Keeping Up With The Raichelsons


This blog entry about the events of Friday, September 10, 2004 was originally posted on September 17, 2004.

DAY 328:  When the British Empire defeated the Chinese and took over Hong Kong in 1898, little did they know that 99 years later it would eventually be taken over by the Starbucks Empire.  Regardless of the British handing back Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong has remained the gateway for international business in Asia (and therefore trendy coffee shops), attracting all the major international banking and financial institutions.  You know, the big boys like Citigroup and HSBC — and even smaller guys like Bob’s Piggy Bank and Barbecue Emporium (that’s not actually true).  While Hong Kong has been losing business to upcoming Singapore and Shanghai lately, it is still the shimmering showcase of sleek post-modern architecture that pays homage to the perpetual sharp and sophisticated wheeling and dealing going on inside its shiny glass façade.

Because of Hong Kong’s big city high-priced profile, it isn’t exactly on a budget backpacker’s must-see list.  In fact, it wasn’t my original intention to go there — unless I had a place to crash.  That place to crash became available though, at the apartment of the sister and brother-in-law of Blogreader El Zee (a friend and former co-worker who was smart enough to jump ship before our New York dotcom sank), who had just moved to Hong Kong two weeks prior.  My stay in Hong Kong would not only be a chance to meet them, but an opportunity to see a city I was always curious about since I’d gotten mixed reviews.  Not only that, but my stay would serve as a sort of break period on The Global Trip 2004 so that I might “catch-up” to the modern hi-tech world I had not seen in a while.  I’d get to, as they say, “Keep up with the Joneses” or in this case, “Keep up with the Raichelsons.”

THE DAY BEGAN NOT IN HONG KONG but in Shenzhen, the last city in the People’s Republic of China before the border with the Hong Kong territory.  Contrary to what I previously thought, Hong Kong had not been integrated as a part of China when the British handed it back over in 1997; it is considered to be one of two “Special Administrative Regions” (SARs), with its own local government, currency and immigration/customs laws.  While mainland Chinese propaganda may claim it was foreigners that brought SARS in the country (according to Blogreader Levente), China has had SARs since 1997.

I was confused when the bus dropped me off in an unofficial alleyway in Shenzhen.  I thought I was going to be dropped off right at the border but I was a couple of blocks away, and I wasn’t exactly sure which way that was.  I ended up wandering aimlessly for about an hour, lugging all my gear, until it dawned on me:  a series of obvious arrowed signs that seemed to say, “Duh, Hong Kong’s this way, dummy.”  The walkover border crossing was just like one at an airport with exit and entry forms and long lines that zig zag through a Tensa-Barrier maze.  My beat up passport looked fake once again, and I had to hold up the line to retrieve my driver’s license inside my money belt, inside my portable safe, inside my bag full of clothes, for additional ID. 

Two public trains took me through the northern territories of Hong Kong and to the waterfront on the southern end of the Kowloon peninsula.  Across the way was Hong Kong Island, holding the city center with its famous skyline of hi-rise buildings and boats sailing beneath — considered by some to be the perfect backdrop for a wedding photo.  When looking around for a phone I stumbled upon the Avenue of Stars, a walk of fame for the action stars of Hong Kong cinema such as Raymond Chow, Jackie Chan and of course Bruce Lee, whose wing chun style of karate (indigenous to Hong Kong) has been popularized in his many films, like Enter the Dragon. 

Just like the beginning of Enter the Dragon, I took a boat across to Hong Kong Island for that classic approach (instead of taking the subway).  Boats of all sizes cruised back, forth and through Victoria Harbour, the waterway in between Kowloon on mainland Hong Kong and Hong Kong Island.  I arrived seven minutes later at the pier and was soon met by my hosts, Aviva (El Zee‘s sister) and her husband Maurice (we call him Moe), who had seized the opportunity to take a six-month rotation with Citigroup in Hong Kong.  Citigroup in New York City had sent Moe to Hong Kong to work and live with his wife in a company-paid furnished apartment.  One of these pieces of furniture was a comfy couch, my place to crash for a week, which was much better than the usual seedy hostel in Kowloon.  In a financial world capital like Hong Kong, where people are constantly coming and going for overseas contracts away from their home countries, what more “authentic” way to visit than by staying at an apartment courtesy of Citigroup — and not actually have to go to work.

“WATCH OUT WHERE YOU’RE GOING because they’re not going to,” Aviva told me when we walked down the street full of pedestrians of Hong Kongese (or is it “Hong Kongers?”), not only of Chinese descent but of many races and nationalities from around the world.  Aviva had only been in Hong Kong for a short time, but learned the ground rules right away; walk like you’re in a rush even when you’re not, and expect others to be thinking the same way. 

