Next, I wandered toward the harbor front, to the imaginatively-named Central and Western District Promenade. This vast patch of well-kept lawns and spanking new plazas offered sweeping views of Kowloon across the harbor, and the modern architecture of Central. Most notable was part of the Hong Kong Convention Center, which looks like a poor man’s Sydney Opera House — except the poor man is rich. In fact, HK currently enjoys a massive budget surplus, and it shows.
Sanitation workers are abundant in HK. In this case, older ladies with brooms that tended to the slightest litter. I half expected them to start polishing the miles of stainless steel railings next. Perhaps the lack of homeless in HK is because the city employs them to clean everything and house them with all the extra public money.
Joggers, sunbathers, and step/fitness gatherings mixed with idiots like me just sitting around drinking coffee. In addition to luxury malls, groups of (mostly) women marching in place along with an exercise class leader could be found practically anywhere there is space. Given the noticeable lack of fat people in HK, these seemed to work well. Also keeping people fit are hills throughout most of the island that makes San Francisco look flat.
Speaking of hills, my next fun was riding the longest outdoor escalator system in the world. I headed there on a massive, blocks-long walkway, raised a couple stories from the street, which ran from the harbor piers to near the escalator entrance. No expense seemed spared on this convenience. The open-air structure is covered from the elements, and the floor made of a smooth, cushioned rubber. The main strip, about fourteen people wide, featured numerous side paths that led to office buildings and luxury malls.
Oddly, the walkway traffic pattern ran opposite that of the HK streets and escalators. This is clear proof that human nature demands people walk (or drive) on the right, and the UK and her former possessions are silly to pretend otherwise.
Despite my phone’s lack of a data connection, somehow Google Maps began to function. This was important because pedestrian signage in HK isn’t the best and the streets are not on an easily understandable grid system. At least one can gauge direction based on the terrain: downhill is usually north, towards the harbor. Even with my phone locating me, I still shot by the entrance to the escalator system twice.
The escalators are like NYC’s High Line: a great place for a tourist checking out a city for the first time. Twenty separate sections of moving stairs and three moving walkways move pedestrians past myriad cafés, shops, and pockets of residential neighborhoods. I wandered around at many of the transfer levels and got back on to rise to the next. Most were spots I’d never bother to check out otherwise. I made excellent tourist progress.
The areas I explored were more gritty and genuine than gleaming, modern lower Central. Many dozens of street vendors occupied narrow alleys, as found in greater abundance on the Kowloon side of HK.
My first exposure to the “back-of-the-house in the front” came here, too. To wit, many small businesses operated right out in front, often utilizing the sidewalk for extra space. Food prep, motorcycle repair, welding — didn’t matter. Fish were gutted and chopped up in front of god and everybody. “Can you see if you have it in the back?” is probably never heard, because odds are you’re looking at the “back,” right on the street.
I forged onward, and after reaching the top of the last escalator my urban hike really began. The steep path back down consisted of hundreds of not-so-even steps. Perhaps I need that knee replacement sooner rather than later. My perma-grin remained anyway. I eventually cut west on Wellington Street and headed back to my hotel. The walk remained rigorous, with lots of ups, downs, and oddly-spaced steps.
Unlike most other SE Asia locales, HK folks aren’t exactly warm and friendly, at least at first blush. Most people scurry along NYC-style. Hardly anyone smiles or says hello just for the sake of it. Older folks I spoke to lamented this; they knew the place before full-blown capitalism changed much of it for good. Rents are exorbitant, only to live in closet-sized apartments among forty floors worth of neighbors. People are in your way all the time.
Such population density has a plus side, of course: hot women all over the place. Like, if you look too long at one you miss the next one. Needless to say, lovers of Asian women would be in a dream world here. Even more striking for me were Caucasian women, many of whom seemed particularly gorgeous and refined. My girl-watching head spun the first couple of days, which was as long as it would be tasteful. My “girlfriend” Lily was to arrive on my third day there, at least until a communication breakdown took place.
Monday evening I stuck around the hotel, reading and relaxing in anticipation of five wonderful days to come. I dumped some tequila into Sprite for an economical buzz to wind down. I also texted with Lily, as usual. Lily understands English well, but hardly perfect. What she hears and what I mean can be two different things. This can be endearing, but also problematic. Especially when coupled with the anxiety of finally meeting after nine years.
