11 June 2005

A Day At the Races

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Amy @ 6:09 am

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

11 June 2005

A bit of this, a bit of that

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Amy @ 5:59 am

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

11 June 2005

Hong Kong at Night

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Amy @ 5:53 am

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.

12 June 2005

Amy’s ready to kill me, I swear…

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 12:37 am

I complain a lot.

Unintentionally, I swear, but I do.

(Amy says I like to complain, but I actually hate it. I don’t even realize I’m complaining until I complain. I complain to myself that I complain, and get stuck in a vicious cycle of complaint. But I digress…)

It’s hot here. I know I’ve mentioned this several times, but it’s hard to really appreciate how hot it is until you’ve been to a place like this. Amy has, so this doesn’t really seem to bother her much. I, although raised in a hot and humid environment, never liked it. (This is why I love living in Calgary.) And even in the shade or on a cloudy day (such as it is today), it’s still hot. Sweating is simply unavoidable. The goal is more survival to stay cool.

I mention, maybe every ten minutes or so (read: complain constantly) that it’s too hot. Although Amy agrees, I’m sure there’s an unspoken “I know, now shut up about it, already!” that goes along with it.

It’s hot. Have I mentioned that it’s hot? It’s far too hot. I don’t understand how it can be this hot. Man, I’m hot.

And yet, Amy hasn’t killed me yet. Way more patience than me, I gotta say…

12 June 2005

The dim sum curse lifted

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 12:33 am

The dim sum curse is lifted, finally! After a few days of trying to figure out where to go, we hit Hong Kong Island to see what we could find. Our concierge had recommended a place called “Luk Yu Teahouse”, which according to the Lonely Planet guide is full of surly staff. When we got there, it wasn’t even close to full — a sure sign of a not-so-good dim sum.

We tried another nearby restaurant that we’d spied a couple of days ago. Didn’t look any better. At this point, I was willing to walk 100 miles for good dim sum. We’d backed down twice on dim sum, going for something that looked decent, rather than what we’d really wanted. I wasn’t willing to back down a third time.

I think Amy was about to ready to strangle me. She holds her composure a lot better than I do.

Our third and final attempt was a place called Fung Shing, next to the Western Market building. The LP guide said it was “cavernous”. I honestly think the LP guides really need to check their use of the English language — “cavernous” doesn’t do the place justice. It’s large, yes, but the ceiling is just too low to require a word with such connotations.

Fung Shing in the Western Market

I have an English degree, so gimme a break here, eh?

It didn’t have the carts we so highly desired. But it was packed to the gills with locals — the bare minimum for good dim sum. The food quality was also quite good, though the English menu (which, sadly, we had to use) didn’t offer nearly the variety the Chinese menu did. It was too bad we were unable to get a hold of Vitralis, a connection we were provided, to try and hook up for dim sum. But you make do when you can.

Dim summy goodness

Stuffed, our one true mission in Hong Kong was complete. The only meal goal left on the trip — at least for me — is sushi at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, and zushi (yes, it’s spelled that way, too) in Osaka.

11 June 2005

Paddles up!

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 7:16 am

For the record, we didn’t it plan it this way. But like many things on our trip, fortuitious circumstance happened to place us in Hong Kong on the first day of the Dragon Boat festival!

Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at Stanley Beach

Having first tried dragon boating last year, I was curious to see how the Big Buoys (yes, bad joke) do it out here in Hong Kong, where the sport reigns. There are many differences from how I did it in Calgary last year, and what seems to happen here.

First, there isn’t one big dragon boat match — there’s a bunch of them. (There’s an international competition held in September or October, this isn’t part of that.) Each little town or village, even islands, have their own competitions. Based on what we read in a magazine, we settled on Stanley, at the south end of Hong Kong Island.

Whoever said “getting there is half the fun” hasn’t tried riding a Hong Kong city bus from Tsim Sha Tsui to Stanley. The 973, although a picturesque route, takes 90 minutes due to the curvy, non-direct highways and the insane level of traffic (it is a weekend, after all). My butt was numb by the time we got there. At least the buses are air conditioned. However, that makes getting off very painful — it’s like walking into a sauna.

Our first stop was not the beach, though, where the competition is held. It was at a place called the Stanley Restaurant. (If Amy didn’t eat right away, I feared she might start looking at me like hungry characters do in cartoons, and think I’m a hot dog or something.) A bowl of wonton and noodle soup (along with several teams of dragonboaters), and we headed down to the beach.

 Stanley Beach

It was packed. People were everywhere. Announcements were in Cantonese, with a bit of English thrown in for us white folks. (There were a few of us.) There were teams from all over Hong Kong, including a few from Canada: University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, and my own alma mater, University of Waterloo.

The Waterloo Warriors

As I would find out later, they’re alumni who moved from HK to Waterloo, then moved back after graduating. They tried to draft me, but I haven’t even started training for my own team this year!

As Amy so eloquently pointed out, the heat was nigh-unbearable. The only way we survived as long as we did was standing in the water up to our knees. (I’m not sure that I would have wanted to swim there, anyway, but…) When we could finally take no more, we headed back. Another 90 minutes on the bus.

Trains are suddenly looking so much better, now that we’ve taken them for granted.

11 June 2005

Going uphill to Victoria Peak

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 6:57 am

After meeting up with Amy, following our mutual attire sizings (and having a snack in a very Irish bar, oddly sitting amidst a lot of very Chinese surroundings), we took a ride up the Victora Peak Tram.

Hong Kong Victoria Peak Tram

The tram was started in 1888 by the British so they could get to their pricey places of residence without having to slog all the way up the hill. Still in operation (though with quite a few overhauls), the system has run (except during WWII) without a single accident. Impressive, considering some of the climb is quite steep. Buildings look insanely comical out the window. Especially at night.

A round-trip costs about HK$30 (roughly CDN$5), and is worth the trip. Especially for views like this:

Hong Kong at night from Victoria Peak

Though do please keep in mind that this was with my dinky little camera, which has to be coaxed to take pictures like this, especially when it really doesn’t want to…

If you’re wondering what Hong Kong looks like at night from the other side, check this out…

Hong Kong at night from Kowloon

11 June 2005

Down by the bay

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 6:43 am

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

11 June 2005

Ode to Hong Kong Trolleys

Filed under: China,Train Stuff,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 6:39 am

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

11 June 2005

Buying a suit

Filed under: China,Uncategorized — Geoff @ 6:32 am

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!