travel

Nov 29, 2011

Hong Kong: Pizza and Martinis

A decadant feast

Martinis!

On Saturday night, we found a lovely place that served pizza and martinis! In Luzhou, we can find neither. (Well, the Western restaurant has something they call pizza, but it isn’t. “You can call it a ham pie,” says Peter.) Spasso is actually located in a giant mall in Kowloon, but Ruby Tuesdays it isn’t. When we asked if they had olives and could they make us dirty martinis, our server asked us, “How dirty?” which was music to our ears; She knew there was a variable degree of dirtiness to a martini!

Pizza at Spasso
The pizza was not the best pizza, but it was very good pizza. It fit the bill for us. Also, It was quite nice to have some real wine. A night of indulgences was just want we needed! Or, wanted, I guess.
Look at the lights
This was the view from the patio. You’re looking back at Hong Kong Island.
We're actually here, in Hong Kong!
Here’s us, with our backs to the view. We had a lovely meal, Spasso. Thanks!

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong: Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui

A beautiful day in the neighborhoods

On our third morning, we grabbed breakfast and took the ferry across the harbor.

Real English-style breakfast is available at 18 Grams
Check out our album of photos in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui are two neighborhoods on the island to the north of Hong Kong Island. Whereas on our side of things, the shopping seemed to be more high end (we had Max Azria, Louis Vutton, etc.), in TST, things were a little more casual. I bought months and months worth of leave-in conditioner, and we browsed Tom Lee for an hour.

The streets were wide and crowded, somewhat like Fifth Avenue in midtown. Indian men were hawking fake designer watches every couple of feet, with very few takers.

After shopping, we hit up the Hong Kong Science Museum. I know science museums are usually for kids, but I love them. Tickets for both Peter and I cost HK$60, which is less than US$10. Attractions and public transportation are really cheap here.

Headless Emily at the Hong Kong science museum
Check out more photos of our trip to the Science Museum.

The museum’s special exhibit was on food science. They were sponsored by, or had the cooperation of - or something - McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It was really weird to see those American brands splashed all over. Especially because the exhibit was put together by a Japanese institution.

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong’s Walk of Stars

A walk by the harbor

Bruce Lee on the Walk of Stars

The Hong Kong Walk of Stars is located in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s not quite as fancy as the one in Hollywood, but there’s a plaque commemorating Hong Kong and Mainland movie stars, like Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, etc. Some have the stars’ handprints, but many just have their name. I got the sense that it wasn’t really that big a deal.

In fact, as an attraction it’d be only alright if it wasn’t for its location: along the waterfront with a stunning view of the harbor and Hong Kong Island. We walked it at sunset, and it was gorgeous. We ran into many other people enjoying the view (and some joggers, even though this seems like it would be a crowded and annoying run).

Anyway, take a gander:

Hong Kong's waterfront Walk of Stars
Check out our slideshow of photos of the Walk of Stars.

Nov 24, 2011

Our first night in Hong Kong

Man, there are a lot of people here

Hong Kong street scene

Hong Kong reminded us a lot of New York in the best way. The population of Hong Kong is 90% Chinese, but still feels very international. The city is very walkable, and the public transportation is extremely user friendly. Oh yeah, and pretty much everyone speaks English. We were able to find foreign food (ie, non-Chinese) we were craving, as well as good beer and wine (non-existent in Luzhou). We found all the comforts of our old home with out having to go back across the world.

Our first night, it was raining, but we were back in a real city and we just had to get out there. We took the tram (which is more than 100 years old) down the busy main street by our hostel and got out and wandered through the districts of Central and Admirality. These were more businessy and sterile than where we were staying in Causeway Bay, which seemed a much younger, hipper, bustling area. So we bussed it back (that’s two modes of transport, if you’re keeping track) and wandered there.

There were shops upon shops and people upon people. Being a series of islands, the city is very vertical. You could find restaurants and shops on the tenth floors of buildings that didn’t look accessible to the public at all. Our first hostel was tucked away on the fourth and fifth floors of an unassuming-looking apartment building. It’s an extreme case of using the limited space you have however you can.

