skull Nyan Nyan! skull
skull Hong Kong skull

James’ Note: Hong Kong was a bit of a blur, and throw in some procrastination, and the dates below may not be exact. It also explains, we hope, how January 7 is completely absent from both of our memories.

Perfecting the Asian picture poses

December 30

We had one last where2next free breakfast and then caught a cab to the airport…and even got the right one the first time. It was sunny and hot; I wondered if the rain was over now that we were leaving. We sailed through the airport crap and before long we were boarding.

A few hours later we were back in HONG KONG! Have I mentioned how much I LOVE HKG? We were back in Hong Kong to celebrate a late Christmas with Chris and Blaine and Judy. Chris surprised us at the airport and told us Blaine and Judy had made it safe and sound and weren’t sick yet, and were waiting at Chris’ for us. They had spent a few nights with him but with his roommate returning and us on the way, they decided to rent a hotel room down the road. Chris had very sweetly said we could stay with him again. When we arrived we could barely get in the door. His place was full with treats from Canada. Bowls of chocolates and chips and a box of home baked treats from my sister and soooo much fudge. It would have cost us a small fortune to fly any budget airline with that much fudge! After hugs I dug in. B&J’s bags were packed and piled outside, or we really wouldn’t have fit, so we dropped our stuff and grabbed theirs. I quickly filled my short pockets, hoodie pockets, and both hands with goodies then we made the 5 minute walk to the Ramada; B&J’s home for the next week.

Not the son Jude and Blaine were expecting

It was so great to see them and after checking in we settled down for some catching up. They seemed to know all our “news” thanks to my blog. And yes, I threw in a few trick questions to make sure they had actually been reading it. A few hours later we managed to get our butts in gear and we went for dinner. Chris took us to what I’d call a local Chinese place. It was small, had plastic tables and chairs, no English menu but pictures on the walls. Chris had been before so helped the poor waitress get our order. It was yummy pork and noodle soup.

After dinner we hopped on the “ding ding”. The ding ding (as Chris calls it) is a street car that runs up and down one of the main streets on Hong Kong Island. It’s crazy cheap and is often packed full. I’m not sure if it’s quicker than walking but its way more fun. We got off just past central and went looking for the entrance to a roof top bar Chris wanted to take us too. We found the entrance and even the elevator but were told they were closing early to prepare for tomorrow night’s festivities; New Year’s Eve. Oh. We weren’t sure we would have actually got in though. Something to keep in mind in a lot of big, modern cities is fancy bars and restaurants often have a dress code. As a backpacker I have a hard time fulfilling all the requirements.

Blaine taking a streetside power nap to get his second wind at the IFC

Chris had a plan B so we headed off. We ended up at my new favorite spot in HKG. IFC has a roof top bar and lounge that is filled with couches and chairs and tables, has music playing and a great view of Kowloon. The best part though is that you can BYOB! We didn’t and Blaine treated us to $10 beers but…how cool is this space! You could bring snacks and drinks and stare at the view – the same view you’d get in the fancy can’t wear flip flips roof top bar. The bar we got our drinks from lent fleece blankets so we cuddled up and enjoyed the company and the view!

James looking a little rough after his shave.

December 31

B&J were a little tired from Chris’ introduction to HKG and we had stayed up late talking so we all slept in a bit. Once up, James and I went through our bags and pulled out the few Xmas gifts we’d picked up. James also decided to finally shave his beard. He had been wanting to for a few weeks but I asked him to wait and show his mom. She liked it as much as me, not at all! It was huge and red and scratchy and ehhhh. It took him forever. When he was done his face was pasty white (more than usual) and had a red rash all over it. He looked like a freak.

We finally headed over to B&J’s. The plan was to do some shopping first and then have “Christmas” in a few days but I think we all suck at keeping secrets (and gifts). We ended up pulling on fun Christmas hats (Judy’s only condition to opening everything early) and opening our gifts. I got a few trinkets but my favorites (ever maybe) was a tiny pink pen and an immersion heater. James and I fight non-stop over pens, the pink sparkly one is MINE! The immersion heater is a cheap but oh so handy tool. It’s like carrying the heating coils from a kettle around. We can make coffee, tea, cup a soup, noodles… the possibilities are endless…whenever and wherever we want. Eating out/finding a place to eat is getting old.

Nyan Nyan-ing at the bird market

We finally got going and headed to a fun market area. Or at least fun for me…I’m not sure if anyone else loved it as much as I did but they were good sports and made me think they were enjoying it…except James who has given up pretending.

