Saturday, November 17, 2012

17/11/12 – Hong Kong, the Old and the New, and Harry, the Awesomest Guide Ever.

Sleep. Sleep is good. Sleep is fantastic. After last night’s late night, we welcomed sleep like any sane person would. Our day didn’t start particularly late – we woke up at 9am, and headed down for breakfast in the hotel. The hotel put out quite a nice spread, but nothing overly fancy. Still, a free breakfast is always a good way to start a day.

We then headed out to explore Hong Kong by daylight. We started by exploring Sheung Wan, our local district, which is a more traditional area of Hong Kong, as opposed to the highly business-oriented area of Central, or the upper class area of Tsim Sha Tsui. Having only seen it the night before, when all of the stalls were shut, it was a very different experience during the day. Shops lined the streets, all of them selling various dried products, including pigs stomachs, lizards, countless types of fish, and shark fins. Huge baskets filled with other Asian delicacies were there also, too numerous to describe, or even comprehend what I was looking at.

We made our way to Upper Lascar Row, also known as Cat street Market. As it was still only about 10:30 or so in the morning, most of the stalls were yet to open. What we did have a look through though was quite interesting. Lots of little knick knacks, but nothing that really jumped out as something cool to buy.

Afterwards, we headed up to Man Mo Temple, a temple that was one of the first constructions in the Sheung Wan area. Inside, hundreds of incense coils burned, filling the temple with a distinct odour that really gave the building a revered feel. The combination the soft candle lanterns and the constant stream of worshippers coming in to pay their respects really added to the atmosphere in the temple. Unfortunately, there weren’t any real signs or instructions that explained the various rituals that people were undertaking, but it was  very interesting to observe, even from a mere tourist’s perspective.

We then made our way east towards the Shelley St escalators. The escalator is the world’s longest series of outdoor escalators. It amazed me how just when you got to the top of one of the escalators and you thought you had finally reached the top, there was another one just slightly further up the walkway. It ended up taking us about a good half hour to reach the top of the escalator system. It offered a great cross section of the levels of Hong Kong island as we climbed further up the steep slopes.

Funnily enough, the escalator ends rather unceremoniously onto quite a boring and drab street – clearly this was a utility used by the local populace, and not just built as a tourist attraction. We then walked down Peel street, and dropped in to a quiet Chinese restaurant for some lunch. Inside, there were only white diners, so it was clear that it wasn’t really a “local” restaurant. The food was very tasty, but not exactly what you would describe as “cheap”. We had quite a few small meals, as opposed to one big one, which worked well as we got to taste a nice variety of different chinese dishes, including dumplings, wonton prawns, crumbed tofu and some nice stir fried vegetables.

After lunch, we headed down through the Graham Street Wet Market. As opposed to the “dry” markets we saw at the start of the day, where all of the various produce was long dead, processed, dried and otherwise preserved, the wet market was well and truly “wet”. As we walked down the short street, we saw a range of fresh produce, ranging from fruit and vegetables, flowers and various cuts of meat, right through to live seafood being prepped right in front of you. It was certainly not an experience for the squeamish – I glanced in one store, only to see a worker slice up the body of a fish, its head still breathing, severed from its body. I found this incredibly shocking to look at, and was thankful I only saw the sight for a split second before looking away. I really did feel sorry for the fish, but I can’t really scream from the rooftops about animal rights and the like, as I am a regular fish-eater, and this is probably close to the treatment the fish get in Australia, albeit in a much less public performance.

We then walked along Queen’s Road, towards the Bank of China building. One thing I noticed along Queen’s road was the interesting dichotomy between the huge store fronts selling designer handbags and clothes, and right next door to them, crammed in perpendicular alleyways, knockoff versions of the very same designer handbags and clothes, only a few steps separating them. Strange how it works like that.

Anyways, our goal was to head up to the observation deck of the Bank of China building, to see Hong Kong from a heightened perspective. The building itself is very impressive, one of the most iconic buildings in Hong Kong. Go look up a picture of Hong Kong island skyline. Now, look for the one with the illuminated zig-zags on it. Yep, that one.

Sadly, the observation deck is closed on weekends – a fact I didn’t actually acknowledge from the guide.  Oh well… We skipped to the next thing on our “to do” list. We caught one of Hong Kong’s iconic trams back towards our hotel. We managed to stand on the top deck, and I promptly hit my head on the low ceiling. I got a derisive look from a lot of the locals on the tram – clearly I was a tram newbie and should have stayed on the lower deck where there is much more headroom.

