Hello again my friends!
It has once again been far too long since I have updated this blog. A blame I take entirely on my own shoulders. I’m dreadfully sorry. I would like to say that it will never happen again, but I don’t like to lie to you. So if we are all finished blaming people for things (no one is perfect you know), let us move forward!
I recently took a trip to Hong Kong to get a shiny new stamp on my passport! While I was supposed to just go for a day and come back, I figured if i’m going all the way to Hong Kong I might as well make an excursion out of it! So off I went to explore. Here are some musings from my trip for your amusement!
The trip started out very early on a Saturday morning, but i’m going to back track to the previous day because it happened to be the day after Thanksgiving. I was invited to some friends’ apartment for a Thanksgiving meal! Even though I had to be awake at 5:30 the next morning, to leave for the airport by 6, to catch my flight at 8:10, I still wouldn’t have missed a proper Thanksgiving meal in China for the world. And it was, in fact, a proper Thanksgiving meal. Something that I am eternally grateful to my friends for having provided. I have never been a huge fan of Thanksgiving. Of course I love getting together with my family, and who doesn’t love stuffing oneself with food until you inevitably fall asleep in front of the fire while the dog tries to take your shoes (I know your tricks now, Snickers). However, it has never been my most coveted of holidays. But being away for the holidays is never easy, so it was nice to be able to get together with good people and have a meal that is familiar and comforting. My friends were even able to find a turkey, a feat that i’m still wowed by. Along with our rare Chinese turkey, we also had mashed potatoes and (my favorite) delicious, delicious gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole (made by yours truly) and peanut butter pie made by my very hungover friend in his teeny tiny kitchen. Which was also where I made my sweet potato casserole in perhaps the most ghetto way possible. As in I skinned and sliced all of the sweet potatoes with my friend’s 1 inch pocket knife, and baked it in a toaster oven. It all came together in the end though, and it ended up being a really nice meal and, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am very thankful that It happened.
So the next day, after begrudgingly waking up from my turkey induced food coma, I woke up early and headed to the Hangzhou airport. It was there that nothing really exciting happened other than me buying an overpriced cup of coffee and a sandwich (but a nice strong cup of coffee was definitely a necessity). I’m not sure what I expected of Hong Kong to begin with. I do know that while I was planning my trip, Hong Kong went from just being a place to go to get a new visa stamp to a place that I really wanted to visit and explore. I can now say with certainty that whatever expectations I had were met and far exceeded. It is truly a wonderful mesh of east meets west wrapped up in a beautiful, ocean encircled package. It is the first place I’ve ever been where you could see sunlight glinting off the ocean right next to the plane when it touched down. Also, the airline I flew with (Hong Kong Air) served a surprisingly good breakfast that I was not expecting because it was a cheap, 2 hour flight, so my trip was already starting out on a good note. The way to my heart is definitely though my stomach. So keep on keeping on, Hong Kong Air!
I left the airport and was able to find the bus I needed with almost no troubles. The bus routes are very clearly marked and in English, unlike in Hangzhou, so there were no problems there. I just had to deal with a rather surely ticket seller who was of very little help. I hopped on the right bus, and I even hopped off at the right stop! I am quite proud of this because it was not the stop that I had originally thought I had to get off at. So kudos to my intuition. On the same island as the airport there is a Buddhist Monastery called the Po Lin Monastery. I decided to visit this before I went to check into my hostel. At this monastery is the Tian Tan Buddha, which is the world’s largest seated Buddha. I ended up taking a cable car to the monastery because it was the fastest way. It did give some good views of the mountains and the ocean, but I was too distracted thinking of all the ways that we could plunge to our certain demise encased in a death box of steel and glass. Did I mention that i’m not a fan of cable cars? It isn’t that i’m afraid of heights, there is just something about cable cars that really freak me out. While I studied in Switzerland, my parents and I took a trip to Mont-Blanc and rode Europe’s highest cable car. The views would have been spectacular enough for me to forget that I was in a cable car, had it not been for my parents insisting on pointing out the duck tape on the cables and commenting every time the car swung in the wind. Thanks, Mom and Pop, such loving parenting. I suppose that was payback for all the temper tantrums. When I put it that way… I had it coming.