We were tired from travelling all day, so we packed it in and made it an early night. But something sparked: We were pretty sure we were going to like Hong Kong.

Nighttime in the city on our first night in Hong Kong
Our first night in Hong Kong was rainy and fun. Check out the full album.

Nov 21, 2011

Six

Number of modes of public transport taken in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a really easy city to get around. And there are many ways to do it. On our short trip, we took:

  • Metro
  • Bus
  • Tram
  • Cable car
  • Light rail
  • Ferry boat

The only thing we missed was the light bus. We’ll have to go back …

Nov 20, 2011

A view of the harbor

And of a car park

Look at us, in Hong Kong

Hello! Hong Kong is beautiful! Behind us is the harbor and Hong Kong Island. And a car park.

Nov 20, 2011

Real western breakfast!

And Earl Grey tea

Breakfast

We’re having too much fun for blogging, but I promise a whole series of posts on our Hong Kong weekend. In the meantime, here’s the English breakfast we had this morning. Butter! Tea with milk! Baked beans! Salad!

Nov 18, 2011

Touching down in HK

A new city

Hong Kong at night

We’re in Hong Kong! It’s been a super hectic day and a half, but fun and awesome too. I’ll have more to say when I’m a little more rested.

Oct 24, 2011

Staying in Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Alisan Guest House and some seedy hotel

So the cheap way for us to get to HK is to fly to Shenzhen, the Chinese city that borders Hong Kong, and cross the border over land. On the way there, we took a bus from the Shenzhen airport to the center of the city. For those of you who don’t know (and two weeks ago, we didn’t), Hong Kong is a series of islands, one of them being Hong Kong Island. This is where we stayed, which along with Kowloon - the neighborhood north across the harbor - is what’s considered the city center.

We stayed in the Alisan Guest House, an establishment about which I cannot say enough good things. It was on the order of hostel living, so no frills, but super cheap and the staff was incredibly helpful. (And free wi-fi.) Would stay again!

Alisan Guest House

This was our room, bathroom and view. As you can see, quite small. But, here’s where service, service, service counts: They couldn’t accommodate us for the whole weekend, so they put us up in their monthly rentals at the same (quite cheap) rates.

Alisan 2

The room was much bigger, and the bathroom, specifically the shower, was the most western (and therefore most comfortable) experience we’ve had - including our own Luzhou bathroom situation. We just had to not be loud jerks, which we managed.

Our last night, we had to go back to Shenzhen because our flight left early the next morning. We actually took light rail from the Alisan to the China border in a neighborhood called Luoho, where we went through customs. From there, we walked to our hotel. We were two of very few non-Chinese making that boarder crossing, which worked in our favor, line-wise. The major travel groups cross at a different point, so my guess is that only savvy travelers try it on their own at Luoho. But it’s really so easy to figure out, and way cheaper than paying for the bus or ferry which walk you through the process.

Our hotel in Shenzhen was a little on the seedy side - it didn’t even occur to me to ask for a non-smoking room, but now I know that’s important

Seedy shenzhen hotel

Is that a round bed? Yes it is! Both the booking agent and the check-in person were sure to emphasize, “It’s a room with a round bed!” Sure! Whatever!

Oct 13, 2011

In Chengdu

Our short trip to Chengdu wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

We were housed in an industrial-looking hotel on the very outskirts of the city, and had to have some complex negotiations even to go outside for a walk. We were basically ordered to have room service for dinner via phone, a command which was enforced by our Chinese-only speaking minder. I know that the motive behind it was kind, “we need to help out these crazy kids who only speak English,” but I would have much rather fended for ourselves - this is pretty much true of the whole trip.

But anyway, after we ate to the satisfaction of our guy, we negotiated a release. The neighborhood was far from the hip, young Chengdu we were expecting, but we’re still in a stage where crossing the street is an adventure. So we did just that, and crossed the street to the East Chengdu Rail Station.

