Hong Kong IX

This will be a long, photo-heavy post because the day I trekked to Lantau Island, Tai O Fishing Village and Po Lin Monastery was the most memorable of my trip. 

I get anxiety from the small things while traveling, which sounds ridiculous because I feel that traveling solo to a foreign land where you don't know anyone, not even the language, is of itself pretty bold. But things such as my first trip on a local subway or bus cause great stress and I generally put it off for a few days until I familiarize myself with my immediate surroundings (and the temperament of the local populace). During my time in Hong Kong, there were places I wanted to visit that required me to take on this fear so I couldn't put it off for long.

Entering Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station amongst a sea of people during the morning commute nearly made me break out in hives from nerves. It felt like there were more people rushing about than the entire population of the city I now live in. I searched for the least crowded ticket dispenser and felt my breathing increase as I made my way to the front of the line. "What if I don't understand how to use it?", "What if I cause the people behind me to miss their train?", "What if people start yelling at me for being an idiot?", "What if?", "What if?"

When all was said-and-done, I discovered that the Hong Kong subway is the EASIEST to navigate of all the places I've been. It's a complete breeze! And the local populace is more welcoming and patient than other western cities of equivalent size. This realization gave me a new freedom during my trip, broadening my horizon as to how (and where) I could spend the remainder of my days. The confidence these small tasks can instil should not be underestimated. Small steps can lead to great journeys. 

The train eventually took me across land and over water to Lantau Island, home of Tai O Fishing Village, Po Lin Buddhist Monastery and its "Big Buddha". To get to these sights though, I had to take a long—and very scenic—gondola up a mountain, choosing to upgrade to the glass-bottomed version for optimal viewing. On the twenty minute or so ride, I was grouped with a family from New Delhi, India. At first I sat in the corner, looking out into the distance and not wanting to infringe as they took numerous photos of each other and coordinated dance moves for a video they were making. Seriously (at one point I grew concerned at how much the gondola was rocking). The father eventually reached out asking if I wanted a picture taken of myself. After saying yes, I was pretty much adopted into their clan for the remainder of the day and even invited back to their hotel afterwards to feast on my favourite dish, biriyani, which we all agreed was better than the fish-heavy local cuisine. 

I learned that they would be moving to Canada in the coming year, seeing it as a clean break from a homeland that they described as being riddled with corruption. This echoed what I have heard from others, including my partner who is originally from southern state Kerala. They inquired as to the best place to settle in my homeland and asked just how cold our winters were. I'm not sure they believed me. But they will find out. As the conversation continued, the men - the father and his two adult sons - excused themselves from the women and invited me for a cigarette. It amused me that they assumed I smoked (I don't). When I asked if their wives would be joining, they informed me they would "never". The youngest son even tried to conceal his habit from his new bride by holding nacho chips in his hand which he felt would eradicate all traces of the smell of smoke. 

I felt a tinge of pity for his naïveté.

How little men know that when a woman wants to find out what her mate it up to, it is with the greatest of ease that she become a Russian-level spy. 


After disembarking from the gondola, I took a bus from Ngong Ping Village to Tai O Fishing Village which is pretty much constructed on stilts overtop of water. It was an amazing sight to behold and offered glimpse into a life vastly different than my own. A life revolved around the ebb of tides versus the whims of head office. I was even invited into one of these traditional homes for a brief tour. Its sparse decoration focused on pictures of family and their history, along with written Buddhist prayers. Another thing I noticed about this place was the number of dogs running about. Maybe it was their freedom, maybe it was the scraps of fish that were thrown their way, but these friendly, happy doggos beamed with contentment. I set out a goal of petting and taking pictures of all of them. 

I also took a boat ride around the general area and saw a portion of the world's longest sea bridge; the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge connects the three major Pearl River Delta cities at a span of 55km. The megaproject hasn't even opened yet and will officially welcome vehicular traffic in July 2018. 

