Monday, February 27, 2012

Transportation in Hong Kong: Escalators, Ferries, and more

So how did you get around?

It's one of those questions you hear every time  you come back from a foreign country, as though being mobile were  nearly impossible without understanding the local language or having any resources. It's true that plenty of taxi drivers don't speak English, (even in English speaking countries), and that subway maps have never been easy to understand. Yet somehow, no matter where you go, you manage to get by. In fact, it's something every experienced traveler takes for granted. Indeed, it wasn't after I returned form Hong Kong that I realized how truly mobile I had been.
In a space of only 1,000 square kilometers, I maneuvered through the urban terrain by way of bus, subway, taxi, ferry, and escalator, all with surprising ease and comfort.

The subway is probably one of the preferred methods of transportation by visitors. All announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. It is safe, clean, fast, but a bit boring. You don't get to see any of the landscape, and nothing unexpected happens.

The ferry, again, is probably the most touristy thing to do in Hong Kong. That's not to say that the ferry isn't used by locals, it most certainly it, but no trip across Victoria Harbor is complete with the clicking of dozens of tourists' cameras.

I rode a tax only once, and it was to Repulse Bay. The thirty minute drive cost me less than $20 UDS, making that cab ride one of the cheapest in the urban world. Hong Kong's taxis are notoriously cheap.

view from Repulse Bay

The bus was a different experience entirely. I didn't feel like catching a taxi back down from Repulse Bay into the city, and besides, none were to be found. Outside the market there was a woman selling bus tickets behind a glass counter, and she told me the bus would take me down to Central. Oh, she was right about that. What she didn't tell me was that the next thirty minutes of my life would be spent wedged in between 30+ high school students, no doubt on some kind of school trip, clinging onto the seats in front of us trying not to fly out into the aisle every time our bus took a sharp, fast turn down the windy path to Central.

Probably the coolest mode de transport I took in Hong Kong was the escalator connecting Central to the Mid-levels. Deemed the longest outdoor escalator in the world, it absolutely lived up to expectations. The entrance to the sculptor begins  humbly enough, on the ground floor of Central. It's easy to find, by nothing about its looks give one any indication of its size. The escalator is not particularly wide or lavish, but it does go on forever and ever. 

walking down many, many stairs

I got on sometime in the early afternoon. Stopping only once to grab a donut in Krispy Kreme, I rode the whole way up continuously. The higher you go, the more residential things become. The restaurants, bars, and shops start to slowly fade and way, replaced with elementary schools and churches. By the time I got to the top, I was the only person there. It dropped me off right in the middle of a fashionable neighborhood. That was it. The climax. The zenith. Just a row of horses with nicely landscaped lawns. 

It was time to head back down, and then I realized, the escalator went in only one direction…up. Apparently it was something i didn't notice on my way. I just assumed that it is went up, there would also be a mirroring side that went down. It turns out that there is only one escalator, and it only goes on way, at least at certain times. In the morning it runs in the direction from top to bottom, form the Mid-levels to the city. That makes sense because it was originally designed as a method of commuting, not a tourist amusement. Then in the afternoon the direction reverses, and it goes from bottom to top, Central to the Midlands. That was when I got on…and it wasn't going to change anytime soon. I stared down at the staircase beside the escalator. I was going to have to walk down. 

      And I did. How long it took me, how many steps I descended, I didn't both to think consider. All I know is that when I made it to the bottom my shoe had a hole in it, and it went straight into the hotel trashcan when I finally made it back. How long it took me, how many steps I descended, I didn't both to think consider. All I know is that when I made it to the bottom my shoe had a hole in it, and it went straight into the hotel trashcan when I finally made it back.

Lesson learned.

view of Central from the escalator

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