Video: Small Difficulties and Challenges

By: leelefever on August 16, 2006 - 7:44am

Travel is often a series of missteps, mistakes and do-overs. Here are a few from the last few days.

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Hong Kong Video

By: leelefever on August 10, 2006 - 9:09am

We shot a lot of things in Hong Kong, but these things rose to the top. Enjoy!

If you want more info on the century egg, Wikipedia has a good explanation.
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Hong Kong's Modern Efficiency

By: leelefever on August 10, 2006 - 3:45am

After being in SE Asia for a while, Hong Kong was a bit like a trip home.  While it is a very westernized city, it retains enough of the Chinese and general Asian “feel” to make it interesting and foreign. We fell in love with the city over about 6 days.

The incredible efficiency of Hong Kong was most fascinating to me.  Looking around, there are so many things that I hope we’ll see in Seattle.

The first and coolest is the “Octopus Card”, which operates like a debit card and works for all city transit, 7-11s, McDonalds,  drug stores, supermarkets etc.  Anywhere you see the little Octopus card reader, you can press your card onto it and money will be deducted from your prepaid account.  The first time I used it at a 7-11, the first words out of my mouth were “holy sh*t that's efficient!”  You don’t even have to take the card out of a wallet or purse- just hold it over the reader and the money is zapped out.

Last night over dinner we talked to some locals who showed us their Octopus card which had their picture and information on it.  For them, the card is used to open the door of their home and other places that require membership.  They said that some schools even use Octopus cards for daily attendance.  By their estimates, 90-95% of all Hong Kong people have one and most people love it.  For people who are worried about privacy or Big Brother, they can choose to get a card with no personal connection.  However, they lose some of the convenience.  Seattle needs this.

In busy restaurants, the servers have wireless ear pieces that are used for constant communications among the staff.  It’s invisible to the customer, but the communication makes service seem magical, as if they are almost reading your mind.  You walk in the door and each server looks up and guides you along your way as you wind through the restaurant.  The teamwork is remarkable.

The public busses are generally double decker.  That’s all I have to say about that.

I’ve never waited so little for the subway.  We never waited more than 2 minutes for the next MTR train to arrive and when it did, it would never get too packed with people.  Because they run so regularly and often, as a train fills up, people often choose to wait for the next one instead of forcing their way into an already full train.

The world needs more escalators if you ask me.  Hong Kong has hot weather and hills- a good recipe for putting escalators to good use. In the hills rising up from the Central area of downtown there are a system of covered escalators called the Mid-Levels, which efficiently shuttle people to and from their hillside high-rise residences and the hip café-culture neighborhood called Soho.  The Mid-Levels system ascends 800 meters up the hill, running downhill in the morning and uphill in the afternoon.

Hong Kong must be one of the best air conditioned places on earth.  We made up a couple of names for our interaction with the cool air:

  • AC Poaching – This is shopping in a store for the single purpose of cooling down. 
  • The Hong Kong Arctic Wind – Shops blast cool air onto the sidewalk as an invitation to come inside for some AC poaching.  In the dense retail areas of Kowloon the Arctic Wind seemed to lower the overall sidewalk temperature a few precious degrees.

Hong Kong even seems to have served one of my long standing culinary pet peeves.  I have never understood why shrimp are served with the tail attached.  You often see a nice grilled or sautéed shrimp arrive at your plate with the tail on; obscuring a section of meat and causing the consumer to have to clumsily remove the tail before eating it.  So far in Hong Kong, my shrimps have arrived as whole shrimps, tails removed but hidden meat intact.  Again, Hong Kong makes something more efficient.

Hong Kong’s efficiency is surely rooted in the money that flows through the city more quickly than almost any city in the world.  Hong Kong is quite good at making it easy for people to depart with their money.  When it comes in the form of something like the Octopus Card, I’m almost happy to see it go.

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