In love …..with Hong Kong

Trip 1

On this trip I stayed at the Sheraton in Tsa Shim Tsui , a very nice neighbourhood in Kowloon , the promenade is supposed to be a must visit to get the best view of Hong Kong skyline  and I was fortunate enough to be staying right next door .

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Apparently Hong Kong has no open container law which means you can drink on the street so we decided to buy 3 beers and walked around drinking our beers . I have no idea that open container was such a big deal but in the US , you can only drink in Vegas openly . We then walked over to the Temple Street Night Market with our beers . This is a paradise for  shopping lovers , especially the ones who love to haggle . After picking up some knick knacks which I did not even bother to haggle. We decided to find some place to eat , the local goodies seemed delicious but we ended up going to Indian restaurant because one of us was a vegetarian . The meal was delicious but living in the Bay Area has spoiled me . After a sumptuous meal , we slowly slithered back to our hotel and turned in for the night .

The next morning  I decided to go check out the Giant Buddha and also check Victoria’s peak off my list. But before that I decided to walk around and what do I see but the Peninsula

For James Bond lovers , this hotel is referenced in the Man with the Golden Gun when James Bond asks Mary Goodnight (With apologies to feminists everywhere but one has to admit, Mary Goodnight is a huge improvement over Pussy Galore) to follow a Green Rolls Royce and she informs him rather testily that if it is Green Rolls Royce then it has to go to the Peninsula . As can be seen in the picture, the cavalcade of Green Rolls Royce is still being maintained .

And for Batman fans , the roof of the Peninsula was used to show the meeting between Fox and Lau when Fox is getting off a helicopter . The Peninsula has only one of two private helipads in Hong Kong.

I head towards the train stations known as MTR (here they call it MTR , a source of confusion for me !!! In Singapore it is MRT and even after 18 years , I still cannot say but MRT) . As seems to be usual with all metro trains , navigating was a breeze and I ended up at my destination,Tsuen Wan MTR and walked across the street to find my Cable car . There are several ways to get to the top, you can walk , take a bus or cable car . For obvious reasons , I opted for the cable car . Years earlier I had ridden cable cars in Singapore and Malaysia where they had made a big deal of this particular ride and the one in the Alps . The wait time was (shockingly!!!) documented was 90 minutes , turns out that it was overly optimistic . After 3 hours , I finally got my ticket and there were two options , a glass bottom cable car and a regular cable car . The price difference is nominal , about 90 HKD but I calculated the probability and imagined that the number of glass bottomed cable cars to be far less than that of the regular cars (quite foolishly since I had no prior data). So my wise reader when you do visit , do make sure that you get the tickets online because it will cut your wait time in half and also make sure to get the glass bottomed boat . Dont worry about the glass bottoms , it is the same material they have used in the CN tower in Toronto and the Skywalk on the Grand Canyon . I am terrified of heights and I have been on both . They have the tensile strength to hold 10 elephants so very safe.

It became apparent to me that this was an entire different island by the name of  Lantau Island.

The views were absolutely breathtaking and I cannot recommend it enough for all.

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And I got an awesome peek at the Hong Kong international airport . It seems as though no matter where I go and how strange the symbols on the planes seem to be , I always see a Fedex plane .

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This is the walk way that is available in case one is interested or one is doing this for religious persuasions. I also caught sight of a quaint waterfall . I would have liked to do it perhaps another time.

At the top is a quaint little village of Ngong Ping on Lantau Island .

Again some shopping available for those interested but I hurried through.The signs have been forced to be of a certain style , so even the 7-11 has to adhere to some specific standards. Reminded me of a McDonalds in Dublin , Ohio which has no golden arches .

I caught sight of the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs , after a cursory reading I realized that these signs were named after Chinese generals who was considered to be the bodyguards for the Buddha . Interestingly the names seemed to be more Hindu in origin .

