Saturday, February 9, 2013

Not Long in Hong Kong

February 8, 2013

Hello Hong Kong!  We got to get off the ship today.  Woo hoo!!  And boy did the few hours we had fly by.

Matt and I grabbed breakfast on the ship and booked it to the front desk for a Hong Kong map then made our way to the gangway to get off the ship.  We were ready to get lost on Hong Kong island and have ourselves an adventure.

We got off the ship and walked through the port mall to find an ATM to get Hong Kong dollars.  After a few rounds of ATM time, we finally got some cash out.  We pulled out HK$400 which was the equivalent of about $35 in the US.  Hong Kong can be very expensive, but if you do it right you can get a lot of bang for your buck.

The Star Ferry went from our port over to Hong Kong island where we could quickly walk to the subway or trolley cars and go along the entire city shore and explore.  We hadn’t broken down our big bills, but, luckily, there were some people from our ship who had gone out the day before and gave us four HK$1 coins to get on the ferry to the other side.  We said we’d thank them by buying them a drink later, but they laughed and said they basically just gave us a buck.  We could split a soda with them on the ship…
The ferry was really fun.  It was very tippy and wavy going across the river, but the men were old and weathered who ran it, and it felt very old-school with giant ropes and hooks to attach it to each little port.  It was all open air, so it was a little chilly during the trip, but it only took five minutes to the other side.

We walked down a raised walkway that would eventually take us to the subway, but found an interesting building with a Starbucks at the bottom and decided to break our cash with a hot, milky latte.  Ooooh how I crave lattes on a regular basis since we don’t have access to them on the ship.  Okay, I take that back.  You can buy one of those powder machine lattes for $4 if you really, really need one, but I only stoop to those during all-nighters.

I laughed at the receipt because they use the same dollar sign as we do, and the latte cost $33.  The most expensive latte you’ll ever buy.  (The conversion rate is $13 Hong Kong dollars to a single US dollar.)

We found the subway and headed down to Quarry Bay where we heard there was a Lunar New Year Fair.  We figured it would be a fun cultural event.

The Chinese New Year is a huge celebration over here, and they would equate it to our Christmas.  Everyone gets into it.  The big thing to buy during the new year is flowers and lucky mandarin plants, so there were rows and rows of sellers.

Hong Kong was a lot nicer than Shanghai, both in the way people treated us as foreigners and also how clean and well kept the city was.  There’s a ton of business done here with other countries, so we saw a lot more diversity here and far more people spoke English which made getting around easier.

When we first got off the subway, there were protest signs against the communist party, and I felt surprised by this.  Hong Kong had been owned buy the British until 1997, so they had a different government than the rest of China.  When Hong Kong rejoined China, they agreed to have one country and two governments, so Hong Kong kept a lot of the freedoms that wouldn’t be allowed in the rest of China.  Seeing the freedom of speech against the government felt out of place from what I knew about China, and I’m interested in researching more about the relationship between Hong Kong and the rest of China.
The fair was fun and colorful, and Matt said that he felt paralyzed with how much there was to photograph.  We were off for the day, but that never stops him from shooting.  He got some great footage.

We found the fair food section, and even though they did have a small booth with cotton candy and another with popcorn, the rest were filled with Chinese fair food which is close to the American way, but with a Chinese twist.  Instead of a turkey leg, you can have a duck wing.  Instead of a hot dog, you can have ramen noodles in a hoagie bun.  Instead of beef-kabobs, you can have quail eggs that they fry in a device that has a hole for a stick to make an egg-kabob.
My favorite delight was a pre-packaged ice-cream ball.  We chose green tea and some sort of passion fruit flavors.  You could get one that tasted like durian, but the little lady at the booth highly discouraged us.  “You no like.  This for sure,” she said to us.

If you’ve never experienced durian, you’re in for a treat.  We saw and sniffed them in Hawaii during the farmer’s market in Hilo.  Imagine finding a fruit about the size of a pineapple, maybe a little bigger, that looks like a hedgehog that’s been hanging out in a radioactive pond.  Crack it open to find what looks to be large yellow organs – like a liver, then give it a big whiff and soak in the smell of a giant pile of excrement.  Welcome to the wonderful world of durian.  Apparently it tastes like vanilla pudding, but I wasn’t about to put my mouth on that business.

After our icecream treat, we realized we had HK$250 left over and needed to buy some goodies from the product side of the fair.  We found inflatable iPhones that were about a meter long that had all the apps one could ever want printed on the front.  We got to try some snake jerky, and also some sugar cane juice that was freshly squished.  We found a couple jewelry items that were fun and the equivalent of two dollars, so we snatched those up.

We left the fair with full tummies, good photos and also a street sign souvenir made by a local high school economics club that said “like a boss” in Cantonese that we knew would come in handy around the ship.  We headed for the subway and found a post office to send off some postcards before spending the rest of our money at the 7-11 in port next to the ship.  Gotta load up on snacks to hold us over to Vietnam.

We got back to the ship, exhausted and happy and had dinner with the Hong Kong skyline outside.  All of the buildings were decorated on the outside to celebrate the new year holiday, and at 8pm when the ship was leaving port, there was a huge, city-wide light show complete with music that’s pumped throughout the city.  All of the buildings flashed and shot out lasers in time to the music.  It was a festive way to say so long to Hong Kong.

Now, we’re floating along in the South China Sea, headed for Vietnam.  We’ll arrive the day after my birthday, on February 12.  It’ll be a pretty sweet present.