Monday, March 16, 2009

Where to stay? Where to stay? Budget accommodation in Hong Kong

Image of Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, Hong Kong.Dear Gentle Reader,

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.

Image of Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, Hong Kong--the street level scene.
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.

Image of Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, Hong Kong--above street level; where the cheap hostels live.

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.

Image of a cockroach climbing a building

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.)

Image of the Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong, and one of the hotel's fleet of Rolls Royces which are available for the guests.
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.

Image of the Stanley Maximum Security Prison in Hong Kong, taken from the air, sourced from the Wikipedia Commons. This image was taken by Author= User:Heli Pauline and she has transferred to the public domain for any purpose.
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...



The Weaver of Grass said...

I have seen a few cockroaches in my travelling time Chris, and they have not by any means all been in cheap accommodation! Tip for the traveller - if they leave the light on in your hotel bedroom and turn the bed down - watch where you put your feet if you get out of bed to answer a call of nature in the night.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Weaver of Grass,

I completely concur. Asia's humidity lends itself to the happy maintenance of cockroach colonies.

And your tip is a good one.

Also, if there is blood on the sheets or the mattress or the walls, its a bad sign of bedbugs or ticks or worse...

However, WofG, this particular building still has more than the normal share of cockroaches colonies.

Chungking Mansions has long been notorious.

Friends of mine in various diplomatic services have laughed about the building and the class of foreigners who stay there.

It has, apparently, been a given, over the decades, for example, that Western nationals overstaying their visas will be found here. That is according to British, Canadian, American, and German consular staff...

I actually might write more about this building because it has an interesting position in global affairs.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Every post is a fascinating story.

jjdebenedictis said...

*evil chortle*

Cute story!

Richard said...

It's called entitlement, and is endemic in the US of A. Their dads probably work for AIG. And, anyway, if they could have found better accommodations at home, they should have.

gigihawaii said...

Ack! When in doubt, stay at the Hilton!

Teresa said...

I love this post!!!

Linda McLaughlin said...

ROFL, Chris, I thought you were very patient under the circumstances. Some Americans should never be allowed out of the USA. In grad school I lived in an old coop house in Austin, TX. that came with its cockroach colony. Too bad those little princesses didn't have the same experience. :)

Heidelweiss said...

I really wish you could have smacked them. Spoiled little brats. Did they fail to educate themselves on what "backpacking" through Asia might entail? Did their moronic parents not tell them that HONG KONG might be a bit spensy? When I was 20 and backpacked through Europe, I realized why "my kind" were considered "ugly". Poor normal Americans don't stand a chance with idiots like that traveling about ;).

Heidelweiss said...

I'm so very glad you got the last laugh (well, the only laugh)!

Barrie said...

I'm sure you'll be one of the memories of their trip! Ha!

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear All,

In this post I meant to highlight to profligate sillyness, obtuseness, and self-centeredness of youth.

I did not mean to highlight the "ugly American" syndrome that is talked about.

While there are ugly Americans out there there are also hooligan Brits, lager lout Dutch, culturally self-centered and self-righteous French, towel-wielding beach-reserving Germans, et cetera.

There are certainly fewer Americans with a comprehensive, internationalist world-view, but that is a problem, generally, for the American education system and media to solve.

There are, statistically, almost as many ugly Canadians as there ugly Americans, but there are ten times more Americans than Canadians, not to mention more than ten time (statistically) the number of Americans with the disposable income to send their kids or themselves abroad--so there ends up being more than the 10:1 ratio of ugly American:ugly Canadian that you would expect.

Long general note becomes short. I am cringing because I had not meant to single out Americans, in this post.

I was just poking gentle fun at three vapid, self-centered young girls.

And, heck, they were likely exhausted, jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and unprepared to here people tell them rack rates in dollars in English and they might have been confusing the HKD prices with USD prices.

The ten dollar (USD) per night hell holes in Chungking Mansions might have been interpreted by them as 78 USD per night, instead of the 78 HKD per night that would have been meant when the reception staff would have leered and said "78 dollars Miss" to their breasts.

I do hope no one took Nationalistic offense as that was not intended in the slightest.


Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Patti,

I am sure you are overly generous.

Dear OxyJen,

It seemed cute at the time.

Dear Richard,

They might have been jetlagged, culture-shocked and appalled at the prices, too.

Especially as the prices are quoted in dollars and if the girls are US dollar centric...

