Keenen slept most of the day on Wednesday (1/18) as he woke up feeling sick. He tends to be more adventurous with food than I am, and sometimes that doesn’t agree with him. As my baby and I needed something to eat, I nobly agreed to venture out by myself for some takeout 😊. It was my first time out alone in Hong Kong, and it took all of 2 minutes for the West Africans of Chung King mansion to start making unwanted advances in the elevator. They certainly are bold. Have you ever felt like a piece of meat? Have you ever had a whole room look at you like this? Different culture. But I have thick skin, and I didn’t let it get to me. I noticed that overall people were more rude to me without Keenen there. Who’s to say for certain why? Looks like Hong Kong should have had a Women’s march today.
Once he was feeling up to it, we set out to see the Mong Kok markets, and stopped for an egg waffle on the way. What’s an egg waffle you ask? It’s thin and crispy on the outside, warm and doughy on the inside, and sweet on it’s own without syrup or honey. It was the perfect snack. The little shop that sells them is just a stand on the corner of Austin Road and Nathan Street whose name I couldn’t hope to pronounce, covered in pictures of celebrity patrons and most likely boasting a line at least 10 people long. Try to find it if you are ever in the city!
The “fab five” Mong Kok markets are lively street markets all catering to different things. The first we visited was the Fa Yuen street market, dedicated to food and clothing and… well, this one seemed a bit random. There were stands with fruits and vegetables that are hard to get in the US (so of course we bought some fresh dragonfruit to try) as well as meats and clothing. The vendors were all calling out deals, prices, and products (or least I think that’s what they were saying)- some of them even had microphones. It had a very soulful feel to it.
The next we visited was a personal favorite- the flower market. Oh, the orchids! Never have I ever seen so many colors of orchids- from yellow to violet to deep maroon, all with beautiful patterns. There were also oranges everywhere to celebrate Chinese New Year, strange, bulbous fruits and tubers I couldn’t identify, and succulents and varied flowers in every color you could imagine. The stands went around an entire block and flowed over at the corners, and the smell was intoxicating and lovely.
Afterwards we climbed up the stairs to the bird market next door and encountered only sadness. The beginning was neat, with deeps boxes full of all different sizes of crickets and meal worms to be scooped for feed. But then, there were hundreds of birds stuffed in cages too small for them, being cared for by only one shop attendant- meaning they weren’t getting the care they deserved. There was a gorgeous blue macaw stuffed in a cage that didn’t even fit his tail feathers, and a cockatiel and a sort of yellow parakeet on stands gnawing at the chains on their legs. Their behavior made it obvious they weren’t happy or used to captivity, and made me question where they came from. I believe the shop attendants were poachers, and it took everything I had not to open the cages and let them escape.
Our next stop, the goldfish market, was equal parts sad and fascinating. The goldfish market sells pets. There were entire walls- maybe 10 feet long by 6 feet tall or more pinned with little baggies all containing fish. Goldfish, betta, discus, suckers, cichlids – and so many more. But it didn’t stop here. The fish shops also had tanks of itty bitty little turtles, iguanas and lizards, and huge tanks of coral. I’ve never seen so much healthy, unique, and colorful coral other than in the best curated tanks in American aquariums. Coral that my aquarist friends would freak out over, and prices they could never afford. And then there were the animal shops. MUNCHKIN KITTENS GALORE. Huge eyes, short goofy legs, playing and running and mewing. Dogs too- tiny little puppies, eager for a family. I would have adopted on the spot had the prices not been ridiculous. Some were $1500 USD a piece! There seemed to be 6 popular breeds- teacup poodle, Pomeranian, French bulldog, Shetland sheep dog, chow chow, and a small number of bichons and shiba inu. We didn’t see anything else. They also had rabbits and hamsters. Every single one was just unbearably cute and cuddly and I wanted to bring them home!
On the way to the next market, I was shocked to see Taipei No. 1 ShareTea, a bubble tea place I frequent in Seattle! I had to visit to get my favorite- a taro smoothie with tapioca pearls, and I have to say it was far better than any I’ve ever had in the States. The final market, the Ladies Market, closely resembled the Temple Street night market, although it was much larger. They sold a seemingly random collection of crap, ranging from watches and handbags to magnets to art, unlicensed toys, and alarm clocks. Since we had already seen something like this, we moved along quickly and jumped on the MTR (the metro system) to go to the horse races.
