After riding 18 hours on the overnight train from Shanghai to Hong Kong, my friends and I arrived at Kowloon Railway Station and made our way through the metro system to the Hong Kong Hostel in Times Square, where we'd booked a room for four for the next three nights. We entered the building and reached the check-in floor and met Alan, the man in charge of the hostel. A long black AC/DC shirt covered his torso, which was damp with sweat and from which a dank smell seeped. His hair, like the shirt, was long, black and greasy. He also had a mustache that fit the same bill. He was slightly overweight and seemed perpetually tired, with round dark circles surrounding his eyes. When he saw us he gave an awkward smile and asked for my ID, then crossed my name off a long list on a clipboard.
"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to put you in our other building tonight. And tomorrow, I'll put you in a better room," the man said. He had a soft, high-pitched voice that frequently quivered around his words, and there was something in the way he looked at me afterward, as if waiting, expecting, to be argued with. Read on after the jump for more...
"Uhm, okay," I mumbled. He looked relieved and ushered a woman behind the counter to take us to our room. She led us out of the building and across the street, where we entered another, slightly sketchier building. We took an elevator to the fourth floor, and stepped out into a dark hallway where a flickering fluorescent light sent eerie shadows dancing off the cracked and peeling, greyish-blue painted walls. The woman slid a key into a heavy door and struggled until finally it turned.
We entered into what seemed to be a man's living room. A young man in his mid-twenties sat on a brown couch watching television on a small cube TV that sat on a dresser. On the other side of the room was his bed, sheets hanging around it like mosquito nets in the Amazon. A pile of boxes lay to the side of his bed, and on top of them sat a doll. She wore a blue dress, and had thick brown hair. She was missing a shoe on her left foot. But what creeped me out the most was the doll's facial expression. Her eyes seemed to smile, but her lips did not. The more I looked, though, the more inverted the relationship became. Her eyes lost their sparkle and her mouth had a smirk. Her emotions finally blended until there was no discerning her disposition. She was an emotionless child.
The bedroom we were to sleep in was through the man's room and behind a small door. We entered and dropped our bags. "Let me show you the bathroom," said the woman. The young man smiled as we passed him. The bathroom was a set of three separate toilets squared together with a shower-head dangling from each of their sinks. I noticed there were no drains and asked "Can we use the shower? There are no drains."
She spoke little English, and scratched her head a moment before replying. "It's okay. No worry."
"But where will the water go?" I said in slow simple-English.
She smiled and shook her head. "It's okay, no worry."
That night we got back to the hostel at about 3am. To my surprise, the young man who inhabited the living room was still up, and had company. A man and a woman, who looked to be in their thirties, sat watching TV with him. No less than 20 scattered beer cans lay about the room. The group smiled at us and began cleaning up the room. I felt like a parent opening the door to a guilty group of teenagers drinking in the garage. The doll stared at me, and I quickly shuffled into our bedroom.
That night at about 4:30am I got up to go to the bathroom. On my way back to our room, I tripped and knocked into the pile of boxes beside the young man's bed. The doll fell, and landed with a soft thud. "Sorry," I said, forgetting it was four-thirty in the morning and the young man was certainly asleep. I lifted the doll and placed it back on the boxes.
The next morning I decided to test the shower. After turning on the water heater, I waited a few minutes and twisted the knob. Each stall had a window, and opened up to the crowded street below. Periodically I sprayed water out the window and waited for any potential reaction. None came. Looking down to my feet, I saw that the stall was flooding. The water had nowhere to go. I hurried up and got out, inspecting the small bathtub of water that now filled the stall. "No worry," I remembered her saying, and walked away.
We grabbed our bags and made our way back to Alan across the street. This time he tried a different tactic. "Here, try this room. And if you don't like it, I can give you a better one," he said. This time the quiver in his voice was gone. I wondered why he would have me look at a room while offering me a better one. Could I just skip the tour and take the better one now? "Okay," I said, and walked to the room listed on the key. The room only had three beds, and there were four of us. "We need four beds," I said when I got back to the front desk. He shrugged and gave a polite smile. Clearly he saw this one coming. He reached out his hand with a new key. "This one," he said, "is a good room."
The beauty of traveling in China (or anywhere, for that matter), is that you never know what to expect. Hong Kong is a city of contrasts, with the glamorous and gaudy often intimately intertwined with the gritty and gruesome. Have any crazy Hong Kong stories? Let us know about them in the comments.