Monday, November 15, 2010

Hong Kong Day 9

It was far too early of a morning on the 9th day. It was probably around 5am when my brother and I got the wake-up call from my parents. I struggled to get out of bed and then had a shower. Most of my packing had been completed the night before, so I was ready to go in no time. Around 6:30am, we headed over to Sha Tin Plaza to meet with Li and Kuen for a farewell breakfast. The restaurant didn't open until 7am, so we spent some time just waiting outside trying to stay awake. The restaurant opened just as Grace's parents arrived, and we all sat down together and ordered our meal. I got a pretty basic ham and egg breakfast with toast. It was pretty good. I also ordered a coffee, which was made in the Hong Kong style with condensed milk. The coffee was okay, but the condensed milk always leaves a chalky texture in my mouth which I don't really enjoy.

Once we were all finished breakfast, we made a quick stop back at the hotel to grab our bags, and then headed to the bus stop to head off towards the airport. Li and Kuen came with us all of the way, which was a good thing, since the terminals are split on two different sides of the Hong Kong airport and it was somewhat confusing trying to find out way around. My parents flight to Hainan province was on one end of the airport and left about 30 minutes before my flight. We spent a lot of time walking back and forth between the two terminals, but I saw my family off to Hainan. They would stay there for another week before coming back to Hong Kong for a day to catch their flight home. As for me, I had to head straight back to Ottawa for work. I was really sad to leave Hong Kong. The city was far more wonderful than I remembered, and Grace's parents invited me to return the following year. I'm almost positive I will be back.

Unfortunately, my flight home was not a direct flight, and I had to transfer in Beijing. It was only three hours to Beijing from Hong Kong, and it was a very different climate. While the day had been a sunny 25 degrees Celsius, it was a cloudy 6 degrees in Beijing. Once the plane was grounded, we exited the craft on the runway and were bused to the airport terminal, which seemed very strange to me. Once inside, it was a very long wait through screening and customs. While waiting in line for the transfer, I met a nice young woman from Vancouver who was on her way to Korea for her sisters' wedding. We passed the time waiting in line chatting about our travels and such. Overhearing a conversation while waiting in line, I learned that the transfer wait usually isn't so long, but there were several flights of transferring passengers arriving at the same time. One flight included 120 transferring passengers, so the customs agents were a little overwhelmed. After nearly two hours of waiting, I was finally cleared and ushered through customs. I raced off to find my flight, and 13 excruciating hours later, I was back home in Canada. It was cold when I arrived, but at least there was no snow. Already I was missing the warmth and sun of Hong Kong. Only one more year before my next visit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hong Kong Day 8

I thought that I would get the chance to sleep in after such a late night at the races, but no such luck! It was another early morning for me in Hong Kong and my parents and myself met with Grace and her parents early at a dim sum restaurant for breakfast. It wasn't really all that early in the morning, but I felt so tired. The restaurant was a nice big place and had delicious food and of course I ate way too much, as per usual.
Grace was a little late getting to breakfast since she had been up until 3am packing for her trip to Fiji. Ben couldn't make it to breakfast since he still had some last minute things to take care of.
Before we could dig in to our morning meal, Grace presented us all with some lovely gifts. It was really too much, but I certainly appreciated it. For my mother, a lovely scarf, a really stylish hat for my dad, my brother was given a really hip v-neck shirt, and I was given a lovely pair of glove/mittens. They're especially awesome. Honestly, they're the nicest gloves I've ever had. We all finished breakfast and walked Grace to the bus stop so she could catch the shuttle to the airport. We bid her farewell and safe travels, and then away she went to the airport. Before we all split up for the day, we made plans to meet with Grace's parents in the evening for dinner and then shopping at the night market on Temple Street.

