‘Getting high in HK…’

Trip Start Jul 18, 2010
Trip End Mar 04, 2011

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Friday, September 3, 2010

This morning we both oversleep until 9:30... Probably needed it though.  Our plan for today is a hit list of the Ladies market in Kowloon, a Michelin star dim sum restaurant and the Peak on HK island.  We have no guide books or maps (a small google map of Tsui Wan though - which is really unhelpful!), so today is going to be interesting!  To add to that, the weather has turned today.  The humidity has lowered, but the rain is really persistent.  We make it eventually to the MTR station using my awful Cantonese to ask for directions and find a ticket office with a lovely man that thankfully speaks English.  He gives us a tourist pack with maps and a day travel card for $55, that’s 5.50... So cheap!  We navigate to the correct line, which isn’t hard as Tseu Wan is the end of the line, and get on the train.  We’re getting quite allot of attention, but it’s better than being ignored I guess.  I recall, somehow, the stop that we’re supposed to get off is Mong Kok for Nathan rd and the Ladies market.  The MTR line is really accommodating to English speakers, so we don’t have any issues finding where we’re supposed to go.  We get out from the station, and straight into a busy street with people rushing around everywhere. It’s amazing, what an atmosphere, I love it!  We decide to get an ice cream from the Hagen Das shop to cool down for a bit and get our bearings.  There’s signs everywhere in English, so we navigate with ease to the Ladies market.  My guide book states that this is the site of ‘cheap clothes and jewellery’… they’re not wrong.  The market spans the length of 4 streets and is chokka with small stalls selling shiny pretties. Michele and I have a shared passion for jewellery, so this is going to get ugly!  We get some friendship bracelets, ha, matching hand woven with Chinese lucky coins in red, obviously.  They’re $2, so we just pay and go. I remember reading somewhere about the bargaining that goes on in these markets, so we could have gotten the price down!  On the next stall, I use my knowledge to get the price of a ring down from $12 to $8.  They play such funny minds games, making crying faces if you go too low. But there is a way to get exactly what you want, walk away!  It’s crazy, but it works!  ‘Chele and I get so good at this, that by the end we’re getting things for no less than half the stated price!  It’s strangely addictive, but there’s a huge sense of guilt attached to it too!  When we’ve both done our best to resemble Mr.T, we walk down the street and find a Starbucks… yes I know, shocking behaviour, but I love it!  We get iced coffee, it’s still too hot to contemplate warm drinks.  I ask the staff for help finding the Michelin star restaurant that Michele has looked up.  It’s the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, with dishes for 74p!  We manage to get there without any issues and queue up.  It must be good, 3p.m. and a queue of about 15people outside.  We fluff it a bit with the etiquette of ordering, but finally get inside to a packed out restaurant.  The tables are quite tight, but we’re seated in between two guys and a couple and served tea which is lovely.  After about 10minutes of chatting, our dishes start to come out.  Dim sum translates as ‘Little eats’, for those who don’t know, it’s like a Chinese tappas.  It’s inherently a cuisine of South China, so this will be my main diet for the foreseeable future.  I have ordered Steamed spareribs with blackbean sauce, Pan fried turnip cake with preserve meat and Rice roll stuffed with BBQ pork.  The spareribs and rice roll are amazing, the best Chinese food I’ve ever had!  But the turnip cake is the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, and after 1.5 cakes and allot of heaving, I give up trying to be polite.  My bill for a 9-piece dinner and 3cups of tea comes to a grand total of $39, 3.90!!! I’m amazed. I could eat here every day easily.  We both feel like we’re going to explode.  Lots of little things fill you up surprisingly well!  We take a walk down Nathan rd. to a small park which is such an iconic aspect of Chinese life.  Small pagoda’s have chess tables underneath them.  A strip of water spreads the length of the park, with delicate lilies filling the water and small bridges crossing.  The rain is now pretty awful, it was nice at first - a welcome change to the humidity - but now our shoes are soaked through!  So we walk back up Nathan rd. and find the MTR station.  Our next stop is The Peak on HK island.  When we exit the MTR station, the rain is torrential!  It’s so bad when we start the walk to the tram station, we have to run for refuge with other pedestrians outside the lobby of a building.  It doesn’t ease that much after 10minutes, but the wind isn’t quite as bad, so we set off again.  