Cubes and Triads


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, September 16, 2004 was originally posted on September 24, 2004.

DAY 334:  “I suddenly remember that I don’t miss this,” I said to Aviva.  We were sitting in a familiar but frightening place to me:  an office cubicle, Moe’s desk and workspace on the 50th floor of Hong Kong’s Citigroup building (near the famous Bank of China building, designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei).  Aviva had to drop something off to her husband and I tagged along to see the inner workings of Hong Kong’s high-paced financial world — only to discover it was just like the generic American office environment, the battleground in the modern classic film Office Space.

“I feel really underdressed here,” I told Moe’s co-worker Ian, who had dropped by with Meg.  I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and hiking boots.

“Don’t worry, it’s casual Friday,” Ian joked.

Funny, it looked to me that people were still having “a case of the Mondays.”

THE TRIADS, THE ORGANIZED CRIME SYNDICATE IN HONG KONG evolved from the rebels who brought the end of Imperial rule in 1911, has been publicized as the bad guys in many Hong Kong cops and robbers movies, and even some Hollywood ones like Lethal Weapon 4 and Rush Hour.  The Triads aren’t fictional; they do exist in the shadowy underworld of Hong Kong with a total of about 100,000 members.  But unless you owe them money, as an outsider you may not know of their presence; it is illegal to even claim you are in a Triad group in Hong Kong.  The Triads strive anyway, running drug and prostitution rackets, and if they’re anything like the mafia on The Sopranos, they probably have legitimate-looking storefronts in markets where you might not suspect them.

One of the Triad neighborhoods is Mong Kok, a residential neighborhood on the Kowloon mainland side of Hong Kong, a place filled with many cheap markets that the locals (and tourists like me) who don’t really have the money to blow on something like a Coach money clip come to buy stuff. 

After walking by the seafood and vegetable vendors of Peel Street and paying a visit to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center — where the 1997 Hong Kong handover ceremony between Great Britain and China took place — Aviva and I started the walking tour as shown in her guidebook.  It brought us through the main markets of Mong Kok, beginning with the Yuen Po Bird Market, where one could buy any one of a multitude of caged song birds (picture above) — the song bird is a Chinese symbol of good luck — plus bird accessories and bird food (mealworms, crickets) to feed their fine-feathered friends.  Although caged up, the birds are treated with the utmost respect so that in return they might bring good fortune in life — and at the horse racetrack.  Amidst the stands I looked around for any sign of the criminal Triad underground — but only saw jailbirds instead, in cubes reminiscent of a stuffy corporate office. 

Near the Bird District was the Flower District, a street of florists selling flowers in lavish floral arrangements or just in do-it-yourself bunches.  Aviva shot some more photos of orchids for her father, an orchid enthusiast.  I on the other hand was still on look for “the bad guys.”

“You think these stores are run by The Triads?” I asked Aviva.

“I don’t know.”

The Flower District turned into the Goldfish District — an entire street of goldfish aquarium pet stores since goldfish too are a symbol of good luck in accordance with feng shui — which turned into the Bicycle District.  Nearby were stores selling hamsters and guinea pigs.

“Oh, the rodent district!” Aviva said. 

Rodents turned to turtles (figuratively, but wouldn’t that be cool?) and turtles turned into candy when we entered a Chinese candy store that sold sweets and snacks, including Duck Gizzard flavor.  We walked through a market of cheap goods and eventually made it to a multi-level mini mall called “Trendy Zone” that sold not-so-cheap nostalgic toys and gadgets, from Monchichi to Yu-Gi-Oh!  From there we walked down to the Yau Ma Tei district, another neighborhood known for its historical Triad presence.  Yau Ma Tei was a seedier but more “authentic” part of Chinese Kowloon, with a lively nighttime market and little Chinese restaurants (and possible Triad storefronts?) — a scene very far-removed from the corporate cube farm I had seen that morning at Citigroup.  The centerpoint of the neighborhood was not an office cubicle but a big Public Square, with its big banyan trees and old men playing Chinese chess, near the Tin Hau Temple — another Chinese temple with more beehive-shaped incense burning to honor the Chinese deity.  The presence of the Triad wasn’t seen in that neighborhood either; the cops were probably doing their best to crack down on them, with a big van and banner stating, “STOP PROSTITUTION!” parked outside for all to see.

