Tuesday, 30 November 2010


I haven't been here since I was about 10 or 11 so I don't really remember much, however locals tell me things would have changed a lot since back then. The thing that hit me immediately was how HOT and humid it was outside (well, duh I guess), but of course when you walk into any building the chilling blast of air conditioning is quite uncomfortably cold - and inconvenient too, given it means you pretty much have to carry a jersey or something warm with you, a bit absurd given the temperatures outside.

The other thing that struck me was how good and reasonably priced all the food I've seen has been. Last night we had the buffet at the Carousel restaurant at the Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel, and for only SDG$58 (weeknight dinner rate) there was an amazing spread of all sorts of different crab/shellfish/oysters, sashimi & other Japanese dishes, roast meats, other European mains, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian food, and of course the obligatory chocolate fountain. I guess a lot of buffets can boast variety, however what really impressed me was the quality of every item at the buffet. Usually when it's all-you-can-eat, why bother making it that good? But honestly, I would have happily ordered any number of those dishes a la carte. I'd highly recommend it!

Even the corporate catering we've been getting has been pretty good, usually those sorts of lunches are pretty bland, but most of the dishes have been really well seasoned with a pleasant amount of spice. I must admit, as much as I love Hong Kong, I think that Singapore might actually trump it in terms of variety, value and quality of food...

Tonight we had another great meal, this time a Japanese one on Clarke Quay - wandering around the area it was great to feel the buzz of people out at restaurants and bars all in one place even on a Tuesday night - something we really miss with the scattered clusters of dining destinations in Auckland. A quick glance at menus and it was obvious the prices were all pretty reasonable for what you get.

Anyway, tomorrow in my five hours of free time I might venture up the famous Sands observation deck, and also check out the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel. No more room for shopping though...

Hong Kong Part Two

Wow, seems like weeks ago that I was in Hong Kong but I only left two days ago! After my last post, my sister in law arrived, and as it was her first visit we did a lot of touristy stuff including Ngong Ping 360, TST (night & day), the Museum of Art, Star Ferry, The Peak, Mong Kok, Goldfish/Pet St, Flower Market St, Fa Yuen St Market, Temple St Market, Langham Place, Cat St, SoHo, the Mid Level Escalators, the tram, Repulse Bay, Stanley... pretty much most of the major sights.

We only had three days so I thought it was going to be pretty hectic, and indeed we were out pretty much all day most days and exhausted ourselves thoroughly by the end! However it seems that it's actually not too difficult to see all the major sights within just two days, thanks mainly to the highly efficient public transport system and how close everything is to each other I think...

Anyway, for those of you thinking of visiting HK as a tourist, a few tips:

The 'Symphony of Lights' from TST
One word - lame. I mean, one of my friends had already told me how unimpressive it was so I had low expectations, but I was still surprised at how feeble it all seemed... Basically, some of the lights on some of the buildings in Central will flash in time with music, and occasionally there are some spotlights and lasers active as well. Unfortunately not enough of the buildings are involved, and they really cheaped out on the soundtrack (at least the night I was there). It was like a cheesey midi from a 90s website that is blaring at full volume, and you can't switch it off even though you really want to! They really could learn a lesson or two from the Bellagio fountains in Vegas, which is by far the best public light/music display I've ever seen - they used opera, and simple white lighting. Basically, if you don't manage to get to TST at 8pm... don't worry, you didn't really miss anything.

Street Markets
As I mentioned in the previous post, please avoid Ladies Market at all costs as it's a huge rip-off! A much better value one is Fa Yuen St in Mong Kok for things like clothes, handbags and souvenirs. Or if you're looking for electronics, you can't go past Apliu St market, which is still great value for things like mobile phone accessories, torches, camera tripods, travel power adaptors, etc. Temple St was not too bad as well, though one of the hawkers was a bit aggressive when it came to flogging her wares. Good for trying a claypot rice, street style.

I was quite surprised to discover that most of my relatives didn't know the major HK museums are free on Wednesdays - this includes the Museum of Art, Heritage Museum, Science Museum, the Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum, and the Museum of Coastal Defense. I especially recommend the Museum of Art in TST, we caught a free English guided tour and it was pretty awesome, so much better to have an expert explaining stuff to you that would normally be a bit dry... A nice summary of all the museums is here.

The Peak
Half the point of this is the tram ride up to the top, and the rest is the view, but if you want to save some money either way, make sure you don't buy the admission fee for the observation deck, because guess what, you can get pretty much the same view for free if you go to the top floor of the old shopping centre called The Peak Galleria. They certainly don't make it obvious, but if you somehow manage to get of the tower complex, walk outside and go into the old pinkish/beige building (with the Starbucks on the ground floor), just keep going up the escalators until you can't get any higher, to your left there should be the childcare centre (I know, it's weird they have one up there) and the door just to the side of it will lead you to a huge (and often deserted) deck where you can get a beautiful, pretty much unobstructed view of HK. And the deck on the other side (the more obvious door) will actually give you a view of the other side of the island, though this can only be enjoyed during the day. Another way to keep it even cheaper is take the bus instead of the tram, however I wouldn't advise it for those prone to motion sickness!

