HK Wandering, Blog 1
HONG KONG–Blasts of frozen air greeted us as we exited the sliding glass doors of the sprawling airport.
Welcome to Hong Kong in late January.
We were warned that temperatures in Hong Kong would drop to the single digits this week.
But at 6 degrees Celsius late in the night of our arrival, our group felt the clothes we packed were inadequate. And we had already ran the risk of exceeding our baggage limit by packing extra jackets and pullovers.
An intense cold surge was blowing through southern China on the weekend of January 23 and 24, bringing frost and monsoon winds with it. Our visit chanced on the territory’s coldest temperatures in nearly 60 years.
One of our mates, who confidently strutted outside wearing just his plain white shirt from Manila, rushed to put on a hoodie.
The frequent wind and drizzle made it worse on our gloveless hands and muff-less ears. Later, our lips would bear the brunt of the blistering cold.
It was a relief to relish some heat once we boarded our bus from the airport to the city proper. The icy feeling when a palm touched the window reminded us of the conditions outside.
What struck us more, though, was the cold efficiency in the city’s urban planning. We noticed it in our smooth and comfortable entry to a city most of our group had not visited yet.
Hong Kong International Airport, where we landed, was built in the 1990s on reclaimed land a half hour from the city center. The old Kai Tak airport, once at the harbor right smack in the middle of the territory, had put both the incoming planes and the nearby residents at risk because of its location.
The new runway and terminal changed that. But along with the new airport the city also provided travelers a variety of means to get from there to the city proper.
Signs at the terminal led to docks for taxis, buses and the Hong Kong railway system or MTR.
We first bought an Octopus card–an all-in, reloadable way to pay for rides and even convenience store purchases here in Hong Kong.
The A21 airport bus is the cheapest to Kowloon, the old city. Like most of the integrated buses here, it has two decks. Of course we opted for the top one.
One tap of the Octopus card or a deposit of coins just past the bus door and we were on.
We cruised the route smoothly, passing through expressways, underground tunnels and flyovers. The roads, 5-to-10-lane and well-paved, were still surrounded by greenery.
Evidences of thought-out urban planning.
Our thoughts turned to home, and mused at what could be.
The highways soon led to Chinese neon and high-rises. After 13 stops in the span of just an hour, we landed at Chungking Mansions in Nathan Road, one of the longest and busiest streets in Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui district.
Chungking is a compound of 5 condos interconnected at the ground floor. Guest houses mostly occupy them–bed spaces ideal for low-budget travelers.
We knocked and buzzed a bell at the door stuck with the sign “Unique Hotel / Have Room”.
A short brown-skinned woman in a thick jacket opened it.
“Philippine?” she asked us as we gave her the printout of our 5-night reservation.
When we said yes, she said, “Tuloy po kayo (Please come in).”
Amid Hong Kong’s coldest night in decades, we were warmly greeted by a kababayan.
Josie, who hails from Casiguran, Aurora, has been here for years. She lives in and takes charge of the Unique Hotel for its Nepalese owner.
The tile walls in the room were freezing to the touch. There was hot water at the toilet, but it had to be mixed and matched with the cold to be tolerable.
We soon settled down in our beds past midnight. The temperature outside continued to drop–some areas later reported up to 0 degrees the next morning.
Snuggling under the thick white comforters Ate Josie brought for each of us, we thought of the next few days and drifted off to dreams.