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Once upon a clear sky in Hong Kong

Sunny days with blue sky were hard to come by during my little sojourn in Hong Kong. We had snatches of it on our first day – ah, what a bright welcome – and then the city was just shrouded in foggy whiteness/greyness on the following days. I was beginning to wonder if I was actually in Hong Kong or in Beijing… Lo and behold, on the final day of my trip, I woke up to clear blue sky and everything was basking in shimmering light!

Sunny Hong Kong

Sunny Hong Kong

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How to gain a few kilos in a week

First, there were dim sums. Then, came desserts. There were even some street food/ snacks. But, as you may have guessed, I was not done with eating yet. I dare not step onto the weighing scale when I got home from Hong Kong, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I’d put on a few kilos; my jeans felt snugged… /whistles

Food in Hong Kong

Food in Hong Kong

For someone who is not big on biscuits and cookies, I had fun tasting a large range of goodies offered at Kee Wah Bakery and Koi Kei Bakery. There are multiple branches for each of these famous bakeries, with friendly staff that really want you to know how delicious their treats are and why you should buy a few more packet of everything. Guess who was the sucker who hand-carried boxes of delicate egg rolls back to Paris?

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So many markets

I’ve lost count of the number of markets I stumbled upon in Hong Kong. In the vicinity of Mong Kong/Yau Ma Tei, visitors’ guides are recommending the Bird Market, the Flower Markets, the Ladies’ Market, the Temple Street Night Market and the Jade Market. The variety of things that anyone could buy is just mind-boggling. Not only that, all of these markets could be pretty much visited in one go – they form a complete walking tour route! Somewhere along the way, there are shops and stalls to pick up walkabout snacks. ;)

Hong Kong markets

Hong Kong markets

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Hong Kong by night

Central Hong Kong puts up a colourful display of neon lightings no matter where you go and look, and over at the harbour waterfront, the Symphony of Lights set to wow visitors nightly at 8pm with its almost-15 minutes lightshow. I caught the show one evening from the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, and for anyone interested in listening to the accompanying narration, the places to be are the Avenue of Stars and Golden Bauhinia Square (Wan Chai).

Hong Kong by night

Hong Kong by night

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Occupy Central with Love and Peace

It is difficult to walk around central Hong Kong and not run into the occupy protestors, with their tents and living areas pitched on a number of streets around Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Admiralty. The Umbrella Movement valiantly stood their grounds, but alas, their courageous protests and occupations were brought to an end last week. It is a complex socio-political issue and one which I don’t have enough knowledge to discuss, so all I can offer are a few photos, guiltily taken, during the week I was in Hong Kong.

Occupy Central

Occupy Central

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Chinese desserts galore

One Chinese New Year many moons ago, I organised a dinner in Dublin for 35 friends and colleagues. In keeping with the theme of the meal – Chinese dishes which non-Chinese can’t find on their version of the menu (the restaurant owner was very nervous when he saw 35 non-Chinese walked in with me because I had pre-ordered some very traditional dishes!) – I had specially ordered red bean soup for dessert. The meal was a great success but I wish I could say the same about the dessert; a majority of the diners abandoned it after a spoonful or two, and proceeded to order frozen desserts available in just about every Chinese restaurants in Europe (you know which one I’m talking about, right?).

Asian desserts

Asian desserts

It is true that Chinese desserts are not very conventional by European/Western standards. Many are in the form of warm soup or custard, the ingredients often include beans or seeds or nuts, there are glutinous and/or jellied textures… I could go on, but that’s no reason to confine Chinese/”Asian” restaurants’ dessert menu to ice cream, frozen stuff, and at a push, banana/pineapple/apple fritters. If bubble tea and the chemically-induced flavours could gain popularity in the West, why not other desserts too?

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Postcards: Stanley (HK)

For yet another change of scenery from central Hong Kong and its skyscrapers, A and I took the bus out to Stanley, one of the oldest villages in Hong Kong, and the site of a former English fort that is now famous for its market bearing the same name. En route, I spied the cable cars that transport visitors to the Ocean Park and some of the park’s rollercoasters, and I also looked admiringly at the scenic Repulse Bay – nothing repulsive there, right? We found Stanley Market highly commercialised and generic to many other local markets; walking along the main street waterfront and Stanley Ma Hang Park was decidedly more interesting.

Stanley

Stanley

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Tai O fishing village

A short 20-minutes bus ride away, to the west of Po Lin Monastery, lies Tai O, a traditional fishing village that sits partly on Lantau Island and partly on a small island mere metres away – not immediately obvious until I had a closer look at the map. The small island is today connected to Lantau by way of 2 bridges: Tai Chung footbridge (completed 1996) and Sun Ki bridge (completed 1979); until then, river crossing relied on punting and even rope-tow ferry pulled by elderly Hakka women! If you want to experience the latter, it may be possible on some weekends and holidays, but not on the day I was visiting.

