Friday, 18 March 2011

Hong Kong, Part Two, Every Buddha Needs Dim Sum

After we dumped Matt's bag across the road in another apartment owned by the hostel, we headed out for some real Cantonese food. During one of my many wanderings around Causeway Bay, I found a street that seemed to have a few local restaurants down it and I wanted try it out so we headed down there and it was a fantastic meal, not only for the food but for the beautiful Carlsberg and Erdinger girls that were serving us beer. The only problem with Hong Kong is the cost of living. The prices are like European prices and that came as a huge shock after being in China and Mongolia where prices are lower. Cantonese is by far my favourite style of Chinese food. We finished our fantastic meal said goodbye to our beer girls and headed back to the hostel the long way round. When we arrived at the hotel Raymond was waiting for us. He had to tell me how fantastic Yellow Mountain was and how he had time to visit Hangzhou too! If only I didn't loose those three days in Xi'an! But then again I would have been alone on the cruise with all those Chinese tourists, which would not have been fun!!

Raymond, Me, Matt up on Victoria Peak
On our first full day together, we headed up to the Chinese visa office so that Matt and Raymond could both procure visas. We were all fearing the whole process would be a nightmare but it was surprisingly simple, fill in a form, hand it in with your passport and that's it. We exited the office back into the sunshine and headed towards the Bank of China where we heard you could go up to an observation platform where you can look out over Hong Kong. We visually navigated our way to the Bank of China and entered through the protesters that were beginning to gather for some unknown but probably well justified reason. We got our passes from the reception desk and headed up to the furthest point, which was only about three quarters of the way up but it was high enough to get a great view of Victoria Harbour and the surrounding buildings. Once we were down on ground level we had to feed our addiction for heights so we got on the Victoria Peak Tram which transported us up the extremely steep slope to the top of Victoria Peak which overlooks the whole of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon.

Who wants a Happy Ending?
Later that evening we had to go and get something to eat. Matt, Raymond and I were joined by a German man in his 40's known to us as 'The Liability' for reasons I'll explain and headed out to find a restaurant. We headed to the Times Square Shopping Mall to check out there selection of restaurants but none of them were in our price range. Whilst looking we noticed that one of the menus named their desserts 'Happy Endings' which of course is a euphemism for a special type of massage. Matt, Raymond and I chuckled childishly at this and had to explain what it meant to the German man. For the rest of the evening he was asking random girls on the street whether they would give us happy endings. Hence 'The Liability'. We found a nice restaurant down the same street as the Carlsberg girls and ate a rather delicious meal. To our surprise The Liability did not eat a thing and only had a Coca Cola, he said that he only eats McDonald's as his stomach can't handle foreign food. Even though he didn't eat, he demanded that he pay for everything, we tried not to let him but he was quite adamant. What a nice man.

Look closely for the Cock Eye Club
After our meal, we decided that we should go and find somewhere to have a drink, which sounds easier than it actually was. We walked for a long while to try and find a bar. We met an American man in his 20's who was also looking for a bar so he joined us. We soon found the street where there were lots of bars and strip clubs with old unattractive ladies tried their hardest to coerce men into their joints. The price of beer is even more expensive than UK prices and I wasn't prepared to pay 60 Honk Kong Dollars (Nearly £6) for a bottle of beer! During our search for a bar, The Liability had obviously exhausted himself by asking so many girls for happy endings and left us for his Big Mac meal. We did find a bar, an English bar, that had happy hour from 8-10pm and 12-2am, so we bought enough drinks to survive the two hour interval and sat on the street placing bets on whether certain men would go into the questionable strip clubs next door. The American man was an engineer who worked for a company who sends him out to Shanghai every now and again to work. He told us that he had never left the US before coming to China understandably had suffered from extreme culture shock. Hong Kong is a fantastic place and would be even more amazing if you only had the money to enjoy it to the fullest. Once the second happy hour arrived we had a couple more drinks and left for home but before we did, we thought it would be fun to check out the strip club next door as they had been trying to get us in there all night. We walked in and were confronted with four girls standing in a row on stage in front of an empty room. The girls had their arms wrapped around them and obviously were suffering from the chilly evening air. We left following the footsteps of The Liability and headed for a early morning McDonald's to soak up the beer.

