hong kong travel diary: day 4.

Rolled out of bed at Kuya Mike’s flat with 45 minutes left to the morning. Kuya was already awake and chatting online with my mother. Had a nice VOIP chat with her while uploading the crazy number of snaps I took the night before. Once we were both ready to go, we had a delicious lunch at EOD cafe just around the corner. Not sure what kind of cuisine it was (Makanese maybe?). Nevertheless, it was very good. Who knew oyster, beef, and rice inside a steaming bowl of broth would actually taste better than a beef curry stir-fry?

oyster and pork soup with rice

beef satay with rice

We headed across the border to Zhuhai in mainland China shortly before 2pm. Kuya secured our day visas ahead of time, enabling us to shop to my wallet’s content at Xin Xiong Ying Mall. It is a multi-level open market for people who love to bargain. Conveniently situated not even 50 feet away from the exit of the Macau-Zhuhai border crossing.

inside the market in zhuhai

market causeway

inside zhuhai market

We walked around for 5 hours while Kuya taught me the finer points of inter-language bargaining. One is supposed to slash at least 50% off the original offer price. If language is a barrier, numbers talk: motion for the calculator and let your fingers do the talking (along with feigned outrage and walking out of the stall in pretend disinterest). I am a bargaining noob so I mostly watched my kuya work his magic on my behalf. If he hadn’t been there, I could have easily been parted with an additional $150 CAD of my money!

Both our feet were swollen and sore by 7pm. Kuya suggested an hour-long foot massage, which only wound up costing 30 yuan (RNB, or so he called the local currency). That’s roughly $4 CAD–what a deal! Kuya practically feel asleep while ticklish me giggled throughout the entire process. Wrapped up the time at the market with a last-minute purchase of hot yellow heels and silver peek-a-boo shoes (2 for only 200 yuan). The very huggy saleswoman was so enamoured by my gadgets that she asked to have pictures taken with me while we waited for my shoes to arrive from their back room.

friendly shoe saleslady

On the way back to the border, I took a quick pan of the market for you to catch a glimpse:


Had the urge to try Portuguese cuisine so off we went to Dumbo restaurante, across the street from the Makanese bakery where I splurged on Portuguese treats for the IG office. We tried a couple of so-so dishes (maybe Portuguese food is relatively bland?). The highlight of the meal was a delightful table rosé that has been the closest thing to a French rosé since Provence. Would have downed the whole bottle but I was much too tipsy after four glasses!

mateus rose

portuguese style codfish

Back on the hydrofoil for the 11:15pm ferry…just in time to catch the very last MTR train back to the hotel and straight to sleep.

hong kong travel diary: day 3.

Tuesday morning consisted of breakfast at the hotel buffet. I had been eyeing the asian part of the selection the day before so I partook whole-heartedly in the siu mai, sponge cake, steamed buns, and dragon fruit. It was not all it was cracked up to be so I made note to search for a new breakfast nook on Thursday.

Ion chose dim sum at Pak Loh as our next lunch adventure. The Vancouverites at IG were a little puzzled that I wanted to have dim sum in Hong Kong. After all, they said, Vancouver and Richmond dim sum is far superior. Go figure. I better figure out which restaurants Winnie and Garland were referring to.

chicken feet

alan enjoys his bbq pork bun

Dinner was a quick stop with Johnny to a small Shanghainese cafe off Electric Road. This place, according to Winnie, is great for its wonton. We opted for chicken in wine and braised pork belly, more of the same “soup dumplings” that we had sampled at Pak Loh, and vegetable rice. We shared our table with a stranger, which is the normal course of things in small establishments like this one. The pork belly was exactly how I liked it and the portions were small enough for my squirrel-like appetite. One of the better little eateries that I tried in the city.

Excitedly took my first hydrofoil trip to Macau to visit Kuya Mike. The waters just outside of Sheung Wan station were so turbulent that two men were anchoring down the ferry on either side of the on-ramp. Everyone boarding the ferry was being tossed around like rag dolls; doubly difficult for people assigned a seat on the upper deck (like myself). Good thing we all had seat belts to hold us (and the contents of our stomachs) in until the waters smoothed out shortly after we left harbour. Wish I could tell you more about the trip over, but the lull of the jet engine plus my exhaustion from work and jet lag caused me to pass out in blissful slumber until we docked in Macau.

hong kong ferry terminal

Macau is an entirely different animal than Hong Kong. Originally a Portuguese settlement, the city is laid out in wide European-style boulevards. Mosaics are strewn about on practically every fresco. A far cry from the narrow alleys and sign-riddled streets of Hong Kong Island.

friendship bridge and macau tower

grand lisboa and lisboa casinos

temple of the goddess a-ma

Macau is also Asia’s oasis for gambling (not so much for debauchery, which I always thought went hand-in-hand). Everywhere you turn, there are one or more neon / videotronic displays enticing you to empty your pockets into casino coffers. I had never experienced Las Vegas besides what they show on CSI, so the 11pm to 6am jaunt around the casinos with Kuya Mike was overwhelming in its gaudy splendour. Since there is so much more to say about the nightlife in Macau, track me down one day and I’ll share more observations in person.