We started at the flower market. A street filled with gorgeous flowers. The orchids were stunning. There was everything from orange trees to daisies to bonsai trees. I only wish I could get some home.

Next was the creepy bird market. A tiny section where birds and everything for birds is sold. We walked through and were grossed out by the trays full of meal worms all wiggling and squirming. Ewww!

We stopped at a café and had a bite to eat. It was just so nice to be with family.

Then it was off to the fish market. Although a bit smelly it is very cool. Stores with giant aquariums full of fish, frogs and turtles. Outside most shops are walls filled with plastic bags of fish. The fish market is likely one of my favorite streets to visit in HKG.

Goldfish and flower markets

We walked slowly down the fish filled street and eventually took a turn that took us to a market. It is also one of my favorite markets. Like other markets in HKG it is filled to the brim with everything – and then some. But in this market if you have time to explore the stores off the main street you can find some great deals. Kyle and I had spent a few hours here a few years ago and spent nothing for bags full of clothing. James and I plan to come back on our own to look for some much needed clothing.

We wandered down the packed street…very slowly. I was so happy Judy was there! Finally someone who got as excited as me at the little booths selling purse organizers, new innovative hooks, silk scarves, socks…. YEAH!

We (they) were finally marketed out so headed home for a break and to decide on what to do for New Year’s Eve!

Chris was heading to a party but we were tired and decided we really just wanted to see the fireworks. B&J joined us. We taxied and walked to one of the suggested areas and stood waiting. At first I wondered if we were in the right spot but slowly the place filled. It was advertised that starting at 11 pm there would be a color laser show – it turned out to be each building having a star light up. Hmmmm…I hope the fireworks are better than that.

Midnight fireworks
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 10MB)

The countdown finally started on the building in front of us. The crowd got excited. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2…everyone shouted (not necessarily all in English) 1! The building erupted in fireworks. It was fantastic! I’ve posted the video so you can see for yourself; it was too cool to explain. At the tail end of the display a bird came spiraling down, hit the guard rail in front of me, bounced off the person in front of me and landed at my feet. I freaked (anyone surprised?) and ran for cover. I think it had been hit by a firework and/or disoriented. Whatever it was, it was now dead. Anyone know the meaning of a dead bird at your feet as you celebrate in the New Year? I can’t imagine that it’s a good omen.

After the excitement died down B&J headed home and we went to see what was going on in the LKF area (where all the foreigners hang out). We started to walk towards it and ended in a loop of closed off roads. The loop never seemed to end at the bar area. We just completely walked around it and found ourselves back almost where we started. So went home. I did find a fancy still in the wrapper Chinese calendar on the street, so that was good. I gave it to Chris as a Thank you gift.

Company for the new year

January 1

About 10:30 am Fred, Chris’ roommate, opened our door and crawled into bed with us. I’d been lying in bed awake for a while so it didn’t startle me but it did wake James. He sat up and started to…I’m going to say nudge…Fred. He was curled in a ball at the foot of our bed. He was also sound asleep. James tried shaking him, nothing! I finally laughed and said leave him be. Happy New Year? Is this another omen I should take note of?

Since we were awake we got up and got going. We headed to B&J’s and spent a few hours just hanging out visiting. We had bought too much wine and had too much junk food…I was content to stay forever in the Ramada hotel.

We did finally get going. It was another market day. We were visiting the famous Temple Street Market. We took the subway and started at one end. It was so big I doubted we’d get through it all in one go. OMG! How I love HKG!

Again we slowly walked through the crowds bartering and shopping for treasures (aka junk). Compared to North America the prices can be pretty good. It’s also fun to find things that aren’t sold back home. We think it’s funny to see kids t-shirt booths next to umbrella booths next to knock off purses booths next to a sex toy booth. You really can find anything in these markets. B&J had offered to take a few things back for us so I did a bit of gift shopping. We stopped for a snack and then a bit more shopping…we spent almost four hours.

We ended up back at B&J’s for a little more wine and a lot more talking.

The big buddha

January 2

Today we were going in separate directions. James and his parents were going to visit the Big Buddha (I’ve already been twice). Chris was going for a hike. I was going shopping!