By the time we get to the tram station, we are drenched!  The passes are really cheap, $36 for the tram ticket and $25 for the sky terrace.  The tram is crazy, I can’t believe that it’s safe for a vehicle to be travelling at that gradient!  Even the floors have a dipped walkway, so that you can move around during transit safely.  The view is starting to get quite amazing.  We’ve hit it at dusk, so it’s perfect to see night & day.  When we get to the top, we’re greeted by a shopping mall! So random, but they seem to be everywhere in HK.  After looking through a small souvenir shop, Michele buys a chopstick set and I get a hanging charm of my zodiac year, the tiger, which is this year! Hmmm, I think my superstitions are often well placed.  We manage to prise ourselves away from the shiny jewellery stalls, somehow, and find another Starbucks! Yup, we got coffee.  We then decide to get to the sky terrace before it gets too late.  We head up countless escalators to the top floor.  En route we’re nearly accosted by a man dressed in a shrimp suit, attempting to entice people into the ’bubba gump’ restaurant.  I’m terrified, I hate people in mascot suits, they’re just as disconcerting as clowns. The weather is still pretty bad, and the cloud keeps shifting to obscure the view of the city.  It changes so quickly though, when we got up the city was visible, 2minutes later we could only see the lights of the nearest towers.  We try in vain to get some photos of the view, but give up after about 20minutes of playing with camera settings.  The view is quite amazing from up here, it doesn’t translate well to image, well not with my camera, but in-person it’s awesome.  I feel funny, the last time I used that word correctly it was to describe the giant Kauri forests and snowy peaks of NZ. Now I’m surrounded by sky scrapers, it’s such a strange culture change.  When we get back down, we head straight for the MTR and back to Tseun Wan.  Everything looks different at night and deciphering our route from this morning is really difficult.  We need to get a few supplies from the supermarket, and eventually find it.  It’s much larger than the one Raymond took me to last night, and I get my first real China food-experience.  Live fish line the walls waiting for selection, one is floating… it’s disgusting and smells so bad!  I’m not sure that I like this amount of realism in my food shop.  We get what we need and head back through the warren that is the mall attached to the MTR station.  We manage to find Michele’s hotel from Wednesday night, and I can figure it out from here.  After about an hour, maybe 40, we’re home, but not dry!  My friend from the UK Emma has given me a contact in HK, Divya, who I’ll be meeting up with tomorrow. I send her a text to confirm and she invites us out tonight.  We’re both pretty tired from today and Michele has to be in Kowloon bay tomorrow at 11 complete with her collections, so we decide to stay in and get acquainted with my duty free vodka.  It’s a very late one, and I end up rinsing my calling credit on a call to NZ - whoops!  The sun is now rising and I notice that there’s a swimming pool attached to the apartment… I wonder if I can get in there?? Not now though.  An hour’s sleep and Michele is waking me up to get a move on…
Saturday 4th
‘HK hopping and new friends…’
Once dressed and ready to go, we ask reception to call us a cab for time and ease with bags.  We get to the hotel in Kowloon bay on time and have an hour’s wait in the lobby for the other students to arrive. There’s a Starbucks here, so we get a nice caffeine kick.  I’m feeling pretty rotten, so am toying with the idea of getting a cab back.  But financially, this isn’t feasible.  After a very sad farewell to Michele I get directions to the nearest 7-11 to get some more credit and find the MTR station close by.  I get another day pass as I’ll need it again tonight and get on the train back to Tseun Wan.  I have to change lines halfway back, but it’s surprisingly stress less.  At the MTR is a Marks and Spencer’s store, quite random but apparently they’re everywhere in HK.  When I get back to Tseun Wan, I need to do a food shop ready for crossing the border on Monday.  I can’t take fruit of vegetables, so get staples to keep me going for when I have to cook for myself on weekends.  I also need to get crockery and pans, but this isn’t an option right now, I need more hands.  Back at the apartment and Divya gives me a quick call to chat about tonight.  She’s taking me to HK island for drinks up one of the highest bars in HK, called ‘Red‘.  I get ready and decide to break in my new LBD that I got in Wellington.  My first mistake.  If there’s anything that will draw attention more so than being a Westerner, it’s a Westerner being dressed up to go out!  My second mistake was walking to the MTR.  I feel really exposed. Maybe I should invest in a maxi dress?  I get the train and make it to Central station for 7p.m.  