The tram slowly trundled along through the Sheung Wan area, and we decided to get out a random stop and walk back to our hotel. We had overshot our hotel by quite a distance, so the walk back was fairly tiring. Upon arrival to the hotel, we collapsed into the bed for a quick half hour rest before going out for the evening. Tonight we were going to catch up with Harry, a mate of mine that I used to work with during my Kmart days.

We met Harry in Central early in the evening. He took us firstly to a modern area of Hong Kong, to the International Finance Centre, where we had a very nice dinner of Shanhai-nese cuisine. Most of the dishes were cold, but they were surprisingly tasty. Nothing we ate was particularly outlandish, possibly with the exception of the shredded jellyfish. It was not bad – it had almost a crunchy texture to it, and the sauce it was served with suited it well. We chatted over dinner about his job in Hong Kong. He works as an architect, and with Emma studying interior design (which isn’t pillows and curtains – it’s the architecture of interior spaces), we had lots to talk about.

Our next destination for dessert was Tin Hau, to an ice cream parlour that had opened recently. According to Harry, it was fairly out of the way, but it was definitely an experience worth trying. This parlour doesn’t serve your traditional flavours of ice cream. Instead, it serves liquid-nitrogen chilled ice cream, with the flavours being derived from other food that one doesn’t usually associate with dessert. For example, I had “Hong Kong crunchy toast” flavoured ice cream. While that doesn’t sound very appealing, the savoury flavour and crunch of the toast mixed perfectly with the ice cream. Harry had “Earl Grey Tea” flavour, and Emma had “Purple Rice” flavour. All of which were very interesting in both flavour and texture.

I then mentioned to Harry that at some stage on the trip that I’d be keen to try egg waffles, a local street food dessert. And with that, he decided our next destination, a quick look into the Causeway Bay area, to get me some egg waffles.

A short subway ride later, and we were in another glitzy and glamorous section of Hong Kong. Apparently, according to Harry, this area of Hong Kong has the highest rent rates in the world. It doesn’t surprise me, with such a vast amount of designer labels. Thankfully, we found a solitary food stall left that sold the egg waffles – a far cry from the many that were here in the past, all of which had been pushed out due to skyrocketing rent.

Egg waffles are tasty. They’re like crunchy egg-sized pancakes, arranged in a net of two or three dozen miniature “eggs”. A very warm and comforting dessert. Through our continual strolling, we then found a rabbit store. Yes, a rabbit store. This store didn’t sell rabbit-themed home décor, or rabbit accessories, it sold rabbits. Yes, cute, fluffy, adorable rabbits. What’s more, at the several thousand $HKD they were charging for said rabbits, it is a safe assumption that they were in fact intended to be pets, and not to be food. I hate to say it, but after walking through the wet market earlier in the day, I had to hesitate before making that presumption.

After browsing around Causeway Bay a little more, Harry took us over the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui, to our last destination for the night. I feel bad for not knowing the name of the building that we went in, but what was important was what was inside. At the very top, there is a fantastic bar called “Aqua”, where we drank a few cocktails, and took in the absolutely stunning views of Hong Kong island. From where we were sitting, to our left was the breathtaking view of Hong Kong island’s skyline, all lit up in a never ending light show of colours. To our right, the view of the mainland, Mong Kok, and the further outlying areas of Hong Kong. And, funnily enough, the skyscrapers reached as far as the eye could see. The only thing stopping them was the sharp mountainous terrain on the horizon. Although, I think all it will take is another economic boom for Hong Kong before they too get covered in apartment buildings.

We spent a good hour chatting away in the amazing bar, talking about everything from the good times we had at Kmart, right through to the current politics of Hong Kong and mainland China. Harry’s insights were fascinating to someone as uneducated as me on the matter.

We then caught the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island, and we parted ways. Harry, being the socialite that he is, had another party to go to that night. Whereas Emma and I, exhausted from our day of largely on-foot exploration of Hong Kong, retired back to our hotel room for another night of deep sleep.

I really enjoyed today. It was a great juxtaposition between the traditional ways of Hong Kong, and the ultra-modern, sleek Hong Kong that we experienced with Harry. It was fantastic to hang out with Harry. He really showed us some fantastic parts of Hong Kong which we wouldn't have seen without his guidance.even more so, it was just nice to catch up with him after not seeing him for the past ten months. I wish him all the best in his career in Hong Kong, and will definitely catch up with him again when he returns to Australia in a years’ time.

Tomorrow: Mainland Hong Kong! Mong Kok! Markets! Stuff!

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