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Welcome to Hong Kong

We awoke a little after 7:00 am, in the grungy confines of our room at the Hotel Central in Macau.

We quickly packed our things, piled them in one corner of the room, and walked out the door to find an overcast, quiet morning.

We strolled quickly around the corner to a certain pudding restaurant that we had seen the day before . Forgetting that we weren’t in China, we ordered a healthy selection of puddings, which turned out to be nearly $5.00 apiece. Blissfully unaware of the mighty expensive nature of our breakfast, we chased them down with a couple of very milky and none too caffeinated cups of coffee.

From there, we headed out, strolling in search of more coffee and information about hydrofoil rides to Hong Kong. We would need to reach Hong Kong in time to meet with a certain woman by the name of Rose. She had in her possession the key to an apartment where we would be spending the next week.

You see, dear reader, my mother was on her way to visit AsiaWheeling in the field, if you might condescend enough to consider Hong Kong “the field.” So Scott, my mother, my mother’s partner John, and I would be living in an apartment, as we took a brief pause from the trip in order to recuperate, eat non-local foods, purchase nonsense, and generally behave in an un-AsiaWheeling-esque fashion.

So with stomachs full of pudding, we climbed on the cycles, bidding a none too soon farewell to the Hotel Central. Fully loaded and bounding over the cobblestones, we pedaled off toward the ferry terminal. A slight mist began to fall as we rode, but not so intense as to greatly hamper our progress. We rode away from the casino district, along tree-lined streets, past churches, and brutalist housing projects.

There was a decidedly European feel to this new part of the city, and the farther we got from the casinos, the stronger it was. There were lines of expensive, clean, European cars parked along the side of the street, under the shade of old overhanging trees. Men and women walked their dogs and engaged in your stereotypical western Sunday morning newspaper-reading and coffee-drinking traditions. Moss-covered churches and bronze statues of men in feathered hats seemed to dot every corner.

It was Sunday, which was in this city the typical day of rest for domestic help. This meant that a great many off duty servants were also walking the streets, shopping, or carrying large picnic baskets. Many of the domestic servants in Macau and Hong Kong are from Indonesia or the Philippines, and so we would from time to time smell the delightfully telltale Indonesian clove cigarettes as we rode by parks or ethnic grocery stores.

We exited the mossy residential neighborhood and could see the ferry terminal straight ahead. In order to get there, we needed to wheel briefly against traffic. This was unusual for Macau, I guess, for despite my lack of proximity to any of the oncoming traffic, the maneuver produced a fair bit of horn honking. The terminal was quite large, and made of concrete, glass, and turquoise painted metal. Inside, we were able to buy tickets quite easily from an automated machine, though when we attempted to board we were told that additional bicycle passes were required.

Our boat was leaving in just a few moments, so it was with haste that we rushed around the station trying to find the proper place to purchase such a pass. In our hurry, we almost checked the bikes into the extended storage room, rather than onto the boat, but after a bit of sweating and running in circles, each bike was tagged with a long receipt stapled like prize ribbon onto the handlebar post, and we were admitted to a new waiting room. One of the walls of this waiting room was a giant floor-to-ceiling window, which give us a view of the rain outside.

The sea was choppy and gray. Underneath us, a rather large red hydrofoil bounced empty on the water. Soon, a buzzer indicated that it was time to board, and we joined the jostling crowd as it headed down a long gangway and onto a kind of tugboat that served as an extension of the gangway, and from this onto the hydrofoil itself.

Not many people had brought luggage large enough to require the extra tag along with them, so we had the entire forward luggage space to ourselves. This was good, for it seemed two unfolded Speed TRs and both of our packs pretty much filled it.

The ride was quick and startlingly smooth for the choppy sea. We whiled away our time reading about the history of the hydrofoil on the WikiReader, and soon arrived in Hong Kong. We were, of course, by this point starving. A man can go only so far on pudding alone.

So as we hoisted our cycles onto the many flights of escalators that were required to get up to street level, we began taking stock of our available time and constructing a plan. Before we could call Rose, we needed a SIM card, and before that we needed to eat.