I texted: “I can’t wait for you to get here!”
Lily heard: “I’m probably going to need to find companionship tonight because you’re not here yet!”
I texted: “You coming here is too good to be true!”
Lily heard: “You’re probably lying about coming here!”
Lily threatened to cancel her trip. She even gave me a thumbs down emoji, which I’d never seen from her. Luckily I was half-drunk at the time, and thus had the patience to talk her down without getting ugly about it. It pays to be a happy drunk.
Experience told me to not worry about it too much until the next day, which would determine if Lily was serious. The episode drew out over two or three hours, however, and since I moved on to whiskey on the rocks in the meantime. I drowned my fear of the prospect of the whole trip being blown up.
I ended up too drunk and slept poorly. The next morning I lacked energy, but differently than a hangover. I thought delayed jet lag had hit me, or even food poisoning. I lied around all day in a state of nausea, hoping my trip wouldn’t be ruined. At least Lily believed my explanations, and our meeting the following day was back on.
Resume Good Times
Late afternoon I felt good enough to go for a stroll. Perhaps the energy of the city would cure what ailed me. Either the vibrancy of Sheung Wan did so, or I shook whatever bug I had. I sat on a low wall at a crosswalk (no benches anywhere, of course) and watched attractive passerby while dictating an audio diary entry. Feeling invigorated, I took a calculated risk.
Thanks to connections with fellow Phish fans, I had some ecstasy tabs delivered. A guy I “knew” from a message board I frequent lived in HK previously, and knew a guy who knew a guy. I called him and he sounded glad to deliver straight to me. Excellent.
A short time later I met a 30-something guy who looked like he’d just finished a day at the accounting office, right on the sidewalk in front of my hotel. The price of $38 USD for each small, molly-infused wafer pained me. I used to sell it myself for much cheaper. On the other hand, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and I love extra kicks while on vacation. Especially ones that involve new girlfriends. So I took $200 I had earmarked for tailor expenses anyway and made the purchase for evenings to come.
The next stop was a neighborhood within walking distance from my hotel, Lan Kwai Fong. This phrase might as well translate to let’s get dressed up and party. I changed into a decent outfit and set out for the fabled entertainment district. Up and down narrow sidewalks and uneven steps I hiked, smiling most of the way. HK is so out of the ordinary for me, and I loved it. I teetered on the unknown, as Anthony Bordain once put it.
Historically, Lan Kwai Fong hosted nights of debauchery for ex-pats and sailors, starting many decades ago. Now it’s a place for everyone to rage. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs abound, one after the other, over a two or three block area that ascends one very steep hill. I visited around nine on a Tuesday evening, so activity was tempered, but plenty of revelers filled outdoor patios anyway. I set up at an Irish bar, where I enjoyed a couple pints of Guinness and watched the most colorful passerby I saw anywhere in HK. I even saw two black people, which is rare in these parts.
A younger me would’ve dove headfirst into this opportunity to party and stayed until the last place closed. Followed gaggles of party girls into the clubs, like a Real American. Instead, I called it an early night, given what huge activity days awaited. Lily arrived in the morning. My only regret is I didn’t chat anyone up while I hung out. This is typical for me, an introvert, but it’s silly to be on the other side of the world and not start a conversation or three. Probably would’ve been fun.
Lily traveled by train from the China border city of Shenzhen, which is only eight or so miles away from HK as the crow flies. In my eagerness to meet her I posted up at our Starbucks meeting spot with time to spare. Over two hours to spare, as it turned out, due to multiple train line changes I failed to calculate and the mountains the trains must circumvent.
Luckily I claimed a stool that faced directly out the storefront window, towards the Metro entrance across the street. This gave me a glimpse into Wednesday morning Sheung Wan city life. Double-decker buses and trolleys came and went, and mostly stylish and fit pedestrians crossed the street right in front of me.
I marveled at the number of beautiful people and how most people seemed physically fit. Most walked with purpose, and few smiles or greetings were exchanged.
As a former delivery person, I took note of the HK dolly. Evidently, the convertible steel ones with inflatable tires so ubiquitous in America are a luxury. The HK version are basically flatbed grocery store shopping carts, usually old and rickety. Their wheels, designed for smooth interior floors, produce a racket on concrete or asphalt. Worse, pedestrian space is limited in HK, and these dollies take up a lot of space. Their operators are a holy terror, too.
