Chungking Mansions – great accommodation or den of inequity in Hong Kong?

When travelling, it’s always great when plans come to fruition.  At our arranged meeting point I meet my friend whose LAX flight arrived 20 minutes before my New Zealand one.  After a coffee, we find the bus into town, and get off at the correct spot – our 5 weeks of SE Asian travels are beginning well.  And, we’re off to stay in a mansion!

Chungking Mansions to be precise – and despite the name, these mansions were the cheapest accommodation we could find in the centre of Hong Kong.  Fantastic we thought.

As we approach the doorway, dragging our wheeled suitcases, half a dozen men offered us their cards – touts for suits, dresses and jackets that we could have made. Silk, linen, cotton, a sari perhaps?  All we wanted was to check-in and start exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This huge block is actually a collection of 5 buildings each named A, B, C, D or E -and each block has 2 lifts – one stopping at all the even numbers, the other at all the odds.  Despite the rabbit warren confusion, we found the appropriate check-in place. What we hadn’t realised there are hundreds of tiny guesthouses, and once checked-in we were taken to our accommodation – in a different block.

My room is across the hallway from my friends one: it’s tiny, spotlessly clean,  has air-con, a bottle of water and is windowless. It’s also shoebox-size, with an even tinier bathroom.  I have no problem with that, I only want this room to sleep in as I know I’ll be out exploring – this is my first time in Hong Kong!

We stayed here for 3 or 4 days, and then after our travels, I stayed another couple of days before returning to New Zealand.

This is not only full of guesthouses but also restaurants, shops and moneychangers.  As someone said you could have a holiday in Hong Kong and never leave the mansions.  No matter what you want it will be here: fruit, biscuits, bread, curries, pizza, computers, or kebabs; new luggage, new phone, Sim card, umbrellas or batteries, they’re all here -and of course suits, dresses, jackets, or a  sari.  In fact, anything you want.  We had our delicious, early morning, Indian breakfast, on the ground floor, every day.

This United Nations of people seem to come from, largely, Southeast Asia and Africa, and in conversation with a young Hong Kong woman on the ferry, she was astonished at our bravery. ‘I’ve never been allowed there’ she said. ‘My parents would never let me go anywhere near there.  Is it safe?  It’s full of drug dealers I think.’

There is no doubt about it, for years it’s had a notorious reputation, and at any one time, among the 4 or 5000 people who live, and or work, there.  I’m sure there are drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and sex workers.

Over the years it’s cleaned up its act, and despite still being a fire hazard, I never saw anything that concerned me.  However, over the past few years, there have been assaults and even murder (s?)

Originally built as middle class, one-family flats or apartments, many families, seeing an opportunity to make money, bought other flats and converted them into guesthouses to serve American soldiers on R&R from Vietnam -it was then that the sex workers started hanging around the entrance.

Would I stay there again?  Of course!  Would most my friends stay here?  Of course not!

our first day in Hong Kong we experience and march
shops and restaurants are beginning to open .. about 630 am. some are open all night
messages of support to the marchers – in the underground

 

 

 

A potpourri of photos (been looking back!)

Been searching – on some old CDs – of old pics taken and these took my fancy for no particular reason – except for the Peackok Fountain photo which I think is my best one of it! Next time I’m in Christchurch I will try for a better one with no buildings to be seen! 🙂

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Photos from Hong Kong’s protests

It’s 2 weeks since I flew out of Hong Kong.  I’d been travelling for 5 weeks around the region,  (Taiwan, Vietnam, and Cambodia) and, despite all the warnings about getting to the airport really early, there were very few protesters – and they were all in the arrivals area.

So, for me, apart from having to show my travel documents, there were no disruptions.  However, I was frustrated that Air New Zealand, and no doubt other airlines, had encouraged us (by text messages) to check in early – but the check-in counter didn’t open until the normal time!  My plan, and others I spoke to at the airport had been to check-in, get rid of our bags, go through security, and then hang out in the peace and quiet of the gate areas. It was not to be – we had to hang out by the boring check-in counters.

I wrote a little blog about it (see it here) and someone complained that I didn’t talk about the real protests, however, I am a travel writer, not a journalist, and all I do is give a snapshot, an opinion of a moment in time, what I experienced, notices, or observed – and those airport photos showed what it was like for me (quiet) on the morning of  10th August 2019.

There are many reputable sources of informed articles about Hong Kong, China, the protests, the results, and concerns.  My travel blog is not one of them :).

Nevertheless, here a is a small photographic tour of what little I saw of the protests in Hong Kong – apart from the airport one, all were taken on my first day ( of my first ever trip to HK) in Hong Kong ( 7/7/2019)

 

 

 

How do you choose who to follow on social media?

How do you decide who to follow on Instagram or other such media?

When I have someone follow me, and Instagram suggests I follow them back, I have a quick look at their photos and almost instantly make a decision – are these photos I want to see or not?

