City of the Future

Getting up on Sunday was harder than on Saturday, but at least I got to sleep in a little (to about 7 a.m.) After watching live updates of the Cal/OSU football game back home on ESPN GameCast, I decided it was time to leave the hotel and forget about the disappointing result. However, it was only 9:30 a.m., and no dim sum places were open yet. We headed back down to Tsim Sha Tsui to catch the Star Ferry to Central on Hong Kong Island and eat proper dim sum over there. After crossing the footbridge over Connaught Street Central, we found that walking through this part of the city is all on footbridges. It's like walking in a city over a city. One thing I found slightly surprising was that this was the congregation site of the overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong, as they all gather here on Sundays and sort of "picnic" on along the bridges. I noticed other tourists found this sort of strange as they didn't stop staring, but my mom said they gather here together on their day off because they're more comfortable being around people from home. Plus, it helped when we kept getting lost because my mom asked a few of them for directions.

After stopping in the Marks & Spencer to check if they had strawberry trifles (NONE, but they had some other imported desserts which just didn't look as good), we headed for Stanley Street at got dim sum at Luk Yu, recommended to us by a local storeowner. After barbeque pork buns, chicken spring rolls and pan-fried dumplings, we were again stuffed. Then we stumbled upon something I've never seen before anywhere. We were going to walk up a hill in the Mid-Levels district, a trendy neighborhood with cuisines from all over the world and a SoHo of their own, my mom saw an escalator and insisted we take it since she was tired. This first escalator was flat, a sloped version of the moving walkways at airports. But then there was another one, and another one...and another one. It turns out it goes way up the mountain. We kept going for at least 20 minutes from one escalator to the next, zig-zagging up, but after awhile, my mom got tired of our adventure and said we should go back down. Unfortunately, there are only stairs going back down. 

mid-levels-escalatorsWe headed back for the Hong Kong MTR Subway Station for one attraction I needed to see here: Hong Kong Disneyland. Before you get all, "Wow, why are you bothering with Disneyland in Hong Kong when you're from California, blah, blah, blah," I need to see this as after HK Disney, the only park I have not been to is Tokyo Disneyland (which I will be going to in a few days...), and I want to see all of the ones in the world. (Don't judge me. We all have our oddities.) Well, I can tell you that Hong Kong Disneyland blows the American parks out of the water. Perhaps because its newer, but it's also calmer. First though, we had to take the subway there, which was extremely easy. The stations are easy to navigate, and both the stations and trains are immaculately clean. There's also a transparent fence between the platform and the train tracks to prevent anyone from falling in. We really need that in the United States.

Transferring to the Disney train line at Sunny Bay station was simple...and very hard to miss. All of the windows are shaped like Mickey Mouse. But it doesn't stop there. All of the handles on the ceiling are shaped like Mickey Mouse, and there are bronze statues of Disney characters all over the train. I was amazed to see so many people on the train, considering it was 3 p.m. in the afternoon already, and I was also surprised that most of the people going were older. When we stepped off the train, it was obvious we were in Disneyland from the usually glitz and "magical" signs everywhere, but there was something else strange about the landscape. I could swear that once I stepped off the train, I left Hong Kong and was not in Anaheim, but somewhere more like Palm Springs. Disneyland here isn't littered with screaming children. I speculated that many people come out here for leisurely walks in the promenade as there is a nice large park and pier outside of Disneyland. My mom also pointed out how much easier HK Disney is to get to, compared to the one in Orange County as that one is ONLY accessible by car. 

After awhile, my mom and I got tired and wandered into the Grand Salon of the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. I bought a bottle of Sprite and sat on a plush, Victorian-style green couch in the air-conditioned room for about 30 minutes. Too tired to walk back the MTR station, my mom tugged me over to the hotel shuttle, not really knowing where it was going, and we just hoped that would take us back to the station - which it did!

After making it back to Mong Kok station in Kowloon, I had to stop at Hui Lau Shan, a mango dessert chain that my friend Victoria recommended to me and I couldn't pass up. I got a mango-strawberry slushie, with a layer of fruit chunks at the top and yogurt and ice at the bottom, while my mom got something with mango and coconut. The busy streets of Mong Kok were irking my mom, as she was exhausted from walking and large crowds all day, so we walked back to the hotel. The only way to cap off the day was with more take-out food from the local restaurant since it was so good and cheap the day before.

