Make sure you read part one of my travel diary – Laptop Lifestyle Travels: Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney And Saying Good Bye To Australia.
Laptop Lifestyle Travels: Hong Kong
As the plane descended I looked out the window and saw nothing but clouds. I was hoping for a view of Hong Kong during our descent, but it wasn’t until we were just about to touch down on the tarmac did we finally break through the clouds, or should I say, foggy-haze.
This was my first trip to Hong Kong. I read over some of the short wikipedia history and knew to expect mostly people of Chinese ethnicity, but as I would clearly learn the Hong Kong people feel very much different and independent from the mainland Chinese.
Hong Kong, as a once colony of Britain, is fairly easy to navigate because English is a main language. Cantonese is clearly the first language, especially given the far greater majority of native Hong Kong people speak it primarily, but you can find English signs on everything and most people speak some English.
Despite the language comfort, I was still wary about finding my away around. I like knowing my surroundings, so a first time visit to a place is always challenging.
The “Warp Speed” Taxi Ride
I was told by my Uber driver in Sydney on the way to the airport, who had visited Hong Kong several times, that the train system is very easy in Hong Kong. As a result, I briefly considered hopping on the MTR (train) from the airport after touching down in the evening.
I quickly changed my mind when I envisioned myself wandering down the dark streets of central Hong Kong with my phone maps not working. I decided a taxi was the way to go, even though I knew the price would be far more. I was hungry and tired and just wanted to be at the hotel.
As I started looking for a taxi rank, a random guy at the airport walked up to me and said “taxi?”. I refused and kept walking on, figuring that an official taxi rank was a smarter choice.
I eventually found a more official looking taxi waiting area, took a guess that I needed a “red” taxi and then patiently waited. I boarded an old, cluttered taxi, driven by a small man wearing a bandana. I gave him the address and off we went.
As I stared out the window looking at a very dark and hazy Hong Kong, the taxi driver started flying along. When I say flying – I mean warp speed.
We hit a long stretch of freeway and the guy must have been going at least 140km, taking over all the other cars and even going faster than what looked like a speedy train.
At one point the driver took out some money and started counting it with his hands, using his elbow to steer the wheel. Clearly not the safest technique. I said a little prayer.
Despite the insane speed, it took about 45 minutes, through two tolls and many bridges before we finally arrived in a city area, and thankfully slowed down due to traffic congestion.
It was at this point I decided to say something to my driver to make chit chat. His English wasn’t great, but he did manage to tell me I was in a “white person” area and also near party streets, pointing to a bar and then gesturing with his hands that it was a topless bar (I’ll let you use your imagination to figure out what kind of gesturing he did).
We pulled up at my hotel. I waited for the meter reading total – almost $350 HKD – I found a $500 to pay the man, he gave me change and quickly sped off. I headed to check-in.
My hotel room was small, but modern and more than adequate. The bed was fantastic, and the internet reliable. I booked my accommodation using trip advisor as a source of reviews, so I expected good things.
Exploring Hong Kong
I didn’t really see much of Hong Kong during the night I landed due to the heavy haze, which was still hanging around when I woke up the next day.
A photo posted by Yaro Starak (@yarostarak) on
The first thing I did was to sort out my phone so I could get data and have maps available to me. I then had a decidedly western breakfast of eggs and some veggies, and headed out to explore.
It was Sunday morning and because I was on Sydney time I was up early. As I quickly learned, Hong Kong has a lot of shopping centers connected with bridges. Because it wasn’t even 10am on a Sunday yet, most of the stores were closed.
As I continued to walk from building to building I noticed a strange pattern of people on the bridges. There were these women who were sitting on flattened cardboard boxes talking to each other. Some were unpacking food and it seemed like they were having a picnic.
Initially I thought the women might be homeless, but they didn’t give me that impression based on appearance and how many of them I eventually came across. As I walked past more and more of them I thought perhaps they might be protestors left over from the Hong Kong rallies that had occurred the previous year.