Dim Sum... What Sundays were made for!
Good Morning! It was Sunday morning and that only means one thing, Dim Sum day, Matt and I have a Sunday tradition back at home of going to the Baby Buddha restaurant in Norwich to indulge in delicious Dim Sum. As we were the home of Dim Sum and it was Sunday, there was nothing else we could do but enjoy some authentic dim sum delights. We asked Sam, the hostel owner, where we could go and even though he was disappointed we didn't invite him, he directed us across the road to the shopping/restaurant centre across the road. Raymond and the The Liability joined us and we headed off to find the recommended restaurant. We were having difficulties finding it and so we asked a security guard who was happy to show us the way despite German Liability repeating a badly pronounced Cantonese phrase he had learnt to everybody he met. Inside the restaurant it was incredibly busy, it's Sunday and everybody brings their family to dine at a dim sum restaurant which meant we had to wait a while before we got a table. We didn't have to wait long and were shown into an adjoining room which was away from the other people. It was cold and quiet and thankfully The Liability kicked up a fuss and we were moved into the thrust of the main room. Dim sum is a type of Cantonese cuisine which is a selection of usually steamed dishes like dumplings and spring rolls. We ordered several dishes which all come with a usual quantity of 3 or 4 and shared them between us, except The Liability who just watched us eat and said he enjoys the experience, just not the food. Feeling stuffed, The Liability and Raymond wanted to go to an experimental art exhibition so we all went along to find it. The sun was blazing and it was wonderful by the families and friends who had laid blankets out on the street to share their Sunday together eating, drinking and talking. This is something that is similar to China, the communal society where people come together in public and share food and stories. To cut a long story short, the exhibition had ended so we headed across to Kowloon on the ferry.

On Kowloon, we had a look around the university's photography exhibition in the Performing Arts Centre. There were some really good photos there and I tried again to get a tour round the complex but was denied for the second time. We left there and continued the hunt for cheap electronics and a tailor for Matt. The hunt was intervened by another McDonald's for The Liability and once we got the smell for it, we couldn't resist having on ourselves. The hunt unexpectedly ended with me buying a netbook. It was cheap but probably not much cheaper than I would have got it in Europe. The Liability announced his departure whilst I was paying as his flight was leaving in the evening and he needed to get back to the hostel to sort things out. By no means is it necessary for a traveller to have a netbook as it's more of a hindrance to carry around, I didn't need one but I thought it was a good idea if I were going to get a job and it's good for writing and organising photos etc.

Hong Kong Island by Night
As we were on the right side of the harbour to see the Symphony of the Lights, we thought we should hang around and see it. We walked down the Avenue of the Stars and felt like stars ourselves as we had several Chinese tourists wanting our photo. The plan was to find a place where we could sit and have a beer or two but the price was clearly too expensive so we walked to the nearest 7-Eleven and bought a few cans of beer for practically nothing, returned to the promenade and cracked them open whilst waiting. The performance itself was disappointing, it seemed as though it was a classic case of 'Quality over Quantity' gone wrong. The coordination between the skyscrapers of Hong Kong is impressive but the lights just seem to flash a lot and repeat themselves along to a cheesy soundtrack. It may be because I was young and impressionable but I'm sure I saw a better laser show years back in Flamingo Park Amusement Park which went along with Surfing in the USA. Go and see it if you're there!

Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
The next day Matt and I headed to tick off the next item on my superlative tour list and see the Tian Tan Buddha. The Tian Tan Buddha is the World's Largest Outdoor Bronze Seated Buddha Statue and sits on top of a mountain on Lantau Island. The statue and monastery can be reached by foot but we chose to use the Ngong Ping 360 cable car which takes you on an awesome ride above the mountain from the metro station. The views from the cable car are absolutely stunning and you can even see the new airport which was built on reclaimed land and replaced the legendary Kai Tak in 1998 which was well known for extraordinarily dramatic and dangerous landings. Matt had already been Honk Kong last July and had done all of the tourist things but didn't mind doing them again as it gave him the chance to take more photographs. It's great to have him with me as I class him as my official photographer, he says he may not be a good one but he's mine! 

I'm sure this Buddha could do with some dim sum
Once we reached the end of the cable car ride, we walked through the numerous tourist traps and shops selling tacky souvenirs and got to the inevitable 206 steps which take you up to the Tian Tan Buddha. We took a deep breath in preparation for the climb and took the first set of steps in our stride, each step thereafter got more and more difficult and I took comfort in the fact that at least it wasn't summer! Matt had done this in the summer heat and said it was unbearable. It was worth it once we got to the top but it was a shame that the sun didn't come out to brighten up the surroundings. After walking around the Buddha and back down the steps, which were much easier on the way down, we stopped at the restaurant and got a little food and a drink before heading to the cable car station. On our way back to the Ngong Ping 360 station, we took a right turn and headed off the tourist route. Not sure where we were going, we followed the road and found a temple where there were no tourists, just one solitary female Buddhist going through the prayer routine. It was the best temple I have seen so far as it was what I like to call 'a working temple' which is not just for tourists. We covertly watched and listened for a while in silence and then left her in peace.

Next Time: Macau, The Land of the Casinos

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