Hong Kong

Must-See Macau

Macau is a 1.5 hour ferry ride from the terminal in Hong Kong, and it’s worth a day trip.  Everyone knows about the lavish casinos and the huge party town (it’s like the Vegas of Southeast Asia), but here are three must-sees – aside from the glitz and glamour – that will make your Macau visit even more fun.

Old Town Macau

Check out the fortresses from when Macau was a Portuguese colony.  See the architecture, take in the decidedly European influence (there’s even a Port wine museum!), try to figure out street signs in Portuguese…

One stop for spectacular views of the city is the old fort, Fortaleza du Monte.  It has panoramic views and really shows you the dichotomy between Old and New Macau.

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The cannon is pointed directly at the casinos….hm….

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The Ruins of St. Paul are right next to the fort, and are gorgeous.

You can also see the Chinese influence that still hasn’t will probably never go away, in the forms of older temples and shrines, and even more modern propaganda in the form of the 1950s Mao posters in every store.

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Pandas!!!!!!!!!!

Did you really think I’d skip the pandas?  Come on….

There are two pandas in Macau, and they are awesome.  The panda park itself is interesting – it has panda EVERYTHING (so it’s basically my version of heaven), and you can watch them till your heart’s content.

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These were absolutely huge awesome pandas made from carnations.

If you catch them on a good day, they’ll do flips and entertain you, but on a bad day, they’ll just stay in their little cave area and not come out.  Luckily for me, it was a good day, and I got to see it up close and personal.  Now if only I could figure out how to get one home…

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Grand Prix Museum

I realize this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a really short museum and if you like cars or appreciate it at all, it’s worth a trip.  Inside, you will see Aryton Senna’s car and race suit, an entire wall devoted to Michael Schumacher, and various other cars from other forms of racing (Porsche, BMW, even Toyota).  It’s a throwback homage to the days when racing was insanely dangerous, drivers were rugged men, and parties were wild and debauchery ran amok.

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And if the Museo du Gran Prix isn’t your thing, the Port wine museum is right next door. Cheers!

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Let Them Eat Cake: Hong Kong Edition

When it comes to birthdays, my least favorite part is the cake.  I know, I know.  She doesn’t like cilantro, she doesn’t like bread, and now she doesn’t like cake?!  What the heck is wrong with this broad?!  (Lady of the Cakes, I can hear you howling in pain from here.)

Sadly, it’s true.  There must be something wrong with me.  I don’t like cake.  But while in Hong Kong, there was a pastry store ever 250 feet.  No joke.  And even though I don’t like the cake itself, I can certainly appreciate the aesthetics.  And, faithful readers, so can you.  Yes, these photos are for all two of you 🙂

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*No pandas were harmed in the making of this post.  I did not buy them, nor did I eat them.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Hong Kong Edition

Whenever I travel, I keep an eye out of the crazy, the unusual, the very odd…because what could possibly be better than a story for later?

Hong Kong was not a disappointment – believe you me.  I saw all sorts of odd things on the streets, in the restaurants, everywhere.  Between the foods and the people, plus my summer in China, I don’t know that there’s anything that would surprise me now.  The two most stand-out stories are below, and I apologize for the blocks of text.  I don’t have photos for either, because, well, I just had no idea what to do about them when they happened.

Man Eats Leftover Soup, Jenna Lives to Tell About It:  The backstory to this is that in Hong Kong, should one need a seat in a casual eatery, one does not necessarily need to find an empty table.  Should there be a seat open, one is welcome to sit, and then leave the tray and leftovers to be cleaned up by housekeeping.

I ended up eating lunch at quite possibly the most elaborate food court I will ever be at in my entire life.  No joke, the food courts are worth it.  It was a bit crowded, so at my table, seated across from me, was another couple, and next to me was a single woman.  When the woman was done, she got up and left her half-eaten soup.  I was preoccupied with taking advantage of the free WiFi and trying to figure out where to go next, when I realized someone was still sitting next to me – eating.  I figured it was someone else taking the woman’s spot, but when I glanced over, I noticed the soup and drink were the exact same fullness – even the napkin was crumpled in the same way.  That’s when it hit me: this person was eating the woman’s leftover lunch!  It took about thirty seconds to process it, and then I was completely disgusted.  Needless to say, I got out of there as soon as I could.