With the afternoon to spare, I went out on my own to take some photos and do some shopping. The previous night, on the way home from the races, Grace told me about Lucky Plaza. According to her, it was the place where most of the locals shopped. Lots of neat little stores where I could buy video games and snacks and things. It wasn't far from the hotel and was attached to all of the other malls and plazas in that area. Once I was there, I remembered it from my last visit to Hong Kong. I spent a good amount of time wandering around and checking out all of the shops. There were a few stores selling games, but nothing really caught my interest, though I was little surprised at the amount of North American games they were selling, but maybe they were all bootlegs. While I was looking, I came across this one shop selling all kinds of clothing and fashion accessories for men. They had some really nice stuff, but I only looked since I figured it was probably expensive. After buying some snacks, I headed back to the other plazas to look around.

Attached to Lucky Plaza was Sha Tin plaza. It was a pretty nice place, but the most appealing part of it was the restaurants. From Sha Tin plaza, there was the New Town Plaza. It was the newest shopping mall in the area and definitely had the nicest shops. All I could do was look since I really didn't have a lot of money with me on this trip. Besides, I wanted to save what little I had left for picking up souvenirs at the night market. Heading back towards the hotel, I snapped some pictures of the Yata mascots. They were just cute and fun and I thought it would be good to have some pics. I ran into my brother and my parents, and we all spent the rest of the evening hanging out. We went to get some coffee at Starbucks, and then to the station to meet Grace's parents. When we got there, only her father, Kuen, was there. Though he didn't speak much English, we understood enough that we had to take the train to another stop to meet with Li after she was done work. After a transfer of trains, we all met up and headed down to Kowloon to grab some dinner.

Li and Kuen took us to this nice little place not too far from the station. It had a really cool two-floor set up and was kind of like a 50's diner. They served mostly Chinese dishes, but there were some American ones in there, too. Having had my fill of Dim Sum for the week, I opted for the pork chops with potatoes and vegetables. I was expecting the worst, but I was actually quite impressed with the food. After the meal, we headed to the night market. It was around then that I realized I had forgotten my camera back at the hotel! I was really bummed out since I was really looking for getting some night photos along Temple Street. Turns out that it was probably for the best since Temple Street, aside from being known for the awesome night market, is a haven for pick-pockets and thieves.

We walked all along the crowded street that was overflowing with people, mostly tourists. Booths lined either side of the street with merchants selling all kind of wares. Most of the things for sale were bootlegs and imitations of name-brand clothing, sunglasses, and accessories. There were also lots of tables selling souvenirs and traditional Chinese ornaments. I recall there being a lot more booths selling pirated CDs and DVDs, but I only noticed a few along the way. After haggling with some of the vendors and getting some cheap souvenirs, we caught the bus back to the hotel. Once there, I packed up all of my things and went to bed, prepared for the flight home the next day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hong Kong Day 7

I thought that day 6 was busy, but it was nothing compared to today. My brother and I got a wake up call around 7am to let us know that Grace's friends from Minnesota were leaving. Waking up, I quickly showered and got dressed, but by the time I got to the bus stop, they had already left. I'm sure we'll meet again someday, though. I then got a call from Grace's mother to let me know where everyone was. They were just down the street at a diner about to get breakfast. When I arrived, I found Ben, Grace, her parents, and my family waiting for me. I had a light breakfast, and then we parted ways. Grace and Ben went to get packed for their honeymoon in Fiji, and the rest of us went to catch the train. We rode the rails downtown and then caught a ferry to Cheung Chau island.

The ferry ride was about 30 minutes to the island. It was a really nice spot with a gorgeous beach, though it was a little too cold to go swimming. Cheung Chau also has an athletic school with a really nice track and soccer court. There were many students there on an excursion. I'm not sure if it was for training or an athletic meet. Around 12 o'clock we met up for a huge lunch that was absolutely delicious. So much fresh fish. It was great. We took a different ferry back to Central Hong Kong and it took about 40 minutes. It was a really nice view coming in, though, and I snapped some great pics.

