Friday, June 24, 2016

Hong Kong Day 5- Stanley and back

Welcome to Stanley, a relaxed little seaside village and shopping destination in Hong Kong. People stroll the streets with an easy stride and calm, unhurried stride. This is in stark contrast to the rushing, racing, crowded populous in Hong Kong proper, and provides a much needed respite from the bustle and business of the city. This being my last day in Hong Kong, I was in need of a bit of rest and relaxation. After hiking across Lamma island  climbing to the Tian Tan Buddha peakshopping in Tsim sha Tsui, and everything else, I needed a vacation from my vacation! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hong Kong Day 5- breakfast in Mongkok & trip to Stanley

My time in Hong Kong was rapidly coming to an end! Alas. I truly enjoyed my time here, and this being my last full day in the area, I wanted to make the best of it. So, what does a food loving girl do in such a situation? Why, she has Second Breakfast, like a true Hobbit!! Despite my height, I feel a special kinship with the Hobbits...perhaps it's the hairs on my feet (TMI?), or their good-natured love of all things lovely about life (food, companionship, sleep, comfort!), they've always had a special place in my sordid little heart. For my first breakfast, I returned to the small noodle shop tucked away behind several vendors in the Ladies Market that I had visited on my second day. 

After a brief bit of walking to help my noodles digest and take in the sights, I returned to the small steamer shop where I'd been assaulted by a stack of boxes on day 3. Luckily, this time through I escaped unboxed. It was on this visit that I realised a fondness for chicken (or duck) feet that remains with me to this day. While I've yet to convert Antho to the joys of gelatinously crunchy, chewy poultry feet, I still gladly eat them when given the opportunity. I also had the steamed dumplings shown above, with their slick, chewy skins and juicy fillings. Delicious.

After ensuring that my stomach was well and truly full, I began a journey towards Stanley, a town in Hong Kong that resides in the Southern District, east of Repulse Bay. To get there, I found a bus using the Discover Hong Kong app and made my way to the pick up point. I highly recommend using an app like Discover Hong Kong while visiting an unfamiliar city, as it provides insight and wisdom that your average tourist may not have. Taking the bus was extremely affordable and allowed an overland route to my destination with a view, which I greatly enjoyed. 

Hong Kong Day 4- Lamma Island part 2

The next step of my journey, once I climbed down from the mystery trail, took me towards Sok Kwu Wan (Rainbow Bay), the other small village on the island. On the way there, though, I stopped along several points of interest, including Lo So Shing beach, pictured above, which was surprisingly devoid of people. I passed the Kamikaze Caves, as well, a grim reminder of the small island's role during WWII. These caves provided a strategic hideaway for Kamikaze soldiers, who could use high speed boats in suicide missions against Allied shipping boats during the conflict. Luckily, the island is far more peaceful now with relaxed locals and happy tourists providing the majority of the foot traffic. While there are no cars on the island, I did see many surf boards, especially near LoSo beach, so I imagine it makes a popular surf spot during the appropriate seasons.

It's hard not to be distracted by the sheer beauty of the area. Vibrant flowers abound and the lush green foliage blankets most of the land. Between all that, the occasional building or beach looms around the corner or peaks out trepidatiously. Other structures stand strong and proud, painted in vibrant shades and holding strong against the elements.The villages are small, though, and not every structure is assiduously maintained. This contrast between vivid flowers and dilapidated buildings, stunning structures and sandy beaches, gives the small island a wealth of sights to discover.

As my hike grew to an end, my tired feet were eager for a rest and my tummy ready for a more substantial meal. Delicious things were in no short supply in the village! I opted for a fried cuttlefish, a fresh prawn (shrimp?), and a razor clam, all freshly scooped out of the tank they had inhabited with their unfortunate friends. The absolute freshness of the foods, eaten behind a plastic tarp serving as a wall/window offering views of the marina as the sea breeze gently wafted by, was perfection with a frosty brew. Friendly servers ensured my belly and my soul were satisfied by the day's endeavours, providing the cap to the evening needed before I darted off to catch one of the last ferries back to Hong Kong.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hong Kong Day 4- Lamma island part 1

Lamma island is a short ferry ride from Hong Kong pier yet it feels like a completely different world. Once the ferry pulls into dock, you disembark to find a "parking lot" of bicycles awaiting their riders followed by the sight of a charming fishing village- my ferry arrived into Yung Shue Wan, or Banyan Tree Bay. Fresh seafood sits prominently, proudly, in front of the many eateries lining the path. There are actually two villages on the island, one at each end, so my goal was to hike across the length of the entire island to the next village of Sok Kwu Wan, or Rainbow Bay. The mood is markedly more relaxed, more languid, here. 
Families walk hand in hand along the gravel path, marvelling at the seabirds and oceanside vistas, while local kids sword fight among the lush ferns. There are beaches where people splash about and make sand castles- one man was walking around with a loud speaker in his backpack playing upbeat music as he ambled about at the time of my visit. Vibrant tropical flowers creep and burst from unexpected corners, and the style of the homes follows in eclectic colourful suite. Boats and feet are the primary forms of motility among the locals as there are no cars on the island. 