(And who isn't? It is, still, the only numeraire currency in the world...)

Dear Gigihawaii,

Well, not if you are a university student on a budget. One night might be the money you had budgeted for a week.

Dear Teresa,

I am glad that you loved this. Thanks.

Dear Linda,

Memories that last with us, no?

But it is good that those girls got out to stretch their minds.

By the time they return home, their horizons will be expanded considerably; they are the young things that need to get out.

What am I saying?

All young things need to get out.

And all of us do stupid things at some point in time. I can think of some real doozies of my own, over the years.

And, Linda, I am delighted that you enjoyed this so much that you ROFL.

What I found hysterical was the way the girls were trying to control me with orders and their gravity-defying breasts. And the slyness of the looks they gave each other when they thought I had given up some state secrets of housing to them...

Heya Liebe Heidelweiss,

Well, we all get to be boneheaded at some point in time.

Their world view will likely be changed by this trip.

You are totally correct, of course.

Everyone remembers the idiots and ascribes nationalist characteristics to them, not to the nice ones. Add that to international resentment to the USA's wealth...

(Still, today, almost 1/4 of the world's GDP is generated inside the USA alone. An only slightly higher number is generated by the entire EU. For those that don't know, the European Union countries now include all of Western Europe less Switzerland, all of Northern Europe less Norway, all of Southern Europe, and most of Eastern Europe...)

And the USA, as the only global superpower, from the end of the cold war to today, still is the world's policeman and struts accordingly, some days.

And everyone (else) detests extra-territorial jurisdiction (the US doctrine that US laws apply anywhere and everywhere... a bit of a slap in the face to the sovereignty of every other country on the planet).

So, people like to latch onto the idiots and tar the rest with their cultural misdeeds.

It's too easy, hence my big mea culpa in the preceeding comment in case anyone thought that that was my intention (before this string of thank yous...)

(And thanks for your wishes in your second comment.)

Dear Barrie,

I doubt it. While they made an impression on me, I doubt I made more than a fleeting impression on them.

I suspect it was a very asymmetrical memory-generating situation. :)

Tschuess, all.

Travis Erwin said...

I fI ever make it to Hong Kong I think I'll just stay with you.

Junosmom said...

I started out with today's post, and backed up to this one, to read first before seeing your next one. I am laughing, both at the story, and at your worry about implicating all Americans in your story about these spoiled and immature girls, which is what they are. That they are American - well, is just a detail. They could have been any nationality, but that there is a term "ugly American" does imply that more often than not, unpleasant travels are Americans - those with the money to do so, many who have no experience outside of their own environs because there are no nearby countries. I wonder why on earth these girls headed to HK? Why are they not in Daytona where they belong? I would imagine HK to be (on one's own) a place to go if you are well traveled, flexible and mature. You gave them what they deserved. Are all Americans like this? Of course not. When Lauren traveled to Japan, she took great care to study a bit of the language, culture and customs to be sure not to offend. She researched the area, and so on. Her host "mother" still emails and misses her. It is a matter of awareness that the universe does not belong to you.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Travis,

Certainly cheaper but it might be psychically scarring for you as the Heroine is a vegetarian and there is a whole lot of the leafy stuff around. Good luck with your move.

Liebe Junosmom,

Well I knew you would see the point I was trying to get at. The second post is more along the lines of the very few readers whom I do not know, or who do not leave comments so that I cannot get to know them.

I actually have daily readers that never leave comments. Which is cool, if sort of mysterious...

As per the Minneapolis Brain Trust and her two henchwomen, in retrospect I feel a bit bad.

Yes, they were ill mannered and not too swift on the uptake. But, they might truly have been exhausted and in culture shock. However, I was not very mean. I just stopped going out of my way to help them.

I hate to break this to you, though... the term ugly American is reserved for citizens of the USA. But only a particular subset. Just like there are snide Canadians and lager lout Dutch and everyone else that I mention.

And I have no doubt that none of your children, nor you or your husband, would ever be boorish. The chickens and the semi-feral cat... well, they don't have passports (not that 70% of Americans do either...)


Barbara Martin said...

Perfect post and witty too.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Barbara,



simmers said...

I'd stay in the mansions...if Pommes refuses to share the floor!

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Simmers,

Of course you would. So have we, and places much more interesting, in some of the more extended urban traipsings off the beaten routes.

But in Hong Kong, you would stay with us.