Since we had to come back to Central that evening for the horse races, it didn't make sense to go back to Sha Tin. To kill time, we took a trip up to the Peak. I had been there 10 years ago, but to be honest I don't really remember much of it. The view was incredible, and the trip up there and back was also really exciting. Once we were back downtown and off the bus, we caught a street car to the race track and met up with Grace and Ben. Now, I have been to horse races before in Canada and the U.S., but none of the tracks can come anywhere to even comparing with the one in Hong Kong. They take their racing very seriously. Also, betting on the horse races is the only form of legalized gambling. I only placed a few bets throughout the evening and one once. My brother also bet on a few and one pretty big on one of the races. My parents did a fair bit of gambling, but ended up losing more than they one. Grace's parents had never been to the races before, and Grace's mother bet only on one race and won! It was pretty awesome.

Once the races were over, we took a long train ride back to Sha Tin and got some much needed rest. Tomorrow will be my last full day in Hong Kong, but I wish that I could stay much longer.

Hong Kong Day 6

Today felt like the longest day in Hong Kong so far, but it was an excellent day.
First thing in the morning, my parents and I went and met with Grace's parents for a Hong Kong style breakfast. My brother was still asleep, so we let him be. The breakfast was pretty good, but was a lot heavier and different than what I'm normally used to. My meal consisted of chopped pork and mushrooms covered in sauce, wrapped in sticky rice, and then all wrapped up in what I'm pretty sure was a lily pad. I had eaten it before when I was in Hong Kong, but I don't remember being too fond of it. This time, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After breakfast, we went back to the hotel for a quick rest, got my brother, and then met Grace's parents once again for a trek up to Sha Tin's 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. Aside from the wedding, the monastery has been the highlight of my trip so far. It was about a 20 minute walk up a mountain to the temple, and the path was lined with statues of Buddhists, each one different. Once at the temple, there were more and more statues and carefully manicured bonsai trees every where. The trees looked to be decades, some of them possibly even hundreds, of years old. Inside the temple itself there were shelves lined with Buddha statues, each one with a little light. I couldn't count them all, but I would guess that there were 10,000 of them. Since photos were not allowed in the temple, I wasn't able to capture an image. To give one a general idea, the ceiling was about 35 or 40 high, and starting from about 5 feet up, there was a wall-long shelf every foot lined end to end with Buddha statues. It was incredible.

The path of the temple wound up and up, and as we walked we saw more and more statues. In different areas of the temple grounds, there were different shrines. One of which was being restored, which was interesting to see. Near the summit, there was a little pond filled with Koi fish and turtles. At the top, there was a giant white Buddha statue with a small water fall behind it. It was quite mesmerizing. There was an alternate path down from the temple which we took, and it too was lined with more and more statues. Now, I didn't count all of them, of course, but I'm not entirely convinced that there are 10,000 of them as the temple name suggests. Perhaps one day I'll go back and count them all!

Feeling kind of hungry after our hike, my parents, brother, and I stopped by our hotel rooms for a quick bite to eat. Then it was on a bus downtown to Mong Kok. When I was in Hong Kong 10 years ago, I remember Mong Kok being really awesome. This time, though, I wasn't too impressed by it. On Nathan Road, it seems like there are the same 5 shops on every block. Not only that, but it's mostly new shops that can be found anywhere in any city. Maybe my memory of Mong Kok is fuzzy, but I remember it being filled with lots of unique little shops. Some of the side streets were like this, but it wasn't what I recalled. My brother and I separated from my parents, and after doing way too much walking, we finally decided to catch a bus back to the hotel.

