Posted by: 1of10boyz | December 12, 2011

HONG KONG Part 2 – Hassles and Friends


As we prepare to checkout from the hotel, I stop at the ATM in the lobby to withdraw some funds . We struggle each time we go to a new monetary system in trying to figure out how much money we may withdraw (limit is $600 USD per day). The ATM is less than cooperative and I am unable to get any money withdrawn. We load back on to the bus to the airport terminal so that we can make the connection to the downtown Hong Kong area. We are told that one of the cheaper ways into the area is via a bus that goes to the various hotels and drops off guests. We have decided that this seems to be the best method since we are really not in a hurry to get anywhere today. Once we arrive we discuss this option with the hotel reservations agent for the Marriott properties and he indicates that the delay in time, as we have just missed the latest departure will be excessive and he recommends we take a cab. We, however, still do not have any Hong Kong dollars due to the ATM problem experienced earlier. We stop at the airport ATMs and again are not able to withdrawn any funds, I do get an error code which I will need to contact the Credit Union about.

We do our banking with Navy Federal Credit Union. We joined this bank as soon as we were able to while we were in the Navy. It would have been winter or spring of 1990 as we were getting ready to transition from Mare Island Naval Shipyard to Submarine Base Pearl Harbor. It has been our “major” bank for over 20 years. We have always opened an account with a local bank when we have lived away from the normal Navy Federal Credit Union service area to handle the normal day-to-day service needs but NFCU has carried the majority of our banking needs. We have been happy with them as a banking institution for a long time. We have purchased 3 houses and countless cars with their support and expertise. We specifically made the decision to bank with them during this China experience because we felt that their model and design to provide support to our service men and women would be handy for us in our international travels. We hope that our decision is correct.

I am not able to make any calls using my Chinese cellphone as we are not in China anymore, Hong Kong doesn’t count apparently. The ATM card has some international numbers we can call to get support but they aren’t supported by the credit card payphones that are in the airport. I am beyond frustrated at this point. I am basically stuck at the airport without any money, as I am too cheap to go to the money changers and pay their rip-off rates for converting my RMB (Yuan) into Hong Kong Dollars (I know we are going to use them later this week when we go to Shenzhen). I should have known that I shouldn’t use the international payphones if the toll-free numbers weren’t working but I was too mad to think clearly. I finally get someone to talk to me about the problem, apparently when I was in the Marriott, the ATM thought it gave me money and money was deducted from my account. So, now that I am at the airport I can only get about $1,500 HKD (around $175 USD). I let the clerk know that I did not get the money from the ATM at the Marriott but the connection is so bad that I am not able to get resolution. I learn later that the opportunity to be on hold without getting the necessary immediate help from NFCU ended up costing me over $120 USD, makes the money changer fees look pretty reasonable now.

We go back to the ATMs and I get the money we need at the airport to get to our hotel.  We make our way to the taxi stand to get a ride to the hotel. Roughly about $320HKD (about $41 USD), it is still sticker shock when you start paying taxi bills with $100 bills regardless of whose picture is on the bill. I am now a one-track mind; I have to talk to the bank to ensure that we get a refund for the ATM misfire. I have to talk to the credit union. Once in the hotel the toll-free numbers work and I am told that the wait is going to be 20 minutes. It is, of course, the first weekend after military payday so everyone in the Navy wants to talk to the credit union. At the 49 minutes on hold I am still waiting but have invested too much time to do anything else at this point. Finally at 53 minutes I speak to a representative. We are able to clarify the condition and the credit union promises to resolve the problem. I am so happy to know that those funds will be returned to our account that I forget to ask about the toll-free numbers problem we experienced.

We let CY and Maria know that we are checked in and available, CY’s family still all live in Hong Kong and his brother in law offers to take us and them to some of the locations for shopping that might not be on the beaten path for the average tourist shoppers. We are excited about getting to see some of those kinds of stores.  We meet them in the lobby and we are off.

