Many travelers would understand what it’s like to be in a foreign country and have no money. When I discovered I’d be finishing my degree in Hong Kong, I had less than a month’s notice to slave away at telemarketing jobs and scrape together enough cash to pay my first month’s rent and a pair of fake name brand jeans on arrival. All proud travelers would agree that it’s difficult, not to mention a blow to the “I’m an independent traveler” self-esteem to ring the folks back home and ask for money. So throughout the semester, my fellow strapped-for-cash friends and I developed elaborate schemes to scam free food, alcohol and travel.
Hong Kong is an amazing place. I was given warning prior to my arrival that the pace of life, not to mention the hoards of people, would be quite a shock to a small town Brisbane girl like myself. All prior warnings were a gross understatement and so my first few months in Hong Kong were ones of awe. I remember stumbling down the dirty crowded streets, overwhelmed by the three dimensional action around me.
Venture down any Hong Kong road and you’ll be bombarded with Indian tailors trying to convince you to buy a suit, hawkers flogging off fake Rolex’s and pirated DVD’s. At the same time dodging reckless taxi drivers and a never ending hoard of busy people. While all this is happening, it’s more than likely you’ll be being dripped on by what you hope is an air conditioner or realize the food in your hand is actually cow stomach (the lesser of many culinary evils available in Hong Kong).
The boisterous nightlife in Hong Kong has just as much action and excitement as the streets during the day. Confined within a few hilly streets that are lined with bars, Lan Kwai Fong is one of the best places in Hong Kong to head for late night action. As the night gets wilder, party revelers spill from their bars, into the streets, dancing and chatting with other beer-holding groovers.
Another highlight of the Hong Kong nightlife (especially for struggling travelers) is the amount of free drinks on offer. Bars all over the city and especially in the Wanchai area feature free drink promotions. One of my favorite Hong Kong bars, Carnegie’s (famous for allowing sloshed party revelers to dance on the bar), features free vodka drinks on Tuesday nights. Every week without fail, my friends and I would join other struggling students and travelers and party the night away for free!
Most of the bars in Hong Kong also host ‘Ladies Nights’, where women are rewarded for having a skirt and bra by being given food, drinks and entry all on the house! My friends and I soon memorized the bar specials and had a day to day plan of where we’d be sure to get the best free drinks on offer.
With drinks taken cared for, it was only free food that my friends and I needed to track down. Hong Kong cuisine is adventurous to say the least, as it features all kinds of offal, entrails and innards imaginable. We would wander the streets of Mong Kok and Central devouring ‘hoof on a stick’ or ‘pig liver kebabs’. A friend of mine randomly picked a dish on a Cantonese menu, only to be faced with floating fish eye soup.
In search of free feeds, we’d scan newspapers for seminars, lectures and reunions, most of which would be followed by complimentary lunch or dinner. Other confident (or perhaps just hungrier) friends of mine would pose as members of various societies and turn up at their monthly dinners and parties, clutching a free drink and mingling among crowds of owl conservationists and wine connoisseurs.
Although the rich Hong Kong cuisine was initially a novelty, my friends and I soon found ourselves craving Western food. We devised a plan that, although admittedly immoral, assured our Western cravings were met on demand and for the same price as a free lunch. We wrote fake letters to various pizza companies, complaining of poor service and dining experiences. Sure enough, the following week, we received numerous vouchers entitling us to free apology meals, as well as the pinnacle of freebies – a VIP credit card that gave us free pizza and coke on demand.
With its boisterous nightlife, adventurous cuisine and gorgeous scenery, Hong Kong is not only a unique and amazing place to visit, but also somewhere that poor travelers can make the most of their trip, despite dwindling accounts. I loved the place so much that, after finished my degree, I decided to stay and work alongside the other Westerners who couldn’t bring to return home and my job as a food critic in a magazine is the pinnacle of my past free food and drink scams. Even out of work hours, I remain on the ‘free food and drink’ scent. With my student days behind me, I’m proud to admit that I’ll always be a poor, struggling traveler at heart – I wouldn’t have it any other way.