It seemed like were back for only minutes before we had to go meet up with Grace and Ben for dinner at Ben's mother's home. It was absolutely delicious, and Ben's family was great. We ate until our stomachs were bursting and conversed for hours. After dinner, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the hotel. All I wanted to do at this point was go to bed, but we had made plans to meet with Grace's parents for dessert. Though I was really tired, I'm glad that I went for the dessert. We went to this place called Honeymoon Dessert, which is always packed and always has a queue, and the desserts were delicious. Because of the long wait, my brother got to draw for a free dessert. At first he drew this durian parfait, but was allowed to draw again when we told them that we didn't like durian. I'm not even sure what kind of fruit it is, but it has a bitter, rank taste, but sweet after-taste. Anyway, we ended up getting some rice balls to dip in honey and crushed peanuts. They were great. For individual desserts, I ordered the mango pancakes, which was mango and whipped cream wrapped in a very thin crepe-like pastry.

Finally, it was off to bed. Tomorrow is an extremely early morning and is sure to be another busy day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hong Kong Day 5

Today turned out to be another adventure, thought that wasn't what I had planned on. I was expecting to go to Mong Kok and find some souvenirs, but before I knew it, I was off to lunch with everyone. After a short bus ride, we all arrived at Star Seafood Restaurant, which is a floating restaurant built upon an old boat. The place is extravagant and huge. Not only that, but the food was delicious. I wish that I could eat steamed pork buns every day forever.
Once we were done eating, we said farewell to April, one of Grace's friends, who had to catch her flight home. We parted ways and then Grace and Ben invited us over to see their new home. Their place was located at the top floor of a 35 story apartment complex. The view was spectacular. Grace told us that her and Ben looked at about 10 different places before deciding upon that one.

Our visit to their home was very brief, and soon we were on another bus heading out to Sai Kung, a fishing town outside of the city. It was a really beautiful spot. Along the docks fishers would fill their boats with little buckets containing what they had caught that day and will sell them right off the boat to customers. The town also had all kinds of little shops, pubs, and cafes. We stopped at one spot and had some drinks. It was great. A beer just tastes better after walking around in the sun all day. Sai Kung is also home to a lot of foreigners living in Hong Kong. Though we probably still looked like tourists, we didn't stand out as much in the town.

We all went back to the hotel together, and while I spent the next couple of hours relaxing, many of Grace's friends spent their time packing, as their flights home were leaving that evening. Before they all left, we all gathered together once more and said our farewells. I'm sure it won't be too long before we all meet again.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hong Kong Day 4

Today was the big day: Grace and Ben's wedding day.
I've never experienced a traditional Chinese wedding before, and I'm really glad that I was able to be a part of such a special occasion. While the first part of today's ceremony was quite traditional, the second part was more modern. It was the perfect blend.
The day seemed far too long to explain everything in detail, so I'll give a quick run down and highlight some of the key points.

To start out, the bride's party convenes with the bride (which was at the hotel) and must all be there before the groom and his party arrive. Now, this is where some of the more modern aspects of the wedding show up. Before the groom was able to see the bride, he had first to undergo a series of tasks, questions, and trials. These were mostly just fun little games, but it was really entertaining and also really sweet.
After this, the bride and groom sit down and have tea with the bride's parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. and gifts are give to both the bride and groom. These are usually pieces of expensive jewelery, and the more pieces the more prosperous the marriage is said to be.
Also, the groom gave out gifts (an envelope containing money) to the guests of the bride. I'm not sure if this is part of the tradition or not.

Once the tea was finished, the bride and groom (followed by the wedding party) join the groom's family for tea and the exchanging of gifts. In our case, the wedding party had to board a shuttle bus to the groom's home. Already the day was turning out to be quite the adventure! Once the ceremony concluded at the groom's family home, the wedding party took a break at a nearby restaurant for lunch. It was pretty delicious. There were steamed pork buns which tasted better than any pork buns I had ever had before
We then headed back to the hotel for a quick break and to change clothes, then it was off to the marriage license office. Luckily, the building was right next to the hotel, so it was just a quick stroll through the park. Along the way, many, many, MANY photos were taken by the photographers. It was a lot of fun, though!

