January 2017. A warm day at the beach in Hong Kong.
Safely through Immigration and Customs, I’m now in one of the United Airlines lounges at San Francisco. I must continue to say that the mobile TSA app, and TSA PRE, were two of my wisest ever expenses! I flew through the whole process from landing to arrival at the lounge in less than 30 minutes.
Luggage is safely set for the next flight, including my two new suits and five new shirts custom made for me at Sam’s Tailor in Hong Kong.
I must also say that United Airlines Economy Class (I did not score the upgrade to Business First) is a miserable experience. Comfort is lacking, food is poor, service is smilingly surly. I can’t imagine how ugly the 11 hours of flight would have been in standard Economy.
J and I were talking on Wednesday evening; the conversation was wide-ranging. I have traveled more widely than he has. And he wondered how I had found Hong Kong in comparison with other cities.
My first thought was about me. I had forgotten how hard it is to travel someplace – even with a fine tour guide who knows the language – where one is constantly bombarded by unfamiliar sounds and scents.
In Europe I see letters and words that make sense, even in Eastern Europe. At least something is familiar. And I hear occasional words that resonate. This is not so in China or another country that uses a different alphabet.
Add this: the food is so radically different in China, as are the customs in dining. The smells are unusual and unfamiliar. And at times sickening (as in curdled tofu).
Add this: cities tire. Cities mean more walking that I normally do. They mean dealing with crowds on sidewalks and in public places. Hong Kong contains areas that are very hilly. And Hong Kong is always a place where sidewalks are not easily shared. (Even J commented on how tired he was each day.)
Add this: cultural mores are vastly different. I vigilantly seek not to pass judgment based on my own standards. And that’s exhausting.
Hong Kong is tiring. Invigorating. Beautiful. But tiring.
Hong Kong is also a marvel of urban planning. Streets are drivable because of the numerous elevated roadways that take pressure off of the grid. Space is used wisely, with small parks and soccer pitches tucked into every small piece of available space.
The Metro stations are small cities in and of themselves. Exits are well-planned and integrated into buildings, parks, streetscapes. Signage is coherent. They are clean. Customer service is paramount. (All of this is so NOT the case in Chicago or New York.) The Hong Kong MTR is a marvel!
And the airport shuttle? Even Heathrow could learn a thing from the MTR airport shuttle!
But then . . .Chinese clarity and order break down. The Wednesday trip to the botanical garden was a challenge, with minimal signage and no clarity on maps or in person about the ‘how’ of getting there. Even J said “Why do they make this so difficult?” I could report daily examples of little frustrations that, had I been king, would not have happened in a world ruled by my logic.
But I am not emperor.
I tried learning more Cantonese this week. J kept laughing at me. While Mandarin and Cantonese (spoken in Guangyi, Macau, and Hong Kong) are written the same, the speaking of them is in fact two different languages. Cantonese is also a tonal language, but pronunciations from Mandarin can vary slightly, or totally. Let’s just say my Cantonese is essentially non-existent.
- I saw fewer bugs than ever in any city I’ve ever visited.
- I also saw exactly two pigeons the whole time I was in Kong Kong, and no seagulls whatsoever.
- And I saw stern signs prohibiting the feeding of birds, with a stiff fine attached.
- What I did see was cattle grazing widely at Ngong Ping village on Lantau Island, and begging pieces of fruit – yes, cows begging! – from visitors.
- The fervor of faith was apparent at the Buddhist and Toaist temples. And the smell of incense is a lovely thing indeed.
- Red was everywhere as the locals gear up for the Chinese New Year in late January.
- In any culture, little old men gather to josh and tease and share stories. I saw this clearly on the bus as we returned from Stanley town. We stopped at athe Wilson Trail trailhead, and onto the bus came a dozen or so older men who had been on the trail together – walking sticks, towels to wick away the sweat, sensible walking shoes. In listening to their chatter and their familiar energy, had I closed my eyes I could just as easily been at the local in Bolivar on a Tuesday morning as they guys all gathered for their coffee and tall tales, or as I remember well at the sale barn cafe in Lamoni when the farmers gathered before the day’s work began.
- Roast goose is not as good as it looks. And a mouthful of Chinese mustard on the roast goose is enough to water the eyes.
- A slight sunburn in January is not a bad thing at all, if it comes from two days at Repulse Bay beach.
From Wednesday, these photos of flowers from the Taoist temple, the cathedral, and the zoological & botanical garden:
January 2. A public holiday. Offices are closed, but the rest of the territory is alive.
