On cruise ships through Asia the self-hatred is free*

Cruise ship docked at Ocean Terminal

There is a cross-roads at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui that buzzes with tourists. They disgorge from the historically wonderful Star Ferry, which crosses Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, and are immediately assaulted by South Asian touts pushing tailored suits, ladies’ handbags and “copy watches” on them. With the hot sun in their eyes and flyers shoved into their hands, many bee-line for the cool air conditioning of the Harbour City/Ocean Terminal shopping complex.

Two weeks ago, I loitered in this area waiting for my husband and his parents to meet me off of the Star Ferry. I had forgotten just how packed with tourists, touts, buskers and pro/anti-Falun Gong groups this spot can be.

It’s a mildly irritating hustle, but most Hong Kong tourists safely and happily brave this chaotic cross-roads.

Except for one sad group: a self-selected segment of cruise ship passengers who seemingly only visit tourist sites from the ship via hermetically sealed bus.

After re-uniting with my visiting family, we sat down for dinner at one of the restaurants in Ocean Terminal with ring-side seats for the 8 pm harbor light show. Yes, the daily light show where all of Hong Kong’s major buildings light up and blink for 10 minutes like anemic slot machines.

As we tucked into our steaks, at around 7:50 a convoy of buses — interiors and passengers bathed in fluorescent light — streamed past us from the cruise ship berthed at Ocean Terminal. White paper taped to the coaches’ front windows stated: “8 pm harbor light show.”

Now, aside from the area around Ocean Terminal, the only other area to view the light show from is “The Avenue of the Stars,” which is a perfectly flat two-minute walk from Ocean Terminal.

And yet these cruise ship passengers boarded buses to get there.

Were they afraid to walk through the rather tame gauntlet of Indian and Pakistani salesmen?

Do they exclusively participate in activities entirely orchestrated by the cruise ship’s sightseeing team?

Hong Kong is probably the safest big city in the world; can’t the cruise ship hosts encourage their passengers to temporarily leave their comfort zones and mix?

On watching the third busload of gloomy cruise ship people stream by, I said to my husband in (condescending) half-jest: “cruising: the self-hatred is free.”

I am certain their evening ended safely back on ship with a “Cantonese-inspired” dinner capped off with fortune cookies and light entertainment by Filipinas in qipaos that just hinted at “The World of Suzie Wong.”


*Every time I judge other people it comes back to bite me. Thus it is now karmically inevitable that I will spend my golden years on a cruise ship through Asia. 

17 responses to “On cruise ships through Asia the self-hatred is free*

  1. I don’t know about all cruises (never really been on one myself) but I know that many cruises offer excursions as part of their package. Many passengers opt not to sign up for these and have some freedom to explore the place on their own but others, due to lack of time or worries about getting around on their own, sign up for these organized tours. It’s not something I’d do as I love exploring places at my own pace (this is also the reason I avoid cruises) but I understand that there are others who are less adventurous in this respect. Based on what I’ve seen back home in Gibraltar, the majority of people who go on cruises are elderly or families with small children and perhaps less able to spend hours walking around in an unfamiliar place. These tours are therefore ideal for that sort of visitor. I doubt these people have necessarily done this to spite the local residents or other tourists..

    • Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for your comment. I just wish the tour operators would give them a map and explain how they can walk 200 meters (without crossing any streets) to see the light show. It would be a far more enriching experience for everyone (and with less road congestion). The Hong Kong harbor light show is one simple outing that everyone (wheelchair and stroller users included) could do very, very easily from a cruise ship at Ocean Terminal. I’ve taken my very young children a couple of times.


      • No worries. I can understand the frustration. 😉

        And yes, I agree that cruise and tour operators should make it easier for people who want to explore the area. I realize time is normally limited but HK’s got a very good public transport system and you can do and see a lot in just a few hours.

  2. Might the onslaught of mainlanders put into operation a cruise ship competing with the Star Ferry;)? If the operator really wanted to 发财, 50 of the 100 hourly sailings could be smokers-only…

    Which HK island or Kowloon park would you consider most tranquil? Actually, I’d like to know if you’ve seen badminton courts (for public use) in any of them, besides by one of the Canton Rd. entrances to Kowloon Park?

    • For tranquil parks, I recommend the New Territories: Tai Po Waterfront Park, North District Park in Fanling and Ma On Shan Park are all nice. Actually, there is a park at the very top of Victoria Peak that is rather peaceful. I think its called “Victoria Park Garden” and is reached via Mount Austin Road.

      The badminton enthusiasts I know all go to the public sports centres where I believe they have indoor nets set up.

      Re the Star Ferry: they could just rent out the lower deck as a “private club” for smokers, it’s already foul enough from engine exhaust that a little tobacco smoke might improve things.

  3. The culture of cruisers is certainly one that’s a little different from my own travel philosophy. Perhaps it’s a bit like the all-you-can-eat buffet and pre-paid, so folks will just go where herded after signing up for their “exotic excursion.” Kind of sad but true, but you’re definitely on to something.

    • For a short time 10 years ago, one of the cruise lines had an advertisement featuring Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” and videos of people rock climbing. I was almost convinced that cruising might be ok. However, the faces on those perfectly able-bodied people on buses leaving the cruise ship to be transported .25 km fully confirmed otherwise. 😉

  4. Cruises suck, no doubt about it. I say that without ever having taken one…but really. Why would I? What made me laugh straight out loud was your mention of the “light show”. Yeah….I saw that on lonely planet before I went to HK last month. I made my friends come and see it with me. None of us even realized when it was happening. Although we did get to see an incredible view of the HK city skyline, that light show was the least memorable thing about HK, or maybe the most memorable, in that is sucked so much. They didn’t stop ripping on me for the rest of the trip for recommending it. haha. Sorry. this post is getting long…just brings back memories.

    • The first time I saw the light show, I thought it was kind of cool, but maybe that’s because I was at a place where there was music that coordinated with the lights. Something about it is a big let-down, right? Same feeling I got when I saw “Laser Floyd” at the local planetarium in my late teens: This is what everyone is talking about?

  5. Were they afraid to walk through the rather tame gauntlet of Indian and Pakistani salesmen*?

    * no Indians in that group these days – mostly Bangladeshi 🙂

    (Indian in HKG :))

  6. This is totally off topic, but you said you’re digging into steaks at Ocean Terminal – you know whatever happened to the Dan Ryan’s in Ocean Terminal/Harbor City?! Last time I went it was gone and the entire area was being remodeled. Almost had a nervous breakdown in front of Brooks Brothers. A girl needs her burger/alcohol fix before returning to China sometimes, know what I mean?

    • I so know that need for an IPA and a burger before getting on the ferry to the Mainland ;-). I have no idea what is going into that space: most likely another luxury brand store. There are still two Dan Ryan’s in HK, but you’ll have to hike to either Kowloon Tong Festival Walk or Pacific Place in Admiralty…

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