Posts Tagged With: metro

Hong Kong: Walk, Eat, Walk, Eat, Repeat

What do you think of when you hear “Hong Kong”? Perhaps you think of the tiny plastic emblem on the bottom of your childhood toys, Made in Hong Kong. Maybe you think of steaming platters of dim sum. Maybe you think, well, “Somewhere in Asia”. I don’t blame you.

Before I was sent there for a workshop, I suppose I imagined all of the above, and that’s pretty much it. I had no idea Hong Kong is a heaving metropolis of buildings, a salt-shaker of islands, cerulean water lapping against the steamy tropics of national parks, which shadow the perfectly paved roads with sleek BMW’s hugging the yellow line as they curve around jagged peaks heading towards the latest night club for smooth jazz and artisanal cocktails.  You can walk down the Avenue of Stars and marvel at Jackie Chan’s handprint, shop for Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, or Victoria’s Secret in the sky-scrapping shopping malls, hike to the peak of a national park while keeping an eye out for venomous snakes, or chopstick dumplings in a bustling dimly lit alley way. All in an hour.

See what I did there? Hong Kong.

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Even though I was only there for five days, my mantra become, “Eat, walk, eat, walk, repeat.” If you don’t enjoy walking, you better love taxis, as Hong Kong is a city of staircases, sloping hills, and sidewalks, all begging to be traversed. In my opinion, there was an old-city feel to it, almost like New York City. It didn’t feel ultra-modern; instead there was a dance between the old and the new, the West and the East.
IMG_2013This is Pottinger Street, in the Central district of Hong Kong. Famous for their costume shops, Pottinger is a street full of staircases, vendors, and throngs of people huffing and puffing their way to the next destination.
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I picked up a few key elements of our Halloween costumes on Pottinger. In Hong Kong, you have to bargain hard; what starts off at 300 Hong Kong Dollars quickly drops to 120, but only if you ask.
IMG_2017Every afternoon our workshop finished, we had time to explore the city. And what better way to explore than on foot? Can you tell what this kitschy red shop specializes in? Hair cuts! Try and peek through the door to the barber—you can see him if you squint. With the candy cane barber’s pole, it was like something out of a mid-century magazine.
IMG_2020If you know me, you haven’t truly visited a country unless you explore their culinary landscape. In Hong Kong, it’s dumplings, noodle soup, and dim sum. And my goodness, is it divine. I know those dumplings don’t look appetizing, but, trust me, there’s nothing better than a savory bowl of Hong Kong noodles and tender, seasoned dumplings. And don’t forget the chili oil, which this restaurant, Sam Tor, is famous for.
IMG_2031Our workshop was held on the southern part of Hong Kong island in the Aberdeen district. Can you imagine having this view from the window of your classroom?
IMG_2044After we got off work, we headed up to The Peak, which is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. It has an elevation of 1,818 feet. The view from the top, as you can see, is absolutely stunning.

 

 

IMG_2052After the peak, we headed to yet another noodle shop. I loved all the chaos and color. Another thing about Hong Kong, which I think happens in all major cities and may just be new to me, is that when you get to a packed restaurant, they sit you at a table with a total stranger. It was a bit of a novelty to me—to be sitting directly across from someone you don’t know—slurping your noodles in peaceful silence. Luckily, that stranger always spoke English and helped me navigate the menu and place my order. 9 times out of 10 I said, “I’ll just have what you’re having.”

 

IMG_2057Another afternoon of walking brought me to a fish store.

 

 

IMG_2058I have never seen anything like this before… it reminds me of carnivals when I was a kid.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2059The fish photo happened when I took the metro from the Central district of Hong Kong across the bay and over to Mong Kok.

 

IMG_2060Did you know that Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997?

 

IMG_2065A city is not complete without its share of buskers. This guy was performing some fantastic acrobatics and balancing acts. Next to him was a man dancing to Michael Jackson.

 

 

 

IMG_2073I had gone out with a friend I met at the workshop on this day, and we decided to check out a restaurant famous for pudding and scrambled eggs. It was called the “Australia Dairy Company”, and is apparently pretty historic. Trust me, it sounds just as weird to me as it does to you. And guess what? The almond vanilla pudding was the best I ever had. Honest. The whole place had a kind of 1950’s diner feel to it. Just look at those plates, and how artificially fluffy that white bread is!

