Wednesday, May 28, 2008

hong konger

Back from Hong Kong, and for some reason the 1 hour time difference has thrown me through a disorienting loop. It was a great trip, I really really enjoyed the city and think I would even consider moving there some day, perhaps even over Tokyo. It was super foreignor-friendly, perhaps too much so. The main concentration of the trip was shopping. Listen, we have NO H&M in Japan, and seriously I don't understand how I went so long without it. I spent 2 and half hours there, 3 if you count how I had to go back to retrieve some shoes they had neglected to pack in my shopping bag (the workers were incredibly apologetic and helpful about this, one worker even followed me around to help me find sizes and then escorted me past the obscene fitting room lines to try on shoes, I don't think I've ever seen a friendly and helpful H&M employee in my life, it was disconcerting). I also got a haircut at Toni and Guy, but not "SHORT!" as my mom requested, just a trim, but thankfully not a fashion mullet either, as with my previous T&G hair modeling experience.

Hong Kong is partly on a mountainous green island and partly on the mainland. Fun ferries that cost 30 cents a trip whisk you back and forth between the two. It's all skyscapers, basically. The city is incredibly pedestrian-friendly as well, with footbridges, underpasses, and outdoor escalators everywhere and an extremely clean and convenient subway system. But the best part of the trip was our hotel, Jen. I found it quite randomly on the internet as the only remotely affordable hotel with a rooftop pool open past 4pm, which I decided was a major criteria when I recalled the extreme heat and humidity from some childhood trips to HK. We swam almost everyday, it was great. The hotel was super-modern design and in an older part of the city with lots of herbal remedy shops.

the view from the pool - victoria peak

hong kong island from the star ferry

an interesting breakfast dish we had one day - chicken wrapped in rice wrapped in a giant banana leaf
in kowloon

'mom, PLEASE can I have an octopus leg?'

at 'ladies market'

at the goldfish market

Besides shopping, I also visited the Hong Kong Museum of Art which had an extensive ceramics collection in addition to a contemporary art exhibition of digital art by Chinese and Taiwanese artists. And in the fine arts section, they had a program where musuemgoers could write their own story inspired by a few of the paintings, then posted for others to read. That day I also visited the jade market (unimpressive) and the goldfish market (scary - fish are kept in tiny plastic bags). That night we checked out the "Symphony of Lights" - laser/light show on Hong Kong Island's skyscrapers from the Kowloon side at the Avenue of Stars. The show was set to cheesy music and was unfortunately just not as spectacular as I had hoped. I would go as far as to say that it is a waste of energy to put on every night.

Avenue of Stars

before the light show

photographers were hawking shots like these, we enjoyed checking out the samples

the clock tower in kowloon

The other great thing about Hong Kong was the food, both Chinese and foreign. The selection of foreign food was excellent, and much missed, and even accurate - we went to an Italian place that I swear rivaled Carmine's. I got emotional over a delicious rosemary roasted chicken. There were places that sold smoothies, sandwiches, etc. everywhere, a real treat coming from Japan, where basically there are none. We also stumbled upon an international beer festival which got quite rowdy, and a bar that served Brooklyn Lager.

Of course, my original purpose for this trip was to meet up with my friend from NYC, Iris, which worked out quite well - this was a scouting trip for her as she, originally from Hong Kong, is thinking of moving back to China. I was happy to be able to hang out with her for a couple nights after her various appointments and family visits, exploring HK's nightlife areas. She even brought me Annie's Mac n Cheese from my former roommate - thanks guys! I really appreciated it.

in our room at the awesome hotel

nightview from the roof

Iris and I supermodel-posing by the pool

on what I proclaimed to be the longest escalator (or series of) in the world

Our last day Edel and I went to Ocean Park, a theme park - I usually spurn these when traveling but this one had giant pandas, an aquarium, and a super-long cable car with supposedly amazing views, so I was sold. It was really fun - they also had a log flume ride, and flying swings - unarguably the BEST amusement park ride ever made, which made me giddy. The pandas were very sweet and my TimeOut guide was right again, they seemed happier than average zoo tenants. The views from the cable car were stunning, although on one trip we shared a car with a woman clearly afraid of heights, trembling with her face in her hands. The aquarium was great, in particular the shark tank and "sea jelly spectacular" with jellyfish lit up in tanks surrounded by complete darkness, and my favorite crazy sea creatures, 'leafy sea dragons'. They even had a giant pool of manta rays you could reach in and touch.

Edel had to help me decide between LeLe and Jia Jia

view from the cable car

the cliffside rides

manta ray petting pool

leafy and weedy sea dragons!

super creepy tiny eels that like to bury themselves halfway in the sand

sharing an intimate moment with Jia Jia

That night, our last night in the city, we went up to "The Peak" - a complex of buildings about halfway up Victoria Peak, with great views of the city. Despite the ever-present smog haze, we got a few good shots and ate at a chinese restaurant there with windowed walls overlooking the city. I was sad to leave and wish I had more time to explore, but maybe I'll be back again...

at the restaurant with a view

on the way back down on the tram, which I thought moved entirely too fast

Bank of China Tower

These last few pics are of a tiny, tiny amusement park called Hanayashiki in Tokyo, which Edel and I decided to visit before we had to leave for the airport. It was slightly decrepit and pretty cheesy, Coney Island-style. My favorite moment there was after one of the tame rides, a group of Japanese JHS girls asked to take a picture with us, but apparently 2 gaijin weren't enough - they asked a middle eastern man to take the photo while they grabbed his toddler son by the hand to be in the pic as well. Sadly, I didn't get a copy of that.

view of asakusa from one of the rides

folks enjoying some mild fun on the small-time rollercoaster

getting to know some bumper pandas in preparation for meeting Hong Kong's

at a garden in Asakusa