All of a sudden, we feel very, very far away from home.
There are just three tables, each seating six people, so naturally you share table with random people. We got our seats, and ordered our ramen and an Asahi beer each. ("Yes, we know the bottles are big, but we still want one each.") Soon two more seats where taken, leaving an empty chair in the middle of the table.
We got our ramen, delicious as ever, and slurped away (you can't eat ramen quietly). A little while later the last seat was taken by a Japanese man. When he got his ramen, I realized that Yvonne and I had ordered way to much extra seaweed, so I offered the plate with my two sheets to the Japanese man.
He seemed utterly surprised at first, but accepted the gift happily. He ordered another Asahi to share with us, and we started talking. Mostly about Japan, but also about Sweden. When we told him that we are going to Japan in May, and mostly for the food, he gave us a number of tips on where to go and what to eat. Obviously, Fukuoka Prefecture, and especially the town Hakata is *the* place to go for ramen. He even tore out the map from his pocket calender and pointed out where it is. And where Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo is. And Sapporo, we really should go there, he said.
A random meeting at a restaurant turned out to make the dinner a really interesting and pleasant evening!
- Hong Kong is a city of scents. New scents meet you where ever you go. On the streets, in the markets, in the subways, in the restaurants.
Not always pleasant, though.
- You are rarely harassed by street peddlers in Hong Kong (except in the tourist infested Tsim Sha Tsui). Not even in the street markets, where the hawkers ignores you until you pick something up.
The contrast was startling when we crossed the border into China and the city of Shenzhen. The Mongolian Horde (or at least a bunch of Chinese men) came down on us like, well, the Mongolian Horde!
- Banking is so different here from in Sweden:
- In Sweden, you can use any ATM. Not so here. Our bank here is HSBC, and we can only use ATMs belonging to HSBC and Hang Seng.
- Checks. We got checks! We haven't seen checks in Sweden since the late eighties.
- Paying your invoices. Done by check. Or in the utility companies shops. Or at seven-11. Not online using a centralized money transfer system as in Sweden.
- MasterCard/Visa debit cards are basically unheard of. They are credit cards.
- Eating at restaurants:
- Don't expect the starter to come in before the main dish! The order is random.
- In most restaurants the guests are expected to share the dishes.
- Tips are not expected. There is often a service charge added to the bill.
- The front and interior of the restaurant give no hint at all on what the food will taste like. We have had some of our best meals in places that seemed to be in serious need of an uplift.
- Food court restaurants and restaurants at tourist attractions can be really, really good!
- It's traditional to serve warm water to drink at Chinese restaurants. Quite a surprise the first time.
- Many restaurants and shops are not located at ground floor but instead you can find them several floors up or in the basement. And the signing is often difficult to see. So bend your neck and look upward.
- Bus routes numbering are obviously meant to confuse. The same number can be used by any number of routes, even routes running in the same area. And to make things even worse: Not all bus stops have signs. You're supposed to know where to stand and wait for your bus. And you have to flag it down. or it will just go by without picking anyone up.
The ID is pretty plain, just a picture, some basic information like name and birthday. But also a chip with some biometrics.
And the biometrics makes for a very nice feature: You use it instead of your passport when entering and leaving the country. Fully automated gates works in two stages: First reads you ID and, if accepted, opens the first set of doors. You enter, the doors close behind you. The second stage is a finger print scanner that match the finger print on the chip with what is scans. If OK, the second doors open and the immigration/emigration procedure is done. 20 seconds, tops!
I wish we had an ID like this in Sweden, too.
Did I say you get the ID for free?
We took a train from Hung Hom, a railway station on the south tip of Kowloon. Pretty early, for us.
|Boring waiting room at Hung Hom railway station.|
|IKEA - a soothing sight for Swedes on traveling foot.|
|A sixty or so meter wide waterfall at the end of what|
turned out to be a underground shopping mall.
We reached the hotel, way much more fancy that we had thought (surprise #3). The room was almost as big as our apartment with a generous king size, sofa, desk, and a bathroom that had everything. Including a TV.
