Thursday, 28 February 2008

Copy Watch?, 18:23, 28/02/2008

Depending on your mood, walking up and down the electronics district of Kowloon (in Hong Kong) can either make you laugh or do your head in. Massage sir? Copy watch? Rolex? Copy watch? Copy watch? Please, if you come here, don't buy a copy watch (a knock-off watch which will most likely break on the plane home), it just encourages the Bangladeshi guys here that are shouting this at you all the time that they're doing something right.

I strayed out to Central (Hong Kong Island) where everything is more uniformly more expensive and posher-looking, here I bought some Acuvue contact lenses, which work out to be around £20 a box, so roughly a third cheaper in comparison to the UK. It was here I found that I have catarachts, a clouding on the lenses in my eyes - wearing UV-coated glasses or sunglasses can help prevent them. Great! Anyway, I mooched on back to Kowloon (the main island of Hong Kong, which is split into four main parts, Lantau Island, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories), and visited one of the many electronic dealers who also sell spectacles - I found that these places are far cheaper than dedicated opticians, sometimes by half the price. I ordered a pair for around HK$800 (£53), a bargain from a street retailer, but far cheaper to order online ( being my choice).

If you're one to hit the museums with all you've got, then you can't go wrong with Hong Kong's museum card, HK$50 (£3.30) will let you into it's seven main places including the Science Museum and History Museum (which are located opposite each other). I've only visited the former, and while it felt a bit 1980s, it redeemed itself with a lot of interactive displays, a large hall of mirrors and a gallery dedicated to wildlife photography (which takes around half an hour to get around). The museum card is valid for six months, so even if you don't make full use of it, you can come back in the future or pass it onto someone else that looks your age if you're feeling particularly generous.

Throughout the city, you can usually find an internet cafe within five minutes walk, my favourite has been an HK$8 p/h (50 pence) place with Pepsi on tap and games to play if you're bored. The floor above it charges HK$20 p/h (£1.30), gives you a free drink and has a large library of manga books to read - this would make it heaven for me, except it's all in Cantonese, heart-breaking to say the least! This place is located in Sham Shui Po, but best of all, around the corner is the Golden Computer Centre, one huge building (split into two parts with two floors in each) dedicated to games, consoles, laptops, computers, monitors, accessories, books and many more items. It's quite a way out of central Kowloon so you won't see many non-Chinese there, but the prices are far better than in Nathan Road and they have a far superior range. Each stall inside the building is packed closely to the next, so bargaining has never been easier - if you don't like the price, turn around and ask the next stall. Memory cards (in all shapes, sizes and forms) are particularly cheap, as are the Nintendo DS flash cartridges (a cartridge you can put downloaded games onto so you don't have to pay for them), whereas in the UK they're twice the price.

Just like Amsterdam, it's easy to meet people doing exactly the same thing as you. On the first night I went around the town and the harbour with a girl called Katie, the day after that I befriended two Canadians that were staying in the same room as me, as well as Dave from Washington DC and James from Surrey. We all went to the local dive known as Sticky Fingers. Yes, it's as tacky as it sounds, but great fun. It's for the 40+ white guy with a penchant for prostitutes - we went (we being five 19 - 31 year old guys) simply as a way to people watch, it's fascinating to do so and ends up with many a laugh. At night they stop their 2-for-1 offer on drinks and have a local covers-band play the rock hits from the 70s and 80s in a tremendous fashion.

One of the best views you can find in Hong Kong is the harbour from either Kowloon or Central (across the water). During the day the skyline is slightly foggy, but, it's not fog but pollution from all the cars and coal-burning factories. This haze is consistent throughout Hong Kong, even high up in the peaks and far-out reaches where you can only see green. At night the harbour lights up, literally, as at 8pm every night there is the world's largest permanent urban lightshow (the city has a few 'biggest' and 'largest'), it lasts about thirteen minutes and has many of the financial buildings taking part in time to the music. It's fun to watch and worth a short amount of anyone's time. Videos to be uploaded in due course.

