After three flights (one of which we had to ride the lightning and break through a heavy tropical storm), 22 hours of being conscious and several repeat viewings of Monsters University on the inflight entertainment system – we had finally made it to Hong Kong.
Feeling tired, nervous and overly excited, we bounded through one of the most efficient arrivals services I have ever encountered. Clear signage to arrivals gates, heavily manned passport control that ensured a constantly flowing queue and baggage carousels big enough for an entire plane’s worth of passengers to crowd around, without causing obstruction. So far, so good.
We boarded the A21 bus (which was a quarter of the price of the MTR at 33HKD/4.2USD), which we were assured would drop us right outside where we would be spending our first night in Hong Kong. It was the first time I had hopped on a double decker bus since being home so nostalgia was at an all-time high.
This may be slightly hard to explain but I have never truly felt like I was in the Asia I’d pictured as an untraveled kid, until I had seen Chinese writing used as primary form of instruction. While travelling Southeast Asia, the symbols used were just not as aesthetically sharp and cool as Chinese scripture so you can imagine my total awe at the bus pulling in, with destinations written in the way that I had always invisioned.
As the bright neon lights of the big city engulfed us, we found it hard to concentrate on where we had to get off. A nervous grin plastered across our faces and hearts pounding to the beat of the concrete jungle, we had that feeling that one only gets from Asia – the feeling of being lost, but happy you’ll never be found. It’s a rush that cannot be described until you experience it for yourself, most backpackers get it from starting their adventures in Khao San Road, Bangkok…I was experiencing that familiar feeling for the first time since I was one of those aforementioned amateur backpackers, just over a year ago.
As the neon got brighter and the surroundings became seedier, it was becoming blindingly obvious that we were venturing into a shadier part of town. Like Kings Cross in Sydney, Soho in London and De Wallen in Amsterdam, it takes an idiot not to know a red-light district, however, Asian red light areas are generally an exaggerated version of all of the above. The yellow-skinned Asians become scarce and the darker skinned races dominate the sidewalks, namely Indians and Africans. This was to be our home for the night, the search for the notorious Chungking Mansions was about to begin.
For those that don’t know, Chungking Mansions was once Hong Kong’s central hub for all sorts of criminal activity, all housed in one sky-piercing tower block. Imagine the apartment building in 2012’s Dredd, except with a whole lot more Indian guys hawking dodgy SIM cards and Nigerian fellas calling out to every girl who happens to walk past, wearing anything that hitches above the calf.
On approach to the building, we were swarmed by dark-skinned strangers, flogging us anything from suits and shoes to a room for the night that was ‘much better than anything we had already booked’, which as usual is an extremely bold statement to make before knowing where exactly we already have reservations. We were stalked all the way to the elevator by these desperate individuals, which I remember becoming very tired with after a few days in Asia previously, but it was my first day back for almost 9 months, so I embraced it.
Squeezing into the four person capacity elevator with backpacks that almost doubled our width stature, along with a couple of bemused looking residents, we slowly and shakily made our ascent to the 11th floor. With every stop, the doors open to reveal someone desperately trying to push their wares into the already cramped space in order to not have to wait a further five minutes for the elevator to return.
Arriving at Canada Hostel, we are greeted by two Indian guys, one wearing an Argentina football shirt and the other in the standard suit-peddlers getup – a white shirt and plain trousers with flip-flops. After a conversation consisting mostly of smiling through complete misunderstanding of what is being said and just giving the standard nod-then-‘yeah’, we were eventually shown to our room…which was another two elevator rides away!
After frivolous searching for accommodation in Hong Kong the week previous, we were already half-prepared for what to expect from the room we were about to make our humble abode for the night, however, when that door was opened, it still came as a bit of a shock.
It’s hard to imagine what a seven-metre squared room looks like, until you put your bags into it and realise that all floor space is now covered. The bathroom is included in this space and with one person in there, it feels like a full-house. It was remarked that it was the perfect size for multi-tasking – a shit, shower and shave was possible all at once! However, after 22 hours of being awake, it was cosy, it was clean, it was home.
After a few minutes of watching Asian TV – consisting of a couple wearing shell-suits, excitedly digging up lettuces – I decided to take a wander down to the temple of every late-night reveller, the 7-11.
For those of you who have never been to Asia, the 7-11 is the most convenient convenience store in the world. Open 24 hours, the 7-11 sells ice cold beer and spirits like a bar that never closes and sells the sort of snacks that when pissed, are the equivalent of every great meal you’ve ever eaten, pushed into a sandwich, toasted and served from a sealed cardboard container. Run out of shavers? 7-11. Want a Moshi Monsters action figure to give as a peace offering to the kid you puked on last night? 7-11. Need some medically unapproved Viagra to stir up your downstairs? 7-11 (then, probably a hospital!) They are literally the staple of Asian convenience and when you leave this wonderful continent, you wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t have anything quite as spectacular.
On my 45-second trek from door to store, I was offered various drugs, ranging from hashish to heroin. If I were to be doing any ‘H’ on this occasion, it would be Heineken but being in China, I felt it necessary to go Tsingtao – the most popular Chinese beer.
The final step towards complete realisation of being back in Asia was when I put two large bottles of Tsingtao and a large bottle of water on the counter, to be greeted by a final price of 35HKD, which is the equivalent of around 4.50USD – roughly the price of a cup of gas station coffee in Australia.
Sipping on our cheap but delicious beverages and toasting to arriving without the plane crashing, being stabbed by delinquents downstairs or just dropping due to complete exhaustion, we said goodnight to Hong Kong – the beginning of a whole new Asia adventure.