The evening came and the view from our hotel windows turned spectacular! We had Canton Tower in full view and it had a light show that was mesmerizing.
|Ever changing lights on Canton Tower.|
|Lights around the park in the middle of New City.|
|Half way through and we're already stuffed.|
|They love their lights and colors in Guangzhou.|
The hotel wanted US$ 40 for their buffet breakfast. We didn't want to pay that. So we had a light breakfast at our room. Worked just fine, thank you!
|Bagels with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon plus fresh fruits and tea.|
Breakfast for champions!
What surprised (surprise #4) us when looking at Guangzhou from above was all the parks. Any direction you look, you see more than one park.
|The park in the center of New City with the opera house in the lower left hand|
corner, the library in the lower right hand corner and a sports arena in the middle.
|Dim Sum on 103rd floor.|
|Calm, serene, and anything but crowded.|
Now we are in Hong Kong. And we try to get what we regard as normal services from a local bank.
But we have no credit history. We have no history what so ever.
So the bank requires us to give them proof of address, e.g. a utility bill with our name and address on. Not more than two months old. An original. We don't get utility bills in Sweden, we try to explain. Empty eyes stare at us. We get e-invoices to our internet bank, we try to comply. Is it OK to print those? Still empty stares. Eventually, they accept. Grudgingly.
So we got our payroll accounts. And ATM cards. And we got checks. Checks? Checks!
But the ATM cards are just that. ATM cards. There are a few places where you use them to pay with, mostly grocery stores. At restaurants, you can't use it. So we asked for MasterCard/Visa.
No problem, said the bank. As soon as you have your first salary deposited, you can apply for a credit card.
Duh? Why? And it dawned on us: We have no credit history.
After some fuckups at the bank, we went to another. Welcome, they said! Of course you can have all your needs and requirements fulfilled here! MasterCard/Visa, too, we asked. Yes, naturally, they answered, as soon as we have seen three months salary at your account.
We have no credit history.
And then we draw a parallel to all the refugees fleeing from their war torn countries, from lives in relative economical stability to, often, more affluent countries. Like Sweden. But they have no economic history. They have no history what so ever. We have a good pay check coming each month, steady as clockwork. We even have a little tucked away at home. We manage without a credit history quite well. But the refugees? Not so much.
So Seoul it was!
Neither of us had ever been to South Korea, so we tried to read up on what to do before going. But we still got something of a culture shock. It is quite different from Hong Kong. Just a few speak English, and those who do, do it quite poorly. Road signs are few and far between, and often only in Korean. The so called English menus are in Korean, but with the dishes names transliterated to the Latin alphabet. It doesn't help me to know that the it is call "BongChu", I still don't know what it is. But this is one of the delights with travelling, to take leaps of faith now and then.
First night, we took a stroll along a nice little stream. Someone had told us about it. Thank you, someone! We ended up in an area of hectic nightlife called Gyongpyeong-Dong.
|A street in Gyongpyeon-Dong|
This short trip to Seoul made us want to go back. Nice people, good food, nice and interesting surroundings. Definitely worth a trip. Or two. Or three.
- When to go? We already have a schedule for this - what months are best for what cities? This narrows the decision, this time we choose Seoul.
- How to get there? Flying mostly, but mainland China is reachable by train. We fly to Seoul so it is out on the net to search for the best flight tickets. There are a lot of airline carriers to choose from and this time we had arrival and departure times as the first priority - leave Hong Kong in the morning and return in the afternoon. This gives us half Friday, Saturday, Sunday and half Monday in Seoul. We choose Cathay Pacific to Seoul.
- Where to stay? Ooops, no idea what part of Seoul is The place to be in. So, ask around, google it and make a pick. We choose to stay in the vicinity of Myeongdong as this is a good area for tourists. Lots of places to see, eat at, and shop in.
- Well, which hotel then? There are endless choices and prices vary depending on how and from whom you book. After hours of searching we stumbled upon a reasonable price for a luxury stay at the Koreana Hotel. Yes! :)
- What to do? As Seoul is completely new to us so we have no idea. Once again we use google. But, the amount of information is enormous. After a few hours and finding a few hot spots we give up. We do have something planned at least. The rest will come when we are there.
- Where to eat? Korean food can be very good but they have some strange dishes. They eat octopus that still is alive. I think we skip that. But there are a lot of dishes with very good produce, meat, tofu, seafood, vegetables, and of course kimchi with everything. Their national dessert, binju, seems to have an upswing with lots of variants. And I guess we have to try their national spirit, soju, as well.
