So we went to Hong Kong…and to be honest I didn’t think it would be that much different from where we live now. BUT I was wrong. Hong Kong is very different from mainland China…and quite a bit pricier too!
Our trip began bright and early Friday morning, where somehow you find the energy to wake up early despite exhaustion because you’re excited to be going somewhere different! However I think my excitement from travelling shows up in different ways now that I’ve been doing a lot of it (I am not complaining at all though!). When I was younger, I’d get so excited weeks in advanced that I couldn’t sleep because it felt like I was on a caffein high. I not only would get excited for the actually destination, but I also would always get excited for the journey along the way; meaning I loved flying or driving for hours to get somewhere. This section of time set aside for travel meant that I could watch movies, read, draw or whatever I felt like doing! And I loved it. I don’t know if travel brought out my creativity, or, if I deprived myself of doing these things regularly, but I felt like this was the best time to do them. Whatever the reason, it was my time! (Although maybe this is unusual for a young person to enjoy doing…but hey I’M A WEIRDO!) 🙂
I think the last time I felt like a kid during travel was when I got business class seating for the first time, and I didn’t know until I was boarding the plane! We were on our way to Thailand from the Toronto airport and I got the generous opportunity!! I felt SO excited and I don’t think I could stop talking to Ryan for the first 10 minutes on the plane. “Ryan! Our seats turn into beds!”, “Ryan! We get toothpaste!”, “Ryan! The T.V screen is huge!”, “Look at the menu!! We have options!”, “My butt doesn’t hurt!”, “You mean I can have as much wine as I want?”,“ You mean I can get this service for the next 15 hours of my life?”. Because of where we were sitting, I had to pop my head up over the divider to say these things; I’m sure Ryan was like “YEA I KNOW! I’m here too!” Anyway, there was a little part of me that didn’t want to land….but I smartened up from wishing those things, because you know what they say: “Be careful what you wish for”, and I did not wish for another Asian flight to go missing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable flight, and I was really happy to have had that opportunity to experience it. They actually gave me a survey to fill out at some point and I checked off “Excellent” for everything. My comments were “EVERYTHING WAS FANTASTIC! BEST SERVICE I’VE EVER HAD! Would definitely fly with this airline in business class again” and then a little mental side note “..if I can afford it”. One of most impressive things about that flight was that they addressed me as “Ms.Toffolo” throughout the flight. Boy did I feel special!
Even now, I don’t really dread travel time; the thing I stress out about is being late! I actually enjoy waiting at the airport for hours and hours before my flight (like more than recommended), because it’s better than the alternative of almost missing a flight, or stressing about missing it. (And when I’m stressed out, who knows what I will say or do!). Although I’ve calmed down about being super early, I do still enjoy my time at the airport or on the plane for the most part. The parts I don’t like about flights now is the gross recycled air, and having my butt go numb from sitting for so long. But some things that help: alcohol and gravol. It really just knocks me out! The first time I tried this trick I was going away with my family; my brother was sitting beside me and started poking me in my sleep. I was a rock and did not feel a thing. I unfortunately did not look very attractive with my mouth hanging open (my brother told me later)…but hey, sleep is sleep! Another downside to an extensive amount of time on a plane: if I don’t stay hydrated, I expand like a balloon! Seriously my toes look like sausages and I get some saweeeet cankles! I’ve started bringing my 1L water bottle on long flights and try to make sure it’s always full!
ANYWAYS, we went to HONG KONG! (minus the cankles and sausage toes). The main reason for going was because of my visa; I can’t stay a day later than 60 days or I might not be allowed back into mainland China (I mean I would love to be able to see Ryan for the next year or two). Going to Hong Kong counts as exiting the country, which means I could literally take the quick 2.5 hr flight, wait, and go back to Wuxi all in one day. But for one, that sounds super boring and two, I don’t think there would be any point to that. Plus this visa is giving me a good excuse to get out an explore the world! I love it! And I really enjoyed exploring Hong Kong; not only was I re-setting my visa, but also myself.