After wandering for an hour or so I ended up standing in front of a symbol known all around the world – the big white apple. I don’t know why it is, but whenever I explore a new city I always seem to randomly end up in the main mall at some point. It must be the flow of people… all roads lead to shopping malls in our modern times.
The Apple store was in IFC mall, the main high-end fashion mall in ‘Central’ Hong Kong. Central is the main area on Hong Kong island, where you will find the most westerners. Kowloon is over the water, to the east, and the New Territories is to the west.
Once in the mall I came across one of my favorite things to find in a new city, a deli-style groceries store full of food. I explored the aisles and eventually came across what I was looking for – the chocolate section. I took me a good 15 minutes, but eventually I found a dark chocolate I had not had before, grabbed a bottle of water and headed to the checkout.
A photo posted by Yaro Starak (@yarostarak) on
Meeting Up With With A Local Friend
A long time ago when I was in university I made a friend named Rebecca who is originally from New Zealand, but grew up in Hong Kong. I met her in Brisbane, my home town, during the few years Rebecca was studying there.
Rebecca pinged me on Facebook once she saw I was in her town. It was Sunday so we decided to meet for lunch.
The first thing I asked Rebecca was…
“Who are the cardboard ladies?”
…and she proceeded to explain that on sundays the ‘service’ people have a day off and meet in the city on bridges and have picnic lunches in the cardboard huts they make for themselves. Many of them are from the Philippines and work as live-in help.
I found the idea of taking your day off and spending it sitting on a bridge in downtown a bit strange, but then again they are with their friends, so it doesn’t really matter where you are.
Rebecca turned out to be an awesome tour guide for my first full day in Hong Kong, taking me to a monastery, an antiques area, and up and down the streets of Soho, where all the westerners hang out.
There are a few streets in Soho that look like they could be taken right out of England, or Australia, or the USA or Canada for that matter. Then you turn a corner and you’re clearly in Asia, with all the tiny shops lining the streets, Cantonese signs and asian food stalls.
Rebecca also helped me learn the MTR train system, which turns out to be relatively simple and super efficient. I got myself an octopus card to pay for train rides and caught a ride back to my hotel area in Wan Chai.
Trip To The Big Buddha
On Monday I met with my other local friend, Isaac, who was also from Brisbane, but born in Hong Kong and recently returned to his home in the New Territories.
Isaac and I headed on the train to Tung Chung, the end of one of the MTR lines, where we then clambered on to a large gondola (cable car), which took us up the mountain to see the Big Buddha, apparently the second largest Buddha statue on earth.
The 15-minute ride up is quite spectacular, with views over the mountains, out to the airport where you can see the planes taking off (they look like they are going in slow motion) and all the little paths that criss cross through the mountains (apparently it takes about four hours to hike up if you prefer the long way).
Isaac and I managed a slow trundle up the some 250+ stairs to reach the Buddha and were rewarded with a fantastic view, and of course, a very up close and personal experience with the statue.
A video posted by Yaro Starak (@yarostarak) on
We left Tung Chung and headed to Kowloon for dinner. Kowloon felt different to the Central area I was living in. The streets were wider and busier, it felt a bit like Manhatten, but full of Asians and Asian restaurants.
The buildings in Hong Kong are incredibly tall – and that’s not just one or two of them – all of them are. As I found out thanks to Wikipedia, Hong Kong is the worlds most densely populated area, hence there’s not a lot of space. To compensate, they build upwards, rather than outwards. Even the trams and busses are tall – all double decked.
Animals, Another Gondola Ride, And Local Food
I have to say a huge thanks to Rebecca and Isaac (and also Mark, another Aussie transplant who showed me around one afternoon), without them my time in Hong Kong would not have been nearly as fun.
It really helps when you have local friends to talk to and ask all the annoying questions like “Why is that there? and who made this? and what does that say?” etc.
