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I’ve just recently arrived in Hong Kong for the first time. It’s not at all what I’d expected from all of the HK movies I’ve seen, or even from what my friends have told me.

The Airport

The airport in Hong Kong was fantastic. It was very clean and new-looking. I found the immigration and security processes quicker and freer of hassle than those when I visited LA International Airport last year, and there was a lot of help for a newly arrived foreigner such as myself. The tourist information desk was great. Not only were they familiar with the hostel where I planned to stay, but they were able to give me directions to get there cheaply by bus instead of taking another train. A++!

Transportation

Actually, I found the public transportation very much the same as it is in Taiwan. There’s an MRT, but they call it an MTR. There’s an Easy Card (悠遊卡) for the subway and buses, but in Hong Kong, it’s called an Octopus Card (八達通). As in Taiwan, the card can also be used at convenience stores. In short, the transportation is excellent albeit a bit pricier than in Taiwan.

Prices

I didn’t find prices anywhere near as bad as I’d been lead to expect. From what people had told me, I’d had the impression that everything in HK would cost huge sums of money and I’d burn through my entire savings in a single week. The reality was much more mundane. The subway, buses and taxis were all a bit more expensive than Taiwan, but by less than a factor of two.

Food was the same for local stuff, cheaper for Chinese food of varieties hard to find in Taiwan, the same for fast food and ridiculously expensive in western style restaurants and pubs. 7-11 seemed about the same, but had more expensive options (e.g. Starbucks coffee for sale right next to the Mr. Brown). Beer in HK was cheaper.

Housing was definitely a bit more, but it was hard for me to judge since I was staying in a youth hostel. I paid about $150HKD (~$19US) for a small room and my own small bathroom. That in Kowloon, but less than a 5 minute walk from the subway.

All in all, I’d say that HK is a bit more expensive than Taipei, but you could spend far more if you love western-style pubs.

English and Mandarin

Unlike what I’d been told, most people in Hong Kong actually speak pretty bad English. There are more westerners there than in Taiwan, but of the locals I’d say that less than one in fifty really spoke good English. The travel agent’s English was far worse than that of those in Taiwan in areas with similar numbers of foreigners. The clerks at a lot of western stores and restaurants knew the English they needed to sell their specific wares or food, but it wasn’t universal and that was usually about it. On the whole, I’d say a higher percentage of people in HK are capable of the bare-minimum levels of English than in Taiwan, but it’s certainly not like you won’t be isolated from the society if you’re a mono-lingual English speaker.

Mandarin on the other hand, is pretty widespread. About three quarters or so of the people I met in HK spoke much better Mandarin than English. It was still heavily accented, and mixing in Cantonese words here and there wasn’t uncommon, but communication wasn’t a big problem for short conversations. I even met some westerners there who studied Mandarin, but not Cantonese! I’m not sure I’d have made that choice though. Cantonese is clearly the language of the land.

Haggling!

I was kind of surprised to find that haggling is so common in such a rich, well developed territory! I bought some hair clippers at a pretty nice looking electronics store. Originally, after seeing the price of $285HKD, I decided to wait until getting to Guangzhou to buy them. I told the clerk I’d have to think about it and started heading for the door. At that point, he chased me down and said I could buy them for $250. My movement towards the door hadn’t even been a negotiating tactic, but I guess he took it as one. I’d never ever try bargaining at that sort of store in TW, but after realizing the price was negotiable, I came back with a lower offer and the game was on!

Annoying Salespeople

On my way home to my hostel, a charming Indian man came walking up to me with a gigantic face-splitting smile. “This shahrt!”, pointing to his admittedly slick-looking button-up dress shirt. I was a little shocked and didn’t react. “These trousahs! I can make a suit for you!”, he continued with the same grin.

I pointed to my shorts and T-shirt and said, “I’m not a suit guy!”

“Come on! Just let me show you something…”, he continued. I have to say the salesman exuded charm and somehow made a tailor’s shop sound like the most exciting, wonderful place in the world. I smiled to myself and continued on walking. It wasn’t so easy to continue smiling after the third or fourth Indian guy stepped out in my path with the same offer, after a differently accented guy tried to get me to buy a watch, or especially after the streets filled with self-promotional prostitutes.

I don’t remember where I read it, but I once read an English writer who claimed that the fastest, simplest measure of the civility of a place was whether you had to hail a taxi or if the taxi drivers all hailed you. Hong Kong doesn’t do well by that measure.

For Mandarin speakers, 尖沙咀 is a terrible name!

I was staying near the Tsim Sha Chui (尖沙咀) MTR station. As an aside doesn’t that name look terrible to a Mandarin speaker!!? 尖沙 is pronounced jiānshā, which is 姦殺 or “rape and murder”. I don’t know what’s going on at that station, but it sure sounds bad!