“It’s a free for all out here,” Moe said.  I tripped over myself and took a couple of mis-steps a few times in the madness of Hong Kong pedestrian traffic (picture above).  “Wow, it’s like watching myself walk,” Aviva said.

I settled in and showered in their cozy modern apartment, complete with TV, DVD and hi-speed internet — Hong Kong is the largest territory in the world where everyone online has broadband — all courtesy of Citigroup.  Within an hour I was already joining them and friends for Saturday morning brunch on a Saturday that Moe had off.  (Hong Kong businesses usually only give Sundays off, but the Western companies keep two-day weekends sacred.) 

At the restaurant we were met by Meg, Moe’s co-worker and upstairs neighbor who was also a new overseas transplant from Citigroup in NYC in town for a six-month rotation; and Moe’s old friend Amy from University of Rochester.  Amy was born a Hong Kongian (or is it “Hong Kongi?”) and ordered a variety of dim sum dishes for the table from different types of dumplings, steam buns and Chinese pastries.  It was great; I had only been in central Hong Kong for a couple of hours, but was already integrated into an ex-pat circle.  Amy hadn’t seen Moe in a while and Meg was almost just as new to Hong Kong as I was (she had only arrived three days prior) and it wasn’t just me that was catching up with the Raichelsons.

“WHERE ARE WE GOING?” I asked Aviva on the way walking somewhere.  I was still adjusting to the oncoming pedestrian traffic while gaping at the amazing post-modern skyscrapers around me. 

“We’re going to do the cultural thing of shopping for cell phones,” she said with a smirk.

I had been away from cell phones for quite a while.  Unlike many backpackers I’ve encountered on the road, I didn’t bring a mobile phone, thinking that it’s “cheating” on a trip around the world.  Besides, I knew myself; if I had brought a cell phone, I’d probably end up spending a fortune on drunken long-distance phone calls so that I could make random monkey noises at odd hours in the morning to friends back home. 

That’s not to say I hadn’t seen cell phone use everyday on my trip thus far, not only by backpackers texting gossip back and forth with friends home, but by practically every other local in practically every country I’ve been to no matter how poverty-stricken it may be.  Many of you readers in touch with technology probably know about the latest features of mobile devices, but to me cell phones had really advanced tenfold since my departure from the States:  one Sony Ericsson that Moe was eyeing had web mail access, a camera with zoom, a 41 MB internal hard drive — all things that Meg, Aviva and I didn’t think would catch up when they were introduced.  “Does it actually make phone calls?” I asked.  Forty five minutes of video, BlueTooth technology, etc. — technology has come a long way since my first cell phone in 1996, which was about the size of small shoe and as heavy as a bowling ball.

Passed more post-modern skyscrapers — including the HSBC one that appears on one of the $100 Hong Kong Dollar bill (the government prints only the $10 [HKD] bill and private banks print the rest)—- we did a little more Saturday afternoon shopping, from department stores to buy a bed sheet and comforter set for me to use on the couch, to one of the HMV media stores.  It was my first time in a long time to actually be in a store with legitimate CDs and DVDs (as opposed to the bootlegs all over the world), some familiar, some completely new to me.

“I don’t know what this is,” I said to Meg, picking up the DVD set of season one of a reality show I had heard about but had no idea of what it was.  (Mind you, I didn’t know who William Hung was either.)

“Wow, you don’t know?” Meg said.  She looked over to Moe.  “He doesn’t know what The Apprentice is.”  They explained to me that the Donald Trump reality show was a huge phenomenon back in the States — one that I completely missed from beginning to end, and it was already on DVD with plans for a second season.  I suppose missing entire pop cultural phenomena is something one traveling long term must deal with; Ted (Moshi, Tanzania) told me he was abroad for a while and missed the entire Monica Lewinski thing (and its subsequent late-night talk show jokes) when that was going on.

“I keep on telling people to keep me up to date with pop culture so I don’t feel out of the loop when I get back, but no one ever writes.”

CENTRAL HONG KONG WASN’T ALL BIG BUILDINGS and Western shopping, and it was evident when we went through the more “authentically Chinese” markets (one selling Osama masks next to Spidey masks) and the Cat Street Bazaar, full of old Chinese trinkets such as Mao timepieces and porcelain sex figures (collect all sixty nine), and the Man Mo Temple, one of the main houses of worship on Hong Kong Island.  Built in 1847 by the Qing dynasty, it was dedicated to the duality of the Taoist gods of literature and martial arts — “Man” translates to “civil” while Mo translates to “martial.”  It was a place where locals came to pray and burn incense, some in beehive formations hanging off the ceiling. 