That's it for now, next up will be a wee summary of my short time in Singapore.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hong Kong - Observations

Well, I'd normally only reserve this blog for those longer trips to random new places, but I've seen so many interesting things since I've been back in Hong Kong these last few days I want to note it down. Twitter might be great for instant updates, but you can't always keep things under 140 characters!

While it's been over two years since I was last here, as soon as I landed I felt that things were still quite familiar, and almost immediately it was like I'd never been away at all - which is probably quite good for someone who hasn't lived locally for nearly twenty years. However, there were still a few things that jumped out at me, particularly this time. So, in no particular order...

Everyone's got a smartphone
Two and a half years ago nearly a quarter of people I saw on public transport had a PSP or DS to amuse themselves with. This time, there's nary a dedicated portable gaming device in sight, everyone was either watching a video or probably playing Angry Birds on their touchscreen smartphones. Mobiles were already practically fused to a Hong Konger's hand right from the get-go, so why have more than one device? Nowhere else is digital convergence into the mobile phone probably as advanced - well, I'm not sure about Japan, but HK is definitely up there.

Matching outfits
I've heard of the strange phenomenon of honeymooning couples dressed in identical matching clothing in Korea, so I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, but I've noticed a lot of couples or friends dressing exactly alike, or in a different colour variation of the same top/shoes/etc. From a NZ point of view this just seems bizarre. I mean, do you have to txt your friend before you go out to say 'Hey, I'm wearing the fluoro green Le Coq sneakers today' and they'll reply 'Cool, I'll wear my fluoro pink ones then'? I guess imitation is just another form of flattery, so it's a win-win? Doubt that this sort of thing will catch on in NZ...

Toilets are clean(er)!
If SARS and the H5N1 avian flu outbreaks can be credited with anything, I guess it would be HK's new-found sense of obsession with cleanliness. From the ubiquitous hand santisier dispensers, to the signs on public building doors saying 'this handle is sanitised 8 times a day', everything seems to have undergone a bit of a scrub-up. Yet HK still hasn't lost its 'grit', so to speak. The best part is, it's now a lot more likely you'll find a clean toilet (!) with toilet paper provided (!!) when you're out and about. After lunch at a pretty old-style noodle shop, I found myself in need of some relief, and was quite dreading what I'd find when I opened the toilet door - but to my delight it was clean, and yes, had toilet paper! Something which would have been  unheard of a few years ago... A caveat for travellers though, definitely still make sure you have a pack of Tempo (or other disposable tissue pack) with you, just in case.

Soap operas are as over-dramatic as ever
Okay, so this isn't something that's changed, but I guess I'm struck by how over-dramatic all the TV series here still are. It's a bit difficult to describe if you haven't just caught one on the telly, but I guess parallels can be drawn to Hindi soaps or Hispanic 'telenovas'. For someone used to watching high production value series from the major US networks, they would find HK soaps have super-exaggerated/generally bad acting, a heavy reliance on the soundtrack to set the mood, cheap props and effects, and an overall sense of shaky, zoom-y cinematography. Of course the budget is tiny compared to most American series, but surely the acting doesn't have to be so over the top? I've been told though that audiences here wouldn't accept anything else, so each to their own I guess!

HK girls are insanely tiny
I'm usually a 10 or a 12 in New Zealand which is considered pretty average I guess, but in HK I'm an XL, or if I'm really lucky, an L. And that's just for big chain stores like Bossini & Giordano where they even make an effort - in some of the trendier shops in Mong Kok there's no way I would even find anything at all in my size! Luckily the fashion trend of with 'free size' baggy tops and leggings still seems to be plodding along, which makes it somewhat easier to find clothes that 'fit', but I still have to be careful about things like clearing the armpit hole.

Ladies Market is a big rip off
This famous street market in Mong Kok used to be a reliable place to pick up cheap shoes, handbags and souvenirs, but by all accounts the advent of mainlander tourists with bottomless wallets who don't bother to bargain has resulted in the shopkeepers taking full advantage, and opening prices at ridiculous levels. Upon asking a handbag price a few days ago I got quoted HK$1000 - what?? How can you charge that much for a fake designer thing? Wouldn't it be better to just buy a real bag from a cheaper brand? Another example - I asked for the price of a pair of black ballet flat shoes, got quoted $79. Two seconds later a Caucasian woman asked about the same pair, got quoted $129! Worst yet, the next day I saw the exact same one in the market in the Li Yuen St Market in Central for only $49. Plus, all the stalls have the same stock anyway... So, my advice? Look, but don't buy at Ladies Market.

I still love the MTR
With the HK subway system, you can get pretty much anywhere really fast, it's clean, reliable, well signposted, and they've even augmented the map boards in each station with photos of major tourist attractions. Plus, the Octopus card makes things run like a well-oiled machine. The only downside is the crowds at rush hour, but that's like pretty much any mode of public transport in HK. Actually, I love HK buses and trams too, but probably love the MTR the most. It would be a complete pipe dream to have something half as efficient in NZ, and I know it's all to do with population density, but I guess one can dream...

That's it for now, I'm sure I'll think of a few more things over the rest of the week!