After a short wait at the license office, forms were signed, rings were exchanged, and the bride and groom were now happily married! After stopping for more photos, the wedding party boarded another shuttle and were escorted to the reception, which was taking place at the Hong Kong Banker's Club (members only?).
Wow. The view from the 43rd floor was pretty spectacular. Plus, the reception hall was extremely classy.
Evelyn, one of Grace's friends from Finland, discovered a way up to the roof of the building while out for a cigarette. She later showed me the way, and I was able to snap some unbelievable pictures of Hong Kong at night. After eating more food than I think I've ever eaten in one sitting, it was back to the hotel to get some sleep. Best night ever.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hong Kong Day 3

Today was a very lazy day. Too lazy, if you ask me.
The day started off just fine. We had no planned events, so after having a coffee in the morning with my parents, we all set out to see about finding a bank and a post office. This was around 9am, but nothing was open yet aside from a few cafes. As it turns out, most places don't open until 11am. Not sure if it was just because it was Saturday or if that's a daily thing. In any case, we all split up and agreed to meet up at 12:30 for lunch.

After walking around the mall for about an hour, I headed back to the hotel room to rest. After all, I had no money and nothing was yet open. The rain was still coming down outside, so I followed all of the covered paths back to the hotel. Around 1pm, everyone came back to the hotel. It seems that my brother and I were under the impression that we were meeting back at the rooms, while my parents thought we were meeting back in the lobby. In any case, we all set out to find something to eat.

We ended up taking in lunch at Shakey's, which is known for its pizza. The food was really delicious, but the portions were quite small for the high price. After lunch we grabbed some treats from a nearby bakery, some coffee from Starbucks, and headed back to the hotel to relax. I grabbed some melon bread from the bakery, and it was delicious. Far better than any of the melon breads I had tried while in Japan. My parents decided to go explore the hotel and find the swimming pool. They left my brother and I do to what we wanted, but they charged me with a small errand to get done that day.

After spending some time in the hotel, I noticed that the rain had finally let up. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I grabbed my camera and set out to take a walk. I explored a bit of the area but spent most of my time walking through Shatin park. Though I had spent a good deal of time in the area during my last visit to Hong Kong, a lot had changed. Everything looked much nicer and cleaner.
I snapped a few pictures and sat down on a bench. Two little kids approached me and asked me a question, but I didn't understand and told them I only spoke English. The nodded and carried on. They then stopped and asked a man the same question, and it seems they just wanted to know what time it was.

Finally, it was about time I headed back to the mall to get that errand done. Since it was Saturday afternoon, the mall seemed more packed than ever. I got turned around in the wrong direction, but finally found the book store I was looking for. I had spotted it that morning during my wandering. It was right next to this neat little hobby shop. The shop had all kinds of figures and fashion magazines. The store even had the Lawson's limited edition Evangelion Revoltech figure. Something I may have to go back for.

Once I got back to the hotel, a wave of exhaustion fell upon me. I don't know why, but I was suddenly so tire. Laying down, I fell almost immediately to sleep. From this point on, my memories are a bit hazy. I remember my parents trying to wake me to go eat, but I couldn't get up. Sleep was all that was important. Around 9:30pm Grace called an told me that the hair brushing ceremony was about to start. This was the first part of the wedding ceremony and it takes place the day before the wedding. I didn't know what to do. My parents and brother were gone and I didn't know where they were and had no way of contacting them. I told Grace I would let them know when they got back, but I fell right back to sleep and was plagued by nightmares.

Thirty minutes later Grace called back to let me know that the ceremony was over. I felt so ashamed. Here I was in Hong Kong for her wedding, yet I couldn't keep awake to make it to the first part. She told me that we would meet tomorrow morning at 8:30 at her room for the wedding. I said good night and fell right back to sleep. Sometime later, my brother and parents came back. I passed along the message, and then immediately fell back into a deep sleep. Tomorrow was the big day. Here's hoping I don't sleep through it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hong Kong Day 2

After getting a call from my parents' room, they came over and joined my brother and I for a light breakfast. We had some bread, cheese, pineapple, and apple to go with our morning coffees. Very soon, we were meeting with Grace, her parents, and her many friends in the hotel lobby for the days' adventure. Around 9:30am, a tour guide named Jennifer joined us in the lobby and quickly ushered all of us onto a tour bus that was waiting just outside the hotel. As the bus sped us all away from central Sha Tin, Jennifer began outlining the events for the day as well as providing us with some history and facts about Hong Kong.