Woman Eats Cup-O-Noodles from Airport Bathroom, Jenna is Both Horrified and Intrigued: This part was still technically Hong Kong, but I was on the plane, heading home.  I was lucky enough to get a seat sort of near the bathrooms, which on a 14-hour flight, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Especially because if you DO have to pee, you can easily see when the bathrooms are open.

I had to pee (it was a long flight, with free booze!), and had to wait my turn.  A few minutes prior, a woman went into the bathroom just before me.  Okay, fine.  But when she reemerged, she had a Cup-O-Noodles in her hand, and was carrying it precariously, as if it were hot and/or cooking.  Whaaaaaaaaaat?  First of all, the water isn’t hot enough to cook the noodles.  Second of all, GROSS!  There are signs all over the bathrooms that say “This water is not for drinking!”  It blew my mind.

Bonus:  The Worst Sign Ever:

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The Top Three Things I Brought to Hong Kong

In the last ten years, I’ve traveled all over the country, and that means I had to pack a lot of suitcases.  I used to never pack enough.  Then, I started autocrossing, and packed too much.

Of course, when you’re driving across the country, you can stop at a Target if you forgot your deodorant.  Hong Kong was going to be quite the experiment in packing, because while I had lived in China, it is also a major metropolis colonized by the British, and far more advanced than Hangzhou.  That being said, it’s still technically China, so I figured my previous experience wouldn’t be rendered totally useless.

In anticipation of this trip, I went to Target and diligently bought everything I thought I’d need.  I was adamant about packing certain things, and I miiiight have overshopped those items, but I am happy to say I was not wrong (on some of it, at least).  In the end, however, I was very happy I brought some of the things I had learned about back in 2006.

For anyone that would travel to Hong Kong, my top three things to bring from the States are:

1) Wet Ones

Image from hunt4freebies.com

Image from hunt4freebies.com

When you are out and about, surrounded by meat hanging out all day in 85* September humidity and thousands of people, you want to be able to wash your hands and face at a moment’s notice.  Or perhaps you want to clean the seat on which you will sit, or the utensils by which you will feed yourself.  A travel-sized packet of Wet Ones to the rescue!  I went through about 40 sheets in eight days, and while nothing is a true substitute for washing your hands with soap and water, they’re a great in a pinch.

2) Hydrocortisone

Image from walgreens.com

Image from walgreens.com

I remembered this from China:  The bugs are assholes.  They’re different out there – not necessarily bigger, but vicious and aggressive, like a starving mother trying to get the last crust of bread to feed her children.  Or in my case, starving, invisible gnats that chew the hell out of my legs and leave me bruised, itchy, and miserable.  (By the way, it’s been two weeks since I’ve been back in the States, and I’m still itchy).

A short vignette:  I lived in China with a group of students from URI, including my friend Linda. The first night there, I went to bed, and was awakened very early the next morning by someone screaming my name, running down the hallway.  Linda had been bitten by a gnat on her eyelid as she slept, and it had swelled so much, she couldn’t open it.  It was itchy, painful, and bruising.  After a full day of nursing her, and commandeering a Chinese friend to speak for her at the infirmary, the swelling subsided with the appropriate meds – after another day or so.

Lovely Linda and me, post-bug bite, at a tea house, circa 2006

Lovely Linda and me, post-bug bite, at a tea house – circa 2006

Let me tell you.  Those fucking bugs – they’re tiny and black, and you don’t even notice they’ve bitten you.  You brush them off absentmindedly, and it’s only later, when your are so itchy and swollen you can’t walk ten feet without stopping to scratch, that you realize you’ve been attacked.  It looked like I had someone put out cigarettes on my body.

It was HORRIBL.  Twenty-two bites in two days.

It was HORRIBLE. Twenty-two bites in two days.

3) Phone with removable SIM card capabilities (4G CDMA or GSM phones)

Image from global.rakuten.com

Image from global.rakuten.com

I’m normally one for being cut off from the world (unless there’s WiFi somewhere or something) when on vacation.  I’m exactly where I want to be, with exactly everyone I want to be with – I don’t need to talk to the real world. So while the idea of buying a SIM card in Hong Kong seemed a bit foreign to me, I’m glad I did.  For $118 HKD (~$15.25 USD), you can buy a SIM card that will give you 5gb of data that’s good for 8 days.  It was incredibly useful for checking maps, figuring out times for the ferry to Macau on the fly, and finding decent restaurants within the vicinity.  You can also download an app that will scan Chinese text and give you an approximate translation.  I’m all for roughing it, I’m all for being in a completely unfamiliar environment, but sometimes, you really do just need a bit of help from the Internet (plus, you’ll probably have a decent camera on your phone – two birds with one stone!)