- Need to knows! Weather - check! Cooler than in Hong Kong so at least a sweater for Yvonne. Electricity, currency, how to get from the airport, how the metro works, when are the stores open, do we need a visa? An endless list of things to find out.
|What it was all about.|
|Mid-Autumn Festivities in Victoria Park|
Later that night, we stumbled upon a gastro pub advertising more than ninety different beers. Sounds like a place for us! And it was. More than decent food, and an impressive list of beer. Even a couple of Nordic beers: Mikkeller, Nögne, and Grythyttan! The latter is surprising, as it'is hard to find even in Sweden.
|Oatmeal Stout: Mats was happy!|
Friday we thought we'd go to Stanley on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. And so did most others do, too. The bus queue looked pretty bad, but since the buses arrived more or less continuously, it took just ten minutes to board. Unfortunately, not all heading to Stanley did so by bus. It took us forty five minutes to get to Stanley...
|Half the bus queue|
|Inside the maze|
|Curry Tiffin in Stanley|
These rooms were tiny and they had their respective sizes displayed.
But of course the rooms here are smaller. The display rooms at IKEA in Sweden are the size of an decent apartment here.
|A product you don't see at IKEA in Sweden.|
(The name ALLÄTARE translates to omnivore.)
|High Tea at SOGO|
In Hong Kong it's not.
There are six different types of public transportation here:
- MTR - the subway
Nine lines, very long train sets, stations spread out. Built for mass transport, and very good at it.
- City buses
Mostly double-decked, frequent, stops are often far between.
All over the place! Small buses, capacity just 16, scuttles around almost non-stop.
100+ years old trams, frequent, a lot of stops.
- Light rail
Used far out in Tuen Mun. Only read about them so far. Will be ignore for now.
- Star Ferry
Across the harbor.
- On MTR, you check in and out and get the fare calculated on how far you actually have traveled.
- On buses, both big and small, you check in and pay a fare that depends on how far into the bus' route you get on the bus. Same price, no matter how many stops you travel.
- On the tram, you check out when leaving, paying a flat rate (HK$2.30).
- The Star Ferry charges you before boarding, flat rates. On the upper deck, the fare is slightly higher (HK$2.30).
So at a quarter to two we entered the Immigration Tower, and headed to the reception. Only to be told that we had to activate our visas first...
Our visas wasn't activate yet, as this could only be done when entering the country. And since we got here before we got the visas, we were in the country as visitors. Bummer. Nothing to do but to go back to the office and plan a trip to where-ever and to book a new appointment at the Immigration Authorities.
When looking for an appointment, they had an opening the day after. Next available time was two weeks later. We grabbed the time and started thinking about how to activate our visas in less than 24 hours.
The guys at the office told us we could get a five day visa at the Chinese border, just take the subway, walk across the border bridge, and pay a small fee, that's all!
|First class railway cars to/from the border|
When at the Chinese immigration police we applied for visas. The officer asked us what we were planning on doing in Shenzen. Have dinner, we replied. Somewhat surprised, she asked again. Have dinner, we replied, again. It actually made her giggle. It is a clear victory to get an immigration officer to giggle!
It took less than five minutes to get the visas. Pretty cheap, too. Only RMB 168 pp. A warning, though: If you are an American or French citizen, it is illegal for you to even apply for a short term visa. You will be fined for trying!
|The square outside the border crossing, Shangri La hotel at|
We had a quite good dinner at the Shangri La hotel: Cantonese cuisine with grilled meats and stir fried prawn. The tea was the most expensive item at RMB 168.
Eventually we went back to the border, had our visas activated by a very friendly border control officer, even though we went to the wrong queue.
Thursday morning, we went back to the Immigration Tower and breezed through the process in practically no time at all. Now we have our (temporary) HK IDs. Now we can call ourselves residents!
We started at the Ozone bar, an open air bar on 118th floor on the west side of Kowloon. Expensive drinks, but a fantastic view. A clear and definitive up! It got even better when Mats got a telling off by a British couple. They shouldn't have. Soon they stormed out of the bar. They lost. :-)
Dinner followed at Din Tai Fung. It was wonderful to see the happy faces of our friends when the tasted all the tasty Dim Sum dishes.