I had heard a while back about the Hong Kong beaches and I knew that I had to go, with the beach being one of my top priorities. Another recommendation we got from several friends was to do some hiking; which Ryan and I love to do, and those were precisely the things we did!
Our first day there Ryan and I enjoyed beer out on the patio of our hotel, which was located about 30 or so minutes from the airport.
The location was nice because it took us out of the intense skyscrapers and business of downtown Hong Kong, allowing us to enjoy the views of the water we were located along. Unfortunately this did mean we had to set quite a bit of time aside for transportation, but that was okay with me for some peace and quiet. While enjoying the views and our beer, we were waiting for my friend from high school, Sumeet, to show up. He was doing a trip in Asia with his cousin to visit his sister in South Korea, and later head to Japan. We thought it would be fitting to meet up in Hong Kong since he would be close!
We found out quickly that his favourite foods to eat included McDonalds or KFC, (or any fast food really) which are abundant in China. We would suggest Chinese food and he’d be like “Yeah sure, Chinese McDonalds sounds good”. Somehow I find that Chinese people make this food look like it’s a high- end restaurant. Honestly I see a lot people looking dressed-up and just put together at McDonalds. This is in comparison to people at home who will wear PJs…Although, if you have the confidence to wear your PJs to McDonalds (or anywhere in public) and don’t care about what people think, good for you!! Anyways, somehow I can feel like garbage when I walk into a McDonalds…not because of the food I’m eating (that just makes me feel like garbage afterwards), but because of how everyone else is dressed. It’s like going to a party and you realize you were the only one that wore jeans and a tank, when everyone else is wearing a dress. MY NIGHTMARE. Although, this extreme scenario has not happened to me, any place I feel underdressed I usually avoid eye contact with everyone.
Our first night we walked around a main street in downtown Hong Kong, which included a tonne of buildings and a tonne of people…but is that really that surprising for China? What was MOST surprising were the amount of foreigners! It didn’t feel like we were in Asia anymore with the amount of people that could speak English, including the people of Hong Kong. This made travelling around super easy! Hong Kong was all around, very multicultural without losing the “Asian feel’ to it; and I liked that. And I hardly felt like I was being pushed or shoved. Yay! Hong Kong knows about personal space!! I also don’t remember hearing any horking, so that was also a bonus.
Speaking of multicultural, the restaurant we went to that first night was an Indian restaurant recommended to Sumeet. To get to this place, I felt like we walked through India town, similar to China town in Toronto. I was SO surprised to see so many people from India (although it’s possible that not everyone was from India), and so much Indian food only in this one section! I mean I’ve always wanted to go to India, so it’s kind of cool I got to experience a tiny part of it (or at least what I think it would sort-of be like). We walked past a crazy amount little Indian restaurants, all smelling delicious in this cramped market area called Chungking Mansions. Not at all a mansion though…so I don’t fully understand that name. Many of the people here would step in front of us asking if we wanted to buy watches or handbags…but we were hungry! Although, one guy asked Ryan if he wanted a watch, and Ryan responded “Do you want a notepad?? I have a notepad. How much do you want to pay for it??” While this made me laugh (because he actually had a notepad in his pocket), Ryan unfortunately didn’t get any bids. But I mean why not try the same tactics they used on us right?? Only fair.
We eventually weaved our way around the market and after a very small elevator ride, arrived in a small room with a bunch of tables packed together. The kitchen size was matched to the tininess of the bathroom: having the sink and urinal in a 5 square foot space. I kid you not the bathroom was TINY. The kitchen definitely not as small, but in terms of cleanliness- health and safety at home would probably shut it down. However this has never held me back before, and wouldn’t hold me back this time from enjoying a good meal. And was it ever good! Someday I’d love to find out what Indian food in India tastes like. Really, anything with naan is a mouth-watering masterpiece.
