Down by the bay

So while Amy was off getting her dress sized, and while I was waiting for my suit fitting (see below), I did a little tour down at the harbour. I have to say, Hong Kong, seen from Kowloon, is awfully nice-looking.

Across Hong Kong harbour

Ode to Hong Kong Trolleys

Trolley headlight burning bright,
cart me through this stormy night,
Away to the curious city sights
And let me view the highest heights!

Trolley, tram, whatever they say
You run ’round the city every day
100 years and one you tramp away
So darn cute, promise me you’ll stay?

Hong Kong trolleys

Buying a suit

So one of my missions here in Hong Kong (self-imposed, I should add) is to find a suit. Not just any suit, but the one for my wedding. So needless to say, there’s a certain amount of care needed in ensuring that what I get is what I need. I mean, I’m getting married in this. Yet, I don’t want to break the bank.

For some reason, dress-makers are on Hong Kong Island, but the tailors are in Kowloon. An interesting divide, but it meant that I couldn’t do anything until yesterday.

After we’d checked in to our new hotel here in Tsim Sha Tsui (and cooled down enough that my shirt wasn’t entirely filled with sweat), I wandered down to the bell hop/concierge (I swear every hotel in Hong Kong has full concierge service) and asked for who the hotel recommends for a tailor. I expected right away that whoever they did recommend would cost an arm and a leg.

Baron Kay’s. Nice place. Good staff. But wrong colours (and we looked through at least 20 or so books of fabrics) and over $700 for just the jacket and suit. Definitely a different clientele than people like yours truly. So off I go (back into heat that I can only describe as the kind used to cook bamboo baskets of dim sum delectables) in search of a new place. I decided to give the Lonely Planet’s suggestion a whirl…

Stitch-Up Tailors is in the Star House, on the south side of the building. The main sales guy, whose name I still haven’t gotten (he was on top of me even before I was in eyesight of him, he’s that aggressive), sized me up, quoted me, and then we engaged in the mandatory price bartering. Not being a sales person myself, I didn’t manage to push him down as far as I wanted, but I still got a better price than what I could get in Calgary, and with the colour I wanted. That, two shirts, and a tie. I certainly can’t complain too much.

So while we’re trying to pin down the time for me to do a first fitting (some FOUR HOURS later!), he’s trying to sell me another suit. More shirts. Pants. Anything. It’s almost like he’s unable to breath without selling someone an article of clothing. “Hugo Boss” is a period of a sentence for him. It’s sheer overload. After I’d put down a deposit, I finally manage to ask him a question: How does he deal with this heat? It’s kill me, and he doesn’t seem phased. He’s lived here 35 years and must have a secret of some kind (given, he’s from India). He looked at me, smiled, and said:

“Beer”.

Then he offered me one. Be darned if he wasn’t right!

I finally manage to break away, and find my way (sweating buckets — here, you can’t fry an egg on the street; it would hard boil in the egg before you could crack it) to the hotel and make plans with Amy, who was going off for her dress fitting (as you’ve already read).

Spin ahead to 18:30, and I’m back at Stitch-Up. The suit comes in. About 50% completed. The jacket is missing a sleeve, but it looks like a suit. And it fit pretty well, given that there were no zippers or buttons. The tailor, who spoke not a single word of English, tugged and pulled and scrawled a few numbers, then darted off again with the unfinished garment. And then while I attempted to get the finished fitting arranged, the sales guy bombarded me with an unending sequence of “what colour of pants would you like?”, “how many shirts in this blue?” (holding out a fabric that, while nice, I wouldn’t wear), “you need to wear suits — how many do you need, two, three?”

When I finally managed to convince him that I don’t wear suits enough to warrant one, he tried to get me to pay for Scotch Guarding and permanent pressing, things I really don’t need. Especially at the price he was trying to get me to pay. It took a lot of effort for me to finally get out of that store.

And lest you think that he’s just out to scam people, all the tailors here are like that. Most of them are even worse. Amy and I dodged no less than a dozen of them in the span of 100 metres before hitting the cafe tonight!

A Day At the Races

We set out this morning for Stanley, a town on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Our concierge was kind enough to point us to bus 973 or 793 – I can’t remember. A double-decker air-conditioned bus, it would take us all the way to Stanley beach for the Dragon Boat Championship Races. An hour and a half of stop and go traffic later, we emerged into what can be described as a sauna. I was starving and a bit cranky, so Geoff thought it wise to forage for food.

