Family Lines

stories for you

Month: May 2017

Hollywood Hong Kong

Re-tail therapy - shopcat.

Re-tail therapy – shopcat.

Looking out across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, I see lightening split the sky. It’s only noon but it’s as dark as a Calgary winter evening. I had hoped to be shopping right now but my friend, Digger, just texted and told me to stay in.

“Don’t go out in the storm,” she said. “Wan Chai can wait.”

I’m glad I listened to her because minutes later, the wind is easily plucking palm branches off trunks and the rain is as thick as a velvet curtain. It’s hard to see through it to the other side. Thunder is loud and shakes the floor of the apartment. I sit in front of the open patio door and watch as the storm takes over the city.

Nothing slows down in the tempest. Buses keep going. People keep walking. Vehicles splash through the new streams snaking down the street. Nothing is keeping this energetic city down. (Digger said when there is a typhoon warning, Hong Kong does stop. A tropical cyclone is comparable to a major snowstorm in Canada.)

Well, if the locals are out, I can go out too.

Digger had already taken me to Hollywood Road. Hollywood in North America connotes celebrities and movie stars. In Hong Kong, it’s a great place to find trinkets and antiques. It’s also dotted with art galleries and is home to a Man Mo Temple. The shrine is used to worship two gods, a civil/literature god and a martial god, by students. We visited the Sheung Wan area temple that was built as a place of worship in 1847. It’s now a monument and a popular tourist attraction.

After viewing the wonders of the shrine, Digger and I headed straight into the heart of Hollywood. Shops and vendors are lined up along both sides of the street. There’s so much to look at that I couldn’t stop from swivelling my head this way and that. There are pretty blue-and-white porcelain bracelets, animals intricately carved from mammoth bone, posters with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, and other communist leaders saluting each other (to my horror), and so many other interesting bits and pieces and odds and ends of shelf life.

I didn’t buy anything the first time I went to Hollywood Road because I was waiting for Wan Chai. Wan Chai is a shopper’s paradise. It has anything and everything. It’s only a hop, skip and a bus ride away from where Digger and her husband live. My friend said I could get colourful china bowls and lovely iron dragon locks for cheap. (Well, cheaper than Hollywood Road.)

One Hong Kong dollar (HKD) is .17 to the Canadian dollar. Goods, like a decorative comb, start at 9 HKD (about $1.50 CAD). I get my cash ready for Wan Chai, got an umbrella and head out in the warm rain to the trusty Bus #15 stop. I don’t have to wait long before I’m hopping aboard and on my way to Wan Chai.

Oops.

I get off at the wrong stop and have to backtrack about ten minutes in the rain to the main shopping area. But even though the rain’s steady, it’s not cold.

I wander through the crowds, lifting up my umbrella to avoid hitting people in the face. My first stop is at the Wan Chai wet market. I had been warned about some of the smells. Digger said it could get rank at the wet market and the odours would hit me right in the face –  just like the umbrella of a passerby. However, it isn’t too bad. I’ve been other places overseas that were worse. Saying that, the air is pretty pungent, steeped in a ripe produce, ripe meat and wet spice smell, but it’s all part of the charm.

From the wet market, I head out onto the street. There are tiny shops as well as booths set up along the sidewalks. I saunter from stall to stall, looking for the best bargains and deals. There’s a lot of outlet clothing for sale from names such as Adidas and Ann Taylor. There are also a few no-name shops that have the most delightful skirts screen-printed with shimmering butterflies and flowers. However, when I stand in front of a mirror to see if a skirt fits, it’s yanked out of my hands by a shop clerk.

“No fit,” she says.

Then no buy.

I’m not really interested in clothing anyway. I’m interested in dishes. When I lived in South Korea in 1998, I used to buy delicate green ceramic bowls from women who would set up alongside a residential street. In Wan Chai in 2017, I have dreams about finding some of these beautiful treasures.

Alas, I never do — although I do find some brightly-decorated porcelain bowls and soup spoons to buy and send home as presents to my family. I start collecting a pile and add and subtract to it. There are many lovey patterns and colours and I’m finding it hard to choose. At last, I’m done. Now I have to pay up.

I had heard that I was supposed to barter in Wan Chai and I did. However, I guess I look desperate to keep my stash of pretty plates so I don’t get too much of a bargain…only ten HKD are dropped.

Strolling around in the rain, I go up and down and down and up and all around the Wan Chai market. I look at thing and touch things and buy a few things. The rain has tapered off and I decide to go downtown and try and find some beer to bring back for my husband. He’s a beer writer (on his down time) and I want to get him some local HK brew. Easier said than done.

I had googled beer stores before I left the apartment and found most places are delivery services instead of walk-in stores. I get that. HK is busy and traffic is constant and so it’s hard to jump into your car to grab a case of beer. It’s much better to have someone bring it to you. Well, I wished I had gone that route too.

I have the address of HK Brewcraft and I know (sort-of) where it is. I walk here and there and up stairs and then when I’m tired of climbing stairs, I go left and I’m in a school playground somehow. Dead end. (A lot of HK’s famous escalators were being repaired.) I continue up the stairs and then back down and over there and under that and.. is it in this apartment building?