World Cup Madness

What a difference from Taiwan! There probably aren’t many places more crowded and less conducive playing a game that requires lots of space and well-conditioned runners, but these guys love it here! I was in a huge mall called iSquare in the 尖沙咀 area, and they had a big screen up for people to watch for free and it looked like about a thousand people were crowded in the area watching a game! I could hear their moans of agony on missed goals from the street outside!

Aggressive, but friendly people

I’ve definitely seen more aggressiveness in general in Hong Kong than I’m accustomed to, but people were still pretty friendly. It may be a by-product of not working, but I found it surprisingly easy to meet people. I liked HK, except for the harassment from salespeople and I’m sure I’ll come back in the future.

If only I had a real kitchen, I’d definitely try this.

So, I had a vision a couple of months ago. It took my by surprise, and many of my family and friends told me it couldn’t be done. But I don’t believe in impossibility.

“What was my vision?” you ask. A pizza with the depth and character of a lasagna. A lasagna that you could pick up with your hand and eat like a pizza. A match made in heaven? Perhaps.

After letting the idea percolate for a couple of months I finally hashed out a solid design.

The Bushman’s Blogtoberfest meet-up was pretty fun. The food was great, we did some singing and stayed after the meal chatting for hours. Quite a few people from last week’s meet-up were back, and a few others, too.

It took an hour and a half to get to Hukou, but it was more than worth it to see everyone.

Things have been busier than ever at work. I had to meet a new student at 2:00 to help her with a homework assignment that she didn’t understand how to do. From then on, it I was pretty much constantly dealing with parents of students who were originally at Ding’s before the buyout. Some of them are understandably feeling uncomfortable with the school changing management. From their perspective, they paid tuition in advance and then the owners suddenly decided to sell the school. I’ve been doing what I can to make sure that their kids’ classes aren’t affected too much by that, but beyond that it just takes some face time to give them reassurance.
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One of the weirdest things I found myself enjoying on my trip back to the states was Taco Bell. I’ve never liked their food. I still don’t. But it reminds me of high school.

Taco Bell: the good life

at Taco Bell

Too bad Jason wasn’t there, too.

Last night was awesome. One of the dorm buildings in Dartmouth had an Iron Chef competition, and I was selected as a judge! The required ingredient was peanut butter. The chefs were broken up into teams by floor, and they each made a main dish, a side, and a dessert. All of them were good.

I also got to meet Sonia‘s friends Dawn and her suitemate, Kim. Both were very cool in their ways. It was pretty fun hanging out with everyone, and I hope I can get the pictures of their food from them to put up here.

I’ve been living abroad for a while, and it’s given me a slightly different view of stuff at home than I’d have if I’d stayed. On my way to Boston I had to stop at a gas station. A couple of things leaped out at me. The first was the price of gas. I remember it was hovering around a dollar a gallon when I left, and but now it’s over three.

The other thing was the sheer size of the drinks. The first thing they made me think of was the movie Idiocracy, but I’m not sure if they were this big even in the dystopian future depicted in that movie. I’m used to the large size being 22oz or something like that. Even drinking the second biggest size drink I saw at the gas station left me feeling like I’d just put my pancreas through a strainer. I mean… who drinks half a gallon of soda in one serving? Seriously…

Idiocracy sized drinks

Update: This video is only vaguely related, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to post it.

Mark S. made a great find over at pinyin.info:

Imagine some white guys in a fairly large U.S. city open a restaurant named “Mr. Taiwan Slant-Eyes Asian Cuisine.” And imagine that this restaurant specializes in distinctly Americanized dishes such as egg foo yong, fortune cookies, and California wraps. Now imagine the response. Isn’t this fun?

OK, now imagine a different situation: In Taiwan’s fifth-largest city some locals open a place specializing in Taiwanized Western food and dub their restaurant “Miss UK Cafe Pointy-Nose Foreign Food.”

As you’ve probably guessed, the second scenario is real. The “Miss UK Cafe ㄚ度仔 異國美食” (Miss UK Cafe a-tok-a yìguó měishí) recently opened not far from my apartment in Banqiao.

Asia really isn’t the place for people who are thin skinned about racial sensitivities.

Related Post: No Debit Card for Round-eye


from google images

According to research coming from 华东师范大学, pumpkins may be powerful diabetes fighters. Yraaarrrgh!

Happy Halloween.

Yesterday was 中秋節, one of the three major Chinese holidays. Just like the other major Chinese holidays, the main focus is eating. This one is particularly good, since you’re supposed to barbecue. It’s kind of like the 4th of July in the US, except that you get to barbecue anytime you want, all weekend!

On Saturday, I had a little “warm-up BBQ”, on Sunday I ate with two of my students and their family (and destroyed them at wii tennis), on Monday I got a surprise invite from Ben to go to his rooftop party, and then yesterday I wussed out and just hit the 2-for-1 Italian special at the Cain. I’m feeling slightly ill from three straight days of drinking like a fish, eating over a pound of barbecued beef, lamb, chicken, octopus, mushrooms, and whatever else came my way… but it’s a very satisfied kind of ill feeling.