Given the bounty of exceptionally fresh sea creatures hanging around to tempt your taste buds, it was only a matter of time before I opted to stop and sample some. ;) After completing my hike seemed the apropos time for a full meal, as I didn't want to embark on a long hike with a heavy stomach. In Mongkok I had eaten a bowl of beef noodles prior to catching the train to Hong Kong station and walking to Central, or the pier, and this ensured my meal had time to settle. I did stop and sample some egg waffles, though, for a quick snack. 

Midway through the hike I encountered a mysterious smirking stone, with arrows pointing to a barely visible path to the peak of a mountain. This offered me expansive views of the surrounding area in solitude, as I was the only soul brave enough to follow the trail at that moment. It was a wonderful moment in a truly wonderful locale. I could see raising a family or retiring here quite happily someday, if the fortunes allowed.

More photos ahead.

Hong Kong Day 4- Walk from Downtown to Central

Waking refreshed and recharged, I was eager to explore another of the islands that encompassed Hong Kong after a quick breakfast of spicy beefy noodles at a small shop around the corner from my hotel. There are several, including Lantau island , Hong Kong island proper, Chek Lap Kok, Tsing Yi, Kau Sai Chau, Po Toi Islands and Cheung Chau, along with my destination for the day: Lamma island! This post will focus on the journey to Central, the pier. For much of my trip, I hadn't really spent a lot of time in downtown Hong Kong as it was quite crowded. This trip was little different, with groups of people congregating on the sidewalks and alcoves. 

Despite my general reluctance to willingly put myself into extremely crowded situations, I knew there would be a peaceful retreat at the end of my journey so I soldiered forward and faced my anxieties. I could have taken a bus, but instead I opted to simply walk the entire way and in the end it was well worth it. The views of the city and gradual dissipation of the crowd as I approached Central set my mind and body at ease. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hong Kong Day 4- Ladies Market

My nights sleeping in Hong Kong were spent at the Harbour Hotel, which was in conveniently close walking distance to the Mongkok Ladies Market. Within moments of disembarking the hotel elevator and stepping foot into the street, I'd find myself surrounded by a cacophony of sensory overload. Practically anything you could possibly want or need could be found somewhere among the winding, crowded streets, whether it be a baby carriage, seafood so fresh it still wriggles upon the tables or inside bins, clothing, traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and poultices, live chickens, American candy, booze, movies, etc. Vendor's carts, tables, vehicles and pedestrians all crowd the streets, moving at times like a singular entity.  People buy, butcher and bargain together in the open air. 

Navigating the winding corridors, crowded with vendors and items for sale, could be confusing at times. I figured it was easiest to just go with the flow, for the most part, and take in the sights and sounds as I went. Occasionally a small bit of respite would be found in a quieter alleyway off to the side, where I could more clearly see the merchants going about their day unobstructed. Many of the vendors get an early start and will keep working late in the afternoon and even into the evening hours. The market is still bustling with vibrancy and crackling energy late into the night, when neon signs blink into life and cast their odd illuminations into the midst. 

I can only imagine that some of these vendors have been doing this their entire lives, starting in early childhood. Perhaps they were perched upon their grandpapa's lap as he rang up sales, or were given chores to keep them busy as their once clumsy childish hands grew more deft and capable with age.

There was truly so much to see, many of it unrecognisable to me. Oceanic creatures of all shapes and sizes commingled upon tables or in buckets and bins. Tablescapes were coloured with brilliant shades of a wide variety of different vegetables and herbs, fruits and trinkets. This market, this place, has tainted my views of American Chinatowns ever since. While I can still appreciate and enjoy a visit to San Francisco's Chinatown, or Oakland's, it's hard not to compare it to the experience of walking through these streets, taking in the sheer volume of things available...only these original markets, overflowing into the streets, can fully satisfy me now. 

More photos after the cut!

