new Hong Kong photos

What do dried snake skins, nets full of live toads, piles of pig snouts, lightening-fast abacus calculations, and live performances of Mozart in giant upscale shopping malls have in common?

Hong Kong! Click here for pictures.

(“They’re all edible” is not the correct answer; abacuses and Mozart’s music are not edible.)

[Photo Gallery:] Hong Kong, 2006 May 4

We got up at 4am to catch an early morning flight into Hong Kong, and made it back to Taipei around midnight. A quick stop to do some more visa applying (for residency this time), meet some of the folks from Jian Hua (who will facilitate our language learning in Tianjin), and take a couple pictures along the way.

You’ll see pig snouts and nets of live frogs in the meat market; a guy using an abacus; turtle shells and snake skins; and packages of paper clothing/shoes, which were next to paper stereos, cigs, cell phones, computers, and T.V.’s – all used as burnt offerings to the dead. And, lest people get the impression that Hong Kong is all street vendors with animal parts, we included a shot from inside Pacific Place, one of the many upscale shopping malls. On this occasion a couple of violinists were celebrating Mozart’s birthday.

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Hong Kong…

Sorry it’s taken us so long to post anything concrete about our trip to Hong Kong. We left on February 12 and were there through the 14th, so we had 2 nights and 2 and a half days in Hong Kong. That is not nearly enough time to explore a city of that magnitude, but we sure gave it our best shot.

We started exploring Hong Kong at around 12:30 on the 12th, shortly after checking into our hotel and finding a map. First order of business was to find some lunch, so we wandered through the market that was behind our hotel. Amidst the pig head skins, giant snails, and fresh fish jumping out of their buckets, we found a little noodle shop. One of the items on our list (provided by our friends in Taiwan) of things to try in Hong Kong was a drink called “yuanyang.” Yuanyang is the chinese word for some kind of waterfowl that always come in pairs, but the beverage is a mixture that is half coffee/half tea. This noodle restaurant had it, so we tried it out. It’s really good, but different…it doesn’t really taste like coffee or tea and it has a lot of milk in it. Yuanyang is kind of like Hong Kong…a mix of Western (coffee) and eastern (tea) flavors.

From lunch, we found the closest MTR (subway) station and took the subway from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon (which is connected to the mainland, but is still part of Hong Kong). There we walked along the waterfront, where you get the best view of all of the office buildings and on the Hong Kong Island side. While we were walking around, some guy in a turban came up and told Joel that he had a “very lucky forehead” and wanted to tell him why, for a small fee. It took a few minutes for the guy to realize that Joel wasn’t going to go for the offer. I saw Mr. Turban a few minutes later, examining another tall white guy’s forehead. Hmmm. Must’ve been lots of lucky foreheads running around in Kowloon that day. We also went down the “Avenue of Stars, which is sort of Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, commemorating famous Hong Kong film stars, directors, and producers. I put my hand in Jet Li’s handprint (Ooooo)…and my hand is the same size as his!!! Between Joel’s lucky forehead, and my almost famous hand…aren’t you guys glad to know us?

Kowloon has one of Hong Kong’s most famous shopping districts, located all along “Nathan Road.” I was surprised to see how upscale it all is, with tons of world famous brands like Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Manolo Blahnik, etc. All along this route, there were Indian guys hanging out trying to look casual. When we’d walk past, they’d kind of walk along side us for a few seconds and say, “Hey, would you like to buy fake Rolex? Very cheap, good quality.” It was kind of funny, because it looked like they were trying to be inconspicuous, but everyone knows what they’re up to. We (of course) didn’t buy anything there, either in the stores or from the Rolex salesmen, but pushed past all of the high-end shopping to find a couple of the local markets. There was a “ladies market” that we went through, which had all kinds of stuff for women – from bikinis and baby clothes to designer knockoff handbags. We also found the “Temple Street Night Market”. This had some interesting stuff, but there were mostly tourists shopping there. Joel tried to bargain with a couple of the guys, but didn’t really get anywhere.

