Matthew’s Adoption Diary

Friday September 24, 2004

We aren’t losing a day, we’re gaining a son.

  • ?
  • Hong Kong: the Irish pub capital of the world.
  • The New York…I mean Hong Kong skyline.
  • You want signs? We got your stinkin’ signs!
  • Wax burners. The scourge of the Hong Kong underground.

Since we lost a day in translation from the U.S. to China, I am breaking up our only full day in Hong Kong into two diary entries; Friday and Saturday. Since the first entry only dealt with the trip over on Thursday U.S. time and we landed here on Friday China time, technically we will be talking about the couple of hours we were awake in Hong Kong on Friday night and the day we spent in Hong Kong on Saturday.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Friday diary entry will deal with our short Friday night in Hong Kong and our general impressions of the place and the Saturday entry will run down our full Saturday spent roaming the streets of said city.

Do what you will with this information.

We just flew 15 ½ hours from New York to come see… New York.

We landed in the Hong Kong airport at around 7:15 P.M. local time. Nice place. Easy to get around in even for non-natives such as ourselves. Proceeded through customs without any problems although it did take us longer to get through than anyone else. This always happens to us. I think that it is because we are a man with a U.S. passport, a woman with an Irish passport and a Chinese baby (we are the unFamily after all — see your url bar for more information), Dorothy, on the other hand, thinks that it is because I am a long haired freak. I will leave it up to you to decide who is right.

Anyway we easily made our way to the transportation counter to get our car that would take us to the hotel, and there right on the counter was a big sign with our names on it — Mr. & Mrs. Congiusta… spelled absolutely correctly! An F.Y.I. to America, when the Chinese are kicking our butt in international geopolitics and finance, this is going to be one of the reasons why. I have been to China twice in my life and never once in either of those two trips was my name ever spelled wrong. Heck, the Chinese even manage to pronounce it pretty close to perfectly. Yet I have spent the whole rest of my life in America and never once has anyone ever spelled my name correctly. Ever! Forget about pronunciation. I am not sure what, but this means something.

So we got into our car driven by an excellent guy who, in the course of the 20 minute ride from the airport to our hotel did the following for us:

  • gave us a complete rundown on the local Hong Kong dining scene, recommending several restaurants that we should check out
  • told us where we should shop for personal items around our hotel and gave us a general account of the obscene markup on our room’s minibar pricing
  • broke down the U.S. performance in the recent Olympic games and explained to us how, when and where the Chinese Olympic team trains its athletes
  • gave us a general overview of both Hong Kong’s geography, history and important sights to the extent that all of the travel literature we brought with us became superfluous
  • discussed the climatic similarities between the U.S. Pacific Northwest (specifically Portland, Oregon) and Hong Kong as this info pertains to rainfall
  • and finally gave us what sounded like a kick-butt recipe for Congee that Dorothy will definitely use once we get Matthew home

Quite the drive over. And yes, we tipped him commensurately.

One other thing about our drive, we were treated to the second best skyline that we have ever had the awed pleasure of seeing. Now I am from New York, and I love New York like no one’s business, but I have to say, Hong Kong’s nighttime skyline was a pretty close second. It is even possible that if I wasn’t such a snob about my hometown that I may even have given the edge to Hong Kong. Not as many tall buildings as New York and a preponderance of advertising that New York would never (?) stoop to, but other than that, utterly impressive. If you want to get the honest ranking, ask Dorothy on the sly for her opinion because I think she was just being nice to me when she agreed with my judgement of New York skyline supremacy.

Not only is the skyline a New York homage if you will, but the whole Hong Kong attitude, from the people to the atmosphere (not air quality atmosphere mind you, in that respect the Big Apple is far superior if you can believe it) is in a New York state of mind. As a matter of fact, if you repealed all of New York’s zoning laws and extended the boundaries of Chinatown from Battery Park to Central Park, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two places.

On the face of it, it would seem that as New Yorkers, we would love it here (at least I would, again Dorothy’s deference to my fragile ego keeps her true feelings about New York under wraps most of the time) but here is the problem: we just spent almost a whole day in a cramped metal tube to come to the place we just left. Are we sorry we came here? Absolutely not. Would we come back? There would have to be a compelling reason such as the reduction in travel time to less than 45 minutes. That being said, we would recommend Hong Kong as a “just to say you did it” type of vacation, but be sure to bring your checkbook because…

…Good God Almighty! This place is freakin’ expensive!

First of all, due to Hong Kong’s special status under China’s hegemony, many of the rules that apply to the mainland do not necessarily apply here. One of the most obvious is that Hong Kong does not use the Chinese Yuan Renmibi as its official currency. They use the Hong Kong dollar, which is designated as HK$ to differentiate it from the US$. The HK of course stands for “Holy Krap! That’s unbelievably expensive!”

Part of the problem is that it disconcerting to hear prices referred to in dollars yet not mean US$. And with a 1 US$ to 7 HK$ exchange rate, the first time you hear “that will be $10 for that can of Coca-Cola” you nearly lose your lunch on the counter of 7-11. Which brings you to the other part of the problem, there is a tremendous Western influence here, especially in product availability. Of course the omnipresent Coca-Cola and McDonalds brands abound as do the less ubiquitous 7-11s of the world. To name a few, we have seen a T.G.I.Friday’s, Outback Steakhouse and Morton’s of Chicago Steakhouse. You can also easily find almost any Western product you care to name: Snapple, Gatorade, Hershey’s, Häagen-Dazs, Rice Crispies, Dannon Yogurt, Doritos… the list goes on and on. Yes Virginia, there is a global economy and Hong Kong seems to be the front line in the battle for China’s 1.2 billion pocketbooks.

Alright, that’s enough preaching for one day. Be sure to read tomorrow’s entry and see how the Congiusta Family spent their last day in Hong Kong before venturing north to Hefei, home to a certain Matthew Peng Lei, né Congiusta.

Going crazy from the exchange rate and broke from the price markup…