February 1, 2016

Hello Hong Kong!

I arrived in Hong Kong just as the city was experiencing its coldest weather in decades. Since I was raised up north in the U.S., that wouldn’t be such a big deal EXCEPT that most Hong Kong apartments are not heated. A lot of hotels don’t have heat either. Luckily, the owner of my awesome Airbnb apartment dropped off a space heater, and a quick Google led me to a store that sold electric blankets.

There was also quite a bit of rain for a few days and some very sad news from Houston. I found myself a bit depressed and discouraged, and I struggled to find my footing during my initial time in Hong Kong.

But … the weather got warmer, the rain subsided, I learned a few words of Cantonese (hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry!) and I got busy getting to know this very lively city.

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The view from the top of a Hong Kong Ding Ding Tram!

Hong Kong is part of China, but it has its own currency and a very unique, very driven vibe. More than seven million people populate the area comprised of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. And, just like Tokyo, people live in very close quarters. Also similar to Tokyo … convenience abounds! There are 7-11s and Circle Ks everywhere, and anything you need is probably available within a few blocks of your home.

There are parts of Hong Kong that have the look and feel (and street names) of London. There are other parts that have more of the look and feel of Mainland China — although to what degree I’m certainly not an authority. My Airbnb apartment is located in an area that’s much more reflective of Chinese culture. It’s charmingly compact, thoughtfully appointed and about a 20 minute subway ride from the more central and touristy areas. Plus, it has a cozy window ledge and beautiful view, even when it’s raining!

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There’s also a wonderful wet market just a few blocks from the apartment. It bustles from sunup to sundown with stalls selling fresh fish and meat, fruit/veg and baked goods. That’s where I had my first pineapple bun or bo lo bao. It’s a sweet, buttery bun with a hint of pineapple flavor.

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My first pineapple bun, hun!

More photos from the wet market:

Here are some other things to know about Hong Kong:

  • Everywhere you look this week, there are red/gold/pink decorations in preparation for the Lunar New Year. February 8 marks the beginning of a Monkey year, specifically the Red Fire Monkey. The last Red Monkey year occurred in 1956 and, if you were born at that time, you are ambitious, adventurous and … irritable (sorry).
  • Hong Kong’s vast subway system (MTR) makes getting around the various areas and islands easy and efficient. There’s also a steady flow of double-decker buses and ding ding trams. The Star Ferry is a fun way for tourists to cross from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, and it’s also an important mode of transport for commuters.
  • The weather in Hong Kong is MOIST. I know, I hate that word too … but it is very palpably damp. Even when it’s cold, the air is thick with moisture that clings to everything. I think that’s why the cold weather can be so bone-chilling and even more uncomfortable indoors. It also explains why any clothes I hand wash and hang to dry inside are always just as wet several hours later. Advantage: I never need moisturizer or lotion. The air is my moisturizer!
  • Hong Kong has great food, and it’s easy to eat well and cheaply. Wonton soup, fish balls, roasted meats, BBQ filled steamed buns, and dim sum are the kinds of things you can enjoy for less than $10 a meal. Usually much less. Just today, I enjoyed a plate of rice and char sui (BBQ’d pork and goose) at Joy Hing. The bill came to 30HKD. If you’re from the U.S., that’s $3.84 to you and me.
  • There are a couple of casual eateries next to my apartment that are always crowded with locals. I’ve eaten at both, and I can tell you that Hong Kong comfort food often contains one of the following: hot dogs, spaghetti or chicken feet.
  • As for the personality of the city, I’ll compare Hong Kong to Tokyo again, simply because I shared a lot of details about Tokyo in my first blog post. While Tokyo is orderly and calm, Hong Kong is in your face. At first it was a bit intimidating. There’s a directness in the way people talk to each other that I don’t need to know Cantonese to recognize. People are boisterous and loud and will let you know if they’re displeased with you. That said, I really enjoyed the people. Even when there was a language barrier (which was frequently the case), everyone was so kind to me, helpful and gregarious.
  • Another comparison: Unlike Tokyo’s peaceful and pristine temples (where you take your shoes off to enter the worship area), Hong Kong’s are jam-packed with worshipers, cloudy with incense, dusty from ash and painted in vivid blues, greens and reds.

Just like I loved Tokyo and Kyoto, I have loved my time in Hong Kong. What began as a cold and dreary visit has blossomed into a wonderful experience full of delicious food, beautiful temples and gardens, street markets, ferry rides, and many walking adventures.

More photos to come!