Our first stop was at the cable cars near the Novotel outlet malls. The cable car ride would take us to the site of the world's largest Buddha statue and temple. I had been here ten years before, but back then there were no cable cars to take us over the mountains and the area hadn't been developed yet. It was a incredible view on the ride over the mountains, despite the thick fog. Once we arrived, I could barely recognize the area. It seemed that most of the immediate area around the Buddha statue had been developed to service tourists and there were gift shops and cafes a plenty. Quite a difference from the forest and unpaved roads from a decade before.

Though the rain was pouring down, we enjoyed the visit to the Buddha and the temple. We also got to have a delicious vegetarian lunch with everyone at a restaurant directly adjacent to the main temple. I should also note that we were not allowed to enter the Buddha 10 years ago, but we were this time. Inside houses many scrolls and paintings dedicated to the Buddha and it was pretty amazing. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos inside.

Around 2pm, we all met up again and took another bus to a fishing village in Hong Kong called Tai O. Some of the buildings in the village were very old and built in the old style. We took a boat out into the ocean near the village with hopes of seeing some of the white dolphins, but it was too cold for them to be out. After the boat ride, we took another bus all the way back to the cable cars and we were given the option to check out the outlet malls. Since we were all pretty exhausted from the busy day, everyone agreed to just catch the bus back to the hotel.

After getting cleaned up and taking a quick nap, my family and I joined Grace and her family at their apartment for dinner. It was all delicious homemade food that her grandmother prepared for us and it brought back memories of all the great meals I had eaten all of those years ago. Once dinner was finished, we stayed a bit chatting and gave some gifts we had brought for Grace and her family. We then made a quick stop at the
market for some breakfast foods for tomorrow.

Since there are no real plans for tomorrow, we have a day to ourselves.
I wonder what kind of adventures are in store?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hong Kong Day 1

This year has been one awesome year of adventures for me so far. I took a three week trip to Japan in April, came back to Ottawa and started meeting new people who have quickly become such great friends, started a new job and quit my old one, went on a couple of exciting road trips, and now I'm back across the sea for another adventure. In the summer of 1999, my family hosted a student from Hong Kong named Grace. She became such a good friend that we welcomed her and her parents back to Canada the following year. After that second visit to Canada, Grace became like family to us. Her and her parents welcomed my brother and I to Hong Kong in the summer of 2000 and it was an experience I'll never forget. After 10 long years, I'm back in Hong Kong and the city is just as gorgeous as ever.

Several months ago, my family received an invite from Grace to attend her wedding in Hong Kong. Of course we all agreed, and yesterday we found ourselves together, bags packed, boarding a plane. After 15 excruciating hours in the air, we arrived safely in Hong Kong and we were greeted happily by Grace and her family. Though so much time has passed, we all look the same, but maybe a little more mature.
We boarded a double-decker bus at the air port, and took off toward the city. I felt a little nostalgic as the bus cruised towards the city and I began recognizing certain buildings and locations. I was a bit amazed at how many giant new apartments had sprouted up everywhere. I thought a city so big could never grow any bigger, but I suppose that you can't stop progress.

 After getting checked into our hotel rooms, we all got cleaned up from the flight, and took a quick nap before meeting with Grace, her family, and her many friends for a lovely dinner. The dinner was lovely and I was able to meet so many of Grace's wonderful friends from all over the world. During dinner, Grace told us of the plan for the next day. After eating, we all quickly rushed to the supermarket for some snacks and supplies for the day ahead of us. What tomorrow holds will be kept a surprise for now.