So at 4 p.m. we arrived at the Peak Tram with plans to ascend to Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island.
So also did everyone else in Hong Kong.
The wait was not that bad, with plenty of people watching and a few babies at whom to coo.
The tram itself is a two-car funicular cable railway. It rises to 1300 feet above sea level, for must-see-to-believe views of Central, Kowloon, the northern mountains of Hong Kong, and of course the Pacific Ocean.
At sunset, Victoria Peak views are achingly beautiful. (I almost spilled tears just watching the horizon over the Pacific.)
Twilight on Victoria Harbour:
And the harbour at night:
And the obligatory artsy shots:
We sojourned at the peak for a couple of hours, drinking in the views and the chilly air.
Well, it’s still Christmas here.
(Actually, Christmastide extends through January 5, the twelfth day, and end with a watch service for The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.)
In popular culture, Christmas is over.
Not in Hong Kong.
Stores are still displaying Christmas decorations. Western Christmas music continues to play from from tinny speakers in dim sum storefronts, from the over-amped sound system in the mall, in lobbies and in stores.
I’ve watched a slow transformation of point-of-purchase hawking from Christmas to Chinese New Year (January 28, 2017, based on the lunar calendar).
But Christmas is still here.
Photos (taken whilst walking, so please forgive the angles and blurs) from MOKO mall, adjacent to my hotel:
After the beach on Monday, J and I took the bus to the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong Island, where we found movie-set street energy, tiny lanes with impossibly tall buildings, masses of people on a public holiday. And food.
Yee Shun Milk Company is a local legend . . . a true greasy-spoon-style dive . . . a fabulous place for comforting food.
The stewed milk was a bowl of cold custard with a leathery head layer — and absolutely delicious in its unadorned simplicity. J took his with red beans on top, in the local fashion. I couldn’t stomach that, so mine was the basic variety.
“Toast with condense milk” is what the menu said. What came out was a square piece of thick, heavy white bread, toasted on one side, then buttered, then drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Heaven on earth!
“Pork chop on bun” was a deep-fried thin piece of pork chop on a crusty white roll. No condiments. Just meat, grease, and bread. And perfection.
And the “French toast”? A custardy pillow of golden goodness, topped with a generous pat of salted butter. And then covered in sweet/bitter local honey. I died from joy.
I had a mango milk shake too — really more a drinkable mango custard. Yummy doesn’t begin to explain the flavor and texture.
This stop was a winner!
More info from one website:
Originally from Macau, Yee Shun Dairy Company gradually expanded into Hong Kong and now has branches in Yaumatei, Prince Edward, Kowloon and Causeway Bay. This place is famous for their deliciously smooth and fragrant milk custard. This inexpensive and popular Hong Kong dessert is a steamed blend of milk, sugar, and egg white. They offer all flavors including chocolate and ginger milk custards.
And next door, a typical local eatery with the meat displayed in the front window:
The crispy pork is so delicious; the goose, not so much so.
On Saturday, over in the Central district, and again on Monday right here in the Mong Kok area of Kowloon, we witnessed the strange spectacle of hundreds (!) of women seated on blankets or newspapers or sheets on the sides of covered public walkways.
The women were generally, but not always
- reading or chatting or taking selfies on the phone
- or doing each other’s make up.
They were almost always snacking on salty things.
And they appeared to be from another country, if language and facial features are an indication.
Curiosity = piqued.
Upon investigation — the concierge on the club floor can answer all sort of questions — these women are domestic help, mostly Indonesian and Filipino, who were gathering as they always do on their day off. They socialize when and where they can . . . and the police allow the congregation in public spaces such as above-ground pedestrian bridges, or below-ground passageways. Since Saturday would be their day off, and since Monday was a public holiday, they had two days to gather. And obstruct.
How curious was the same route on Tuesday morning when they were not present! I almost, but not quite, missed the energy.
I got a couple of hip-side shots while walking on Monday, but chose not to be the gawker and stop to take the more formal photo. I’ll provide them here, even though they are blurred, since they provide context:
From that same walkway, one sees a daily market on Fa Yuan Street. We walked this last evening to find fruit and vegetable stands, and all sort of housewares and domestic needs on sale in the three-block festival of smells and sounds.
After Stanley on Tuesday, we went back to Repulse Bay for a couple of hours. I napped on the beach for about an hour.
Here’s an amalgam of photos from two beach visits (and NO, Jack, these are not retouched in any way, outside of some re-cropping and white balancing) —
By the way, there is nothing in the world like napping to the sound of the surf, whilst on a lovely beach.