The station is huge, and a mall complete with office spaces.  I’ve got to head to the IFC mall and go right to the top to an outside terrace.  Its takes a surprising amount of time, but I get there and meet Divya and her boyfriend.  They’re great, so lovely and easy to talk to.  We have a really nice chat against the backdrop of Kowloon lit up spectacularly.  At 8p.m. every night, the largest buildings along Kowloon waterfront display a light show.  I didn’t really get it, but there’s scope to come back to see it.  After a few beers, we head off to Lan Kwai Fong which Divya tells me is the ‘Club district’ of HK.  The streets here are so narrow, and packed full of people.  I’m dressed appropriately now!  We get into a bar and order drinks.  I get some Weiss beer, a little culturally random, but tasty and very cheap at $55.  I meet some of Divya’s friends.  She’s lived here for 10years so has lots of contacts.  I’m having such a great night.  Divya’s fantastic and we get on like a house on fire.  Funnily enough, she works as a swimwear designer in HK!  So we’ve got plenty to talk about.  I’m totally at ease now, knowing that I’ve got someone really close by that I can see if I’m feeling a bit homesick or the language barrier is getting a bit much.  Div’s boyfriend leaves us to it and we head off to another club.  Everywhere’s packed and I’m really surprised at the lack of locals.  I can hear English everywhere… I’m glad I didn’t waste valuable handbag space on my phrasebook!  We meet some really interesting people including a few from Shenzhen.  I swap numbers with one of them who has offered to take me out for dinner next weekend.  The night gets a bit hazy and so we decide to head back, sharing a cab halfway.  The driver isn’t that great, and drops me off in Tseun Wan, but not at the apartment! Luckily my smarts are with me and I find a local 7-11 to ask for directions.  Back at the apartment and I pass out pretty quickly from the busy day I’ve had!
Sunday 5th
‘The eve of work…’
Today I don’t wake up until 2p.m.  Div’s hoping to meet up later after she’s had her family day, so I get showered and dressed.  I have to go and get all my kitchen things today, and am fairly sure that there are places more local to the apartment than the MTR mall.  I have a wander down a few blocks.  It’s painfully hot today. I’ve never sweated so much in my life!  I used to think that air con was a waste of money and resources, but now I realise it’s essential! I’m looking forward to my body acclimatising.  After 10minutes or so, I stumble upon a hardwear shop. Perfect, it has everything I need.  I get; a frying pan, saucepan, 2 large bowls, 2 small bowls, 2 mugs, 2 glasses, 2 forks, 2spoons, 2 teaspoons and 15 coat hangers for… $260. 26!  Incredibly cheap and my mind is at ease now.   Communicating with the shop keeper is very difficult, and I think he was trying to sell me different cutlery, luckily I can muster ’Bah’ and shake my head.  The language barrier is getting to me a bit, it’s very frustrating.  I need to get learning!  I would have liked to stay around longer and look through the local shops, but the bags are horrifically heavy, so I head back.  Divya’s feeling a little unwell, so we take a rain check on tonight’s plans which are probably for the best.  Work are picking me up tomorrow and taking me to the HK office first, then over the border to the base.  I think that my visa will need to be arranged tomorrow so it could be very tiring and stressful.  They’re currently in talks with the government to decide which visa type is best for me, an extension of the one I’m currently on would mean I only have one more access to the country, so would hinder any trips to HK and even my trip to NZ at Christmas.  If they are kind and let me have a permanent workers permit, I’m free to come and go as I please.  This would be the best option, but often the best option here isn’t the one you get.  On Wednesday I am required by law to attend a health check at a local hospital.  Raymond tells me that it is a simple money-making scheme by local authorities and really not necessary.  Still, needs must.  Tonight I am having some Nia-time, the first for quite a while, and catching up on my blog.  I need to leave the apartment in a good state tomorrow, I’m hoping that they may let me use it again if I visit HK.  It’s been a really good welcome to the country, the staff are really great here and it’s so secure. Plus I’ve gotten my bearings with the local area now.  I feel a bit like a child the night before their first day at school, my outfit already hung out in the bathroom.  My first graduate job, wow.  I’m so excited to see how the next few months of my life pan-out.  It’s going to be such a learning curve emotionally, mentally and physically, but one that will set the president for the rest of my career. No pressure then.

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