Fitting it all in

Our last day in Hong Kong, and we spent it eating well!

First, a stop by a bakery near the hotel, where we bought a red bean bun, as well as a
“cocktail bun” which I asked for by name (gai may bao) stuffed with coconut paste. Then, we went next door to a restaurant I’d noticed the night before with a bunch of bamboo steamer trays. Initially, we thought they only served food to go, and we thought we’d bring some things back to the hotel room for breakfast, but it turned out they had a seating area inside. No English menu, and only a couple of pictures to work with. Shrimp dumplings we recognized and pointed to. I searched my phone for a picture of the menu from another dim sum place to get the name of the dumplings that remind me of Thanksgiving stuffing, so we got an order of those, too. The waitress spoke some English, but when I asked for barbecue pork buns, she didn’t understand. “Bao?” I asked, and she said “B-B-Q pork?” “yes!” (smiles all around). Okay, food ordered, and we were feeling pretty good. They had brought out a big bowl and 2 pots of tea. At the other dim sum places, we’d seen locals pouring boiling hot tea over their chopsticks, bowls, spoons, and cups, and into this kind of big bowl. I had asked one woman if she was washing her dishes (before eating), and she said she was. However, the wait staff at the other places never brought us a big bowl to pour tea over for washing. This morning was different, and I was excited that I knew what to do with this bowl. I carefully poured hot tea over my chopsticks, spoon, bowl, and teacup, and into this big bowl. No sooner had I done this, however, than the waitress came back and pointed out that the 2nd teapot was just hot water (and was presumably what I was supposed to use for washing). Oops! C and I had a good laugh over that one. At least I had poured the tea sparingly!

While we were eating, another woman was seated across from us at our table, and she had brought something with her that she put into her teapot of water before pouring it over her dishes. I’m not sure if it was some kind of tea or something else. Anyway, we enjoyed our meal a lot, and the staff was really friendly toward us, so we may try and stop back in first thing in the morning before our flight home.

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After dim sum, we went back to the hotel room for a bit, did some packing, and enjoyed our baked goods.

C wanted to take it easy, so we decided to do our own thing for the afternoon. After a bit of Google mapping (and bus research), I hopped a bus over to the Western end of the city on Hong Kong island, because I wanted to take a “ding-ding” (double-decker tram). I thought I might take the escalators at Mid-Levels again, but the tram was really slow, so I decided not to take the time. Traffic was really bad, so I stepped off the tram (paying as I exited, unlike all the other public transit), and started walking toward Central station. This is when I realized that walking at ground level is for suckers. Slow, chaotic, stressful street crossings dodging buses and taxis, etc. Go up a level, though, and there are elevated walkways that are much easier to navigate!

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I took the MTR from Central to North Point, transferred to a different line, and proceeded to Yau Tong. I carefully took pictures of the maps I saw inside the station so I could be sure to find my destination, but I needn’t have worried. There were plenty of signs to direct me to the Lei Yue Mun Seafood District. This is an area that someone I’d talked with on the plane had recommended — basically, you wander around and pick out live seafood, buy it, and then take it to one of the restaurants to have it prepared. It sounded like an interesting experience, but I hadn’t been prepared for how expensive it was. I wish C had been there to talk some sense into me! Instead, I wound up paying too much for a small amount of food. Tasty, but not filling. While I was struggling to eat my little crab, a yacht pulled up and let out some customers, who proceeded to dine on a massive Alaska king crab, giant lobster, and a variety of other seafood.

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After my late lunch, I wandered around the Yau Tong area a bit before getting back on the MTR and heading back to the hotel.

For dinner, C and I headed back toward Tsim Sha Tsui and had some Coco Curry (Japanese fast food) in a fancy mall, and then finally made it to the waterfront promenade after dark so we could see the Hong Kong skyline at night. Many of the buildings had special Christmas lights up.

