Monday, July 11, 2011


Hong Kong is a wonderfully complex megalopolis on the upswing. Jam packed with optimism, greed, and a belief that tomorrow can only get better. It is an exciting place to be, if only as a  bystander. 

For the most part, I found everyone to be friendly and helpful. But there is an undercurrent of mercantile professionalism that seems to underly every personal interaction. It's like: "If you don't know what you want, step aside; the guy behind you does." 

I chose that hotel because of its location. I read several reviews that the hotel was in desperate need of refurbishment. That's not what I found. My room was well appointed, of a fair sized (especially for Hong Kong), with all the amenities that one would expect. Room service was OK but I'd pass on the restaurants. I spent 10 days there very happily.

In good weather the Peak is an "OK" half-day trip. Up top it's nothing like I imagined after reading the guide book descriptions. A mall is a mall, even on top of Hong Kong's tallest hill. In the public area you do get the views of Hong Kong and Kowloon that grace the pages of all the tourist literature. I've heard others rave about the experience, but for me it was a real let down.

I loved this city and highly recommend it to everyone. There was something about its old world charm that totally captivated me. I would have loved better weather and a longer stay, but the glimpse I got was really intriguing. It's the yin to Hong Kong's yang. 

Kowloon is a shopper's paradise but, as in any big city, buyer beware. You need to be on your toes and make sure you're getting what you paid for. After a purchase, never let the item out of your sight, not even to be wrapped or bagged. These merchants are too good at sleight of hand. And always remember to get a written receipt. 

It's not as glamours as it once was, nothing like the Hollywood movies of the 50s and 60s. But it is a refreshing outing, offering an incomparable view of Hong Kong Island in a nostalgic frame of reference. Commercially it's been a losing proposition for quite a while, but the City Fathers keep it running as a historic and tourist attraction. After all, what would a visit to Hong Kong be without a ride on the ferry, even if Suzy Wong never shows up. 

Hollywood Road
Hollywood Road is an antiquer's heaven. The stores that front the road have the most amazing objects you can imagine. The only problem, other than their astronomical price, is that it's impossible for a lay person to tell if it's two thousand years old or made last week. If you become enamored, you need to enlist the aid of an expert before you shell out the big bucks.

Wong Tai Sin Temple
Located in the northeast corner of Kowloon, this Taoist temple is famous throughout China and Southeast Asia for its core of soothsayers' forecasting abilities. Despite the crush of people, it's worth while standing in line to get your turn at shaking out the Fortune Stick. Down on the fortune teller's level, pick your reader wisely. They will interpret your numbers for a nominal sum and read your palms for an additional charge that is NOT a nominal sum. 

Temple Street Night Market
I was totally disappointed. Just an average swap meet, like you'd see anywhere in LA. A lot of t-shirts and other low-end souvenirs; nothing that peaked my interest. 

The Octopus Card is a godsend for travelers. I can't recommend it highly enough. The ease by which it expedites your transactions throughout Hong Kong and the surrounding areas can't be over stated.  I wish every major city had a similar program. 
See <> for current costs.

Bespoken Suit
Bespoke Tailors are an institution in Hong Kong. Many of these establishments have been around for over a hundred years and have a long tradition of service. Everywhere you turn there is another one promising to fit you perfectly for next to nothing.

From my experience I've learned that the process takes much longer than I expected (if I had known how long, I would have passed). Second, I needed to be much better informed. If you are going to avail yourself of this service do some research, know what you want (style, fit, material, etc.) and what you don't want. Most importantly, stick to your guns if you feel that you are not getting what you are paying for. Remember: THE SUIT IS BEING MADE TO FIT YOU, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!

Below: Me at home, besuited.        Photo: ©2011 James Payne