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Published: November 7th 2012
The sleeper train from Guilin to Guangzhou wasn't as comfortable as the Beijing to Xi'an one. It rattled and jolted its way south before arriving, two hours late. We were picked up by another guide who took us to a local restaurant for breakfast. This was yum cha on steroids. Hundreds of Chinese families and businessmen seated at tables in a massive room. And us three non-smoking westies. This mega yum cha barn wouldn't have been out of place in the eastern suburbs back home, although the now familiar wafting cigarette smoke doesn't raise an eyebrow here. Dean initially thought I should go and take a look at the enormous selection but he quickly realised that there were too many choices on offer and I would still be there now deciding between duck, pork and prawn - steamed or fried, bun or dumpling. After our array of dishes were served and inhaled with a little more haste than usual, we were bundled back into the minivan for a quick drive to the ferry.
We had been travelling since early yesterday afternoon and by this stage were looking forward to a clean bathroom and a change of clothes. Thinking
we were staying at the YMCA in Kowloon, we were also excited about a swim in the pool. But it was not to be. Because Peregrine had forgotten about us, there were no rooms available. Sad times. The replacement hotel was nice enough but no pool. Dean was a little concerned that it had links to the Catholic Church but I didn't think one night under the roof of a religious order would have us converted. It did have a fantastic shower, however. I now know where South-East Water sends all those old showerheads.
A wash and change of clothes freshened us up, so we headed out for a bit of a look at Kowloon. On our previous trip to Hong Kong, we hadn't really seen this part. The Kowloon gardens were filled with maids on their day off, gossiping, dancing and eating. We discovered the outdoor swimming pool was undergoing renovation and thus Eleanor's initial excitement soon wore off. The novelty of walking around a very hilly park in the heat also faded pretty quickly. The bird section was an amusing diversion, however. It took us a while to find an exit (we ended walking up more hills unnecessarily!!),
On a rollercoaster
Dean is the one with two hands in the air.
but we eventually found our way onto Nathan Road and then the Temple Street night market.
Like many other other markets worldwide, there were about five or six varieties of stalls repeated over and over. If I was in the market for an iphone 5 cover, watch, rip-off t-shirt, USB or hair accessory, then I'd have found nirvana. As it is, I'm not, so the market was basically a replica of all the other ones we'd visited so far on our travels. A little less Hello Kitty and more Angry Birds, perhaps.
Feeling hungry we kept to our theme of eating in ridiculously small places and ended up in a Chinese restaurant which had three tables inside and a couple spilling out onto the market. It was also really cheap and cheery with its bright fluorescent lighting, arctic air conditioning unit and basic menu consisting of only a few items. Here is my restaurant nirvana. Whilst the surroundings aren't exactly conducive to fine dining, a menu with few choices means I don't have to actually make a decision. The cook or chef has done that for me by limiting their output. I love it. And it must mean
Ready for lift off
The whirly bird at Ocean Park.
that the few things they do cook must be what they want to or are good at. Memo to every other Chinese restaurant on the planet with 243 items on their menus - does anybody ever order No.187??
We checked out of the hotel later in the morning, after a scoff at the buffet breakfast and a visit to the post office to send some winter clothes home by sea mail. I'm hoping that we've seen the last of the sub 20 degree temperatures. Although the air conditioning in most places is set to about 15 degrees, so we'll all need at least one long sleeve item.
Arriving at our new hotel we were upgraded into quite a pleasant room (minimalist Scandanavian design also gives the impression of lots of room) with a wonderful view once they took a look at Eleanor and realised she wasn't the size of a typical 10 year old Asian. Thank goodness! Otherwise we'd be all sleeping in a queen size bed in a 17 square room.
Although a trip on the peak tram is a highlight of any stay here, we decided it probably wasn't worth a repeat visit so
we spent most of the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the central district. A ride on the double decker tram fulfilled most of Eleanor's wish list pretty quickly. I guess we didn't do too much because I think we all secretly harboured memories of sweltering in the heat from our previous visit and didn't want to have to rely on the airconditioning in IKEA to perk us up like last time.