We go to a mall of sorts, roughly 20 stories tall, it contains many shops that have items that are spectacular wood working and carpets and well just about everything. I look at rugs because we have determined that we want a rug to take with us back to the US when this is over, I haven’t really looked seriously at an oriental rug. We find several shops that have rugs. I learn a lot about rugs but realize that I need to determine what a rug is really worth before I buy one. We do learn that we want the double knit Persian rug as we are very impressed with the quality, though not impressed with the price. I may have to go to the border of Pakistan and China to see about a rug at some point. These things are expensive. We didn’t bother to negotiate on the price but the pre-negotiation price for a 12×18 rug was about $60,000 HKD, I would guess that we would be somewhere near half that after negotiation.

We also look at some very fine wood items, many of which are antique or near antique status. I am amazed at the detail that exists in these products. I saw bedroom furniture sets that would have actually deserved to have a bedroom built to suit them. WOW is all I can say.

We went to the Central Station location, one of the must sees in Hong Kong, to walk around in the mall. What a difference between this mall and the one we just left. It is only about 7 levels of the high rise but I am dumbfounded by the number of high end watch stores that I see in this mall. I see watch brands that are selling for $10,000 HKD as the starting price and there are many, many more costing significantly more. Rolex is just one of the many brands. I wonder how these shops remain in business at this location with such competition and variety. How many super expensive watches do you really need and how many can you really sell in one mall?

We wonder in and out of shops looking at the goods and looking at the people. I am certainly glad that I am not living in Hong Kong or working in this type of crowded environment.  I am glad that I have chosen an occupation that doesn’t put me in these kinds of crowds. We cannot escape the press of humanity around us.

It is nearly time to eat as we make our way to the elevators that will take us into the stratosphere in this building. We are going to just short of the top. It is one of those elevators with glass walls on the outside of the building; we wait in a line for the elevator that is several hundred people deep. I can’t imagine how long the wait is. Surprisingly the line moves quickly, the elevator attendants working the front of the line pack them into the elevators to the maximum capacity.

We load into the elevator after less than 10 minutes in line. I end up by the outside window; I am almost queasy as the elevator rapidly ascends into the night. I notice as I look back at the elevator doors that they are mirrored. I see my head and shoulders protruding out of a sea of black hair. My camera is just one second too slow to capture the picture appropriately, as the doors begin to open as the flash fires.

We enjoy another exciting authentic Chinese meal. Always one to try the new, we are able to check of Oyster Pizza from our list of items that we have tried and don’t need to try again, also on the list is Pig Small Intestine Soup.  While I never tire of trying these unique dishes I still often wonder what possessed someone to make it in the first place and why would it become popular? There is much that is puzzling in this culture in the food enjoyment category.

We finish our meal and make our way back to the street level. We determine that we are ready to go back to the hotel. We are planning on meeting with CY and Maria again tomorrow to go do some shopping.

We head to the subway and CY helps us get our Octopus Card. The Octopus Card is really an interesting but convenient method of dealing with transactions in Hong Kong. We load our card with $100 HKD and get on the line that takes us back towards our hotel. We arrive without little trouble and exit the subway to see if we can get back to our hotel. We can’t see where the taxi stand is (we learn later that it is down the street on the other side in the Macau Ferry terminal) so we decide to walk as it is still early and the hotel is less than a mile away.

We walk, and walk, and walk. We know where we are but we don’t know where the hotel is, the hotel must be lost. We end up walking right past it and continue down the block almost as far again as we needed to be. We board one of the little trolley cars that frequent the area and right back towards where we need to be. We miss our exit and end up almost back where we started. We eventually locate the hotel and are might glad to see it. The concierge level is still open and we are able to get some light snacks and drinks (7-up for those wondering). We note that the Chinese food doesn’t stay with us long, especially after walking for a couple of miles on dark smelly streets in Hong Kong.

We collapse into our beds. We certainly appreciate the soft bed and warm blankets at the Marriott. It certainly makes us miss our own bed that has now been sitting in the shipping container in Shanghai for 6 weeks waiting for the appropriate import paperwork to be completed.

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