Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Other Side of the World (1 of 3): Hong Kong

New Zealand is about as far away from Brussels as you can get. It is FAR. So far, that the aeroplane has to stop to refuel half way there. We took the opportunity to have a brief stop in Hong Kong: two days of jetlag and eating.

First impressions do count, but I don't know if I would feel any differently about Hong Kong if I experienced it without a massive TIME HANGOVER. It was muggy, it was noisy, it was crowded. I really enjoyed my time there, but two days was enough. The novelty of the Mid Town Escalators hadn't worn off yet, and I was still curious about the market stalls on the street selling more varieties of fermented um, things than I knew existed.

We had no idea what time our bodies thought it was, and although we were shattered, we didn't want to waste any time. The first we did as tourists was ride the Mid Town Escalators to the port (I love the translations of the rules - do not wail against the flow is good advice for life!), to catch the Star Ferry to Kowloon. There we visited the Temple Street Night Market, which was a riot of neon signs and all kinds of stalls (fake bags, ornate chopsticks, mobile phone cases, bunches of herbs). We ate dinner in a tiny place, with no idea what anyone was saying or what we had ordered to go in our noodle soup. After that, the night had really fallen, and we headed back to the dock to see the 'Symphony of Lights'. We'd already seen the impressive skyline of skyscrapers, which light up the horizon, but the show was much-vaulted in the guidebooks, so we were prepared for something spectacular. To be honest? It was a disappointment. Nothing really happened that was any different from the usual night scene, apart from green lasers haphazardly running across the sky. It was the skyline itself which was impressive - see the photo, bottom right, above - with all the lights and the sheer presence of the big name brands and banks, not the 'show'. We stayed in the cool air for quite a while, though, talking about what to do next. I had one non-negotiable trip in mind. Tea at the Peninsula hotel.

The Dutchman and I got dressed up and tried to look as if we were rich enough to do this every day. Tea at the Peninsula is regularly included in lists of 'the top ten things to do in Hong Kong', and rightly so. Ok, so it isn't in any way traditionally Chinese, but it is traditional: the British influence is still present in Hong Kong, with the trappings of the colonial era nowhere more present than in the ritual of high tea. It was spectacular, both in food and location. I had delicate jasmine tea, whilst the Dutchman went for an Assam. We had a selection of little savouries, including an open cucumber sandwich which was perfectly seasoned and a bite-sized salmon quiche. The scones - one fruit, one plain - were enormous. The cakes were easily the best part (aside from people-watching!) and two gave a nod to Chinese cuisine: slices of green tea cake heavy with plums; cassis and tapioca squares. We both liked the pink confection best - see that swirl of pink in the glass? That's whipped vanilla cream and raspberry marshmallow, hiding fresh raspberry purée. (I also took photos of every meal we ate on the flights. Not nearly so interesting.)

Another 'top ten' experience was riding the cable car slash tram up to Victoria Peak, which gave spectacular views over Hong Kong island and across the bay to Kowloon. On the way back down, we passed the Foreign Correspondents' Club, which made me imagine Ernest Hemingway and Patrick Leigh Fermor drinking gin in club chairs. Not that either of them did that here, but, you know, I love the stereotype of the FCC. We did a lot of walking, wandering about the various neighbourhoods: the 'entertainment district' was rather seedy, but it was fun to look around; the Dutchman ran round the tiny Kowloon Park about fifty times whilst I read the guidebook and plotted dinner destinations; we stared up at all the major banking buildings in Central. The one thing we didn't see was much dim sum. We'd been expecting enormous feasts of little packages of steamed and fried deliciousness, but it seems to be such a 'breakfast' thing that we didn't catch it in time. (This was my fault, being an ignorant Westerner, who baulked at the idea of eating 'dinner' in the morning. Somehow I couldn't face rice and noodle soup that early in the day. I needed orange juice and something bread-like.) But oh the char siu pork! The hoi sin roast duck! The five spice beef brisket! The explosion of spring onions on soup! The slurp of noodles from a bowl!

I wasn't sad to leave Hong Kong, because we were headed to New Zealand - rather than the end of the holiday, it was the only the beginning! If we'd stayed longer I would have liked to have seen the Buddha on Lantau Island, but apart from that it was an excellent stop off.

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