Finally got to spend time with my mom’s cousin, whom I call Kuya Mike (kuya means “older brother” in Tagalog). He picked me up from the Macau ferry terminal and indulged my photography spree till the sun rose. We had a lot to catch up on after 9 years of losing touch. He is currently a pilot with Air Macau and flies regularly to Manila, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei. Still breaking ladies’ hearts it seems =)

kuya mike

After wandering several casinos in our futile search for non-gambling activities, we hunkered down at the Starbucks inside the Wynn and gossiped till dawn. Always a fun time chatting with Kuya Mike about everything under the sun.

hong kong travel diary: day 2.

Dawn broke in a blanket of fog (or is it smog?). The view of the harbour and Victoria Park is amazing from my floor. I was up at 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I took in the local English paper and caught up on Australian news. Scanned the TV airwaves for signs of Denise but no luck thus far.

Meeting Johnny at 10am to head to the office but I’ve still got a lot of time on my hands. I ventured outside and took a stroll around the block, noting the bakeries, little dim sum stalls, and congee houses for later. Too timid to approach any of these places for breakfast as I still haven’t figured out how to say “I don’t understand” or “Do you speak English?”. Will have to ask the folks at work to teach me a few essential phrases.

Back at the hotel for their breakfast buffet–only $75 HKD (~$10 CAD). Decent quality for breakfast. Particularly liked the moist egg scramble and the baked beans. Unfortunately, the congee was lamentable. Nearly missed out on half of the buffet (and the asian side, no less) that was hidden away on the other side of the buffet wall. By the time I discovered the steamed buns and bowl of dragon fruit, I was already full. Oh well: will have to try it tomorrow.

Walked the scenic route to the office, through a maze of narrow streets with merchants hawking everything from produce, bbq duck, medicinal ingredients, and fresh seafood. The extensive variety of ingredients winked enticingly at me, making me wish that I had a wok and kitchen at my disposal. Also went past a number of little shoe shops that started to whet my appetite for shopping.

Got the grand tour of Ion Global. The staff are a lot younger and far more multi-national than I expected. Great to put faces to all the names I’d been seeing on e-mail. The 33rd floor itself houses several of my organization’s subsidiaries, including our parent company. IG got the better end of the bargain, I think, with quickest access to the meeting rooms with stunning views of the harbour. You can even witness the famous light show from the meeting rooms if you happen to work beyond 8pm.

Lunch was at Poppy’s Restaurant. It’s a few minutes’ walk from the office, just off Electric Road I think. The atmospere is cozy and looks somewhat like a British grandmum’s salon. The fare, however, is more Italian in style. I had to satisfy my curiosity by ordering the squid ink fettucini. Besides the black colour, the fettucini tasted exactly the same: no hint of squidiness or inkiness in the rest of the dish. I was kept company by the project team (Alan, Johnny, and James) plus Terence and Marcus. Marcus even catered to my photo-happiness by taking a few shots of the restaurant storefront for me.

squid ink pasta with prawns and sugar snap peas

karen with poppy's staff

Dinner was at a Thai restaurant called Rice Paper: a beautifully laid out venue with an entire wall face of glass that looked out over the harbour. Winnie, our culinary planner for the week, arranged a 7:30pm reservation so that we could catch the light show during our meal.

The food was one of the most memorable of the week. Garland and Winnie had favourite dishes so they ordered plate after plate of Thai food that I had never before encountered (Kurt and I usually don’t veer far from the pad thai and curries that one normally sees on North American menus). Faves: Garland’s highly recommended crab noodle dish; the pomelo salad; the beef with red rice; the experience of rolling up my own rice paper roll of roasted duck and guava.

rice paper dishes, through wine-tinged glass

Calvin and I expounded on how to appreciate a glass of red wine. We settled on a bottle of 2004 Cotes du Ventoux from La Vieille Fermee, though we both eyed the Chablis longingly.

Somehow conversation steered towards the topic of rock, paper, scissors. I made the mistake of referencing the Fedex commercial that explains the game of bear, ninja, hunter (see video below). Calvin was delighted with the concept and we wound up taking a few shots of us competing just outside of the restaurant.


bear, hunter, ninja

As Sogo was still open after dinner, Winnie dragged my more-than-willing self for 30 minutes of hardcore shopping. Considering the lack of time and my despair at still being 2-3 sizes too small for Sogo clothing, she still managed to help me find a cute teal tank top and a gorgeous sleeveless turtleneck in subtle shades of purple, lavender, and aubergine.

We reconnected with Lisa, Johnny, and Calvin at the British pub in the lower level of the Excelsior hotel. For some reason, Calvin plied us with logic problems and magic tricks (got to keep his business card as a souvenir). What mental cardio after that bottle of wine and a bit of Carlsberg!

logic puzzle doodles (see notes)

Monday wrapped up with a stroll through Victoria Park and some Vancouver catch-up with the husband. So ends Day 2.

heading back to vancouver.

