HK&C: Day 7: Hong Kong Antiques and Hotpot

The Wet Market
We kicked off the day with a short wander in our neighborhood including the local wet market. Wet markets include live food, and this one had lots of fish, turtles, frogs, and so on.
We hopped on the MTR bound for Central, where we headed towards the antiques area of Hollywood Road. There’s a mix of shops, from those that sell expensive pieces to those that sell inexpensive trinkets in baskets outside. I found a small lantern which would satisfy Darren’s and my need for Christmas ornaments.
Yuki and I at Man Mo Temple
En route to antiques, we checked out the Man Mo Temple, the interior of which is a sight. Visitors are under a canopy of incense spirals that are cone shaped, each of which is labelled with a wish. You can view pictures here, but I didn’t take any at the request many posted signs.
We could not read the menu.

Lunch time arrived, and we decided to go to one of the next three places we saw. We actually went into the first, Green Island Restaurant. I gather this was the Cantonese equivalent of a diner, and had we not had Yuki with us, we definitely would not have eaten as well as we did. The English menu offered about ten dishes, each of which was priced more highly than anything on the Cantonese menu. Yuki selected three dishes for us, and we were stuffed by the end.

View from the Bank of China Observation Deck
After lunch, we walked back towards Central and took the Mid-Level escalators to the very top. Unfortunately, when we got to the top, it started to pour, so we took a bit of a beverage break before heading down the many steps.
We then headed over to the Bank of China building, which has an observation deck on the 43rd floor that one may visit for free. Unfortunately, I didn’t carry any identification, so Yuki and Kiely had to check it out without me.
The HotPot Venue
Tourism mostly completed, we headed over to Tsim Tsa Shui for a quick errand at Seibu before meeting Kimiko and her friend Keoh at a bar on Knutsford Terrace for a pre- dinner drink. There was lots more catching up, and Yuki was able to practice her Japanese a bit. Jimmy arrived around six, and after wrapping up, we headed out to a local hotpot restaurant.
This was my first Cantonese hotpot experience, and it was lots of fun.
Step 1: Sauce!
After one orders the items to be cooked, the servers bring a massive tray of different sauces (Soy Sauce, Peanut Sauce, Coriander, Onions, etc) from which each person concocts their own bowl of personalized sauce.
Step 2: Cook!
Next, the hotpot arrives, followed my many bowls of food to be cooked. Basically, you cook as you go, and one just ladles out what one wants to eat. I was spoiled rotten, most likely because I failed miserably at knowing what was cooked versus what needed a bit more time. I think my favorites were the spinach, the beef, and the tripe.
Jimmy, Kimiko, Keoh, Yuki, Kiely and I after much hotpot.
After dinner, we all sadly parted ways. It has been so fun to see Kimiko after all these years, and I know it will not take another 19 years for us to see one another again now.
Yuki, Kiely, and I hopped off the MRT at Sham Shui Po, and were pleased to see that we had selected the same exit that we had used that morning, or so we thought. After walking fifteen minutes, we learned that we had not come out where we thought we did and had been walking the wrong way all along. Oops! If anything, it was good to have a bit more walking time, post-hotpot!

HK&C: Day 6: Hong Kong and an Overnight Train

View of our cabin
from the top bunk.

Our overnight train from Yongzhou to Shenzhen was delayed from 0040 to 0130, which wasn’t so bad. I had never stayed in a sleeper car, and I found it excellent.

Each sleeper on our train had six bunks. Kiely booked the top bunks for us, which were a bit close to the ceiling to comfortably sit, but afforded us a spot next to our bags and plenty of privacy. I did find that this was where my theory about a skirt being far easier to travel in than pants failed a bit, as trying to climb up and down from the bunk was no easy task. The bunks themselves were very comfortable. I think I may have had my best sleep in over a week, but whether that’s the train or Tylenol PM is open for debate.
Kiely was fast asleep as I faced
the challenges of Surprises 1 and 2

At some point in the wee hours, I decided it was time for a bathroom break. As I clambored down from my bunk, I encountered Surprise number 1: the person on the bottom bunk had raised the foot peg, so I had nothing to step down from. Oops.

Then came Surprise number 2:
the cabins aren’t labelled on the outside, so I wasn’t certain which one was mine when returning. I had counted doors en route, but when I counted back, the room I found had more shoes on the floor than I remembered seeing in mine. I opted for one door over, and with some intrepidation, climbed up to the third bunk. Much to my relief, I found it both it empty and with my stuff in the basket on the wall.