For a cheap thrill and an excuse not to walk up the steep San Francisco-like hill of Hong Kong Island, we took The Great Escalator, the longest outdoor escalator in the world, which would have been cool if it was one continuous ride.  To my and Moe’s disappointment, was just a series of short escalators after each other, integrated with the layout of the city.  Aviva played tour guide, pointing out things on the way up, passed the shops and restaurants of SoHo and Mid-Levels neighborhoods (residential areas for local and ex-pats).“Look, a Spanish restaurant, Starbucks, Heineken,” Moe said.  “We could be anywhere.” 

We continued up passed the Jamia Mosque, serving Hong Kong’s Muslim population and reached the top of the escalator to say we did.  We took the stairs down back to the apartment on Peel street, one of the little streets in Soho with a Chinese market of vendors selling various goods from fruits to dried fish. 

HONG KONGANS (OR IS IT “HONG KONGITES?”) are known for their offerings of world cuisine; almost every type of food is available, from hot dogs to vegetarian soybeans molded to feel and taste like hot dogs.  Out of the many options, we chose Nepalese and dined in air-conditioning away from the humidity of the night.  The four of us (Amy went home and Meg tagged along) got our Nepalese fill and then went off to Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s party district, about six blocks of bars and the characters that frequent them, from the host of one bar with incredible mutton chops to the wandering prostitute to the ambiguously gay man who looked like he might have been stood up on a date.  We drank out on the street with beers and people-watched for a bit — the ambiguously gay guy was waiting on the wrong corner the whole time — and then head back home.  You never really felt far from the party scene in the apartment building though because the elevator speaker was always playing a groovy lounge soundtrack to get you going.

At the end of a day, it was a great introduction to the pulse of Hong Kong life;  it had only been a day and I had already felt like I was one of the Hong Kongers, or Hong Kongans, or whatever it is that they’re called.

Next entry: A Day Away With A Big Buddha

Previous entry: Forgotten Names

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Comments for “Keeping Up With The Raichelsons”

  • Ahhh yes the Raichelsons are hard to keep up with!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/17  at  06:49 AM

  • Actually, they’re called Hongkies…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/17  at  08:04 AM

  • collect them all!!!

    ERIK - I guess the one show that you would appreciate back here in the States is VH1’s Best Week Ever.  It’s a recap of the week in pop culture…They do a recap every month too!  It’s the best!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/17  at  05:50 PM

  • Ah yes… good old HK.

    Erik, did you notice a stark contrast between the post-modern office towers in the central district, and the old apartment buildings with airconditioners hanging from every window?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/17  at  10:29 PM

  • TD0T:  I must say that the Chinese have really embraced the concept of air-conditioning since Beijing—unlike many other countries.  Now THAT’s progress.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/18  at  03:50 AM

  • Hey Erik! Hows life in Hong Kong? Just got your post card from Lake Baikal - thanks . BTW is new zealand still in your plans? if yes, when? maybe we can meet up
    party on

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/18  at  09:35 AM

  • NAVID:  Hey man!  HK’s been great… I’m surprised that it’s not all big city life like I previously thought… 

    New Zealand should be in February sometime…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/18  at  10:35 AM

  • I didn’t know that there was a mainland part to Hong Kong - learn something new from Erik each day!!

    Sounds like my journey to NYC - just lots of wandering around… glad you have a couch for a while. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/18  at  11:22 AM

  • NOELLE:  “Hong Kong” is the SAR or the island or the city…  I guess like “New York” is the city, the county and the state…

    The Hong Kong SAR is comprised of a portion of mainland China which extends out to a peninsula, it’s “main” island (Hong Kong Island, sort of like Manhattan) and a bunch of other bigger islands—most of which are still comprised of countryside and beaches.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/18  at  07:43 PM

  • “random monkey noises”? Can we get an audio sampling of THAT?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/19  at  07:09 AM

  • Well Erik, if I were you, I’d have a long talk with Aviva & Moe… I ranked a private room when I visited them!!
    That was in Rochester, however…

    Considering a visit myself in the new year - want to go even more after reading your post - Thanks!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  11:34 PM

  • KEN:  Glad to hear from you… Pass the word along.  Go to HK—you’ll just LOVE the elevator music…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  05:14 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.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
A Day Away With A Big Buddha

Previous entry:
Forgotten Names


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