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February 6th 2010
Published: February 15th 2010
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Without an alarm, I woke up at 6 am. I had actually hoped to get up this early, too. I had read that if you get up early you can see elderly practicing Tai Chi in Kowloon Park and I was for some reason very intrigued by this. So I showered, ate breakfast and was out the door by 7am. Kowloon Park was a stone's throw away from my hostel. All I had to do was cross the street and walk past the big, white mosque and I was there. Sure enough, the book had not lied. The park is very large and I was surprised by how many people were up that early stretching and practicing Tai Chi. I thought it was absolutely beautiful to watch those older people connecting with their bodies. I truly hope that when I am older I am still able to move around enough to exercise. Although I wanted to sit and watch one of the larger groups of people practice together, I tried to keep as much distance from them as possible. Since I was not exercising myself, but rather spectating, I felt as though I was disturbing the peacefulness of the morning. I decided instead to go to a less active part of the park to sit.

Around twenty of eight I started walking down towards Victoria Harbor. I had read in Rough Guide that the the Hong Kong Tourism Board hosts free Tai Chi classes from 8-9am on the Avenue of the Stars. After watching the graceful elderly in the park, I was very eager to try it out for myself. I walked from the center of the Avenue of the Stars to the eastern most part but didn't see anything that looked like a Tai Chi class. I asked a security guard about it and he said that it had been canceled. I was disappointed, but as he went to walk away, he turned around as if he had remembered something and said, 'it was down by the art museum, not here'. I continued along the Avenue of the Stars, figuring that I would just walk to the Star Ferry and take it over to Hong Kong Island a little earlier than I had expected. Just as I was about to pass behind the art museum, an older woman walked up to me and said, "Do you want to learn Tai Chi? Hong Kong Tourism Board..." "Woah, I was just looking for this!"

I signed my name to the list and sat down near the sidewalk to wait for the class to start. The instructor was great! He was a little old guy with a lot of personality and great English. For something that looks so simple, slow and graceful I was surprised how difficult some of the moves were. This class was held on the sidewalk right at the end of the Avenue of the Stars, so I don't doubt that the group of 20 or so people learning Tai Chi were a sight for passerby! Occasionally I could see camera flashes going off behind me and thought it funny that people would take pictures of us. During the class they taught us part of one basic form and also performed parts of other forms. It was a little too long for my taste, but I was definitely glad that I went.

After class, I took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island again, this time to Wan Chai. I went to see Golden Bauhinia Square and the Reunification Monument. Both of these symbolize Hong Kong's return to China as a SAR in 1997. After walking around the convention center I decided to give the highly recommended tram a shot.

Val had recommended the tram as had every book and pamphlet I had looked at. Although the tram route is very old and it is supposedly the only tram system in the world made up of all double decker trams, I found it to be much more frustrating to use than enjoyable. The view was no better than that of the double decker buses that drive through the city and they are much smaller and much more difficult to get on and off of. In addition to that, I had no idea what stops we were at. I ended up staying on the tram one stop too long, therefore ending up closer to Central Station than my target, Admiralty Station. It was not that far, but I had enough walking ahead of me. I got back on the tram and this time had crazy difficulty trying to get off. I passed the stop I wanted to get off at again and got off at the next one. Although I was initially very angry, I ended up being much closer to where I wanted be.

I walked from the tram stop to Hong Kong Park almost accidentally walking up the peak tram route before I realized what it was! Although I am generally not a bird person, I thoroughly enjoyed the Aviary. There were so many birds and I had a great time playing photographer with them. After I explored some more of the park and was content with my time there, I walked to The Zoological and Botanical Gardens. The walk there from Hong Kong Park was entirely up hill. I was so tired and hungry by the time I got there that the only thing I did was buy and eat a pack of peanut butter crackers, stretch, sit for a while and then leave.

I walked back to Admiralty Station and took the MTR to Sheung Wan Station. I went to the Western Market and was incredibly disappointed. There were a few expensive looking trinket shops and a restaurant on the first floor and only fabric stores on the second floor. It was a very small building and despite it's colonial history and design, it was nowhere near as exciting as it was made out to be. I went back to the MTR station, took the subway back to Tsim Sha Tsui and went to the hostel to relax for a little bit.