Every Wednesday night in Hong Kong the Happy Valley Race Track has horse racing. You can either sit inside the track for a price- or sit in the beer garden for free. We opted for the beer garden. We saw three heats, and although it wasn’t very busy at the track we watched the jackpot reach up over 15 million HKD (around $2 million US). The energy was electric. Our favorite part was the narration – there’s just something fun about Cantonese being spoken extremely quickly. The races ended late, and it was time for bed afterwards.
The next morning we rode the ferry over to Cheng Chau, another small outlying island. This little fishing village was bustling with people- it seems that quite a few live here and commute back and forth to the city. We walked through the town and took a beautiful path called the Mini Great Wall- and it was all about the views. Every clearing opened up to a breathtaking new vista- beach, ocean, and red rock. We visited a few temples and shrines, and a cave that used to hide one of the most notorious pirates in Asian history.
During our walk we met a group of Chinese people studying Christianity in Hong Kong. They were shocked to find out we did not practice. Like most of the people we’ve talked to, they wanted to know how we feel about President Donald Trump. They expressed their fear over the growing tension between the U.S. and China, and hoped they would still be welcome in the states during his administration. Their fears echoed my own, and made me feel sick.
Once we left the island, we decided to pursue more conversation with the help of a little social lubricant at Lan Kwai Fong, a very popular little bar district for people leaving work. It was ladies night everywhere, so I drank for free all night – I have yet to decide if that was a good thing or not. We found that most of the people there were foreigners as well. It seems the locals don’t have much of a drinking culture. That, or this district is simply too expensive for them. We first enjoyed the company of three Chinese guys that we invited to our table, who said they could only handle two beers each and went to bed by eleven. Then we met Selcuk, a German business man who travels A LOT. One of my favorite parts of travel is conversation with people from all over Earth; it is by far the best way to open your mind and learn about the world.
By the time we left, we had had far too many drinks for our own good. I knew we’d be hurting in the morning, but we stupidly fell asleep without eating or sipping any water. The next morning was a rough one, especially since we had to be out of our room by noon for check out. We spent a couple stressful hours planning and booking, everything made more dramatic by our headaches and sloshy bellies.
After a lunch of Chinese BBQ for Keenen and good old meaty, cheesy spaghetti for me, we made the long journey by metro then bus to the Po Lin monastery. It’s situated on top of a mountain on Lantau, another outlying island, and is home to the world’s largest sitting Buddha. The Tian Tan Buddha was magnificent. A huge bronze sculpture, she emanated feelings of peace and tranquility. She was surrounded by 9 beautiful smaller statues, all presenting gifts, and underneath her sat a small exhibition hall with incredible artwork. Around us on every side were unique evergreens and mountains that looked like they belong in Jurassic park. It was very serene.
The Po Lin monastery was equally impressive. Carved dragons, Buddhas, and warriors adorned every wall and column. All of it was fantastically painted in reds, golds, greens, and blues. It was ornate and wonderful. And it smelled great, because there was incense burning everywhere, which helped cover up the smell of cow as a small herd wandered the grounds freely. Keenen and I each lit a stick of incense for the luck and good fortune of our country in the coming years, our minds not far from the inauguration. It didn’t help that every person we talked to brought it up the moment we mentioned being American.
We ended our evening by visiting the tallest building in Hong Kong, which just so happens to host the Ritz Carlton hotel. We looked like scrubs coming in, and we definitely did not fit the bill of their regular clientele. In this building, the 100th floor is home to a tourist attraction- a floor with 360 degree views called Sky100 that you can visit for around $25 USD- OR, if you know about it, you can ride from the Ritz Carlton up to the top to visit the super fancy Ozone Bar. Seated on the 118th floor (126th story), this extravagant bar was hosting a “Young Millionaire’s Club” party on one side. We imagine this is the only reason we got in looking like we did, as young tech company CEOs have broken the mold as far as what a rich person should look like. The beers alone were $12 a piece, so we shared one and enjoyed the views from far above.
Our glamorous evening took a sharp turn as we grabbed our bags and made our way to the airport to sleep there. Gotta save where you can. Advice to future travelers: if you plan to sleep at the Hong Kong airport, try to get through security if you can. There are comfy loungers behind the planters at gate 35 in Terminal 1. We had to spend most of the night outside of security because the China Airlines counter was closed when we arrived. It was cold and uncomfortable, but at least they had free WiFi.
We flew in to Taipei yesterday afternoon, made it our hostel, and went to bed after a quick and incredibly cheap dinner of fantastic water steamed pork and garlic and chive dumplings. So delicious and so cheap! We both ate on just $3. After twelve hours of recovery rest, we are ready to explore Taipei! Have any questions about our adventure? Let us know in the comments!