By the time Lily finally arrived my coffee buzz was long gone. Luckily a new form adrenaline took hold — seeing Lily for the first time.
I quickly learned she isn’t into PDA at all, because our first embrace was tepid. She was dressed practically and neat and required only one carry-on sized suitcase for her five-day visit. She looked older than her pictures, so she looked about thirty — not anywhere near her actual age of thirty-eight. And she sported a cute little ass.
She must’ve found me to be attractive too because as soon as we hit the hotel room she dragged me onto her bed. (The room had two, so as to not pressure her.) After we were through, she claimed that she used to play coy and hard to get. She obeyed her desires more as an adult. She suffered no puritanical hangups. She called the shots. I learned a great new position thanks to her.
Lily talked dirty, too. When she wished to go at it, she often whispered “I want to raper you.”
Clearly, the gravity of the word “rape” didn’t translate effectively for her. I found her innocent use the phrase hilarious, so I didn’t explain this, of course. You want to raper me? Well when in China . . .
Our first meal (and pic) together was at Dim Sum Square, a noodle places on the same block as the hotel. A line snaked out every time I passed it, so I figured it much be great. Alas Lily, found it to be only so-so. I’m hardly a foodie so my opinion is best ignored. I thought it was fine, though.
Wow, what a ride!
A wonderful evening began by strolling to the harbor piers to catch a bus to the famous Victoria Peak. Lily noticed an underground walkway to the waterfront while inside the Metro station earlier– the one I should’ve used when I bumbled around the surface streets two days before. The width of this walkway reminded me of a freeway tunnel in America. Large crowds move effectively in HK.
My online research suggested the Victoria Peak tram was overpriced and too crowded. Better to take a double-decker bus. We luckily boarded one first and sat in the front row on the top. A huge window in front of us made it feel like a roller coaster. Full views of Central’s modern architecture were notable on the flat terrain (as was a McLaren dealership).
As the climb unfolded, stunning residential settings took the stage. Porsche Panameras and Teslas passing by seemed as common as Camrys and Accords would be in any normal place. A tall residential building dominated one area. One can assume its apartments offer the best urban views in the world. Literally.
Such sights drew oohs and ahhs from our fellow passengers as the bus wound up the hill. A dozen phones recorded the scenery, including mine. Lily grinned constantly. I held her hand and gave her a peck now and then. What a great start to our days together.
Excitement ran high as the bus pulled underneath the visitor center building. Or should I say the Peak Galleria Mall building? At least this one didn’t have a Hermes or Gucci store, but the likes of Haagen Dazs and Sunglass Hut picked up the slack. And Starbucks, obviously.
Our first sweeping view of the harbor and beyond came along a path leading away from the gift mall. I’ve seen a good amount of spectacular sights in my day, and the awesomeness of this one goes right up there with the Grand Canyon. Truly jaw-dropping.
Lily was thrilled to start shooting selfies. I scaled a barrier to access a better spot to take pics from (above the beaten path) and she happily followed, unconcerned about minor rule-breaking. I really liked this woman. We snapped and posed away.
I felt great about our timing. Dusk was about to fall, so we caught the day view fading into night. Rarely satisfied, however, I became obsessed with the viewing platform that beckoned from a couple hundred feet away, above the top floor of the mall. $25 would buy us another thirty feet or so of height from which to marvel. The sunset would be viewable on the opposite side.
“Fuck it, what do I work for anyway?” I might have said.
Five escalators later Lily and I walked out to the platform — the top top. “Worth it” would be an understatement, The crowd size was light, so spots for viewing were easy to find. The sunset side included views of Lamma Island and the South China Sea. The sunset kinda sucked, but a great pic of Lily made up for it.
Darkness descended, and seemingly millions of lights flickered across the HK skyline. A spot for viewing from the front railing came easily for us. The temperature was just right, with a little breeze, and visibility was at least ten miles. In short, the scene was perfect. Except for all the goddamn Asians with cameras, of course. Just kidding.
I could’ve remained gazing in reverie for another thirty minutes. Alas, Lily was less enamored with the sight than I, and she also needed something to eat. So we surrendered our prime spot on the railing to the growing crowd and headed back down.