4) Honorable mention:  Debit card with no ATM fees:  You’ll get a much better exchange rate at any of the city-wide ATMs than you will in the airport, hotel, or any bank.  If your debit card has fees (like one of mine does – $11 USD per transaction!) but you want the better rate anyway, take out a good amount of money to make the fee worth it.

I realize these are not mind-blowing.  I realize anyone with a bit of common sense could figure out the last two.  These were the things I was most thankful to have, and going back, I’d not be caught without these things.  What are your travel must-haves?

Yes Is Be My Answer

As the old joke goes, someone who speaks four languages is quadrilingual, a speaker of three languages is trilingual, someone with two languages is bilingual, and someone who knows only one language is an American.  To continue, there’s a stereotype that Americans don’t need to learn another language because everyone speaks English – and if they don’t, they should.

While I am an American (but I’m bilingual so don’t shoot me!), I don’t necessarily believe everyone should speak English.  In fact, Engrish has provided me with some of my fondest travel memories.  The signs posted on my dorm in Hangzhou were a bit rough, but they were good for a chuckle, and sometimes our Chinese friends wore shirts that left us either doubled over in laughter, or scratching our heads trying to make sense of the phrase.

Because Hong Kong was under British rule for so long, I figured there wouldn’t be too much Engrish around – but I was pleasantly mistaken.  The translations on signs and menus were fine (albeit a bit formal), but fashion….oh, the fashion.  There was plenty of Engrish to go around, and what was even better were the shirts with incredibly random lists and graphics.  They might have been grammatically correct, but they were so odd to me…

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Yes, that says New Hauen. With a “U” instead of a “V.” Can’t win ’em all.

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While the sartorial purchases I made were tame and (gasp) normal (a New England Patriots long sleeve shirt, and two scarves – one with lobsters and one with seahorses), I had to talk myself out of buying some of the others.  Just for the looks I’d get at home if I wore it out.  Like I said, one of the best reasons to go to Hong Kong is for the shopping.

My Top Three Reasons to Go to Hong Kong

I really wanted to go visit Anna.  The Russian government, however, had other ideas for US citizens trying to visit Moscow, and the trip was put on the back burner due to the fact that getting a visa was really, really frustrating and expensive.  While this was a huge and disappointing setback, I still wanted to travel internationally this year, and a lucky glance at a discount airfare site and a leftover gift card meant I was going to Hong Kong – for 8 days, for less than a pair of Louboutins – USED Louboutins.

Louboutin

Yeah…airfare was less than that. I shit you not. Image from ebay.com. These also have the potential to live in my closet.

I never had a burning desire to go to to Hong Kong; lots of friends have been/have family there, but I don’t know that I’d have ever said, “YES, THIS IS MY #1 DESTINATION OF CHOICE!”  But it was uncharted international territory, two of my “adventure” criteria, and I was all for it.

After the eight days there (which is just about the right amount of time for a first foray), I now have my top three reasons to visit – for which I’d gladly go back.

  1. The Mix 
    It’s a vibrant, bustling city that has Louis Vuitton, Dior, and YSL on one corner, and cheap eats and chintzy fun stores across the street.  There are hundreds of expats (waaaaaaay more white faces than I’d expected), so it’s not like you’d stand out like the Great White Hope as a visitor from the United States.  According to today’s Google search, it ranks #3 for “Top Financial Centers in the World.”  There’s a rapidly growing, ever-modernizing city, there are quiet mountain tops with panoramic views for hiking (and believe me, it’s a steep elevation change, and not the easiest hike), there’s varied cuisine, there are beaches…

    Those sweeping panoramic views I was talking about.

    Those sweeping panoramic views I was talking about.

    There is literally something to do for every type of traveler.  If you want to be active and explore, there are twisting streets and steep hills.  If you want to relax on the beach, there’s that, too.  There are plenty of bars with actually useful happy hour hours (more on that later), if you want to get your drink on.  Most of the younger generation understands at least a little English, so you aren’t totally lost.  And as a major metropolis, you aren’t cut off from technology, civilization, or (most importantly) indoor plumbing – unless you want to be.
    IMG_20150912_094633908Hong Kong, like the other cities I’ve visited in Asia, is the perfect blend of first and third world, and it’s a great destination for anyone that wants to experience something new, while not being too far away from the west – at least in spirit.