Completing my day-long excursion, I visited Po Lin Buddhist Monastery where I hiked up to "Big Buddha" and contemplated the next steps I want to take in life.  

 Going up the Ngong Ping 360 gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Going up the Ngong Ping 360 gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Looking down at Lantau Island—and my filthy Nikes—while looking through the glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Looking down at Lantau Island—and my filthy Nikes—while looking through the glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Going up the Ngong Ping 360 glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Going up the Ngong Ping 360 glass-bottom gondola on Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Taking part in a traditional tea ceremony on Lantau Island (@Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Taking part in a traditional tea ceremony on Lantau Island (@Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boy no. 1, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no. 1, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boy no.2, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no.2, Lantau Island, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boys no.3 and no.4, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boys no.3 and no.4, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Family portrait inside home in Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Family portrait inside home in Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Toilet in house in Tai O Fishing Village. I'm glad I didn't have to go because I don't know how to swim if I fell in (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Toilet in house in Tai O Fishing Village. I'm glad I didn't have to go because I don't know how to swim if I fell in (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Good boy no.5, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no.5, Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 What's for dinner? Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

What's for dinner? Tai O Fishing Village, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 My new adoptive family, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

My new adoptive family, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Good boy no.6, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good boy no.6, Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Climbing up to Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, China (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong VIII

Hong Kong vignette no.1: The rising sun cast a marigold tint over the Central District as I leisurely strolled along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. There were few people out at this hour. Joggers made use of the cooler temperature. As well, other sleep-deprived tourists snapped selfies as the neon signage flickered in conclusion to a long night. I paused, taking it all in. At a different time, I would not be afforded the solitude to appreciate the spectacular view I now faced. 

And then, a noise.

The faint sound of music approaching.

As it neared, I recognized the instrumentation and, of course, THE voice. An older woman paused around ten feet from me also to soak in the glorious view of her presumed hometown. On her iPhone, she loudly played Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All". I remained still as well, thinking about how small the world is and how this moment, however pedestrian, would remain near the top of my memories of Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong vignette no. 2: Later in the day, I stood near the entrance to the mid-levels escalator with the intent of taking a picture of this unique urban convenience. As I posited the perfect angle, the siren call of hell's gate opening—or something similar—rumbled. It was loud. It was shrill. It was a tiny, old Cantonese man perched atop the biggest hog I have ever seen in my life as it blasted Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone". The contrast both amused and fascinated me. 

He stopped at the light while everyone in the vicinity stared at him with curiosity and awe. I could tell he enjoyed it. I could tell he was a rock star in his own mind. He revved his motor a few times for the crowd and smiled before driving away. 

"That's how you live life," I thought to myself. 

Hong Kong VII

I am a creature of habit. My hotel in Hong Kong was situated across a public square that I walked through daily. So ingrained in my mind is this prosaic ceremony that I can recall every detail from the advertised price of traditional remedies in the medicine shops, to the faces of the gweilo lined up at McDonalds ordering strawberry ice cream cones, to the hare krishnas causing spectacle with song and dance while soliciting their creed (and monetary donations). While it may seem boring to have such a predictable routine—especially while on holiday—I now relish the ability to close my eyes and return to such sweet vivid memory in my life. 

This public square became the starting point for my journey to several markets within the city, including the bird market, flower market, ladies market and Temple Street night market. There was also a pet market, which I would normally be excited to visit, but I read that it wouldn't be a happy place filled with boops and zooms so avoided it. Watching a fish try to escape a food stall one day was all my sensitivity could handle. 

The bird market, known as the Yuen Po Bird Garden, and flower market are adjacent to each other. Neither one is very big—the bird market just constitutes a small lane—but they are interesting to visit. Birds are a popular pet in China and this area acts as a place for locals to take theirs out for show, somewhat similar to a dog park in North America. In mid-afternoon, this was THE area for senior citizens to congregate and socialize with a bamboo cage in one hand and deck of cards in the other. There were also several shops selling all manner of fowl and the insects they consume. 

