Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fantastically Wonderful Hong Kong!

1) The Buddha at Lantau island
2) Curious about Asian plane food... haha, here ya go!
3) The parade at Lantau island
4) Skyline of HK... from the Avenue of Stars
5) Heading over the beautiful water in our cable car at Lantau island
6) Our cute little hostel.. and Felicity
7) Molly, Felicity and I in our cable car at Lantau island

It was one hell of a week… sorry for the tardiness of my blog. I hope my compelling Asian escapades make up for the wait. Let me go way back to the very beginning of of my vacation, Tuesday night… I left my apartment only to find that Gwangju was a ghost town. Was it because of the late hour that I was leaving or because of the holiday?… I'm guessing it was a little of both. I walked a mile on the dreadfully slick, black ice with my luggage at hand until I finally spotted a cab. When I got to the bus station, the few people I saw coming in and out at that late hour, were all carrying the same gift bags…. industrial sized bags of spam- wow, what a lovely and thoughtful new year gift… please ignore my sarcasm if you're a lover of this tasty canned meat. Anyway, once my friends arrived, we bought bus tickets to Seoul and we were on our merry way. We arrived in Seoul around 4 am…. I tried to get a little shut eye but I was way to excited and full of caffeine. Once we got to Seoul we had to take a pricey cab to Incheon where the airport is located. 5 am…. exchange our wons to Hong Kong dollars…6 am…. a little Subway (sandwiches that is)… YUM… 7am… no sleep… 8am… finally we board and we are in the air by 9. After landing in China 2 hours later, we enjoyed the Shanghai airport for 6 long hours. A good 2 hours of that time were spent being quarantined by the Chinese officials. Right after we got off the place, we were escorted down an enclosed group of hallways and into several different rooms where they checked our passports, searched us, etc. Is this typical… I felt like a slave. I don't know what the big deal was, we were only in Shanghai (China) for a few hours… we weren't even leaving the airport. There were signs everywhere that read: "NO TALKING, NO PICTURES, NO CELLPHONES", hmmm, oh well. Our schedule was so off that day, we were going off no sleep and I think we ended up having 5 or 6 meals. 2 of those meals were on the airplane… maybe it's an Asian thing but I've never been on a 2 hour flight that serves a full meal, beverage (free alcohol), snack, and ice-cream.

Finally, we landed in Hong Kong…ahhhh, yes… instant gratification! I could finally shed the layers of clothing and relax. Right off the bat, I was noticing all the differences in the Chinese culture compared to the Korean culture. This might just be me but I think that, as far as physical appearances go… the Chinese are a lot taller than most Koreans. Their eyes are more open rather than squinted. Koreans always comment on how my… white people's noses are raised from their faces. Well, I noticed that most Chinese have noses like mine. Not to discriminate but before I moved here I wouldn't ever have been able to tell the difference between a Korean and a Chinese person. Now, it's incredibly obvious. Smoking…. it's not allowed everywhere you go like it is in Korea. If you see a woman smoking on the street in Korea… assume she is a prostitute but, not in Hong Kong. Finally… there is trash cans everywhere. People aren't just throwing there trash/ hocking loogies all over town. There was actually signs posted everywhere: "$5,000 fine for littering or spitting" (that's HK dollars not US dollars- $100 HK is about equal to $13 US). It was nice to see a clean city! Before we ventured out to find our hostel in the middle of Hong Kong, we bumped into some friends from Cheongju… how coincidental! These were some guys I met at the Dejeon Rock Festival who are from Raleigh as well. We tried to make plans to meet up with them the next day but it fell through… the trouble of not have a working cell phone in a foreign country will really get to ya. For this entire vacation… let me just say, THANK GOD FOR FELICITY (FLISS)! This was her 4th time coming to HK and she knew her way all over this hectic town, she's not illiterate when it comes to reading a map… I on the other hand, am! We got bus tickets and headed through the city on the top of a double decker bus. At this point, having no sleep didn't even phase me. The city was incredible… so many people… so much much diversity, tall beautifully structured buildings/architecture, tropical flowers and trees placed randomly throughout the city- WOW! Fliss led the way from the bus to the hostel that was perfectly placed in the middle of this gorgeous city. Our hostel was located on Fashion Street right near the harbor. From our window, you could see the water.. it was beautiful! Being that it was the Chinese new year, everything, unless booked ahead of time, was extremely expensive. My trusty friends booked our hostel weeks in advance so we stayed 4 nights at a very reasonable cost. I have never stayed in a hostel before and this experience was nothing like I had expected. I assumed we would be bunking with a bunch of random people, sharing bathrooms and roughing it all the way… fine by me. I was happily surprised to see that the three of us had our own room with our own beds and our own bathroom. It was a rather tiny room and the hot water didn't last more than 4 minutes but it didn't matter, we were in Hong Kong. The lobby of the hostel had a common room with Wifi, computers, a kitchen and a million different guide books and maps. Everywhere we went, people were speaking English… it was amazing. I felt like I was home again… I forgot how nice it is to walk up to someone, anyone, and ask something in English and have them understand and answer you! That first night we went to this ridiculously insane street fair/flower market. I have never seen so many people in my life. We walked through this squished market admiring the beautiful fresh flowers and trying our best not to loose each other. Sleep deprivation was finally setting in by 11 pm and we needed to hit the hay so we could venture out and begin our first full day.

