Welcome to Hong Kong....

Garage Sale, discount sale, fire sale, estate sale, divorce sale, you-name-it-sale and it's for sale. That's Hong Kong for you in a nutshell.

The British came here in 1842 and set up a colony, which means they subtracted what was valuable and added what was despicable. It was a brilliant, albeit Satanic system: in exchange for Chinese tea and silk in great demand in Europe, the colonists graciously imported opium and allowed the locals to become bleary eyed, doped out slavish addicts. This system was then challenged by the Middle Kingdom resulting in the Opium Wars and then loaning the island of Hong Kong to the British for 99 years of fun, games and endless bartering.

It's also a system that seems to work well today when it comes time to off the world's overproduction of electronic goodies and cameras. But since there is limited land, infitinite demand and nothing vaguely similar to rent control, the result is some of the world's highest priced real estate.

Welcome to Hong Kong. Want to spend a night in an affordable guest house? Sure, no problem, come with me. I take you to my friend's place. It real clean. And safe some of the time, too. Not many rats, and rats are friendly. And it only cost you 800 Honkies (that's Hong Kong dollars, which in our case and time meant about $100 a night).

Ducks hang drying from an open-air restaurant in Hong Kong, one of the more popular evening dining places in the back streets.

We used the phones in the airport to call varioius hotels, guest houses and the YMCA. Most of our connections were with people who not only didn't speak English, they had no intention of wasting their time to learn any. But Salli was able to find out that most of the affordable places were full, the rest were expensive, and all were insanely rude.

We finally found one place that told us "no problem, we got rooms. Come, you stay." We could see his wide fixed smile over the phone, so we got a cab and headed to downtown Kowloon.

Nice place too, even the taxi drivers didn't know where it was. Some where on a main drag of a main street of a main section of Hong Kong. Our taxi left us off in a grim and slightly menacing alley in the middle of the night. With his chin the driver pointed across the street to this dark structure (if that word can be used) made from cement and bare electrical wires, all held magically together by grime and large splotches of something black and dripping. It was the kind of place that even the Adams family would have cowered from.

But we were exhausted, and we were the Mason-Slaughter Around the World Cybernut Family, immune from all the earth's evils and always ready for a new adventure. And with that we yanked our backpacks out of the trunk and fought our way across the busy thoroughfare to our new home away from home.

Entering a filthy hallway lit by a bare bulb and guarded by an ancient Chinese man asleep at his post, we found the elevator. The up button was easy to hit, removing our finger from it's stickiness was another matter. But we were OK, we were on an adventure, we were at the doorway to Asia--so what if in our case the doorway to Asia was best illustrated by a beat in, ill-closing elevator door.

The elevator was just large enough for us, our packs and our individual thoughts about which of us was responsible for getting us into this nightmare--all of this piled in vertical layers that strained the elevator cables and made the car miss it's appointed floor by about 12 inches, 11 floors up.

The door opened out on to a dark, open air shelf. I'd seen shelves like this back in my days of high altitude climbing. Those too were sloped and treacherous, but unlike this hallway they had ice along the edges rather than slime crawling with rapidly moving six-legged living things.

Beneath us sprawled the dark, teaming streets of Hong Kong. Cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, push carts and much of the human race on foot streamed in every direction imaginable and available. But from our high altitude ledge, above the 747's glide path, we found the hand lettered sign that signified our new home. A simple buzzer next to the bomb-proof iron grating was our way of signally we were there. Within minutes the grating slid back with the same ease and melodious clank as the rusty prison doors of Alcatraz, and we were greeted by our guest house host.

"How much money you got? Not enough. Rent is twice that. Get more money. Come back morning...." Clank. The grate shut and Asia began to fade on us.

We were desperate. Our backs ached from carrying our worldly goods across the street (oh, have I mentioned before about how much stuff we were hauling?) and we wanted to sleep, to kick back and get our bearings. We rang the buzzer again.

"We got Master Card. Rich parents. We write for Internet, and can smear you across the planet. Plus, we got young child (pointing to Cassidy), we think she's sick, maybe elaphantitus she picked up in Africa--no, no, not contagious, she just needs warm bed and love to be cured--and I voted for Clinton. We think he's our new president, but we haven't heard any news in two weeks. We don't snore, at least very loud, and we'll do the dishes. Please?"

Our pathetic pleas seemed to work, along with emptying our wallets and providing the landlord with our many PIN numbers. We were in the door and shown to our guest house room. And what a room.

Think of your house. Now think of your bathroom. Now think of that moist, dank, dark space beneath your bathroom sink. That's about the size and condition of our guest house room, a luxury room we had agreed to pay about $100 a night for. In fact, it was large enough for one double bed, space to place your slippers, a shelf for the TV, and a bathroom that could also be used to extract confessions from political prisoners, if you didn't give a hoot about Geneva Conventions and American Human Rights obsessions.

But heh! We were the Mason-Slaughters (although given that night dangerously close to being the Masons and maybe the Slaughters). And we were on an adventure, plus we had most of our shots (which one were we supposed to get and forgot?), and we were exhausted, desperate, a pathetic quivering mass of American family flesh just wanting to sleep.

We piled into our rooms, yanked off our shoes and promptly fell asleep to the roar of the outside Hong Kong traffic.


(Salli's addendum) Ok guys, in all honesty, the first proprieter was pretty nice. His first place was a flea bag, and the description of the building was accurate, but he took us to his new place, the New Lucky Guest House on the first floor. It was clean, if small and spartan, and he and his night manger were very nice. He was Indonesian, spoke very good English, and was interested in Alaska and our travels. We didn't run into the snarling dog-proprieters and dirty linens until we returned to find New Lucky filled on our return from China. But George has a penchant for story telling!

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