Visiting the Po Lin Monastery was definitely something I am glad I did. The Tian Tan Buddha is a pretty impressive statue, and the light vegetarian lunch I had there was both healthy and cheap! 15 Hong Kong dollars to be exact ($1.93). After I stopped shaking in my gray, combat boots on the cable car ride back from the monastery, I jumped on the subway and made my way to my hostel. I was quite late for my prearranged check-in time at this point, but I would find out when I got to the hostel that it didn’t really matter anyway. The hostel I stayed at was very small, very eclectic and very laid back. It was just one room with three bunk beds, a bathroom and a rooftop with two tents and a hammock. The owner is this really cool, chill guy from Hong Kong, who is happy to stay up late and drink a beer on the roof with you. The only problems I had with finding the hostel were caused by my own stupidity. I got off at the right subway stop, and walked to the right street with no problems. The street, called Apliu St., happens to be the host of a huge local electronics market where you can buy anything from headphones and phone cases for every phone imaginable to security and sound systems. When you step out of the subway you literally walk straight into the heart of this market. This was something that I was not expecting at all, and I was taken a bit off guard. I’m going to go ahead and blame this and the fact that I was working on about 2 hours of sleep for the dumb ass thing that I did next. I’m almost too embarrassed to tell you what it is that I did, but since I think it is good to laugh at one-self, here it goes. I was walking down the street for about three minutes looking for the right building, which I believe was 245. I finally get to a store front marked 244, followed by another marked 246 and in between the two there was a doorway. I, for some unknown reason, thought “Ok, if that is 244 and this is 246 well then this doorway must be 245.” Annnnnnd up I went. Up 9 flights of stairs. It wasn’t until I was standing amongst some random person’s laundry on the roof of this building and a dog started barking at me from behind the only door… that I got to thinking that maaaaybe this wasn’t the right building. Well no duh, Cristina. Where, oh where, in the world are the addresses all on one side of the street? I’ll tell you where! Nowhere. It is always evens on one side and odds on the other. It took me waaaaay longer than is acceptable for me to realize my mistake. Trust me i’m still mentally kicking myself for that one. I would have physically kicked myself but my legs no longer worked after the second 9 flights of stairs in the correct building across the street. I’ll tell you what it is those last 9 flights that get ya. As I waited for someone to let me into the hostel, I had a nice conversation with two girls who possibly lived in the other apartment? I’m not really sure, but they were sitting outside the door with no shoes on eating Subway. I was finally let into the hostel by a youngish looking boy who I assumed, and was correct, was not the owner, but just another boarder. As it turned out, the owner had just stepped out and I wouldn’t see him until the next day. I feel like I should mention again how laid back this place was. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I would stay there again if/when I go back to Hong Kong.
After gathering my wits about me, so that I wouldn’t have another address mishap, I went to the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade to watch the Symphony of Lights. To be honest, it wasn’t all that great. It was mostly just one building with lights timed to a song and a few other buildings chiming in occasionally. But it is worth it to go to the promenade simply for the view of Hong Kong Island from across the harbor. After wandering down Tsim Sha Tsui for a bit, I stumbled upon a vegetarian Indian restaurant called Woodlands that I had read about in my travel book. It was a little pricey, what with it being on a main strip of the city, but pretty tasty! It may have been the first time in my life that I have gone to an actual sit-down restaurant and eaten by myself. It would have been more enjoyable had I had a book with me, but the experience wasn’t bad overall. You can eat as slow as you want, and you don’t have to worry about keeping up a conversation while eating. Call me lazy if you want, but it was kinda nice. Although, i’m sure the other people in the restaurant were thinking, ‘Oh honey, look at that lonely girl. She has no friends.’ Meh, i’m alright with it… and I do too have friends!
