Hong Kong (Not really China!!)
October 20th, 2008
Landed yesterday in HK! Took the shuttle bus late in the evening to our hotel and eagerly expected to see some of the awesome Hong Kong skyline. Although we didn’t see much of the classic skyline itself, we saw miles and miles of high-rise apartment buildings. Not a house in sight – everything here is built up vertically! It was just phenomenal to see just how many buildings were there, resembling a forest of concrete and steel. We planned out our three days here to see as much as would be possible, given just how much there is to see and do in this world-class city.
Today, we took a bus to the downtown of HK and had to get one chore out of the way first – obtaining a VISA to mainland China. We lined up at the consulate and Karthik had to go get a printout of our travel itinerary. Just as the line sped up to the front, we were informed we had to come back later in the afternoon. Then, a gentleman who was in the line behind us told us we have an option of going to the China Travel Agency to get a VISA through them instead. He also happened to be from Canada – small world! So we headed towards the travel agency and gave our passports and paid the fee, assured we’d get it before we left for Beijing.
Today was a day of walking, so we walked to the harbourfront of Wan Chai – the main commercial district of HK. There, we were greeted by one of the signature buildings of the skyline – the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. This truly alien-like structure looked like a spaceship ready to take-off into space. Remarkable structure! And we got to see some of the spectacular skyline we were dying to see. The main Victoria harbour was lined up with immensely tall skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. Across the bay was Kowloon, another Hong Kong principality with impressive buildings. We hung around there for a while taking pictures with our tripod. We then took the famous HK Star Ferry across to Kowloon to get a better glimpse of the skyline from across the bay.
We admired the skyline for a while and thought this to be the best skyline we’d ever seen anywhere! It would look even better at night and we were going to return at 8PM to see the “Symphony of Lights” show where all the buildings light up in synch with a soundtrack. We also called Justin, the son of one of ma/pa’s closest friends, who lives in Hong Kong to arrange a meeting for tonight.
Kowloon is famous for its insane shopping, so we took a bus along Nathan Road – the main thoroughfare in Kowloon. We were impressed by the number of shops and signs lining the road and it seemed like all the shops in the world decided to, well, set up shop here! We got off and walked over to the Ladies Market. Every intersection was insanely busy and we passed through another major street famous for its electronics stores. The street was closed off for traffic and there were a large number of stores stretched along this street with a nest of neon signs overhead. We hopped into an Internet cafe since we didn’t have any at the hotel – it wasn’t included and we were paying through our noses there, if you can believe it!
After doing our thing, we headed to the Ladies Market where there were tons of small vendor stalls crowded together selling everything from purses and clothes to trinkets and jewellery. We got some cool T-shirts and ties, specifically men’s items, since none of the ‘Ladies’ items impressed us much. We were really tired by this point, so we took a bus to the Kowloon harbourfront to catch our skyline show. We grabbed some cake/dessert snacks from a small store and went to get some good seats. It was already quite crowded by this time and we barely managed to find seats with a good view. We set up our tripod and awaited our show to begin.
By this time, another couple had been taking pictures right in front of us with their tripod totally obscuring our view. Then, to top it off, they sat right beside us and basically pushed us aside and the lady was sitting so close her hair was brushing up against Penny. Annoying as it was, it didn’t prevent Karthik from setting up the tripod right up against the railing to take some cool pics. The show was crazy – lasers and searchlights and building displays all flashing and changing to the tune of the musical symphony playing in the background. It was a thrill to see buildings come alive like this, never having observed anything quite like it before!
Satisfied, we caught our ferry back to HK island and waited at the Central station to meet up with Justin. After a few phone calls and snags with figuring out where we were/he was, we met up. Also with him was a friend of his, Emma (we think), and we all took a cab to grab some dinner. At the “American Restaurant,” we sat down to a generous meal of tasty dishes ordered by Justin. We had a good convo about our travel experiences and got to hear a bit about their lives here in Asia, both of them having lived here for almost 7 years. We were going to see Justin again when his mom (Shashi Aunty) arrived from Toronto in a couple of days. Now full to the brim, we headed back to our hotel and reflected on our ‘social meeting’ – something we hadn’t experienced much on our travels, either because of language difficulties or not knowing anyone where we were. We realized we were doing something truly different and not in a way that made us special, but more so being unable to truly relate our experiences with others.
October 21st, 2008
We’re getting tired of walking around! Our daily excursions are catching up to us and the smog here in HK is certainly not helping. Still, we were excited to see more of this city today. This morning, we took a local bus to the Central station, where we’d walk over to the Peak Tram terminus for the tram up to the Victoria peak. On the way there, we saw a lot of the local shops, restaurants, and people going about their busy lives. It’s truly a dynamic city and doubt if anyone living here could be bored! Walking over to the Tram terminus, we got to admire more of the skyline from up close, especially the iconic Bank of China and HSBC buildings. At the Tram station, we bought our tickets but then decided to put off going up to the peak since we also wanted to see the skyline at night. We’d come back here just as the sun was setting, so we took a cab to Hollywood Road, another famous thoroughfare in HK that had the ‘Cat market’, the Man Mo temple, the trendy SoHo area, and the world’s longest covered escalator that takes one up to the mid-levels of the city.
We did some shopping at the Cat Street and Penny bought some authentic bangles while Karthik found an album with world currency. We passed by many shops that sold Chinese art, sculptures, and curios and were impressed by the quality workmanship, however we knew we couldn’t buy anything since it’d be either too fragile or too large to ship back. The Man Mo temple wasn’t too impressive and the SoHo area was trendy, but expensive. This was expected as much. We then took the escalator to the mid-levels, and it was a crazy experience. There were row upon row upon row of escalators that kept leading further and further up. We must have taken at least a dozen escalators in a row! We finally reached the top, but finding no real ‘lookout point,’ we took a cab back to the Peak Tram terminus.
