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Three days in Hong Kong was not enough to see how people lived there, but our sojourn gave me at least an inkling of how hurried and harried life was for most of the estimated seven million people in the former Crown Colony.
If our tour guides were a gauge, I could feel that they run their lives like they were running business enterprises. Our first guide, who gave his name as Randy, came to our meeting place right on the dot and immediately told us to fall in line as if we were schoolchildren.
“Don’t change your money at any foreign exchange center here at the airport. Their exchange rate is extremely low,” he briefed us, making me regret that I had changed $100 at the first money exchange center that I saw. “The money changers downtown have better rates.”
After his briefing, he immediately went to his own business, writing on a sheet of paper and adroitly trying to avoid any conversation. “Excuse me sir, but my English is very poor,” he said when I tried to strike a conversation, although he spoke fluent English.
Up to the time of our departure to the hotel, he carried a formal, distant demeanor, although on our way, he tried to make us laugh with his handy jokes from time to time while telling us a sweeping history of the former Crown Colony.
I never saw him dropped his guarded behavior even when we were already at the hotel, trying to keep himself busy with anything and reminded us to be at the lobby at the exact time the next day for our tour of the city in the morning and Disneyland in the afternoon.
The first day of our short stay was free so we decided to go sightseeing downtown after lunch which we took at the nearest MacDonald food chain and where we experienced our first problem: few people spoke English. So we just strolled aimlessly in old Hong Kong, watching people who seem to be mostly in a hurry.
I learned later that few people in Hong Kong owned cars; only the affluent have. Most walked to the offices or any short-distance destinations. People take the Metro rail and public buses only for long-distance journey. Taxi was expensive. That answered my wonderment as soon as we arrived why most Hong Kong residents were lean.
Although Chinese residents in Hong Kong seemed aloft, many of them were polite. In a noodle restaurant where we took a mid-afternoon snack, people sitting beside us or in front of us just took their food quietly, but the restaurant owner who spoke a little English assured us that they want tourists to come because it would help boost their economy.
When we took our tour the following day, I learned that what the restaurant owner told us was a mantra that would be repeated by our first tour guide. On our way to what was supposed to be a city tour, Randy joked about how they like tourists to keep on coming.
“We like you to spend your money here so our economy will grow,” he said with a laugh, without us knowing that the tour was not to tourist spots. We were immediately taken to two factory outlets where we were shown products we may want to buy before taking a 30-minute stopover at the Avenue of Stars to gawk at statues and other memorabilia of great Hong Kong celebrities and a boat ride later at the Hong Kong Channel for HK$50 each.
The supposed city tour was a subtle marketing coup attached to tourism. It was ingenuously timed at the moment when we had put down our guards to our purse strings and succumbed to impulse buying. We found out the next day that mainland China had copied the same strategy when we went to Shenzen a little beyond the border of Hong Kong.
We finished our “city tour” at noon where we were taken again to a factory outlet that sold souviener t-shirts and hopia, a kind of Chinese foodstuff that is also known to Filipinos, on the side. If that was a clue, we failed to pick it up that we won’t be taking lunch until we reached Disneyland.
Our first tour guide left us to the second tour guide without saying goodbye. It turned out that our second tour guide had coordinated with several groups of tourists to wait for the bus in various parts of the city. It took the bus about an hour to pick up the different groups and we reached Disneyland at around 1:30 pm. When I told our second tour guide that we hadn’t taken lunch yet, he replied with a sweet smile: “So haven’t I.”
At Disneyland, our new tour guide reminded us to be in the bus on time that night and that a third tourist guide was to take care of us. Left on our own, we looked for a place to take lunch at Disyneyland where food was so expensive but later enjoyed our tour in fantasy land. For all the trouble, we were glad to have visited Hong Kong because it fulfilled a childhood dream of our 14-year-old daughter.
When we went back to our bus after all the Disney activities, our third guide was already there waiting for us and for another group of tourists. It amazed me that all the three guides worked with clock-work precision without personal touches which the Filipinos call TLC or tender loving care.
After our bus had dropped all passengers to their hotels, our third tour guide took us to the train that would take us to Shenzen where we had to spend the night in a quite messy hotel. As it was in Hong Kong, the next day we were taken to two factory outlets where the sales ladies persuaded as to buy products that included jade stones crafted into elegant earings or bracelets that were supposed to cure many ailments.
And as in Hong Kong, our business-like schedule rubbed all the fun from the tour. After lunch, our guide immediately took us to immigration in another side of the border for a bus that would take us straight to Hong Kong airport. When she finished all the paper works, she instructed us on what to do and where to wait for our fourth tour guide at the Hong Kong side of the border. It was amazing that everything went on smoothly, despite our trepidation that we could get into trouble if something went amiss.
Waiting for our plane at Hong Kong’s airport, I could not help think of Singapore where we enjoyed a guided tour about six years ago and pondered if we would still go back to Hong Kong. Probably, we will but no longer on a guided tour and instead study the railway networks as some of our friends in Jeddah later advised us to enjoy another sojourn in the former Crown Colony.
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