Pinocchio goes to Thailand (Phuket)

Life is too short to engage with photos that don’t interest me for many reasons.  It may sound judgemental, but it’s nothing to do with the person posting, making a judgement as to how I want to spend my time.  So, here are the photos I do like to see.

Florida well caught
  • Travel photos that show the culture that person is exploring; travel photos that are natural – that is, no filters or colour enhancers – I want to see what your eyes saw – not a camera adjustment!  Selfies, or photos of you, doing yoga or muscle poses, (for example) in exotic places – for me that does not make it a travel photo.  It is self-promotion, and although I’m sure many people love to see them, it’s just not my cup of tea.
  • I don’t follow Instagram pages that have numerous quotes, sayings, homilies, and the stream.  If I see one or 2 that’s fine, but not screeds of them.
  • If they are family photos and I don’t know you, I’m not interested.

What a curmudgeonly old woman I sound, but one of the beauties of life is that you don’t have to, and I don’t have to, follow or please everybody by posting the photos they want to see.  We all take and post the photos we want to post

  • So what photos do you like to see,
  • What ones don’t you want to see
  • Or, do you just follow everybody if they are following you?

It’s not about right or wrong, it’s just about our taste – or lack of taste you might think  🙂

Proboscis monkey -this photo is on my wall. Malaysian Borneo

I’m looking forward to hearing how you choose who to follow or not on Instagram, Facebook, or any other social – let’s face it, each of our opinions is totally valid.  Is that old adage says, one man’s meat is another man’s poison – or your junk is my treasure.

Cycle trip on Phuket. Thailand

What’s your junk? Your treasure?

red pohutukawa & red vase – on the Chatham Islands, NZ

 

How do you engage with locals? Does technology keep you apart?

How do you make contact with locals? Or maybe you prefer not to, or don’t care?

I first noticed the use of mobile phones separating people from the places they were travelling in on a train in Thailand. A young British couple, were both on their phones were talking to different people back in their homeland.  I found it amazing that they weren’t even looking out the window at the beautiful scenery.

between shows – Bangkok

Of course, there is nothing wrong with keeping in contact with friends and family every now and then – however, it also means you are not living in the now, in the present moment – the very place where life happens.

I guess I’m biased because when I travel, I very rarely contact home – I ‘m always working on the premise that no news is good news :-).

That being so, I’ve noticed in my city, Wellington, New Zealand, that it is harder to engage with locals when you are using a phone to guide you around the streets.  Sure, Google Maps does sort of show you the way, but you get no interaction with the people in the area you are visiting.

South African fan in Cuba Street

Perhaps this doesn’t bother you, but for me, travelling is all about the people I meet; the questions I ask them; the directions I get from them, and knowledge about their lives.

We Kiwi, are considered pretty friendly and when we approach you on the street, especially if you’re looking at a map, we are not trying to sell you anything or take you to our cousins’ shop for instance – we are just trying to be helpful and friendly and help give you a 100% pure Kiwi experience.

(Note: ‘one hundred per cent pure’ was never intended to be about our environment – like everywhere else we too have environmental problems.  The hundred per cent pure was to ensure all tourists got a genuine Kiwi experience and holiday.  Sadly, this was not how it was understood overseas.  Even New Zealanders now claim we are being false in our ‘advertising.’  As an older kiwi – who was travel writing when it was coined – many years ago.  I’m very clear about its original intentions – one of the advantages of age 🙂  )

Lake Tekapo

I frequently ask,  ‘can I help you’ of those who look like tourists and are gazing at their phone or a map.

So, many especially those new into New Zealand I suspect, almost jump back in horror at being spoken to.  ‘Oh no, what does she want!?  Will she rip me off?’  I see it in their faces.  Happily, at least 50% of them value me answering their questions and often thank me for being ‘helpful.’ And hopefully, that little interaction contributes to them enjoying their time in New Zealand and having 100% pure Kiwi experience, and knowing most of us are kind, caring and really want to help – for no reason but to be helpful!

So next time you pull out a phone to find your way from A to B just pause, look around, is there a local to ask instead?

Alaska

This works from Alaska to Turkey, from Thailand to New Zealand.  It’s the brief connections and a smile or a laugh with a local that can make your day.  Don’t let technology separate you from the very people in the country you wanted to visit.

Have a good day 🙂

Local lads in Maheshwar

 

Are you a slow traveller? What is slow travel?

interact with the locals

Are you a slow traveller?  What is slow travel?  I’m sure it means different things to different people.

For me, slow travel means pacing my travel, not having every moment accounted for, and therefore leaving time for the unexpected. The unknown and the unplanned for.  Leaving time to sit in the coffee shop and watch how locals live and interact.

