March 29, 2008

Leaving Hong Kong

Hong Kong NoodlesAfter I leave India and go to Tokyo, I pick up my OneWorld Round-the-World ticket at the American Airlines counter in Narita airport. This ticket has 20 flight segments, which is the maximum you’re allowed under OneWorld rules. Like most tickets these days, any Round-the-World ticket under 17 segments is issued as an e-ticket. When you use segments 17 through 20, however, the ticket has to be issued on paper stock.

I mention that because I am now in possession of the thickest plane ticket I have ever seen. I have 20 flight coupons, naturally, and all the required documentation, stapled together in a huge mass of paper. When I check in for my first flight, NRT-HKG, the Cathay Pacific agent is suitably impressed.

“You have so many flights!” she says.

Yes, I do. And I like that.

From Narita I travel to Hong Kong for a 20-hour layover before returning to Los Angeles, where I began this trip a couple weeks back. In Hong Kong I always stay at the Lee Garden Guest House, a tiny place on the 8th floor of an unassuming building in the TST district of Kowloon. Charlie Chan, the owner, provides rooms for a fraction of the cost that most travelers pay when staying in the notoriously expensive city.

Even though his guesthouse is still relatively cheap, Charlie Chan has raised his prices recently. Maybe it’s just the long downward spiral of the U.S. dollar, but the $400 HKD ($60 USD) seems like more than I paid last time. Still, to stay in central Kowloon for under a hundred bucks isn’t the easiest thing to do, so I’m content.

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The last time I was here, I had just moved to Seattle in late 2006. I traveled via Seoul on Asiana Airlines, and by the time I finally reached Hong Kong, I was exhausted from the 22-hour trip that included a three-hour delay in Seoul. As is often the case, I couldn’t sleep despite being so tired, and I woke up at 2:00 a.m. with the strange jet-lagged feeling of being awake but not having any energy. At 4:00 a.m. I finally went outside and walked up the street to a 24-hour McDonald’s for pancakes.

I walked around Kowloon, which was surprisingly awake at 4:30 a.m., until ten. I returned to the guesthouse for a two-hour nap and immediately fell asleep for eight hours. That was not part of the plan, but from then on in my travels I stopped worrying about jet lag. Whatever happens, happens is my theory. Eventually it sorts itself out and I end up on local time, usually just before it’s time to go somewhere else.

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I frequently find myself in places that I’m ready to leave soon after arriving. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them; it just means that I get bored easily and crave the sense of movement to a new place.

Hong Kong is different—I could stay for weeks, or maybe even months without going anywhere else. I didn’t even get to see one of my favorite cities in the world for very long this time, and I resolve to stay longer when I come back this way again.

Ready or not, it’s time for me to say farewell to Hong Kong, city of shopping centers and skyscrapers. On a quick metro trip to the other side of the harbor, I stand next to an elderly woman playing a pink Nintendo DS, oblivious to the world as she presses the buttons.

A few short hours later finds me leaving the city far too soon, riding the hour-long A21 CityFlyer bus from Chattam Road back to the airport. We pass by Nathan Road in the TST district and gradually pick up more passengers.

My bus pulls in to Terminal One at Hong Kong International Airport and I begin the process of a new journey. Check-in, immigration, hiding the liquids and gels I’ve smuggled from country to country, security check, lounge visit or terminal wandering, gate-waiting, and boarding.

Thanks to the free wi-fi, I check my email and see that many of you have joined my email list. There were more than one thousand visitors to this new site yesterday, and I’m surprised at all the nice feedback.

My thanks go out to every one of you for reading; I am truly honored. Please keep leaving comments and writing in to say hello.

Cathay PacificHKG-LAX

On Cathay Pacific Airways, the flight crew is the epitome of sensitivity that I imagine the British strove to inspire in Hong Kong. Upon departure the captain says, “Cabin crew, please kindly prepare for takeoff.” How thoughtful. When I get up to visit the lavatory before the seat belt sign is off, the flight attendant notices me and asks, “Excuse me, sir, but did you notice that the seat belt sign is still on?” I am politely shamed into following all of the in-flight rules for the rest of our twelve-hour flight.

I watch a documentary on climate change in Africa and enjoy my penne pasta with merlot. I sleep for a few hours and wake up in U.S. airspace. Four hours later, I’m in Los Angeles, sleepwalking through immigration in the middle of the afternoon and getting ready to hang out at a downtown conference for a few days.

It’s been a good trip.

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Comment on this article

2 Responses to “Leaving Hong Kong”

  1. Oh, Hong Kong. A place I’ve always wanted to go to, but haven’t quite made it. I traveled to China (Beijing, Xian, Yangtze River cruise and Shanghai; and this, my first international journey) for 2 weeks back in 2000 and that was a great trip! Just enough to wet my appetite for Hong Kong and other parts of China. I like your theory about jet lag; that basically you just have to let your body go with the flow! Welcome back to the States.

  2. Hong Kong is *the* favourite place of mine, and I could stay there for months and not get tired of it.

    The energy and vibes that place gives off is immensely invigorating.

    It might not be the cleanest city in the world (say, compared to spic-and-span Singapore), but who cares? Sterile places are basically….boring.

    Hong Kong is as genuine as it gets, and i will definitely be heading back there for my next vacation.