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We walked around Nathan Road and Chatham Road, had some fancy blended coffee type drinks and “kaya balls” for dessert at a Chinese/Singaporean restaurant, and swung through the Granville Road shopping street before catching our now-familiar bus back to the hotel. Every time we got off the bus (at the same place), it looked a bit different or we noticed different things, but when we turned the corner and saw the used camera shop with the cats inside, we knew we were in the right place. The blocks just past that, however, changed every day we were there because of constant construction. Sometimes we had to walk in the middle of the streets because the sidewalks were torn up or there were sparks flying overhead. A lot of the construction sites used bamboo scaffolding.

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Hong Kong is a fun city to visit, and I would definitely recommend staying in the area we’re in (between the Nam Cheong and Sham Shui Po MTR stations), but farther South around TST and along Nathan Road, the crowds were insane. Now that’s an area that could use more elevated walkways!

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Under the Harbour and through the Hill

We decided against venturing to Macau, and instead played a bit of public transportation roulette. Okay, so I had done a bit of research (Google maps public transportation directions), but I don’t think we actually wound up taking any of the buses we’d planned to.

First, a cheap breakfast of baked goods to-go, which we ate while sitting on a park bench. Though to call the place a park would be a stretch — it was more like a wide median with a winding path, benches, shrubbery, and a fence around the outside. Near the entrance, there was an interesting older fellow dressed in yellow, wearing a cooking pot on his head and some sort of makeshift metal mask over his eyes, but he didn’t seem to be bothering anyone.

After our breakfast of champions, we took the MTR (subway) under Victoria Harbour to the Central station, and tried to figure out how to get a bus to a smaller town on the South side of Hong Kong island. We wound up loitering outside a fancy-mall Starbucks, using the wifi to look up bus info. Eventually, we found the bus station, but didn’t see any signs for the bus number we were looking for. We saw another bus to Stanley, though, so we hopped on. After winding through Central and Wan Chai, the bus got on a highway and took us through a tunnel to the other side of the hills. The other side wasn’t nearly as developed, and through the rain-streaked bus windows, we saw a lot of lush green trees. The double-decker bus occasionally hit some low-hanging tree branches as it swung around the tight corners of the 2-lane road.

It was still raining when we got to Stanley, so it was a pleasant surprise that the market area was covered. I bought a couple of souvenirs, and then we found ourselves at a little beach. There wasn’t much to do in the rain, but we walked along the waterfront, dodging the restauranteurs who were trying to pull us in, and eventually wound up at a Shanghai-style restaurant in a nearby mall. My soup was so spicy that one sip had me coughing, and after a few bites I was sweating and my lips and tongue were numb. I asked for a bowl of white rice, and that helped cool things off a bit.

After lunch, we poked around the mall for a few minutes, hoping the rain would slow, but eventually just made our way back to the bus stop and rode back into the city.

C wanted to check out the Science Museum, so we asked at the bus station if there was a bus we could take to get us there. The guy working there told us a bus number and impatiently waved toward the other side of the street, but when we got to the other side, we couldn’t find a stop foor that bus number. We walked for a while, looking for a coffee shop that might have wifi, but eventually just ended up back at the ferry terminal. We had just missed a boat, so while we waited for the next one I checked and found that there was wifi, so I looked up which bus to take from Tsim Sha Tsui to the museum. After getting off the ferry, we found that bus stop easily, but when the bus showed up, the driver appeared to be having a problem getting the front door to open, so after trying a few things, he drove off.

I was prepared to wait for the next bus, but C decided that she’d rather walk around a bit instead of waiting for another bus to the museum, so we checked out the TST area a bit, and walked through some of the smaller side streets. We stopped for fancy coffee to rest our feet, and then walked some more. Eventually, we wound up at the Temple street night market that we’d been to the night before. Rather than walk North up Nathan road this time, though, we walked South, hoping to catch our regular bus toward home well away from where the protests had been. This was just not our day for finding the right bus, though! After walking several blocks, we gave up on finding a stop for our bus number and spotted a different bus that we were pretty sure we had taken in the opposite direction a few days ago. We hopped on, but the bus wound up turning in an unexpected direction, and it took us away from where we wanted to go. We got out and ended up walking quite a ways, but eventually we got to our destination: the dim sum restaurant we’d been to on our first morning here, with the dumplings that reminded me of stuffing and kaya French toast for dessert. Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Big Buddha and the Blockade

Well, that was interesting!