The ladies market and Temple Street night market are very similar. They both have a maze of stalls selling mass produced, cheaply made merchandise that is of dubious quality and origin. I walked through them and became bored after awhile. There's only so much knock-off Supreme clothing that one can take. The only thing that caught my eye was a pair of Gudetama (!!!) pajamas that I bartered down from 300HKD to 80HKD (roughly $13.00 CDN). They are an XL and I can barely fit into the pants. Perhaps the only difference between these two markets were the prostitutes chatting up the foreigners in the Temple Street area. As I travel alone, I'm always leery of being mistaken for one but then remember that I look like a journalist and there are few men into that kink. 

On that topic, Hong Kong has the most sex shops of any city I've visited. 

 Birds for sale at Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Birds for sale at Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Birds for sale at Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Birds for sale at Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Seniors socializing at Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Seniors socializing at Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The flower market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The flower market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The flower market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The flower market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

 Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

 Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

 Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

 Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

Area near Temple Street night market, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018)

 One of Hong Kong's many sex shops (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

One of Hong Kong's many sex shops (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Meat market in the Central district of Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Meat market in the Central district of Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Meat market in the Central district of Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Meat market in the Central district of Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Meat market in the Central district of Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Meat market in the Central district of Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The despondent face of the fish that tried to escape (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The despondent face of the fish that tried to escape (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Hong Kong street fashion on the Star Ferry (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong street fashion on the Star Ferry (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong VI

I need to write about food in Hong Kong. 

IMG_6621.jpg

It's FUCKIN' expensive! 

Prior to my trip, I watched a number of Youtube videos that spoke of this but I chose not to believe them foolishly equating Hong Kong with the mainland that I visited oh, so long ago. Cities like Shanghai and Beijing had a cornucopia of delicious street food options that one could purchase with the spare change in their pocket. Hong Kong ... not so much. In fact, I can't even recall seeing a single street food vendor and prices matched - if not outright exceeded - the costly eats I've had in places like London and Paris. Prices seemed to be 3 - 4 times what I'd spend on equivalents in Canada. Thank God my hotel had a free mini bar; those Halloween-sized bags of BBQ potato chips and M&Ms sustained me.  

The difficulty of doing a quick monetary conversion in my head also played into my ignorance regarding food prices. As did absence of shared language. On my third day in the city, I passed a small traditional Chinese restaurant where a plate of beef stir-fry caught my eye. I am trying to cut back on meat but the whole presentation - with a mountain of seasoned vegetables atop a bed of noodles - really appealed to me. With all the hiking I was doing, my body would welcome the nutrition. While I do enjoy sitting in restaurants and savouring the entire experience of dining in a foreign land, the restaurant was packed and thus I ordered the dish as takeaway. Staff initially appeared to not know the price as I pointed to it, quizzically looking at each other, but finally quoted me a reasonable 60HKD (roughly $9.50 CDN). I paid and stood to the side, eventually flipping through a table menu as I waited where I observed the exact same meal listed at 35HKD. I was annoyed but chose to not say anything, considering it part of the cost of travel. But when I got back to my room and opened the container to see that it was 98% noodles, 1.5% poorly cooked beef and .5% scallions (and that's generous), I vowed to be more diligent. I feel I was given a cup of Nissin. I eventually found an Indian restaurant that had delicious biriyani and garlic naan. I visited so often that the owner knew me by the end of my trip. 

The most sticker shock I received though was at a supermarket in the IFC Mall. Now that I'm learning how to cook, the main souvenirs I wanted to purchase for myself included a number of ingredients that aren't readily available back home. Like pickled sakura cherry blossoms. Didn't know I wanted them, and have no idea what I'm going to do with them, but I now have some in my pantry. I could have walked around this store for hours studying the packaging and thinking up recipes that may or may not be edible when I finished. After filling my basket with a few obscure baking items and small snacks, I made my way to the register where the total caused me to gulp: 752HKD (roughly $120.00 CDN). If purchased in Canada, at our most expensive grocery, I don't feel it would have topped $30. 

