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A day without a plan

Started: 2013-01-08 19:05:44

Submitted: 2013-01-08 22:10:52

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator tries to get a visa for the People's Republic, and tries to go shopping in Hong Kong

We didn't have a specific plan for Thursday, our sixth day in Hong Kong, so we took the street tram west to Victoria Park to look around at the park and the adjacent library. (Kiesa is not a major fan of the street tram, since it's slow, but Calvin liked sitting on the front of the second floor looking out at the street in front.) The southern part of the park was blocked off for some sort of festival, but we walked around to an alternate entrance and found a nice city park, with a mixture of playgrounds, fields, trees, a running track, and a swimming pool. I did not see a forest of people doing tai chi, though perhaps I didn't come at the right time. Calvin played in the playground for a while, then watched a high-speed model boat zip around the little pond dedicated for that purpose.

Bamboo-lined walkway in Victoria Park
Bamboo-lined walkway in Victoria Park

Given Hong Kong's proximity to 'mainland' China, I'd considered staging a visit to the People's Republic itself, but I wasn't sure I wanted to drag Calvin along (or, for that matter, Kiesa). The PRC is not overly enthusiastic about giving visas to Americans (unlike, say, Hong Kong, where I could show up with my passport and they'd let me in for ninety days, no questions asked) -- their official rules asked for plane tickets and hotel reservations before granting a tourist visa -- so I shelved the idea of getting visas in advance of our trip and decided to investigate the situation on the ground when we arrived. Reading the Lonely Planet's forums suggested it wasn't especially difficult for Americans to get a visa for China while in Hong Kong, as long as one planned in advance. I could visit the Chinese consulate myself, if I were feeling ambitious, but the forums suggested Forever Bright Trading Limited (whose Engrish website you should visit if only to see the 1990s animated gifs), who presumably knew exactly what I had to do to get a visa without invoking Kafka. I e-mailed them to confirm the details, as it wasn't immediately clear when their website had last been updated, and they told me that if I came by 13:30 on Thursday I could have my visa by Friday afternoon.

Kiesa had no interest to visit the mainland, and didn't seem especially adverse to the idea of my leaving her with Calvin for the day I'd spend in China (or the afternoon it'd take to head to Kowloon to get the visa), so I left her and Calvin watching the model boats and headed for the nearest MTR stop. I emerged in Kowloon and found the visa agency, on the ninth floor of a low-rise office building next to a modest plaza. I filled out the lengthy application for a tourist visa and handed it and my passport across the counter to a guy who worked some magic on my answers, whisked me in back for a photo (for an extra HK$30, since I didn't have a photo on the blue background the consulate apparently wanted), and assured me that my passport and visa would be ready by 16:00 the next day.

I found a nearby vegetarian restaurant for lunch, where I shared a table with another single customer and ordered mostly by pointing at the menu (printed in both English and Chinese); I didn't get exactly what I expected but the fried eggplant that came instead of the congee I thought I'd ordered was excellent. After eating I called Kiesa, who was still amusing herself with Calvin back on Hong Kong Island, and suggested we eventually meet in Central to try to do some (and here I hesitated to use the word) shopping for gifts and stuff.

I headed in the direction of the Star Ferry pier at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula and caught the Twinkling Star across the harbor. It was raining slightly, obscuring the tops of the buildings in Central, providing a less-than-picture-perfect view that was still pretty good. When I landed in Central I made my way to the Hong Kong Planning & Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery. I rushed through the interactive exhibits documenting the planning and design for Hong Kong, including a display showing how the shoreline and skyline changed over the past two hundred years, and couldn't help but wish that Calvin were school-aged so he could appreciate the interpretive displays.

Construction in Central
Construction in Central

From the infrastructure gallery I found my way to the nearest MTR stop and waited for Kiesa and Calvin to emerge while I scoured my guidebook to figure out where to shop. On my way I found I recognized landmarks even when coming from the wrong direction: the nested skywalks that I found so confusing on my first day were finally starting to make sense.

Apple Store in Central, Hong Kong
Apple Store in Central, Hong Kong

Kiesa and Calvin arrived and we headed across the street to Starbucks for a snack before pressing on with our shopping. In observation of our presence in east Asia I had a green tea latte. We headed off in search of shopping and ended up at Mountain Folkcraft, a tiny shop crammed with antique-looking handcrafts, mostly from China. Nothing quite matched my aesthetic but I did manage to find a few small gifts. As we wandered on into the SoHo shopping district I began to ponder the problem of shopping in Hong Kong: They don't actually make anything; rather, they're a global transshipment hub. Global brands are readily available (including Boulder County's own Crocs and my personal favorite Columbia; both had ground-level stores on the main street in Central) but there's very little that's indigenously Hong Kong. Even the cheap tourist trinkets come from across the border in Shenzhen, or further inland.

Bank of China Tower
Bank of China Tower

Kiesa decided she'd had enough shopping and headed back to the hotel with Calvin, leaving me to fend for myself on the wild shopping streets. I found a little shop selling mostly Mao paraphernalia, including a stack of Little Red Books (one stack each for English and Chinese) and was tempted but managed to resist. I found many interesting things but didn't find anything that spoke to me so I declared my shopping complete and found supper at a pizza-by-the-slice restaurant in the shadows of the Mid-Level Escalators named Paisano's. I got back to the hotel just in time to read Calvin a few bedtime stories, then review my plan for the next day. I even managed to begin documenting our trip so far, starting with our flight out.

For a parallel account of our sixth day in Hong Kong, see The Sixth Day. For more photos, see Photos on 2012-12-27.
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