In any of Hong Kong's many restaurants, you can usually get tea for free and the food is rarely expensive - whenever it is you can't be far from one that isn't. Meals can be picked up for as little as HK$15 (£1), to HK$38 (£2.60) at the very most for something substantial. Of course, there is much fine-dining to be had, but when credit cards go bad and you're trying to budget yourself, you have to be wary about spending even £5 on a meal when you realise you have to eat twice at a day (plus snacks and drinks).

Myself and American Dave (visit for his blog) made our way to the Mid-Levels Escalators, the largest series of escalators in the world. We first thought it was the largest single escalator, but it turns out to be about fifteen long ones leading half way up the hill in Central Hong Kong (on Hong Kong Island). It takes you very close to the Peak Tram, a tram to take you up to Victoria Peak for a fantastic view of most of Hong Kong, including the harbour. Pictures will follow in a further update.

The following day (today in fact) we took the MTR (the equivalent of London's Underground) to Lantau Island, a half hour journey across Hong Kong to Tung Chung, where the world's largest sitting bronze Buddha resides. To get there we had to queue for over an hour and a half for the cable car to take us over the peaks, past the airport and up to Ngong Ping village. Here there's the huge Buddha, a fantastic view of the forests surrounding it, and a monastery for your perusal. After going up and down the Victoria Peak the day before, we retired earlier today to get some much needed rest. Despite the crazy amount of escalators in this city, we still ended up tired and aching from all the walking and hiking. No bad thing of course, but be prepared to spend a good day on each of the museums, peaks and main attractions.

I'll be uploaded a whole lot of pictures soon, but really need to sort through them all first, as Dave has an inherent knack for taking one at every opportunity, which has suitably rubbed off on me.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Pictures So Far, 09:16, 24/02/2008

Here is a collection of pictures from my trip in Hong Kong so far.. all chronological, some taken purely because of the amusement, guess which!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Good News Everyone!, 15:36, 23/02/2008

I removed myself from my dingy shitty room with gusto, had a shower in what feels like a makeshift bathroom (all of them seem to consist of a shower-head behind the toilet in a small toilet-sized room) with hot water that took a good twenty minutes to accumulate.. and got myself back to reception for my first (and hopefully last) room change of the week.

Somehow, it's a luxury suite in comparison. It's a four bedroom 'dorm' (a room twice the size of my last, just with two bunk beds inside), and it's amazingly clean in comparison to my former abode. So, I'm happier! Last night I met a girl called Katie (from Jersey) in the internet cafe, and had a fun time getting lost trying to find my room again, so went and visited the harbour front where the olympic mascots are (in the form of huge lit lanterns), as well as the walk of stars (didn't recognise any of the names..) and a large Bruce Lee statue. It seems everyone here worships Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, being that they're the biggest exports of this place, not a bad thing though.

Today, I'll be taking myself through a park, and might get myself a pair or two of new spectacles.. depending on if I can find a reputable place with frames that I like. I do need some contact lenses too. For now!

Friday, 22 February 2008

Hong Kong!, 20:55, 22/02/2008

A twelve hour plane journey, coupled with some weird jetlag (I feel like it's still the same day, realise it isn't but everything also feels extremely far away..but not) and, well, quite a crazy city, is exhausting to say the least. I flew with Oasis Hong Kong, who aren't expensive (£196 one way, all inc.), but really, I shouldn't have expected too much. My leg room was extremely restricted and the food was terrible - but, the staff were happy enough, the people adjacent both gave me their contact details and invited me to various places (including Shenzen, and up-and-coming town in China, great for shopping and parties, apparently!), so that helped my along the way. The view from the plane was very special indeed, sand dunes upon sand dunes, covered in ice/snow, then mountains of green. Certainly, China is interesting from the sky.

I knew the weather wasn't going to be fantastic, reports of rain from the online weather websites told me that, but, I've only encountered a few flecks at the most. Generally, it's anything up to 20 degrees C, warm enough for a shirt anywhere you go.

