Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chaotic Hong Kong

How do you describe Hong Kong but hot, humid, crowded? There's this crazy pulsating energy running through the place amid the chaos of people, shops, double-decker buses, hawkers, restaurants, taxis, umbrellas, jack hammering, honking, steam, neon signs, shouting, electronics stores, delivery trucks, and construction sites. But, it all works- and the mad scramble of everyone getting from point A to point Z manages to squeeze itself into the compact islands of Hong Kong and Kowloon (the only places we got to visit).

My sister and mom arrived on Saturday morning (3/31) and I arrived later that afternoon. The first thing we did was go out and get some delicious Hong Kong style "milk tea". It's unbelievably strong and bitter, but with a teaspoon of sugar, it is transformed into liquid heaven. And, they are served in these cool steel mugs. We had a day and a half together before Paul arrived on Sunday night, so we were eating and shopping in a daze- from Times Square in Causeway Bay to the shops in Central, up and down the "Golden Mile" of bustling Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui to the huge Harbour City Centre. It was totally unplanned, but my aunt and uncle from San Francisco were also in town, and were staying right upstairs from us! It's such a small world.

Almost every meal was booked by my mom's friends or by my aunt & uncle so we rushed from one place to a restaurant where we got the "most delicious ----" or "Hong Kong's most famous ----" or whatever- it was all delicious, but maybe TOO much and too rich for me! There were 8-10 course meals of roast pork, drunken chicken, freshly steamed fish, vegetables, noodles, shark's fin soup, black mushrooms, seaweed, pig intestines, razor clams.... And of course, I was soooo excited for dim sum! We only had it once, and it wasn't the typical cart-rolling dim sum places, but it was still great. We had the usuals- "siu mai" (pork dumplings), "har gow" (shrimp dumplings), "daan tart" (egg custard tart), pork buns, radish cake, sesame seed balls, etc. I'm soooo hungry just writing about this now!!!!

The number of shops in Hong Kong is dizzying- you can buy cheap trinkets from a few cents to $1000 handbags and shoes on the same street. Of course, right outside those stores, the knock-off vendors are selling them at a fraction of the cost. Street markets were jam packed with fruit vendors (dragon fruit, star fruit, etc.), knick-knacks, trendy clothes, belts, watches, electronics, and jewelry. I saw a lot of foreign shops like Zara, French Connection, Mango, etc. and Uniqlo was totally mobbed.

This was I think my 4th trip to Hong Kong, but really the first one where I actually saw many of the sights of Hong Kong. Every time I had come in the past, it was with my family, and we were shuffled around by my parents from one friend's apartment to another, from one restaurant to another, and from one shopping street to another. The highlight of trips to Hong Kong were always about shopping, shopping, shopping!!!

This was a different Hong Kong for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul and I found the calmer side of Hong Kong when we wandered the streets on our own, late at night (along the Victoria Harbour waterfront) or in one of the incense-filled temples (Man Mo Temple) or even the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden in Mong Kok, with hundreds of wooden birdcages, singing & talking birds (in English AND Chinese!). Bird lovers come to the market to buy accessories and birdfood, including various kinds of creepy crawlies, "walk" their birds, and meet up with friends. This butted up against the colorful flower district, where there were stalls upon stalls of fragrant flowers, lush plants, and succulents. On one of the rainy days, we went to the almost empty Museum of Art where there were some really cool interactive exhibits (rubbings, letterpress seals, and embossing, calligraphy, etc.) and a pretty cool "Chinglish" (Chinese / English) show.

My birthday was pretty mellow. I awoke to a (stealthily decorated) hotel bathroom decorated with "Happy Birthday" streamers, balloons, and confetti, and opened my wonderful and thoughtful presents from Paul, my sister, and mom. We had a filling brunch of noodles and more HK style milk-tea, rode the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, poked around the cool little boutiques hidden among the windy hilly streets in Soho (South of Hollywood Road), ate some crepes in a cute French nautical themed cafe, and ended up at the Porterhouse, an Australian steak/seafood restaurant on the promenade. From our table, we got a view of the sparkling Hong Kong nightscape and "Symphony of Lights" building lightshow. Plus, I had my first "western style" steak in many months.... It was a "ship-shape" day!!!

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