All good things must come to an end. A quick sail over the Cook Straight followed by a catch up with my sister and favourite surrogate mum in Wellington signified that we were on our way home. The end of the South Island trip meant the beginning of frantically organising another voyage, which in total Dave and Em style we had not planned at all. With tickets booked for three weeks away, no plans, and 2 vehicles to sell, things were a tad frantic.
Luckily my lovely little car was well received – within 3 days of putting it on trademe someone offered top dollar so it was gone. Unfortunately the Mighty Bongo was a different story – it required significant effort to get it through its next warrant of fitness, which was expiring in a week or so. Em, her brother Matt, and I applied our handyman skills – bogging, sanding, painting, and tinkering our way to passing it a warrant. It still only attracted the attention of a single bidder and sold for bottom dollar. Moral of the story – we have parted ways with home.
Having sold both vehicles things started to seem real. With most of our time in the few weeks filled with various goodbyes, parties, and internet trawling to organise accomodation in Hong Kong (our stopover for three days), any remaining time was spent stalking all those friends spread throughout the UK.
The Hong Kong stop over was certainly an interesting experience. With neither of us having travelled to non-English speaking countries we knew we were in for a treat. The airport was English speaking so no troubles there, and finding the right bus was surprisingly straight forward as the hotel had emailed us which bus – the A10, and it was at the first bus stop we found. The first real challenge was when we ‘relaxed’ into our seats on the top deck of the double decker bus. As we barreled through the tiny roads I wondered how the bus could stop so instantly, each set of lights I braced – sure we were going to smash the car in front. Somehow we never rolled as the driver threw it round corners, slaloming through concrete barriers. We were on the right bus, but had no idea which was our stop. Luckily the little old lady next to us on the bus spoke pigeon english, so she let us know when we arrived at Aberdeen.
Unfortunately our three star accomodation was in what appeared to be the worst part of Hong Kong. The putrid stench as we got off the bus hit you like a wall, and we never managed to acclimatise to the clammy heat or the smell. Luckily the Bridal Tea House Hotel room was adequate… but certainly not great. The air con worked so we could cool down for the first time in a few hours, and it was at least averagely clean – at least compared to some of my student flats. The shower had a novel drain system: a hole in the wall of our second story room running down onto the roof below. The nice border of mould around the edges really added to the feel of the place, but at least the loo, shower and bedding were clean. After a good nights sleep, it was exploring time.
I found Hong Kong a combination of awful and awesome – the clammy heat, constant sweatiness, overwhelming sense of poverty, and lingering smog and stench meant you are never comfortable. On the other hand the markets, culture, and stunning constructions are mind blowing. The true lack of value of labour and life is instantly apparent, with the first thing blowing both Em and my mind being the unique scaffolding arrangements. Massive sky scrapers are enveloped with bamboo scaffolding held together with string often surrounding them all the way up, over thirty stories tall. I’m sure workers and structures must topple semi-frequently, but to them it doesn’t seem to matter. The combination of modern technology and ancient building strategies was truly astounding. Workers are everywhere; from the four man team containing one guy waterblasting the street and three holding screens around him stopping passers by getting wet, to the elderly barely able to walk, yet still hobbling along picking up the trash off the street and piling it onto their trolleys.
Once we had deciphered the bus system and found our way around we spent our first day exploring the shopping mecca of Kowloon. Most busses don’t specify where they are going, instead they only list the roads which they stop at. The trick was to decide what area to go to, identify the main street, then track down the busses that stop there.
The markets were great, but unfortunately between us we had 26 kg of climbing and camping gear, 13 kg of clothes, and a single kilo of spare luggage space. Kowloon’s various markets were 24/7, go go go. We bought the odd trinkets from a few of the hundreds of stalls, but restrained ourselves as best we could. With 8 story malls and a constant barrage of “You want cheap Rolex?”, Kowloon was certainly a new experience to us. Being white draws attention from every street vendor offering tailored suits and fake watches, and eventually they had worn us down so we thought we’d check one out. Following the next guy that questioned us led us through tiny corridors into a sky scraper and up to a dingy apartment on the seventh floor. After browsing the catalogue we thought we’d pass, as the ‘cheap prices’ were still all from NZ$50 up, and I was starting to get a bit uncomfortable as the pressure selling was increasing. Eventually our ‘no’ got through, and we were escorted out of the building.
Dinner was a challenge, especially because Em’s views of vegetarian are very different to the locals. I’d gone for a conservative stir fry pork while Em had opted for the vegetarian noodle option. It was only part way through she realised her mushrooms were in fact squid, and began to pick around it.
After a massive day of roaming the streets and checking out Kowloon, it was back to the hotel for a good nights sleep before 2 more days checking out the rest of Hong Kong.