 

IMG_2074Again, you’ve not been to Asia if you haven’t eaten street food. And for me, it’s stinky tofu. Or really, fermented tofu that smells kind of like a sewer. I love it—kind of in the way that Germans love sauerkraut. Must be in my genes.

 

IMG_2078On my way home on my final night, I took the ferry across the bay, back to Hong Kong island.

 

IMG_2088And when I got to my hotel, I had a message on my television that all of a sudden made the Hong Kong protests very real. All transportation had been shut down to Central, Admiralty, and Wan Chai. I was visiting Hong Kong during their largest week of protests. However, the next morning I had to hop in a taxi to get to the airport by 6:30am, so I was not able to witness the history. But I do have this photograph of my hotel tv!

 

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We Sail Tonight For Singapore

Not so long ago, Sean and I were student teaching in Madison, Wisconsin. When it came time to start the job search, we applied to the Singaporean public school system. Trust me, it felt as surreal as it sounds.  This was before we knew about overseas recruitment fairs. A professor of Sean’s recommended we apply to Singapore, and that she’d put in a good word for us. (As she “knew people” in Singapore.)

We sent our paperwork off and waited a few days. To our surprise, we received an email telling us to go to the Town Bank building on the capitol square at 10:30 at night. There, we would buzz the entrance to the complex, be led to an empty conference room on the seventh floor in the pitch dark, and conduct a video interview with the Singapore school board. We did all this, and were offered a position within the week.

Why am I telling you this? Because we visited Singapore this past month for the first time, and I couldn’t help but think about how our lives would have been different had we accepted the job.

Not only that, but my student teaching supervisor kept singing the Tom Waits song, “We sail tonight for Singapore” as we contemplated accepting the job or not.

Needless to say, there was something that didn’t feel quite right, and we politely declined the offer.

After tasting Singapore’s food and walking there streets, maybe I would have said differently all those years ago…

 

IMG_1719We were there for a conference, and settled into a nearby hawker center for a drink and an Indian meal. Tiger beer is the iconic beverage of Singapore, and due to its international nature, Indian food can be found on every menu.

 

IMG_1722A hawker center is a bit like an open-air food court. People order an iced tea, a meal, or just a snack and rest for a while on the plastic chairs.

IMG_1728As Asian as the hawker center felt, there was so much that was British and colonial about the country.  Such as the absurd pictures for bathrooms in the hotel.

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IMG_1736A morning photo down the street as we walked to the subway. Yes, Singapore is as clean as it’s rumored to be. Also, everything is in English, and the cars are impeccably clean and modern. I think it must be a literalcrime to own an old car in Singapore.

 

IMG_1743The famous “No durians” subway sign! You actually cannot take a durian on the subway. The poor, ostracized fruit. I feel bad for the durian; it is the object of everyone’s contempt despite its luscious meaty interior and pungent, unique aroma.

But seriously. The smell of a durian is like boiling a pot of gym socks, onions, vomit, and sangria. Anthony Bourdain described it as “Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” And he loves durian.

Me? I’ve only ever had durian ice cream. And I liked it. A lot. Honest! It was that type of flavor where the initial taste is slightly repulsive, but the mouthfeel and lingering aftereffect is mouthwateringly curious. You aren’t quite sure whether you like it or not, but you can’t stop eating. I once read an article about a couple who moved to Southeast Asia because they became obsessed with the taste of durian. (You can read more here.) Animals can detect the smell half a mile away.

No wonder it’s forbidden on public transportation.

IMG_1751Another Singaporean classic: The Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

IMG_1788We settled into a restaurant across the water from the hotel and watched the evening light and sound show. All of Singapore felt a little like Disneyland.

IMG_1794After our final day of the conference, we had an evening to explore. As our hotel was in the shopping district, we decided to take it easy and see what the surrounding streets had to offer. It was a bit like being downtown Chicago.

IMG_18077-Eleven is another Southeast Asian ubiquity. We don’t have them yet in Cambodia, but their presence everywhere else is simply astounding.

IMG_1811When it was time for dinner, we went to a food court. That’s right, a food court. Why, you ask? So we could order the following:

Kim’s Meal: Barley tea and nasi lemak (The national dish consisting of coconut rice, fried fish and chicken, and spicy sauce.)

Sean: Pink juice and pepperoni pizza

Like I said, Singapore has something for everybody.
IMG_1824To end our multicultural evening, we stumbled across an outdoor art exhibit. Just when you think you can’t get any more “Wow, I’m really in Asia,” you see a giant glittering dragon. I love it.

 

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