Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hot, Humid, Happy Hong Kong

At this point it's been almost two months since Drew and I touched down in Hong Kong, and a month since we left it the second and final time. Our time in Hong Kong was so great that it's hard to know where to even start. I *loved* this city. To recap, some of the things we wanted to do while we were in Hong Kong included:

- climbing up to Victoria Peak
- going to the Temple Street Night Market, among others
- going to Lamma by ferry, and eating at the Rainbow Seafood Restaurant
- going to Macau for a day

The first day we were in Hong Kong was Thursday Sept. 3rd 2015, and it had been rather suddenly announced that this day was a national holiday, marking the Chinese victory over Japan 70 years previous, in 1945. This was the first time that this national holiday would be observed, and the last time. While Beijing had parades and fireworks and all kinds of celebrations, in Hong Kong, which wasn't even a part of China until 1997, it was just a normal day off.

Drew and Melissa check out
the fish at Rainbow Seafood
Because people had the day off, families were out and about together, and the 'helpers' - domestic staff - that Hong Kongers have were all sitting together outdoors, on pieces of cardboard, in their designated gathering areas. These were all women, and almost exclusively Filipina. My friend, Melissa, who lives in Hong Kong and let us stay with her (wonderful person!), also had the day off, which was amazing luck for all of us, and we decided to head out to Lamma together to hike over the island and check out the restaurant. The food was amazing everywhere we ate, and Rainbow was definitely worth the trip. Live fish were arranged in tanks, and everything was fresh and cooked to order. It was a recommendation from another friend, Christina, who had been to Hong Kong last year on her honeymoon, and it was a great call. I definitely recommend it to anyone going. The ferry ride to Lamma is also great, and gave us a chance to see some cool architecture, such as a collection of buildings that all have Feng Shui holes in them, so that the 'dragon energy' of the mountain behind them can escape to the sea.

Feng Shui spaces, for energy flow
Hong Kong was *super hot* - I can't even describe how hot it was. Mostly, it was incredibly humid, and though I'm sure that the real temperature wasn't outrageous - maybe in the low-to-mid 30's C - the air was smotheringly, inescapably, mind-destroyingly damp. It was like wearing a hot, wet duvet at all times. Drew and I were constantly sweating, and I envied the people around us who still looked crisp and comfortable in their clothes. This was another great thing about being on the ferry: artificial breeze and the illusion of coolness.

Spotting the Buddha from the gondola
Drew and I decided not to go to Macau after all, instead opting to take a trip out to Landau, a nearby island that one can get to by train, to visit the world's largest seated Buddha. Apparently, if you're flying into the city on a clear day you can see it from the air. We didn't get that view, but amazing views of it were possible from the gondola (!!) that you have to take from the train station, over the mountainous island to the Buddha. It turns out that Drew does not enjoy gondola rides, so he found it a bit scary. I was mostly impressed at the few people who I could see down below us crossing the island on a pathway that snaked up and down the mountains, with staircases here and there.

We climbed these stairs,
it was hard.
Again, this day was insanely hot, and Drew and I were dripping sweat just by climbing all the stairs up to the Buddha itself, so I can't imagine traversing the island on foot. The view from the Buddha was worth the shaking legs and soaked shirt, at least. After walking around the grounds and the statue, we grabbed some noodles and water at a vegetarian canteen run by the monks who live beside and take care of the Buddha, and then made our way back, utterly exhausted. Many showers were required in Hong Kong.

The following day, Melissa took us around to the various markets of Kowloon (the mainland part of Hong Kong). We started at the flower market, which was a long street entirely composed of flower shops, then went to the bird market, which was a square garden-like area full of people selling birds of different kinds.

A little bird in its
fancy cage
It's a sign of prosperity in China to own a bird, and we occasionally saw people walking down the street with birds in decorative cages. I can only hope that the birds had larger cages at home, and that the small decorative ones were just for showy walks down the street. They were super ornate, with tiny painted porcelain dishes for water and seeds.

From the bird market, we went to the Ladies' Market, which used to be where women would go to buy fabric and other materials for sewing and dressmaking, but which is now just a kind of regular clothes and gadgets market. We stopped in a few places, warming up our haggling skills, and picking up souvenirs for friends.