To my great surprise, the street level side of the Hong Kong ferry terminal was not a large station (as one might expect for a giant passenger service), but a huge multistory shopping mall. We began walking our bikes around the mall in search of food. The wheels were wet with seawater and rain, so they made a fair bit of squeaking as we traversed the waxed tile floor, drawing all the more attention to what strange beasts we were here in the Hong Kong ferry terminal mall complex.

We finally settled on a Japanese Ramen restaurant. The workers there were kind enough to allow us to store our cycles near the computer terminal they used to manage seating and orders. We sat down and ordered the two largest bowls of Ramen we could find on the menu. Each bowl was nearly $8.00, more than we had spent on 10 bowls of noodles in China.

I waited hungrily while Scott headed off in search of an ATM. He came back laden with plenty of crisp fresh Hong Kong dollars, and shortly after that our noodles arrived. The Ramen was pretty good, not quite as good as Tan Tan Men, our favorite place in Bangkok, but very good. And even as I write now, I find my mouth watering a fair bit over a certain kind of fried gooey tofu they served in the bowl.

SIM cards were easy to find at the 7-11, though not cheap. The Chinese obsession with lucky numbers was alive and well here, and as we had noticed in the advertisements in the mall, most prices were rounded to the nearest figure that contained many eights. The SIM cards were 88 HKD, which was, by the pricing of the trip up until this point, highway robbery, but connectivity was important, so we purchased a couple.

Rose answered after only one ring. She had obviously been expecting us. She spoke very good English, and explained that she had spoken with my mother and knew all about AsiaWheeling. Her son, she explained, was an avid cyclist himself, and on the phone she offered his services as a cycling guide. We thanked her heartily, and she explained to us that it would be very easy to find the apartment. It was essentially a straight shot from the station. Between her directions and Scott’s mental map of the city (he had spent a semester studying at Hong Kong University), we too felt confident we could complete the ride in half an hour or so.  We started the wheel by the Shun Tak ferry terminal in Sheung Wan, where Scott was able to snap this single photograph during the hectic and high-speed ride down Hong Kong Island’s main thoroughfare.

Woefully wrong we were. We ended up riding for quite some time, through gently sprinkling rain, taking turn after wrong turn. In the end, we must have circumnavigated Rose’s apartment some three or four times. Apart from the fact that we were making Rose wait, the ride was quite enjoyable. Hong Kong is a very interesting city to wheel through. It is one of the least cycle friendly cities that we had encountered so far on the trip. There were no bike lanes or shoulders to be found anywhere. The traffic speed was high, and city streets organically turned into highways and back into city streets with such frequency that it was generally impossible to avoid riding from time to time on highways. The system of one-way roads, and the sidewalks that were positively clogged with umbrella wielding pedestrians forced us time and again to be siphoned off our route in one direction or another.

Eventually, however, we found our way to Rose’s door. To be honest, we actually rode past it, and pulled an Uber-Lichtenstein when we heard Rose calling out to us. As we pulled up, we discovered the situation to be even more embarrassing than we had feared. It was not only Rose that we had kept waiting, but her whole family. Rose, a strong confident, Hong Kong-ese woman strode forward and stuck out her hand, introducing us to her family.

We folded up the Speed TRs, and managed to squeeze all five of us into the lift. It was a tight squeeze, and we were all too aware of our drowned rat-esque scent. After we had risen to the 11th floor, we climbed off the elevator, removed our shoes and entered the apartment.

It was like heaven. Cooled by multiple air conditioners, clean as a whistle, and sporting a truly fantastic view of the harbor and the city. We placed our cycles outside on the sizable balcony, and Rose explained to us how to connect to the lightning fast Internet. It was splendid, like a breath of fresh air. We were getting Megabytes per second down, and hundreds of kilobytes per second up. Amazing.

We hung around chatting about cycling and Hong Kong for a while, before Rose left us to our own devices.

Hong Kong. The perennial half way point of AsiaWheeling. We’d made it. It was time to take a deep breath before plunging into the middle east.


Comments

  1. Mark/Dad | September 9th, 2010 | 10:00 am

    The gum on the lamp post made me think of the gum wall of Seattle:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_Wall

    How did you have the good fortune to connect with Rose?

  2. Woody | September 9th, 2010 | 12:48 pm

    @ Mark/Dad

    My Mom found the fellow through the interwebs…

    The gum wall of Seattle is amazing.

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