After travelling in New Zealand for a few weeks and meeting tons of people who swore by Facebook as their means of communication while travelling, I finally caved in and opened an account. A whirlwind of a month later (thank you Australia, I often think of you) and I received a “friend request” from an old friend from Neshaminy and Penn State, Chi Tsang. Chi goes by Jimmy but I still and always have called him Chi. We exchanged a few messages back and forth on Facebook and he mentioned that he’s been back in Hong Kong for two and half years. He probably didn’t see my reply coming:
“I will be there in a week”
Chi was waiting for us at the airport and took us to Kowloon for a quick tour of the “seediest” of Hong Kong’s main neighborhoods. It was already after midnight, yet we were walking around town and everything, from 7-11’s (about 3 to every block) to small mom-n-pop restaurants, was open and doing plenty of business. The mission was to find a cheap hotel and quick and Chi took us to one he knew of but it was full for the night. After more walking and browsing through the shopping markets, we came upon the Cary Hotel. It looked like any other hotel in the area but Chi informed us after talking with the front-desk that it was a “Love Hotel.” We hopped in the elevator and went to the fourth floor and after exiting, looked to the right to see 3 girls sitting on the couch and behind the counter is the Chinese equivalent of Hugh Heffner, complete with silk pajama pants and slippers. I had read about these sorts of places while in Japan (probably in the subway) but honestly it looked just like any other hotel. Not yet settled on staying we looked at a room before committing to one night. Tacky may be an understatement for the style of this room but by this time of night, I could care less. I slept like a baby.
We called Chi in the morning and he met up with us for lunch. Being the third densest city in the world, restaurants are everywhere so finding one took all of three seconds. This wasn’t your typical Chinese restaurant though with no General Tso’s or Mu Shu Pork to be seen on the menu. It was cramped and kind of dirty. The waitresses were tired, old, and rude. In order to help tourists there are pictures on the menu and all over the walls. Being famished, I ordered the picture that was the biggest and asked Chi to translate. He said it was beef and pork in a soup broth with some veggies. Sounded good to me. It ended up being egg drop soup and the “big” picture on the wall was definitely a close-up. Oh well, it was filling and cost roughly fifty cents.
Hopping on the subway, which was really easy to navigate thanks in part to it’s user-friendly map (taking notes, Japan?), we traveled the short distance to Hong Kong Island, the most populated area and proud owner of the most beautiful skyline in the world. The streets were busy and we walked uphill towards the tram that would take us up even steeper hills to Victoria Peak. From atop the mountains you have a northerly viewpoint of the entire city. The only problem is that the pollution is so bad, you can barely see the buildings below, let alone the Victoria Harbor, which separated Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Still, it really is beautiful and you can certainly get the idea of how Hong Kong is built. Tall buildings are everywhere and most of them are residential, housing the area’s roughly seven million people, bringing truer meaning to “little boxes, on the hillside.”
We took a bus back down from the peak and went to the ex-pat part of town where there is a nice strip of Irish, English and American joints. Stopping in at the Hong Kong Brewery, we snacked on the free peanuts and had a few pints before Erin’s friend from high school, Adam, joined the festivities. Adam is doing a year-long internship on his way to becoming a Pastor and received his call to Hong Kong. Chi left us soon after and the three amigos head back to Kowloon for some authentic alley-style food. The restaurant set up tables well into the alley nearly tripling their seating capacity and leaving little room for you to walk. Food is cheap and fresh and the options are mostly seafood-based. We had some clams in a plum chili sauce, shrimp and cashews, and a green bean stir fry. The meal was delicious and filling and cost each of us only $6 which included two beers each. I could get real used to these kind of prices. Adam took us back to his office, two subway stops away, and let us catch up on email. He told us of a great hike and laid out the entire transportation system for us to arrive at the trail head. Bidding him farewell as it was now after one in the morning and the subways were closed, we slowly took the long walk back to our love hotel, watching as the city still hustled and bustled.
Lions Rock National Park and All-Night Karaoke
Separating Kowloon and the Northern Territory neighborhoods are huge mountains, the highest peak being Lions Rock. Chi had mentioned it the previous day and told us it “takes some imagination” to see why it’s called Lion’s Rock. After taking the perfectly drawn directions to the trail head we hiked up what seemed to be several thousand sets of stairs until reaching the peak and enjoyed lunch with a breathtaking, albeit smog-filled view of the city. Several more thousand stairs and hours later, our muscles ached reminiscent of a day after one of Jolene or Kim’s spin classes.