After dinner, we scoped downtown for a long time trying to find a bar; but the first bar we tried rejected us because it was “dinner time”…and that left us feeling pretty shocked. We certainly weren’t a group of drunks asking to get into a bar; we were all in fact very calm. But maybe she took one look at us and figured we were some troublemakers (maybe our tall-ness intimidated her). The next place we stopped in we weren’t sure if it was actually open, but sure enough we just tried opening the door and it was a bar! Everything was black and dim with blue lighting, giving it a bit of an eerie feeling. After sitting down and getting our eyes adjusted, we realized that drinks would be costing us around $15-20 Canadian just for ONE! We got up and left, and eventually settled for a little ice cream place, which also happened to sell beer. I mean what better things to sell! Everyone loves ice cream, and why not throw beer into the mix.
When we sat down at our little table on the side of the road, giving a view of all the other restaurants on the street, we noticed a homeless old man: topless and ripped (I suppose 0% body fat will create that image). He was calmly and confidently watching over the crowd as if it were his corner, taking a puff of his cigarette every so often. Turned out this man was genius! A group of girls decided that they were quite full, payed for their dinner and then left, leaving a table-full of wasted food. (Honestly I think China needs to figure something out on the amount of food wasted. Every time I see a group of people out for dinner, there is such a large quantity of wasted food!) The second they left, the homeless man casually walked over, grabbed a folded newspaper stuck down the back of his pants and pulled it out. I realized as he was pulling the paper out that he was not wearing any underwear (I didn’t mean to look! I just saw him pulling something out of his butt!), and so it was resting on his butt for who knows how long…and he proceeded to put the leftover foods in his newspaper with his bare hands. As he was leaving he grabbed a ¾ full bottle of beer (I hope with no backwash), walked back to his corner and took a swig of his beer as he settled in for his dinner. I mean, this sounds disgusting right? He just put food that has been touched by people he doesn’t know, in newspaper, which is already riddled with many other substances, that was a second ago, on his butt crack. Despite the image and thought of germs, I thought his actions were smart: He waited for somewhat freshly cooked and warm-ish food to eat, and he got a beer out of it!! I mean that’s better than the food being thrown in the trash or starving. We all felt bad for this man at first, but realized he was doing just fine for himself. If I were homeless I would have to say I’d probably do the same thing; being hungry is no fun…although I HOPE I at least had some undies on if I were to stuff newspaper back there.
The night we also found a really interesting park, which did not look like one from its initial appearance.
We weren’t sure what to expect walking up those stairs, but when went up we found massive statues of comic book characters! They were all throughout the park and were hilarious and interesting to look at.
We also found pregnant-looking man sleeping on a bench, and as well a group of friendly-looking older women doing Tai Chi. I pushed Ryan to join them, but that didn’t work…I would have loved to video tape that!!
The next day we planned and succeeded in hiking a trail on Hong Kong Island called “Dragons Back”. I had read about it during my research and was also told by friends that this was a must! It was very much worth it, and we got to see different side of Hong Kong. SUCH beautiful views of the water and the mountains; it’s tough to beat these kinds of nature hikes. It was supposed to rain that day but we got lucky and were given sunshine!
Take a look at these gorgeous views.
After our hike, we made our way to a beach called “Big Wave Bay”. To get to the beach we had to walk through a little place where people lived, and it really felt like a surfing community. I would assume that this is what Hawaii feels like! But I have never been, so I really don’t know (another place I’d like to go). But it was so cool to see people waxing their surfboards, or selling things through their little surf shop.
Once we got to the beach we saw a crazy amount of people trying to surf; the waves weren’t always being cooperative for them, and I think maybe quite a few were just learning to surf. I know nothing about surfing, but it looks like a difficult sport …so good for them! I didn’t bring my bathing suit to Hong Kong because I figured that the water would be freezing in November, and maybe really dirty; but the water looked quite clean, the sand was so soft and white, and the temperature of the water felt perfect on my feet. It was so so refreshing to stick my feet in the sand and feel the sun on my face; instant relaxation.