There are some side street markets in downtown HKG that I love to wander through. Every time you go the shops and stalls are packed with everything and usually at dirt cheap prices. I had a small shopping list but really just wanted to enjoy the hustle and bustle of it all. One lady I had to visit was the silk lady, or that is what I will end up calling her. We had bought a handful of silk stuff (gift bags, bottle covers, robes) the last time we were here but had used most of them on gifts the other day. So I was replacing them. Also on the list were chicken man thongs and matching feather bikinis & boas. What must the guy think who sold me 20 chickens, 20 fluffy bikinis and 20 matching feather boas? Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas? By the end of the day I ended up with bags full of random goodies. My best buy was a GAP hat and scarf, which I promptly put on, for $2.50. All in all it was a great day.

We all met back at B&J’s and Chris took us to a place for take-out Thai food. We chatted about our day and had a glass of wine or two or three…hahahaha.

January 3

We split up again today. B&J went to Macau to hopefully win some cash. Chris, I think, did school work. We went shopping. No seriously, shopping. HKG is just cheap and has such fun things that I could never get sick of it here. Today wasn’t going to be as much fun. We were going back to the market beside the fish market. We planned to dig through all the bargain stores looking for “work” clothes for when we got back to Canada. Apparently I have to get a job?!?

First we had to make a few stops. The first was the Russian Embassy. We had booked our flight home through Moscow and needed a transit VISA. When we showed up they told us if we had all the information in by noon we could get it back this afternoon. So off we ran looking for someplace with free wifi and a printer. It was a lot or paperwork but we managed to get it all done with about 15 minutes to spare. We raced back up to the embassy. The guy took all our stuff and informed us he couldn’t do it! WTF? We were one week too early; it would expire before we got to Russia. Crap! We were hopeful that the next place we tried would be as easy and quick as here. We packed up our stuff and went shopping.

We stuck to the plan, despite James’ moaning. If you have the time and patience you can really find good deals. We did, and did. At one place James got two pairs of pants, a couple of shirts and I got a pair of pants and long sleeve shirt for less than $75. Not bad. I also finished up my gift shopping for home – for the next three years.

On the way home we had to visit the silk lady again. Judy had loved the silk bags and bottle covers and took them all. The silk lady remembered me. Yikes!

We met up with everyone back at B&J’s. I got excited and showed Judy all our great deals. Blaine took us all for dinner in the midlands. Then back we went for wine and chatting.


January 4

We had an early start today (almost 11 am I think). We took a cab to the ferry terminal; we were on our way to Lantau Island. Lantau Island, located at the mouth of the Pearl River, is Hong Kong’s biggest island. Honk Kong comprises of 263 of the most densely populated islands in the world. Hong Kong island is the second biggest. Originally Lantau was made up of small fishing villages but is now a popular tourist destination. There is some hiking and some excellent fish & seafood restaurants.

The boat ride over was interesting. Like the rest of Hong Kong it was a mix of everything: beautiful green islands, busy little seaside cities, big ocean liners and small fishing boats. We pulled in to a tiny bay filled with small boats. We got off the ferry and walked the short strip of restaurants. We finally settled on one and settled into our plastic seats. What they lacked in fancy they made up for in taste. It was all so fresh and tasty. We mostly ordered one dish each and shared; well except for James…did he even eat? One dish was served in little shell cups, real shells, and we being the classy people we are wrapped them in paper napkins and took them home. Such a great idea!

After eating we jumped back on the ferry and went home for a short break. We had fun plans for the night!

For dinner we headed to the famous escalators. It is said it is the longest outdoor escalators in the world. It’s a bit deceiving. It is actually a bunch of them that go up the mountain. So in theory any outdoor mall likely has a longer system. Regardless a visit to Hong Kong isn’t complete without the ride up. At the top we found an Australian deli style place where we got yummy pastas, salads and meat pies.

The bottom (better) picture from the races is stolen from Chris

Then we were off to the races! I have never been to the famous horse races at Happy Valley and was very excited. We cabbed there, paid our $2 each and found seats just out of the rain. It wasn’t very busy but still had an excited energy to it. We bought pitcher of beer and settled back to take it all in. It didn’t take long before I was more than ready to start betting! I didn’t really understand the board listing favorites and stuff so I just looked for the one that was prettiest or had the bounciest step or strongest looking legs. It was all very scientific. James went and placed my first bet and I WON! Really, I won! I was so excited. How much was it again? $10 maybe? But who cares, I WON! We continued to bet a few dollars on each race and Judy and I won a few times and James lost all the time. A few of Chris’s friends joined us and we all had a bunch more beer and meat kabobs for dinner. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t live in HKG, this would be addictive for me.

We stayed until the very end and then went in search of a cab – haha! We ended up walking a bit before we found one. We returned to the Ramada for one last night of wine and visiting. Has the week gone by already?

