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).