After grabbing a delicious lunch at the beach (and a couple of beers), we made our way back to the city to check off another “To-Do” on our list; Victoria Peak. This came highly recommended as well…but apparently every person in Hong Kong was also told to do this. The line-up for the tram up to the top of the peak was massive! We didn’t want to stand their until midnight, and decided to hold off until our last day in hopes that the lineup would be shorter.
…but in fact it wasn’t! I think it ended up being longer! We even got up earlier that morning and went straight to the peak lineup to test our luck again. If we had followed through with waiting, Ryan and I would have missed our flight back to the mainland. While we could have hiked up, there was still not enough time in our day to do so. So instead, we walked around aimlessly and found a nice park, which also had a very broken down Olympic Stadium (although I don’t even know when Hong Kong hosted the Olympics??).
We made our way to lunch and shortly after said our goodbyes to Sumeet so that Ryan and I could go to the airport.
It’s not surprising that the hiking and beach part of Hong Kong were my favourite parts; I don’t always enjoy being around busy cities, especially when I get enough of it as it is! It was so nice to get away for a bit, see an old friend, and reset my internal self!
Some take-away notes from Hong Kong: It is very different from mainland China. Some simple differences, if you don’t already know:
- The currency is different; they use Hong Kong dollars rather than RMB.
- It is more expensive than mainland China: On top of being just a cheap person, China has made me even more so! So this was a noticeable difference for me.
- Instead of Mandarin, they speak Cantonese; Ryan and I could not understand much! It sounds so different!
- Public transportation was our best friend when getting around Hong Kong. We bought passes called “Octopus” cards, which allowed you to load it up and pay very easily for public transportation like you would pay for items in a store with a tap debit card. Amazing! I really enjoyed the convenience and the option of cheaper transportation with this card, considering how expensive taxis were (compared to mainland China that is).
- Drivers are seated on the right and drive on the left side of the road whereas mainland China is opposite
Some other not-so-simple differences I noticed were that in my opinion, the people in Hong Kong were different from mainland. Honestly it seemed like the people that lived there were more “Westernized” than mainland China; with many of them speaking English, among other behaviours I noted as ‘different’ (Again, I do not mean any offence by this!). For example, I mentioned earlier that I didn’t feel like I was being pushed or shoved despite the large populations. As well, people in Hong Kong believe in waiting in line! I really enjoyed that part; I didn’t feel like I needed to fight my way in a line or defend my spot: I could relax a bit more! Something just as simple as getting on an escalator or subway was much more calming to do in Hong Kong than it normally is in mainland China. People would wait their turn to line up single file on the escalator, rather than in the mainland where people shove their way through so that everyone can fit on all at once. I never thought I’d be comparing “The stress levels of getting on an escalator” (sounds like a scientific study…) but China has changed me! Both systems work; just one has me a bit more defensive than the other.
I would suggest Hong Kong to anyone! It has the best of both worlds; giving you the option of nature, but also the option of enjoying the hustle and bustle of a huge city. Plus, getting around is super easy when you know you can speak English to the locals or even the many foreigners that have decided to live and/or work. I’m sure I will be back to Hong Kong the next time I need a quick trip for a reset! 🙂
Next stop: Christmas at home and New Years in Florida 🙂
The countdown is on and I’m already listening to Christmas tunes!
I fortunately don’t have the obligation to listen to Christmas music every time I turn on the radio or go to a store: China doesn’t celebrate! It’s getting me more excited to be home, and I can’t wait to see everyone, drink some egg nog, watch the Grinch, eat delicious family home-cooked meals and experience the SNOW that I’m missing in China right now.
I hope to update everyone with a new blog in the new year (if not sooner).
Happy Holidays everyone!!