Friday, 18 December 2015

The high lights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is my new favourite city.

Which is kind of surprising since the reviews I've heard about it haven't been wholly positive. And yes, I guess living there would be pretty hectic, but from my four days in Hong Kong I have concluded that Hong Kong has everything: awe-inspiring crazy high skyscrapers (including the sixth and eleventh highest in the world) and a central commercial hub; lovely narrow steep streets with cosy cafes and funky bars; crazy posh shopping centres; crazy affordable street markets full of all that adorable junk you (don't) need; peaceful, natural, beautiful islands a 20-minute ferry ride away. However, that may just be due to the exceptional excellence of my host, James, and his knowledge about the various places to go.

James went to university with me – we both did French. I wouldn't say we were actual friends at uni, but we kept in touch, especially after I moved to Vietnam and he expressed interest in doing the same sort of thing. So, now he's been teaching in Hong Kong for five months, and said it was because of me he got inspired/got round to doing it. It was great getting to know him better and it's particularly, well, nice to have played a part in inspiring and encouraging someone else's happiness. :)

So, I'll do two entries on Hong Kong. Here are the highlights...
  • The high lights. ;) See what I did there... The lit-up, colourful skyscrapers. Often I felt you had to keep your camera on portrait mode because they wouldn't fit heightwise into landscape.

The views were especially fabulous from the star ferry, a two-minute commute from the mainland to the island and back. It was all Christmassy too. 

  • Victoria Peak. A popular tourist attraction – you go up it in a tram whose training probably included climbing vertical walls, the route was so steep. It was epic.
Tram selfie
The view was awesome though a bit cloudy.

Though it got better later on in the day
The most epic bit was my new friend – this Chinese girl who wanted to pose with me and then literally jumped of happiness when it turned out to her liking. <3

  • Not necessarily a highlight, but Hong Kong definitely had that Chinese crammed-full-of-colourful-Chinese-signs-and-ads going on. Even a well sign-posted metro was hard to find amidst all those others...

Many Chinese signs

    • My first new random travel friend. I sat at a cafe on Victoria Peak and like a good old cliché got out my travel journal to write in. This is my travel journal:
    It says 'Emma's Childhood Trojans'. Analyse.
    Amused, I remarked another cliché, a solo-traveller writing in his travel journal, all dark brown and leather and I think he was writing with one of those old fashion inky pens (I'm not sure, it may've just been part of my impression of him), and I felt like a very inferior and silly twenty-something writing in her cheap Chinese bad-English girly notebook.

    Anyways, a little later he ended up at the same table as me, and we started chatting, and I got my first travel friend, a very unlikely one at that. He was probably in his 40s, a computer science teacher from Turkey. Very chatty and no-fuss, and I felt intellectually advanced (for the first half hour) when we discussed the differences between the Turkish and Tatar languages. He asked if I want to join him to explore some of Hong Kong's famous markets. My gut thought was, as always, was 'errrrr, no', but I am proud to say I have managed to often silence my gut thought, and I decided why not? The plus (and minus) side of this is that Turkish computer scientists are rarely into the same kind of souveniry junk I am into, so I guess that saved me some money! 

    • Again not necessarily a highlight, but I found new admiration for expats living in, for example, Hong Kong purely because of the Chinese symbols. I feel I get it so easy in Vietnam where the alphabet is essentially same as in all the other languages I know. One evening in HK I had high ambitions to go and eat and one of the local places near James' place, but got so intimidated by the foreign symbolness of it I just went home and had toast. 

    For example, funky soup stuff you eat standing up in front of the stall

    • Catching up with one of my first ever besties. I remember going to school with and playing chess with Andrew when I was about eight. We literally hadn't seen each other for fifteen years, but he happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time as me. Since I had quite an international childhood, I haven't met many of my childhood friends since I said goodbye to them at the turn of the millennium. Andrew was a first, and it was lovely to chat with him, reminisce, get back some old memories. It was quite a surreal experience, sat in this fishy restaurant with the 100% gobbledegook (or should I say, Chinese) menus in front of me, discussing our Russian childhood. (The fish was AMAZING by the way, trust locals to bring you to the right places!) 

    The amazing fish
    This fishy restaurant was followed by a Hong Kongian dessert place with equally understandable menus. It is a new feeling to me, understanding absolutely zero, zilch, RIEN DU TOUT on a menu – I can't even look at the words and vaguely try and guess...
    Yoghurty stuff with red bean - scrumptious

    • Lazy mornings, especially when James's star of a housie R made pancakes and had some lovely chats. It was nice having a 'home' before commencing two weeks of hostelling.

    • Strawberry daiquiris with cocoa powder on the edges at this hidden bar in the Lan Kwai Fong area. Literally, it was just a pair of windowed doors with nothing written in, and to get in you had to knock and a lady would open the door for you. Inside, it was cosy, crowded and the daiquiris were absolute beauties of drinks. Coating cocktail glasses with cocoa powder seems to be a thing in Hong Kong. I'm not complaining.

    The secret door

    • Dimsum - think of it as the Hong Kong version of Spanish tapas - bits and pieces of food you order and share with your friends. The best were the pork buns (also to become a tradition on this trip) - unfortunately no photos of it though. Highly recommended though!

    • High views from the high lights. From James' place and especially his friends' balcony on the 20th floor. Awesomeness.

    Also, went to a sky bar for James' friend's birthday with a pretty awesome view (and a pretty awesome night out, I love Lan Kwai Fong!)

    Hong Kong skybar 

    • The markets. The best one was the ladies' market though I didn't find the dragonfruit cushion my friend Nhi talked about :( But, well, so much junk, and so many eager salespeople trying to rip off people. Well, when the original price was 60 dollars for one beautifully fluffy sickly cute hamster bag, and the final price with which I agreed to buy was five for 100 dollars, you know that there's room for bargaining... (Included a lot of me walking away and her shouting after me “Missy! Missy!” even though I was three-four stalls away. Only when there were some middle-aged German men who were flirt-fighting with her did she give me some peace to decide which hamster bags I wanted – or if I wanted the panda ones...)

    • Lamma Island. A little fishing village a twenty minute ferry ride away from Central Hong Kong. The trip there was beautiful – river, mountains and skyscrapers, what else can you want!? 

    These buildings have holes in the middle so the dragon that lives on the mountain can always have a view of the sea. True story. 
    We walked in the woods and ended up on a beautiful beach, where James pointed out the shark net in the water– apparently twenty years ago there was a shark scare or shark attack or something. Glad there was a shark net then! Until we saw this sign:

    Well, we went swimming still and are still alive, so hooray!

    Also we popped in a souvenir shop...
    Apparently real pufferfish... just a bit dead. A bit disgusting.

    • The cable car to Ngong Ping and the fishing village of Tai O. But I will save them for the next entry... 
      A taster
    Until then,
    CHEERIOS and goodnight!

    Lamma Island says night night


    1. Never think of yourself as inferior to Turkish computer geeks, no matter what kind of pen they use! Since you must have remembered enough Tatar to discuss subtle linguistic finesses with him, I guess you and Andrew reminisced together in Tatar...

      1. Hmm not really in Tatar! We reminisced about Russian metro station names :P