Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hong Kong - Observations

Well, I'd normally only reserve this blog for those longer trips to random new places, but I've seen so many interesting things since I've been back in Hong Kong these last few days I want to note it down. Twitter might be great for instant updates, but you can't always keep things under 140 characters!

While it's been over two years since I was last here, as soon as I landed I felt that things were still quite familiar, and almost immediately it was like I'd never been away at all - which is probably quite good for someone who hasn't lived locally for nearly twenty years. However, there were still a few things that jumped out at me, particularly this time. So, in no particular order...

Everyone's got a smartphone
Two and a half years ago nearly a quarter of people I saw on public transport had a PSP or DS to amuse themselves with. This time, there's nary a dedicated portable gaming device in sight, everyone was either watching a video or probably playing Angry Birds on their touchscreen smartphones. Mobiles were already practically fused to a Hong Konger's hand right from the get-go, so why have more than one device? Nowhere else is digital convergence into the mobile phone probably as advanced - well, I'm not sure about Japan, but HK is definitely up there.

Matching outfits
I've heard of the strange phenomenon of honeymooning couples dressed in identical matching clothing in Korea, so I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, but I've noticed a lot of couples or friends dressing exactly alike, or in a different colour variation of the same top/shoes/etc. From a NZ point of view this just seems bizarre. I mean, do you have to txt your friend before you go out to say 'Hey, I'm wearing the fluoro green Le Coq sneakers today' and they'll reply 'Cool, I'll wear my fluoro pink ones then'? I guess imitation is just another form of flattery, so it's a win-win? Doubt that this sort of thing will catch on in NZ...

Toilets are clean(er)!
If SARS and the H5N1 avian flu outbreaks can be credited with anything, I guess it would be HK's new-found sense of obsession with cleanliness. From the ubiquitous hand santisier dispensers, to the signs on public building doors saying 'this handle is sanitised 8 times a day', everything seems to have undergone a bit of a scrub-up. Yet HK still hasn't lost its 'grit', so to speak. The best part is, it's now a lot more likely you'll find a clean toilet (!) with toilet paper provided (!!) when you're out and about. After lunch at a pretty old-style noodle shop, I found myself in need of some relief, and was quite dreading what I'd find when I opened the toilet door - but to my delight it was clean, and yes, had toilet paper! Something which would have been  unheard of a few years ago... A caveat for travellers though, definitely still make sure you have a pack of Tempo (or other disposable tissue pack) with you, just in case.

Soap operas are as over-dramatic as ever
Okay, so this isn't something that's changed, but I guess I'm struck by how over-dramatic all the TV series here still are. It's a bit difficult to describe if you haven't just caught one on the telly, but I guess parallels can be drawn to Hindi soaps or Hispanic 'telenovas'. For someone used to watching high production value series from the major US networks, they would find HK soaps have super-exaggerated/generally bad acting, a heavy reliance on the soundtrack to set the mood, cheap props and effects, and an overall sense of shaky, zoom-y cinematography. Of course the budget is tiny compared to most American series, but surely the acting doesn't have to be so over the top? I've been told though that audiences here wouldn't accept anything else, so each to their own I guess!

HK girls are insanely tiny
I'm usually a 10 or a 12 in New Zealand which is considered pretty average I guess, but in HK I'm an XL, or if I'm really lucky, an L. And that's just for big chain stores like Bossini & Giordano where they even make an effort - in some of the trendier shops in Mong Kok there's no way I would even find anything at all in my size! Luckily the fashion trend of with 'free size' baggy tops and leggings still seems to be plodding along, which makes it somewhat easier to find clothes that 'fit', but I still have to be careful about things like clearing the armpit hole.

Ladies Market is a big rip off
This famous street market in Mong Kok used to be a reliable place to pick up cheap shoes, handbags and souvenirs, but by all accounts the advent of mainlander tourists with bottomless wallets who don't bother to bargain has resulted in the shopkeepers taking full advantage, and opening prices at ridiculous levels. Upon asking a handbag price a few days ago I got quoted HK$1000 - what?? How can you charge that much for a fake designer thing? Wouldn't it be better to just buy a real bag from a cheaper brand? Another example - I asked for the price of a pair of black ballet flat shoes, got quoted $79. Two seconds later a Caucasian woman asked about the same pair, got quoted $129! Worst yet, the next day I saw the exact same one in the market in the Li Yuen St Market in Central for only $49. Plus, all the stalls have the same stock anyway... So, my advice? Look, but don't buy at Ladies Market.

I still love the MTR
With the HK subway system, you can get pretty much anywhere really fast, it's clean, reliable, well signposted, and they've even augmented the map boards in each station with photos of major tourist attractions. Plus, the Octopus card makes things run like a well-oiled machine. The only downside is the crowds at rush hour, but that's like pretty much any mode of public transport in HK. Actually, I love HK buses and trams too, but probably love the MTR the most. It would be a complete pipe dream to have something half as efficient in NZ, and I know it's all to do with population density, but I guess one can dream...

That's it for now, I'm sure I'll think of a few more things over the rest of the week!

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