We’d been wandering around one of the night markets, having some street corner dim sum (as you do), when we decided that our feet were tired and it was time to head home. The market was just a couple of blocks off Nathan Road, and we knew that our now-familiar bus went along there, so we made our way back. We window shopped a bit while walking in the general direction of home. There was lots of traffic, in addition to busy sidewalks, so we knew we hadn’t reached the protest area (all the buses detour around the section of road that’s closed). Except, apparently, they’d cleared the protesters earlier in the day, and allowed traffic back through, and we didn’t know it.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening, we’d seen a lot of police on the streets, but as we walked along Nathan Road, it got crazy. First, we saw groups of 5-10 police men and women, walking in the opposite direction. Then, we saw some carrying riot gear (shields, helmets). For the most part, they seemed quite calm, but occasionally, we’d see some of them talking or listening to their radios, and then their energy picked up and there’d be some faster movement. Still, they were all going the opposite direction, so we figured we were going the “right” way (away from whatever they were going to!) Where’s our bus stop?? It’s got to be along here, somewhere. Oh, right. I see it there, where a line of policemen are standing at the edge of the sidewalk and have put up a piece of orange tape. That’s our stop. Great. And no MTR (subway) stop/entrance in sight, either.

Traffic was still moving along the road, so I mentioned to the policeman standing next to the bus stop sign that we were hoping to take the bus, and he indicated that we could, and that we should just wait right there. So we did. As we waited, another couple of people joined us. The crowd walking by was about a 50/50 split of nonchalance (is this the new normal?) and people going nuts taking smartphone photographs. C and I decided to keep our phones tucked away, so we have only mental pictures of when the group of probably 30+ policemen down the block started running and leapt over the median to the other side of the street. We couldn’t see who or what they were chasing. After a minute or so, the policemen must have gotten new instructions, because they took down the orange tape by our bus stop and started walking down the sidewalk. C and I were sorry to see our friendly officer go (and be replaced by someone else), but fortunately it was only another minute or so before our bus arrived. Once on the upper deck of the bus, we took a few pictures. Many of the other passengers were doing the same.

Once we got back to the hotel, we checked online to try and figure out what was going on. That’s when we learned that the protest had in fact been cleared earlier in the day. I’m not sure if the police were chasing protesters trying to re-take that section of road, or what. News is still fuzzy. I’m very glad we made it home safely, and we’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on events, tomorrow, so we can avoid that kind of excitement!

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Oh yeah, and earlier in the day we had a nice trip to Lantau island, where we took a local bus (instead of the overpriced tourist gondola) up to see the “Big Buddha.”

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Putting the fun in funicular

Another good day – reasonably early start, which meant that there weren’t all that many restaurants open for breakfast, but we found a different dim sum place along Fuk Wing street. The bbq pork buns were really good, but the other things were just okay. The “vegetable” bun we ordered seemed to have a lot of meat in it, and an egg, too. It was also HUGE.

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After breakfast, we wandered around looking for sunglasses a bit (unsuccessfully) before heading to Victoria Peak. We took the tram up, which was fun. It felt a bit like a ride at an amusement park, as it went up a very steep slope to get to the top. Great views from up there, and it felt a few degrees cooler than down below, so we spent quite a bit of time, there.

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We took the tram (funicular, really), back down and then headed toward the Admiralty MTR station area and poked around some of the little shopping streets near there. After awhile, we headed to the pier and caught a ferry back over to Tsim Sha Tsui. We added some money to our Octopus cards, found some noodles for a late lunch, and then wandered around that neighborhood. C found some good deals on cute clothes in a couple of shops. After awhile, we hopped on the bus that we’d gotten acquainted with the night before, and followed along the now-familiar detour. We rested for an hour or two, then went out for a late dinner at the local shopping center, where I was happy to find a Shanghai-style restaurant. Finally, some cooked veggies on the menu that weren’t just hot lettuce!