The sleep ended when the Chinese muzak started soudly piping in around 830.

Yuki and Kiely at the MTR stop

The train arrived at 1115 or so, and we made our way into the station to find my brother’s girlfriend, Yuki, who was joining us for the HK leg of the trip. We finally met up, headed through customs and hopped on the MRT to Kowloon Tong, from which we took a taxi to our digs for the next few days, The Olympic Terrace Suites.

As budget friendly accommodations go, the Olympic Terrace was great. We had two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen for the equivalent of £70 a night. I never would have found this place had Darren not come across it in a Guardian article of great budget places to stay in Hong Kong.

Best Thai Curry, Ever

After dropping off luggage, we headed out for a late Thai lunch in Kowloon City‘s Thai Corner.
We picked a place called Golden Orchid from our guide book, and the food was fantastic. I think it may have been the best green curry I have ever had.

at Chi Lin

Full of food and far from the MRT, we hopped in a cab and went to the Chi Lin Nunnery. According to the guidebook, this Buddhist temple was rebuilt in 1990, and it contains not a single nail.

After wandering around a bit, we hopped on the MTR to Central where we ran a few errands before meeting my old NYC workmate, Jim, in Lan Kwai Fong for a few beers in a bar called Stormie’s. It was good to catch up, and much like Kimiko, Jim makes a very compelling case for moving to Hong Kong. I officially consider myself tempted. 

Lan Kwai Fong
By the time the Portugal- North Korea game went from 0-0 to 7-0, it was time for dinner. We headed around the corner to Tokio Joe and I started to make up for all that sushi I don’t have in London.

The food was excellent, but I failed to take any pictures of it due to lack of battery. We headed back home around 11, ready for sleep.

HK&C: Day 2: Hong Kong to Yongzhou

The Western toilet at Shenzhen Airport
was not for the weak (see sign)

After a rather rough night sleeping, I unsuccessfully tried to sleep in until 930. There was nothing wrong with my hotel room, only that my asthma medicine really messes with my sleep.

My brother advised me of two things via email the night before:

China Rule #1: Don’t drink the water from the tap in the mainland

China Rule #2: don’t call a girl “xiao jie” unless you know her family name

I don’t know about you, but the first was an expected bit of advice that was never in question. The second, well, I couldn’t help but wonder if the consequences were potentially as dire as those associated with the first. The Pimsfleur Mandarin I discs teach that, “xiao jie” literally means, “Miss”, and is how one politely addresses a waitress. As this now seems not so, could saying “xiao jie” lead to vomiting and diarrhea, just like the tap water? I opted not to test this and just ask. It so happens that simply calling a woman, “xiao jie”, is colloquially the equivalent of calling her a whore. Yay Pimsfleur!
Fancy Yum Cha!
On to the day: 
Kimiko and I met for early Dim Sum at 11 and had more wonderful catching up time. The food was excellent, and I especially enjoyed the beef dumplings and pork buns. Time flew, and before I knew it, time had come for a mad dash to catch the airport bus to Shenzhen Airport.

Kimiko spoiled me rotten. She found the Airport Bus, put me on it, and even gave me tissues for the ride, just in case I didn’t know #3!

China Rule #3: Always carry tissues, ladies.

At Kiely’s advice, I took the airport bus which departs from the Airport Express Station at the West Kowloon MRT. The ride takes about 75 minutes (according to the sute), with buses departing every half hour between 0715-1915. There aren’t many flights to Yongzhou, and I didn’t want to risk missing the one I had, especially as my inability to actually read my ticket might slow me down.

The Bus on the Shenzhen side’s view of the terminal.

In Shenzhen, where you clear customs and immigration, only to emerge on the other side to board an identical bus with your fellow passengers, all wearing stickers to assume no one gets lost.

All I can figure is that between filling out the equivalent of a landing card and waiting in the foreigner’s line, I took long enough that I did not catch the first bus out that I could have because I was the first one on the bus, and I didn’t recognize any of the other passengers. As the website said the total ride was 75 minutes and we were still sitting there, I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried.A little Google-mapping managed my concerns, and I found myself checked in at the airport and ready to go with plenty of time to spare. Something I hadn’t counted on was that seemingly, no where accepted credit cards, and I hadn’t bothered to change any money into Yuan.

