March 30, 2011

Lucky Hong Kong Sevens

There are few events in the world in which Halloween costumes seamlessly blend in with well-tailored, designer weekend wear. The occasions are even fewer when both outliers of society – and everyone in between – play drinking games outside of a 7-Eleven.

Such was the scene for three glorious days at the Hong Kong Sevens, an international rugby tournament that hosted teams from 24 countries around the world.

I had never watched rugby and only understand the game at its most elementary level, but I quickly became a fan once I stepped into Hong Kong Stadium. Skyscrapers and hillsides competing for the highest altitude surround the giant open-air arena.  

Inside, the atmosphere was wild. Fans dressed in everything from Black Swan tutus to Captain America to giant cartons of milk waited in line for hours to get into the south stand. If the tournament were a college football game, the south stand would be the student section.

The games were only 20 minutes each and only seven players were on the pitch at a time. Play was fast-moving, hard-hitting, and fans weren’t easily bored by an extra long match. I don’t understand how many points can be scored at a time, but the USA was handily outscored by England.

After the games, the party moved to Hong Kong’s bar streets. My friends and I spent both Friday and Saturday night in Lan Kwai Fong. The area has many narrow cobblestone streets lined with bars and restaurants that are all precariously built on a steep hillside.

The bars were so full that people spilled out into the streets. Thankfully the roadways were marked for pedestrians only. Thousands of people met, cheers’d, hollered, and danced until the sun came up or until they couldn’t stand – whichever came first.

Drinks from bars are pricey in Hong Kong, but there is an open container policy: hence, drinking games outside of the 7-Eleven, because beer is cheap there. Countries, cultures, and costumes mixed together to make a messy slurry of a party. I imagine it was a small version of what the World Cup is like.

While half of my weekend was devoted to the rugby madness, the rest of my time was spent hanging out with my local Hong Kong friends and exploring the city on my own.

I was so thankful to make it back to Hong Kong again before I leave Asia. Without a doubt, it is one of the top three cities I’ve ever been to. The energy is palpable and it’s such a wonderful mix of Asia and Europe. I would love to live there next year. The city feels like it knows it’s on the precipice of Asia’s rise. It’s almost like Hong Kong is China’s wise old grandparent waiting to see how the nation emerges from its awkward and fast growth spurts during adolescence.

As much as I love it there, time is money and things aren’t cheap in Hong Kong. My friends, who are young professionals, work 10-12 hours each day and their work usually spills into the weekends. For a young 20-something, it’s a doable lifestyle but certainly not one I would want forever.

One of the [many] beautiful things about the city is that it is easy to forget your location on the globe. There are so many expats that you think you’re in England, The Philippines, America or France depending on the neighborhood. Of course, China’s influences are prevalent everywhere, but it’s less abrasive in Hong Kong.
But on Saturday night I was fortunate to hang out with a strictly Cantonese crowd.

My friend invited me to a barbeque at his friend’s apartment. Located on the second floor, the apartment had a fantastic patio – a rare find in Hong Kong. The patio was the rooftop of the store below and was large enough for several chairs, plants, and charcoal grill.

We grilled all sorts of delicious meats, fish balls, and marshmallows (of course) on sticks over the embers and I listened to everyone speak in a mixture of English and Cantonese. Mandarin and Cantonese are very different, but I was excited when I could pick up on a word here or there that sounded like something I know in Mandarin. The weather was perfect for a late night barbeque; I only needed a light cardigan to keep warm.

Flying back to Hangzhou on Sunday was a debacle of epic proportions. Our flight was canceled, so we were moved on a flight to Shanghai. We landed at 7 p.m. and immediately got on the metro to head to the train station. Our flight landed in Pudong Airport and we needed to go to Hongqiao train station – literally from the east end of Shanghai to the west.

Shanghai’s status as one of the world’s largest cities lived up to its size as we spent 90 minutes on the metro – causing us to miss the last train to Hangzhou by 15 minutes.

Exhausted, without options, and faced with an early Monday morning at work, we took a taxi. For 100 miles, we rode in a taxi. It ended up costing just over $1 each mile and we didn’t make it back until 2 a.m.

Big Red reared her ugly head that night… what an unfortunate end to a most ridiculous weekend.

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