1 dress, 2 pants, 2 skirts, a belt, 6 tops, 2 underpants, 1 jacket, a travel charger, a webcam, 3 pairs of shoes, 300 photos, 8 video clips, an armful of souvenirs, a belly full of asian cuisine, and a wealth of memories later, I am homeward-bound. Am leaving Hong Kong at 2:30pm to arrive the same day at 11:45am. That’s gotta screw around with my internal clock somewhat.

I have been taking note of the goings-on of this week but it’s written in my little Rodin travel journal. Sometimes I like to be old school =) Will transcribe to the blog world when I’m Vancouver-side.

Thanks to everyone that made my first foray into Asia so unforgettable: the team at Ion Global, Kuya Mike, Quiny, and Ian. Special thanks to Winnie for looking after my tourist agenda and being my personal shopper all week! Looking forward to coming back real soon.

hong kong travel diary: day 1.

hong kong

This photoset has 264 pictures
aug 11-19, 2007.

aug 11, 2:30pm – YVR airport.

Just a half hour till my plane departs. Knots of dread have been stealing into my body over the past few days at the thought of flying over the Pacific. This 14-hour flight all by my lonesome is combining 2 of my biggest fears: falling to my doom from a burning plane, and drowning in the the biggest, darkest ocean in the world. Friday’s Level-8 typhoon has only exacerbated my anxiety. Nor was it helpful to hear from Shawn that his Pacific flight had yo-yoed 4 feet in the blink of an eye.

So far, though, waiting for the flight to board has been extremely dull. Even with picking out souvenirs for my colleagues and Kuya Mike (a tin of Roger’s chocolates; maple sugar candies; a photo-panoramic book of downtown Vancouver) I had over 3 hours to kill in the international terminal.

A bit about this terminal, since I don’t get to see it every day. High-end boutiques galore, staffed with clerks that are more adept at filing their nails than helping the stray customer. At its hub is a pleasant atrium complete with trees, a bubbling brook, the requisite First Nations art, and 2 walkways to enjoy the greenery. At the end of the atrium is a fantastic aquarium that kept me enthralled for 30 minutes. Puts those Windows screensavers to shame.

requisite first nations airport art

aquarium close-ups

We’re now 3 hours into the flight and 32,000 feet high. Despite my initial fears, this ride has been blissfully smooth (knock on wood!). Been keeping busy with Shrek the 3rd (tired), a peppy little Japanese movie about travelling through time via washing machine, and dinner.

Dinner did not disappoint: sweet and sour pork that I wolfed down in seconds plus marinated mushrooms and an orange cream cake. Quite the leap from the crappy pretzel packs of Westjet.

cathay pacific's dinner fare

We’re nearing the international date line which cuts through the Pacific like a jigsaw piece. I wonder if anyone lives near enough to the date line to be routinely affected by the arbitrary switch of time. It’d be pretty cool to have a next-door neighbour that is constantly (and literally) behind on the times. [Cue lame-o music here.]

T-minus 5500km, 36,000 feet high, and approximately 6.5 hours into the flight. Then it hits–and just like that, it’s suddenly 5pm on Sunday afternoon. Time travel is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Snack time…what? Piping hot BBQ pork bun?! Oh my lord, how I love Cathay Pacific.

After a short nap I wake to 4 hours remaining on the flight. Somehow we managed to skip any sort of breakfast in favour of a lunch menu. I chose the soya chicken with a fruit salad and mango mousse cake. Checked the 13 channels of movies again…oooh, Monsters Inc! Gotta love Pixar for entertaining you so much that you don’t almost die of terror during the 30 minutes of violent turbulence near the southern coast of Japan.

cathay pacific's lunch fare

Only 2 hours to go! Time to read up on what to do in town. The in-flight magazine tells of a giant food exhibition from Aug 16-20th, called Food Expo 2007. Sounds like a great way to spend my Saturday!

Landing…hello, Hong Kong!

blur of a landing

In the restroom at the airport and my first “she must be Chinese” encounter occurs: one of the cleaning women tries to explain something to me in Cantonese. I helplessly sign that I can’t for the life of me understand her, but the woman continues to chat to me in a stream of unintelligible syllables. A passerby takes pity and translates for me. Phew…

9pm Sunday evening and I’m joined by Johnny and Alan, who were nice enough to keep me company on my first night here. After a scenic route around Causeway Bay and browsing the closing restaurants of Times Square, we settled on a 4-person set menu of Cantonese fare at Chung’s Cuisine. My camera happiness caused the staff to wonder if I was a reporter. We should have said yes in case that got us freebies =) Check out the photos for now…I’ll eventually write a proper review. It was a terrific meal and a great start to my first week in Hong Kong.

chung's cuisine decor

grappa head

karen already getting her asian on

More tomorrow!