China, Day 1: Blue Masks, The Carpenters, Con te Partiro, And Lots And Lots Of People

posted by on 2009.10.16, under China

Hong Kong. One of my travel books warns against starting one’s first China trips in Hong Kong. It’s very western, and after a 15 hour flight, exotic would be nice. Genuine exotic, not Disneyland, but the book is right, it all felt very familiar. Exotic is there, but at first glance, the airport feels an awful lot like LAX, only bigger. Glancing over the clean, “airport 101” architectural feel, with lots of different people, primarily Asian, but not all Chinese, it just doesn’t feel so different at first. It’s just bigger. Even larger that the Los Vegas airport (and that thing sprawls). Adding to my own sense of “sameness” here, there’s a large enough group of western travelers in the international area that it just feels like you’re in LAX – only cleaner and newer. And bigger.

So scale is the first thing that hits. There are so many signs in English that it does feel a little too comfortable. It seems that even the written chinese language is dwarfed by the sheer size and the number of people moving through the space. This is not big and empty, like Dallas. This is big and crowded. Like the subway. Only bigger. Then, there is the first real sign you are in China. About one in every 10 people is wearing a face mask. Usually blue. Some are grey. Then there are the cute, brightly colored patterns on the ones for the kids. Every one of the cleaning people and washroom attendants had one on. I had to fill out a questionaire asking if I felt fevorish, or had a cough, or had been near anyone diagnosed with Swine Flu in the past week. Yes, Virginia, I am now in China.

Customs was fast and typical. The only other things I noted, other than the sheer size of the place dotted with little blue masks every so often, was how incredibly polite the service workers were and how the Chinese have a different sense of space than Americans. It was immediately clear, hesitate and you are lost. Stop briefly in line to pull out your passport, and 6 people jump in ahead of you. Create a little space between you and the person in front of you in line and a family of three jumps in. They were very polite about it, so I am under the impression that moving in front of someone isn’t considered rude. Slow people just finish last.

Then, I got on the shuttle bus for the hotel. It was playing The Carpenters singing that song about oldies but goodies, “Every sha-na-na-na, ev-ery wo-a-wo-wo still shines.” Those are the only words I know, because whenever I’d hear that on the radio, I’d turn the staion, or turn it off. But somehow, driving through the vast expanse of Hong Kong on the way to various hotels, it seemed appropriate. Then we heard Louis Armstrong singing “It’s a Wonderful World”, and finally “Con te Partiro”. It all fit as this very polite Chinese driver shuttled a couple of Americans, 3 people from India, 2 Australians and a businessman with a strong German accent to our various hotels.

Hong Kong is huge. And dense. We were on the shuttle for over an hour, and everywhere we went was as densely populated as Manhatten. The building density didn’t even go down to Brooklyn-numbers, it stayed at intense—expanses of tall buildings, without much of a break anywhere….

And people smoke. A lot. So, there you go. In Hong Kong for 4 hours and I’ve seen scale, density, smoking and listened to Andrea Bocelli. Tomorrow there’ll be pictures!

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