Hong Kong & Macau Part 1 of 2

For 2 weeks I went to Hong Kong & Macau with my family. In this first entry I write about the logistical accessibility issues of my experience. In tomorrow's entry I will cover the interpersonal accessibility issues and what it felt like to be visibly disabled in Asia! At the end of tomorrow's post I will include my usual list of tips if anyone is interested in international traveling. 

"You should be thankful that you were born in America."

"Many babies with disabilities born in China are institutionalized for 'research' or never leave their homes, they can't even go to school." 
A life inside the house? No school? No friends to play with? As a young child (and even now) I couldn't imagine leading such a life! 10 years ago when my parents took my older brother and I to China we were looking for Eastern medicines that might help or cure my brittle bones. Although I barely remember it I was taken to a hospital where my parents spoke to researchers who told them they could leave me with them; the hospital was an institution where I would be used for research though they couldn't promise a cure or any medical benefits. They told my parents that there were already several others with O.I. staying at the institution. Needless to say my parents didn't opt to do that and instead I was able to visit Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, Beijing, and Hong Kong. 

Fast forward 18 years later:
Over the past two weeks I traveled to Hong Kong & Macau with my family. This time around we were not looking for medical cure-alls, we were just being tourists. As with heading into any new location (be it a state or country) I expected transportation, accessibility, and general traveling (sidewalks, curb cuts, clear paths etc) to be challenging to navigate. Keeping in mind what my parents told me about disabled people in Asia I expected totally inaccessible places however I was actually pleasantly surprised! And while it wasn't perfect there were several accessibility accommodations that Hong Kong & Macau actually does better than what I have found in the U.S.!
The island of Macau is roughly a 45min ferry ride from Hong Kong where the international airport (and our plane) landed. I was a little nervous about how much of a hassle it would be to get me on and off the ferry but the crew on board was incredibly adept! There were ramps and crew members at the ready to help hoist my manual wheelchair over the small lip to get on board; I transferred into the seat and my wheelchair was rolled away, carefully locked and stowed with the other luggage. Once we were all settled on the boat one of the crew members asked if we would be needing help to get off the ferry and onto the pier once we docked at Macau - in other words, somebody would be waiting on the island ready to push me up the long ramp to the Macau Customs & Immigration floor. Crew members and Customs Officers were always courteous and careful when pushing me over bumps and down steeper parts of ramps; there was never any issue when it came to using an elevator or chair lift and in fact my family was able to cut a couple long lines during the course of the trip because the elderly and disabled went through a separate gate.
But then I had to go to the bathroom. All the accessible bathrooms in Hong Kong and Macau were in its own room, usually located between the regular men and women's restroom. Always clearly labeled with the universal stick-figure wheelchair sign, what I first noticed about the accessible bathrooms was that the doors into the bathrooms all had a horizontal push bar that was lower and right at my level! This made opening the doors extremely easy and manageable on my own. Inside there was always enough room for my wheelchair to turn around, a lower sinker, and unlike in the US the grab-bars weren't stuck to walls 5ft away from the toilet, instead they were attached to the toilet and could be easily adjusted as necessary. I was relieved by how clean and easy everything was and never had to worry about finding an accessible bathroom that was in working order during my entire trip.

To get around Hong Kong and Macau people usually take public transportation, or a taxi (the locals tend to drive mopeds). On our first night there we were taken advantage of when the taxi driver charged us extra because we had to stow my wheelchair in the trunk (apparently the ticker automatically starts charging when the trunk is opened), after that incident we opted to just walk every where or take public transportation in Hong Kong. In Boston, where I am from, public transportation can be less than ideal. Not all the trains are accessible, sometimes elevators don't work (and there's no one around to help you), there may be absurdly large gaps between the platform and the train and other inconveniences. In Hong Kong - not only were the subways immaculately clean (no food or drinks allowed and they also had televisions to watch the news!), but they were all accessible. The platform and the train itself were always leveled and there was never any need to have a conductor come out and operate a complex chair lift to get me onto the train. One thing in particular that I found helpful was the clearly marked sign on the platform for where wheelchairs should wait. Unlike in the states I sometimes have to guess where I should wait on the platform in order to park in the allotted wheelchair space once inside the train; in Hong Kong that place is always lined up with the wheelchair symbol on the platform - my family and I always had a place on the train and there was never any pushing or shoving to get on. The terror of large bustling crowds in a small confined space like on a subway train is always an OI'ers worst nightmare.
A couple times there wasn't elevator service to the station and we got frantic and became completely lost. However we realized that throughout the stations there were Metro-Assistance telephones for the sole purpose of contacting someone who worked at the train station. When we called they always knew exactly where we were and came to our assistance within minutes, they would walk us to the exit with elevator service and help us on our way - even allowing us a free pass into the appropriate gate! Many times in Boston I have had to pay double or triple because elevator service was out, or I had to take another shuttle bus to where I actually needed to go. I am quite certain that if public transportation in Boston could be as efficient as it is in Hong Kong then that dear city would be filled with more pleasant folks!

Once at street level we were in a city that is hundreds times more busy and stuffed with people than NYC's Time Square. People fill every nook and cranny, and they are always constantly moving, chattering (loudly!), and busy bartering for lower prices. It is at once a joy yet exhausting to be in that environment, especially in Hong Kong's humid weather where rain would drizzle for a few minutes at a time - providing relief for the city's tourists while locals popped out umbrellas and expertly maneuvered to their destinations. At first I was terrified that someone would bump into me, fall on me, or swirling shopping bags would shove me aside but this never happened. Thinking back on it I don't understand how that didn't happen! No one bumped into anyone else, I rarely saw any shoving or pushing aside - movement was always fluid and continual, it was like a dance that everyone just inherently knew the steps to. The beat to this dance was dictated by the open door restaurants and street shops that lined the smooth sidewalks for miles on end. Folks would skillfully step away from the main street flow and into a shop for a few minutes, or duck into one of the mouth watering restaurants for a quick bowl of ramen or roasted duck with rice. The only complaint I have for the city is that curb cuts were less than ideal. They were always roll-able but few were ever actually level with the ground, most had a small 2 inch lip or bump that required a quick wheelie on my part - but this was a small detail and didn't impede on my overall experience. 

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