March 8th, 2010
I hope you’re all doing well. Sadly, this blog isn’t quite as exciting as last week’s – does anything really compare to practically free spas and vending machine chicken feet though? But never fear! There were still plenty of interesting happenings to share.
I’ll start with the mold in Hong Kong. Yes, that’s right: mold. Never read about that in your Frommer’s or Lonely Planet guide book? Then you’re not truly reading from someone who lived in Southeast Asia for an extended period of time.
Since Hong Kong was probably the wettest/dampest place on Earth next to the Amazon Rainforest, it made sense that there might be mold problem; funnily enough, no one decided to mention this to the incoming exchange students. Ever. So imagine my and my friends’ surprise when our rooms, backpacks, luggage, shoes, and anything else you might care to think of started to grow mold (my friend even said her boyfriend’s computer and calculator were killed by the humidity the previous semester!). My roommate and I were relatively lucky; our room only had spots of mold growing on the ceiling, light, and wall.
The other exchange students didn’t get off so easy; it seemed like every day I heard more and more heart stopping tales of mold; it truly became like the Blob; consuming anything it could – high heels, sandals, backpacks, etc. and no one knew how to combat it. We bought ineffective little dehumidifier boxes that were supposed to absorb moisture, but no one was sure if they worked, and what did you do when your ballet flats were already growing mold? Throw leather shoes into the washing machine? It was a little late at that point for preventative measures. Anyway, my proactive roommate thought to inform our hall tutor of the mold and about a day later there was a note (in Chinese of course) in the room and the mold was miraculously gone! At least for the time being. Everyone was getting paranoid though and for a time, mold become a hot topic of conversation; swapping mold prevention methods over dinner and talking about what item was lost to the plague was quite commonplace. You’ve been warned.
I am a huge, huge fan of basically all foods on a stick after my time in Asia – corn dogs still don’t do it for me, but meat skewers are a personal favorite. They had everything from milk tea with bubbles to waffles with different fillings sandwiched between two halves to crepes to anything and everything (usually fried) on a stick (even ice cream!). Let’s just say, we had closer to two dinners that evening; or dinner and dessert if you care to look at it optimistically.
Thursday the fun continued. My friends and I had been feverishly doing research about where to go for Spring Break, which fell over Easter there in Hong Kong, and it had come down to either Beijing and Shanghai in mainland China or Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the rest of Southeast Asia. The only thing killing the deals, other than debating about where to go, were the airline tickets – everything was SUPER expensive from Hong Kong over the dates we were trying to get. There was a breakthrough on Tuesday night though. My friend Ilaria had the bright idea of looking on a flight website, but entering Shenzhen, China (just an hour’s train ride away) as our departure destination, and lo and behold, reasonable airline tickets to Beijing and Shanghai materialized like a vision from “Cheap Airfare Heaven”! Alleluia, we now knew where we were going for spring break: China or bust, baby!!
So back to Thursday, after doing more research about taking an overnight train between Beijing and Shanghai so we could see both cities during the break, we were ready to book our tickets – or so we thought. We gathered together to order, selected the flights we wanted, proceeded to pay with our foreign credit cards, and went to dinner so pleased with ourselves.
Fast forward two hours. As I calmly checked my e-mail to see if I had gotten my online confirmation, I received an e-mail saying that since my credit card was foreign the company needed a picture of my passport, a picture of my credit card, a signed Credit Card Payment Authorization form (which they provided online and wanted me to print, sign, and then scan and fax it back to them – oh, and they wanted it all about 30 minutes from then or else they would cancel the ticket orders). WHAT!?!?! I leapt into action; calling my girlfriends as I ripped my passport out of the lock box in my room to tell them about the slight hitch in our plans. In another two hours you would have seen me sitting in my room surrounded by scraps of paper that I photographed to play the part of the Payment Verification Form (since I had no access to a printer or scanner at 9:30 PM at night), my digital camera, and my passport, completely stressed out after Skypeing the company numerous times trying to clear up the fact that, yes, my credit card really was legit and I really was who I said I was. And of course by the time the company sent me an e-mail saying they received all the necessary documents, their order processor had already gone home for the day so I had to wait (and pray) another nerve-wracking 24 hours for the e-mails confirming my orders had been processed and my credit card charged. Such massive drama!
