Monday, May 02, 2011

Things to do in Hong Kong When You're Skint #2: Tram ride

May 1st is a holiday in Hong Kong. This year, it falls on a Sunday. When it's on a Saturday, the magnaminous and kind government does a sort of double-or-quits manouvre, and you go straight to work on the Monday, but this time round, everyone got Monday off, so we celebrated by taking the tram from one end of the line to the other.

This is a fairly cheap entertainment - two hours on the tram will cost you $2 per passenger - although it's not the most exciting thing in the world, as most of the journey involves looking at the back of the tram in front of you.

What made it more expensive was our desire not to spend the entire day on the tram, so we took a taxi from Tin Hau to Shau Kei Wan ($48) and another taxi from Kennedy Town back to Tin Hau ($69), and what made it more time-consuming was that a grumpy old lady had got the front seat on the tram, so we couldn't video our exciting cross-island journey without getting her head in all the shots, so we disembarked (another two dollars) and then had to wait an hour, as the Shau Kei Wan - Kennedy Town tram is the rarest of all schedules. Maybe it's the least popular route for a driver because it's the longest without a cigarette break. Or perhaps the most prestigious as it needs the driver with the greatest stamina to keep his hand on the tiller for almost two hours.

Shau Kei Wan is less affluent than the centre of the island, and so is Kennedy Town, so as the tram moves along the buildings and shops gradually modernise and become more expensive. You go from blocks of dingy old flats and dried fish to shiny, characterless glass walled canyons and Starbucks after Starbucks, and then, as you head toward Kennedy Town, the film reverses and you begin to travel back towards the 1950s. Shops selling dried fish and plastic shoes begin to reappear; there are few bored men, slumped asleep outside their recycled-paper-weighing-shops in Central, and nor are there any tendrils of the Starbucks empire visible in Shau Kei Wan or Kennedy Town.

The passengers change too. Out of Shau Kei Wan, old Chinese men and women in anoraks and long trousers, despite the heat, transporting groceries. From Tai Koo to the mid-point of Wan Chai, young Thais, and then as the tram wheezes and shudders its way to Kennedy Town, Filipino helpers on their day off begin to get on, and again, as we approach the other extreme of the tram line, elderly Chinese gather once more.

There are lots of parts of Hong Kong you avoid by being on the tram: anything green, any of the shops selling cheap suits on Nathan Road, the stilt houses of Tai O, but as a primer on social and economic difference it's fairly efficient, sweeping you between the new and the rich, and the poor and the old. Even then, there's not a pure cordon between rich and poor; the atrium of HSBC's headquarters, symbolic of Hong Kong's economic might, is full to the gills with Filipinas on a break from domestic helpering. Or perhaps this is a symbol of the sources of wealth creation in Hong Kong, the poor having to scuttle around the rich and powerful. Let's see how the video looks.


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