Getting from the airport wasn't too much of a hassle, it's a fantastic piece of architecture and serves it's function. There are plenty of options for getting out of the place too, Airport Shuttles, Airport Buses, taxis, trains, it's all there. I paid HK$33 (£2) for a bus to Nathan Road (the electronic's district where everything dodgy and not is available), it took around half an hour or so, so pretty good value all in all, plus, the buses are exactly the same as ours (and drive on the same side of the road). Arriving at the place I was due to stay was a little confusing, as the bus takes you past many high-rising blocks of flats, through lush greenery, into roadworks, by some gritty looking slums, then into neon-light neopolitan Kowloon. I went inside the block, found my way around some dodgy looking stalls and shops, up to the 16th floor, and find a hand-written sign telling me to go to reception on the 13th floor. Okay, to the 13th floor! I get there.. there's a guy in the corridor with a small chair and table, and a list of printed out names. I point mine out, pay my HK$612 (£40) for the week's stay, and get led by a girl down an elevator, out of the building, past some other buildings, into another, past a load more dodgy looking shops indoors, mostly selling mobile phones, into another elevator, up to what I think is the 17th floor, around a corner, through two sets of doors, into a yellow door, down the corridor, and into the shittiest little room I have ever seen. Buy hey, £6 a night? Anyway, the bed? Well, imagine a small box room, one half has a big plank of wood suspended at waist-height, with a two-inch (at the most) squashed 'mattress' on it, one pillow, a wooly blanket, a shitty TV in the corner (no grounding pin on the plug, oh, and it doesn't work), a fan in the ceiling, and, well, that's it (thankfully). I say thankfully, simply because I would probably go crazy if I found some life-forms in there (such as cockroaches), but as it is, I'm going to chalk this up to what I can only describe as a life experience, one that I should really make note of and research the places I stay in. From now on, I don't think I'll be as stingy, it's just not worth it.

Escaping my room after the quick change of clothes (I've been wearing them since 9am on the 21st), I take ten minutes trying to escape Chungking Mansions (the block of apartments where all these little hostel things are located) and just walk.. I walk for what must have been an hour. If you're white, you seem to get hassled by every Indian guy in Hong Kong, trying to sell you his 'Rolex' or whatever it is he has on his arm. I've given up telling them to sod off, now I take the cool stance and look firmly ahead, ignoring any requests, or just shake my head everytime someone says 'excuse me kind sir', 'hello friend!', 'wanna buy cheap watch?', 'just check this out really good deal once time only please'. I suppose I'll be used to it tomorrow. I end up resting at a small restaurant, spiced beef with rice, HK$55 (£3.60) in total, with complementary green tea in a plastic cup. Then, onwards! I got a new SIM card (I'll update with a number soon), got the essentials (shaving foam, shower gel, hair-gel), and now I'm resting at the internet cafe with a girl from Jersey, who sadly has had to make do without her bag (as it was lost at the airport). Ouch..

Anyway, photos will be uploaded sometime, I'm shattered (I've been awake since 9am yesterday). Take care!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Home, 14:49, 14/02/2008

I haven't been up to much since my last update, I went to see Jimmy Eat World play at the Paradiso (which was pretty good), and generally lazed around more than anything. I flew back to the UK on the 12th, and almost immediately became ill when I returned to the house (only today am I feeling even slightly better) - possibly the sushi at London Victoria Station (typical!).

My next location is Hong Kong, flying out on the 21st of February (this month), I get into Hong Kong the following day (long flight!) at 15:40. Now I must make a list of all the things I must see and do before I get there!

