Our first few days in Asia have been sleepy ones. After over 24 hours of travel time we finally arrived in Hong Kong ready to sleep. Although it was a bit difficult to find our way to our hostel at the beginning, we eventually got there… and found ourselves lying awake in bed because our internal clocks told us it was time to be awake. Never have I ever experienced jet lag like this!
On the first night we went for an easy meal of McDonald’s, hoping to avoid the inevitable upset stomach that comes with strange new foods. Even McDonald’s is different here though, but not in a bad way! Keenen enjoyed a chicken and HASH BROWN sandwich with CURLY FRIES! WHAT?!? We got a bunch of strange little red envelopes with our meal for Chinese New Year. They’re used to give monetary gifts and the color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is a symbol to ward off evil spirits.
After a sleepless night, we woke in the morning to meet two fellow American traveler’s from the New York area, Mike and Adam. Mike, a student of Mandarin living in Shanghai, was a welcome and brilliant friend that provided delightful conversation. Adam, a former resident of Hong Kong, shared his vast wealth of knowledge on traveling Asia. Thanks for all of the recommendations!
Together we ate an interesting lunch of West African food on the first floor of the hostel building- giri (cassava root) and chicken, with a chicken samosa and Indian sweets for desert. Adam explained to us that where we are staying, ChungKing Mansions, is somewhat of a famous cultural center in Hong Kong. HK’s west African and Indian population is concentrated in this area, and it is one of the more multicultural neighborhoods in the city.
After lunch we rode the ferry across the harbor to Hong Kong island, the financial district. We were (and still are) totally overwhelmed by the number of skyscrapers in this city. It sprawls from one edge to the other, across islands, from the mountains to the water line, in every direction. It’s slightly mind blowing to look at the buildings and realize that each pinprick window of light represents at least one human being, but probably more.
We chatted with Mike for a long time, sharing our viewpoints of the world. We discussed multiculturalism, and how the world is so afraid of it recently. As we have met people from other parts of the world, it seems that racism and nationalism are running rampant everywhere, not just in the U.S. Since when did the identity of a country depend on everyone living there having the same color skin? Or the same religious ideals? Or sexual orientation? I have always been proud of the melting pot of America- I think we happen to be the most multi cultural country on the planet, but there are a lot of threats to that happening right now. I think the best cure for this is travel! Human is human, and everyone needs to remember that!
After returning to the mainland of downtown Hong Kong, we watched the over-advertised and underwhelming laser show. I’d say you can skip it if you ever get here… it only lasted about 1 minute and the viewing area was packed. That was all we could manage before collapsing into bed.
This morning we got a late start due to my messed up circadian rhythm. I needed a hearty American meal for strength, so we stopped at the Pizza Hut down the street and experienced culture shock even in the most American of locales. In Hong Kong, Pizza Huts are fine restaurants, with beautiful décor, waiters, and food prices higher than you’d find on the street. The menu features several items unique to this area, including a lot of sea food.
Afterwards we took the subway to the beautiful Kowloon Walled City Park. We learned that as recently as the 1990s the park looked far different than it does now- it used to be a dense conglomeration of tightly packed apartments and factories for the impoverished. Apparently it was the center of debauchery in Hong Kong, though now it houses a beautiful garden, temple, and museum. Adam explained to us that this a common theme in Hong Kong- bulldoze and rebuild, often and fast. The city is constantly growing and changing. There were several photo shoots going on in the park with gorgeous Asian models dressed in traditional garb; it was wonderful to see.
After the walled city we made our way towards Nan Lian gardens and came across a vibrant street market on the way. Of course we had to visit, and we’re glad we did. The street markets here replace grocery stores, and it’s a far more sustainable food source than the supercenters of America, not to mention it supports the local economy. We were surprised to find that most of the sea food was kept in live tanks, and butchered only after it was sold. It’s surprising that we’ve never seen this before as it seems like an extremely effective way to keep things fresh.
The Nan Lian gardens showcased several different types of bonsai and banyan trees, next to waterfalls and bizarre and gorgeous rock formations. It was an interesting contrast to be in the peaceful, quiet gardens but look up to see skyscrapers on all sides. The most impressive feature of the garden was its tranquil serenity despite being in the middle of a busy and bustling city.
After the gardens we visited the Temple Street Night Market, where we giggled at all of the unlicensed merchandise, like Star Wart and Pokemom “lego” sets. After the bustling market, it was time for bed so we picked up some breakfast for tomorrow at a fantastic little bakery chain called “BreadTalk” and went back to the hostel for an early night.
One of the most striking features of Hong Kong for me is the vast multitude of stores. The streets are lined with small shops and stands selling all sorts of things for cheap. There seems to be an upscale mall around every corner and at every metro station, and then there are standalone luxury retailers sprinkled amongst it all. I have to wonder how they all stay in business, but I guess with 8 million residents and ever growing tourism it makes sense that consumerism is such a dominant force in this city.
Have questions about Hong Kong? Recommendations? Let us know in the comments!