January 5

Chris, James and I managed to get ourselves out of bed in time to help B&J to catch their 8 am bus, or 8:15 am bus – it was late. We gave them good bye hugs and went home to bed. I think we all slept most of the day. It felt wonderful.

Late in the afternoon I finally convinced myself to leave the apartment. I went grocery shopping. I was very excited to be cooking! I made somewhat of a Christmas dinner with chicken, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potaotes….it was so delicious! Stuffed, I happily went to bed early.

January 6

After another slow start I headed down town to have a peek at some of the brand name stores. I had a few items that needed to be replaced in my backpacker’s wardrobe and they needed to be western sizes.

James and Chris met me at the wrong Starbucks and we jumped on the subway headed for Causeway Bay. We were off to see a movie. At home after the movie I made a big pot of chilli. It felt like a very normal day and it tugged at my homesick strings. Seeing B&J had been so amazing but it made me miss my parents even more. With them gone I now missed them all again. Being so homey at Chris’ wasn’t helping.

Chris had a few friends over and we had a few drinks. Long before they were done I went to bed – would I ever not be tired again?

January 8

We were all up early today, no really like 8 am or something. We were going to Shenzhen for the day. Shenzhen, considered one of the fastest growing cities in the world, dates back to ancient times, 5000 BC. It has the second busiest container terminal in mainland China and fourth busiest in the world. Shenzhen can only be described as shiny and new. The reason for this is its population and developments have been mainly in the last 30 years. In 1982 it had a population of roughly 300,000, today it’s over 10 million. About 6 million of these people are migrant workers who return home on weekends and live in factories dormitories during the week. It’s the largest migrant city in china.

You can, and we did, take a subway from HKG to Shenzhen. Once you reach Shenzhen you are at the border and most people can get a VISA on arrival. Fred, from France, could not. Fred unfortunately went home and we continued on. We spent a few minutes looking for an ATM then sat in a park and had our bagged lunch. We grabbed a tourist map and planned a rough route.

The packed crowd for the show

First on the list was the Minsk. We took a shiny new bus down shiny new streets past shiny new buildings to the very huge Minsk. It’s a grey hulk of a thing, an aircraft carrier that served the Soviet Navy, and later the Russian Navy from 1978 to 1994. She operated with the Pacific Fleet and was retired, and not repaired for reasons unknown. She was sold to a Korean, then resold to a Chinese company that went bankrupt, unsuccessfully put up for auction, taken off auction…. And this goes on until she was sold for 128 million RMB to a Shenzhen company. She now sits in the harbour, just down from the busy container port, for tourists to visit. It looks big from the outside but once you get inside and start exploring you realize it is massive. I was a bit lost a few times. A few layers down we came across a weird dance show; it felt like time slowed down in this long dreary hall way with the out of synch dancers and closed up 3-D rides. Even the popcorn I bought for the “show” tasted a few years stale.

The big show
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 5MB)

We finally returned to the sunny outside world and made our way towards the main road and our bus. We were on our way to the second tallest building in Shenzhen; the Shun Hing Square. It had held the title of tallest since it 1996 until 2011 when the nearby Kingkey 100 took over. At Shun Hing Square we took an elevator to the 69th floor and got a birds eye view of the sprawling city. Well, the smog was a bit thick but we still got a decent view. We considered coming back for a night view but the $20 ticket was only good for one entry.

The tallest and second tallest buildings in town

After a stop for a fast food lunch we hiked to the computer/electronic section of the city. We were considering buying a cell phone (we’d need one when we got home and thought it might be handy in India) and wanted to see if there were any deals. There weren’t any deals but I found a McDonald’s and treated us to ice cream sundaes.

Next it was onto the subway to an area where most expatriates hang out. There was a hotel I wanted to take a peek at and we thought we could get something international to eat. The hotel (yeah, I like to look at hotels!) was a large French Cruise liner that has been cemented into the ground. The area around it, full of international restaurants, bars and nudi clubs, is called Sea World. I think at one time the boat sat beside the sea but with the reclaiming of land it is surrounded by buildings and construction. It was still a cool hotel, also under construction, that held some of its grand old cruise liner charm. There was an overpriced bar on the top deck but we opted for Mexican down the street. Ahhhhh Mexican.

On our way to Sea World we had stopped at the ferry terminal, we had wanted to take the ferry back to HKG, but the last one left a few hours before we even got there. So after a relaxing dinner we made a mad dash to catch the last subway. It wouldn’t have been so bad except we just missed the last train for HKG at the first train station we went to. We had to jump back on and go to another, just making all our connections. We filled out our forms in record time and ran, even me, to catch one of the last trains. We had made it and hoped we’d make the last train to HKG island, not a big deal really; we could always just grab a cab – at least we were back in HKG and not stuck in Shenzhen for the night.

