Communications

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Communications

Internet

Going online is easy in Hong Kong. Free public Wi-Fi is now available at more than 400 locations, including public libraries, museums, large parks, indoor markets, MTR stations, ferry terminals, and popular tourist spots. Some buses, including those to and from the airport, also provide free Wi-Fi onboard—look for the Webus sticker by the door. Public libraries and many MTR stations also provide free access to computer terminals. Many fast-food outlets, cafés, and shopping malls offer free Wi-Fi service.

Pacific Coffee and Mix cafés have computer terminals; there is usually a 15-minute limit on computer use, and you'll need to buy food or a beverage first. Internet cafés, or cybercafés, can be found tucked away in small, hard-to-find corners of Wan Chai, Mong Kok, and Tsim Sha Tsui. PCCW, the Hong Kong—based communications company, has more than 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the city, including areas near universities, convenience stores, public phones, and shopping malls. You can buy a 24-hour Wi-Fi prepaid pass for HK$20 or a 30-day pass for HK$158 at 7-Eleven and Circle K convenience stores, as well as all PCCW shops.

Contacts

Hong Kong Public Libraries (2921–0208. hkpl.gov.hk.)

Mix (www.mix-world.com.)

Pacific Coffee Company (www.pacificcoffee.com.)

PCCW Wi-Fi (www.pccwwifi.com.)

Phones

The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on earth. The bad news? You can't always do so cheaply. Calling overseas from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. In some countries you can phone from call centers or even the post office. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. And then there are mobile phones, which are sometimes more prevalent—particularly in the developing world—than landlines; as expensive as mobile-phone calls can be, they are still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.

Hong Kong was the first city in the world with a fully digitized local phone network, and the service is efficient and cheap. Even international calls are inexpensive relative to those in the United States. You can expect clear connections and helpful directory assistance. Don't hang up if you hear Cantonese when calling automated and prerecorded hotlines; English is usually the second or third language option. The country code for Hong Kong is 852; there are no local area codes.

Calling Within Hong Kong

Hong Kong phone numbers have eight digits: landline numbers usually start with a 2 or 3; mobiles with a 9, 6, or 5.

If you're old enough to talk in Hong Kong, you're old enough for a cell phone, which means public phones can be difficult to find; MTR stations usually have one. Local calls to both land- and cell lines cost HK$1 per five minutes. If you're planning to call abroad from a pay phone, buy a phone card. Convenience stores such as 7-Eleven sell stored-value phone cards (a PIN-activated card you can use from any phone). Some pay phones accept credit cards.

Some hotels may charge as much as HK$5 for a local call, while a few others include them for free in your room rate. Restaurants and shopkeepers may let you use their phone for free, as the phone company doesn't charge for individual local calls.

Dial 1081 for directory assistance from English-speaking operators; dial 10013 for international inquiries and for assistance with direct dialing; dial 10010 for collect and operator-assisted calls to most countries, including the United States; and dial 10011 for credit-card, collect, and international conference calls. If a number is constantly busy and you think it might be out of order, call 109 and the operator will check the line. The operators are very helpful, if you speak slowly and clearly.

Calling Outside Hong Kong

International rates from Hong Kong are reasonable, even more so between 9 pm and 8 am. The international dial code is 001, followed by the country code.

The country code is 1 for the United States.

So to call the United States you dial 0011. You can dial direct from many hotel and business centers, but always with a hefty surcharge.

Access Codes

AT&T Direct (800/96–1111 in Hong Kong.)

MCI (800/96–1121 in Hong Kong.)

Mobile Phones

If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies than what's used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however—99¢ a minute is considered reasonable—and overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).

To save on local and even international calls, consider buying a new prepaid rechargeable SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card). You'll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates and cheaper international calls using a phone card.

If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one; ask your cell- phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

Most GSM-compatible mobile handsets work in Hong Kong. If you can unlock your phone, buying a SIM card locally is the cheapest and easiest way to make calls. Local phone company PCCW sells them from around HK$50 from their shops and in convenience stores. Local calls cost around HK$0.25 a minute.

Otherwise, you can rent handsets from CSL (HK$35 per day with a HK$500 refundable deposit) with prepaid SIM cards (HK$48-HK$180). There's a stand at the airport and shops all over town. If you're in town for a week, this is a good-value option.

Cellular Abroad rents and sells GSM phones and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. Mobal and PlanetFone rent and lease mobiles and lease GSM phones (starting at $49) that will operate in countries around the world, though per-call rates vary and can be expensive.

Contacts

Cellular Abroad (800/287–5072 in U.S. www.cellularabroad.com.)

CSL (2888–1010. www.hkcsl.com.)

Mobal (888/888–9162 in U.S. www.mobal.com.)

PlanetFone (888/988–4777 in U.S. www.planetfone.com.)

Local Dos and Taboos

Customs of the Country

Face is ever important in Hong Kong. Never say anything that will make people look bad, especially in front of superiors. However, you'll find that locals are comfortable commenting on things like weight and appearance that Westerners may balk at. Take it in stride; it's not meant maliciously. Hong Kongers like to talk about money—salaries, stocks, insurance, and real estate—so don't be surprised to be asked about these things.

Greetings

Hong Kongers aren't touchy-feely. Be discreet. Stick to handshakes and low-key greetings.

Sightseeing

By and large Hong Kongers are a rule-abiding bunch. Avoid jaywalking, eating on public transport, and feeding birds. Legislation has banned smoking in restaurants, most bars, workplaces, schools, and even public areas such as beaches, sport grounds, and parks. A whopping fine of HK$1,500 should deter even the most diehard smoker. Littering is also frowned upon, and it's not unusual to see police handing fines (also HK$1,500) out to litterbugs. Hong Kong is crowded; most people walk quite fast on the street. When on escalators, make sure you stand on the right side, leaving the left side for those who are in a hurry.

Out on the Town

Meals are a communal event, so food in a Chinese restaurant is always shared. You usually have a small bowl or plate in which to transfer food from the center platters. Although cutlery is common in Hong Kong, chopsticks are ubiquitous. Be sure not to mistake the communal serving chopsticks (usually black or a different color) with your own.

It's fine to hold the bowl close to your mouth and shovel in the contents. Slurping up soup and noodles is acceptable, as is picking your teeth with a toothpick while covering it with your other hand when you're done. Avoid leaving your chopsticks standing up in a bowl of rice—they look like the two incense sticks burned at funerals.

Young Hong Kongers dress quite smartly when going out on the town.

Doing Business

Make appointments well in advance and be punctual. Hong Kongers have a keen sense of hierarchy in the office. Let the tea lady get the tea and coffee—that's what she's there for. If you're visiting in a group, let the senior member lead proceedings.

Suits are the norm, regardless of the outside temperature. Local businesswomen are immaculately groomed. Pants are acceptable.

When entertaining, locals may insist on paying: after a slight protest, accept, as this lets them gain face. Conversely, you can insist on paying for drinks or a meal to signal your gratitude for the hospitality you've received.

Business cards are a big deal: not having one is like not having a personality. If possible, have yours printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other. Proffer your card with both hands, and receive one in the same way, handling it with respect.

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