Florida – well caught

For me, the difference is about the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller. I like to think I’m a traveller.  It means going to a country but only visiting one small region, not rushing around so you can take off everything on the must-see or must-do lists.  I like to create my own list with lots of gaps 🙂

A spirit tree in Bangkok
The KiwiTravelWriter checks out the manatee in Florida

So are you a slow traveller?  Tell me, what does it mean to you?  I do understand people taking tours, but I guess I’m selfish and self-centred and really just want to leave when I want to leave, to stay longer when I want to – or to jump on a bus and get the hell out of somewhere. 🙂

In particular, I want to have an early breakfast and get out exploring not waiting for other people to wake up have their breakfast and then join a bus group.  It is easy to see why most of my travels have been solo 🙂

taking off in a hot air balloon – Canterbury, New Zealand

 

 

Wall of love on my Monday morning walk

Today our regular U3A Monday morning walk continued on the terrorism and grief path when we visited a wall of love at Victoria University.  these photos are in order of being taken, the bulk are of the students’ messages of love and support.

My walk photos started with a  poster on Cuba Street, we met at the wharewaka,  walked to the cable car, past some autumn colour then along to Vic Uni,  where we also saw their tuatara, before heading back  to the city and the National library where some of us signed the Book of Memories for the victims of the white supremacist terrorist murders of 50 people  – innocently praying – of course, another 48 were injured and are mostly still in hospital.  a coffee and food and there are my 13,000 steps done by lunchtime 🙂

Wellington photos: A monday morning walk

Every Monday I join a U3A group ( University of the third age) for a walk in Wellington. Sometimes we bus to one of the outer suburbs or beaches but often we prefer to wander the inner city and learn some of our history, go to the botanic gardens, see artworks, or just enjoy the sights. 

These photos were taken yesterday – from the Wharewaka beside the lagoon to the National Art gallery café – coffee is the high point of our walks

Great way to start the day for these youngsters – I’ve done it once!
urgency on the waterfront
small  French cruise ship in for the day
this ‘buzzy bee’ is a tradition baby’s toy in New Zealand. – it is diagonally opposite our ‘beehive’
Sufferage Kate Sheppard tells us its safe to cross
the old and the not so old
the Beehive … the offices for our parliamentarians
this area is often used for ceremonies and protests
up the steps to the seat of power
Parliaments library
John Ballance looking well-balanced on his plinth
Coffee spot – and home to our most important national documents – The Treaty and the Suffrage petition

How to be an ethical traveller – it’s easy peasy

How to be an ethical traveller is simple and your ethical choices will make a difference to the people you meet

  • don’t slavishly follow a guidebook – when you do that you will just end up in crowded places.  Do research on any sort of tour you are going on; are they a green company?do they invest back into the community
  • Learn something about the place you go to –  respecting how they act is not the same as agreeing with it – be culturally sensitive, don’t make judgements, be willing to and of learn dress appropriately for where you are
  • buy from locals and eat street food,
  • stay in locally owned accommodation places –   take shorter showers – hang up your towels for reuse.  Don’t waste electricity
  • use local transport when possible – one person in the car is not eco-friendly so always share
  • dispose of your own rubbish correctly – you can even pick up someone else’s rubbish!
  • watch animals in the wild – don’t disturb them – keep your distance – don’t touch or feed them – don’t use flash photography – don’t pose for photos with captured animals – most of which have been beaten into submission
  • minimise your carbon footprint
  • carry your own water bottle and food container
  • refuse straws
  • travel is not a competition – we are not impressed with the number of countries you have visited

Green Viper (Borneo)

Here is an essay I wrote before about ethical travel:

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher percentage rate of people with passports than, say, Americans, for example.  There are also many countries in the world where people will never have a passport  – and of course, poor countries are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.

I’m a travelophile. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not need to go the flavour of the month so can be in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.

This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has the least impact while providing the greatest benefits.

Independent travellers are the ones most likely (but not always) be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home  – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs to the locals – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Unfortunately, tourist money is often creamed the off a country in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them, or multinational hotels who don’t even pay tax in a country.

Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – the very trash that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

I’m reminded of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that alongside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

Combining the universal codes of ‘pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

Independent solo traveller’s, or backpackers may be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country– those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a natural part many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sights ( and sites!) and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market the country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. Have we (or travel agents) have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sites they’ must see’, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound could have – buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes from the buses) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This of course is not only a New Zealand problem.

The slogan 100% pure New Zealand was created as an advertising slogan with no reference at all to being clean and green  – what it was talking about in those early days was that we would give visitors a 100% New Zealand experience  –  so pure New Zealand, not a copy of other places.

Sadly, a generation or two later, that has been forgotten, and people often think it means we’re 100% clean and green.

It doesn’t, and we aren’t, but we’re working on it.

Please help us give you a one hundred percent pure Kiwi hospitality and please, please, use our toilets and rubbish containers – do not leave such stuff on the side of the road, or in our bush.