Otherwise, Mats spent most of the weekend in bed with a cold. Indisputable a down. Sunday evening we went to the Temple Street Night market. Pretty much like most other street markets we've seen, another down. Had dinner at a small Indian restaurant, everything seemed authentic (but neither of us has been to India, so what do we know?). Decent dinner at low cost. An up.
Monday night, we went to Quarry Bay to have dinner at a gastro-pub with a good selection of beer. Never found it in the maze-like building complex and ended up at a restaurant that looked pretty upscale, both on the outside and when seeing the prices. This was our first disappointment foodwise. The boiled potatoes was served raw, the wonderful Dove sole was smothered in garlic, the steak was to rare even for Mats, the aioli was hardly made from mayonnaise and lacked garlic, the estragon Bearnaise (are there any other kind?) was bland. A major down.
Tuesday night we went to an Italian restaurant in Causeway Bay. Instead of asking when not hearing/understanding, the staff just ignored you; Yvonne got the wrong pasta dish, no beer was served until we asked where it was. Both pasta dishes where almost completely void of flavors. And on top of it all: The beer selection sucked! Maybe not as big a down as the Monday dinner, but not far from. A little compensation was the tasty sago pudding we bought from a hole in a wall.
Tomorrow we will apply for Hong Kong IDs. It will be interesting to meet face to face with Hong Kong bureaucrats!
The lunches has been great, partly because the food is new to us (and quite different from the Stockholm lunch offering), but mostly because it has been, without exception, well made food tasting great and at low cost.
This week we have had:
- Japanese lunch-box, fried chicken, pickled vegetables, rice: Simple, but very tasty. HK$55 pp.
- Hong Kong Dim Sum, the boss took our team to a welcome lunch at a Dim Sum place nearby. Too many dishes to remember, with a few exception, tripe being one, very good! Price unknown, but Dim Sum for a company of ten is often surprisingly cheap.
- Nepalese, Yvonne had Chicken Masala, Mats had Palak Paneer. The Masala deep, rich in flavor, the Palak Paneer unusually spicy. Both excellent. HK$ 60 pp, including nan, rice, salad, tea/coffee.
- Turkish Chicken/Beef Doner Kebab. With the hot sauce, the chicken kebab was the best I have ever had, says Mats. HK$45 pp.
- Malaysian Laksa with chicken, fish cake, tofu, and egg noddles: Pretty mild soup, deep in flavors. HK$55 pp.
So today we got up early, and to the MTR to Central and the office. The commute is just half an hour, but it is extremely long compared to the 3½ minutes walk we have in Stockholm.
At the office we got the good news that our visa has come through! Now we are Hong Kong residents. Feel slightly strange, but very, very good.
A lot of catching up at the office, a lot of new faces, a few good old friends, too.
Bought Japanese Lunch Box, wish there are lunch boxes like that in Stockholm. A lunch box with fried chicken, pickled vegetables, and rice steamed to perfection for HKD 55.
Celebrated end of vacation + being residents with a dinner at Under the Bridge Spice Crab.
We have planned to be active after work, seeing things, going places. Not tonight, tonight we will drag ourselves to bed early. Jet lag is a b...
We took the tram to North Point to take a look at the Chung Yeung Street street market. It is very hard to understand why the trams should take a detour off of King's Road to thread them between various stalls selling fish, meat, produce, and clothes. Strange, indeed!
Once there, we wanted some refreshments and dropped in on a, what we thought, iced tea shop. The lady didn't speak English, so the communication halted somewhat. She showed us a menu in English with very imaginative names. We picked one at chance sat down. In came to cups of dark tea colored, steady but gelatinous something. And a can of sugar syrup. The taste was, let us put it mildly, interesting...
- There is no structure what so ever as to how people move along sidewalks or underground walkways. Instead of all keeping to the right, the movements are completely random. A very interesting experience was today when, in an underground walkway, traffic shifted from left-hand to right-hand mid-tunnel.
