first day in HK!

i got back from hongkong saturday night, exhausted but happy. it was my first trip out of the country and i tried to savor every moment and every experience.

in a nutshell: i guess i could say i miss the weather, the clean streets, the MTR and the night markets. but i missed kernan more so i felt so homesick on the second night and was so willing to go back home. still i tried not to miss him so much and so i was able to get through the days ok.

march 24, tuesday
could hardly sleep the night before so i was feeling quite drowsy. it would be the first time i would be away from home for so long and so far away, and i was feeling a bit anxious and sad. at the same time, i was excited so a riot of emotions and thoughts were going through my head.

we were supposed to leave GMA by 10 am to get a headstart and avoid the traffic. kernan and i were still driving around the morato and timog areas looking for a money changer at 9.30 am. i forgot to have my pesos changed to us dollars and i was told i might get a bad deal at the airport so i kept looking, to no avail. no choice, i just decided to take my chance at the airport.

on our way to the airport, i tried to activate my phone's roaming only to find out, we needed advance registration! either i buy an HK sim card or i resign myself to days of zero communication. bad! bad! bad!

we got to the airport before 1 pm and i thought we were pretty early for our 4.50 pm flight. but we were met by long lines at the check in counter and we stood there for close to 2 hours! it seemed everybody was going to hongkong for the holy week. good thing bea and bj were such a spectacle bickering at each other, they saved us from getting bored.

Bea: payatot! payatot!
Bj: miss piggy! miss piggy! oink oink!

next on the list was immigration. i conjured some fearsome creatures in uniform in my head growling questions and casting every possible suspicion. "are you going tnt in hongkong?" "are you applying as domestic helper?" "do you know what's gonna happen if you even attempt to run away?"

but, of course, it was a breeze. the burly looking man at the counter simply asked, "kasama mo ba sila?" referring to my other team mates who went before me. "opo." approval barely took 5 minutes, and my check in was complete.

in the waiting area, we were met by another long line of passengers waiting to board philippine airlines. tired and hungry from standing for hours, we sat on the floor outside the cafe and ate some choco stick-o and famous amos cookies (thanks to tita annie and carina, bj and bea's moms, who always have life-saving baon.) i switched my discman on, popped the earphones in my ears and took solace in my dreamsounds cd. the reality of the situation started to sink in. i'm going away.

almost a half-hour later, we finally boarded the plane. the seat belt and no smoking signal were switched on as i hurriedly dialed my mama's number. "ma, paalis na kami. text na lang kita pag may bago na kong SIM ha. bye." i dialed my papa's number, "pa, paalis na kami..." "san ka ba?" "sa plane pa lang po, text po ako pag may bago akong number doon." the stewardess was calling my attention to switch my phone off as i started to make the last call, "mahal, paalis na kami. i'll let you know kung may bago akong number doon. i miss you. i love you..."

for the first time, i called all three of them before i left. usually i don't even call anyone and just wait for them to ask where i am. but for once, i missed them way before i even got to HK and i felt a bit sad. oh well, at least i'm going to HK.

i just wish they could be with me.

i put the earphones on and listened to my second dreamsounds cd. i closed my eyes. this is gonna be a long flight.

i woke up to the sound of the stewardess' voice: "pork and rice or rice and seafood?" of course, i chose the rice and seafood. airplane food wasn't so bad as they say it is. or maybe because i was hungry i was able to finish all of it plus a piece of bread and a small slice of strawberry cake. to a hungry stomach, that's yum! yum!

a few minutes later, we landed at the Hk international airport, the "best airport in the world" as the sign said. man, their airport was huge! everything was sparkly clean and shiny, organized and tourist friendly. the immigration people even had a bowl of free polo mints on their counter. they were so fast and efficient, the whole process took less than 15 minutes! as i stepped out of the immigration area, it seemed that i stepped into a high-class department store. sparkling marble floors and walls everywhere, duty free shops and high end boutiques, all that inside an airport. wow! now i'm really in HK.

i switched my phone on to make a call only to see a blank monitor. i had no signal, no roaming and no contact. sniff! sniff!

i felt the cold gust of wind as we went to the bus station. the air temp was a bit colder than baguio, but tolerable and nice. we waited for the A21 bus that would take us to Mongkok, the place where our hostel was located.

