Tag Archives: Hong Kong

The Lao Nagas

Last year, a Lao rugby team, called the Lao Nagas, traveled to Hong Kong for the first time to compete in the Kowloon 10s tournament and watch the world’s most elite 7s tournament.  The team invited a videographer from Lao New Wave Cinema to join and make a documentary of the event, which has been well-received in both Laos and Hong Kong, and was featured at this year’s Vientianale film festival.

Thanks to the success of last year’s tournament, the team is on their way to Hong Kong for the second time this week, and I invite you to cheer them on by watching the full length documentary, or the 5 minute trailer version on YouTube below, which I edited from the original film last month.

Let’s go Laos, Lao sou sou!

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Urban Jungle

Many people think Hong Kong is just a city.  Until very recently, I was one of those people, and didn’t realize that in fact there is more to Hong Kong than just the urban sprawl of Hong Kong Island.  And even on that island, just away from the skyscrapers, there is an expanse of preserved parkland, which is where I ventured today, with some of the other PiA-ers who had the day off for Mid-Autumn.  HK countryside?!From the suburban edges of the city we took a walking path that led up into the mountains.  Our leader was a PiA alum now living in Hong Kong, who took us through a stream and to hilly hiking trails, which alternated between red dirt and concrete staircases that climbed up and down the small mountains overlooking the city and past the Tai Tam reservoir that serves the city.  The hike was a 3.5 hour excursion and after two days spent on planes and in the polluted city, the fresh air, exercise, and sweat all felt incredibly refreshing.  We ended on the other side of the mountains at a beach, where we were able to spend a little time before the sun set.

HK countryside, near the Tai Tam reservoir

Back in the city, I finally had the dinner version of dim sum, a Chinese family-style meal almost like tapas, which is a specialty in Hong Kong because of the major Cantonese population.  Before we even got seated, the restaurant boasted its legitimacy with a giant dried shark fin in a display case as well as live tanks of giant spider crabs, eels, and huge fish (grouper, perhaps).  Our round table had a large lazy susan in the middle, to easily share the food amongst us.  The meal started with tea all around (we picked jasmine) and then a lot of pointing at the menu to select our dishes.  I have no idea what any of them were actually called, but in rough descriptions: sweet barbecue pork, mixed mushrooms, green beans with diced pork, beef with noodles, mixed spicy vegetables, and chicken (with the head on the plate too, of course).  Absolutely incredible.

deeelish

dumpling noodle soup

Afterward, with just barely enough room for dessert, we went to a Chinese dessert shop specializing in mango, where I enjoyed mango sorbet in thick mango juice with chopped mango and sticky rice balls.  Here too, we discovered the existence of a dessert we wished we hadn’t…harsmar.  This was offered as a jelly-like topping for desserts, and none of us knew what is was.  Naturally this questioned was settled, as most are these days, by people pulling out iPhones and finding out.  The answer?  Harsmar, a Chinese dessert ingredient, is in fact dried frogs’ fallopian tubes, which are powdered and then rehydrated to make a gel.  Harsmar sundae, or hot fudge?  Tough choice.  But luckily, all the foods that I’ve had here have been phenomenal and have totally changed my perception of Chinese food from that of takeout chow mein and sweet and sour chicken.

mmmm.

Tastes like chicken...I spy a beak.

Final Hong Kong trivia: today I rode one of the trams, which are the oldest wooden-sided double-decker trams in the world.  I hear there’s a lot of competition for that title…  Tomorrow morning, back to the airport and then two more flights will bring me to Laos!

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Hello, Hong Kong!

city city

Hong Kong skyline (as seen from Victoria Peak)

It may be officially only the first day of fall, but here in Hong Kong, everyone was celebrating the “Mid-Autumn” Festival.  My first full day in the city turned out to be rather overcast and rainy, but the weather didn’t put a damper on either the city’s festivities or my own exploration.  While my hosts were at work, I took to the streets on my own to do a little sightseeing in the Central District: home to skyscrapers, business, government, and designer shops, as well as some sights.  Walking out of the metro, I felt almost like I was back in New York, except for the double-decker buses, Chinese characters, and palm trees.  While on the NY/HK tangent…one thing that’s struck me here is the total absence of pigeons.  Maybe I just haven’t looked in the right places, but I’ve seen plenty of concrete, fountains, street vendors, park benches, all the usual pigeon hangouts, and not a single bird.  I did see some signs threatening fines of over $200 USD for feeding any birds though, so maybe these have done their trick.