We slept in a little bit and were out of the room by 10ish and on our way to see the city. We bought subway passes that were very inexpensive and they lasted the entire visit. Once again, these maps give me anxiety so lucky for me I had the lovely Molly and Felicity who were like my tour guides. We attempted to see some famous temples but the lines were so horrendous that we decided we'd rather do other things than stand in line for hours upon hours. Taking in the warm sun and the cool spring like air, we strolled through town in complete awe. We stumbled upon the Ladies Market… this is a famous market with thousands of vendors selling everything from fake designer bags to men's thongs (hahaha… I took a picture of these, so hilarious). I finally found the bag I've been looking for… A little Chinese woman took me up to a room and into a closet where she had tons of fake bags hidden away. I picked out a beautiful Mulberry (Brittish brand for those of you who are not aware… I wasn't, I just liked the bag haha. Fliss knows her bags and she pointed me in the right direction). I haggled with the lady for a couple $100 and finally got a decent price. This whole experience reminded me of China Town in NYC… HAAA… NYC doesn't even compare to this place). After shopping for a few hours we went and had a very bizarre lunch experience. At this place you order, wait in line for your meal and then hoover over people to get a table. You get lucky if you even get to sit with your friends. After 20 minutes of trying to find a seat in this insanely busy cafeteria, we questioned whether or not we wanted to take our food outside and sit on the ground. Finally, 3 people got up and we rushed to the table and had lunch with a random women who never moved from her seat. We en hailed our food and got out as quickly as possible…. that's the last cheap meal we have in HK. After wondering around the city some more we found a really neat mall right on the harbor (Ocean City Mall). We diddled around a bit and finally thought we should sit down for a snack and a quick rest. We found an incredible restaurant/bar that looked over the harbor. It had outdoor seating, a superb view of the skyline and a very classy, warm atmosphere. We ordered a glass of wine and cheered to the new year and the wonderful HK vacation. We had every intention of just sitting for a bit, going home later and getting dolled up for a real night out on the town. 1 glass of wine turned into 4 bottles of wine between the 3 of us…. we ate the traditional dim sum dumpling dish and had endless laughs. What a night…. oh my god is just about all I can say. We stumbled out of the bar with purple lips and headed for the city. We met a ton of different people… some gorgeous Israeli men, numerous Brits and even a few Americans (it's funny, all the Americans we met were coming from Korea like us- teachers). That night ended roughly the next day began with a hang over.

Since we wasted half our day in bed, feeling like shit… we opt to NOT drink anymore for the rest of the trip. Pretty much all we did that next day was, eat an incredible lunch (Thai/Malaysian food) and rest. I attempted to shop by myself but I didn't get too far… god forbid I get lost in this city and I can't even call my friends. Feeling a little better, we went out later that night saw a fire work show in honor of the new year. I just love fire works… I always feel like a little kid again, they are just so magical- I'll never get over that! After the impressive fire work show, we went into a really neat part of Kowloon and had yet another fantastic meal. See, I told you we wouldn't be eating cheap meals again. Instead, we enjoyed some authentic Mexican… I love a good enchilada covered with fresh guacamole and pepper jack cheese. Our plan that night was so go to bed early, wake up early and see all the sights. We were going to make up for our lost hungover time.