My tiny bird of pure Hunan chaos.

I had been warned that flights never leave on time, but I had hoped this wasn’t really so. I was to be disappointed. My China Southern 17:30 flight became an 18:45 that didn’t actually board until 19:00. I boarded my tiny plane, took my seat, and so the adventure began…

Just prior to take off, there was a verbal dispute (shouting match) between the guy in the 3rd row and a guy in the 18th row. (I was in 19C) Crisis averted, we had the most abrupt take-off ever, and thenI opted for a bit of a catnap.

I woke to the thud of something warm in my lap. A suspicious package labelled, “beef”. Unable to resist, I had to open it. I’m not sure what to call it, and I think it was probably pork. It was like a sweet white bun for a hamburger with a piece of meat in the top. It wasn’t half bad – of course, I tried it. There’s also a picture on my phone, to be added to this posting later.

Soon, it was time to land, and I swear, the entire aircraft bounced like a tennis ball when we first hit the ground. From that first bounce, anarchy kicked in. People started getting out of their seats, taking bags down, much to the protest of the in-flight crew. When the plane came to a stop, I unfastened my seat belt, and stepped into the aisle, only to find myself being pushed along and out of the plane as I grabbed for my bag, trying not to hit anyone. I was easily the tallest person on the plane, and I am pretty sure the people shoving me were old enough to be my grandparents. Down onto the tarmac I went, to the one tiny baggage claim. The scrum was small, and I emerged victorious, bag in hand.

Yongzhou’s finest pork dumplings!

Yongzhou only gets a few flights each week, and they had already closed the airports main area when I arrived. I was advised by a colleague of Kiely’s that  for many of the people on my flight, this was likely their first time on an airplane.

My brother and I headed to his flat, where I dropped off my stuff, and we went to eat dumplings before heading back to his. He has two exams to give tomorrow, starting at eight, and given my sleeping problems, calling it a night at midnight seemed sensible, especially when so much lies ahead.

HK&C: Day 1: Hong Kong

The overcast view from my room.

Emerging from the plane after twelve hours in transit, I arrived in Hong Kong on Dragon Boat Day (端 午節英文) I trekked through customs. collected my bags, picked up an Airport Express Pass, and headed to the Airport Express to take the train into Kowloon. After quickly dropping off my stuff at my digs for the night, the Langham Place, I headed out to meet a very old friend for dinner.

Kimiko + Francoise 1991

Kimiko was my roommate and closest friend during my first year of boarding school. She graduated and headed off into the world, while I had a few more years to go.

A few years after she graduated, we lost touch, and we reconnected over Facebook a while back. I was very excited to hear she was living in HK.

Kimiko, Jimmy, + Franc 2010!

As you can imagine, we’ve changed a bit since 1991. For starters, we have better clothes. Kimiko also has a wonderful husband, Jimmy.

It’s really shocking to think that there are 19 years and 11 months between these photos of us. 

We didn’t stray far from the hotel, as conveniently, all I hoped for foodwise was literally right in front of me. Langham’s Japanese restaurant, Takoro, was excellent. I especially enjoyed the sticky potatoes with tuna.

After supper, we wandered to The Backyard, which offered outdoor seating and more World Cup coverage (there are many screens showing the game around the area) for a last round before calling it a of many fun ones to come!

HK & China 2010 (HK&C): The Game Plan

The Where and When

While initially planned for February and rescheduled due to my passport being held up for visa stuffs, Kiely and Francoise’s Super Awesome Hong Kong and China Trip (HKandC), has finally come!

As with everything else I do, I have made a spreadsheet summarizing a plan of action. Mock me all you like, but those who have survived my spreadsheets will generally agree that they’re a good thing.

A few plans are currently lined up, but not many. There are friends to see in Hong Kong, a duck supper with friends of a friend in Beijing, and a definite requirement to see the Great Wall and The Forbidden City, but the rest will be ad-libbed.

Should we lose steam and require inspiration, my brother Kiely and I will be looking to our first real exposure to the PRC, a PBS children’s special, Big Bird in China, rediscovered while looking at old books at our mother’s house.
He’s definitely Big Bird at 6’8″ (the real Big bird is 8’2″), and as Barkley and I share a hairstyle, these roles may be fitting.

Pictures and recaps will follow, as I can post them. For now, it’s packing and airport time! 赠别!