February 03, 2006

Page 21

Now, the urban portion of Hong Kong Island is broken into a number of districts. The downtown-est downtown portion is Central; going eastward from Central you hit the Admiralty district, then Wan Chai, Causeway Bay (Tung Lo Wan) and North Point. These districts for the most part defined Scott's sphere of activity in Hong Kong. The Airport Express connects to Central, where there is a pedestrian tunnel running between the Airport Express station and the Central stop on the MTR (Mass Transit Railway), Hong Kong's subway system. The tunnel is fairly long, and entails not one but two (or three?) moving slideways to cover the distance. Even with the mechanical assistance, dragging one's luggage on and off those trains and through all of those stations, at what one's body is insisting is 4AM or thereabouts, is no picnic. Still, following Kevin's lead, that is exactly what Scott did. They switched trains at Central and took the MTR east to Fortress Hill station. It might be that there is in fact a hill at Fortress Hill MTR - you never know - but whatever it is, the Fortress Hill MTR station is rather deep underground, and the escalator from the platform to the mezzanine level is quite fast. Once you reach the mezzanine level, you get to haul your bags up one more flight of stairs - no escalator - and finally, you will emerge at Street Level.

Scott's first real memory of Hong Kong proper, then, is of the street just outside of Fortress Hill MTR, near the border between Causeway Bay and North Point. It was hot, humid, dark out but brightly lit and noisy, and the traffic lights made the most unearthly rattling sound. In all, it was a little bit of hell.

Where Scott and Kevin stayed during those first months at Asia Online was at the Newton Hotel. The Newton was quite reasonable by Hong Kong standards and very convenient to the Asia Online office, just 5 to 10 minutes on foot, depending on just how hot and sweaty you wanted to get.

The price for staying at the Newton was that the rooms, with a little glue, would have served quite nicely as postage stamps. They all came in the same size (ultra-small), with a choice of one bed or two, and they faced either right or left. As a Californian, Scott was quite grateful that they had a non-smoking floor, as tobacco was quite popular in HK at the time.

Anyhow, the room was slightly larger than the double bed on two sides - just enough to sidle around it. The third side featured a built-in desk with a cube refrigerator (full of the usual honor-bar crud) and a 13-inch television. The TV had one or two english-language channels, a bunch of Chinese channels, and some other miscellaneous bits. You could also "preview" the soft-core down about the same way as the regular channels.

There wasn't anything resembling a dresser or chest of drawers. In the closet, which was about the size of a small guest closet in an older American home, there was one drawer below the hanging area, and one shelf above the hangar rod. You also had a little floor space for your shoes. Lastly, the window was a bit of a bay window and there was a good-sized shelf there, which made a decent space for storing suitcases.

The bathroom was likewise compact, though not outrageously so. Hong Kong people are fond of "on demand" water heaters, so after a hot shower you would find that the mirror was strangely free of steam and quite warm to the touch. Presumably, the on-demand heater was behind the mirror.

The view from the Newton is singularly uninspiring - a small slice of Victoria Bay and Kowloon. One of the things about Hong Kong is that all of the exciting architecture that you see in media is in fact there, and it's all on the Hong Kong side. If you're on the Hong Kong side, what you see is Kowloon, which is heavily residential and hence largely socialist worker housing. If you want to enjoy looking at something like I. M. Pei's famous Bank of China building, you really want to live in Kowloon, looking back at HK Island.

For those who aren't familiar with it, Pei's BoC building looks like a giant knife, slicing back into the hills overlooking the bay. Specifically, the knife is slicing at the British Governor General's mansion...a bit of feng shui that the locals rather delight in, quite understandably. Posted by scott at February 3, 2006 04:04 PM