|Shoe Shop Sign in Cheung Chau
Someone described Hong Kong to us as “New York on steroids”. I can’t improve on that—it fits perfectly.
In true Hong Kong fashion the cruise ship terminal is also a high-end mall, with every major designer and luxury brand represented. That’s Hong Kong: Take any unused flat surface and open a mall on it. Shopping seems to be the national pastime. Any store worth its salt has a line out front, with well-heeled Chinese twenty-something’s waiting behind velvet ropes itching to spend their share of the spoils of capitalism. Cartier, Gucci, Prada and Tiffany all have long lines to get in.
|George atop Victoria Peak
We are not big shoppers, and the prices and selection did not seem to be better than in New York. The difference is that luxury stores in Hong Kong are like Starbucks back home—they are everywhere. You can walk down a block and pass three different Coach Stores, and they are all busy. The street has a few hawkers, but they are not intrusive. Mostly they are selling knock off watches and offering custom tailoring services.
One of the ships offerings was a half-day city tour which we decided to take. We wanted to get a general overview before venturing out on our own. It left at 8:30 and, once we met our tour guide, we knew we made the right decision. She was smart, informative, and very funny.
First stop was a tram ride up to the top of Victoria Peak. It was foggy and chilly, but taking the train to the top was fun. The view was spectacular despite the fog. Of course there are two malls at the peak, which we only went into to use the restroom.
Our next experience was a short ride on a sampan. Our driver had decorated her boat with streamers and Chinese lanterns. She did not speak a word of English, but did a great job of entertaining us on our short ride. She took us around the harbor for a close-up look at life on the water. There were house boats and trawling boats, laden with fishing nets, tied together. In the middle of all this was a huge floating restaurant. The harbor was jam-packed; it was amazing that she could find room to maneuver the sampan at all.
We re-boarded the bus to visit a jewelry factory. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen jewelry being made, but you really don’t need to. It would be more interesting to listen to a tape-recording of a life insurance salesman reading an air conditioning manual in a language he never studied. We get it: you spend hours polishing and it takes forever and blah blah blah. After an eternity, we exited the small factory into an enormous gift shop. What are the odds?
Vincent, a young Chinese man with bad teeth and great command of the English language seemed determined to sell us something and, to my surprise, he succeeded! I rarely buy jewelry, but the prices seemed reasonable and I had confidence that I wouldn’t get ripped off on a Seabourn-organized tour.
Our final stop was Stanley Market, which was a small indoor/outdoor market—a series of tiny stalls, like a flea-market but permanent. We didn’t buy anything, although the market was charming and we enjoyed ourselves.
That night the ship had an event for the World Cruisers—dinner in a restaurant with a view of Hong Kong’s nightly light show. We had heard about the harbor light show and we were disappointed once we saw it. It’s called “A Symphony of Lights” and had been billed as a spectacular show from 40 buildings using colored lights, laser beams and search lights. We were at a 10th Floor restaurant, just behind the opera house, with a perfect view. It was, in a word, underwhelming. To quote Tallulah Bankhead, “there’s less to this than meets the eye”. Some of the buildings had some neon which had some pretty patterns, but mostly there were just a few green lasers that would flash around a bit. The captain, whose table we were at, said that, a few years ago, they had a nightly fireworks display that was spectacular. They should consider returning to that format, or just cancel the whole thing altogether. It was disappointing.
The ship had also hired a calligrapher and a Chinese fortune teller for the event. The calligrapher had trouble understanding my name, then adorned a piece of paper with a few black brushstrokes and impressively stamped it with red ink. I asked what it said. “Ka-o” was the reply, my name phonetically. When I asked what it meant he said that it didn’t mean anything. Hmmm. At least in Japanese my name means either “Frog” or “To Return Home”. He could have at least made something up. Which leads me to the fortune teller.
I’ve never had my fortune read and was curious. He had a list of five categories to choose from, and you could pick only two. I chose Wealth and Health. He said I’d be comfortable during my life but never rich, and I’ll never win any money so I shouldn’t try. He said that I have at least two properties, which wasn’t too wild of a guess as every single person on this boat has at least that. As for Health, he said I’ll have some problems with my feet and live to 85. Really? This is the best you can do?
He told Adrian, who is 93, that he would live 10 more years, and Adrian said “If I give you twenty bucks, can I live ten more?” He also told Tom, who is almost 99 ½, that he would live another 10 years. Comparing notes back on board, we discovered that if you are older you have 10 years to go, but if you are younger you go to your glorious reward at exactly 85.
The next day we decided to get out of Hong Kong and take a 45 minute ferry ride to Cheung Chau, a tiny island which, roughly translated, means Long Island. It is a popular day-trip for the locals in the summer, as it has a nice beach, but mostly it is a working fishing village. Most of the fishermen live on their boats. There is a lively market where they sell their daily catch, and everywhere you look there are fish drying on huge racks.
There are no cars on Cheung Chau, most people get around on foot or bicycle. Some businesses have small carts with very loud engines, but, for the most part, it’s pretty quiet. Life centers around the harbor, and there are two shopping streets just beyond the harbor. All of the shops were very small, selling a smattering of everything. The predominant item was dried fish.
We came upon a very small tea salon, only two tables, and the proprietress was hanging out of the store’s window, speaking to boy. Not many people here speak English, so I was surprised that I understood her, but then I realized she was speaking Japanese. She also, mercifully, spoke English, and was so happy to speak with us in either language that we spent about 20 minutes with her.
Getting hungry, we headed toward the harbor to find a place to eat lunch. One restaurant seemed to be popular with the local fishermen, so that is where we sat down. They immediately gave us a menu in English, which was great except they didn’t understand English, so when George ordered shrimp they gave him chicken anyway. I had delicious fried squid.
Next to us was a table of about seven fishermen, and they acknowledged us when we sat down with toothless grins and a nod of the head. They were eating huge bowls of steaming fish, each about the size of a Snickers Bar. They would pick up a whole fish with chopsticks, first peeling off once side with their teeth and eating it, then repeating the process on the other side, before finishing it off by popping the head in their mouths. The only thing left would be a perfect fish skeleton, like in a cartoon, which they would feed to the Black Lab who was always attuned to who would be next to toss him some bones.
At one point a friend of theirs came by and dropped of a plastic bag full of shrimp, still jumping around inside. One of the men signaled to the waitress who brought them inside a shortly returned with a steaming bowl of the freshest shrimp you could hope for. It looked and smelled delicious.
We returned to Hong Kong and spent some time wandering around and staring wide-eyed at the endless luxury stores once again. Realizing we were spent, we boarded the Seabourn Sojourn, pretty much worn out. As we were getting ready for dinner, the ship pulled out and for the next two hours we sailed past more and more of Hong Kong and mainland China.
Our next stop is Vietnam. St. Patrick’s Day in Halong Bay–do you think there’s a parade, corned beef, cabbage, and green beer? I hope not.