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Hong Kong: Good night, sleep tight...

Written on: Monday November 24th, 2008

Strolling the crowded streets of Hong Kong's Kowloon district on my first night in town allowed me to make some immediate observations about the city: it is crowded; it is easily navigable by train; it is clean; it is safe; it is a welcome reprieve from Manila.  Sure, there are guys on the street trying to sell you anything from custom tailored suits to illegal drugs, but that's just part of Kowloon, and they're not nearly as pushy as the kids and old ladies in Manila.  So as I walked along the avenue of stars, I enjoyed my new surroundings, taking in everything, from the numerous fisherman lining the coast in hopes of a free meal, to the smell of fried cuttlefish coming from a street vendor, to the spectacular skyline views of Hong Kong Island just across the water.

There was another benefit for visiting HK at this time: my step-brother's (Gregg's) roommate (Calvin) is origianlly from HK, and was back for the week visiting his family.  So at long last I got to see another familiar face.  Sunday he invited me to join him and his sister, Kit, to visit the giant Buddha.  After standing in the que for about 45 mintues, a 25 mintue gondola ride through the mountains took us to the tiny village of Ngong Ping on Lantau Island, where the Tian Tan Buddha was contructed just fifteen years ago.  It is an impressive sight: set on the peak of a small mountain, the bronze Buddha sits an additional 34 meters above the ground.  And although it is a major tourist attraction, there is a significant population of practicing Buddhists that frequent the area.  Back down at the base of the mountain sits the temple, equally impressive and equally functional.

Awaiting our gondola ride out of the mountains, we met an Oz/UK couple in the que.  They were having a brief holiday before heading back to UK.  We all hit it off and decided to get a drink together at one of the many restaurants in town.  The establishment chosen was a swanky joint on the 29th floor looking over the harbour, across to Hong Kong.  What a perfect setting to witness the daily light and laser show!  Every evening at 8:00, the 'symphony of lights' transforms a stationary urban landscape into a dynamic work of art, utilizing eighteen of the city's sky scrapers in the sight and sound extravaganza.  It was definitely cool to see, and made me wonder why more cities don't participate in something similar.  After the show we grabbed some sushi and said our goodbyes.  Calvin and I went to explore the night market.  Although we didn't make many purchases this evening, it was fun to stroll through the sea of vendors and look at all the wares for sale.

On the way back to my shabby dorm room in Mirador Mansion, I decided to stop off for a pint at Murphy's, the Irish bar down the road.  I had been here for a nightcap each of the past two evenings, and was now on good terms with the staff.  So we enjoyed a Kilkenny and some good banter before I reluctantly made my way back to my dorm and a snoring roommate.

The next afternoon Calvin, Kit and I decided to go to The Peak on Hong Kong Island.  Kit invited a couple friends, one of whom had a vehicle, making our journey to the top that much simpler.  For those who do not posess their own means of transport, a public tram scales the mountainside, bringing folks to the collection of restaurants and shops at the top of the mountain.  But by far the most enjoyable thing at The Peak is the view.  Your vantage point is from behind all the sky scrapers on HK Island, adding significantly more depth to the sea of lights laid out before you.

With our eyes content after viewing the HK skyline at dusk, it was time to concentrate on our stomachs.  We chose to go to Causeway Bay for hot pot, a very traditional yet incredibly fun dining experience.  A large pot of boiling water is put in the center of the round table.  To this are added spices and stock, depending upon the type of soup chosen.  From there it gets fun, choosing what you want to cook (and ultimately eat) from the seemingly endless supply of meats, seafood, vegetables and exotics.  The food chosen is brought to the table raw.  If you want to eat a particular item, simply put it in the pot, wait for it to cook and retrieve it into your personal bowl to enjoy.  The first round went ok: scallops, squid, dumplings, pork, beef, chicken, cucumbers and spinach.  No problem.  But as I looked around at nearby tables, I noticed several items that concerned me a bit.  It wasn't until after the second round of food was ordered entirely by Kit, and entirely in Chinese, that I was truly worried.  When the food arrived, there were three things that I had never eaten before: goldfish, tripe and chicken testical.  Bluuughh!  But, when in Rome...  Calvin had atually never eaten testical before either, so I didn't fel like too much of a whimp.  I watched the others seemingly enjoy these items as I summonded the nerve to get over my negative mindset.  Eventually I tried them all and can honestly write that they weren't bad.  But don't get me wrong, I'll take a shrimp dumpling over tripe any day. :)  After dinner we stopped at Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), which is the cool part of town...lots of swanky clubs with lots of drunk tourists intermixing with lots of attractive locals.  Being Monday evening, it was a bit slow, but one could easily see how the weekend scene here reflects Bourbon Street during the heart of Mardi Gras.  We didn't stay long before calling it a night.  Calvin and the gang went home and I stopped at Murphy's for my evening pint before bed. 

