Hong Kong – What’s wrong?

You know what I don’t get? Hong Kong. I don’t get how it managed to completely fail in meeting my expectations in so many ways. Granted, it meets many other expectations, but that’s less interesting to rant about: ‘Grr, I hate how everyone speaks English and everything is open way into the night for your convenience’.

But to be honest, I don’t recall a time when I’ve felt so frustrated and angry at a place. Oh, yeah there was that one time – The last time I came to Hong Kong.

I seem to have forgotten the utter uselessness of the city and dreamed about returning, for it was one of my favourite places ever. I’m not sure how I forgot how it was one of the worst places ever.

No, that isn’t true, but seriously, what is your problem, Hong Kong? No, don’t blame Beijing, you are pretty much independent of those guys. You can only blame yourself.

What am I even talking about? Ok. Today, I was up at 7am, out of the place I was staying at 8am, on my way directly to the next place, a hotel, for 2 days.

I arrived at about 9:20. They had no record of my booking, despite showing them my passport and confirmation email, and they said to come back at 11am, and they’ll either have the room or I’ll be on my way having wasted $135. Fine, I thought. I’ll just go and find some wifi and sit there to complain about Hong Kong for a while (Although, the Hotel and internet cannot assign blame to Hong Kong, just general incompetence, the sort of thing you find in Vietnam on an hourly basis). That’s where things started to go wrong.

I also started needing to go to the toilet. Being where I was before – Couchsurfing – I hadn’t thought to use their bathroom until it was too late and I had to get going. No problem I’ll just find a café or something and it’ll have all my needs laid out for me.

For a moment, let’s pretend we’re in Korea:
*walks for 20 seconds* – Aha, a MacDonalds/Starbucks/Internet café/Café Bene/anything else. free wifi. Oh, I don’t need to walk 20 whole seconds, there’s already free wifi all over the city.
But there is a bathroom over in (desired eatery). Oh wait, there’s another bathroom a mere 5 seconds away in that building. Oh, and that building.

Basically, in Seoul, everything is infamously convenient. You cannot really be anywhere without internet, unless you go up some particularly remote mountains. Even then, of course you have 3g/4g. Toilets are by law required to be open to the public in all buildings. Any sudden desire to let loose and you’re no more than 2 minutes away from relief.

Now let’s go back to Hong Kong.  The centre of Hong Kong. In fact, I’m so central by this point, that the next subway stop is at a location named ‘Central’. So how is it, in the most densely populated city on Earth (or at least top 3) I found myself walking for 40 minutes, getting into the subway, transferring and travelling up another 20 minutes, walking again for a further 10-15 minutes to find a MacDonalds in which there is a mere 20 minutes of free Wifi and no toilet?

It’s now 11:15am. I am supposed to be back at the hotel to get my room sorted, yet here I am typing on Microsoft Word, because the free wifi doesn’t even work, and if it did, it would have ran out of its generous 20 minutes long before I managed to post this.

Going around Nepal with no internet whatsoever for the better part of a month, and holes in the ground for toilets, I can understand. It’s an undeveloped nation. This means it has to develop; you cannot lay your expectations of a modern hyper city when you’re in a village of 20 people who have never even heard of such a concept.

But Hong Kong? One of the most developed places on earth, the most openly free and economic powerhouses you can picture, cannot conjure up a public toilet or wifi access?

I’ve wasted half my day because I expected this place to be a bit easier to work with than Ho Chi Minh, a place in a country whose slogan, I decided, should be ‘Vietnam: Where nothing works’. But alas! Free wifi and toilets within a few minutes’ drive at worst there!

Not only that, but when I’ve finished failing to connect to the internet, I have to make the trip back, which means I have to pay for both the subway and a taxi. Free wifi just cost me well over US $10. I have been genuinely furious. And it’s the exact same feeling I had when I last came here.

I had a Korean phone, which, to highlight one of the flaws in Korea, doesn’t work abroad or with different SIM cards, to my dismay. So my only way to communicate with people I was to meet was via the internet.

