A Week in Hong Kong
Marty and I just spent a week in Hong Kong. It was my first visit since December 1981, and needless to say, lots had changed. We stayed at the Bishop Lei International House on the Hong Kong side---Frommer's recommendation to take a harbor side suite (US$ 167) was right on the money---very inexpensive by Hong Kong standards. It turned out to be one of the most spectacular views in the city (see above), with floor to ceiling windows in the tiny bedroom that made you feel like you were part of the landscape (not a great picture to the right with the camera flash, but gives you the idea), and a nice sized sitting room besides. Although the Bishop Lei is very unpretentious and doesn't have the fancy lobbies and on- the -water location of some of the 5 star hotels, it was also near the Jewish Community center and only a five minute walk from the escalator to Central Hong Kong, which is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops.
The escalator was new since my last visit. Built in 1994, it connects the Central business district of Hong Kong with the residential areas midway to Victoria Peak, and runs down the hill from 8-10 in the morning and up thereafter. It's quite a trip, and brought back memories of another trip to Hong Kong in the late 1970s, when I was living in Japan. My friend Barbara, a classmate at Yale, was in Hong Kong with her parents---her father was stationed there with his employer---and they lived (as I recall) about halfway up the Peak. I don't remember how we got around then, but the escalator sure makes the midlevels, as this area is called, very accessible.
One of the things you must do while in Hong Kong is take the tram to the Peak---a steep ride indeed. There is also a wonderful walk around the Peak that takes about an hour, and gives you breathtaking views. Marty passed on this due to his fear of heights, and from the drop below to the harbor you can see why.
On Wednesday night we went to a community seder sponsored by the Jewish Community Center. It was very enjoyable. Most of the Jewish community in Hong Kong are expats, but there are two synagogues, both located on the same street, and there is also a kosher "emporium" where you can buy wine, kosher meats, etc. We sat at a table with two expat families and a visiting professor and his wife from the Wharton School, and found many common interests. The professor, who travels to Hong Kong several times a year, introduced us to his tailor in Kowloon, where Marty subsequently had a suit made that fits him perfectly. Good Hong Kong tailors are no longer cheap, but the fit and selection and quality of fabric more than makes up for it. There are also a lot of Indian tailors now around Hong Kong---they employ hawkers on the streets, and their prices tend to be cheaper, but we chose to go with a first hand recommendation.
Hong Kong is also no longer the place to buy electronics, at least not cameras, and we narrowly missed being taken in by a common scam. Marty, the King of Costco, asked at just about every camera shop for the price of the Lumix FX01, which is the digital model he has his eye on and had seen at Costco for US$299. Only one shop could beat the Costco price, and said they could do it for $220. We were seated and the guy demonstrated the camera and took our money (I had a funny feeling about the place, and insisted to Marty that we pay cash) while his associate went to get a new, boxed model. He then proceeded to tear down the features of the chosen model, and demonstrate other, higher priced ones. The associate came back and said he didn't have that model on site, he would have to get it from the warehouse---only a few minutes. More hard selling ensued. By this time I started looking at my watch. When the guy told us "40 more minutes for the Lumix FX01, but I can sell you this one right now (a higher priced model)" we bailed and got our money back. I'm just glad that the store didn't get one of our credit card numbers.
Early in our stay, we also went to Macau, about an hour jetfoil ride from Hong Kong. Macau was formerly a Portugeuse colony, and also turned back to China in 1999. Twenty seven years ago when Barbara and I went there it was a rather sleepy place that seemed a poor second cousin to Hong Kong. Now, it is the Las Vegas of the East. Major casinos like the Sands and the Venetian have sprung up (the Venetian is due to open later this year), and they are packed with Chinese tourists, most of them from the mainland. But the casinos were too rich for our blood. For blackjack, which Marty likes, you could find a few tables at the hotels where the minimum bet was HK$100 (about $13). For most, it was HK$200. The tables were packed and most were betting much more. Outside the Sands, we walked by a number of dejected looking people who had obviously gambled and lost. We heard that it is not uncommon for people to save up for months and then come and blow it all in a day (or a few hours).
One of the sites of Macau is the Kun Iam temple (Buddhist), site of the famous stone table where Caleb Cushing, Envoy Extraordinairy and Minister Plenipotentiary (apparently what the U.S. then lacked in clout it made up for in lengthy titles) signed the first treaty between China and the United States in 1844. But the table was inaccessible during our visit due to repair work. Below you can see an inner view of the temple, with the ubiquitous incense coils hanging from the ceiling.
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