By this time, it was getting late, and our feet were tired so we decided to head back to the hotel. Instead of taking the MTR over to the Hong Kong Island side, we got aboard the top deck of the “Star Ferry” and enjoyed the view of the city lights all the way across. Back to the hotel to collapse…

The next morning, we found a little bakery in the same market and grabbed some yummy coconut filled rolls, and ate them at a local coffee shop. Then we went and turned in our visa applications in time to start exploring by 10:30 am. This time, we explored the Hollywood Road area of Hong Kong (as well as many other streets that I can’t remember…all in the same general area). Hollywood Road was lined with antique shops, and there was a little antique market on a neighboring street. Of course, the market was more “tourist antiques” than the real deal…but we still picked up a couple of items. Another street was the “Ginseng and Birdnest Street”, where nearly all of the shops sell birdnests (I still don’t know what they really are…I’ll tell you when I know) and ginseng for various medicinal purposes. Then there was the Traditional Chinese Medicine street, which had everything from dried seahorses, starfish, and jellyfish to dried tongues, dried lizards stretched out on a stick, and a ton of stuff that we couldn’t even begin to recognize. A very weird and interesting place. I wish I could capture the smell of it in a picture and post it here for you. It’s not a bad smell, but it’s definitely nothing you’ve ever smelled unless you’ve been in a traditional Chinese medicine shop. The last weird street was the “Dried seafood street.” Pretty much anything that can be found in the ocean can be found here, dried.

By the time we finished exploring all of those streets, it was time to go check on our visas, which were approved with no problems. We were so worn out that we decided to find dinner near the hotel and relax. Our friends in Taiwan had recommended that we try a certain type of restaurant, something like a “teahouse,” which would be the least touristy and most authentic place we’d eat. We found one a street or two away from the hotel, and had some of the best duck I’ve ever eaten. We also tried octopus tentacle (or something octopus-like, anyway) on a stick. Not a bad flavor…a little spicy, but it takes a lot of chewing.

Tuesday, Valentine’s day, was our last day. Hong Kong is world famous for its “dim sum” and we still hadn’t tried it. So, for brunch we found a nice little dim sum restaurant. This place had the coolest atmosphere. It was like a big party, everybody was eating and laughing, drinking tea, reading the newspaper, and hanging out. Dim sum is kind of hard to describe (a lot of little small foods, like dumplings and rolls with fillings and stuff) but if you ever get the chance to try it, go for it. We loved both the food and the atmosphere.

We still had a few more items on our checklist of things to try, so we ran around the neighborhood in search of them before catching the shuttle to the plane. There is this mango ice drink, which is incredible. Joel got the mango one, with coconut milk and I got the strawberry ice, with coconut milk. Soooooo good. We also picked up a few more treats at the local bakery to eat at the airport.

All in all, a great trip. Sorry this recap is so long, but it was such a cool place. So many sights and sounds (and smells and tastes) that I wish all of you could experience. The only thing I didn’t write about in this is the “Man Mo” temple, which we visited on Monday. That deserves it’s own post, so hopefully I’ll get that up before the end of the week.

[Photo Gallery:] Hong Kong (again!)

We had to leave Taiwan in order to apply for our visas, so that meant two nights in Hong Kong over Valentines Day, travel and lodging courtesy of our employers. Included here are pictures of the local wet market next to our hotel, where the seafood was so fresh it often tried to escape down the street. We lowered the resolution on all photos for the internet, but you still might be able to check out what’s in those tanks and buckets. Also look for the hanging pig’s heads, feet, and tongues/gums. The Man Mo Temple pictures appear fuzzy because that’s how thick the incense was. The staff there encouraged pictures and the worshippers didn’t seem to notice or care. Worshippers place food, drink, incense, and spirit money on various altars throughout the temple to appeal to/appease/manipulate various spirits for blessing/fortune/prosperity. At certain altars a bell and drum are also sounded. We also saw two big Christian ads: the first says “Jesus is Lord” and the second says, “The greatest is love” in poor Hong Kong Mandarin (according to our Taipei friends). In one street shot there’s a man in the lower right corner poking a stick into a bucket. That, along with the tiny altar shown in another photos, are things we see almost everyday: merchants burning spirit money in special containers or placing offerings outside their place of business.

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