Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hong Kong AT LAST!

I was awake super-early (so excited!) and although we were disappointed to miss the sail-in to Kowloon, we arrived early and were docked by 5.45am, Eric and I got off the ship, through the Ocean Terminal and adjoining shopping mall (pretty much ALL of Hong Kong has a shopping mall attached) via Starbucks and on to the Star Ferry for Hong Kong Island by 8.45am. It costs $4.40 for two people, and there are 7 Hong Kong dollars to $1 US.

We decided to take it from Frommers guide to Hong Kong (after all, the ruckuss over it in the library the other day must’ve meant that was the best book, right?) and do a 4 hour walking tour of the Western district to get an idea of the old Hong Kong.

We began walking. The first thing to note about Hong Kong is the mix of smells, the rich food/tea/smog odours compete so that one dominates your nostrils for a second, before another overpowers it.
As Eric said, the adventure really began when, after walking down a street famous for being the place to get a chop carved of your name on a piece of wood/jade/stone in Chinese calligraphy for letter-stamping, we bought fresh juices from a side-street vendor. My papaya/orange/carrot was gorgeous, his peach/ginger was really spicy and pulpy, but felt like it was good for you.

Only a couple of places on our stop were disappointing. Firstly, the Western Market is a tourist trap if ever I saw one. A well-maintained restoration of an1850s building, but inside it’s trinkets and a few half-hearted fabric stalls, nothing worthy of note. Secondly, the Central market is no longer there. Perhaps that Frommers guide wasn’t the latest edition…
However, if we wanted the live “wet” food markets that Central Market should’ve afforded us, the Sheung Wan Market on Des Voeux Road more than made up for it. This four-storey indoor market starts with fish and live poultry on the ground floor, (yes, they were gutting fish/eels/frogs, yes we had to dodge flying scales and walk over fish guts) with chickens clucking in cages while stall-holders wash and prepare chicken’s feet from the already slaughtered nearby. The second floor has some vegetable stalls, some clothes and even a tailor, and the third floor has any type and cut of meat I could imagine. We saw pigs snouts, goats head, things we couldn’t decipher (or could, but didn’t want to!)

The fourth floor is where you get to try the delicacies from the floors below, with various cafeteria-style restaurant outlets all next to each other. We were intrigued by what was in the jugs on each table. I was hoping it was beer (see the Tsingtao labels on them?) but it turns out it was tea.
Eventually, a nice restaurant owner must’ve clocked on to our tourist-bewilderment accompanied by a determination to eat there (it’s in the GUIDE!) and ushered us to a table. He gestured over to stacks of bamboo steamers, and bought us tea. It was proper, authentic dim-sum! We had NO IDEA what we were eating, except that it was fresh, and probably killed only feet from where we were sitting! YES! After the meal, we paid for what we’d eaten. I’d highly recommend a trip there, if you have a strong stomach (or like eating stomach, from various animals. I don’t know if I do, but then, I may or may not have actually eaten any.)

Our walking tour continued through streets famed for their medicines, ginseng and preserved/dried foods, Bonham Strand and Des Voeux Road West. In the picture, the shop owner is drying swallow’s nests with two hairdryers. We were, and still are, unsure as to what you use them for (although I know you can make tea) but I think it has something to do with male, er, ‘strength’.
Other dried foods we saw include seahorses, gall-bladders, abalone (a delicacy of Hong Kong along with Dim-sum) sand eels, tortoise shell (well, maybe they weren’t dried) and shark fin. We actually saw shark fins being prepared in a roadside warehouse, until someone told us “Don’t look!” and swung the door across in a fairly violent manner.
In the live snake shop (they were in cages, pots, jars), a quartet of guys were chopping ginger with such ferocity and concentration it was astounding.
Very few people were welcoming of our custom, they tolerated and nodded, but nobody in the medicine shops offered us any kind of remedy/diagnostic care. I fought the urge to create an horrific fantastical affliction in myself or Eric in order to get some kind of reaction.