We ended up in this little restaurant – The Stanley Restaurant – in the middle of Stanley Market. It supposedly sold Chinese, Western, and Thai food and it was jam packed full of people wolfing down bowls of noodles. Most of the patrons looked like members of various teams. It was so full that you sat anywhere you could. Some tables, including ours, contained 3 different groups of people! After enjoying our noodle soup with wantons and a bottle of Tsing Tao, we headed back out into the heat.

I made a beeline for the water. Stanley Beach isn’t the prettiest beach in the Hong Kong area, but the water was cooler than the air, so I was happy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t dressed for swimming, so I only stood in the shallow bay until the water was up to my knees. It did the trick, though, and made the weather a lot more bearable!

This is one of the larger races of the weekend, and you could sure tell by the number of competitors and spectators!

The drum from one of the boats at the Stanley Dragonboat Race

Some of the boats, and a team practicing

We saw the end of one race and wanted to stick around for the next. However, numerous delays and the heat made us reconsider. It was soooooo hot and sticky and gross.

A very very hot and sweaty Amy

So, back on the bus and another hour and a half to get back to Kowloon. Our first priority? As usual, Dim Sum. The Lonely Planet book recmomended a restaurant in the basement of the Kowloon Hotel which was only notable because it served until 5pm. We managed to find it, although it seems to have changed names. And it does serve until 5pm. Easily twice the price of our previous Dim Sum experience, it was nevertheless pretty good.

And they had hedgehog-shaped chocolate steamed buns with egg custard filling. Delicious!

A Steamed Chocolate Bun

A bit of this, a bit of that

I think I mentioned this in my post from yesterday, but have I mentioned how much I love my dress, or what I’ve seen of it, at any rate?!?!?

My gorgeous dress!

The yellow you see on the scarf is going to become the piping around the seams and the sleeves and the collar. Of course, this photo doesn’t really convey at all what it looks like on, but you’ll just have to wait until early July when it arrives in Calgary.

Another topic from a previous entry was the crazy spicy dinner we had a few nights ago.

Here’s another horribly dark photo. You may or may not be able to make out the large quantity of dried chilis in the centre dish.

The spicy food

One other thing I may not have mentioned are all the “plus 15s” in Hong Kong. In Calgary, we have a series of pedestrian overpasses that connect buildings one story above the street. They’re called “Plus 15s” because presumably, they are 15 feet (meters? I don’t know) up in the air. They come in very handy in the winter when it’s too cold to go outside.

In Hong Kong, there’s the opposite problem. I find myself using these as much as possible just to catch a bit of a breeze, enjoy the air-con when walking through building lobbies, and perhaps most importantly, get out of the sun.

Shaded pedestrian overpass

Hong Kong at Night

Of course the lights here are stellar. Could it be any other way? Hundred-storey buildings blink and flicker, small alleyways are lit by overhead lights, entire roads of neon signs blinking and dancing. It’s fantastic.

Last night, we took the famed historic “Peak Tram” to a vantage point 385m above sea level, which doesn’t sound like much. However, it affords a fantastic view of Central Hong Kong when the fog rolls out.

The view at the top

That picture doesn’t do it justice. Chalk it up to my cruddy digital camera. The view is pretty spectacular.

The Bank of China building is particularly interesting. During the day, it looks cool, but at night, they’ve rigged a series of white lights along the sides of the building.

The bank of China building at night

What you can’t see in this photo is that the lights are actually doubled. One set is constantly on, and the other is turned off and on to simulate a bolt of lightning snaking up the side. Very very cool.

Surreal

So, I’m sitting in a knock-off Starbucks that has free internet terminals, sipping a frozen peach milkshake thing and listening to John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” on the radio. Have I mentioned I’m in Hong Kong?!?!?

I had my first (and only) fitting for the dress just now. Man is it beautiful. And I look very very skinny! The dress isn’t for the wedding ceremony, but probably for the rehearsal dinner or some other such occasion. It’s so gorgeous. And the bonus is they are going to ship it home for me so I don’t have to carry it! Hopefully I don’t get dinged on customs and duty, but it’s so beautiful. Have I mentioned how gorgeous it is?!?!?

I’m still enjoying Hong Kong immensely. I even managed to find some clothing that fits me, even if it was at Marks & Spencer, a British department store. And it’s so hot I’m sweating from every pore on my body. Not so attractive. I’m hoping that a cute flouncy cotton skirt and tee shirt helps distract the world from my sweaty, ugly, ragged mess. Doubtful, but a girl can hope!

So, Geoff is off running some errands and I’m scheduled to meet up with him around 7 or 7:30 at an Irish pub here in Soho.

