Hong Kong: Two Computer Geeks

photo: Found at one of the massive bank buildings on the Island

Angular stone lion head sculpture found at one of the bank buildings.

I thought this morning that I would finally go hunt up one of the local dim sum places. I should have been eating dim sum starting from my first breakfast here ... So I walked to "Tao Heung (Pier 88)" listed in Rough Guide, a few blocks from my hotel. There I confirmed with the building concierge that the restaurant is no longer in existence. That's it Rough Guide, I'm filing for divorce. So back to Prat Street, where I went to Kai Kee Restaurant. I had something from the "Western Breakfast" menu, the "Minced Prok (sic) & Preserved Vegetables with Vermicelli in Soup" - I love that they think preserved vegetables are common breakfast food in the West. It should be noted that while misspellings like "Prok" were very common on the backpacker trail in southeast Asia in 2006, they're exceedingly rare in this very bilingual city. I also ordered coffee - which in this city apparently means "coffee with lots of dairy and a bit of sugar" unless you're at a coffee shop where you might get a choice in the matter.

Daniel arrived at my hotel just after 1000, and we set out for a day of computer geekery. He told me a bit of the history of the infamous Chungking Mansions: he actually stayed there a few years ago. I had been conflating it in my mind with the Kowloon Walled City - which was torn down around 1991 and replaced with a park. Kowloon Walled City was a high rise shanty town full of Triad gangs, a no-go zone for police that made Chungking Mansions look spacious, well laid out, and peaceful by comparison: there's a very good reason they levelled the place.

Our first destination was Golden Computer Centre via MTR, Sham Shui Po station. We arrived around 1115, and it was mostly not open yet - lots of small shops with roll-down metal doors. But there was a big street market, so we wandered about, just chatting and admiring the goods for sale. Daniel bought a SIM card for his phone that cost $15CAN and got him one Gig of data. Rather importantly, one Gig of HK data because his connection on the Shenzhen side is behind the Great Firewall of China - which kills anything Google (which in turn kills and immense number of other sites that use Google APIs), Github (very important to computer geeks), Gmail (it's Google), and many other things. All of which I get just fine here. He had previously bought the same SIM card from the same vendor, which is how he knew all this. It costs $14CAN to buy more data for his existing SIM, or $15CAN for a new card ... but to add more data to the existing card he has to go to a website that's all Mandarin, and Firefox was throwing up security errors, and was this the right place to just type in your credit card number? So an extra dollar didn't seem like a big cost.

We returned to Golden Computer Centre just after noon, by which time everything was open. lots of mental conversion from $HK to $CAN was done, and the conclusion was generally "don't buy." But it was definitely interesting, particularly the greater availability of USB-C devices than Canada has yet seen (although still not a lot).

We got back on the MTR (happily, Daniel had an Octopus card) and rode to Wan Chai on the Island (still entertaining to me that you can just ride the metro under the water). We found a very busy restaurant, but they - rather unusually - had no photos and zero English, so I asked that we move on ... for all of about 20 metres, where we found another busy restaurant - this time with both photos and English. We were seated immediately - across from two little old ladies in a tiny booth. They spoke no English, but that didn't stop them from being friendly and helpful, it was quite charming. We had barbeque pork and veg on noodles, and Singapore rice noodle for a grand total of $100HK. The food was basic but actually quite good, I really enjoyed it.

From there we went to "298 Computer Zone." Very similar to Golden Computer Centre: three floors of tightly packed, cramped little places selling phones, accessories, computers, and the like. (For those in Toronto who have been to Pacific Mall ... it offers a good approximation of the experience. Except that Pacific Mall is awfully spacious.) This time I actually made a purchase, a no-name USB sound card for $10CAN: cheap enough that if it doesn't work I won't care (this evening I managed to prove it does work). This is for Proxmox Sound. If you read that, you'll find I have a working USB sound card ... but it belongs to Scott and needs to be returned, so I'm purchasing my own.

At this point we were done with computers, so Daniel asked what tourist destinations were nearby that I wanted to visit. I looked in the guidebook and found that the Bank of China building wasn't too far off and had an observation deck on the 40th floor (this is relatively low for Hong Kong, but nevertheless I like my high places). So we walked on over there. Only to be told by the front desk that the observation deck had closed a year ago. (Dear Rough Guide: divorce WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.) I could guess why this was though: there's a new observation deck in town, and I pointed to a tower and told Daniel "it's there!" So off we went. The building I had pointed out was One IFC (so named because there are two IFC buildings). But there's no observation deck there either (and clearly they get asked a lot, because they have a permanent sign saying "no we don't have one"). That was my error, not Rough Guide's, my apologies to Daniel. So I pulled out the tourist map of the city I should have consulted earlier, and found the place we wanted (a somewhat similar looking building) is called Sky100 in the ICC building - back on the peninsula, but happily only one MTR stop away. We finally got to Sky100's ticket gate around 1600, but were put off by the combination of a $168HK price ($28CAN) with a day that was both hazy and cloudy.

So we settled in to the Holly Brown Coffee Shop and chatted about life in general and the psychological advantages of volunteering specifically. We made the hike back to my hotel with a detour through the Temple Street Night Market as well as through the crazy crowds of Nathan Road lit by the neon and LED signs. I gave him a short tour of the hotel's rooftop garden, and sent him back up to Shenzhen - his home for another three weeks or so as he discovers the joys of being a maker at the source of all electronics hardware.

Travelling is rewarding, but travelling alone can be lonely and it can be days between real conversations when you don't speak the same language as the locals. So it was good to see a friend and have a long and enjoyable conversation.

photo: The infamous pig jewelry mentioned a couple days ago (a bit of a cheat as the photo was taken then, not today). Do people actually wear this?? It's on display at multiple stores across the city ...

A jewelry display window, including one of the largest gold necklaces ever made by man, featuring three happy pigs*