Back when we ascended to the observation deck, Lily noticed a restaurant sign advertising a French toast dish. Turns out she had to have it. So, much to the horror of any foodies reading this, we hit up the tourist trap for some chow. The half-empty place allowed us to be seated quickly. Soon we downed mediocre food that somehow wasn’t overpriced. A lone French guy joined our conversation from an adjacent table. We discussed Roger Federer, soccer, and the wonders of HK. The guy also interrogated me about Trump and seemed relieved that I consider the U.S. President to be a buffoon.
The next stop for us was the Happy Valley Racecourse. But first, of course, I needed to eat some ecstasy. I did so, stealthily, while waiting for a cab. I didn’t tell Lily, as I really didn’t wish to explain what it was. More importantly, if she didn’t dig the idea, the huge party we headed towards might be a lot less interesting.
We took a cab down the hill, for expediency and comfort. Alas, our driver sucked. He braked in herky-jerky fashion and accelerated at odd times. I nearly asked him to stop and let us walk the rest of the way as soon as we neared our shiny destination. The cramped car was run down, too. I found this to be typical in HK. Seemingly everything is sleek and modern except the cabs. And the hand trucks, of course.
Hundreds of floodlights turned night into day over an area that might accommodate two NFL football stadiums. My eyes grew wide upon seeing such an expanse of open area in the middle of thick urban density. The lights shone on a turf horse track and grandstands that held thousands of spectators. The stands stretched over multiple city blocks. From the outside, it looked more like apartment buildings, which housed seemingly hundreds of private suites and club areas.
In addition to horse races, this gleaming facility hosted a beer festival complete with live bands rocking out between each race. A couple dozen beer brands represented, and hundreds of stylish people socialized in an area between the stands and the track. My ecstasy began to kick in. The lights seemed especially vivid, and Lily even more beautiful.
Neither Lily nor I felt like drinking beer, which may be an even worse offense than dining at the tourist trap an hour earlier. I really felt like socializing. Lily, however, is not such a type. Nor was she on ecstasy. Instead, we found seats in the stands not far from ground level with a clear view of all the action.
Races seemed to go off about every twenty minutes. This gave Lily and me ample time to make googly eyes at each other and chat. She clearly enjoyed herself. I especially loved watching her excitement when the horses hit the home stretch and the cheers around her grew.
I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me. A doctor from London, he was visiting his sister, who is a HK resident. Lucky bastard hangs in HK a week or two every couple of years. We enjoyed a lively conversation about local attractions, world politics, and god knows what else. At times I feared Lily might feel ignored, but every time I checked she just beamed at me. She later said she just liked hearing me talk.
“That’s how we met in the first place, remember?” she said. She was right — we “met” on my video blog show, where I ran my mouth for hours. Touché.
Having a blast, sadness hit me when the last race finished and it was time to leave. Then Lily whispered that she wanted to raper me again, so I warmed to the idea. Since the weather was perfect, we took a stroll to a Metro station to get back to the hotel. As usual on HK Island, its cleanness struck me. No litter, no graffiti. Just nice cars and well-kept or seemingly brand new buildings. Like a Disney World version of a big city.
We stumbled upon Times Square, which is an enormous luxury mall surrounded by numerous huge electronic billboards outside. It reminded me of, well, Times Square.
Once we found the Causeway Bay Metro entrance I wished I had a skateboard. We walked several minutes along perfectly smooth, air-conditioned corridors, headed underground. The place seemed to have just opened for business a couple of weeks earlier. Such was the case throughout the Metro system. It felt brand new, and a train seemed to come along every two minutes.
Day four began with another lovely breakfast on the hotel terrace. After that Lily and I headed to Macau, Las Vegas of the East. I added “ferry” to the modes of transportation I’ve used in my life. First, however, we walked a couple circles around a mall in search of the ferry entrance. Directional signage is not one of HK’s strong points, as I noted back when trying to find the city escalators.
The interior of the ferry resembled that of a 747, only three times wider. We scored window seats on the HK Island side.. An overhead screen alternated between Macau tourism info and wacky Asian music videos.
Un-fucking-believable. This is what I muttered to myself as we passed the endless HK skyline on the way to the South China Sea. After seemingly fifteen minutes I thought the high-rises were past. When we reached the Eastern edge of the island, however, yet another skyline stretched South. And this was only the HK side. Kowloon features about a million tall buildings too, including one of the tallest in the world. NYC looks like Tulsa in comparison.