HK's buses were mostly double deckers. it was cool because the interiors were clean, the seats had good upholstery and absolutely had no signs of vandalism. a ticketing machine was situated near the door so it was certain that no passenger could get away without paying.

just for the experience, we took seats on the upper deck and got a semi-top view of the spots we passed. one was the Tsing Ma Bridge which looked similar to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, only that it's 100 meters longer. Tsing Ma is said to be the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1377 meters.

a few minutes later, the bus stopped at the Mongkok station and we alighted in front of a jewelry boutique. the place reminded me of Makati, a bit less refined and with flashing bright lights everywhere like the streets were part of one big mall. among the barrage of flashing signs in chinese characters, i singled out the familiar red KFC sign. "ahhh..at least i know what this one means. food." i was getting hungry!

buses filled the streets and the sidewalks were crowded with people walking back and forth. it seemed like friday night as everyone i saw was clad in gimik attire and funky boots. about 7 out of 10 people i saw walking by had a cellphone next to their ear. men in business suits, women in corporate attire, teenage boys with their spiky hair and oversized jackets, teenage girls with their curly hair and pointy boots, it seemed like we would be swept by the stream of people continuously passing by.

finally, our host Stanley Fong arrived. he was okay because he spoke English well. he immediately picked up a bag and ushered us to the hotel. as i was starting to prepare for a long walk, he turned at the corner and led us inside the hostel.

the building looked less than average, like those you would see in recto. the elevator was a bit cramped and didn't smell fresh. "that's why it's called a hostel and not a hotel" i reminded myself. after all, our AP kuya hech thoughtfully added the note in our itinerary, "dragon hostel is a budget hostel, so please don't expect too much." at least, they had security cameras installed in the entrance and elevators. okay, i'm not expecting.

as we walked through the hall leading to the room, i got a better view of the place. and i must say it looked awful. the paint of the walls were chipped, the floor and walls had tiny green bathroom tiles that looked like they haven't been cleaned in years, the corners of the floors were dirty, i expected a roach or a rat to scurry past any time soon. there were clothes hanging everywhere (which apparently belonged to the permanent residents there.) small incense pots were scattered in several corners which somehow neutralized the smell. the place reminded of the GSIS bliss buildings. i was bracing myself to go inside the rooms. "isn't this hostel supposed to be second in rank among all the hostels in hongkong?" but then again, maybe this is what a hostel really looks like. the whole place had that dark gloomy aura all around. bad!

when stanley opened the door to the unit, we were in for a suprise. although the hall to the rooms was kinda narrow, everything was immaculately white and clean. to the left was a new refrigerator, a washing machine and a sink, all spick and span. although there was very, very little space to walk around inside the rooms, there were wooden double decker beds with fresh bedsheets. the wallpapers were so clean, it seemed like they have just been put on. the comfort room was very narrow but clean and had a hot and cold shower. after what i saw outside, i must say the interiors were a pleasant surprise. just as long as the room and CR is clean and there's hot and cold shower, i'll be content. i picked the bed next to the window and settled in. wow, i'm already in hong kong. it was 8 pm.

8.30 was dinner time. before we went out, i grabbed a couple of the hostel's calling cards and placed them in different pockets. i recalled kuya hech's reminder: "if you get lost, just refer to the map behind the calling card, if you still can't find it, ask around where dragon hostel is or call stanley's direct line. always remember to bring your passport and media IDs, the police might do a spot check. and if your cellphone has no roaming and there's no way for you to contact us, stay close and don't stray!"

we walked around to find a good chinese restaurant. at this time, the streets were so full of people as if the night was just beginning. all the shops and boutiques were wide open and sales people were everywhere hawking their wares. we finally settled at a restaurant next to an arcade center, the name was in chinese so i couldnt' remember, only that the prices displayed ranged from 30 HK$ to 40 HK$. in pesos that's 210 PHP to 280 PHP. quite expensive for just one meal, but we decided to go in. the interior looked like an ordinary eatery. but a lot of people were inside so i thought they must serve great food.

the glitch: their serving practices didn't look very clean. i observed that the waiters held the drinking glasses by the rims with a part of their fingers dipping in. the soups were being lugged around in steel pails on the floor and the pitchers looked like they haven't been properly washed. uh-oh...

to be safe, we all ordered sodas thinking they would be in cans. but they delivered the drinks in glasses in the same manner and held the straws with their hands without tissue!