After dinner, I met up with a friend from Hangzhou who is originally from Hong Kong and was also in town that weekend. We met up for a beer at a bar called the Doghouse near the water, and then went across the harbor to a rooftop bar. I expected it to be on the top floor of one of the buildings, but it was actually on the roof with the stars being the only thing above us. It. Was. Awesome. I felt very cosmopolitan to be drinking a glass of wine on a rooftop bar in Hong Kong, and the view alone would have been worth it. Luckily, I had my awesome (and I hope he is reading this) friend with me so it was pretty easy to get a taxi back to the hostel. I owe you one, a few actually, whenever you come to Ohio!
Staying in a dorm style hostel has one big downfall for me. It isn’t the lack of privacy, and it isn’t the fact that i’m sleeping in a room full of strangers. It is the feeling that I always get when I sleep around people I don’t know. It’s the ‘I probably did something embarrassing while I slept and all of these people heard it’ feeling. I don’t normally snore, but I do tend to breath rather loudly and, lets be honest, who doesn’t occasionally fart in their sleep? If you say you don’t you are either a liar or are in total denial. Anyway, I started out day 2 in Hong Kong by going to Kowloon Park. I had heard that there were martial arts displays there on Sundays, and I happened to be right in that section of the park! Lucky me! I creepily watched some people practicing for awhile and then continued my wanderings through the giant park. Eventually walking through a hedge maze until my hunger got the best of me, and I left to find num nums. Instead of search for a restaurant from my guide book, I just walked up and down some streets until I found a place that looked good. I tend to stray towards noodle places because I could eat noodles every day and never ever get tired of them. Like seriously, I love noodles. I found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and ordered some beef and noodles and an iced green apple red tea. The beef and noodles were a little spicy, but perfect when washed down with the iced tea. I’m really annoyed at myself for choosing to write this right now because i’m starving and the only thing left in my fridge are some oranges, yogurt, and the butt-end of an old loaf of bread. I’ve already eaten 4 oranges today and some yogurt. That bread is starting to look pretty good, even though i’m also out of jam and peanut butter. After lunch I walked back to the harbor, and after briefly getting lost in the labyrinth they call a mall, I found my way to the Star Ferry. Crossing the harbor on the Star Ferry costs, at its most expensive, 3.40 HKD. I’m not even going to bother to put that into USD because 3.40 is cheap in any currency. The more things that I did in Hong Kong, the more I imagined myself living there. Taking the ferry across the river on nice days to go to Kowloon Park and learn martial arts from a wise old instructor, using the subway to make it to work on time with people from all around the world, going out in SoHo for drinks with my coworkers. I’ve got it bad, and his (her? for some reason it seems more like a her) name is Hong Kong.
I wandered around a bit after I reached the other side of the harbor, I wasn’t lost I just took my time and wandered. That is something beautiful about traveling by yourself. You don’t have to cater to anyone’s wants or needs. It is just what you want to do. I spent a good deal of my time in HK just walking around and getting to know the city. I managed to find a few really cool things this way. One of which was a small antique market hidden away on an alley. On said alley, as if an antique market in HK wasn’t cool enough, there was also a film crew shooting a fight scene in one of the little alcoves off the street. Super cool find. Hong Kong is also really well marked with signs to all the tourist sights, so you would really have to try to get lost. I visited the Man Mo Temple and following that I walked to the Victoria Peak Tram where I was confronted with an apparently endless line to get tickets for the tram. I almost said forget it, but I figured I would be disappointed if I didn’t end up going. After a rather confusing 5 minutes of trying to figure out where the line started (I know that sounds weird, but I was not the only one who was confused, and the line monitors were about as useful as a paper umbrella) I locked eyes with a cute Swedish guy who was having the same issue as me (see not the only one). I gave him a ‘I have no idea’ shrug and he did the same, and then together with his friend we said screw it and just jumped in what we figured was the line for tickets. We ended up guessing right, and after about an hour of waiting (with only semi-awkward conversation) we bought our tickets and then waited in line some more. Well that was anti-climactic. Let me try again. After another half an hour of waiting, we finally boarded the tram and went allllll the way to the top of Victoria Peak. Boom. View. Need I say more?
