Monday, August 15, 2011

Hong Kong Redux: Border Crossings, Dim Sum, and Mountains

My dad’s former colleague and her husband live in Hong Kong. I haven’t seen them for three years. They invited me to spend the day with them. I have a multiple entry visa, so Macau or Hong Kong were both possibilities  Originally, we were going to go to Macau for an architecture and food adventure for the day, but then the husband had a brief morning meeting, so they couldn’t leave Hong Kong.. Thus, I went in to see them for the day. Shenzhen is on Hong Kong’s border, so this is quite possible.

Hong Kong is a separate customs territory from Mainland China, with a different currency, legal system, and even driving system to boot. Beijing is largely only responsible for foreign affairs, defense, and some governance. Thus, one needs to cross an international-style border crossing to enter Hong Kong from Mainland China. Which happens to be quite an adventure. Photos aren’t allowed, so I need to describe it in words.

I left my place at 7:45am and got to the border at 8:30am.

It was chaos.

To enter HK from Mainland, you go through customs twice: once on the Mainland side to confirm your exit, and once in Hong Kong to confirm your entry. The Mainland exit hall is roughly seven hundred feet long by 100 feet wide, with fifty-sixty immigration desks. Each with about…thirty people behind them. Most with more. I’d say that 2,000 people were waiting to cross the border. Futian Checkpoint is the less crowded one.
The border guards do a meticulous inspection of each person’s documents. Crossing the Mainland exit takes an hour and a half alone.

It was all right in general. An adventure. I would estimate 95-96% of the crowd was Mainland Chinese, going into HK for shopping and to escape the chaos of the first day of the Universiade.

There were many small children. Many of them were driven a bit wild by the waiting, and started misbehaving. I was repeatedly accosted by a boy of about eight or nine until I asked his mother to get him to stop. She responded that he was “just young, and didn’t understand why we have to wait so long.” He stopped though.

The children became much better behaved after everyone crossed the footbridge to Hong Kong – I crossed around 10am. The Hong Kong customs officials are brook-no-bullshit types. I saw one rather strongly shove a child that cut the line. Wow.

The Hong Kong line is more efficiently managed, as one huge, snaking queue. The HK guards are quick. Even then, it took an hour due to the sheer mass of people. It wasn’t too bad though.
Anyway, I got through customs and took the train into the city.

The view at the border is phenomenal: on the one side, you have the mostly parkland, mountainous north of Hong Kong, and then on the other you have the city of Shenzhen and its enormous skyline, cut by other mountains. You have some of the sea, and the wetlands that surround the area around Lok Ma Chau/Luomazhou.

I met my friends at their fancy apartment building on Hong Kong Island a bit after 12. They live in a tony, mostly expatriate-populated complex on the side of a mountain. It’s positively weird to be in a well-appointed apartment while on a mountainside.

We had a dim sum lunch in the complex’s restaurant, which was phenomenal. This wasn’t normal dim sum, this was classy dim sum, and everything tasted amazing, including some really good “mock goose.”Over lunch, we caught up. The husband got his MBA at Booth and had a lot of questions about campus now.

Then we went hiking.

Not only is this only a few kilometers from Hong Kong’s business district, but that water is in a reservoir. You can hear birds singing.

We walked to a reservoir, then around it, and then up and down hillsides until we reached a main road several kilometers later. It was quite a hike, but afforded views like these:
Six kilometers from here, a middle-aged housewife might be in the giant Louis Vuitton store, debating which expensive handbag she should buy.
Mountains. MOUNTAINS.
From the road, we hailed a cab-which seemed to be travelling back to the more populated parts, and went to a touristy waterside area called Stanley for ginger ales and gawking at Aussie backpackers.

Then it was back to the apartment to wash up, and I went back that evening. The border crossing was a lot less chaotic - I hit a lull time – and I got back to my place just fine. I splurged on a cab from the border crossing to my place, and was pretty proud that I could direct him.

Expect a post tomorrow from events here in Shenzhen.

P.S. Location feature on Blogger! Awesome.

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