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. 

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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). 

Hong Kong IV

Day one, I woke up early. Really early. Four A.M. to be exact. I pulled back the curtain in my room and witnessed a city at slumber below. At this hour, everything appeared so quiet and dark. Skyscrapers were black and the overcast sky above shielded all instance of celestial light. This cosmopolitan city of over seven million inhabitants had an almost quaint feel when stripped of its technicolour gloss. I debated getting dressed and exploring it under cover of night, just me and whatever creatures lurked the alleyways, but opted instead to rest a bit more. My first day would already have a lot of activity. I had planned a 15 kilometre roundtrip walk to Wong Tai Sin Temple, also known as the "good luck" shrine. 

I am entering the phase of my life where spirituality is becoming increasingly important for my personal wellbeing. Losing my father somewhat unexpectedly in 2014 was the initial impetus for seeking deeper answers and construct, but the increasing apathy of society has been a powerful motivator as well. I wanted to start out my holiday on a positive note in this regard thus a tri-faith temple beckoned me - Taoist, Buddhist and Confucianist - where legend states "what you request is what you get". 

A light drizzle filled the air when I left my hotel, only to turn into a downpour about thirty minutes in. I purchased an umbrella from a street vendor, thankful, but not really knowing what I paid - the HKD to CDN conversion isn't easily calculable in my head. I may have paid five dollars. I may have paid fifty. At that point, I was just happy to have a shield from the rain. With this, my pace became slower as I started to appreciate my surroundings. The busy commercial hub of Kowloon's core had given way to a primarily residential neighbourhood. In Canada, a high-rise living complex requires a significant base of land but in Hong Kong some of the plots seemed minuscule with a very tall, skinny multi-unit dwelling on top. The downright tiny living quarters in each unit appeared to be around 150sq.ft ... or less ... with items stacked against windows for lack of storage. The streets were also lined with yellow buses and children dressed in uniforms marching to- and fro. I passed one young artists institute and marvelled at the talent on display. 

 Artwork made by elementary-aged school children in Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Artwork made by elementary-aged school children in Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

The panther was made by a ten-year-old. Amazing. 

The rain eased somewhat as I found myself at Kowloon Walled City Park, a greenspace once ruled by the Triads and overrun with thieves, prostitution, gambling and drug abuse. The lawless enclave within Hong Kong proper was torn down in the early nineties, but prior to this it was the most densely populated spot in the world. Here is a fascinating brief history to give context:

A brief jaunt from Kowloon Walled City Park is Wong Tai Sin Temple, my final destination. Despite the gloominess of the day, large crowds were gathered to make offerings and seek counsel from one of the dozens of fortunetellers that lined near the entranceway. I took my time to soak up every inch of the shrine, carefully observing how practitioners lit incense from a communal fire and then worshipped to one of the many God-like statues that represented everything from health to love (although wealth had the most abundant gifts of mandarin). Wandering a bit more, I found a quiet spot at the Good Wish Garden to reflect and contemplate on my own needs in life. I live a blessed existence. There is not much I am left to desire. And so I turned to those I cared about that could use the energy; those facing health challenges and financial strain. It is audacious to think that a prayer could solve the world's ills but it is also of no harm to hope that it might. If this temple holds any magic at all, may it be known within my circle. 

Before starting the long walk back to my hotel, I made my way to the alley of fortunetellers. I've never done it before but was intrigued enough to give it a try, if for nothing more than another holiday memory. A short man beckoned. Not all of the seers speak English, but he did, so my decision seemed to be made for me. The walls of his tiny stall were lined with pictures of him posing with Chinese celebrities of various status. I wasn't assured of his gifts, but he did appear to have a reputation. He informed me that he has been reading palms and telling people's fortunes at Wong Tai Sin since 1988. He took my hand and traced the lines, telling me that of all my romantic interests in life, only half loved me; the rest were using me. I had already known this though. My gullibility isn't written on my palm but rather my face. He then asked me to pull a stick from dozens placed in a cup. The lucky number on it would match to a numbered envelope containing a story that foretold my future. After explaining its meaning, I was struck by how accurate it correlated with events in my life. 

It is audacious to think that a fortuneteller could inscribe my future but it is also of no harm to hope that they might. 

 Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Me at the Good Wish Garden, Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Me at the Good Wish Garden, Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Ceiling detail, Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Ceiling detail, Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Getting my fortune read at Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Getting my fortune read at Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong III

I would be remiss if I didn't write about the hotel I stayed at. It gave me my first "wow" moment when I walked into my room on the twentieth floor and saw the Hong Kong skyline lit up like a neon safari. It was also one of the highlights of my entire trip, providing comfort, security and a learning lesson. Hotel Icon is no ordinary hotel; it acts as a research and teaching facility for students of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic. This partially influenced my booking—I am employed in higher education back in Canada and was intrigued to observe our global competition firsthand. Sure enough, my stay offered great insight into post-secondary trends, the international marketplace and where the future is heading for both students and workforce. I got a wake-up call. Being good isn't good enough. I really need to up my game for the world stage and not just my own backyard.  

Beyond luxury and an attention to detail and service that I hadn't experienced before, the hotel offered some unique amenities that enhanced my trip. This included a complimentary smart phone with unlimited data and free international calling, as well as a free mini bar. The former was a Godsend that I hope other hotels implement. Using it to navigate the city saved me a small fortune in errant cab rides or hiring a guide, and the personalized advertising - which some may find intrusive - helped me learn about businesses of interest that I may have otherwise missed (and was also an interesting revenue-generating opportunity for the institute). 

This hotel provided the base for one of the best holidays of my life. I can't wait to return some day. 

 Good morning! The view was perfect both night and day as I had an amazing vista of Victoria Harbour and it's iconic architecture (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Good morning! The view was perfect both night and day as I had an amazing vista of Victoria Harbour and it's iconic architecture (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Letter in room detailing the educational aspect of the hotel for students of Hong Kong Polytechnic (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Letter in room detailing the educational aspect of the hotel for students of Hong Kong Polytechnic (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 My complimentary smartphone. More hotels need to do this! (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

My complimentary smartphone. More hotels need to do this! (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Free chips, M&Ms and beer is always welcome (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Free chips, M&Ms and beer is always welcome (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Godiva partnered with the hotel and was featured at their restaurants and a kiosk in the foyer (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Godiva partnered with the hotel and was featured at their restaurants and a kiosk in the foyer (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 One more night view. I will never forget it (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

One more night view. I will never forget it (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

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