Since I hadn't been eating sit down meals, I decided to eat a really late lunch at the same restaurant that Val and I had went to on the first night I arrived. The restaurant was crazy busy and since there were not enough empty tables, they placed me at the same four person booth as a middle aged man and woman. It was slightly awkward before my food came when I had nothing else to do but read my guide book and try not to awkwardly stare at them from across the table while I waited for my food.

My next stop was Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple. It was like a temple theme park. The temple paid homage to three different religions, contained clearly labeled exit and entrance signs complete with railings, and had guards to make sure that people held the incense in the correct way (up by their head, not hanging down by their side). Apparently, it is a very crowded place on Chinese New Year. Val said it gets packed with people who are waiting to go in at midnight and light their first incense of the year. Judging by the clouds of incense that I saw on a random weekday, I can only imagine the intense smell of incense that comes pouring out of that place on New Years.

While I was in Hong Kong it was really neat to see all of the decorations for the Chinese New Year which is February 14th this year. I saw the security guards at my hostel decorating the lobby one day when I came back from sightseeing. There were small orange trees in many store windows and apartment buildings. There were also lots of red decorations. One thing that was definitely interesting to see was the advertisements for Hong Kong's Disney World, all of the main Disney Characters, Mickey, Minnie, etc. were dressed in traditional Chinese outfits. I also spotted some Tiger (this year is the year of the tiger) red packets (packets that parents put money in for their children on New Years) in the Seven Eleven.

After the temple I went to Nan Lian Garden which was incredibly beautiful. Although the bright orange bridge to the gold colored building in the center of the pond seemed a bit eccentric and therefore leading me to doubt it's authenticity, it was still beautiful. The best part was the Nunnery behind the gardens. The architecture was based on ancient Chinese architecture and the flowers, trees and ponds were very aesthetically pleasing.

Following the Gardens, I went back to Mong Kok one more time to give the ladies market a second go. It was much less crowded this time but it still wouldn't have qualified as uncrowded. After seeing how many people there were even at five in the afternoon, I was glad that I had gone home the night before. I haggled with a few vendors in order to buy some souvenirs and was so persistent with the one woman that she eventually took my price but mumbled about me being 'a cheap one' as I left.

Next I went to Temple Street Market or "men's market". It was very similar to ladies market and after walking through the whole thing, I went back to the hostel to drop off my purchases and call Mike. After hanging up, I went down to the harbor to see the Symphony of Lights, a light show that they do every night at 8pm. Lights come out of the buildings on both sides of the harbor and it is set to music that can only be heard very, very faintly in the background. I got there about 15 minutes early and caught the end of some Kung Fu and Tai Chi performances. I have no doubt that the symphony of lights would have been more impressive if it hadn't been so foggy, as well as if the woman in front of me would have put away her umbrella after it had stopped raining. As I walked back to my room my feet were thumping. They had not been this abused in a long time.

The next morning I woke up at 6:15am and was scared to go back to sleep on account of not getting up in time to meet Val. We met at the Tsing Yi MTR station and took the mini bus to Tsing Ma Bridge. The area around the bridge was really pretty and it was accentuated by the trees whose flowers were blooming early. The bridge is 2.2 km long and links Launtau Island to Tsing Yi. Not only does the bridge support motor traffic but the MTR runs underneath the bridge as well. Prior to the bridge, taking a ferry was your only choice.

Val chose a restaurant and an awesome assortment of Chinese dishes for lunch. It was a very satisfying meal. I enjoyed all of the food but especially liked the pastry with the egg filling, although it exploded all over my hand the first time I bit into it! Once we finished eating it was almost noon, and I was starting to worry about missing my flight. To save time, I took the Airport Express Train instead of the less expensive bus. I said goodbye to Val, bid farewell to my vacation, and headed back to Korea to finish the last three weeks of my contract!

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15th February 2010

that garden is beautiful

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