We were all pretty tired when we got home and crawled into bed.

January 9

We had a long slow start today. I was already thinking I’d miss Chris’ place, especially the kitchen.

We eventually got going and went in search of a bus with the number 6 in it. Considering how many busses there are in HKG it was difficult. It didn’t really matter, I just love being out and about in Hong Kong. We finally found the right bus and got lucky with top deck front seats. We were off to Stanley Park. It’s listed in most tourist books as a must see but to be honest it’s only okay. A small market that isn’t all that cheap, a few decent but again not cheap international restaurants, a cute little bay with a few token brightly painted fishing boats. But what I love is the ride there. You catch the bus in busy downtown HKG and it slowly moves its way through the streets. Soon you are climbing up the mountain where you get treated to stunning views of the city and then, as you come over the mountain, of the sea and the islands. You get to the very green side of HKG. It takes about an hour or so depending on traffic.

Once at Stanley we took a quick walk through the market. I think even I was shopped out. We found a 7-11 and picked up a few beers that we enjoyed on some steps beside the water front. It’s an expatriate community for sure, but it was still nice to be somewhere quiet.

Stanley Park is on HKG’s sunny south side and is popular with windsurfers. A few years ago James and I took some surf lessons at a small bay not far away. Along with the fancy restaurants & shops you can find Murray House; a restored 160-year-old colonial building that was dismantled in 1982 from its original site in Central and then rebuilt in Stanley and now houses the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. There is also a pretty pier that I had a picnic lunch at one day on a previous visit. It makes for a nice day.

On the way home our bus got caught in traffic so the hour ended up being almost two! Once home I headed for the kitchen. I was going to make honey garlic ribs – or at least my Asian version.

January 10

Today we slept in. when I finally got up it was to make coffee and go back to bed with a book. I was making up for all those Sunday mornings I have been missing.

We finally decided to go for dinner and Chris took us for a yummy Indian meal. Then we decided to try the fancy roof top bar we couldn’t get into a week or so ago. This time, even in my really really really ugly travel zip off pants, we got in. We picked a couch outside that had a stunning view of Kowloon. I had a Smithwicks. A delicious, creamy haven’t had one in almost a year Smithwicks. It was ridiculously overpriced and worth every drop.

We somehow talked James into one more beer but opted for something cheaper. We grabbed a few from the 7-11 and headed to the IFC building – the great roof top bar/lounge that allows you to bring your own. It was a perfect ending to our time in Hong Kong. A huge thanks to both Chris & James. We were all pretty tired and I wanted to sit and stare at the view one more time. I’m sure the beer helped to convince them but they likely would have been just as happy curled in sleep sacks chatting on Chris’ shag carpet.

January 11

After way too few hours of sleep James and I got up early and creeped around Chris’ apartment trying not to wake him or Fred. We were trying to catch a 7 am bus. UGH! It was impossible not to wake Chris and on the way out we got sleepy still in the sleeping bag hugs. A huge thanks to Chris (and Fred) for letting us crash, use your kitchen and entertain us. As I’ve said I love Hong Kong but now love it even more. Chris showed us a few hidden spots that had me feeling like I lived there. It’s a city I could never tire of ,and I know I will someday be back.

Our bus didn’t hit any traffic so we were early. We checked our bags and I decided to have one more treat – a Starbucks. While I was sipping the tasty treat James went off for a snack of his own. The guy at the next table caught my attention. He was filming the airport with his IPad. He was all alone and just doing video of the desks and doors and people. The way he was sitting I could see everything he was getting including the close ups. After about 15 minutes of this he packed up and left – well all except his big pack that he left leaning on the wall. Hmmmmm. There are signs and announcements (every 15 seconds) telling you NOT to do this so why would you? I gave it about 10 more minutes and when he still hadn’t returned I called over a security guard. James returned about this time. The security guard called a few people and stood beside the bag. We sat for a few more minutes than had to go to our gate. We passed the guy at the other end of the terminal. I think he was just stupid, not dangerous, but I’m glad I said something. (James’ Note: When Susan told me she had informed security of the bag I had to laugh because it turned out to be a guy I had earlier witnessed being a total ass. Good to see karma at work.)

Then before I knew it I was on a plane flying away…bye Hong Kong!

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