I open the door to what I think is the small lobby of a family condo building. Hit the button for the elevator and get it. There’s the sign for the shop. Phew. I talk to the knowledgeable beer guy and get three beers for my man. Then, with my aching feet and bag filled with goodies, I go home.

A few days later, Digger and I head to Temple Market, a night market in Kowloon. I’ve been to a night market in Richmond, just outside of Vancouver, but the Temple Street Night Market is a different kind of experience. The Canadian night market is full of offerings of food while the Temple Street Night Market is full of electronics and counterfeit designer handbags: good quality counterfeits.

To get to the HK night market, Digger and I take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway – subway) to Kowloon, an area across the harbour from Hong Kong Island. (The MTR actually goes underneath Victoria Harbour.) The night market is more than purses and wallets, it’s fortune tellers and cards that when opened, show you worlds you’ve only seen in your dreams.

Don’t expect the vendors to be light and fluffy about their prices. Here, they bargain and bargain hard. I want to get six cards and Digger turns into my middle-woman. She barters with the seller to gets them down in cost. She also helps me secure a handbag. Thanks to her, I now tote a nice floral handbag all over Calgary. And it’s not a knock-off: it’s Kowloon original.

 

The pulse of Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong from Mid Levels.

View of Hong Kong from Mid Levels.

“Can you get to Vancouver on Friday?” texted my friend late Wednesday night. “I can get you to from Hong Kong from there.”

Ummm…

 

“Sure!” I said, from Calgary. One perk of being self-employed is that I can work from anywhere, any time, 70 per cent of the time.

Two days later, on Friday April 28, I started the voyage west, waaaay west. I landed Saturday night and was immediately whisked away by my long-time friend Digger and her husband, VC, to an 80s dance party. It was a lot of fun grooving to the tunes of my youth. (Am I old?) The action didn’t stop there. I was constantly on the move seeing the Hong Kong sights and eating the Hong Kong delights.

Hong Kong was incredibly different from what I had imagined it to be. I thought it would be one massive city with tall buildings everywhere, traffic honking all the time and people crowding the streets. However, it is not like that.

The city pulses and breathes along with the waves surrounding it. It’s a city of energy and is always awake. There’s a lot of steel and skyline made up of many skyscrapers that are surrounded by lush green hills. There are hiking trails and beaches and quiet spots right in the city. The weather was fantastic and a little bit humid and a little bit hot: not super moist and suffocating. My friends took me to Repulse Bay and I swam in the China Sea. The next day, we hiked the MacLehose Trail, a trail that crosses the New Territories, and played Frisbee on Tai Long Wan beach. I swam here too and kicked something large and soft under the water.

“There have been shark attacks here,” said VC and we quickly kicked to shore.

After an afternoon of surf and sun, we took a boat back to where we had left the car. I think bull riders at the Stampede get gentler rides. Let’s just say the ups were up and the downs were very hard downs. Nevertheless, it was a good way to get the sand off your towel and get a facial scrub at the same time.

From boats to buses, I took the #15 to Victoria Peak almost every day. The peak is an incredible look off over of the city and harbour from the top of Mount Austin – if the fog, humidity and smog don’t drift over the view out of the view. Before vehicles wound their way up the steep road, residents who lived at the top used sedan chairs – chairs that had poles on each side that people used to lift and carry up hill. That would be one tough hike for the porters.

Besides the bus, you can also take your own car or a taxi or the train. When you arrive at the peak, there are two malls and many places to eat and get out of the heat. I didn’t mind the warm temperatures (around 27 C) and humidity after surviving a cold and dry Calgary winter. 

The summit is great for getting the blood pumping to the legs after a long flight (although the dancing from the night before was good for that too.) The walk I did was mainly Harlech Road, a paved and flat loop that goes around the peak. Early in the morning, the path is used by runners and dogs and their walkers. Later in the morning, the path is full of tourists. (I was one of them on my first day.) The loop is about 3.5 km and took me an hour to complete.

One day, I went off the beaten path … and into the path of a wild boar. Some seniors warned me about the big pig and while I didn’t see it, I could hear it crashing through the forest. Another time, I took Plantation Road and saw some amazing houses. The peak is known for being at the top of the luxury real estate market. 

Hong Kong is renowned for its food and I sampled a lot, thanks to Digger and VC. We went to hotspots like Little Bao (bao is a steamed bun) and Ho Lee Fook (which means “good fortune for your mouth”). Both places had fresh and interesting cuisine that I had never tasted before. From Fish Tempura (fish in a bao) and Prawn Toast and Okonomiyaki – it was all spectacular. 

For a more traditional experience, we went for dim sum at Maxims. It was my first time for dim sum and it was amazing.

Maxims is in city hall and constantly full on Sundays, when we decided to go for brunch. But there’s an app that lets you get a number and wait at home instead of waiting in line. But I’ll wait in line all day for Maxims now that I know what dim sum takes like. Why haven’t I had dim sum before? I don’t know. It’s just nothing I’ve ever thought about.

Servers walk around with trolley full of mouth-watering treats. Some servers are nicer than others but the glares are part of the charm. There are hundreds of dishes to choose from and we only had about nine of them. It was filling and delicious.

Next week I’ll tell you my shopping stories. Oh goodies.

© 2017 Family Lines

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