Upon returning to the sanctuary of our beech coloured room, the first thing I had to do was laundry. Exciting task, I know, but after ten days on the mainland we had finally ran out of clothes (truth be told, we probably needed the laundry two days ago). Google wasn't useful in this instance, so we went out into the humidity for a reconnaissance. Within minutes we spotted a laundry and after checking out the price, I went back, filled my suitcase and lugged it to what is probably one of the smallest laundries in the world. Eleanor, the suitcase and I could only fit in the shop with the lid closed. To weigh the clothes, Eleanor had to wait outside on the footpath. 14kg and 123 Hong Kong dollars
later I left happy, knowing that in two days we would be wearing unstained, lemony fresh scented clothing (but still wrinkled). Unfortunately Dean was in a dire situation and had to go out and buy some clean clothing to get him through the next couple of days.
As there are lots of dining options in Hong Kong we thought we'd have no trouble finding something delicious to eat. We headed to the Western Market nearby first but nothing was open and a wedding was in progress upstairs. And then we realised that there isn't much open at night around where we were staying. I guess there isn't much call for dried seafood in the evening. So we troddled off to what was an error of judgement off in the distance, no denying it. The usual hundred items on the menu but none apparently being cooked well. I think Dean made the worst decision with his 'curry'. We stopped off at 7/11 on the way back to the hotel to purchase our tickets for Ocean Park and pick up a few treats to snack on so we could get the disappointing taste of dinner out of our mouths.
Up early to grab some brekky before jumping on a bus to Ocean Park. I have to say it was a fantastic day out. For most of the day there was no need to queue for rides. The aquarium was brilliant (Melbourne's is a goldfish bowl in comparison), the north and south pole exhibits were amazing and the pandas were SO CUTE!
Dean had done his homework and planned our attack of the park. When the gates opened, instead of rushing to the cable car, we sauntered over to the Giant Panda Adventure. Being the only ones in the exhibit meant we were able to watch them chomp away at the bamboo at our leisure without people pushing and shoving. After about 10 minutes or so, we caught a cable car up to Thrill Mountain, where Dean and Eleanor tried all the rides (except The Flash). I gave the Bumper Blaster a go and regretted allowing Eleanor to get behind the wheel. I think she had been observing Beijing's drivers a little too closely. I also tried The Rapids, but didn't particularly enjoy being spun around while going down fast flowing water. It was also the scene of my
confrontation with a typical Chinese tourist who doesn't understand the concept of queuing. Pointing out that I wasn't invisible might have made her slink back to her place but when I had to sit next to her on the ride, it was mildly uncomfortable. Also, she was thrilled to be sitting opposite Eleanor and proceeded to take as many pictures as she could while trying to keep her camera dry.
In Marine World there were more rollercoasters and rides for me to avoid, although I did go on the Ferris Wheel. Dean and Eleanor tried them all and declared that this park was better than Everland in Seoul. It was a brilliant day, weatherwise, and the lack of queues probably swayed their decision. But we weren't finished.
Adventure Land only had a few rides, but I was persuaded to ride the Raging River; not once, but twice! The first time was ok, but after Dean and Eleanor had gone on the rest of the rides, Eleanor talked me into another go on the river. The only good to come out of it were the photos.
As with all rides and exhibits, you have the opportunity to purchase a photograph to
preserve that 'happy memory'. As you leave, you can view the image on a screen and if you like what you see, you can fork out some cash and take it home. Unfortunately most of these special memories are very unflattering, so we usually decline and move on. Unbeknownst to me, Dean had decided to pose for the two photographs which are taken at strategic locations on the river course. We had barely left the 'log' when a lady hurried up to us waving two photos (already in their display jackets) in the air. Excitedly, she exclaimed, "It's so funny!" Of course it was. In the first photo, Dean was lifting his shirt, proudly displaying his Buddha belly. In the second, he was making a crazy face. How he got the timing right is "a gift", apparently.