Friday dawned brighter though; the credit card charges went through, and all four of us were officially on our way to Beijing and Shanghai, China for spring break! Hurray! And that night, since the weather was so wonderful (about 75 degrees Fahrenheit), my girlfriends and I went to Temple Street Night Market, which is similar to Mong Kok Market in that you can barter and buy all kinds of touristy tchotchkys, pirated DVDs, fake designer handbags, and everything else you never knew you needed but still must have.
We ate superb seafood near the street outside on a corner of a restaurant, and afterward we wandered down the stall aisles as vendors yelled “Hello” to us when we so much as glanced in their direction. I didn’t buy anything. More practice was still needed haggling before I’d feel bold enough to actually buy something without feeling like I just got ripped off, but I got in some more practice while I was there. Towards the end of the evening, we bought milk teas from another tea vendor (there are approximately 568,342 different milk tea sellers in Hong Kong), saw a few more random stores (one had a neon cow next to the sign) and called it a night.
Saturday afternoon, my friend Jen and I went with a local girl named Kathy to Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po to get supplies for the “West Meets East” cultural event we were hosting the following Tuesday night. You see, Jen and I joined the student group called the Exchange Activities Committee at the beginning of the semester and it was composed of three exchange students and four local students, and throughout the semester we hosted a series of fun events encouraging local and exchange student interaction. So our first big event was a demonstration of Eastern things: tai chi, calligraphy, Chinese knot making, Chinese dance, kung fu, music, and snacks (naturally there’d be food). We went first to Sham Shui Po, which was an amateur jewelry maker’s dream; there were bead, ribbon, and chain shops all packed into a few streets that criss-crossed each other.
You’ve honestly never seen so many shops selling beads, jewels, and every type of string so closely packed together and so many people eagerly picking out beads for who knows what kinds of arts and crafts projects! After finally finding what we needed there, we headed over to Mong Kok to pick up a tai chi outfit for the demonstrator. Kathy told us to give her some distance in the Ladies’ Market (ie Mong Kok), because if we looked like we Western girls were with her, the sellers would automatically raise the price (ah, the joys of being a white girl in Hong Kong). Our second task completed, we moved on to Hung Hau to find cheap calligraphy brushes for the Chinese calligraphy workshop, and when this mission was accomplished, we did the fun “task” of testing different Chinese baked goods to decide what kind of snacks to offer on Tuesday night. After much tasting (courtesy of the school’s budget) and debating we settled on four different, traditional pastry snacks. Finally, we met a couple more exchange friends who stayed on campus to study during the afternoon for dinner in one of the Hung Hau malls (there are multiple malls at almost every MTR stop without fail), and with Kathy’s help (and excellent Cantonese) ordered a very tasty dinner before heading home.
Sunday and Monday, weren’t nearly so adventure filled or trauma laden. The weather got cold – AGAIN!!! Plus, I had quizzes and exams coming up the next week and I’d started preparing for them, plus the random homework assignments that had to be turned in (it was so different for homework to actually count as part of the grade for some of my classes; I felt like I was back in high school). So I lived in the library and coffee shop (not a Starbucks though – I wish) for a good part of each day studying, working with people on homework, and generally trying to stay warm. Not very riveting, I know.
But another reason for the study push was that I was also trying to get a little ahead, because Thursday would be my 21st birthday and I had big plans! The only slight disappointment was that unlike if I were turning 21 in the States since everyone can drink in Asia once they turn 18, but it was still a big deal in my mind. So I’d planned to do dinner out with a group of people at this Korean barbeque restaurant where you paid a flat fee, actually cooked your meal on hot grils in the middle of the table, and ate as much as you could handle. After this I planned to go out to one of the bar districts in Hong Kong called Lan Kwai Fung (LKF for short) and dance the night away (good plan on a full stomach, right?). And conveniently, Thursday night was always Ladies’ Night in LKF, so all the girls would get into the clubs and bars for free! How much better could it get? I was so excited for Thursday; my fingers were crossed for warmer weather by then.
Keep checking back for next week’s tales of birthday outrageousness! And enjoy the pictures of consumerism at its finest in Asia!