Tuesday morning I tried to do a few caches in the area.  Unfortunately I struck out, either not finding or not being able to access the correct area, on all four caches.  No worries, I had a nice lunch planned with one of the bartenders from Murphy's, nicknamed Avis.  She wanted to give me a traditional Hong Kong dining experience, so I met her and a friend at Mong Kok.  They ordered entirely too much food, but it allowed us to sample many items and get a taste of the diversity of HK cuisine, which, I must admit, I completely adore.

That evening while banging away on the keyboard, I met a fellow traveller named Raul, an expat from Mexico living in China for about two and a half years.  We hit it off and decided to go for drinks after our internet use was complete.  We stopped at Murphy's, as I wanted to thank my friends for lunch.  As usual, the scene was slow there, so a couple locals brought us to a more happening place called Sticky Fingers.  Live music pumped through the club as a hip HK band played American rock covers.  It was pretty fun and lively, which is probably why we didn't get home til the wee hours of the morning, stopping for breakfast en route.

The next day, Wednesday, marked my last full day in HK.  My Chinese visa was supposed to be completed tomorrow, so I purchased my flight out and set off to enjoy the day.  Kit had suggested going to a movie, and that idea sounded perfect today.  After grapping a quick but insanely tasty bowl of noodles and pork, we entered the theater to watch 'Bella'.  It felt nice to relax in a comfy chair and enjoy a good movie with a friend. 

Leaving one sibling for another, I met Calvin in Causeway Bay for drinks.  Joining us were Calvin's best friend from school, Paul, and Paul's girlfriend.  I sampled a local beer as we talked business and travel.  Interestingly, Paul is a structural engineer who is currently working on projects in Dubai.  He's been involved in the design of several of the skyscrapers that have recently been springing up all over town, including the Twin Towers Shopping Centre.  It was nice not only to talk shop again with somebody who understood my questions, but also to make a business contact in an extremely interesting corner of the world.   

I said goodbye to Calvin for the final time in HK, thanked him for the wonderful hospitality and went back to LKF to meet up with Raul.  We did a couple laps around the neighborhood but ultimately decided to take off.  He wanted to check out Wan Chai, a notrious rough neighborhood/red light district popular with the many Navy ships that come to port.  So we walked the streets, beer in hand, chuckling at the desparate dancer girls and their oppressive mamasans.  We were even witness to a street brawl between some drunk tourists.  Too funny..I think Raul even got it on video!  Yep, this part of town is a bit over the top, reminding me a little too much of Philippines.  So we headed back through the tunnel to Kowloon and called it a night, hoping to meet up again when I pass through China.

On my last day I got a very unwelcomed surprise:  bed bugs.  Ick!  Apparrently they can bite you, but you might not feel it until several days later.  Well, that was the case, and when I asked the hostel management staff about it, they confirmed that bed bugs were in that room; in fact, a fumigator was scheduled to come the next day.  Frick!  They could have told me that six days ago when I moved in.  Grrrrr!  So the perpetual itch begins: imagine the itchiest mosquito bite you've ever had.  Now multiply that intensity by three and add fifty more such bites all over your body.  This is what I would have to endure for the next seven days.  This was definitely NOT the kind of souvenier that I wanted to bring back from HK.  :)