I went by some recognizable sights, like the impressive HSBC and Bank of China Towers, Statue Park, and the Legislative Council Building, before taking a break from the rush of the crowd in some of the nearby parks.  Hong Kong Park was a maze of miniature attractions, including a Museum of Teaware, which exhibits the history of tea in China, different styles of making tea, and designs of teapots and cups.  Hopefully some of this random tea knowledge will serve me well in the future (if perhaps only on pub quizzes): for example, the fact that Tibetans use cheese to make cream tea, that a proper teapot should have a hole on the point of the lid, and that there are special whisks to make whipped tea.  Also in the park, I visited the Tai Chi Gardens, a foot massage path (basically a walkway with different-sized pebbles), the Conservatory (great orchids) and an aviary with various species of birds found in Asia.  The park visit was followed by a quick walk through the Hong Kong Zoo, which was unimpressive, especially after my many visits to the DC Zoo this summer.

birds in the HK Park Aviary

I rejoined the crowd to take the Tram up to Victoria Peak, a hilltop lookout point with great views of the city and the harbor, which were enjoyable even with the cloud cover and drizzle.  The rest of the peak has been turned into a head-spinning shopping/entertainment/restaurant complex (which has a Bubba’s Shrimp, Starbucks, Burger King, mock Chinese market, and Madame Tussaud’s among others), so I didn’t stay for long after checking out the view.

After my solo tour, I rejoined my hosts and met the other HK PiA-ers, and we all wandered to Victoria Park to witness the Mid-Autumn festivities.  The traditional origins of the festival are still rather unclear to me, because in practice it was very much like a big carnival: children running around with armfuls of glowsticks, giant inflatable dragons and lanterns, and a stage with gymnastics, drumming, and fan dances.  It felt like all 7 million people in Hong Kong must have been there pushing in every direction, so we escaped to the nearby grassy area, which was filled with families sitting in circles lighting candles (some indications of the more traditional aspects of the festival).  Fire hazards were abound (example: children swinging glow stick swords all over the place next to unguarded lit candles on the ground), and we decided it was definitely the right place to sit and enjoy the ambiance of the holiday for a few hours.

Mid-Autumn Festival decor

One of the great parts of my day exploring?  Very inexpensive, despite being such a pricey, cosmopolitan city.  My ticket to the Peak, which was just $8 USD, was the most expensive part of my day.  Only a few dollars on food and metro, and the rest of my sightseeing was totally free.  Too bad the Times isn’t looking for a new Frugal Traveler

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Travel By Numbers

After quite a trek, here I am at last, in Asia.  I arrived at the Hong Kong International airport, which has been lauded as one of the best in the world, at 7:30pm.  The flight was not bad, considering being over 15 hours long.  I remained mostly entertained and successfully avoided DVT…which may be more than can be said for my seat partner, who did not get up for the entire flight.  Seriously.  15 hours, no movement whatsoever.

I’m staying on Hong Kong Island, the most famous, urban namesake of the region.  I’m crashing with two UPenn grads who are teaching in the city, who have been kind enough to let me steal their couch for two days.  I navigated the Hong Kong metro, or MTR, to their apartment without a hitch, largely because it could literally put the NYC Subway to shame.  Imagine: impeccably clean, rodent-and-urine-free, touch your finger on the map to the stop you want to go to buy a ticket.  So user-friendly, which is exactly what I needed after the hours on the plane.  Went for my first dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks away (decided to forgo the exotic “Spaghetti Kitchen” across the street), and am ready to go to sleep, since there are big plans for the next two days.  It’s Mid-Autumn Festival here, which means that everyone has the day off work Thursday so that they can celebrate tomorrow night.

Some numbers:
Flight time: 15 hours and 50 minutes
Miles: 8,050 (the 9th longest non-stop flight, according to Wikipedia)
In-flight movie choices: 197
In-flight meals: 3 (best part–personal-size container of Haagen Dazs)
Time difference: 12 hours ahead of EST
Exchange rate: $7 HK to $1 USD
Population: about 7 million (one of the most densely populated areas in the world)
Compared to: around 6.8 million in all of Laos (one of the least densely populated areas in the region)

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