Friday, March 23, 2018

Hong Kong!

View of the Temple Street Night Market from our Airbnb.

Greetings from Hong Kong! This is the starting point for our epic trip through China. Bro and I will be here for the next few days getting reacquainted with a place that I have not been to since I was a kid....literally decades ago. Even though I have been here several times, as a child, I don't remember much about Hong Kong so I will essentially be experiencing it for the first time. For a Chinese person like me, who is of Cantonese heritage, Hong Kong is above all, culinary heaven. I have picked out a few special places I want us to eat at and am very excited about that.

We arrived into Hong Kong after a nearly 15 hour flight from San Francisco.  Thankfully, the flight went smoothly.  It was just around 7:30p when we landed.  We sat in the very last row of the plane so we were at the back of the immigration queue.   Even though it was quite a long line going through immigration, Hong Kong efficiency had us clearing through it relatively quickly and our luggage also arrived without issue.

Before exiting the airport, we got two key tasks out of the way.  One was to get Hong Kong dollars from an ATM machine and the other was to get our Octopus card which will be indispensable for using the public transportation here.  I have no intention of going about the city on anything other than foot, bus, subway, and ferry.  There really is no need to go by car.  For the card, you have to put down a HK$50 and then we added HK$20 to start with.  We can easily top off the card at any subway station as well as 7-Eleven stores so no need to have to figure out exactly how much money you think you will need to have on the card for the duration of your time in Hong Kong.

I had tasked Bro with figuring out how to get us from the airport to our Airbnb apartment which is located on Temple Street in Kowloon.  The host had recommended we take the Nr A21 bus which would drop us off about a minute's walk from the apartment.  After doing a bit of research, Bro came to the conclusion that the NR A22 bus was actually a better option as our stop would literally be the second one after the airport versus the more circuitous route that the A21 bus would take us.

We followed the airport terminal signs for the public bus and as we stepped out of the terminal itself, we saw the buses all lined up.  The A22 was there so we ran for it.  On this trip, I am trying out using a wheeled backpack instead of one that I carry on my back so as to save my back.  But dragging both it and my suitcase while running towards the bus was proving to be a slight challenge.  I'm already not sure this whole wheeled backpack thing is going to work out or not.  But, we're barely an hour into our four week long trip so a very premature to come to any conclusions.

Anyways, we boarded the bus and our Octopus cards worked like champs.  We took our seats and according to Bro's map, we would be the second stop.  The first stop was suppose to be at some toll plaza but the bus didn't make a stop.  Perhaps there was no one waiting at the stand and no one needing to get off.  So, we were the next stop.  For the first stretch of the drive, it felt like we were on the outskirts of town.  The road was just lit by the streetlamps; there were no buildings around.

Then, we arrived into a sea of traffic snaking its way through a mass of tall buildings.  The sidewalks were filled with people.  It's Friday night and the crowds are out enjoying the start of their weekend!

We had no idea where the stop would be but someone else on the bus also wanted to get off so they pulled the string and we got off the bus with them.

Bro had printed out a map of the bus route and on it was Temple Street which turned out to be barely a two block walk from the bus stop.  As we walked, we tried to see if we could spot the A22 bus going in the other direction and sure enough, we saw one pass by.   We'll have to pinpoint the location of the stop itself in the days to come.  For now, I am beyond excited to be in Hong Kong and the fact that we walked by several eateries still serving up delicious looking snacks was making me really happy.  I will be a very happy foodie over the course of the next few days.

We found our Airbnb.  The place looked really sketchy from the outside and even more sketchy on the inside.  Our apartment is located at the end of a very narrow corridor which I swear looks like a prison row because all the doors of the apartments are fronted with metal gates.  It was a self check in so I punched in the code and the door opened.  I have rented a lot of Airbnb apartments but this was by far the teeniest!  I knew it was going to be small just from the pictures on the Airbnb page but man, nothing like seeing small for yourself.  In the photo below, Bro is sitting on the small couch that will serve as my bed.  In the back is a small nook with what looks to be a full size bed.  The bathroom is as wide as a small sink and toilet placed side by side and once you open the door, you have to scoot to one side to close it.  The shower head is positioned between the toilet and the sink.  Very tiny but it has all the requisite elements.  The apartment also has a small kitchenette and washer which I know we will use.  Most importantly, there is an air conditioner.....actually two though I could not figure out how to use the remote control for one of them but given how small the apartment space, the one unit should be enough.  I'm just going to crank it down low and Bro will need to wear more clothes if he needs to.