It’s so odd, I can’t get over how British this place is. I know, it’s not really a surprise. After travelling for six weeks through Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, and Mainland China, I can say with total conviction that I am suffering from culture shock.

In addition to the oddity of hearing English spoken everywhere, listening to English songs on the radio, and seeing English-language newspapers on every street corner, there’s the sticker shock. For comparison, in mainland China, a bottle of Tsing Tao cost about 4Y at the store or anything from 4-12Y at a restaurant. In USD, that’s between $0.50 and $3.00. Here, a bottle of Tsing Tao is 12HKD at the store and upwards of 40HKD at the restaurant. That’s between $2.00 and $6.00. I know, it doesn’t seem like a big difference. But when you consider that it’s just one example, and that everything except public transportation seems to suffer from the same horrible ratio… Hong Kong is much more expensive than I had guessed.

And then there’s all the British and Australian and Americans here. There are white people everywhere! I’m not getting stared at any more! I can communicate in my native language! It’s so weird.

For anyone who hasn’t been to Asia, I highly suggest Hong Kong as a fabulous but easy introduction. It’s safe here, the food is great, the people are friendly. There are lots of “shades of home” but at the same time, you never forget you’re in Asia. I love it.

After sitting for a half hour in air conditioned bliss, I think it’s time to head back out into the hot humid world. 6pm, one more hour to kill. Shopping? I think so!

The dim sum curse

We’re cursed. It’s the only way to explain it.

Since arriving in China, one of the few things we’ve been absolutely obsessed over finding is some authentic dim sum. For us, this means a seating hall of about 4,000 or so, insanely noisy, carts trundling every which way, and no menu. Oh, and a place PACKED full of people.

You’d think, that in a country of China’s size, we’d find one?

We’ve had dim sum, now, twice. The first time at our first hotel in Beijing. Very unsatisfying. The second time was after our current hotel in Hong Kong (we’re now just checking out for another one; we got this one to cover the days extra in HK) recommended one that doesn’t seem to exist. Either that or the concierge is a moron who doesn’t understand that when you recommend something, you have to know where it is!

The food was good, but it was off a menu. And no carts.

One way or another, we will find proper dim sum!

Ironic?

I’ve successfully made my way through Russia, where if you drink a drop of the tap water or even brush your teeth in it, you run the risk of contacting some fairly nasty stomach bugs. Sick? Not even once.

In Mongolia, I drank fermented mare’s milk as prepared by a local nomadic family. I tried unpasteurized but very fresh goat’s milk yogurt. I ate some dodgy looking mutton, although I’d rather forget that. Sick? Not a chance.

In mainland China, I ate everything I could find, dumpings in night markets, more dumplings in street stalls, even dumplings from the local 7-11 store. Sick? Hah!

But in Hong Kong I have one short Vanilla Latte and my record is blown.

Sick? Absolutely.

Flat 7-Up and Gatorade here I come. And hoping tomorrow is better.

A little more on Hong Kong

We haven’t been here long, but there’s already a few interesting things that are, well, interesting. Consider for the moment the fact that we’ve been running through three very different countries from what we expect to see at home: Russia, Mongolia, and China. For many of us, China will at least seem familiar, only from possibly walking through our respective Chinatowns or our favourite Chinese restaurant. Be rest assured, your favourite Chinese restaurant probably has little to do (or in common) with some of the places we’ve been…

It’s also fair to say that the Russian places are totally different. Mongolia, don’t even get me started.

But Hong Kong is a strange parallel of familiarity and complete opposite. It’s a Chinese province, for all intents and purposes. But it’s also London, sufficiently removed and deposited halfway around the world. That doesn’t make a heap of sense in some cases, as I haven’t really been to British colonies before. But in a way it also makes sense. The British, during their colonial days, were very keen on overlaying their system on top of others’. And with Hong Kong, they quite literally had free reign (and a clean slate) to do so. Today, Hong Kong is a wide diversity of Chinese and English that seem to thrive together in some strange sort of tango.

Many of the roads bear names such as “Chater”, “Queens St.”, and other Anglicized names. It’s odd. But go far enough, and you’ll find the Chinese names. Certainly, this applies on Hong Hong Island, which is more English than Chinese. Skip across to Kowloon (which we really haven’t seen yet), and it’s more Chinese than English. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes in the times to come.

A few things that haven’t changed include driving on the left side of the road, and using the imperial measurement system instead of Metric.

And things here are expensive. I’ve just succumbed to the sticker shock, and Amy might soon find me really annoying because of a desire to avoid racking up huge bills here. I have bills at home to pay…

Anyway, getting kicked off this computer, so no more for now…