Between the MTR and the Mid-Levels, it's obvious that Hong Kong is truly advanced and a model for cities around the world. It's a city of the future. Maybe being a day ahead really helps.

Shopper's Paradise

On Saturday morning, I was very reluctant to get up at 6 a.m. Although I've gotten used to waking up at 5 a.m. on this trip, this was the first night I've spent in a comfortable bed in over a week. But the idea of taking a piping hot shower for the first time in over a week was more enticing. Plus, I had to get rid of the cigarette smell that seems to loom over our room. After getting ready for the long day ahead, my mom and I got aboard a half-day city tour bus of Hong Kong Island. First stop: Victoria Peak. I'd say this was the attraction I wanted to see most, and we definitely lucked out on the weather. Picture perfect skies. Plus, it's 3 degrees Celsius cooler up there than down here. On the zig-zagging roads up, reminiscent of those on the Pacific Coast Highway, our lovely and very hilarious local guide, Vivian, gave us some info on Hong Kong, including the fact that 7 million people live here. High-rises are the architecture of choice here and land is extremely expensive. She said jokingly, that's why they're all so small. She made a lot of jokes referencing the petiteness of Chinese people compared to Westerners, which the bus full of Britons, Australians and Canadians (I think my mom and I were the only Americans as I didn't hear any other American accents...) just found adorable about her. Next stop: Aberdeen, where the local fishing village is and the home of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant (As Vivian noted, you've probably seen this place in any Jackie Chan movie.) Jackie is pretty popular around here, and we even saw his seaside home on the way to Repulse Bay, which looked like a small English castle. Repulse Bay, named after the HMS Repulse that used to be docked here, was gorgeous, with the first sandy beaches I've seen up close and not from a plane window this whole trip. Last stop, at this point on completely the other side of mountains of Hong Kong, was Stanley Market, a series of outdoor stalls selling everything from knick-knack souvenirs to local artwork, more knockoff designer handbags. I was sort of surprised at the lack of these bags, and Manila seems to be bursting at the seams with them, and I've heard from many people that Hong Kong is too. Although I didn't do much shopping in Hong Kong (only a package of nice wooden chopsticks and a small jade elephant for myself), HK is, as Vivian said, "a shopper's paradise," nearly everything here is tax-free. Only four goods are not: cars, gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol.

After getting back to our hotel in Kowloon, my mom and I quickly changed into more sophisticated attire and hurried down to the hotel shuttle for tea at The Peninsula Hotel. Tea is served in the decadent lobby of the grand old hotel between 2 and 7 p.m, and the dress code supposedly prohibits flip-flops and beach sandals. That didn't stop anyone, as I looked down the long line and most tourists were wearing said shoes or tennis shoes. It's a good thing we went at 2, considering we only waited about 30 to 45 minutes in line, and when I looked back as we were being seated, it was then already out the door (it's a long hallway). Over $400 HKD (~$50 USD) including 10% gratuity (that's the standard here), the tea-for-two selection was extremely worth the wait. If you go, I recommend getting the "Peninsula Blend." The lobby, once a site just where local Britons and many American ex-pats relaxed in colonial times, is now THE place to go when on holiday here. My mom noted that the lobby had been sized down, however, since her first visit here in 1964. (Pause, and think about that.) Now half of what used to be the full lobby of the hotel is ritzy, top-of-the-top stores like Cartier and Prada.

peninsula-tea

After tea, it was close to 4:30 p.m. and almost sunset, so we headed for the Star Ferry to Hong Kong. At $2.20 HKD ($0.28 USD), as my mom says, it's the best buy in Hong Kong. Much like I do when I'm on the Staten Island Ferry, I got off the boat and got right back on to head back to the other side. Not because I didn't want to see Hong Kong, but I wanted to take pictures of the sunset on Victoria Harbour (and I was really tired and wanted to go back to the hotel). After getting back to shore and walking around Nathan Road (the main thoroughfare and shopping street in Kowloon) we headed back to the hotel. After a full day of walking, we were exhausted and hungry. So we got take-out Chinese food at the restaurant two doors down from the hotel: Teresa Coffee Restaurant. I highly recommend this place as well if you ever stay at the Metropark. Not only was the food (chicken with cashews, pan-fried noodles and fried rice) all delicious, the portions were huge and we got all of it for $90 HKD ($11.60 USD).