still , the food was great. the fried noodles were crispy and tasty and the fish fillet with corn was simply delicious. i just couldn't help wondering what "secret ingredient" could have been unconsciously included to make the food delicious. perhaps, an unwashed finger, a few drops of perspiration and a strand of hair? eww...i gotta stop thinking and just eat.

after dinner, it was time to check out the different shops. at first we moved in a flock but as time wore on and we explored different stores, our group was divided in two. i stuck with kuya cocoy, billy, mam marge, mommy carina and bea as we braved the night market. it looked just like the tiangges at tutuban only more expensive. the lowest price i could see was 10 HK$ (70 PHP) for a not-so-nice shirt and some trinkets. they had colorful stalls filled with clothes, underwears, cheongsams, fake shoes, watches, bags, hair accessories, phone accessories, house decors and other what have you's.

mommy carina, bea and i got so engrossed with checking out the stuff that we barely noticed our other companions disappear into the crowd. good thing i was with them or else, i might have panicked if i was left alone. we decided to walk forward and go to the end of the line of tiangges thinking the others might have gone ahead of us.
when we reached the end of the street, they were still nowhere in sight. we decided to walk back to what we thought was the direction of the hotel. it was so difficult because all the streets looked the same and i couldn't remember which buildings were near our hostel. the thing is, when you go out with other people to an unfamiliar place, you don't mind the directions so much thinking your companions will remember anyway. this time, mommy carina didn't remember either!

"the calling card!" the little map at the back of the card came to the rescue. since it was so hard to communicate with the people we met along the way, we just showed them the card and spoke with a little broken english, "where... dragon hostel?" (a number of local folks have difficulty understanding if you spoke to them in straight english.)

it seemed people didn't know either. i could feel we were being pointed to the wrong directions because we were going around in circles. finally, as we turned in one of the streets, a certain shop caught our attention. "BONJOUR." it had stacks of shampoos and conditioners outside, kinda like watson's, and we could see that the shop was filled with people. curious, the three of us went inside. might as well have fun while getting lost right?

inside was a treasure trove for the kikay at heart! definitely kikay heaven! at the entrance, we were greeted by a mound of miniature bottled perfumes, lotions and body wash, all original selling as low as 25$. to the left, sales ladies were busy getting perfumes and giving out scent samples to customers. i checked out the prices and most were selling for below 200$! they were selling original designer perfumes at almost 50% off.

farther inside the store were racks upon racks of lotions, lip glosses and lipsticks, eyeliners, blushes, hair and skin care products... i totally forgot we were lost. i checked out the perfumes and saw that "lacoste touch of pink" was selling for 150$. i was so tempted to buy it right then but i wasn't so convinced about the scent yet. i must have tried over a dozen different perfumes, my head was beginning to float. i decided to come back the next day. who knows, i might find another shop that sells cheaper. i bought a gap juicy bites lip gloss, a fluffy brush and a l'oreal facial wash. when the three of us finally finished checking out all the stuff, it was already 11 pm.

back to hostel hunting. the good thing about getting lost in HK, you won't get scared because a lot of people are still on the streets even at 12 midnight and the alleys are well lit it seemed like it was just 8 pm. after asking a couple of people on the street, we finally saw the familiar "Ad Convey" sign on our building and heaved a sigh of relief. we were finally home.

our companions greeted us at the door with worried looks on their faces. we said we got lost, but discovered a great shop anyway so it was well worth it. what a way to spend our first night in hongkong.

before sleeping, we had a short meeting about the shoot for the next day. after unpacking some stuff and going through my usual evening rituals, i finally retired at around 2 am. i was beginning to feel homesick because i couldn't call home and almost cried myself to sleep. i popped my earphones and drowned myself in my dreamsounds cd.

***
dream of me

Let me sleep
for when I sleep I dream that you are here
you're mine
and all my fears are left behind

I float on air
the nightingales sing gentle lullabyes
so let me close my eyes

And sleep, a chance to dream
so I can see the face I long to touch
to kiss
but only dreams can bring me this

So let the moon shine
softly on the boy I long to see
And maybe when he dreams
he'll dream of me

I hide beneath the clouds
and whisper to the evening stars
they tell me love is just a dream away
dream away...
I'll dream away

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