Tai O

Tai O

On arrival, we were lured by the touts selling boat tour of the village and to see the pink dolphins. The 30-minutes ride is very affordable, and while no sighting of the dolphins for us that particular day, what I actually found more fascinating is the way of life in this small village that relies heavily on the river and the sea for their livelihood. It is as different from central Hong Kong as day and night. No skyscrapers, no shopping malls, but houses so close that the neighbours could stick their heads into each other’s living rooms.

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Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha

SL and I arrived at Tung Chung, and we started to hem haw – should we trek for 3-3.5 hours or queue up for for the cable car in order to get to the Ngong Ping plateau, where the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha are located? It was already past noon, the sun high in the sky, and the queue for the cable car didn’t look too bad (it ended up being a 40-minutes wait). And I admit it, I was feeling lazy too. Cable car, it is!

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

The 6km-ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping plateau took about 20-25 minutes, over uninhabited peaks and rather magnificent view. We could also see the trekking trail just below us, and spotted the occasional walkers heading downhill towards Tung Chung. Clearly, they’d been up at the Lantau Peak much earlier in the day and were ready to wind things down.

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Wong Tai Sin Temple

The temple of Wong Tai Sin lies a couple of kilometres to the west of the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. It is also just one MTR station away from Diamond Hill (“Wong Tai Sin” station, exit B3) for anyone looking for a quick access option, although frankly, it’s easy enough to walk between them. A and I walked it in about 20 minutes.

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Home to three different religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – there are distinct differences between them even if they’re often lumped together as “Buddhism” – the Wong Tai Sin Temple complex is large and bustling with worshippers and visitors alike. Apparently, there is an one-way system which visitors are encouraged to follow, and during festival periods, this system is compulsory to keep things in order. Well, since we arrived through “Supreme Paradise Gateway” that was definitely not the main entrance, we explored the complex randomly.

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Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

I found myself heading towards Diamond Hill on my second morning in Hong Kong, in search of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden, for something more traditional and away from the gleaming towers in the Central district. For anyone travelling by public transportation, the access of the Chi Lin Nunnery is easiest through the Nan Lian Garden, mere minutes walk away from the MTR (exit C2).

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Founded in 1934, the temple complex of the Chi Lin Nunnery was renovated in the 1990s. The elegant wooden architecture was constructed using specific interlocking systems to hold the wood together, very much like how they used to do it during the Tang Dynasty, and thus not a single iron nail was required in the present-day buildings. A series of temple halls can be found, with exquisite statues of the divinities, including Buddha, Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and other bodhisattvas. (Sorry, no photos of the halls and statues allowed!)

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Postcards: The (Victoria) Peak (HK)

Victoria Peak is the highest peak on Hong Kong island. Locally known as The Peak, it gave a superb view of the Victoria Harbour as well as other neighbouring islands. I trekked up there twice during my six-day stay, blocked sinus notwithstanding. I was glad to have repeated the experience since the second go was on a clearer day and right before sunset; it was beautiful.

The Peak

The Peak

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More dim sum, please

Even prior to landing in Hong Kong, I knew what I wanted to eat – dim sum! There are a few dim sum places in Paris, some better than others, but I miss those that I get in Asia which somehow always tastes better and comes in more variety. I know, this could just be the biased Asian in me speaking. ;)

Dim sum

Dim sum

Four of my six lunches in Hong Kong constituted of just dim sum. The first among them was at a small place called Ding Dim in the Central district, and we were so glad to dig in our food that not even a single photo was taken. Two of the next three dim sum restaurants I went to were noticeably packed with Asians and barely a couple of token Caucasians. If they were, I’d hazard there have been a lot of cart peeking and dish pointing instead of ordering, unless they are long term residents in Hong Kong. Fun times!

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First impression: Hong Kong

Growing up, I’ve seen enough TVB dramas to have an idea of what Hong Kong is like. In fact, it was thanks to these series that I learned Cantonese; daily lesson, every weekday evening, seated next to my greatgrandparents and glued to the latest riveting tales of love and rivalry. The actors and actresses were pretty much the same from one drama to another, so even a child could pointed out right from the first episode that who was likely to be the nice guy and who the bad one. ;)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Still, it is very different to experience Hong Kong in person. Somehow, in my head, it is geographically a single main island surrounded by a handful small ones. Imagine my surprise to find Hong Kong island actually constitutes of a small part of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) and a large part of it attached to the mainland China. It is also a lot bigger than I had envisaged. I was in Hong Kong for six days and I barely covered the grounds around Central, Kowloon and Lantau Island. I’d love some time to go out to Yuen Long, or to Sai Kung, or even trek the Dragon’s Back trail.

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What can I do in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is located just across the border from Shenzhen. It was also the perfect location for me to recharge after a very intense work period: I could visit SL who lives in Hong Kong (ahem, mooch a free bed for the trip), satisfy my craving for great Asian food (dim sum!), and sightsee a little in a region that I know very little about.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The trouble was, I did not have much time to research what I could do in Hong Kong either. Before leaving, WL helped identify a few key things to, and once in Hong Kong, I am grateful for SL who came to my rescue. She made a list of places we must eat in, suggested places to visit, and even took time off work to play guide a couple of the days. If you know how preciously few paid holidays there are in Asia, you know how significant such an effort is. She is the hostess with the mostest!

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