A photo posted by Yaro Starak (@yarostarak) on
With Isaac I went to Ocean World, a massive theme park built over a mountain range. The park includes plenty of thrill rides, but I was there for the animals.
The highlights for me was the Panda and the Otter, which were both adorable just being themselves.
We watched a few animal shows, like a dolphin/seal show and a bird display, but it feels strange watching animals perform learned behaviors for food. I like it better when they are acting natural and doing whatever they want to do.
We rode another Gondola over the park, which offered more amazing views, went on a water ride and visited some penguins and some mighty impressive Walrus.
One evening I also went to visit Issac’s home in the new territories. It was interesting to see the “suburban” area that Isaac lived in – definitely not like an Aussie suburb!
On my final full day before leaving Hong Kong, Rebecca and I rode the peak tram up a mountain to take in some incredible views of Hong Kong. We did a walk around the mountain and wow – it’s just tall buildings as far as the eye can see. It’s definitely a distinct city.
A photo posted by Yaro Starak (@yarostarak) on
Would I Live In Hong Kong?
Every time I am in a new city on my travels I imagine whether I would like living there.
I think about what kind of routine I would have, what I would enjoy doing and what area I might live in.
Hong Kong was a strange experience in this regard. In some ways I had no desire at all to live there. It was too foreign, too busy, and too much of a concrete jungle. On the other hand I also could see myself settling in, making friends and enjoying myself.
I think it was the potential to meet so many different kinds of people from all over the world that appealed to me. This is a feature that only the really big cities have. Sydney has it, so does Hong Kong, but not so much my home town of Brisbane.
Hong Kong on some levels makes me feel very out of place. I was a slow-walking tall white guy in a sea of Asians who are all hurrying around to get somewhere at high-speed. It felt stressful at times just trying to not bump into people.
Yet because of the British history, there is also a level of comfort to the city. Familiar food is available (even ‘pressed juice‘ from Australia) and the English language is everywhere. It’s the perfect place to dip into another culture and learn a new language, yet still have your fallback comfort zone.
All in all my first time in Hong Kong was fun, mostly because I had friends to hang out with and because I was quickly able to adapt to the local transport system and find food I like. If I can eat healthy and feel comfortable getting around in a city, generally I am happy.
What About Work?
You might be wondering about the laptop lifestyle – the parts of my trip where I run my business from my laptop.
With my business I have two ongoing commitments that I don’t feel comfortable letting go too long unattended.
The first is obvious – my email. My assistant Neroli deals with my email and can handle most of it, but there are some messages only I can deal with or I prefer to deal with, like certain types of queries from my current customers or potential customers (people really like to hear directly from me). Most emails however I process once a week or so.
The other commitment is my desire to support my Laptop Lifestyle Academy. We are still a small group, which need nurturing. I like to reply to every post in the community if relevant, and there are ongoing discussions happening all the time that I like to check in on. I quickly feel agitated if I haven’t had a chance in a day or two to reply to people, so I prioritize the task.
Besides that I continue to work with Carly my CTO on technical aspects of my business, like for example we are moving the EJ Insider community to a new platform, so that is taking some setting up. I also work on blog posts like this one, emails and product. That pretty much sums up the majority of the work I do, especially when traveling.
In Hong Kong I spent a couple of hours on the laptop most mornings since I was up before 8am due to the time difference, which is unusual for me, I usually sleep past 9. I also got in a couple of cafe sessions because that’s just how I roll.
Needless to say I don’t get as much work done when traveling because of the moving from place to place, the time spent being a tourist and the lack of certain things you keep in your home office like video recording equipment. I always get my 80/20 tasks done though – supporting customers, bringing in new customers, and progress on the most important main project.
Coming up next I have my ten day trip to Tokyo to report on, which was a bit different an experience to Hong Kong.
Look out for my next travel diary post soon!
On The Road