Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hong Kong

This time, Hong Kong on the way out of Asia was much better for us than on the way in. The uncertainty of the Bangkok airport closure last November and where we would go next and how much money we’d lose was replaced in January by a relaxed return to my favorite (and one of Leslie’s favorite) cities in the world. Photo: the way out of the airport to bus stop for the A21 into Kowloon

As we have for the last few years, we stayed in the Dragon Hostel in Mong Kok, the most crowded area of one of the most crowded cities in the world. After 6 weeks of travel we were pretty tired and spent much of our time in Mong Kok just experiencing the experience. We continued to find good and cheap places to eat and amused ourselves with new blocks, new streets, new sights. At this point of the trip neither of us are motivated to write and our daily stuff kind of merges and I’m unsure of what happened when.

Or room was even smaller than usual – I came about 6-8 inches short of being able to touch both walls standing with my arms outstretched. But the Dragon is a good place, clean and run with great professionalism by Stanley Fan and a crew of no-nonsense women. Stanley speaks excellent English and the women profess to speak no English – uh-huh. It’s a constant parade of backpackers and budget travelers of all ages and all nationalities, and these days, more and more people from the mainland packing 4, 5, 6 people into the 3 and 4 person rooms. Photo above and below: Fa Yuen Market in Mongkok

Of course we took the Star Ferry back & forth across the harbor to visit the Peak to have espresso at Pacific Coffee with a panoramic view of Hong Kong below. We used to take the Peak Tram (a cable-hauled funicular railway straight up the side of the Peak), but several years ago switched to the less expensive and more scenic double deck bus from the Star Ferry terminus to the Peak Tower. We took the bus back down, getting off at the massive IFC shopping mall/office complex and walking out and down to Connaught Road to Tsim Chai Kee, our favorite shrimp wonton noodle shop – only to discover that, alas, it closed in December.

Back across the harbor, taking the #2 or #6C bus from the Star Ferry terminus up Nathan Road to the Sincere House (where the Dragon Hostel is) we found the Good Hope Noodle cafĂ© where we drowned our sorrows in (what else) shrimp wonton noodle soup. Good Hope isn’t incredibly good like Tsim Chai Kee, but it’s as good as First Chinese BBQ here in Dallas, which is far better than anything else we’ve had in the states and when I went back to Good Hope for more later, the wontons were different (containing – I guess – shreds of some kind of fermented fungus or vegetable). Why would anyone get excited about shrimp wonton soup? All I can say is that it’s not anything like what we usually get in the US. Photo: the people's dim sum

From The World of Suzie Wong on the Star Ferry: “The ferryboat came churning alongside and the crowd moved forward. We jostled together down the gangplank and chose one of the slatted bench seats on the lower (2nd Class) deck … we had hardly sat down before the water was churning again, the engines rumbling, the boat palpitating – and we were moving off busily past the Kowloon wharves …” toward the Island, with its jumble of skyscrapers along the waterfront stretching for miles into the haze of a Hong Kong explored by very few visitors. Photo: the people's dim sum

For dinner we had take-out meals in our room – splitting big servings of char su (BBQ pork) on rice for $22HKD or pork and duck for $26 and an order of steamed vegetable with oyster sauce for $10 or spicy satay drowned in peanut and pepper sauces and assorted buns from one of the bakeries found on almost every block. This time through we didn’t make it to any of the big dim sum places or to our old favorite, Big John’s, but no problem – it’s all good in Hong Kong. Photo: the harbor, Star Ferry headed toward Central

On our last time through I made it up to the 4th floor of the Fa Yuen Market, past the fish and meat areas, past the vegetables, the fruits, the ethnic stalls (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, etc.) – not to mention Chinese stalls – and up to the people’s food court. So this time through Leslie and I went and found some of the cheapest food in Hong Kong – for breakfast, big portions of dim sum (sui mai and shrimp dumplings) with hot tea for the 2 of us, $24HKD – less than $2USD each. There were about 10 big stalls selling food and all the customers sharing tables. Really a scene and we had a good time eating and checking it out – and some of the people there also seemed to have a good time, eating and checking us out. One of the food stall guys gave Leslie a Beer Chang bottle opener. Photo: good food right there

One last wandering walk in the Hong Kong night, through the neon streets, among vast crowds with people flowing like magic, people eating who knows what all, walking arm in arm, walking alone and playing a video game or reading anime, smoking, push a cart, striding fast, ambling slow, passing out flyers, gazing into girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s dark eyes, and no jostling, no bumping, all in the flow and at least one love hotel on every block & noodle shops & phone shops & clothes for sale & dried foods fragrant & fishy & stairways leading up to a whole other world & we aren’t even in the market area yet. Photo: Leslie sitting in Pacific Coffee on the Peak

