The James Louie Speed Walking Tour of Hong Kong

Hong Kong Tours

James in Hong Kong crowded streetsBefore visiting Hong Kong, I got a message from fellow blogger James Louie – A native of HK and one of five followers of my blog. He’d seen that we planned to visit his hometown and offered to show us around. We jumped at the opportunity.

On our first morning in Hong Kong, James met us at our hotel in Kowloon and we ate breakfast at a tiny Asian diner. It was the type of place that is always packed with locals, has no English menu, looks absolutely delicious and is totally intimidating to an outsider. We were glad to have James with us so we could eat at such a place.

We plopped down on little plastic chairs and ate an assortment of things, from wonton soup to a strange Chinese rice porridge. Wonton soup is one of my favorite foods and this one was excellent. In general, I am not a big fan of strange rice porridge, but I can attest that this one happened to be disgusting.

Little did we know, we’d need all those calories, because we then embarked on the James Louie Hong Kong Speed-Walking Tour.

James, to put it lightly, walks fast. He moved through the crowded streets with the grace and agility of Jackie Chan running from a team of Triad goons. He would dart around slow moving old ladies, knife between businessmen, and swerve around packs of school girls who were walking and texting at the same time, narrowly slipping back in front of them to avoid a head on collision with tourists coming in the opposite direction. One time, and I swear I am not making this up, James channeled Keanu Reeves in the Matrix and actually jumped up against a wall and leaped over a pack of pedestrians. On another occasion, he went all Jet Li and flew through the air, landing gracefully on the other side of a throng of people who’d coagulated in the street.

Hong Kong Tours

James a la the Matrix

It was great. All we had to do was keep up with James and we didn’t have to pay any attention to where we were going. Otherwise, we’d have constantly looked like those confused tourists you see bickering with each other. “I think we need to go down Shangri-La Street and then over to Lo Mien Avenue before crossing over to Moo Goo Gai Pan Boulevard.”

“No, no, no, no. It would be way easier to take the subway to Teriyaki Avenue and then cut across Wonton Street.”

“I think your map is upside down.”

“Ah, yes, you are right.”

Luckily, after two months of volcano trekking in Indonesia, I was in reasonable shape, so I could more or less keep up unless I paused for half a second to snap a photo, in which case I’d suddenly find myself three blocks behind and forced to run over old ladies, crash through throngs of school girls and shove monks out of the way in order to catch up.

One of the highlights of our tour was the series of outdoor escalators on Hong Kong Island. They are a unique feature of the city as they allow people to easily get up the steep hills, but were also a welcome respite from the running to keep up with James.

After a morning of sightseeing, we went to a dim sum restaurant that was remarkable for being known as one of the 101 best restaurants in the world, and also remarkable for packing hundreds of people into a space the size of a closet. We shoehorned ourselves into a corner table and James ordered an assortment of dishes that we shared family style. Again, it was the type of place that we’d have had difficulty finding on our own. Plus, we probably wouldn’t have eaten there without James because of claustrophobia.

After lunch, we rode a series of trams and buses out to the edge of the town to an army museum. On the way, we passed by the streets that had been occupied by the Hong Kong students who were demanding fair elections. The massive street protests were major international news. Although James supported the efforts of the protestors and had been to the site himself, he said that most people in Hong Kong are pragmatic and didn’t see the point in the protests since they would probably not bring about change and were only hindering business and transportation.

James was clearly frustrated with the Chinese government. His family had fled to Hong Kong during the revolution to find freedom, and now that those freedoms are being eroded, James is looking to emigrate himself. In addition, Hong Kong is so expensive it is almost impossible for the average person to pay for rent or buy an apartment.

At the edge of the island, we saw a different side of Hong Kong. Glittering towers of steel and glass suddenly gave way to classic fishing villages and a bit of nature. It was a tiny glimpse into what the city was like not so long ago.

The edge of Hong Kong

We parkoured our way back to the ferry terminal and over to Kowloon in order to have sunset drinks. We found a place on the promenade with great views of Hong Kong Island and drank a couple of beers while talking. Although there was a language barrier because James spoke English much better than we did, we chatted about Indonesia, travels, Alaska, life in Hong Kong and future plans. Although from Asia, English is James’ first language. His parents thought it would be important for him to speak fluent English and thus only spoke it at home and sent him to an international school.

“What are you going to do tomorrow?” James asked us.

“We have no idea!” We said. “You showed us everything we wanted to see!”

James walked us to the subway terminal and we parted ways. We were then forced to find our own way through the seedy streets of Kowloon back to our Red Light District Hotel (see footnote).