Organized Chaos

On Friday, my mom and I said goodbye to Manila (even if for only three days as we have to go back on Monday to change planes to Tokyo), and headed for the airport to board a two-hour, Philippine Airlines flight to Hong Kong. For the first time on this whole trip, my flight was delayed. As my mom said, PAL stands for something else besides Philippine Airlines: Plane Always Late. Nevertheless, we still arrived in Hong Kong on time at 5 p.m. I even wished the flight was an hour longer just so I could sleep slightly longer. I was pretty delighted I finally got a window seat. Even though I've always known how massive Manila spans, it wasn't until I was in the air that I could full comprehend the scope of the metropolis, with just small buildings covering the land in every direction with pockets of skyscrapers scattered among the capital city. I've only arrived in and departed from Manila before dawn or in the pitch-black evening, so this was quite a sight to see on my first truly sunny, blue-sky day in the city during the trip. And two hours later, I got my first glimpse of the mountainous islands of Hong Kong. Even through the haze and fog coming from the South China Sea, the green-covered mountains were distinctly evident and different from those in the Philippines, as they aren't volcanic. Getting out of Hong Kong's airport and finding a shuttle to the hotel in Kowloon was pretty easy. I was pretty taken aback by the lack of security on both ends. Normally when I leave Manila for the U.S., they're stricter than American domestic security personnel. I didn't even go through customs in Hong Kong. I could have brought all of the liquids I wanted, including my hair spray that I left back in Manila because I was afraid it would be thrown away. I'll live.

Hong Kong's airport is a bit far from Kowloon, but it's easily accessible by metro or shuttle. My mom and I decided to take advantage of the ease of the shuttle, about $30 USD per person though. The only confusion was when after paying for the shuttle tickets, the shuttle company rep at the airport was showing me where to meet the driver, and he said the guy in the orange shirt. But there were a few guys in orange polo shirts, so I wasn't sure. Then he clarified, simply pointing and stating, "the fat boy." I kind of laughed and scoffed at the same time, not really sure how to respond since we're not that blunt (usually) in America. But I was really glad we took the shuttle because I got to really see the cityscapes of Kowloon and Hong Kong for the first time up close, and we went across the Tsing-Ma Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in HK and, as my tour guide later pointed out, longer than the Golden Gate Bridge. After coming from Manila, a smog-filled urban center with more traffic than any Los Angeles resident could imagine (unless they've been to India, which I've been told is worse), Hong Kong was like being on another planet, with actual lanes and speed limits. Even though there are seven million people in Hong Kong, there is still civility, or as my mom calls it, "organized chaos."

Based on the recommendations of two separate sources, we stayed at the Metropark Kowloon. Walking into the grandiose but modern lobby, my mom just said in awe, "Wow." However, there was a glitch. I must have missed something while booking the reservation online, although I don't know how or where I could have. There are three smoking floors in this hotel, and we somehow ended up with a room on one of them. I swear, walking into our room smelled like what I imagine a cigar lounge in Havana would smell like. I went back to the lobby and tried to see if we could get a room change, but the hotel, not surprisingly, was full and it wouldn't be possible. Considering the affordability for an excellent and plush hotel in Kowloon, the place is a steal, so of course it was full. My mom and I trudged back up to the room, where we held our breath until someone from housekeeping came by with some air freshener. The amenities in the room almost make up for it, including a plate of complimentary fruit upon arrival. Plus, I finally have free broadband internet in a room for the first time on this trip.

Considering the hotel is a bit of a distance from Nathan Road (the main street in Kowloon), and very far from Tsim Sha Tsui, the main shopping district on this half of Hong Kong, the hotel provides a free shuttle to these areas, which saves a lot on cabs and metro fares. Even though by this point I was extremely tired and hungry, we headed for the waterfront, where I confirmed that Hong Kong has the most beautiful skyline in the world. I love New York, but there's nothing compared to this:

hong-kong-skyline1

And this photo doesn't capture all of it; my lens isn't wide enough.