Day 5: Friday, August 19
- Half day at conference
- “Local Tour and Evening Harbour Cruise”
- Victoria Peak
- Repulse Bay
- Stanley Market
- dinner harbour cruise
My fifth day in Hong Kong was a bit of a departure, in both senses of the word. While the morning started off much as the previous couple of days, with attending talks and a poster session at the conference, this was an official half day for the conference. Back in May, when I registered for the conference at the last minute to get the pre-registration discount, I signed up for the local tour and harbour cruise. (There were three of us registering for the conference that day, during our lab meeting. We decided we should all probably sign up for the tour. I don’t exactly recall the rationale, but there was probably the sense that we should make attempts to be social with other conference attendees.) The cost was $500 HK, about $50 US.
Fast forward to the conference, 3 months later. Chatting with various friends from various places revealed that most people I knew were not going on the tour, and had other plans. I waffled about going on the tour, as did the professors I work with. A half day seemed like an awful lot of time to commit, which would be time not spent doing other things in Hong Kong. On the other hand, the main features of the tour looked promising. There was a trip up Victoria Peak, considered a Hong Kong visitor’s must-do, as well as a trip to the south side of Hong Kong Island, a direction I was not likely to go on my own. Then the harbour dinner cruise seemed like it might be enjoyable. I hadn’t yet been out in the harbour, and it seemed be shame to miss out on a meal I’d already paid for. (Oh, if only I’d known…)
In the end, my advisor and I went, but the other professor from our group did not. We lined up with the mobs of people from the conference who we didn’t know, and were assigned to a bus.
I confess that I am not a big fan of buses, nor of tours. My favorite way to see a place is to wander around and drink in the unfamiliar location with all my senses. But I like to get places and learn stuff, and buses can be a good way to get places, and tours can be good ways to learn stuff. One of the things I learned was that I was right to be wary of guided tours. The bus ride, while physically comfortable, was painful. The tour guide, who was not the driver, stood at the front of the bus with a microphone. And he talked. And talked. And talked. Unfortunately, he had a somewhat warped expectation about what tourists visiting Hong Kong are likely to know. Here are some of the many things he explained to us:
- A lot of people rent apartments in Hong Kong, but if people have a lot of money, they can buy a place. Some people buy apartments, but some people can afford more and buy a house. Sometimes, though, people don’t have enough to pay the whole price of buying an apartment or a house, so they can pay just a portion, such as 10% or 20%, and borrow money from a bank for the rest, and then pay it back over 10 years. Or 15 years. Or 20 years. Or 30 years. (This explanation went on for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Or 20 minutes. Or 30.)
- Mandarin and Cantonese are not the same, and have different words for things, and are also both different from Japanese. (I should perhaps mention that this was an international phonetics conference, and therefore the bus was filled with people who study aspects of language professionally, which either the tour guide did not bother to find out, or did not consider relevant.)
- People in Hong Kong like to shop
- People in Hong Kong like to gamble.
- There are racetracks where you can go to gamble. Or you can go to Macau, to gamble and shop.
- Tour guides do not make very much money, which is a shame, since he liked to shop and gamble.
The tour guide was cheerful and friendly, but he talked pretty much nonstop. He talked a lot about money, getting money, spending money, not being able to save money. What he didn’t talk about were any other aspects of local culture, or almost any sort of mention of any sort of history.
When we got up Victoria Peak, we were delivered to the mall up there. The guide pointed out “the place where we could take good pictures,” and then encouraged us to return to the mall for the duration of our hour-long stop. He made a point of telling us about the Burger King and the McDonald’s, in case we wanted to get food. And of course he encouraged us to shop.
After we piled back into the bus at Victoria Peak, we headed down toward the south of Hong Kong Island to see Repulse Bay and then Stanley Market. On the way, we learned a lot about how expensive the houses were around Repulse Bay, and about how people who own such houses had a lot of money. We did stop at the beach at Repulse Bay, which was a blissfully non-commercial stop. We walked on the beach, and many of us took our shoes off. I enjoyed the sound of the waves, and even more, the sound of not hearing the voice of the tour guide. I amused myself by gathering tiny shells and taking photos. All too soon it was time to get back on the bus, and before long, we were delivered to Stanley Market. I believe that this is a famous and possibly historic location. Our guide made a point of mentioning that we could get good prices on Timberland™ and other brand-name products.
My advisor and I wandered around in the maze of stalls, which was actually pretty intriguing, if largely junky, and we each ended up finding some gifts for our respective children. The high point, though, was coming across a fruit and vegetable market as we headed back to the bus. My advisor recognized some mangosteens from his previous travels, and suggested that we should get some. We also got some rambutans, and I picked out a rather dramatic-looking dragon fruit.
And then it was back to the bus to head back to the north of the island to catch our harbour cruise. (To be continued…)
Below are a few photos from the afternoon. A bunch more photos from day 5 can be found on flickr.
The high point of the afternoon: a mangosteen.