Hawking in Kowloon!

Then there's Kowloon. Kowloon rests on a small peninsula less than 1km across the bay from Hong Kong Island. Many years ago a Hong Kong rice magnate started a ferry service to usher his workers to and from their homes in the less expensive Kowloon. Over the years as Hong Kong spread and with little real estate left to develop the tall buildings started to spring up on Kowloon. Today it's the shopping capital of Hong Kong. With many five star hotels, high-fashion shops and restaurants, Kowloon also houses the ubiquitous hawkers of knock-off watches and the infamous Hong Kong tailors.

There are three ways to get to Kowloon. First, via car or taxi through a tunnel. Second and quite easy and popular is using the Hong Kong MTR metro system and finally you can take the Star Ferry. And at less than twenty-five cents it's simply the most well spent money in Hong Kong bar none.

Cruising across the bay at night gives you a technicolor view of the lights of Hong Kong. The colors that light the sky and ripple and reflect in the bay change nightly. Perhaps urban legend, but I was told there's one man in a lone room with a computer who has sole creative license and capability to change the colors of Hong Kong on a whim. I'm thinking that could be more fun than a Pink Floyd concert if the music, the vibe and energy were right. Perhaps a future project.

One night on Kowloon we sat in the bar on the top floor of the Peninsula Hotel. The ultra-chic Felix restaurant and bar perhaps earned its reputation with great food, beautiful people and a hip bar. But really it's the men's bathroom that eeks into more conversations at the dinner table or bar. High tech and quite minimal the men's rest room's focal point are three marble urinals that sit like iris shaped pods growing out of the marble tiled floor. But instead of facing a blank wall, mirror or some advertisement on an LCD screen as you do your business, you simply gaze across the bay and feast your eyes on those Hong Kong night lights. Apparently, the bathrooms of this hotelier/restauranteur are his signature.

On a daytime trip to Kowloon Bryan and I walked up and down Nathan Street (famous for shopping — especially electronics and cameras) looking for the China Travel Service. Eager to pick up airline tickets to Guilin in mainland China we found ourselves on Kowloon Island without the exact street address of the travel service. Shit. I thought it would be easy as our man Wu told us no problem — they are in the building next to the Hyatt Regency. And with my usual confident self I figured no worries — this will be easy. Not quite. After walking past a dozen stores selling phones, cameras, cosmetics and ore cell phones and cameras we started getting a tad frustrated. And after shrugging off another dozen watch hawkers and eastern Indian gentlemen passing out cards with information on the great suits they could tailor for us using the finest Italian fabrics.

I finally turned to one of them and said, we don't wear suits anymore. “But if you can tell me where the China Travel Service is, I'd be much obliged.” So there goes Johnny from Bombay weaving me and Bryan through the narrow alleys of Kowloon past the soap vendors, shoe stores, salons and who knows what else. We finally came to a stop, ironically enough at his brother's tailor shop. Turns out his brother is really his cousin. And I'm not even sure he is his cousin. Another Bombay-based businessman walked in and was introduced to us as the owner's brother. Nothing is as it seems or communicated in Kowloon. We'd take this lesson to heart soon enough.

We did finally pocket our tickets from the China Travel Service. But only after looking at just one more fabric. And, “do you wear tie?” Even, “you need shirts even if you no wear suit?” And finally an order for a chinese jacket and a few shirts Johnny marched us to our destination.

On our final and fateful trip to Kowloon, we decided to test the odds and see if we could make one last purchase before we headed to mainland China. With 4 hours before our flight would take off from HK International Airport to Ghoungzhou we hurried through the busy streets of Causeway Bay and went underground. Rising out of the street at the Tsim Sun Lin MTR station we started our assault on the electronic stores in search of phone and camera. Not that either of us are predisposed to shopping, but with one Chinese Jacket, a couple shirts and a few collectables from the Stanley Market we couldn't leave enough alone.

We learned quickly why everyone seems to have the same products in the window displays. And even after handling what we learned were simply dummy products we never really understood that none of these stores stock anything save a few low dollar items and a few accessories. You can imagine how on a time schedule to catch an international flight from an airport that is an hour away the impatience that builds when after negotiating and agreeing to a price the salesman says, “I'm going to get that for you right now,” yet sits there and talks to you about accessories and makes no moves toward the “back room.” Even after telling him that we were interested in no further items, he just sat there.

“Are you going to get the phone?”

“Yes. I'm getting it.”

Didn't look that way. He was sitting there poking away at his own phone while I was sitting there tapping my foot and watching the clock. And the clock ticked. Fifteen minutes. Then another five. Then he says, “sorry. sold out.”


Even worse. Bryan who was in another shop down the street had the exact same experience. We soon met together at another vendor. The time was still ticking. We were dangerously close to making the cut off to catch the airport express train. Our new vendor had a good price and after asking him at least six times, “do you have these products?”, he assured us. “Yes. Of course. I tell you I have. I have. I have.”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

After kissing our flight goodbye we were still sitting in this guys shop waiting for our products. While I usually remain composed and rarely ever get angry or raise my voice, I asked this guy the tenth time, “Where is the product? If you don't have, you don't have. I have to catch a plane.”

“I have. I have. I get for you right now.”

Good god, I'm thinking: You are sitting right there in the same seat you were in 30 minutes ago when we agreed to this sale. You aren't getting shit. He told me the product was upstairs. Then he told me the product was coming from his office. After asking him just a few more times he told me it was coming from his office on another street. Liar. Just didn't want to admit he didn't really have the product. Just that he could get it. While contributing to our tardiness for our flight.

The products finally did arrive. But a word of caution and warning to anyone finding themselves in Hong Kong on Kowloon island. Don't buy anything there but a Chinese jacket and a few shirts. Unless your desperate and need to have something for a leg of your trip that starts in more than a few hours, just stay out of the electronics stores. There are no deals and the product will likely come from someone elses store or in a warehouse clear across the Bay in Hong Kong. Exactly where we should have stayed this morning and caught a few extra winks of sleep.

On to Guoungzhou.

Photos: (1) The urinal in the mens room at Felix on the top floor of The Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong. (2) Bombay Johnny from Wear Nice Fashion tailor shop in Kowloon, Hong Kong. (2) This guy was getting our stuff. Even though he sat there and wrote our receipt out in the slowest handwriting ever experienced by this writer. Don't buy electronics in Kowloon unless you have a lot of time and patience.