China, Travel, Weather

Hong Kong: Second Time’s the Charm

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I went to Hong Kong for only the second time last weekend.

My first visit to Hong Kong was on Christmas weekend. Yes, the actual Christmas weekend. And while the visit on the whole was good, the number of people in the city made everything more difficult. I remember fighting up this terrible street in Kowloon, trying to get to the ferry station. Literally fighting. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. But when the real salmon do that they have safety in numbers. There were only 3 of us in this scenario. And of course when we arrived at the ferry station there were no tickets back to Zhuhai for hours, which was our fault for not reserving them ahead of time. We squeezed into the back table of a Starbucks and didn’t move until it was time to go.

And of course food had been quite expensive as well. Christmas Eve we were wandering the city in search of an affordable meal and finally found a tiny noodle house. Outside a large group of students were singing Christmas carols as we slurped our noodles. Christmas morning we stumbled on an underground Irish pub for breakfast. Not very cheap, but Christmas breakfast is a Van Gundy family tradition and I felt that I was honoring my own Christmas traditions by indulging in a large British breakfast.

(Perhaps it will amuse you to tell you that we then went and saw Mission Impossible IV. Well, it was either that or go shopping. I astounded my students by telling them that I went to Hong Kong and didn’t buy anything. In their eyes that is the entire purpose of Hong Kong.)

And our hotel on that trip. Wow. Hong Kong currently takes the cake for most deceptive Internet photos. Our hotel was supposed to be a reasonable looking room with 3 beds and our own bathroom. What we got was a closet-sized room with bunk beds, thread-bare linens, and soggy shared bathroom down the hall. For the rock-bottom price of 975 HKD. Outraged? A bit. Leaving Hong Kong, my feelings were somewhere along the lines of “good riddance”.

However.

I knew that we’d chosen to visit Hong Kong on a quite significant weekend, where crowds, high costs, and general inconvenience should’ve been expected. So, though that trip had been a bit of a challenge, I wanted to give Hong Kong another chance in the spring. And after having done so I can happily report that that was a wise decision. I had a great time last weekend.

Saturday we went to Lantau Island. Though we were disappointed to hear that the cable cars were not running, it may have been a blessing in disguise as the bus ride around the island was gorgeous. We went to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha and the temple around it. Endless mirth because the infamous university orientation game “Big Booty” was quickly supplanted by “Big Buddha” and I had a hard time not breaking out into the chant as we circled the Buddha. Also some flashbacks to the terribly irreverent “Buddha’s Delight” song used in the movie Music & Lyrics. We had lunch in the vegetarian restaurant on-site and then explored some of the trails leading off into the hills. The hills were green, the skies blue, weather balmy. A truly excellent excursion.

The following day we went to Stanley Market on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Another gorgeous drive hugging the coastline which felt positively Californian. It could’ve been Highway 1, possibly even prettier at points. The bus deposited us at the market and we were promptly delighted by the market’s offerings. We made an initial circuit and popped out on the harbor. I was glad we’d passed up the nice, but chain-y looking café we saw in the market as there were several lovely waterfront cafes there. We hadn’t “broken our fast” yet so I was very inclined to treat ourselves to a wonderful breakfast with a fantastic view. So we did.

After breakfast we roamed the market. Suddenly everywhere I looked there were things I wanted to buy. Zhuhai has been a shopping famine for me other than food and bootleg DVDs. So I feasted a bit in Stanley. I bought some linen clothes in preparation for the coming heat. A new colorful, but sturdy bag. A scarf. It was fun.

Unfortunately soon the clock was tolling for us. Not 12, but half past 2. We’d booked tickets on the 4:30 ferry to prevent the problem we’d had last trip. We scurried back to the bus stop, multiple shopping bags each, for the beautiful drive back. After some intense power walking we made it to the ferry office to reclaim our tickets on time and just had time for iced coffee (with real cream!).

The biggest surprise of the trip was just how beautiful Lantau and Central were! Nothing like what I’d expected. Hong Kong had taken on grimy, urban tones in my mind based on the first trip. Kowloon was not that different really from Zhuhai; everything was just on a somewhat larger scale. But the coastline—wow! Already contemplating my next trip.

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