- People are not walking, they are ambling along. Normally, there is a direct correlation between a city's size and how fast people are walking. This city is about seven times bigger than Stockholm, but the speed of walking is like in Skellefteå, population 32 000, on sunny Sunday afternoon.
- Beards are strange. At least full beards like Mats'. Children either look scared or point at it. Grown ups tend to look, but not more. Except a few, like the waiter that wished us Merry Christmas, or the cashier at the bread shop who could hardly contain herself from all the giggling.
We had an assortment of dishes, the killer dish was woked chicken with peanuts and asparagus. Spicy, but not fiery, with Sichuan pepper, contrasted by a hint of cardamom. We will be back for more shortly!
Today we are going back to Central to look at an apartment. It may be our next home.
|A small part of the Mid-Levels Escalator|
So we went to Central, up the Mid-Levels Escalator to a couple of addresses. It was an interesting experience when we had passed through SoHo (South of Hollywood, a bar and restaurant area halfway up the escalator): Everything got calm! It even got cooler! We will try to get something on Robinson Rd or Mosque St. Maybe.
We also made a quick visit at the office. Looking forward to working there!
Mats is making himself known: People stop and laugh, pointing at the beard. Or, as a waiter did, wishes us a Merry Christmas!
- Getting a decent breakfastf. (failed: Mats was starving and the Banh Mi placed we read about had closed, ended up at Starbucks)
- Getting a look around the neighborhood
- Taking a nap
- Getting stuff for our new home, e.g. a proper kitchen knife
|Main part of our abode. Behind the wall is just room enough for the bed.|
|Our local supermarket, pretty upscale and not cheap.|
After a completely uneventful flight, we are finally in Hong Kong.
Lovely Aily met us at the airport, with Erik and both daughters and gave us a silvery spoon to symbolize our birth as Hong Kong residents.
A long cab ride later, we are settled in our home for the coming month. It is a very long time since we lived in such a tight quarters.
Now it is time to get some food.
At last we're on our way!
I miscalculated the amount of baggage grossly, even with the brand new suitecase, I needed two extra bags. All in all almost 100 kg. Well below our allowance, but still impressive. Or scaring.
Now we are in the Aurora lounge at Arlanda. Nice selection of beers: Melleruds Pilsner and Sleepy Bulldog, both on tap.
Packing is close to frantic, but under absolute control, or so we think/hope.
Today we got information about where we will be staying the first month: Shama Serviced Apartments in Causeway Bay. It is not exactly where we wanted to stay, but due to a misunderstanding between us and the Hong Kong office, nothing had been arranged for us. This was discovered last night, and with only one day to make arrangements, we had to make do with whatever was available at this short notice.
|This is the place: Shama Causeway Bay (map)
The floor plan is to the right.
It is on the small side, just ~50 m².
Hong Kong - Fragrant Harbor
|Area||1,204 km²||179th||449,964 km²||57th|
|Density||6,400 /km²||4th||21 /km²||195th|
More on what and where to eat in out blog Eating in Hong Kong.
Only one thing that isn't quite ready yet: The visa. Sure, we can enter Hong Kong and stay there for three months without a visa, but we cannot be employed without the visa. I am not the worrying kind, but I really would like to have the visa soon...
We know there are a lot of very nice and socially competent people at the Hong Kong office, too, but even so we will miss our Stockholm friends and colleagues.
They had better arrange a dev fest in Honkers this winter!
Still haven't started packing. The infrastructure is ready to switch off and pack, and that is the main thing. We must have everything up and running and be connected first thing we arrive! Priorities are important!
To make things easier(?) we decided to apply for only one visa and for no reason at all, I am the applicant. Yvonne is a "dependent" on my application. There is essentially no difference if one of us is a "dependent" or if we have separate visas, the "dependent" is allowed to work, too.
But it is I who must prove my academic merits. And I have no such proofs, never had. I have never been asked to present any proofs before.
So I mailed the Archives Department at Stockholm University and requested transcripts. Don't know how long it will take. Probably quite a while.
Until the proofs have been presented, the visa application is in hiatus.
Luckily, we have the fantastic Joanne at the Hong Kong office helping us with the visas. She will also set us up with someplace to live the first month.
The Internet is invaluable, too. We can sit at home, browsing the markets, looking for deals, making lists of which banks look good and so on.