It was huge, and pristine. It was about 8 p.m., and there weren’t many trains leaving that night so it wasn’t that crowded, but there was still a guard making sure people didn’t lay down on the seats. We found a western restaurant that served Coronas and Johnnie Walker! The Walker isn’t quite rare, but it isn’t super common either, so we were excited to have some real Scotch. It took a while to be served after we ordered - but then we noticed that someone actually had to run out to somewhere else to get a bottle. We enjoyed a few drinks before our 10 p.m. sustenance curfew (we were having physicals the next morning, and they said no food or drink after 10) and then headed back to the room.

We took the long way, wandering through the apartment complex where our hotel was located. They had a large courtyard, and they were showing a movie in the middle of it. We stopped to watch for a bit, and ran into our waiter from the restaurant!

The next morning, we woke up early and were taken to the International Hospital for our physicals. This was in Chengdu proper, and we did get a good glimpse of the city. It looks cool! Now this physical we got is mandatory for: foreigners staying in China for one year or more, Chinese who are going abroad for more than three months, and Chinese who work aboard international vessels or handle food and water in a port that services international vessels. You can only get the physical done in certain accredited establishments. So, this place was processing a lot of people at once. But they’ve got a system down.

1. You come in and register. They give you the appropriate paperwork for what you’re having done and the bill. In China, you always pay up front for healthcare.

2. You enter the assembly line: First you stop at the window for the urine cups, fill it (in the restroom, thankfully) and drop it off at the appropriate tray. The technician sticks one of your barcodes on it (your paperwork includes a sheet of barcodes that will get stuck to your various fluids and measurements). The technician also marks off on your sheet that you’ve hit this station, which everyone else will do too.

3. Blood sample. There’s another window which you stick your arm through, kind of like at the bank, but you give them your arm (and some barcodes) instead of money. They take your blood while the people on line behind you wait, sometimes very closely behind you. (An aside: We had heard before coming that the Chinese don’t really do queues - instead of lining up, everyone just amasses near the goal. We actually haven’t found this to be true - at checkouts and things, people are pretty orderly. Mostly. Our conjecture is that this is a recent development, and some people still do things the old way. I left a little space in front of me on line at the grocery store once, and this woman just fit herself right into it. This doesn’t happen often, but you do have to be a little more aggressive not to lose your place.)

4. Next is a series of different rooms with doctors taking your height and weight, ECG, ultrasound of your organs and chest x-ray. There’s no chit-chat and everyone is very efficient.

5. Finally, you sign out at the front desk where they give you a receipt and a juicebox of milk (a milkbox?). It was all over in about 15 minutes. Having come from the states, where this same exact physical took Peter and I two hours (not even counting the trip to another location for our chest x-rays), it was a bizarre experience. For what it was, I’m glad it was brisk and businesslike, but if I needed a real consultation … well, I miss the “care” part of healthcare.

So then, we made a few stops to drop off some other paperwork relating to our residence permits - Chengdu is where all the government offices are for Sichuan Province. And then our guy took us to McDonalds for lunch. Chinese McDonalds is a little different from American McDonalds - they have a few different items to cater to the local palate. And the quality of chicken in my sandwich was the best-quality fast food chicken I’ve ever had; McDs is comparatively expensive here - for the cost of the large fries, Peter and I can make a whole meal for two of us - so I think the meat has to be better quality than they can get away with in the states. There are chickens running around the streets everywhere; if you’re going to serve it, it better be good. That’s my opinion after a sample of one sandwich, anyway. (Another aside: Most people are pretty skinny here, but I’m noticing a few chubby kids in some of my classes. No one’s obese, but a couple are out-and-out fat. This is just what I was thinking about in McDonalds.)

It wasn’t the greatest night away, but it did give us a taste for traveling. The bus ride isn’t terrible - about 4 hours, but the buses are really clean and comfortable. And we had legroom for miles. I seriously couldn’t even reach the footrest on our trip home. When we got home, right away we started looking up day- and weekend trips that we can take from here. We still want to do a little more work on the apartment this weekend, but we’re hoping to get right back on that bus to Chengdu quite soon.