After that incredible view, I needed me some more noodles. So I found another random restaurant and ordered a dish similar to the Singapore style noodles we served in the Chinese restaurant I used to work at. They were delicious, of course, and I didn’t leave one noodle uneaten. I was in the area of the Lan Kwai Fong bar area so there were lots of bars for me to choose from for an after dinner drink, but I was looking for one in particular. It is called the Globe and I wanted to find it because it is apparently the only bar that sells beer from one of Hong Kong’s only breweries, the Typhoon brewery. I love micro brews and craft beers, especially fresh from the city i’m visiting so I was really excited to try it! Let me cut to the chase, I never tried it. Damn. Remember how I said that you can never get lost in Hong Kong? Well that is still true, but I can sure as hell wander around for 2 hours going up and down the streets, and I mean literally up and down because half of Hong Kong Island is practically vertical, looking for one bar that I almost didn’t find at all. After the first hour it stopped being about the beer and turned into finding the bar out of pure principle. The worst part about it was that when we (hold on, i’ll explain) finally found the bar, I was one lousy street away. I’m pretty positive I looked like this:
(I do not own this image)
Now, I said ‘we’ because as I was doing my one last sweep of the area, in case during my first 20 I had missed something, a guy asked me if I knew a good bar to go to. I’m letting myself think that him and his friend genuinely thought I looked like I was from HK and knew what I was doing (don’t go and spoil my illusion). Regardless of what they thought, I am grateful because one had a reliable map on his phone and we were able to find the Globe in about ten minutes. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Oh yeah, I can barely use my phone and it was roaming. You know that gets expensive and i’m stubborn! We finally get to the bar and they are already out of the Typhoon beer. Zapped. My disappointment was somewhat quelled by the happiness I felt by the very extensive beer list at the Globe. I ordered a familiar Anchor Brewing Porter, and was very satisfied with having a rich, dark beer instead of the usual pint of Tiger from the local bar we frequent in Hangzhou. The two guys I met were nice enough, even though they ended up being way older than I originally thought. Which is fine, but i’m just not used to drinking with people who start show me pictures of their kids. Unless it is my parent’s friends whose kids I grew up with and are now my age. It also got a little weird when one of them started complimenting my eyelashes and teeth. I felt a little like a horse being checked to see if I was of good stock. I didn’t stay long anyway because I wanted to check out the Temple Street market before it closed down. I ended up getting there right as it was closing, but I wasn’t going to let myself buy anything anyway. I did stop and get some street food though! I know I say this about a lot of things and I think I have said this exact thing before, but I really love street food. If my friend Miss T is reading this, she can attest to my (our) love of street food. It is basically all we ate for a week in Eastern Europe. I also stopped at a 711 (they are everywhere in HK) and bought a beer to go along with my street sausage. I also don’t care how many dirty jokes come from that sentence, it was so worth it. I went all the way back up to the 9th floor of the hostel and sat on the roof for about two hours with the owner just drinking beers and chatting about life. It was a pretty kick-ass way to end day 2 in HK.