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Hong Kong adventures, part 1

Today, we had all the adventures, and it’s only day 1! Up pretty early despite getting to bed around 1am. Showers, and directions from the hotel guy to a dim sum restaurant. A couple of wrong turns later (including one that took us through a park/walking path full of old people out for a stroll), and we found the place. We ordered a couple types of dumplings, some curry beef buns, and some steamed seasonal vegetables with soy sauce. The shrimp dumplings were a lot like the ones at home. The “chiu chow” style dumplings were different from anything I’d had, though — green onion, nuts, some bits of meat, and I’m not sure what else. They left me with an overall impression that reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing. Tasty! The steamed veggies on the other hand were a disappointment. Apparently it’s lettuce season.

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After breakfast, we moseyed around our neighborhood, poking our noses into some of the shops, and stopping for a pineapple bun because we could. We then made our way back to the hotel for a short rest, before heading back out. We hopped on a bus that took us to Hong Kong island, and enjoyed the views from our front seat on the top floor of the double-decker bus.

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We walked up and down the hills on the island, eventually winding up at a Japanese restaurant for lunch. C had eel and rice, and I had a chirashi bowl, which I regretted immediately after ordering. I ate a lot of the rice, but not much of the fish. It was probably fine, but my brain (if not my gut) was telling me it wasn’t the place to be eating raw fish.

After lunch, more walking. We eventually made our way to the bottom of the Central/Mid-Levels escalators and rode them to the top, pausing a few places along the way to look around or take photos. The escalators were only going up, that time of day, so once we got to the top I thought we’d find a bus to take us back down, but without knowing what bus to take or seeing a cafe where we could sit with wifi and look it up, we wound up walking some more. Sidewalks on narrow, twisting roads, hugging the hillsides. Stairs down to the next level. Elevated pedestrian walkways with car traffic elevated another level higher. Hong Kong is truly a 3-D city, and it’s fascinating to see how people have used vertical space.

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We walked through a botanical garden, past some monkey cages (at feeding time!) and down to the Bank of China tower. We walked through the ornate lobby, checked in at the registration desk, and after presenting some ID, were given visitor badges and allowed up to the 43rd floor observation deck. Not a 360-degree view, but the views of the city and harbour were very nice (especially considering that it didn’t cost anything to get up there!)

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I had spotted a rooftop patio on a building nearby that looked nice, and it seemed like a good time to sit down for a mid-afternoon coffee/snack/sweet, so we found our way over to the building and up to the top, only to discover that it was a bit fancier than we realized, and we both felt underdressed, so we didn’t stay.

By this time, we were both pretty tired, so we headed toward the Star Ferry terminal, where we caught a (very cheap!) ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui. There, we ducked into a basement Starbucks for some relative peace and quiet (and wifi) and found that we could take a bus back to our hotel that would save us quite a bit of walking over the subway route. We easily found the bus stop and only had to wait a minute or two before one came.

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By this time, it was getting dark, and the shopping areas along Nathan Road were lighting up. Again, we were struck by how much was going on above street level, as our upper-decker view let us see above the crowds.

The Google Maps transit directions showed the bus route going straight up Nathan Road, but we saw where the road was closed due to the protests, and a couple of blocks before we got to the barricades, the bus turned to go a different way. We couldn’t see anything interesting (no mass of people in the street, no obvious police activity), just that the road was closed. That morning, before leaving the hotel, we had asked the concierge where exactly the protests were happening, and he drew it on our map — just a few blocks of Nathan road. But, he said, it was fine to walk along there if we wanted to. And the markets that paralleled it were fine, too. So when our bus home seemed to be not just paralleling Nathan Road, but actually heading in the opposite direction of the hotel, we started to worry that we were going to have to find another way home. I told C we’d wait to see what the bus did at the next major intersection (and get off if it didn’t turn back in the direction we wanted to go). Fortunately, it turned! We stayed on and were able to ride the rest of the way back to the hotel. A good thing, too, since neither of us wanted to walk that much more!

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