Famished, we trudged back to the restaurant we had been at the prior day, but with no translator, just pointed to dished and nodded our head. I ordered thick noodle soup with beef brisket and once the bill came it seemed as though we were paying a nice tourist tax. Principals in place, I made a bit of a fuss, and fortunately there was an English-speaking couple in the restaurant to smooth things over with the equally irritated restaurant staff. Apparently, beef brisket cost extra. On our way out and in my very best English, I reminded the staff I don’t speak or read Cantonese. I don’t think they understood.
My head hit the pillow and three hours passed before Erin woke me reminding me tonight was Chi’s party for finishing his MBA. I hurriedly showered and before I could dress, Chi and Adam were knocking on our door. Getting dressed is getting easier and easier as I only have one pair of pants and three shirts to choose from. I’m actually thinking about sending one of the shirts home with Debby (Erin’s mom) from Thailand as it doesn’t really get worn. Anyhow, we made our way to Hong Kong Island to a Karaoke place, where all of Chi’s friends from school would eventually meet up for one last party together. We drank whiskey mixed with a honey-infused green tea which goes down dangerously smooth couple with the backyard beer, Budweiser. Food was served, including local delicacy, duck tongue, and before long Adam boldly stepped up to the microphone, maybe a bit prematurely for the caliber of song chosen, and belted out Bohemian Rhapsody. Being no stranger to singing backup, I chimed in with the ill-toned “galileo, galileo…galileo, figaro.” This was the just the beginning of our first and hopefully, judging solely by my feeling the next morning, last Karaoke experience in Hong Kong. It was an amazingly good time though, evident from the fact that when we first arrived, everyone was seated on couches in our private room and by the end of the night, you had to nearly fight to get the mike out of someone’s hand. Highlights included a five-piece ensemble MC’d by Chi for “Bringing Sexy Back,”and the never-ending Chinese love ballads that all of Chi’s friends (with seriously good voiced) loved to sing. At approximately 3 a.m., a rendition of “Phantom of the Opera” followed by “Hit me baby, One More Time,” both of which could possibly bring tears to the neighborhood dog, rounded out our eventful night.
**Please remove next day from Jason’s life because it didn’t really exist aka Jason’s too old for this type of behavior**
Big ‘ol Buddha and Dinner with the Murphy’s and Friends (last night in Hong Kong)
Near the airport, the best-ranked in the world, and Disney World Hong Kong, is the world’s largest outdoor Buddha statue. It is the epitome of a tourist-trap but the statue had beautiful detail and commenced my journey into understanding Buddhism. For a steep fee, especially on a backpacker’s budget, you take a cable car up into the mountains and after cresting the first peak, you see the giant Buddha on the horizon. Taking the stairs to the top, you are completely overwhelmed by it’s size but after circling it once, there really isn’t much else to do but go back down to the mock-village that had been built solely to sell food and junk to tourists. Being the ultimate friend and tour guide, Chi treated us to some authentic Chinese desserts before we got back in the cable car.
We were to meet up with the infamous Murph and his wife Barbara for dinner that evening. Good friends of my parents and the Jubic’s, they had transferred to Hong Kong a couple of years ago by way of McDonald’s. Now that they are locals, they picked the spot in what we soon found to be probably the nicest section of Hong Kong and actually had some other friends in town as well. We arrived at CRU and met Murph, Barbara, and their friends from college, Ray, Debby and son Alex. The friends had just arrived the night prior and were terribly jet-lagged but lucky for us toughed it out through the dinner. Sharing stories of our travels and theirs over wine and beer along with great food (probably our best meal thus far. I had duck fajitas,) we laughed and joked during what would be our last meal in Hong Kong. Murph told us a lot about India, as he travels a lot for work, and reminded us that we would be getting sick while there so we’d better be ready. As if they hadn’t done enough by treating us to an amazing dinner, they handed us Murphy’s card and said that if we ever got into a jam anywhere in Asia, that we could go into any Mickey D’s, present the card, and they would help us out. A really nice gesture and one we hopefully don’t have to use! A big thanks goes out to the Murphy’s for a great evening and we hope to see them soon be it somewhere along our travels or when they come to San Francisco.
We left dinner and called Adam and Chi, meeting them at Ned Kelly’s jazz club near our love hotel. The music was amazing and taking the Murphy’s advice, I suggested that we leave, pick up some beers from one of the seventeen 7-11’s on our block, and wrap up our evening with a world-famous Hong Kong foot massage. Everyone agreed and soon enough we were all in a comfy chair getting the rub down for an hour. The best thing about it was the cost, $10. We bid farewell to Chi and Adam, whom without, Hong Kong just wouldn’t have been the same. Thanks for everything guys and hope to see you both soon!
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to write the following:
Off to Thailand!