Many years ago, when my family lived in Destin, Florida, my parents decided that the one place we absolutely had to visit before we moved out of there was, obviously, Walt Disney World in Orlando. I remember it as one of the best trips of my life; for some reason, little details like the trailer of the then-unreleased Aladdin playing over and over again on our hotel room TV stuck in my mind, as well as having to take care of my brother while my parents went on roller coasters because he was too young and I was too scared. I always associated a good vacation with how vividly I could remember it.
Which was why, when my mother asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to accompany her to Hong Kong for her boarding school’s centenary celebration (why an Oxford-based boarding school chooses to celebrate its 100th year in a place like Hong Kong is beyond me), I hesitated. I remember visiting Hong Kong with my grandparents when I was about nine years old, but I remember absolutely nothing else about the trip itself. I therefore deduced I must not have liked it very much if I hadn’t even bothered to retain any memories of it. But, because guilt usually wins over where my mother is concerned, and Sofiya, my very first roommate from the SUNY Buffalo dorm, is from Hong Kong, I agreed to go.
And now, at 29-going-on-30 and with the patience of a church planter, I can wholeheartedly say that I’m glad I went to Hong Kong this time with my mother — because it has given me enough memories to know that I will never again set foot in that country, as well as the country it is so embarrassingly entrapped with now: China.
So these are some of the most glaring deductions I’ve come to based on the four days I spent in Hong Kong:
The ‘PRC people’ are not a myth. It’s always been something of a universally-accepted fact: the mainland Chinese (or ‘PRC’, People’s Republic of China) people are Neanderthals, no matter which part of the world they’re found in. I saw some shadow of this when I visited Italy, Switzerland and the USA last year — malls, streets and hotels crawling with people whose way of dressing alone gave away their origins — but the effect of it was somewhat diluted against all the other locals and foreigners.
In Hong Kong, however, the mainland Chinese are quite literally everywhere, and it wasn’t until this trip that I realized Indians and Arabs aren’t the only ones who appear completely lawless, unethical and downright rude. And it’s a sign of how the sheer volume of mainland Chinese people has reached epidemic proportions that every mall carries the same high-fashion and fine jewelry brands just to accommodate their numbers. It’s also a sign of how this spillover has jaded the Hong Kong population that Sofiya very nonchalantly asked me, “Have you seen anyone peeing into the subway tracks yet? Or spitting across a sidewalk into the trash?” Fortunately, I didn’t.
Like Singapore, only dirtier. Hong Kong’s two redeeming factors are its extremely convenient public transportation system, and its interconnected buildings. As long as one knows the exact name of one’s destination, a first-time tourist (or second-time-but-has-no-memory-of-the-first) would be able to find their way around Hong Kong via bus or train and underground walkways. Having become accustomed to New York and Singapore’s subway systems, I opted for the train — not only out of convenience, but also to avoid the air, traffic and human pollution.
An understanding of how Hong Kong works is essential. When I told my friends in Malaysia that I would be going to Hong Kong, one of their first responses was “Oh how nice, you can shop!” or something along the lines of how cheap the shopping is. I found this to be true to a certain degree: yes, the prices of designer goods are somewhat lower than those in Malaysia, but still significantly higher than what can be found in Europe and the USA. However, the outlet malls are an entirely different story: not only was I able to find a pair of Charlotte Olympia flats and Chloé wedges I had long coveted — and a totally unexpected pair of Alexander McQueen heels — but I got them at startlingly low prices. And it was my mother’s boarding school classmate who told us exactly which outlet mall to visit, the best part of which it was the kind of mall that hardly anyone went to because it looked like nothing more than a decrepit office building.
All in all, this trip was definitely an eye-opening experience for me, and one that I will be only too happy not to have to repeat. And I will make damned sure of that, because, as Sofiya herself said, “The next time we meet, it should not be in Hong Kong.”