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Published: February 15th 2010
My layover flight in Beijing arrived late. So late that after 2 hours of sitting hunched over with the neck rest cutting into my shoulders (clearly the seats were not designed for 5'7" giants) I got off the plane and started running. After I had my passport stamped and my carry-on screened, I knew I would miss my connecting flight if I tried to walk to my gate. I picked up my carry-on and started sprinting when a cart driver called out, 'Miss, where you going? Ohh, your gate very far. Get in.' As he started to drive toward my gate he finally decided to tell me, 'this service not free...' 'What? Really?!? I have no Chinese Yuan.. I need to get out...' All the while thinking to myself, I have layover, why would I have yuan?? And thus, I continued my marathon run through Beijing International Airport.
The man had not lied, my gate was very far, so much so that even though I exercise five days a week, my quads were still aching the next day. After I victoriously handed my boarding pass and passport to the flight attendant, breathing hard, sweating, and beaming at my success, I
boarded the plane and sat down only to wait almost an hour for take off. I felt cheated. All of that effort only to sit there reading while they waited for their flight documents? Unacceptable. Air China, although cheap, was quickly making a negative impression on me.
(At this point that I should mention that they redeemed themselves on the return flight home. Not only were the return flights on time (or early) but they also gave fudge pops as dessert on the first flight!)
Even though my final flight had arrived in Hong Kong over an hour late, my friend Val was still waiting for me at the airport! I was so happy to see her again! We had studied together in South Africa at Stellenbosch University in 2007 and had not seen each other since. We took a bus outside of the airport to the metro where I bought an Octopus card. It is the most convenient way to pay for transportation in Hong Kong. You can recharge it as many times as you need to and you can use it on the MTR (subway), the buses, and even to pay for things in some stores.
There is a HK$50 deposit but if you return the card before you leave, they will give HK$43 of that back to you (HK$7 service charge).
Val helped me find and check-in to the hostel I booked online. At home I had spent an hour looking through reviews of hostels before I settled on the one that I felt best fell within my price range and had the most good reviews. Even after all of the researching, I still only booked it for the first two nights. Although this hostel had only received good reviews, I was still afraid of ending up in one of the places described in the bad reviews as 'a tiny, bug infested hole in the wall with no windows', 'the smell of Indian food wafting into the room was unbearable', 'I could hear people in the next room all night long', etc. When we opened the door to my room, I was pleased to find that not only were there no repulsive smells or bugs, but I had also been upgraded from a private room with a shared bathroom to a twin room with an en suite bathroom! Additionally, when I inquired about renting
a hair drier, the owner brought one up in a box and simply told me to return it when I checked-out, no charge. Although my friend and I both seemed to think I had hit the jackpot, I told Val that I still wanted to see what sleeping was like (would there be a party next to my room?) before I booked it for the rest of the time.
After showing me around a bit, Val and I went for dinner at a restaurant not far from my hostel. Our appetizer: baby pigeon. They brought everything out including the feet and the head. The meat was really tender and the bones were super soft; it was surprisingly easy to pick the meat off of the bones. The rib dish that we got to share as our main meal, though delicious, was a feat in tongue and teeth coordination. More often than not, I was unsuccessful at trying to get all of the meat off of the bones. For dessert we had a Portuguese egg tart with caramel on top. At first I thought it sounded like a terrible combination, but it was really, really tasty. It was surprisingly sweet
for something that involved eggs.
Since we had no way to get a hold of each other, we went to the Seven Eleven and tried to buy a new SIM card for my cell phone. Unfortunately, after several minutes of trying, we came to the conclusion that my phone was not designed to be used outside of Korea. We weren't sure what to do with the HK$60 SIM card we had just bought and opened, but could not use, when a man came in and asked to buy the exact same thing. We quickly asked if he wanted to buy the card from us and much to my surprise he took it!
After sleeping very, very well at the hostel, no parties next door, I woke up early and went down into the subway to find an ATM. After I withdrew some money, I went back to the hostel to book the room for two additional nights and to ask where I could find a place to check my email/buy a phone card. The hostel not only sold phone cards, but the hostel owner was generous enough to allow me to use his computer to quickly check my
Val, her mom, and I
those little mangoes are really, really tasty!!
email. Those positive reviews I had read online certainly had not deceived me.
