Flight to Hong Kong and First Day
We landed in Taipei a bit late and still had plenty of time to get to the next flight — another 747. The Taipei airport looks quite a bit nicer at first, but then we got to an older section where it had obviously seen a lot of traffic before it became non-smoking. I got a nice pic of a sign informing us that the ROC (Republic of China) does not take kindly to drug smugglers. On the last flight, Brian and I both had exit row seating.
This gave us about 5 feet of room between our seat and the one in front, plus a tall spot on the plane where it was easy to stand up. For the two hour puddle jump to HKG, we were in normal seats. I was on the aisle where peoples’ bags kept bumping me, and Brian was in a middle seat. Definitely a step down in comfort, but it’s only about an hour and a half. This is also the first part of the trip that we would be doing in daylight. We’d been traveling more than 24 hours straight by this point. I’d slept about 6 hours and it was 10am when we got to HKG, but I wasn’t tired at all.
Hong Kong airport is very nice. Customs and Immigration was very smooth and professional. The first order of business was to grab some cash. We located an ATM and went to do that. I tried getting $800HKD. But the ATM rejected me and said that I needed to call my bank. I tried again with the same result. Then I tried my MasterCard, but I don’t know the PIN for it. So I went to the currency exchange place with the big MasterCard sign on it. They informed me that they could give me any currency except HKD, but suggested I try another bank of ATMs located on the next floor up. I went to that spot, run by the Bank of China, and waited in line for one of the 4 machines there. When one became available, I walked up to it and noticed a wad of cash, about $5,000HKD! I motioned for the security guard to come over, and he watched over the stack until the ATM pulled it back in. I could have been rich. Instead, I pulled out $1,600HKD of my own money; my card worked after all.
The airport was very nice, but the light rain and subway system is probably even nicer. The trains move silently and quickly and there is a great info display to tell you where you are, where you’re headed, and whate else is ahead. We got to our station, went up to street level, and set out to find our hostel. We found the building, a 15 story condo building where three hostels have several rooms. It is a fairly nice place, with free Internet (only one computer works), and the hardest beds ever (pillows to match).
After we got settled, the first mission was getting some food. Brian had heard of a great dim sum place about a mile away. So we headed out to that, walking through the streets. There were lots of sights, sounds, and smells along the way, some of them good, most of them foul. Jackhammering, sewage, refuse, sawzall, exhaust, smog, etc. There were also some small shrines in doorways where insence had burned and which sometimes had apples or other offerings. Neither of us was quite sure what they are for.
Everything is under construction here. From the sewers to the high rises, the city is breaking its neck to improve. One interesting thing they do here is that they use bamboo as scaffolding. It is reusable, so you’ll see stacks of bamboo at construction sites that have obviously been used sevreal times. That seems pretty smart, and I wonder why there’s not more of that going on in the US. Sounds like an industry waiting to be born.
The dim sum was good, and we got some local river fish that they called “yellow fish”. I’m not sure what it was, but it was very good. It was served with something like a sweet-and-sour salsa, which was also great. We each had a Tsing Tao, which is a German-style lager. Very good and very drinkable. There are plenty of bars here and I’m sure we’ll have more of these. There are actually a disturbing number of Irish pubs and English and American style bars. There are also several strip clubs.
On the way back to the hostel, we looked for some place to get some tea, but there didn’t seem to be any place that served it besides Starbucks and another chain coffee house. I guess that the residents here don’t go out for tea and make it themselves, instead.
When we got back, it was about 4pm, so we decided to take a nap and then go out and see the town at night. I napped for about 3 hours then went to go use the Internet briefly. The hostel-run computer was in use, so I went to a place around the corner. It is noisy with music and game sounds coming from nearly every computer. It is a cacophony of noise here and nobody seems to care that they can’t hear themselves think. After a few minutes of that, I left and just walked around the town at night.
It is really beautiful here, lit up in neon and incandescent colors. Everything moves and the people surge in waves going for groceries, clothes, food, or whatever. There is a park very near our place that has gardens, tennis courts, basketball, swimming, etc. It was great to walk through there. After that, I went back to the hostel and went to bed. Brian and I were both too exhausted to go out.