A little sleep in after yesterday's funfilled extravaganza. We had spent nine hours at the park and were somewhat weary. Breakfast across the road at what I would class as a cafe, Dean would allocate it restaurant status and Americans would call a diner. As with most indoor establishments, the thermostat was set to 'polar' so the waitress took pity
on us and moved us to a corner where the air conditioning only felt like a Melbourne winter's day in June. The usual hilarity of interpreting the menu ensued and we eventually ordered. Eleanor is now the perfect diplomat. She basically eats everything put in front of her, sometimes with a sigh or shrug of the shoulders. Dean and I had gone with the noodle option (Western style is usually a mistake - best stick to what they know) but Eleanor had decided to opt for the macaroni. Looking nothing like what she was expecting (picture pasta still in its cooking water topped with 'ham'😉, she ate it without complaint, but realised the error of her ways and I can pretty safely say now that she will follow our lead from now on.
We spent the afternoon at the Science Museum in Kowloon. Pretty much like Scienceworks at home, so we got to play with the equipment. We made bubbles, tested our reaction times (Eleanor was fastest), and had fun in the various themed rooms. Eleanor the budgie particularly loved the Mirror World.
In the evening we caught up with Marcus and Kate. Initially we were all set for the
races at Happy Valley but as Eleanor is not yet of age, we had to find a child friendly option; ten pin bowling and dinner at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club may not have initially been our first choice but it was a brilliant evening. It could very well be the the last bastion of English colonialism, where you can you sit on the balcony overlooking the sea reminiscing about the good old days of shooting tigers. It was lovely, though and had a magnificient view of the night lights.
A walk in the carefully manicured Nam Liam garden over on Kowloon was a serene way to begin the day. The 'welcoming' sign displayed so many rules and regulations about what you couldn't do in the park that I was actually surprised we were allowed in. Over the road was Hollywood Plaza so we popped in there for lunch at the food court and ended up staying to catch the latest James Bond movie. I don't know what the rating was but Eleanor only had to cover her eyes a couple of times. She is still wondering, however, why James didn't die at the beginning. Good
Back on Hong Kong island we took a ride up the Hillside Escalator Link and got off at Hollywood Road, where we sauntered through some galleries and shops and took an afternoon tea at Agnes B. All very civilised. Maybe even a little Brunswick Roadish? Or South Melbourneish.
Dinner was the usual dilemma of how to fit so much food in our gullets without bursting. We are experts in the art of over-ordering, and tonight was no exception. An Indian banquet which could have fed a family of five was absolutely delicious. Located just around the corner from the hotel, we never would have discovered this had Eleanor not spotted it a few days before and where we had eaten a magnificent lunch. I'm so glad it was also open for dinner and it is also a place where you can't judge the food from its humble exterior.
Over to Kowloon again for the Art Museum. I tried to remind Dean that he didn't particularly enjoy it four years ago, but he thought things may have changed. They have - but for the worse. Of the seven exhibition areas, two were closed, three were
unchanged and the other two were only mildly interesting. When Dean felt it necessary to clear the fine arts room in a manner that only he could, it was time to leave the building.
Outside was fairly humid, so we basically sprinted along the Avenue of Stars to get into some airconditioned comfort. Over lunch in the Chungking Mansions we plotted the rest of the day's activities. Christmas came early for Eleanor with the purchase of a new ipod. Her old one was literally falling apart, so happy times for her. Dean was thinking of buying an iphone, but after careful consideration (ie.listening to me for the first time), he realized that there is no point getting one now when there are so many opportunities to lose/drown it between now and our return home.
Marcus and Kate took us out for dinner at an Italian restaurant for our last meal on the island. It was nice to stock up on a few carbs. Lots of laughter and reminiscing from the boys recalling their carefree days in redneckville USA. It was getting late by the time we left the restaurant so I took Eleanor back to 'The Abyss' (as Marcus called
Out to dinner
Overlooking the water at the Royal Yacht Club with Marcus and Kate.
it) while they joined the expat community on Hollywood Road for a nightcap.
A sleep in, a huge buffet breakfast and a late checkout before travelling to the airport. So long Honkers!
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