I left the hostel again and very quickly discovered that the hostel's location was excellent. There are two subway exits a 2 minute walk from the hostel and the Star Ferry which takes you to Hong Kong Island was only about a 10-15 minute walk away. On my way to the Star Ferry, I crossed under the street toward the Avenue of the Stars. Whoever designed the shopping mall labyrinth to the Avenue of Stars was clearly given the instructions, "I don't care how long it takes them to get there, just put up signs that lead them past as many shops as possible and then bring them out by the life size statue of Bruce Lee. That will distract the angry people who catch on to our scheme...mwahaha!" And they were right. I took several pictures of the Bruce Lee statue with a hazy Victoria Harbor in the background. One of my favorite pictures I did not post because it included a random woman's head in the bottom of the frame. The reason I liked it so much was because it could be given the
caption, "Seconds before Bruce Lee was incarcerated for attacking a tourist". The rest of the Avenue of Stars consisted of the hand prints of famous Hong Kong Actors, including Jackie Chan!
The ride across Victoria Harbor lasted no more than 6 or 7 minutes. I got off of the ferry, followed the largest number of people, and unknowingly entered into another labyrinth, the IFC Mall. After walking around for a bit I found a map hanging on the side of the wall and was immediately distracted by the really pretty pictures of Stanley and Repulse Bay featured on the map along with bus directions to get there. I walked upstairs, down stairs, went down escalators, up escalators, walked in circles, looked at my map, walked into the train station, walked out of the train station, body slammed a man on his cell phone that I did not see, all trying to find Exchange Square (the bus terminal). I finally stumbled upon the bus station, took the first bus that was available, and set off for Stanley in the upper deck of the bus. It didn't take long until the bus was out of the dense part of the city
and winding up through the mountains. With no shoulder on the road, it was easy to look straight down the mountain. We passed a rather huge cemetery built into the side of the mountain; there is no way that it was easy to arrange all of those coffins on the side of the mountain like that.
As the bus drove along the windy and narrow road it slammed into and scraped against the tree branches that were sticking ever so slightly out into the road. I quite enjoyed the rush of watching the branches fly past my head. As the bus drove pass Repulse Bay, I was mystified by what appeared to be the only hole of sunshine on all of Hong Kong Island, shining down on Repulse Bay. I almost hopped off the bus right then and there, but decided to continue to Stanley instead.
To quote Rough Guide, Stanley Market was 'shamelessly touristy'. I believe you could buy almost any souvenir imaginable there. I browsed through some of the shops, walked around the Promenade, entered a temple that was located in a shopping complex (apparently, they just built around it...), walked past the Morrison Building not
Part of the original Kowloon Canton Railway Terminus
having a clue what it was at that moment, and then walked to Stanley Beach. The beach was so cold and windy, 17 degrees Celsius, that after a very brief search for seashells, I caught the next bus to Repulse Bay.
I was very happy when I got off the bus and that the patch of sunshine was still hanging over the bay. I took off my shoes, a bad idea, because although the little stones at the back end of the beach looked a lot like sand, they did not feel like sand on the bottoms of my feet. Although the temperature there was 5 degrees C warmer than Stanley Beach, after sticking my big toe into the water I discovered that the water was still freezing. I sat down and sunk my feet in the sand. My solitude and my peace of mind was shortly interrupted. I felt like I was being mentally interrogated when a large group of pigeons started congregating around me. I looked at their heads, saw a dinner plate flash before my eyes and realized: They knew.
I spent about a half hour or so on the beach, and then took the
bus back up to Exchange Square. I walked up Pottinger Street to Hollywood Road. You wouldn't know it by looking at the map, but you can't actually drive on Pottinger Street. It is a rugged stone street that goes directly uphill. It was a market street with vendors selling souvenirs, fruit, jewelry, etc. Hollywood Road is famous for its antique stores, but I was not there to buy antiques. I wanted to see Man Mo Temple which was built in 1848 to honor two different gods, the god of literature and the god of war. When I went inside I was overwhelmed by the amount of burning incense. I looked around for a little while but it didn't take long before the intensity of the smell caused me to leave.
I took the Star Ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui Terminal just as it was starting to drizzle. I made a short pit stop at the hostel to watch TV, read, relax, and call Mike. Around 6pm, I left very excitedly to go to Val's parent's house for dinner. Since I didn't actually know where she lived, we had planned to meet at the bus terminal near her house.
I got there a little bit earlier than expected so to kill time I went to the market across the street. I wasn't able to pass too much time there though, the butchering was a little to graphic for my taste, so I decided to just go back to the terminal and read.
Dinner consisted of shrimp, goose wings, a leafy vegetable with a peanut taste, and peppers filled with fish meat. The whole meal was delicious but I especially enjoyed the shrimp! It took me a while to figure out exactly how to peel the shells off, but with some coaching, it quickly became less difficult. For dessert we had mini mangoes. When I had my first one half way peeled, it slipped out of my hands, slid off of the table and landed in my lap. After cleaning myself up, I tried again and I am now in love with this fruit! They were so sweet and juicy and Val even sent some back to the hostel with me! After dinner, we watched part of a Chinese drama based on ancient China. Although I couldn't understand one bit of it, it was still interesting to watch.
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