Hong Kong

::old and new::
::old and new::

On the road (skies?) again, and this time for good (well, a good 6 months at least). We said goodbye to LA with a 14-hour flight to Hong Kong, the first stop on our six-month jaunt around Asia. We flew Cathay Airlines (first time for me) and it was pretty nice. They are super organized, and very meticulous about lining you up for boarding. I, as an organizer, appreciated this.

Before even making our way through immigration, I was impressed by the local technology. They take your temperature as you enter the HK airport, by somehow scanning your head (you have to take your hat off as you walk through). This of course set off my paranoia and hypochondrial fears of bird flu (second case in HK was confirmed during our visit). Luckily my head scanned a normal temperature and I didn’t have to experience the pleasure of finding out what happens if you fail this test.

I’m so impressed with the public transportation in HK. We took the airport express train from the airport, which couldn’t be much easier to use. It cost about $20 for the both of us, takes a mere 24 minutes, and then we were pleasantly surprised to learn that there is a free shuttle bus from the train station that dropped us off at our hotel (these go to several of the popular hotels in HK and run every 20 minutes or so).

Excited as we were to begin stuffing our faces with dim sum, it was only about 7am local time, so we dropped our bags at the hotel and ventured off to explore the island side of HK. We got a pastry to snack on (for less than $1) at a little shop in an alley, I believe called Gilman’s. I have no idea what we ordered, but it was maybe the best thing we ate during our time in the city. It was some kind of buttery, sugary bun, and it was delicious.

This held us over for a walk to the Peak Tram, which we took up to the top for the impressive views of HK and across the water to Kowloon. The smog makes the view a bit hazy, but not much if any worse than your view of downtown LA on a smoggy day. HK is fascinating, in that you have these massive modern skyscrapers and high end shops, alongside old alley-ways of food stands and markets, all jutting out of tropical looking hills. We’re fairly close to the equator here, and you wouldn’t know it wandering around the city, except that you’ll see butterflies flying around the sidewalks every so often.

We stopped to check out Lan Kwai Fong on our way back to Soho (where we stayed), not realizing that while it is a very happening spot in the evenings, it’s pretty dead on a Thursday early morning. Back in Soho, the dim sum shops were opening up and we stood outside what we thought was Dim Sum Square, waiting for them to open. Turns out it was a random noodle shop, and Dim Sum Square was open the whole time, just a few doors down. Luckily Alan realized the error of my ways, and we wound up eating at the right spot, which for about $10 fed us a great meal of four different types of buns and dumplings. The BBQ pork buns were great, and I was surprised how sweet they were. Dim Sum Square, along with most eating establishments we ventured into, put hot tea on the table without question, though they never serve water unless you ask for it, and also nobody gives you napkins. For an American who is a novice-to-intermediate chopstick user, this often proved frustrating to me.

::dim sum::
::dim sum::

After checking into our room we set off on foot once again to explore the island side. We wandered up and down the streets, passing by Wellington Street and the many markets sprouting out of the alleys off of it, lots of skyscrapers, and the antique shops on Hollywood Ave. Whereas an antique in the states might be 100 years old, you’ll find “vintage” pottery and other items here are thousands of years old. We checked out Man Mo temple –  I’ve never seen so many incense going off at once. People coming in to pray would light them by the fistful, and from the ceiling hang countless coiled incense. I’m still fighting this cough from Chile, and walked out of there barely breathing (and singing Duncan Sheik in my head, obvs). Here, the juxtaposition of old and new in HK is pronounced, as the old temple sits nestled in between huge modern towers and 7-eleven’s on every corner. Just a short walk away you can get your fix of designer brands, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Armani… you name it (if shoppings your game, you’ve come to the right place).

We also popped into a wine store to check out the prices and selection, and got some free tastings from a very happy salesmen. We were surprised and delighted to see Castoro Zin on the shelves, one of our favorite bargain California wines.

We ate noodles for dinner at Mak’s on Wellington, which was nothing to write home about (though I suppose enough to write to my bloggers about, eh?). Noodles were weirdly undercooked. Still, it was cheap and it was noodles, so I was not complaining. The streets are much fuller in the evenings (as well as weekends), as everyone gets off work. The hustle and bustle and the ever-present neon lights keep you stimulated despite the massive jet lag (16 hour time change from LA).

I was quite frustrated by the foot traffic, though. Despite driving on the left and keeping left in designated areas of the MTR (mass transit railway), there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the walking patterns of those on the sidewalks. At the first opportunity to fall out of line with a pattern, people do. It’s madness on the streets. You just gotta push and shove your way through (especially once you get to Kowloon). That said, I had very low expectations of protecting my personal space bubble whilst in HK, and was pleasantly surprised at the lower than expected level of bubble invasion and violation, especially on the island side. People were super polite, and a few even apologized for bumping into me.

That said, as soon as we walked out on the streets on the Kowloon side the next day, I was all but groped by ladies trying to give me flyers and sell me “genuine fakes.” Meanwhile every fifth man tried to get Alan to buy tailored suits. I was admittedly tempted by the guy whose pitch included, “you no want my fly suit?” We avoided the hawkers, and made our way up Nathan Road and into the Chungking Mansions. I didn’t do my research, and assumed these were going to be nice big houses. Nay, they are massive shopping malls with apartment buildings on the upper floors. Alan got his hair cut by a Pakistani man while I eyed the cockroaches on the floor and marveled at how much my life has recently changed.