The ferry hummed past dozens of small, rocky islands at a fast clip. Or at least it seemed like it when I watched the water close to the boat, only about three feet down. Lily did little gazing out the window. The drone of the engines put her to sleep. I enjoyed looking at her then, all peaceful and relaxed. Not much different from her awake state, actually. She’s laid back and easy to get along with.
The Macau Ferry terminal seemed brand new, and was monstrous. I couldn’t imagine a scenario when its full capacity would be needed. The walk to the immigration lines seemed a mile long.
Along the way, I broached the topic of having children with Lily. More specifically, how I didn’t want them since I’m fifty-two years old. I asked her how important bearing a child was to her, like, percentage wise.
“You really want this talk now?” she asked.
“OK, 100 percent.”
I touted the benefits of a life with no kids. She really didn’t want to talk about it. Our balloon full of romantic feelings sputtered and shot aimlessly through the air. We remained great pals, however. Even buck fuddies.
We dropped the subject and headed to the shuttle bus area. Beautiful young models in stylish uniforms directed us to our bus, among dozens. We motored along the edge of Macau city, which is older and grittier than HK, and punctuated by massive casinos that seemed out of place. A long bridge over a bay led us to the Chinese version of the Las Vegas Strip. Now and then we passed spectator grandstands for an upcoming Formula 1 race.
Our home for the next two nights was a Holiday Inn casino with a big luxury mall adjacent to it. The hotel lobby featured an atrium full of thousands of plants and flowers that looked fake but were real. A fountain shot twenty feet into the air on the regular. I noticed benches here and there, which seemed odd after hanging out in HK. Macau Strip real estate is probably 20 percent as expensive as in HK.
The walk to our spacious, luxurious room (which cost half our previous one) seemed to go on forever. Padded carpet made rolling suitcases difficult. The room featured lots of faux marble, including a big Jacuzzi tub. Lily wasted no time in rapering me on the king-size bed. I’ve never felt more like a piece of meat, but in a good way.
Next we walked to the mall food court, which took like fifteen minutes to reach. This was our closest cheap food option besides a McDonald’s. The food court offered an array of Asian food concepts, all with tacky backlit menus on the wall that showed pictures of each dish. They all looked shitty and overpriced, so deciding was tough.
In retrospect, I wish I’d asked one of the numerous shop girls dining during their break from work which place was best. Live and learn. Inevitably, the dishes we chose proved underwhelming. I couldn’t even get ice for a goddamn can of Diet Coke that cost three dollars.
After lunch, Lily went shopping while I hovered around or sat and watched well-heeled passerby. I noticed I was one of the few white people. The others I encountered were usually from Australia or Europe. This is different from HK, where probably fifteen or twenty percent were pale faces. I relished being in a tiny minority. The change of scenery invigorated me. The grin I wore during most of my trip endured.
Tired from our whirlwind of activity, we headed to the room for a late afternoon nap. In the elevator, Lily engaged in one of her conversations with Mandarin-speaking people.
“They talk about how tall you are,” she shared, chuckling.
I told her that next time, right before the elevator doors close, she should say: “You think his height is amazing, you should see his cock!”.
She was too shy, even after I pleaded my case. “You’re never going to see them again anyway; there are a billion of you!’
When we awoke from nap time, nine o’clock had come and gone. Oops. I proposed that we wander around the “town” to check out the artsy modern décor for which the Macao Strip is famous. Fully digging her extended nap, Lily declined and warmly told me to have fun. Cool chick.
I armed myself with half a water bottle full of whiskey and a glass to fill with ice. I sought out an ice machine. In fact, I spent the next forty-five minutes seeking out an ice machine. I visited multiple casino floors, searching for a bar — to no avail. None of the Macau gambling areas feature a bar, as far as I can tell. I did see an airplane-style drink cart once. No ice. No wonder these casinos sounded more like libraries than a party.
My quixotic quest for ice put me in a foul mood. I barely even enjoyed that my white skin placed me in a one percent minority. I couldn’t even relish the lack of fat slobs wearing ball caps and flip flops, which plague Vegas. I didn’t even commence gambling. I suspect gambling without a buzz on invites bad luck. Anyway, I eventually tired of my search and repaired to the room. Lily could probably help me rediscover my Zen.
Part Three: Amazing Macau and back to Hong Kong.