My flight didn’t leave until 10 pm on Monday so I still had most of the day to explore, and explore I did! I didn’t have a plan for the day, so I just did as I usually do and started walking. I walked to the subway station and took the subway to the harbor. I walked to the Star Ferry and maneuvered my way around the salespeople who really wanted to sell me a new tailored suit. I took the ferry across the harbor and then walked into what I assume was the business district. I assume this because there were very few tourist signs and there were hoards of power suit clad people milling around. Then I walked to a, do I even need to say it, noodle restaurant and had a very yummy tomato based noodle soup. Then I walked, and I walked, and I walked until I found myself going up and up and up, and I realized I was pretty far off the beaten path and my cardio quota for the year had been quite fulfilled. During my wanderings around Cloud View Road, I found another little temple. I really enjoy going to temples and churches, the darker, older, and smokier the better. I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I feel like as soon as I step into the room and breath in the heavy incense, my faults and sins are forgotten and in the dim light nothing else matters. I know some people who won’t enter a place of worship if it is not their own religion. I don’t think there is anything wrong with appreciating other people’s religions. Being in temples and churches and synagogues makes me feel calm and at peace regardless of what god is being worshiped. I eventually made it back to Lan Kwai Fong and stopped in a little bar for a drink. As I enjoyed my crisp, cool cider I watched as the giant delivery trucks managed to maneuver the impossibly small street. I still had some time to kill before I had to leave for the airport, but I decided to head back to the hostel to collect my things. I was just about at the ferry when a guy asked me if I knew where the Star Ferry was. He was American, from Mississippi, and about my age. He was very close to his goal, and since I was going that way, we ended up walking together. Turns out he is teaching English in Beijing and was also in Hong Kong to get a new stamp on his passport. We ended up stopping at the Beer Bay because what else do you do when you meet a fellow traveler? Drink with them of course. The Beer Bay was a little beer stand right on Pier 3 that I had read about. I had wanted to find it, but I thought standing by myself with a beer looking out over the water in lonely contemplation was a little too much, even for me. But since I had someone with me, we found it and had the cheapest drink I’d had in Hong Kong (one downfall of the city is that it isn’t always cheap). We stayed for awhile until the sun went down then crossed the harbor one last time to get to Kowloon.
I arrived back at the hostel with the Mississippian in tow because he needed a hostel for the night. Something that I have learned, not just from traveling, is that no matter how hard I try and deny it there are just some bad apples out there. Apparently my judge of character is not always correct because this friendly guy from Mississippi turned out to not be as cool as I thought he was. I found out that he ended up skipping out on his hostel bill which is such a shady thing to do. I like to think the best of people, and i’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just in a hurry and truly forgot? I know that this probably isn’t the case though. I don’t want you all to think i’m cynical or jaded, but people like that make me have a little less faith in people. So shame on him. I don’t want anyone to think that all people from Mississippi are bad, not that you really would. But I have met some awesome people from Mississippi! I met this older lady from Mississippi last summer on a road trip to New Orleans. She was the kind of lady who would invite you to her home for a glass of sweet ice tea and regale you with crazy stories from her youth in her amazing accent. The kinda thing I really want to do when i’m older. Is that weird? I don’t even care if it is.
So my plan to get back to the airport was to take the subway line that went straight there. Cool, that’s easy! I’ll get there with plenty of time to make my flight and grab some food. Well then I realized that my flight left half an hour earlier than I originally thought, and the ‘direct subway line’ to the airport was actually a regular train which you had to buy separate tickets for. Damn. I didn’t know this because I didn’t go straight from the airport when I arrived. I did a pretty good job of budgeting this trip, so that when I was on my way to the airport I had 55HKD left. I went to the machine to buy an airport express ticket, thinking that it would be like 10 HDK or so. They were 60 HKD. Double damn. I had no other way of getting to the airport on time either.. unless… I clicked on the child’s ticket, just to see how much it was you know? 30 HKD… hmmm I can do that. I truthfully expected a hundred security guards to come rushing towards me as soon as I put in my money. I’m not paranoid at all, but that wouldn’t happen right?…right? Well yeah, of course it didn’t. However, I did wait to scan my ticket until the train pulled up to the station, and I sat tense on the train the entire time. I made it to the airport and through security just in time to breathlessly make it to my gate (the last one, of course) as the plane was boarding. I want to say that I wasn’t a little grumpy, but I was a little grumpy. Especially when they shoved all of us onto a airport shuttle and made us wait for 15 cramped and sweaty minutes while they did god knows what. I really wish I could have just walked to the airplane.
When I arrived back in Hangzhou, the school’s driver was waiting for me which makes me feel really important. The ride home was silent and a little awkward because the driver’s English is as good as my Chinese. So pretty much non-existent; a fact that I do find quite embarrassing since I have been here for over three months. I finally arrived on campus and was pretty excited to fall into bed!
So how do I wrap up such an awesome trip? The only thing I can think of is to say, Here’s to you, Hong Kong! You showed me some amazing things, gave my legs a much needed work out and truly made me want to come back. And come back I will.
Until then friends don’t forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!