On to the antique-lover’s paradise Hollywood Road, and Ladder Street, (because of the steep steps involved) the curios in Cat Street (because curiousity killed the-?) Possession Street (because it’s where the Brit’s took possession) and the Man Mo Temple.
It’s colourful, it’s bright, and the high concentration of incense coils inside it which drop ash on you from above made my eyes water. u can buy paper to burn in a furnace and incense sticks to light in vases by the shrines to various Gods. I kept some paper (there was so much!) because I liked it, and put it up in my room. I hope that isn’t bad Feng shui….

Incidentally, get these 2 Lions! Eh Yes!

And these two food-guarding cats!

Across from the Temple, there was a lovely Chinese garden (but obviously the Chinese just call it a garden, much like “Chinese food” to a resident of Hong Kong is just called “food” I guess) that had reflexology tiles which you’re meant to walk over with just socks on, and a man doing pretty impressive Tai Chi.

After a brief caffeine stop, and at the end of our walking tour, we made the decision to walk to the cable car that would take us up to The Peak.
This is an 1880’s cable car, still in operation with modifications, that takes you on an ear-popping ride up over 400 metres to the top of the Victoria Peak. Once there, you walk through a shopping mall (surprise surprise) to the viewing level.

En route, I was amused by these signs in the Ladies to depict the type of facility in the cubicle, traditional Chinese or Western (look closely, you’ll get the idea!)

The views of the cityscape, a carpet of buildings, was unbelievable. There's a HOT pic of Eric here too.

We stopped at a restaurant with a view for more Dim-sum (bizarrely, one of the dishes must’ve been a mistake as it was cake, like hot mini swiss-rolls!) and a proper drink. It was about that time to head back for the welcome aboard show.

It was 11.30 by the time we made it off the ship again, and it was a taxi ride to the Temple Street night market first-off. It was a good idea to get a taxi, as the market closes at midnight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. It was bright, quality in terms of the merchandise, bustling, and the vendors were not as forward as in similar markets I’ve been to in Kuala Lumpur and Shagnhai. Bartering was polite and easy. We bought a tie with a clarinet on it for Roque, Eric’s onboard quasi-father. He loved it. Also really interesting was the row of fortune-teller stalls. I chickened out, even though all stalls professed to good English in their readings.

A walk down Nathan road (we felt we were getting to know the place by now!) brought us to Knutsford terrace
, a good little food nightspot, where a chance meeting with some of our entertaining buddies led to a sashimi dinner not for the fainthearted (we’re not!)

We had received a tip-off that Delancey’s was the live-music nightspot, and although it was a respectably authentic Irish pub, ie. You could get a good pint of Guinness and Delancey’s on tap, music there was not. End of a full day!

On to day two, and same drill as before: Starbucks, Star Ferry. At 12.30, we met my little sister Jo (gorgeous Shakira-but-redhead type who works in Shanghai) who had to go to the fabric market in Kowloon but made time for lunch with us. We met at R66,
at the Hopewell Centre on Queen’s Road East. It’s a buffet, on the 62nd floor of the building, and it revolves, completing one full revolution every 66minutes (hence the name, clever huh?) It was lovely.
When Jo had to leave, Eric and I went into market mode! We took the MTR, a nice underground train system, easy to understand
, to firstly the flower market (Eric bought me flowers, beautiful yellow pom-pom types, no idea what they are!) then the bird market where birds in tiny cages chirp all around you, and then the fish market where bags of fish are sold, I presume as pets. I was tempted! Check out the clever Finding Nemo marketing! Nice.

We rushed back to the ship for a quick 5pm boat drill, and then back out! Jo had finished her buying at the fabric market, and we took her to Ned Kelly’s bar for a drink before she left us. OK, so Ned Kelly’s IS the live music spot! Ned Kelly’s/Delancey’s…hmm, a case of Chinese whispers, perhaps?! FORGIVE ME I’M SORRY!
Eric had a great idea to go to the Avenue of the Stars, where we walked the walk of stars we didn’t know, all except for Bruce Lee, who got not only a star, but his own bigger-than-life statue!

We drank ginger martinis and ate oysters rockerfeller,
seafood salad and clam chowder (still with shells on, not as good as in New England but then what did I expect?) at another good live music spot, Blues by the Bay, after watching the Symphony of Lights display, which is a light show involving all the foremost skyscraper sand viewed along the waterfront of the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. It was a gorgeous evening, left too soon for a 10.30pm sailaway.

Um, London School of Ballet?! Awesome!

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