Up at 7:30… and a couple cold showers later and we were out the door by 9. We took the subway up to a pretty little area and had a nice breakfast outside. We got lucky… this was our last day and it was the warmest, sunniest day yet. After breakfast we took the subway to a ferry that took us to Lantau island… the location of one of the world's biggest Buddhas. This island was so hilly and tropical. A bus took us up to the area where the Buddha was. We hiked up a huge flight of stairs to finally reach Buddha… all around us were Buddhists praying and bowing to their god, it was quite enthralling actually! The view from the top of the mountain where Buddha sits was just gorgeous. I can't think of any part of this trip that wasn't spectacular or beautiful. We spent the first half of the day wandering around Lantau Island, seeing some of the old Asian temples and taking endless pictures of the town's beauty. We walked through a little village along the island and witnessed a neat parade celebrating the new year. We heard drums and signing and saw people dancing under a giant dragons… it was quite a show. To end our day in Lantau we took the cable cars across the island and into the city. This was by far the best view of the entire island. We rode over the green mountains and right above the beautiful turquoise, almost transparent water. I felt like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he rides through town in at the great glass elevator… it was my first cable car adventure, can ya tell!? After Lantau we took the subway and then a bus up to the Peak where we saw another beautiful view.. this one was the harbor skyline at sunset. Riding up the mountain to the Peak took a good 40 minutes but the ride was relaxing and beautiful. Some of the world's most expensive real-estate in on the Peak. After seeing the Peak's view, we went back down the mountain and took yet another bus to see the Avenue of Stars. Not only do you get a view of the harbor's fantastic skyline (at night) but you get to see the variety of stars… hand prints on stars.. Asian stars that is… most of which I am not familiar with. Well, there is Jackie Chan, everyone knows him! We ended our evening with a little shopping and an unforgettable, authentic Chinese meal. We started off with some hot, lavender, green tea and began with a variety of pork spiced dim sum dumplings. After our dim sum appetizer we enjoyed some crispy chili/pork sautéed beans (they don't have green beans in Korea so I was throughly enjoying these crunchy greens). We also munched down on some beef and veggie lettuce wraps but, the best part of the meal was the pecking duck… WOW… it was sliced thin and had the most flavorful, crispy skin… it just melted in your mouth. We washed it all down with a couple Chinese beers called Tsingtao. This meal was the cherry on top of a perfect day. We went to bed somewhat early… it wasn't hard because our busy exhausted us.

The last and final day of our Lunar new year vacation is hardly worth talking about… it was spent traveling. We left the hostel around 9 and traveled ALL day… bus here, subway there, plane… train… car/taxi… wow! I didn't make home until 4 am.. hence the reason I didn't write Sunday night. I've been exhausted; these 55 plus hour work weeks are killing me. Somehow, I'm still making it to the gym everyday after work and luckily… I still adore the kiddies. I can't wait to tell you about Jen and Jenny, I'll save it for this Sunday's blog.

Chinese/Hong Kong Facts/Randomness:

-The variety of people everywhere amazed me… all shapes, sizes, colors. Any type of attire was appropriate… this would be far was accepting in Korea.
-Cleavage was not looked down on (it is a big NO NO in Korea)… although, shorts like panties in Korea are totally alright/normal. I'll never understand this.
-Hong Kong drives on the other side of the road as well as the other side of the car.
-Driving is normal… unlike in Korea where you are constantly hearing horns and wondering when your going to die (that's a bit dramatic but you get the point).
-The eating etiquette is quite interesting… it's rude to finish your entire meal. At a restaurant or at someone's home, always leave food on your plate, this shows the waiter or the hostess that what you had was plenty. If you finish everything it means you are not necessarily full and the meal was not good enough for you. It also shows the person paying for the meal that he can afford to feed his family/friends.
-It was nice to finally see a germ concerned country other than my own. Koreans are constantly sneezing and coughing without ever covering their mouth or washing their hands (heck, half the time my school doesn't have soap). In HK, there were signs all over the subway telling people to cover their mouths, protect against germs, and wash hands.

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