You can tell a lot about a city by what sort of posters go up in the subway. On the walk through Tsim Sha Tsui station, I saw several posters with attractive young people taking off eyepatches and smiling smugly at the camera. In the foreground, a smirking mandarin slipped a bulging envelope to a giggling Asian with suspiciously Commonwealth muttonchops. The tagline: DON’T TURN A BLIND EYE TO CORRUPTION. I wouldn’t take this to mean that HK is necessarily a more corrupt city than Boston, any more than I would take the REPORT SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES signs all over the MBTA to mean that Boston suffers more bomb threats. Read this for what it literally is: a public body in the HK SAR wants to give the impression of discouraging bribery.
The HK subway is a marvel of efficiency. It incorporates the New York / London model of different fares for different destinations. Buy a ticket with your end goal when you get on, then swipe it to get off. Or do like the rest of the city and get an Octopus card with cash value stored on it. As an added incentive, lots of local chains take the Octopus card like a debit card. Grab a bottle of water at 7-11, swipe your pass and go. Charging different fares based on transit time would help the MBTA’s chronic shortage of funds. I’m writing a strongly worded letter to the Commissioner this afternoon; expect changes soon.
Keep your eyes peeled for signs when you enter the subway, though, or you’ll find yourself lost in a mall. I don’t mean you’ll get off the train at the wrong stop: literally, between the entrance and the ticket booth you’ll pass through a shopping arcade. Every cubic foot of space that can be turned into retail has been turned into retail. Between the entrance to the subway and the train, Sylvia and I passed a 7-11, a Burberry, a Dolce & Gabbana, a Mrs. Field’s and a cell phone outlet.
Subway trains aren’t the only way to get around. Sylvia and I took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor our first morning there, paying a pittance and getting one of the best water views of Hong Kong. We took a Big Bus tour on the island, where I snapped ninety pictures of skyscrapers that I never caught the names of. On Tuesday we took the tram up to Victoria Peak, snapping a few breathtaking shots of the whole city. We then took a public minibus back down the hill, winding through 175-degree turns on 15-degree inclines. “All these steep hills and this walled-off 80s architecture,” Sylvia said. “It’s just like Palos Verdes.”
HK signs warn against behaviors other than bribery. On National Day, we saw posted warnings near the major gathering points asking people not to shove through the crowd, please. We also saw stiff fines advertised for littering or spitting. “It’s a mainlander thing,” Josh said. “You get a lot of tourists from China who were literally raised on farms.”
The mainlander arrivistes seem to be the target audience for most of the high end shopping as well. “You have all these subsistence farming communities that are suddenly rich for the first time in hundreds of years,” Josh said. Factories being built, land being sold. “They have nothing to spend it on in their neighborhoods. And DKNY can’t open more than two stores in Beijing. So mainlanders come to Hong Kong and buy, like, twenty handbags.”
- hong kong, part 2
- hong kong, part 4