After a quick stroll through the jade markets, where a guy tried to sell me a pendant with my Chinese zodiac symbol on it (Tiger), Aviva and I were exhausted and just went down to the Tsim Sha Shui district near the harbor (known by ex-pats as “TST”) for a bite to eat.  Beers and finger snacks curbed our appetites before we went down to the Kowloon waterfront to catch the sunset — my first good one since my arrival in Hong Kong since every dusk thus far was usually covered in haze.  Aviva and I hung around, watching the boats go by until the skyline lit up again and then we took a train back to Hong Kong Island — still without ever encountering one of the Triads. 

I suppose that’s a good thing though — you really don’t want to get mixed up with the Triads after all — although there are things that could be worse:  you might be stuck in a corporate office with “a case of the Mondays” every day of the week — even on a casual Friday.  Now really, what could be worse than that?

Next entry: The Last Village

Previous entry: Portuguese Chinese

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Comments for “Cubes and Triads”

  • how cute is that picture! i didn’t read the passage yet, just thought i would skip down and be FIRST!
    have a good weekend blog readers!
    N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  07:47 PM

  • and where was the hammock districk?

    Feh, case of the mondays, i’m quite “happy” here in my cube, reading about your - uh - adventures, hmmm hrm… well, at least it’s friday!
    n smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  07:54 PM

  • NIKKIJ:  The Hammock District?  That’s on Third too. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  07:58 PM

  • Thats what I call spicy! Great sunset! .. miss HK, hope to visit again someday. When you hit Thailand you’ll see Chutuchuk Market ( the locals call it J.J. )thats a pretty crazy open air market !!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  08:22 PM

  • CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:  Should I go to Nepal (to reach Everest Base Camp for my birthday on Oct. 18) after Japan, or not?

    There are mixed reviews:


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  08:26 PM

  • go for it.  you only live once

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  08:59 PM

  • Thanks so much for posting two blog entries today!  Read #1 with my morning coffee, read #2 with my afternoon snack.  My cubicle is in the basement of my bosses house (temporarily while new office is being built)....I have a window….but it is still a basement!

    I got very excited seing the Jade District…..I would have spent a fortune!

    Erik,  Rose is on her way to my house as I type this….it’s our annual girls weekend, Janice is already here (she’s catching up on your blog)....I am sure we will compare blog stories this weekend!

    Liz, we will have a drink for you this weekend, as an honourary Muskoka Chic!

    Cheers Everyone!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  09:41 PM

  • Erik, in the immortal words of Ben Stiller’s Character in Starsky & Hutch ... “DO IT !... DO IT! .. DO IT ! ..”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  10:16 PM

  • awesome sunset pic…

    what about the bobblehead district?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  10:23 PM

  • Darn - would have loved that sunset in hi-res… GORGEOUS!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  10:24 PM

  • markyt: if i watched the whole show why would i have liked the outcome more? And do you think that the show hadd control over the last leg when they got everyone on the flight to Denver??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  11:42 PM

  • omg. monchichi! i thought for a while i was the only one that remembered that.

    so, nepal.  i don’t know man. tough call. the posts seem to be kinda old though.  any more recent ones on the situation now?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/24  at  12:01 AM

  • NEVEN - i dunno…at first i didn’t like chip and kim, but they grew on me and it turned into the team i wanted to win…

    everyone of the same flight…we all know “reality” tv is edited and fabricated for “better” television…. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/24  at  12:04 AM

  • Sim: Chutuchuk Market was by far the greatest shopping experience of my life to date! Erik, you HAVE to go there when you get to Bangkok.

    As for Nepal… I’ll do some more reading before I give my 2 cents.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/24  at  12:35 AM

  • Oh yeah - Monchichi - I want one!!! I remember them from when I was a kid!! SO FUN

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/24  at  05:24 AM

  • Speaking of Office Space it is playing on BRAVO as I type this.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/24  at  05:42 AM

  • Hey Erik!

    I got your postcard in the mail the other day!  Thanks a bunch!

    I say go to Nepal.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/24  at  05:59 AM

  • I’m behind so I don’t know if the vote is too late to have an effect. But I’d listen to the state dept. before trusting LP—even a forum.

    Besides, if you don’t make Everest on this trip, you’ve got a great reason to take a GT3 when things cool off.

    Stay safe, and keep up the great entries!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/01  at  02:38 AM

  • CHRISTY:  That officially puts it at GO NEPAL 14, NO NEPAL 14.  The results of this poll will be revealed when I finish sorting out the mess for India…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/02  at  04:41 AM

  • My vote:  NO Nepal
    Sorry I didn’t before, I’ve been catching up!  Am I the tie-breaker?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/02  at  07:19 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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The Last Village

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Portuguese Chinese


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