I remember it like the devil itself is dancing in front of me with flashcards of horrible memories. I had to organize a meeting time and place exactly via the internet. How did I do that? I went to an internet café. Where was an internet café? I have no idea. I had to walk around for half a day to find a single one. From that point on, I had to travel to that exact location every time I wanted to communicate or organize various things to do during my stay. I went to ‘central’, and even asking people just created a sort of puzzled expression, as if I was wacky to think Wifi was something you actually get, and not merely read about in fantasy books.

Needless to say, things were slightly confused at points and I failed to meet people entirely, having to go BACK to the internet café, 20 minutes away via the metro, to wait for them to get online again on their non-Korean, working phones.

Another little detail: No plug sockets. When I was trying to find one to charge my phone, I searched at the airport, and the metro stations, and the malls, and I found one, labeled ‘for staff use only’. I plugged in, and received no power whatsoever. MacDonald’s maybe? Starbucks? Wishful thinking. Korea has plugs. Vietnam has plugs. Hell, I plugged my laptop in at a restaurant in Kathmandu!

So even now, now I’m still attempting to connect to the numerous wifi’s that are unlocked and titled ‘Free wifi’ or ‘OneTwoFree’, only to find I need a password via the browser, or they just won’t connect at all, and my battery is running out, never to be charged again, perhaps when I go back to Shanghai, a city that works.

That’s right, Hong Kong. Further proof that Beijing isn’t to blame. How come it allows such conveniences in Shanghai, your direct competitor? I think I know the victor here.

Hmm, what else do I have to complain about… Oh, well there is the thing where I left my camera on a bench for 20 seconds, only to find it was gone when I returned. Something that would basically never happen in Japan, Korea or Shanghai. I guess people here still haven’t gotten their morals ironed out. It’s that British influence, I’d guess. But no, I’ll save that for the next post. That’s right, Hong Kong’s indecency deserves two whole posts by me.

I suppose I should round this off by justifying my trip here. It’s not a BAD city. It just has a lot of shit about it. It’s a very developed place.  It’s economically, structurally and socially very developed, above most cities you can imagine. Above Korea. But Korea and Shanghai are both far, far more technologically advanced. Korea, with a subway system you can barely comprehend via the intuitive map design – easily mistaken for a particularly prolific spider’s web – and touchscreens everywhere, wifi wherever you go, shiny and modern taxis complete with sat nav in each one, buses with interactive screens and live schedule updates, it’s understandable how I am reacting based on my time living there, but at the same time, Korea is a depressing place. People seem to be fading away, their souls weakened by the pressure of existence.

Here in Hong Kong, the people seem to have settled their souls in place, they are content with it and they are pushing on with energy and enthusiasm. They are drinking their coffees without a desperate pen in one hand, a large study guide full of highlighted notes on the table and tears of fear down their cheeks. There are old people who are sober, hands behind their backs doing that annoyingly slow walk they seem to do whenever their hands are behind their backs, rather than stumbling around with soju in one hand, cigarette in the other, yelling about foreigners ruining their country. Obviously this is just the image I get from observation, but to me it’s that obvious and that aura created is pretty important for a city’s image.

The buildings are impressive and beautiful, the fashion is classy and expensive, the accessibility for the disabled is consistently high – With beeping signals at every traffic light, brail with signaling sounds in every subway for help and explanations, pathways with ridges in the pavement for the blind to feel around, and slopes for wheelchairs in the majority of subways.
The weather is hot and variable. You might think that’s a bad thing, but try living in Ho Chi Minh City, or Dubai, where it is 38C and cloudlessly sunny every day for 6 months, and then, in HCMC’s case, 34C and permanently rainy for the next 6.
The people speak English very well, be they 18 or 80 years old. This will save many people’s lives when getting lost in the maze of the metropolis. Stores are open late, and late on Sundays. I’d even go as f… wait…I need the bathroom badly now. I’ll be back in 4 hours when I’ve actually found one and vomited my pure rage into the sink.

(As of posting, it’s 1:15pm. I have found wireless in a subway station (some have it, not all), where the free internet is a limited 15 minutes, and the computers with said internet don’t work. I had to get my laptop out and now I stand here like a doofus and potential theft victim whilst I try and get myself organised. Still no toilet.)

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