Email from Leslie: Well Charles, Hong Kong just keeps getting better! You asked if we should research a better hotel for our next trip - I think I like Stanley's more every time we stay there. This current room is the best we've ever had here - since it's new, the air conditioning works great and is the new model. Stanley also added an extra exhaust fan, one in the room itself in addition to the usual one in the bathroom, which is great for sleeping and also seems to dry clothes much faster. This room seems smaller, I agree, but is better arranged (or we've finally gotten the hang of how to stash/store everything under the beds/a tiny vanity table/etc) so we seem to have more living space. At least we can both stand up at the same time which wasn't the case in a room we had once before. And finding the little table to add to the room really helps. I think next time we should stick up some removable hooks (or ask Stanley if he'd like to keep them) which will help even more. I noticed that the Japan Family Store has the hooks so we know where to go!

Three neat things have happened here this time, completely unexpectedly. I've looked for a cool bottle opener in every country we've visited and bought a Tiger Beer opener in Hanoi. But it's really plain, not cool at all. So in the People's Market (Fa Yuen?) I saw a great Beer Chang opener on a shelf at a food stall that also sells lots of beer. I asked the owner where I could buy one which led to a lengthy pantomimed conversation about his being sold out of Beer Chang but has every other kind I might want and a trip to the stand up cooler to show me each kind, bottle by bottle. I finally convinced him that it was the opener I wanted to buy, not a beer so he just gave it to me! I tried to pay him but he just waved bye to me and went back to work. As an aside, the beer companies give good promotional items to their vendors - our little Dim Sum shop had 4 unopened Tsing Dao plastic buckets in their trademark dark green color. I covet 1 of those buckets and I know that lady would have given me one (she was really delighted to have us I think - we attracted so much attention just being there that we surely brought in more customers!) but I couldn't figure out a way to bring it back. A bucket added to the 50 pound head just seemed too much.

The second neat thing happened at the Japan Family Store. We bought coffee filters there for our Vietnamese coffee maker but the coffee just plugged it up completely - I had to lift it out and gently squeeze to get any coffee into the cup. So I took them back (receipt in hand) and the lady let me exchange them for 2 great little ceramic glasses that we'll use in the bathrooms (the last thing on my list of must have souvenirs). So that's the 2nd time anyone has ever returned something in Hong Kong, I bet. I was the first as well as the 2nd - the water heater we still have came from Yue Wa Department Store and replaced the 1st one we bought there when it blew out the fuses in the hotel the first time we plugged it in. That exchange left the employees with their mouths gaping - the Japanese store though has a cash register that works just like ours to scan a return if you have your receipt.

Third, we went to a middle class shopping mall that had a grocery store in it (looking for coffee that would actually let water thru the filters) and found a huge food court - these are very common in Bangkok but this was our 1st in Hong Kong. So it took us awhile to decide what to order - most of the food was too ethnic for us. We ordered with the assistance of a young lady who insisted on helping us and then joined us to eat. Her name is Cindy and she is the production engineer (the only female in such a position) at a large furniture company. As such, the company furnishes her a room (with shared bath and kitchen) on the mainland during the week and transportation to and from Hong Kong for the weekends where she stays with friends who are still in college. She graduated early with a Master's degree and was hired straight out of school. Her Dad is a physician and now hospital administrator and her Mother a 7th grade teacher in China. They are so proud of her, as well they should be. Women do not have an easy time getting high level positions in Chinese businesses - I'm sure she works much harder than her male counter parts to make a place for herself. This bright young lady visited with us an hour or more and then walked us out to a money changer (open on Sunday when the banks were closed) so we could cash a traveler's check. We enjoyed her company so much - maybe we'll see her again next trip!

I know there's more but I'll write again later. Even though my typing is finally getting faster, I'm still painfully slow so better get to work.

Great trip Charles - I can start packing again any time you say!

Love, Leslie

PS I forgot that Mimi's brother (at our breakfast place) gave us one of his toothpick holders. We really wanted the Ovaltine miniature but they were all used and he wanted us to have a new one. Thoughtful but we needed the one that's reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode - maybe next time.


Philip said...

Charles - good to see the return leg was more enjoyable, looks like you got lucky with the weather too :-)

Anyway, its been good reading, so keep it up.

All the best

CK said...

Hey Phil, Hope you saw my comment/thanks to you on thorntree, but if not, again, thank you for your hospitality and a very good time even in a time of angst & anxiety.