Sorry for being late, today.
It's tax time, which means I have spent the day trading currencies in preparation for paying taxes.
Death puts me in the mind to spend, but taxes put me in the mind to save.
And saving money sometimes leads one to the topic of cheap.
At least it leads me to cheap.
And, on that note, anyone who has backpacked into Hong Kong in the last 40 years knows about Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road in Kowloon.
Because backpacking implies cheap.
Or at least cautious with cash.
And Chungking Mansions, if not where cheap was born, is where cheap resides today.
Located at the edge of the tourist district in Tsim Sha Tsui, the hostels in Chungking Mansions boast of the lowest nightly rates anywhere in urban, accessible Hong Kong.
And they are right.
If you are unwilling to hike up a mountain to a remote hostel, or take two hours to go to the middle of nowheresville for your sojourn in hip, happening Hong Kong, then Chungking Mansions does contain the cheapest hostels around.
Of course, in a city that has ranked as one of the highest rental markets in the world, something has to give if you offer, or expect, super low rates.
For clarification, for those of you who stayed at The Peninsula or the Ritz-Carlton or at the Mandarin Oriental, the rental rates at Chungking Mansion's hostels, despite the building's name, are really low.
These are low nightly rates, not just in comparison to other rates in Hong Kong, but low in absolute dollars as well.
Poor student backpackers and threadbare travellers stay here. Possibly affluent Scots, too...
So, what gives to get those great rates?
...Space, privacy, amenities, hygiene, and sanitation.
That would cover it.
The other day your humble scribe walked by three sweet young things, backpacking around Asia together, fresh out of a sorority somewhere (two had their greek call signs emblazoned on their shirts).
The three near-lolitas (is it me, or are the young getting younger every year?) were on the street, complaining about how gross the space in that last hostel was, how every hotel was trying to rip them off, and how "These places are all une dégustation" as the worldy French scholar in the group drawled.
The lover in me had to stop.
The word lover, that is.
What froze my feet to the 25°C pavement was the "dégustation" allusion.
While the girls' prospective accomodations might have involved a careful, appreciative tasting experience, that would have been for the endemic cockroaches, I suspected, and not for these fresh-scrubbed yet sweaty and gritty girls.
"I think you mean degoulasse..." I stopped and suggested to the girls, as the routine surge of humanity pushed and pressed around me on the sidewalk.
"...a French colloquialism for disgusting... a case of yuck, not a tasting experience which is what that dégustation implies, unless you have very unusual, and I dare say an unsafe method, of checking out your potential resting places for the night..."
The girls stared (glared?) at me.
I smiled helpfully, thinking maybe I shouldn't have stopped. Though the mangling of language, when a deliberate patois is not intended, is something that fills me with dismay.
The girls asked if I lived here.
I confirmed that I did.
Then they asked me where a really clean, big, spacious, super cheap place, ideally with a view would be found.
No, that's not right.
Actually, it was more like a simpering order with a side of vamp.
I suddenly wished that I had not stopped.
Still, I had (stopped).
I had an obligation to help, now that I had stopped, and I like helping people.
And these lolitas, fresh off the plane, clearly needed help.
(Two needed significant support, also, or they would be unhappy in fifteen years...)
I explained that for the last few years Hong Kong had been the most expensive place on the planet, on a price per square foot basis, for every rental class.
They didn't care about that.
They just wanted to know where a really clean, big, spacious, super cheap place, ideally with an ocean view would be located for them.
Slightly bemused, I noted that the financial nature of Hong Kong was relevant.
They would have to pony up to stay somewhere nice or suck it up and take what they could afford; I suggested a couple of OKish hostels I had heard of to be helpful.
One girl explained condescendingly to the idiot (your humble scribe) that she was pre-law and that even in Minneapolis you could get OK motels at OK prices, not like the crap they had just seen, and they had been to one of the overpriced hotels, too.
I started explaining again that you couldn't be in the most expensive city in the world, by measuring the cost of real estate, and get their wish list filled at the room rates they were suggesting was reasonable.
The Minneapolis Queen Bee brain trust rolled her eyes.
Her two henchwomen sighed as if I was the biggest waste of space.
I reconsidered my answer.
Your humble scribe knows when discussion is not useful.
I thought for a moment more, and asked if they had walked by the old Peninsula Hotel and pointed it out top them.
(The Peninsula is the byword for luxury in Hong Kong, if you have not visited. Their afternoon tea with clotted cream... well, visit and discover.)
They had, and finally we were getting somewhere, I was informed.
They wanted something like that, only cheap.
I understood completely.
I noted that many liked the Pen (implying a non-existent shorthand for the legendary Peninsula Hotel).
The girls nodded, grudgingly.
I further noted that some thought the "Pen's" rates were high and that its fleet of Rolls Royces for its guests' pleasure was unnecessary for some and added unnecessarily to the price.
Six breasts and three brain pans jiggled vertically, indicating assent and nodding to prompt me to continue--I was getting somewhere with them.
I suggested the lesser known Stanley Pen.
Three heads bobbed as one and slyly looked at each other as if noting their success at tricking the information out of the stupid man.
The Stanley Pen was super clean, I continued, right off the beach, and wouldn't cost much on a nightly basis.
One was already leafing through the Lonely Planet's index.
Of course, I noted, like the Hotel California, it's hard to leave, and people killed to get in...
They looked blankly at me.
Ask the nearest policeman for directions, I suggested, as I left.
Here's a picture of the Stanley Pen, or the Stanley Maximum Security Prison as it is better known.
Gentle Reader. I tried to be helpful.
I tried to help them find their way in my town.
I really did.
...The Stanley Pen is by the beach...
I am sure it is clean, and, relatively, spacious, too...
Even if my suggestion was specious...