By now, it was almost 9:30p and we had been traveling since noon San Francisco time.  We should have both been ready to crash but I think the excitement of being here had our adrenaline pumping through our system so much that neither one of us was ready for sleep.  So, we decided to head out and grab a bite to eat.  It does help with getting adjusted to jet lag if you immediately take on activities that you would ordinarily do in the new time zone.  So, 9:30p is late for dinner but we it was  good idea to eat.

In Hong Kong, there is no shortage of places to get a meal so I was sure we would easily find a place along Temple Street.

At night Temple Street turns into a night market, popular with both locals and tourists.  The street is lined on both sides with vendors selling pretty much everything under the sun, with a heavier concentration of items aimed at tourists.  It was a mob scene tonight.  I don't know if it's because it's a Friday night and therefore, maybe more locals are out or if it's like this every night.  In any case, we just did a bit of "window shopping" as we walked along.  Bro was already eyeing a few items that he was interested in potentially buying.

We literally made it to the corner of the street and we spotted a couple of restaurants with their menus posted up for passersby to see.  Thankfully, there were descriptions in English as well, albeit some of the words were lost in translation.  We settled on one place that offered dishes that looked interesting to us.  Hong Kong, being an island, is well known for its seafood dishes so Bro and I decided that's what we would focus our meal on though we also agreed we weren't all that hungry so we weren't going to be greedy.  We will have plenty of opportunity to stuff our faces with tasty delights!

We ended up picking a real dive of a place to eat in but the smells coming from the kitchen were enough to convince me we had made a good decision.  There were a few other diners inside and the waiter pointed us to a small table that was just inches away from the entrance.

Looking into the kitchen.

There is zero ambiance here and I love it!  Sorry for the blurry photos.  I was too lazy to bring out my dSLR so all the shots were taken with my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone and I am oddly very incompetent at taking photos with my phone.  Yes, in this day, when the S9 is about to be released, I still have an S5.  Long story....not for this blog post.

Bro chuckled at the rolls of toilet paper.  I told him those are napkins not toilet paper.  He thought was joking...until the waiter plopped down a roll on our table.  I just grinned back at Bro.

While we waited for the food to arrive at our table, I shot a snippet of video.  In it, you'll see a man seated at a table nearby.  He ended up ordering so many dishes of food, including a whole fish, that we were sure he would not be able to eat everything but in fact, he did although towards the end of his meal, he was joined by another man who looked to be someone he knew.

We ended up ordering two dishes - pepper fried squid and stir fried water spinach.  Simple dinner but it came to the table piping hot!  That's one thing I love about Chinese food.  Nothing sits under a heat lamp waiting to be served.  It comes to the table pretty much straight from the wok! The dishes were simple but very soul satisfying Cantonese food. Sorry to any Chinese person who might be reading this post but I think Cantonese cuisine is the most delicious of all the cuisines of China. Yes, I am biased and not one bit apologetic for it! 😁

After eating, we decided to check out more of the market so we strolled through the various stalls.  Bro spotted a wallet he liked and so I negotiated the purchase as he's lousy at haggling.  Okay, basically, he doesn't haggle at all!  I got him a nice leather wallet for around $6!  He also had his eyes on some other items - a car holder for his cell phone as well as an HDMI connector for his phone.  I told him no better place to get Made in China goods than in China but that he would also have ample opportunity to get the stuff elsewhere.  No need to buy everything here and now but good to check out what is available and perhaps, at what price.

We also found a street vendor selling freshly pressed sugar cane juice which Bro and I both LOVE, LOVE, LOVE so we bought a bottle to share.

By the time we made it back to our apartment it was nearly 11:30p.  We had been up and traveling for nearly 24 hours and it was time to get some sleep.  We have a full day planned for tomorrow!

Goodnight from Hong Kong!