After I passed the 12 statues , I came across an archway

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However the Buddha was on the opposite side

There are 268 steps to ascend to the top . I climbed it in less than 10 minutes after which I realized that I need to start swimming again . After catching my breath , I started wandering around and took several snaps

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Interesting I watched the various poses and it seemed to me like there was an aspect of the pose from the Buddha in each of the worshipers . I wondered if that was done to invoke a sense of the majestic that he is within all of us or simply a more prosaic reason of bronze castings .

Having exhausted all my options (and realizing that it is past 5) , I decided to head down and out . I took one last look at the Buddha and took a snap

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As I headed for the cable car which I had purchased a return for , I saw the line say the same dreaded “90 Minutes” . I remembered seeing a bus stand and I promptly headed that direction after asking my neighbor to keep my place in the line . Fortunately the buses came in every 20 minutes and though it took me almost 30 minutes to get to the train station , it was far better than the “90 Minutes” by cable car.  I took the train back to Kowloon and passed by the Avenue of the Stars and in the Subway , I saw this poster

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I saw it a long time ago , probably the only time that I saw a Kung Fu movie with my father and that too in Chennai and I remember telling my mother about it so precious memories associated with this movie. Regardless of my nostalgia,  it was a wonderful movie with some very deep lessons that I remember to this day , for instance “Practice makes perfect” is depicted very elegantly and forcefully. It was too late for me to head towards Victoria’s peak so I decided to head towards the hotel.

After I reached the hotel , my friend was done with his work and we decided to grab some food . Our vegetarian friend was gone so we decided to find us some local food . We went to a small hole in the wall restaurant which specialized in Clay pot rice .My friend is white and I am Indian so we were the only non Chinese in that establishment ,everybody looked askance at us . The owner came to us and asked “Drink” . My friend ordered a Tsing-Tao and while we were looking around at the various assorted meats that we tried to identify, we got a bowl of boiling hot water and two glasses . I was puzzled but my friend rinsed his glass in the water and dried it with paper towels, I proceeded to follow his example ; Smart!!! disinfect your glasses . A liter bottle of Tsing-Tao came over and we ordered our food , he ordered Sausage rice and I ordered eel rice . My rice was absolutely delicious and it was incidentally also the first time in my life that I was eating rice with chop sticks comfortably  . Eating fried rice with chop sticks is difficult but eating sticky rice with chop sticks is far easier. Having eaten the delicious meal , we made our way back to the hotel and crept into bed . Monday morning , we had to head back to work in China.

Trip 2

I headed out on Friday evening by myself from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. After the customary clearing of Customs which never ceases to baffle me . Hong Kong is supposed to be a part of China but I have fill out papers that  say that I am leaving China and my passport gets a good grilling over by both the Chinese and the Hong Kong officials . After we leave the ‘border’ my driver suddenly takes off at 140 km an hour on the wrong side of the road . For those of you metrically challenged, that is 90 miles/hour. I was in a purple panic and I could not communicate with the guy . They don’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin or in this case Cantonese. About 10 heart stopping minutes later , I realized Hong Kong is left hand drive. DAMN BRITISH!!!! If you are thinking, why did I not yell , earlier this year in Shanghai , I yelled at the driver to look out and instead he decided to turn around to look at me promptly slamming into a parked mini van and then bounced off a bus. So I have become a little wary of screaming at drivers while they are driving.

Today I was going to stay at the W which is what my friend had recommended .  The view was absolutely gorgeous .

The W sits on top of a mall so I decided to walk around the mall and there were several different restaurants . I finally ventured into it and I looked at the Menu in shock and delight . top of the Chef’s recommendations was Snake soup . I asked the waiter if that really meant snake . He grinned and said yes but sadly they are out today . I was disappointed and relieved at the same time. Last year I had read about this incident where a soup chef had been bitten by a cobra while he was throwing its severed head into the trash . That had got me extremely curious.  I got myself a crab claw soup with egg white and house fried rice . The food was absolutely delicious and the portion of the house fried rice was probably enough for 4 people.