Taking the tram up was a crazy ride! We were literally going up at a 45 degree angle most of the time and seeing the streets and buildings going past us seemed very odd since it was all quite distorted. We got to the top and we were in a large building that was the Peak Tower. In it were many shops, cafes, and restaurants. We did see something that was quite neat – a shop that made wax impressions of hands or hands holding each other. We wanted one, but knew that it’d either melt or break off when shipped back. Shucks! We went over to the lookout point next and were completely floored by the skyline we saw. Everywhere we saw were buildings as far as the eye could see, and not a single house! It truly was a jungle of man-made structures and the tall skyscrapers lining the harbour were just awe-inspiring. We took plenty of snaps, then hung out at a coffee shop. We wanted outdoor seats, however had to wait till the few people who were outside to leave, a few of whom were hogging 4 seats to themselves and weren’t even looking at the skyline!
We finally got some good seats outside and spent some time admiring the skyline. We talked to a couple at another table, since we saw them with a mini-PC and wanted to know if they got one here in HK. Finding out it’d be too expensive, we discovered they were heading off to South America. So we shared some tips and then left to go up to the Peak Tower lookout, just as it was getting dark. When the sun went down, the skyline lit up like it was Christmas (or Diwali!). We greedily took pictures as best we could since it was hella crowded, even experimenting with our tripod to take some cool shots. We were in love with this skyline and think it’s truly one of the man-made wonders of the world.
It was getting late, so we took the tram back down and walked over to the Central station. We were getting hungry and wanted to find a fast-food joint along the main street that led to the Western District where our hotel was. We walked and walked and walked and after entering a few ‘authentic’ restaurants and seeing menus that were either entirely in Chinese or too bizarre in content, we kept walking closer and closer to our hotel. Finally by the Western Market, we saw a restaurant that looked decent enough. We ordered some take-out from the friendly waiter who spoke some English and caught a street tram back to our hotel, something our guidebook suggested is one of the ‘must-do’s’ in HK.
Our food was not half-bad and having spent two straight days walking around, we are beat. As well, the smog has caught up to us and Penny is feeling under the weather. We don’t know if we’re going to make it to Lantau Island, where there’s a huge bronze seated Buddha statue and a famous monastery. We’ll see how we feel.
October 22nd, 2008
Today was a day of rest and recovery – we decided we didn’t want to risk getting sicker by walking around Lantau Island. It’s OK to not see everything here and we did manage to see the skyline which was on top of our list. However, we did promise to meet up with Justin and Shashi Aunty in Lamma Island later in the evening. But first, we had to go pick up our Chinese VISAs, so we took the bus and subway to the Wan Chai area again. While there, we also got some tasty waffle-like sweet snacks from a street vendor. As we were eating them, we were talking about how we have a full suitcase of food stuffs, dhaals, and spices that we’d hate to throw away. We were intending on giving some to Justin, or at least what we thought he could use. But there’d still be some left over. So Penny suggested we look for a temple or gurudwara (Sikh temple) to donate them to. Just then, we saw some Indian men talking near where we were sitting. Karthik approached them and found out there’s a gurudwara not far from this area. We’d definitely come back tomorrow to give them our suitcase of food items and we were very happy at this prospect.
Then we headed over to the ferry. We got some wine for tonight at the IFC mall and took the half-hour ferry over to the island, an island where most hippies call home and there’s no cars allowed – a supposed retreat from the hustle and bustle of HK. We were greeted by Justin near the ferry port and we walked for a fair bit up narrow streets and alleys to his apartment. Most of the ‘village’ here has a quaint and relaxed feel and apparently most people know each other, given the total lack of cars in the island. Hong Kong seems like a distant memory. We met up with Aunty on Justin’s apartment terrace, which was decorated tastefully and had an area with bamboo and tarp rooftop and rattan furniture. We spent a good time talking to Aunty and Justin, sharing stories and talking about everything from Science (he’s a scientist, after all) and life to culture and food. It was getting late and Aunty was getting tired from her 15-hour flight, so we called it a night and rushed to catch the ferry back to HK island.
October 23rd, 2008
Today was an incredibly long day. We’re finally in Beijing, but spent most of the day in Hong Kong. We checked out comfortably late, since we were still tired and recovering from our week and half of walking around. We took the hotel shuttle to the Central station and did an ‘in-town check-in’ where they’d forward our checked luggage to the airport and on to our destination. So with our laptop bags and suitcase, we took a cab to the gurudwara. It wasn’t one of those ‘pretty’ gurudwaras, but we met some friendly gentlemen who helped us unload our suitcase of food stuffs and who insisted we stay for langar (blessed food) and chai. We felt really happy being here and especially knowing that the spices we donated would be mixed into the langar that would feed so many people. Reflecting on how spices that mom ground and food that pa bought all the way in Canada would go to so many people here in far-away Hong Kong felt like a blessing from the universe. We were especially glad that none of it had to be thrown away. While eating our langar, we talked to a gentleman who had been in Hong Kong for over 40 years and had children in the US. After that, we said our prayers and left to return to the Central station.
We scored a free shuttle ride from one of the hotels near the gurudwara and now had plenty of time to kill at the station. We did some work at the Starbucks and then took the train to the airport. Our flight to Beijing was delayed by more than two hours, so we used the meal vouchers the airline had given us at one of the restaurants in the food court. We enjoyed delicious Thai food and felt like we couldn’t wait till we were in Thailand! We explored the terminal for a while and noted the crazy wave-like ceiling and also checked out the Heineken bar. Finally it was time to board and we made it just in time for the flight. After a long day, we finally are on our way to Beijing!