Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Day in Hong Kong: Kowloon and Hong Kong City

Written at 8pm on Oct 20, 2010

This morning I got woke up around 7:30am but didn’t get out of bed until 8am. First things first, I took a shower. Afterwards, I had a few minutes to look out the window and the flat before Mika got out of bed. The flat is quite small but very cozy and lived in. It’s on the fifteenth floor and out the window you can see about a dozen other apartment buildings, each reaching far into the sky and obviously housing hundreds, probably thousands, of families. The flat itself has a tiny kitchen, a bathroom with a shower and toilet, a living room that fits a small dining table, futon and tv on a shelf, and two small bedrooms that are off opposite ends of the living room, each holding a bunk bed. Mika’s mom sleeps in one bedroom and Mika in the other. Mika’s room also has a small desk with the desktop computer in it.

Mika’s mother doesn’t speak English, but we exchanged greetings this morning as best we could. I munched on some huge grapes while Mika showered and then, once we were both ready to head out, we went to a neighborhood dim sum restaurant. It was a huge restaurant, holding possibly a hundred or more tables in one cavernous dining room. We ordered, and breakfast consisted of shrimp dumplings, rice-wrap pumpkin and spice, rice-IMG_0206 wrap beef, barbeque beef buns, chicken buns, dumpling soup, and something else that I can’t recall. Mika explained the custom of tapping your fingers on the table when someone pours you tea and told me the story behind it. Apparently, long ago, a Chinese king wanted to go out for dinner without being known as the king. Well, when the king poured a fellow diner, a servant, some tea, the servant had to thank him somehow and did so by tapping two bent fingers on the table, symbolizing bent knees and bows to the king.

When you eat dim sum, you are seated at a round table. If your party doesn’t take up the whole table, you are seated with others, and that was the case this morning. We sat with two older women. I attempted to say thank you (“mm goy”) and they laughed uproariously. Ah, well.

After breakfast, we walked back to the flat to drop off the breakfast leftovers, and then Mika showed me around a market that she and her mother like to shop at. She told me that the community around here doesn’t usually shop in a supermarket for their food, instead going to markets like this one to buy the freshest of ingredients. She wasn’t kidding! The crabs were waving their claws; a cage contained so many frogs that although IMG_0210 they attempted to hop, all they accomplished was wiggling; cages with birds in them were stacked up at a butcher’s, who would kill and feather the one you selected, right there. Pig’s feet, chicken feet, intestines, hearts and other organs, fish and all types of critters, all sorts of interesting and morbidly fascinating foods were for sale. Fruits I’ve never seen before included one with a spiking rind the color of a cantaloupe rind, with the same texture. It was great!

IMG_0211Next we caught a bus, which forty-five minutes later dropped us at a Star Ferry pier. We  took a ferry over to Hong Kong City, crossing Victoria Harbor and enjoying the skyline of Hong Kong in general. Once we arrived at the opposite shore, we walked from the pier to the Bank of China building, which was designed by the same guy who designed the Louvre, according to Mika. It’s mirrored, knife-like shape looms over nearby, boring Bank of America. We showed our IDs inside and were allowed up to an observation area on the 43d floor, which afforded a really great view of the area around, including Victoria Harbor. Mika told me that the Victoria Harbor is getting narrower because the government keeps filling it in to have new land to erect buildings on. We could see some of that actually happening!

Behind the Bank of China is a wonderful park that includes a teaware museum, so that’s where we headed next. The park was quite relaxing, with a pool harboring turtles and carp, fountains and trees and winding walkways. The teaware museum was fun and free. It included an exhibit of a recent contest amongst local potters to create their own teaware sets.

IMG_0217After sitting in the park for awhile to rest, we headed to the botanical gardens and zoo,  about a twenty minute walk which included going up, down, over and under several hills. The day was humid and gray, so I was sweating an awful lot by the time we got there. We grabbed drinks – for me, cold water, for Mika, a coconut milk drink – and then walked around the greenhouse and grounds of the aviary. It was very pretty. We were a bit tired, though, so we headed down and back in the direction of the pier to find lunch (albeit a late lunch) and then head to Tsim Sha Tsui, the southern area of Kowloon. We had a couple ideas for lunch, which came to nothing when the restaurant Mika wanted to go to turned out to have closed and the sushi place we saw was too chilly inside. Finally we settled on a place and I had curry chicken with rice, which was nice, with a cold lemon tea. Mika had something like pho, with rice noodles and pork. I really liked her soup but she said the rice noodles were overcooked (I thought they were great!).

Before catching the ferry back to Kowloon, Mika took me around the block to take a look at a building called Times Square, after New York City’s area of the same name. Basically, it was a huge mall. Very silly. On our way back to the ferry, we passed a knot of vendors sitting on the ground, burning candles. Mika explained to me that these were people who would curse someone that customers really hated, via taking a paper on which the customer wrote the hated one’s birth date and name, and beating it vigorously with a shoe. I think they then burned the paper. Very strange!

Finally we caught the ferry. The water was quite a bit choppier and the skies threatened rain, even though we didn’t feel any drops. On the other side of the channel, we took a quick pit stop in a beautiful looking theater and then caught the bus back to Mika’s neighborhood, which took about an hour and during which we both fell asleep.

Now I’m sitting on the wooden futon again, catching up my blog entries. I’ve got three draft entries, now. Unfortunately, there’s no wi-fi available here so I’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow to post all of them.

Here are some of my impressions of Hong Kong:

  • IMG_0214Overwhelming, in a word. Buses careening around every corner, people  everywhere, sky scraping buildings anywhere you look. Smells and noises and an odd presence of nature are constant everywhere. Because Kowloon seems to be built in a range of hills, there seem to be layers wherever you go: you can go up some stairs to another landing of buildings, or down the stairs to a lower landing of buildings. This makes it feel like the city is never ending, even though you can find parks, playgrounds and other urban oases around every other corner, because if you look up or down, there are more buildings.
  • Foods are very carby and flavorful: steamed or baked rice, or noodles, or rice wraps, or bread, etc. I like the food, especially the dessert stuff and some of the drinks.
  • The general population isn’t as friendly seeming, in my opinion. There are the occasional exceptions, like the bus driver who loaned me his cell phone, but in general, this is a city with city people in a city rush. I think the pace of things has thrown me as much as the change of country. On the other hand, I might also just be more frustrated because fewer people seem to speak English.
  • It’s crowded. In the middle of the day today, the buses, trams and ferries were absolutely packed.  And with the way the drivers of the buses and trams operate their vehicles, that means getting pretty friendly with everyone around you.


Tomorrow I will go out for breakfast with Mika again, and then grab my bags and head to the hotel where Jeff and his mom are staying. Jeff’s mom, Jan, arrives in the morning, so I plan to meet them both for lunch around 1pm. I’ll be bunking for the rest of my time in Hong Kong with Jan if everything works out.

Of course, we also have to modify our plans as Typhoon Megi approaches. This typhoon is expected to be the strongest storm to hit Hong Kong in something like the last decade or so. Oy! I hope that our flight out to Bangkok on Monday doesn’t get delayed or disrupted, but we’ll just have to wait and see.



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