As for the item pictured above? That is "suckling pig" and will set you back roughly $30 CDN.  

 My pickled sakura blossoms.

My pickled sakura blossoms.

#GoJetsGo

It is a very exciting time to be a Winnipegger. Either current or former, hometown or transplant, we all rise together in cheering our team as they dominate the nation's sport. 

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In celebration of this special time, new merchandise has been added to my online shop. Visit society6.com/oblada to purchase. 

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Hong Kong V

Smartphones have made our lives considerably easier. Of that, there is no doubt. But human intelligence is still required to operate them. On day two of my trip to Hong Kong, I sorely (literally) lacked any. 

Waking up again at four a.m. (my internal clock is precise), I watched the theatre of dawn over Victoria Harbour as the soft amethyst hue of daybreak transitioned to a million shades of gold. With nary a cloud in the sky, it made sense to make my way up one of the main attractions in the city: The Peak. Situated atop Mount Austin, The Peak has two main attractions - a funicular railway that transports passengers to the top and, once there, a breathtaking view of the iconic skyline below. Using my hotel-provided Smartphone, I punched in "The Peak" to GoogleMaps and began my journey. 

My hotel was located on the Kowloon side of the city. To get to the Central district of Hong Kong Island, where The Peak was situated, I needed to cross Victoria Harbour aboard another of the city's icons: the Star Ferry. At the equivalent of roughly 50 cents Canadian, it's one of the cheapest—and most enjoyable—things to do. I live in central Canada where wheat fields are oceanic in stature and size, so it's always an escape for me to be near (or preferably on) actual large bodies of water. Observing several generations of Chinese water transport, from traditional junket to water taxi to mega cruise ship, was also an interesting panorama of the transition of time. 

Once on the other side, I found myself in a jumble of businessmen and expats with places to go, people to see. The atmosphere was well hectic. It starts to get vertical fast, hence why the world's longest escalator exists here, but my phone was taking me in the opposite direction. My hike would be unaided by moving walkways. I've climbed mountains before, I don't know why this easy, in comparison, hike was making me wheeze the way it was but after an hour or so, I was spent. Perhaps it had to do with the concrete jungle underfoot rather than a natural, welcoming forest bed. I checked my phone to see how much further I'd have to go ... and then it hit me. The realization that I had typed in "Victoria Peak" rather than "Victoria Peak Tram". I was half-way up the bloody mountain before realizing I had missed my actual destination! Cursing to myself, I made my way back down and eventually found the line to purchase a ticket. 

The bad thing about traveling solo is you don't have anyone to warn you of your idiocy. 

The good thing about traveling solo is you don't have anyone to witness your idiocy. 

I stood in it for well over an hour. Time in which I probably could have reached the summit. 

But it was worth it.

 Sunrise over Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Sunrise over Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The complimentary smartphone in my room at Hotel Icon, with unlimited data and free international calling (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The complimentary smartphone in my room at Hotel Icon, with unlimited data and free international calling (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 All aboard the Star Ferry (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

All aboard the Star Ferry (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Cruise ship docked in Victoria Harbour (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Cruise ship docked in Victoria Harbour (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 In the distance, a traditional junket sails across Victoria Harbour (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

In the distance, a traditional junket sails across Victoria Harbour (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The Peak Tram (this is not the actual line; these are just the people who were let into the boarding area). (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The Peak Tram (this is not the actual line; these are just the people who were let into the boarding area). (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The angle of the tram while going up to The Peak (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The angle of the tram while going up to The Peak (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Peak selfie (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Peak selfie (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 View from the top (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

View from the top (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 View of the other side of Hong Kong Island (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

View of the other side of Hong Kong Island (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 The highest (and priciest) real estate in Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The highest (and priciest) real estate in Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Interior of The Peak (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interior of The Peak (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Very thankful for a comfy bed at the end of the day (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Very thankful for a comfy bed at the end of the day (©Deborah Clague, 2018).