The next morning my agenda was to get on top of Victoria’s peak but I decided to get my swim in . I loved the swimming pool at Le Meridian in Shanghai which was on the 20th floor with a beautiful view of Nanjing rd but the St Regis in Shenzhen  with the 76th floor swimming pool blew me away ,however nothing prepared me for the swimming pool at the W

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The swimming pool is on the top of the hotel and as can be seen , it is an open air swimming pool . The water is deliciously cold (about 77F) and refreshes you up instantly .

The elevator surprised me

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I was afraid to step on it.

After my swim , I headed out to the train station ,ignoring my concierge’s advice that I should take a taxi,to get to Victoria’s Peak . I got off at Hong Kong station where I found this really cool alphabet (no relation to Google’s parent company) sculpture

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I walked for about 10 minutes and reached the Tram station.

The wait time was almost 90 minutes but fortunately I started chatting up the blonde standing next to me after I realized she could speak English, turns out she is from Chicago . Small world!!!

The tram came pretty quickly and as we were heading up , I was watching for an illusion where the buildings seem to fall towards you because of the angle of the ascent. I took several pictures but the pictures failed to provide the illusion . After we reached the top , we took several pictures

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At which point my companion bid adieu and went her way because she was getting cold . I decided to hang around and I found a walk way that I started walking towards and as I kept walking, I ran into signs that kept saying Public toilet but seeing no evidence of it anywhere unless they wanted you to go over the railing which I doubt . I found another girl walking by and when I asked her, she responded in flawless East Coast accent that she was new. I asked where she was from , she said New York. When I told her that I was from California , she looked distinctly relieved and said that I was the first American she had seen . It turned out she is doing her PhD in Political Science at the University of Kobe which led to some interesting talk about Kobe beef , turns out that she has never eaten Kobe beef and we exchanged some of our experiences in Japan . About 45 minutes later  and some more scenic shots later

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I bid adieu to her

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I decided to head down and as I am waiting , I hear two guys behind me yapping away in English with an American accent  and three women talking in English with a clipped European accent , as I debated where to break the ice , things were made easy by the women switching to French, I turn to the guys and ask them where they were from , turns out they are from Marin county and Atlanta(oddly he had no accent) , but after that I got to hear an earful of their travel plans for this year and the arrangements that they made in Vietnam and the rate that they paid per day and what they did last year and the year before that and what their respective mothers would say about their travels and how well traveled they were and the list of the funicular railways that they had been on and how the one in Bogota is scarier than this one. I silently endured the torture until the tram hit the bottom and after I bid adieu , I reflected that I had met two women and two men and by far the women were far more interesting . Moral of the story : Don’t talk to somebody just because they speak English.

I decided that I was going to do the Symphony of Lights harbor cruise in the evening but before that ride the Star Ferry across to Kowloon instead of taking the train . I slowly walked over towards the Star ferry taking in the various sights

My maternal family has been involved in the shipping business for generations so I have a inexplicable attraction for the sea and ships and anything that resembles ships .So I enjoyed seeing the Jardine house which looked as though it was full of portholes

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I always love seeing IFC , perhaps because of the Dark Knight

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I got back to Kowloon for a mere 4.5 HKD and I reserve a ticket for myself on the Symphony of Lights Harbor cruise .

The Symphony of lights is a true feast for the eyes , they tell the story of Hong Kong and the sky scrapers light up .

The whole show lasted for an hour and no trip to Hong Kong is complete without this cruise .

It had been a long day , as I slowly walked back towards the hotel , I happened to catch this sight

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The next morning I was due to catch my flight back to San Francisco and I notice a wonderful convenience . They have something called “In Town” check in . So at the Basement of the W hotel is the Kowloon station and I checked in my suitcase and having done that, I was free to do what I pleased , I could have roamed around the mall but having been there for the last two days . I opted to go to the Airport instead and get some breakfast there . The McDonalds had a line that snaked impossibly , I had seen some strange breakfast items that looked intriguing but I opted to eat at the neighboring Chinese place where I got myself Congee and glutinous rice with Lotus stems. The Congee had some meat in it and so did the rice which was sweet . They were both simple and delicious . As I walked towards the security area, I promised myself that I was going to return .

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