Just a fun picture of a parrot getting a
shower in the bird market.
She loved it; I was jealous.
From there, we next went to Sneaker Street, which is an entire city block of shoe - specifically, sneaker - stores. All of the stores were busy. Rather, all of the markets we went to this day were packed with people. Some of the sneaker stores even repeated, with multiple Nike stores and Adidas stores set up just a block from each other, and all doing a hefty trade. Then we stopped by the smaller jade market, which was more of a tent-based structure, with stalls inside. It was hard to tell good/real jade from non-jade stone, though it's easy to tell real stone from plastic or glass. We did some reading on what to look for in jade, because I wanted to buy a bangle, and we found some quite useful websites about it. I believe that I purchased a real jade bangle, and I think I haggled down to a reasonable price for it, but I doubt that I'll ever really know if it's real or not. In truth, it doesn't much matter - I like it, and didn't feel ripped off.

Waiting for yummy food at the
Temple Street Nigh Market
Finally, after this stop we went to the Temple Street Night Market. At this point we were heavily marketed out. We'd spent money along the way at the various markets (with the exception of flower and bird), and kind of just needed to sit and watch the crowd. Fortunately, the Night Market is packed with restaurants serving delicious food at outdoor tables. We went to a spicy crab place, and had a number of dishes, including some seriously good crispy duck on noodles. Hong Kong is really a food-lovers paradise.

After being in Hong Kong for a few days, I felt like we had adapted a bit to the heat. My feet and hands had stopped doubling in size with heat-edema the instant I walked outside (Drew and I both had this - Drew had to have a silver ring that he bought at the markets sized down significantly when we returned to Canada and his hands went back to normal). I thought that maybe we could handle hiking up to Victoria Peak.

We set out to take the bus to the bottom of the path that leads up the mountain, with plans to walk to the top and maybe take a bus or the tram back down to the bottom. We got off the bus at the spot where the map kind of showed a street or lane-way leading up into the park, and promptly got very lost. We weren't lost in the sense that we didn't know where we were, but we were lost in the sense that we had no idea how to get where we wanted to go. We started walking vaguely in the direction of 'up the mountain', following paths that looked to be going the right way. We finally thought we were on the right pathway when it abruptly ended at, on the left, a building complex, and on the right, a gate, slightly open, that seemed to lead into some kind of garden. We saw a man watering plants through the gate, so we went through to ask for some directions. We were disconcerted to find that he was unable to locate us on a map, so we just asked if he could tell us where we could get a taxi. He pointed through an archway, up some stairs, and told us to take a right at the top. As we walked through the archway, and up the stairs, we realized we were passing a pool and tennis courts, and a restaurant, and everyone at the tables and around the facilities looked fresh and neat compared to our sweaty and panting state. Finally we walked into a lobby, took a right into a larger lobby, and walked past a lovely reception desk where people were checking in for tennis fours and making dinner reservations. We smiled warmly at the reception people and the door man, and exited swiftly into the open door of a waiting taxi. And that's how Drew and I accidentally broke in through the back way of the Ladies' Recreational Club, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong from the Peak!
The taxi was a life-saver. There was no way we could have walked up to Victoria Peak that day, sunny and humid as it was. We made it to the top, wandered around with green tea ice cream cones from McDonald's, took a bunch of great photos of Hong Kong harbour, and laughed at our misadventure. We took the bus back down to the Wan Chai neighbourhood for lunch, and (after I recovered from car-sickness - Gravol is recommended for Hong Kong bus adventures) wandered the streets and ate delicious food from vendor stalls.

Me at the peak, admiring the city
There's still more that I could tell about our visit in Hong Kong. It was a great city that I could easily have spent more time in. We managed to see and do a lot, and Melissa was a wonderful and very generous host and tour guide, and yet there is so much more that we could have done if we'd had more time. Hong Kong is so accessible to the Westerner, because everything is in English (road signs, restaurant menus, subway signs) and pretty much everyone speaks English, including in the markets. It was easy to haggle, with the help of a calculator to display the amount you were offering, and people were friendly. There were also big cultural differences between Hong Kongers and Chinese people (mainlanders), which was interesting to see and experience. Hong Kongers, because of the British influence, I assume, have many more Brit customs and cultural expectations (table manners, for example), which also made it a pretty comfortable place for us to visit, and interesting to contrast this with mainland Chinese culture and how their customs and expectations were so different. I really hope to get back to Hong Kong, and I can't recommend it enough. I'd also like to see much more of China, now that I feel like I'm a bit prepared and it feels less intimidating.

Drinks at the top of the ICC!
Drew and I can't express enough tanks to Melissa, for showing us around and making excellent recommendations about what to see, where to go, and how to get there! From her many umbrellas to her expertise on top-of-the-world cocktails and soup dumplings, Melissa really made our time in Hong Kong the excellent experience that it was. Thank you so much, Melissa. You are so generous, and so willing to give your time and space and energy to friends! We love you!

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