  2. The Shopping
    Ok, ok.  I’m not a shopaholic.  Definitely not.  Aside from the appreciation of the beautiful fashion, I could not relate to this movie at all.  Cher and Dionne would be so disappointed in me – I suffer from buyer’s remorse more often than I actually buy things.

    Image from movieposters.com

    Image from movieposters.com

    That being said, there’s a shopping culture in Hong Kong that will excite even the most reluctant of marketgoers.  Everything you see on Ebay, the super cheap electronics, phone cases, flash drives – it’s all there.  Clothes, trinkets, combs, souvenirs.  Jewelry, scarves, tea sets, journals.  You name it, it’s there.  In some districts, it’s like Madison Avenue on steroids.

    Image from lightuptheholidays.org

    Hong Kong had more designers in a concentrated space than this – it honestly blew my mind.  Image from lightuptheholidays.org

    When you’ve got every major designer in the world, along with four and five carat diamond rings and incredibly opulent jewelry, staring you in the face, it’s hard to not get swept into the shopping culture. I’m telling, you – even Fred Leighton and Harry Winston would have had runs for their money.  And it was everywhere.  The jewels, pearls, jade, gold – it was magnificent. 
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    A small vignette: I was waiting outside a jewelry store, looking through the windows, and a few minutes later, I somehow found myself seated at a counter, trying on diamond rings.  When lovely 1.5ct brilliant cut solitaire with a pavé band was placed on my finger, I told the sales person it was beautiful.  “You like?” he asked, probably hoping to make a sale.  “Yes, it’s gorgeous,” I told him.  “$60,000,” he said.  “Sixty.  Thousand.  Dollars,” I repeated slowly.  “Hong Kong dollars?”  “No,” he said, quickly.  “US.”  I could not take that ring off fast enough. 

    The first time you step foot in the shopping districts on the Kowloon side, it’s overwhelming, but after walking past a few stands, you get the hang of bargaining, arguing with the shopkeepers and walking away when you don’t get a good price. It’s like a game, a battle of wits (which you should never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line).  And when you walk away, and they chase you shouting “Okay, okay, your price, okay!” the feeling can only be described as triumph.

  3. The Food
    Hong Kong food isn’t “Chinese” in the sense that there’s a chicken dish named after the mysterious General Tso, and you’d be hard pressed to find an egg roll in the sense that we’re used to.  Instead, there’s amazing claypot rice, dim sum, and congee.
    IMG_20150909_214454320For those of you who are gastronomically adventurous, and for those of you that would prefer the comforts of home (in the form of burgers, pasta, pizza, and the like), Hong Kong has just about everything.  And if you are just a tiny bit adventurous, and you want multicultural meals every night of the week, Hong Kong has that, too.  Korean, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Nepalese, American, Thai, Italian…you name it, Hong Kong has it.  It’s not as diverse as New York City, in the sense that you have ubiquitous options on EVERY corner – in Hong Kong, it’s only on MOST corners.
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    I’m not ashamed to say I needed a burger fix –  fried onion straws, bacon, pulled pork, and cheese. And a side of thrice-fried duck fat fries.

    There are cured meat stands, fresh fruit stands, food carts, teeny shop fronts with Peking duck and steamed crabs hanging out front.  There are live fish markets, restaurants where you can pick your protein and they will cook it for you, and if you’re looking for something fast, there’s portable dim sum and meat on a stick.
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  4. IMG_20150913_185848630IMG_20150911_085043694
    IMG_20150912_142726927_HDRWhile I did get my fill of Chinese food (please, God, no more grease), the variety made eating more than bearable.  I actually did eat Indian, Korean, and Italian/Asian fusion dinners, and it was all delicious, and a welcome change.  By day 3, bananas, tangerines, and giant peaches were in my hotel fridge, along with oatmeal, dried berries, and walnuts for breakfast.  Yeah.  Just in case you need a bit of digestive help, there’s Quaker Oats there, too.

What began as a “last resort” vacation turned out to be one of the most interesting, most culture-surprising, and rewarding trips I’ve taken in a long time.  Yes, my epic road trip was, in a word, epic, but this is in a league all its own, and it has convinced me that Hong Kong is truly a place to find an adventure around every turn.