Friday, 8 February 2008

The Library of Wonders, 14:05, 08/02/2008

Following on from my previous (brief) post, the last three pictures were inside the library in Amsterdam, which I'm told has only be there for around a year. The pictures below are all from the library too, it's like a work of architectural art (Gerd, the German guy I've been with for most of this week is an architect, and was impressed with everything apart from the toilets, which apparently many places get wrong). Hundreds of computers as well as hundreds of iMac computers, lots of subtle and tasteful lighting, a bar, a restaurant, conference and lecture rooms, DVDs, music, many floors of books, and the best view over Amsterdam.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A Quick Update, 11:50, 06/02/2008

I've been busy the past few days, I left the beach hostel, but met a German guy (from Frankfurt) called Gerd, since then we've gone to a few museums, art galleries, the new Amsterdam library (filled will Apple-esque lighting and over a hundred iMacs, as well as a restaurant that puts many to shame), a sauna and various other places.

It was my first time in a sauna, I did both the wet and dry versions, but it was also my first time naked in front of many other men, or indeed any men. A surreal experience, but to Dutch and German people, it's the normal thing.

I'll upload a few pictures and update the text when I have more time.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Noordwijk, 19:43, 02/02/2008

Since last time, I've been to the Rijksmuseum, gotten soaking wet, hung out in the Flying Pig Downtown Hostel a lot, found two guys in exactly the same situation as me and had a fantastic couple of nights out, and most recently find myself in another branch of the Flying Pig next to a (wet, cold, windy) beach!

The Rijksmuseum (above) is home to a lot of Rembrandt's work, including a rare self-portrait and 'The Night Watch', a proclaimed masterpiece from his detailed career. It's huge (20' tall, maybe?), the council in Amsterdam cut a good portion off the side of it, and has some interesting history behind it, such as when a man went a little crazy on it with a knife and slashed it up a bit a few years ago. Thankfully, the Rijksmuseum was a surprise in that I didn't know what exactly the 'Rijks' were, but according to a guy at the bar I'm sitting at, it means it's a royal museum. It's full of art from well-known artists and their students, some of it is breath-taking, specifically the still-life pictures they had on display - the reflections, the colour, the detail.. it's inspirational but makes you think why you should bother trying to paint when perfection is already on the wall.

After this, I went back to my room to relax, because the weather was just like an English winter, wet, windy, cold and dark, and I needed to get up early to check out and get the shuttle bus to the beach hostel, 40km out from Amsterdam. Then I found that it was just like Amsterdam, just not so dark and wet - it is, however, on a beach, but (there's always a but), it's cordoned off because quicksand is forming on it, so they're putting a million (or so) tonnes of extra sand on top. I managed to get some good pictures from a balcony though.

I'm only in Noordwijk (where the beach hostel is located) until tomorrow morning before going back to Amsterdam, but I found a bus to Leiden where more shops and sight-seeing can be had. My first stop inside the (small) city was Oudt Leyden, one of the first (or maybe the first!) pancake-houses in the Netherlands, started in 1907. I've had one pancake experience in the Netherlands so far and it wasn't great, but, I had hopes.. and these were met with this Apfelstrudel (no prizes for guessing what it means):

Which quickly turned into this:

Inside the pancake-house was a sign that read "Toiletten", beneath this it says "Lavatory", just in case you didn't understand what the first meant.

In Leiden, there's the usual FreeRecordStore (the Dutch equivalent of Zavii/HMV, but a lot smaller), Claire's, McDonalds, Hema and coffee-shops, but there's a lot of individuality in between, not least the windmills.

And more beautiful architecture that adorns the streets of the Netherlands. Don't forget to click the images, as they all enlargen.

The open market that intertwines with the canals and streets features a lot of food stalls from fruit and veg to nuts and fish, as well as all the usual clothes, shoes and bakery stalls too. I managed to find some huge chilis (suitable for cooking later on) and came across too many tempting smells.

Here's a few pictures of the canals as well.

In Leiden I managed to get lost yet again, but eventually found the Museum of Antiquities, basically a place where they shoved a load of historical pieces into, including a lot of Egyptian figures, pottery, mummies and a cast of the Rosetta stone. Here you can use the Museumkaart to gain entry, rather than pay the €9 entry - there are also another four museums in Leiden in which you can use the card, helpful for making use of the card. I returned to the beach hostel shortly after (I only had time to go around for half an hour before it closed at 17:00).