Since we’d already seen the entire city with James, we spent the next three days eating street food, going to the movies, trying not to get too lost, and rehabbing our sore feet and legs. In the evening I practiced my street photography while dodging hookers and Triad members. We had a great time in Hong Kong, in large part because of James.

Hong Kong Escalators

Hong Kong escalators – the one time we got to slow down and not run!

Ferry to Hong Kong Island

Seen on the ferry to Hong Kong Island

I paused for one second to take this photo then found myself 3 city blocks behind James.

James and Jeff

James and Jeff. Had I known we were going to be speed-walking, I’d have worn running shoes.

James and Kristi

James and Kristi

Footnote: After being in Indonesia, where $20 would buy a nice hotel room that included two servants and voting rights in the Indonesian parliament, we were struggling to find a hotel room in Hong Kong for less than a year’s wages. Finally, we found a hotel in Kowloon with rooms the size of a shoebox on Shanghai Street. We later realized that our room was cheap, in part, because we were in the heart of the Red Light District. Hookers roamed the streets at all hours of the day, pretty girls with too much make up and not enough clothes offered sexy massage to men passing by and sex cinemas and sex shops seemed to be on every seedy alleyway.


 

Would you like to go on a James Louie Speed Walking Tour? 


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27 Comments on “The James Louie Speed Walking Tour of Hong Kong

  1. Funny, funny stuff, yet once again, Jeff. I love your drawings! I hear all locals in Kowloon can actually jump over crowds like that?? Is it true?
    Had I known you were going there (had I known you then), I would have told you about the YMCA. It’s cheap and clean, and very cool…unlike some Y’s in the States (and the song).
    Did you buy any silk ties from the street vendors?

    • I think martial arts came about so people could leap over crowds in the streets. Next time I’ll check out the YMCA. We actually liked the place we stayed – it was clean and comfortable and had a window! The neighborhood was at least very interesting. I didn’t buy any ties though. Next time.

      • A window and interesting neighborhood…that’s all a traveler could hope for!! Don’t reckon you see too many silk ties in Alaska???

  2. Chuckle chuckle chuckle. I’ve been following James’ blog for a while now – it’s nice to see a picture of him. We’ve threatened to turn up on his doorstep one day but it hasn’t happened quite yet. Thanks for the warning. I’ll be sure to wear my running shoes. 🙂
    You got some great photos.
    Alison

    • James gives a great tour and is a very interesting guy. Make it a point to visit HK so you can get the tour and yes, bring good shoes and train for it!

  3. What a great way to see Hong Kong. Locals always have the best insight as to what to see or miss. Too bad you didn’t check with him about the location of your hotel first. Thanks for the link to the definition of parkour, not that I want to practice it, but now I know what it is.

    • Getting to hang out with locals is always one of the highlights or any trip. In a place like Hong Kong, we had the extra benefit of just following him around onto public transport and through the streets which can be a bit daunting!

      Parkour – you need to learn it to get through Hong Kong quickly.

  4. I think I would love to do a tour his way but I, who is always a block behind because of taking photos, would surely find myself all alone with James no where in sight. Great, funny post!

    • I think he was actually going slower than normal on our account! It was great. We got to see some markets and areas we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and got to learn a lot about local life. I just need to go back to the same spots and photograph them now!

  5. Jeff, I knew this was going to be hilarious but you’ve outdone yourself again! Those two cartoons are priceless. In hindsight I should have taken note that you and Kristi were both in sandals. Abilities like Jet Li or Keanu Reeves would be pretty awesome… sometimes I wish I had a jetpack so I could get around the traffic! Bama was cracking up when he read this post – apparently he was overwhelmed by my speed the first time he came to Hong Kong (I’ll admit it was even crazier than the speed-walking tour we did). We’re now in our second month travelling around Indonesia and it’s been refreshing to slow down.

    • I am glad you liked it. I walk fast by nature but you blew me away. In the Olympics, will you compete for China or Hong Kong in speed walking?

      I don’t blame you for walking fast. That city is so full of people that if you don’t walk aggressively, you will end up stuck behind people all day!

      I am jealous that you are in Indonesia for so long and learning the language. That has to enhance your whole experience.

      • Ha, I’ve never thought of doing Olympic speed-walking – if I ever do I will most likely compete for Hong Kong! You should meet my mom; she is an expert at weaving through crowds and when I’m with her I have trouble catching up.

  6. Jeff I was howling imaging James flying over crowds wit the two of you in desperate pursuit. Hilarious as always. 🙂

  7. Ha, sounds fun!! And bravo for managing to keep up. I would have been hopelessly lost after the first block 😀

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