P1030024

We walked a long ways up through Kowloon, passing through various neighborhoods and countless markets, including the Ladies’ Market (everything you never knew you needed, and all genuine fake), the Jade Market (I was tempted to buy some pretty jewelry or Christmas ornaments, but quickly remembered our overstuffed luggage), Fa Yuen Street Market (impressive array of seafood, dead or alive, and mesh bags full of live frogs), and lastly the Goldfish Market. I was most excited for the Goldfish Market, as it is full of pets for sale (you know me and my animals). It was rather disappointing. There were a few shops with caged dogs and cats (adorable, but sad), a few others with rabbits and hamster/gerbil type things, and lots of fish shops. But it all made me so sad. The fish were in little plastic baggies that sat out in the sun and collected condensation from the heat. It was a pretty impressive collection of fish and turtles though. We kinda walked through fast as well, as I’d read that some shops sell spiders and I didn’t want to see any of that.

We tried to check out a café on the 4th-6th floor of a building in Mongkok (the population density here is supposedly the greatest in the world, hence locales going vertical), but they were unfortunately not open yet. Instead, we stopped for lunch at a spot called Ajisen Ramen. I now think that this is a chain, and for a moment, we feared we had walked into a children’s themed restaurant as the kid’s menu was extensive and there were a handful of young’uns in there. Either way, it was delicious ramen. I highly recommend the kimchi ramen.

We took the MTR up to Nan Lian Gardens next. The public transportation in HK is phenomenal. The star ferry that takes you from HK to Kowloon is dirt cheap, quick and easy. The MTR is super clean, modern, and tourist-friendly. The ticketing machines let you select your destination and it tells you how much the fare will be, the tracks are blocked by glass walls so you can’t fall down on them, each train has a display letting you know which direction you’re traveling, which stop is next, which side the doors open on, etc. Everything is in English as well as Cantonese, and they even warn on the escalators, “don’t keep your eyes only on your mobile phone.” All the little details are done nicely, and as someone who finds public transit somewhat challenging to master (having never really lived somewhere it’s frequently used), it was most appreciated.

So getting to the gardens was easy, entrance was free, and the experience tranquil. You meander around a little path through the bougainvillea, bonsai trees and a little pond. At the end we checked out the Chi Lin Nunnery. It’s a nice little respite from the craziness that is Kowloon.

We stopped to rest our feet over a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, and Alan stealthily snapped this photo of the monks at Starbucks.

P1030070

Back in Central we met up with a work acquaintance of Alan’s and his wife for a drink. It was at this time that we truly were able to appreciate the overwhelming ex-pat presence in HK, and especially in Central, as everyone at the bar was white.

Our last full day in HK we took a light bus over to Stanley Bay. As they say of life, the journey was more exciting than the destination. I really enjoyed the views of the densely forested hills jutting out of the water, as our bus wrapped around the narrow streets towards the little bay. Stanley itself was pleasant, albeit quite touristy. It reminded me a bit of Malibu. We walked around the market and the pier, grabbed a little dim sum (cheap, not so delicious) and a mango smoothie, and then took a double decker bus back to Central.

We headed next to Luk Yu Teahouse for some delicious, not so cheap dim sum. The service here is epic. It’s almost like those places in the states where the whole appeal is how mean the waiters are. Luckily the food is pretty good. I accidentally ordered a strange looking dessert, which looked like a thick black fruit roll up. It was quite tasty though.

::more dim sum::
::more dim sum::

After lunch we wandered around a few more neighborhoods, checked out the Graham Street and Gage Street markets, ogling at the mystery animal tongues hanging from the walls, and the construction workers standing on nothing but bamboo scaffolding.

::pick your body part::
::pick your body part::

We made our way back over to Kowloon to meet Sally, a friend of ours we’d met in the Galapagos Islands some years ago, for a walk through the Temple Street Night Market, and then dinner and drinks. We checked out Temple Spice Crabs and were shocked to find out the crabs cost about $100. We opted instead for the sweet and sour prawns and the duck. The duck was just that, the whole duck, beak and eyeball included. Most absurd portion I’ve ever seen. After dinner we watched the laser show of the HK skyline which is touristy (and packed), but amazing. That skyline is unlike any other.

Before heading to the airport on Sunday, we took the double decker trams down to Wan Chai, which is a neighborhood full of a nice mix of lively markets (yes, more markets!) and high end shops. We got more noodles at a little shop for lunch where the tables are communal. A local (somewhat) politely suggested that we ask for forks in lieu of chopsticks. We declined to take the suggestion.

Our last surprise of the trip, we were blown away that you could check in for your flight, and even drop your baggage, at the train station. I’m impressed, HK, very impressed (though maybe I should withhold judgment until I know whether my bags have safely made it with us to Colombo).

2 thoughts on “Hong Kong”

  1. Love it all- the pictures, your stories, the clandestine shots of monks at Starbucks 🙂 Hope you’re having a marvelous time!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s