you ask for cold water, it will room temperature. If you ask for ice, you will pay...if you get it at all. To all my Southern friends, tea is served at room temp and with no sweetener. Not exactly refreshing.

8. Napkins are not typically provided when you go out to eat. I've learned to keep wet naps in my purse.

9. Cantonese and English are the official languages of HK, but Mandarin and English are required in the schools. Therefore, my sons are learning Mandarin, but most locals do not speak Mandarin.

10. If you do not stand in line (queue up) close enough to touch the person in front of you, someone will cut in front of you. If you need lots of personal space, you won't do well here.

11. There are people everywhere, always. But most everyone is in their own little world. It's like there are protective bubbles around them that keep them from observing what is 6 inches away. Maybe it's a survival mechanism.  Here's a typical MTR station:

12. The population centers in Hong Kong, (somewhat like NYC), are mostly on the mainland and two bigger islands...Hong Kong Island and Lantau (and like NY, the islands are for business and for the rich). We live on the mainland in a district called New Territories. HK also has many more islands, quite a few uninhabited. Flying in over the city at sunset was beautiful:

13. Milk is sold in 1 liter cartons at upwards of US $3. (One of my boys could drink one per meal, if I'd  let them) That's over $12 US a gallon. We have cut down on our milk consumption significantly.

14. People here like to shop. There are malls everywhere. Think your worst Black Friday shopping experience every stores with 18" aisles. I do not like to shop--not fun for me.

15. Public transportation (MTR, trains, taxis, buses and ferries) is very fast, clean, cheap, safe and easy to navigate. Our kids were going off alone within three days of our arrival. There is an MTR station (pictured) right beside our apartment.

16. 95% of residents carry an Octopus card. We all have one. You put $ on and then scan it at all public transportation centers and many stores. It's a great concept. Here's a card and scanner:

17. At 5' 2", I am taller than almost all the women and many of the men. The Cliff men can always make eye contact in a crowd.

18. There are great wet markets. Think: cross between a farmer's market, the back of a butcher shop in summer with no AC and a flea market.  Yes, those are frogs...for consumption. This topic is worthy of an entire post at a later date.

19. When people wear masks, it means they are are sick. You will get a frown and more personal space if you are coughing excessively with no mask. (This practice came about as a result of the big SARS epidemic a few years back).

20. Lawyers can only charge by the hour and they don't get a percentage of the final haul. Clients have to pay up front. These two factors cut down considerably on lawsuits and healthcare costs. The US needs to do this.

21. Healthcare is paid up front, even if you have insurance. You pay, then get reimbursed. But costs are much less. An office visit with labs, x-rays and medicine included might cost $300 HKD...the equivalent of about $30-$40 USD.

22. McDonalds here is cheaper than in the US. A small cone is 37 cents US. A value meal about 3 bucks. It is cheaper for me to eat at Mickey D's than to buy burgers and buns...and esp. ice cream. You can get a green tea (pictured) or red bean sundae (or chocolate) for about 80 cents.

23. HK has many, many parks, copious beaches, and green space galore. It is truly a beautiful city.

24. Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997, when it was handed back to China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). It will remain as such until 2047 (50 years): one country, different laws. Therefore, Hong Kong residents have much more freedom than the mainland Chinese. Many residents have been very upset that their new Bejing-backed leader , CY Leung, has communist ties...and rightly so. I don't like it either.

25. It is bad manners to take your shopping cart back or clean up your table at a fast food place. They really do hire people to do that and you are frowned upon for doing their job. This prompted one of our sons to exclaim loudly in McDonalds, "I LOVE THIS CITY!!" (This will have special meaning to all our GKGW cohorts.)

26. I have so much to learn. I wish it was easier to figure things out, but I guess that's part of the adventure! Here I am at Shui Wah Restaurant: along with chicken feet, pigeon brains are a delicacy also...I left mine as a token of appreciation for our waitress:)