Hong Kong Day 3: Tsim Sha Tsui

After climbing nearly 270 steps to reach the Tian Tan Buddha and hiking around in high elevation, my single serving friend and I parted ways for the evening. I opted to go to the Tsim Sha Tsui district on my own, despite having been warned by coworkers not to wander certain areas at night...perhaps not the wisest of choices, but since I'm nearly 6 feet tall and have rarely ever been "messed" with, even walking through some of the shadier neighbourhoods in Vegas, I felt confident exploring on my own, even in a country I was only just getting the feel of. Besides, I'd read that this was a good area to do some shopping in and having already wandered nearby the prior evening, I decided to go for it!

No harm no foul, aside from the damage to my wallet after spending some of my hard earned salary on new goods and some dinner. I found a chunky black sweater with lime green threads woven throughout in a texture I love, an item that I still adore and plan to take with me to Seoul soon, for roughly $6 US. SIX DOLLARS! Brand new, no less! The only time I found sweaters that cheap in Japan was when I bought them at thrift stores like my beloved Kinji in Harajuku. Another store that I stumbled upon and loved was House of Chapel on Granville road, a shop with a creepy surreal vibe and affordable yet stylish, minimalist clothing, much of which I still wear frequently. 

For dinner, I stopped in a small noodleshop not far from my hotel. I ordered a bowl with a whole pig foot suspended atop the broth, along with some sautéed veggies for some freshness. It was delicious, though I found the smooth plastic chopsticks to be a bit of a challenge to use- when an elderly gentleman who worked in the shop came to my aid. Though we didn't speak each other's language, he gently tapped my hand and demonstrated how to better hold my chopsticks for maximum grip, reducing my struggles to lift the cruciferous forms to my face. After satisfying himself that he'd helped this poor girl feed herself properly, he gave me a wink and dropped a pair of the restaurant's chopsticks into my shopping bags, a finger pressed to his lip ensuring this was our secret. 

Thanks, kind stranger! Funny how throughout an entire year and a half in Japan not one person ever critiqued my chopstick skills, which weren't abysmal but certainly not as dexterous as someone who'd been using them since childhood. In fact, many of my Japanese friends had at some point positively remarked on my ability to use chopsticks, perhaps artificially inflating my sense of skill. I sincerely doubt it was done with malicious intent; more so a way of making small talk during a meal. Still, I wonder how they'd feel if Americans perpetually pointed out their prowess with a fork during meals. :P Sometimes it's the little things, you know?

After a lovely and informative meal, I made my way back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the next day!

More photos after the cut.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Hong Kong: Day 3- Tian Tan Buddha

Hong Kong itself is an island, surrounded by several smaller islands, while connected to Mainland China is Mongkok (also part of Hong Kong) which is where I stayed during my visit. There's not a lot of land available so the signature skyscraper apartments sprung up everywhere, winding up mountain sides and glistening in the sun. Given the density of populace, Mongkok and Hong Kong can be almost incomprehensibly crowded at times. For a bit of respite my single serving friend from the previous night's adventures and I agreed to meet on Tung Chung, the nearest train station to the Tian Tan Buddha of Lantau island. At 112 feet (34 meters) tall, he's a majestic thing to behold, perched peacefully atop a beautiful forested mountain. Climbing up 268 steps enshrouded with mist the looming figure slowly reveals himself...and all this, of course, is after you take a glass-bottomed cable car from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping, soaring over crystalline waters and lush landscapes. Believe it or not, this was not my first encounter with a big Buddha. My very first was in Kamakura, Japan...still, I greatly enjoy visiting these statues and was quite excited to see one in Hong Kong!

Once you disembark from the cable cars, you walk through an ornate gateway only to be greeted by the 12 Generals of the Chinese zodiac and several small shops.  If you have the time, there are other things to see- pink dolphins, or the Po Lin monastery, for instance. This trip was focused upon seeing the large bronze figure who weighs over 250 metric tons (280 short tons), one of the largest of his kind. The weather was cool and grey, a thick fog proliferating the high altitude area where the Buddha rests. This did not stop the flow of tourists and locals ascending the stairs, eager to catch a glimpse of the big Buddha himself. Once you reach the peak where he perches, you have the option of paying a small fee to gain entrance to the interior of the statue. We both agreed and took in the sights, only to be given an ice cream cone at the end! It was a surreal experience, to be sure. As we were walking back towards the cable cars, a lone cow came lazily meandering up the street towards us, paying no mind to the humans in their midst. They had important bovine business to attend to, surely.

More photos after the jump!