Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008

City Basics

Arriving. The Airport Express is a fast and cheap train ride into town from the Hong Kong International Airport. Single fares to Hong Kong Station are just under $13 and the journey takes less than 30 minutes. A taxi making the same journey can take up to 50 minutes, depending on traffic, and costs around $45. Public buses are plentiful, and there are coaches to the major hotels, which also run limousine desks in the arrivals hall.

Getting Around. With the first two kilometers priced at $2, and a charge of $.90 for every kilometer thereafter, taxis are one of Hong Kong's great bargains and can be hailed almost anywhere. Drivers speak limited English, however: Have your destination written in Chinese. The city's subway system, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), is a marvel of speed, economy and efficiency and features bilingual (English-Chinese) station maps and signage. Its crowd levels during rush hours (8 a.m.–9 a.m. and 6 p.m.–8 p.m.) will try the nerves sorely, as will road traffic in central areas at those times, especially at the main cross-harbor tunnel.

Tipping. Round up taxi fares to the nearest Hong Kong dollar. Tip porters about 10 or 20 Hong Kong dollars ($1.30 to $2.50) a bag. Staff at cheap restaurants, noodle stalls and the like don't expect tips. Smarter places impose a 10% service charge — if food and service have been decent, tipping another 5% will be considered generous.

Social Interactions. In a city this densely populated (16,500 residents per square mile), one shows respect to strangers by paying them as little attention as possible. This is often mistaken for unfriendliness by visitors, but in fact it is simply a way of making sure that everyone has the maximum amount of personal space. Don't take offense if your "Good morning" is unrequited. The crush of people also means that when interactions are necessary — in retail, dining or other service situations, for example — the predominant style, at least outside five-star hotels and top restaurants, is one of efficiency and swiftness rather than cordiality.

Wi-Fi. Numerous branches of Starbucks and its local rival Pacific Coffee provide free wireless access. Pacific Coffee branches also have computer terminals for customer use.