March 29th, 2010, was quite a busy week; I can say that things honestly NEVER got boring in Hong Kong. Not for a second! Let’s see where I last left off updating you.
On Tuesday, I went to meet a friend of my borther George’s from college, who’d been living in Hong Kong for the past eighteen years, named Clayton. Clayton originally came to Hong Kong with the intent of only staying a couple of years learning about Asian cooking and cuisine, and taking his new skills back to New York to be an even better chef. Instead, he wound up staying and opening then managing a whole slew of different restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau. I met him at his Tex-Mex restaurant the Coyote Bar and Grill in Wan Chai, along with many of his staff working there (very courteous, and all fluent in English) and his Operations and Marketing Director Stephanie.
I have to say that Clayton was the nicest person I had met so far in Hong Kong. I guess the saying’s true: You can take the boy out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the boy. He was just so friendly and willing to expound to me about everything; how he ended up there, met his wife, got started in the restaurant business, what he thought of Hong Kong, how much he loved it, and Stephanie was just as outgoing and a gold mine of information on living abroad too. I felt I could learn so much from both of them and their lines of work seemed fascinating. Plus, the passion with which they spoke of Hong Kong and how Asia looks like it will be THE place to be business-wise in the next 20 years made me think. Maybe I could see myself coming out there after graduation, too and making a life there; I never considered it before, but I found myself liking Hong Kong more and more every day that I could actually consider such a thing. (Side note: If the right opportunity presented itself, I would still go for it.)
Anyway, enough of freaking my mom out by talking about running 8,000 miles from home! On Thursday, we had one of our rare clear days in Hong Kong, so my friend Kevin suggested a group of us go to Victoria’s Peak at night to see the city and take pictures, and what a fantastic suggestion that was! After classes and dinner, a group of five of us went out to Victoria’s Peak in Causeway Bay and rode the peak tram up and back from the top. When we got to the top you could see for miles! And Hong Kong looks absolutely beautiful by night when the weather is clear; all twinkly and sparkly and just gorgeous! Words and pictures just really don’t do it justice – it has to be experienced in the flesh.
The only bad part was that it was like being in a wind tunnel on top of the peak (it had been extremely windy all day) so a bunch of my pictures were super blurry or slightly blurry, but it was still so worth it. The views were not to be missed no matter how cold and windblown we were at the end.
Friday turned out to be an especially exciting day. That weekend was the weekend of Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, which is when all of the world’s greatest rugby teams descend on Hong Kong for three days and play lots and lots of rugby matches in Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay. Clayton happened to have tickets for all three days and mentioned he wasn’t going on Friday and would l like them? Never having seen rugby before, I accepted his very generous offer with much thanks and invited my roommate Katrin (who had also never seen rugby) to come along. So we picked up the tickets at Cafe Siam (another of Clayton’s restaurants) Friday afternoon then rode the double-decker street car over to Causeway Bay and followed the massive flow of westerners (especially the Brits) over to the stadium.
Once we got inside the stadium, I felt like I had been transported back to a football game in the States! There was beer in giant cups everywhere (Guinness instead of Bud, though), very American (and Asian) hot dogs, burgers, and other goodies for sale, and more Western people packed into an arena than I’d seen since arriving in Asia! Oh, and of course, everything inside the stadium was being sold at highway robbery style prices, but that was to be expected too. My roommate knew a bunch of HKUST exchange students were going to be there that day because they were on the rugby team at school, so she called and we found them in the stands about twenty minutes later. There is one thing I need to explain about Rugby Sevens that differs slightly from normal rugby games; it is a time to dress up, and not as in formal wear, but as in Halloween. I don’t know why, I probably don’t want to know why, but it’s tradition. Therefore, the rugby teams of HKUST carried on the tradition proudly; the girl’s rugby team was dressed as Crayola Crayons and the boys were dressed as knights and warriors (made out of different beer can boxes), superheroes, and anonymous guys with afros and sunglasses.
To say the least, we had a blast. The matches were pretty fun to watch too (the USA kicked Portugal’s butt; fun fact the US rugby team was one of the best in the world, too bad the US didn’t care one whit about rugby inside the country), but being with the other onlookers was what made it really fun. After all the matches ended, our large group of 20-25 people emptied out into the streets, went and had dinner, and then some people, who weren’t totally exhausted or wasted from the day’s festivities, went out to LKF (the club district) to continue the revelry. I, however, was beat and called it a night prior to the usual stumble home at 3 AM.
Saturday night, after a day spent studying, I went out with some of my friends to see the Hong Kong Flower Show in Victoria’s Park in Causeway Bay and then to dinner at a place called, Crystal Jade, which was famous for its Xiao long bao. The flower show was gorgeous; beautiful topiaries of basically any Disney character you could ever imagine; there was a horse drawn carriage, a prince and princess on a rotating flower pedestal, a pirate ship, giant animals shaped out of bushes, what looked like the entire cast of Finding Nemo in bushes, a replica of Cinderella’s Castle, and the entire cast of the Seven Dwarves.
Along with all this Disney motif, the various garden clubs around Hong Kong had put their best work on display too; African violets, orchids, and just beautiful flower arrangements in general. It was well worth the $7 HKD we paid to wander around in there.
And dinner afterwards was great! Our friend Kevin (who grew up in China north of Beijing until his family moved to Canada when he was 11) helped us choose what to order from Crystal Garden. We had to get Xiao long bao of course, which were little dumplings with pork and soup in them. What you were supposed to do was pick them up without breaking the dumpling and letting the soup out, and eat them in one big bite so the meat, dumpling wrapper, and soup all melt together in your mouth. It was absolutely delicious and I highly recommend it (I ended up having the best Xiao long bao in Shanghai, but that was still to come). Along with those we ordered cold noodles in a peanut satay sauce, chicken and flat noodles with another sauce, fat noodles with bok Choy and mushrooms in a soy sauce, the sweetest, sauciest spare ribs that side of the world, and for dessert, glutinous rice in Chinese rice wine (sweet and much tastier than it sounded). The restaurant made all its own noodles in house, which made them extra good, and Kevin went by what his grandpa would usually order at a similar type of restaurant in China. All I can say is, good choices Kevin’s grandpa, good choices.
Finally, the following day my “Marriage, Kinship, and Cross-cultural Perspectives” class had another mini-fieldtrip. That one was optional and involved going to Kau Sai, a little island a half hour’s boat ride away from HKUST and Sai Kung, for a yearly festival for their god, Hung Shing. My professor told us about it on Wednesday afternoon and by Thursday morning, I had convinced five of my friends to come along. So we arrived at the HKUST pier at 8:30 in the morning (!) on a Sunday and hopped on the two junks that had been rented for our little excursion along with the offering of clothes and a whole roasted pig for Hung Shing. When we arrived at Kau Sai, the festival was already in full swing; there were colorful flags decorating all the boats in the harbor, people selling souvenirs, a make-shift theater had been erected for the Cantonese opera performance later that afternoon, and these enormous things called flower cannons were standing all around and being hauled to and from the temple entrance. One of our translators explained to us that the flower cannons were raffled off each year to people and that if you won one year, you had to bring back a new one to the festival next year which cost about $4000 HKD.
They were set in front of the temple to “recharge” with good karma for another year of good luck to whoever was charmed enough to win the cannon that year. While we were wandering around later, we saw at least two different dances featuring Chinese dragons come rushing into the area where the opera would be performed, and witnessed the ritual sticking of our pig for Hung Shing, then the ritual chopping up of the ENTIRE pig for everyone to eat! I literally watched a guy with a hatchet methodically slice up every single piece of this pig (even the head) on the ground with only newspaper under it, and dole it out for all watching to eat. The skin was apparently the really prized part, but I was happier when I found some really good pieces of pork minus the skin, bone and fat. Just my Western tastes coming through I guess. After that interesting experience, we observed the beginning of a four hour Cantonese opera (all of us left after about 30 minutes since we couldn’t understand what was going on anyway) and finally took another boat to the fishing port of Sai Kung.
At Sai Kung, we saw fisherman selling live, fresh fish straight out of their boats to people calling down from the pier above. The person would select a fish by pointing, the fisherman would bargain about the price, then clean and gut the fish right there in the open, put it in a bag, and pass it in a net on the end of a pole up to the person who would take the fish and put money into the net for payment.
Very interesting to watch, and the best part was all the dogs I saw (I hadn’t seen many since arriving in Hong Kong, so it was always a fun moment)! I saw so many; Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, a Westie, poodles, Scotties – it was great! Finally, around 3 PM, we were all hot, tired, and dirty and took a mini bus back to HKUST. It was certainly quite an experience, and a unique way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Well everyone, this was the last update I’d post for the next two weeks because starting the following afternoon, I’d be leaving Hong Kong (and my computer) until April 11th for SPRING BREAK IN MAINLAND CHINA!!! Beijing and Shanghai to be exact! I couldn’t even begin to imagine the tales and pictures I’d come back with (or the length of my next update!) but be prepared for a novel!
Since this is in retrospect though – you’ll all get the scoop a week early! And here’s a few teasers: food poisoning, the Great Wall of China and Shanghai’s tallest tower all played a part in the adventure of a lifetime.