Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hong Kong and the Year of the Frozen Dragon

First of all let me just say, it's frigging COLD here! You all can laugh at me, frankly I'm laughing at myself. It's only 45F. But I forgot. 45 is unbelievably cold here. Most people's apartments don't have heat, and neither does our hotel room. I'm currently writing this in a Starbucks where it's nice and toasty, and crowded, because lots of people are looking for somewhere warm to hang out.

Part of the reason it feels so cold here is that it's also very damp. Like most places, when it gets cold here the humidity drops. But here that means that instead of having 99% humidity, it drops to 85%. And on top of that it's rainy as well. But as Lee said yesterday, you don't visit Hong Kong for the weather. And I'm very grateful that I can pull my puffy down coat out of my suitcase and look like just another Hong Konger,freezing to death in 45 degree weather.

Our hotel room is actually very nice. We are staying at the Bishop Lei once more, both for the price and the location. Bishop Lei. Right on Robinson Road in Midlevels, it's very close to where we used to live, so it feels like we are "home". It's not fancy, but it's clean and comfortable, and if you ask for a corner room, it's even somewhat roomy.

Actually this time we asked for their highest, nicest room, and ended up with the Bishop Lei equivalent of a penthouse! The room has two floors, a spiral staircase, a glassed in porch and a large bathroom. Even though there's no heat there is a plugin radiator that we can huddle around, thank God.

I need to pause for a minute here and describe how I flew to Hong Kong this time. I flew first class on Cathay Pacific, and paid half of what my business class seat cost when I came here in February. Some friends of ours told us about a pretty amazing website called If you want to fly business overseas (it's not for domestic or economy class tickets) and your flights are somewhat flexible they can probably find you a great deal. It doesn't always work, but this time it worked perfectly for me.

I know some of you travel so much for work or pleasure that you have accumulated zillions of miles, so maybe you've flown first class on an Asian airline before. I've flown business but not first, and let me tell you, it's a whole other level of pampering. My inner princess was nurtured and indulged to the max.

There were only 7 first class seats on my flight. Each seat was like a little cabin unto itself, with a large seat where two people could visit facing forward, and a third seat facing backwards. There are several large storage areas, including a little closet where you can hang up your coat. They give you a set of pj's and slippers from Shanghai Tang. There are 4 bathrooms, and a flight attendant for every two people, maybe more. For once in my life I didn't feel at all hesitant about pressing my little buzzer whenever I needed something.

My flight was routed through Vancouver, and left New York at 10pm. I decided it was best if I tried to stay awake until we left Vancouver. This would start to put me on Hong Kong time. It worked pretty well. I ate dinner, watched a couple of movies....when we left Vancouver I went into the bathroom to change into my pajamas. When I came back out my cabin had been transformed into an ingenious little bed, with a quilt that covered the seat and had openings for the seatbelt so that it didn't hinder you. It was very nice and comfortable and I was able to go right to sleep. Unfortunately I only slept for around 3 hours. I ended up getting up for awhile and having a snack. Then my flight attendant brought me some camomile tea with honey and I fell asleep again for awhile.

One of the nicest things about this experience was getting to eat whenever I wanted. And when it was time to get up and change back into my clothes, when I returned my bed had been magically transformed back into a cabin again.

Okay, back to Hong Kong. So far we haven't done a whole lot, but then we don't need to in Hong Kong. I landed here Saturday morning. Lee had arrived from Sri Lanka on Friday, so as soon as I got myself cleaned up we headed straight to Maxims for dim sum. We ate all our favorite dumplings, with egg tarts and black sesame jello for dessert. Then we headed to Causeway Bay and Victoria Park, so that I could show Lee the huge Chinese New Year Fair they have there every year.

This fair is like a combination midway and flower market. Click here for a link to my first visit, back in 2007. All kind of silly junk with lucky symbols for the New Year can be had. Dragon puppets, stuffed animals, tshirts, costumes were everywhere. I was definitely tempted by a red plush and satin dragon hood with matching claws and feet. I've seen people wearing the bright red hoods with dragon heads on top in the street, so I would have fit right in, but I resisted. However I did buy Harper a Chinese coat, perfect for her Halloween costume next year.

We ate dinner that first night at a Dutch restaurant called The Orange Tree. It was close to our hotel, the food is good, and I could get to bed by 9, which was important, since jet lag was definitely getting the better of me.

On Sunday we devoted ourselves to some serious eating. We went to Nha Trang for lunch and our favorite Indian Restaurant for dinner. The Indian Restaurant had moved, but we knew that they were moving from our last visit in August, otherwise we might have freaked out. The cute thing was the owner was standing outside the old entrance, keeping a lookout for any of their loyal customers that might not have heard about their new location yet. He had a silk scarf wrapped a round his head to ward off the chill, which made him look like he was trying to go incognito. But we were very glad to see him, and he was happy to escort us personally to their new location, right around the corner from their old place.

Their new restaurant is very nice. It even has an elevator and a bit of a view. It is larger and it no longer feels like you are eating in someone's living room. And the food is just as delicious as always.

On Monday we were in for a special treat. My old Cantonese teacher, Sandy saw on Facebook that I was in Hong Kong and got in touch. We made plans to meet for a dim sum lunch in Central. We went to Super Star Seafood restaurant on Wyndham. It was so great to see Sandy and catch up on what she has been doing. She still teaches Cantonese and Mandarin, and she does a lot of traveling too, all over Asia and Europe.

It's always so much fun to go out to eat with Sandy because she takes us to places that Gueilos never get to visit. She's the one that took me to the scary dim sum place and introduced me to the delights of congee.

This place had good dim sum, and with Sandy there we tried some new things, including a yellow bun with custard inside. She showed us how to eat it so that you wouldn't burn your mouth on the custard (tear it open first). This restaurant had dumplings in the shape of animals. We bought some cows and they were so cute we couldn't eat them, so Sandy took them home to her niece and nephew instead.

On Monday we had reservations at Spoon, a 2 star Michellin restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel overlooking Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong Island. Our initial thought was that this was the night of the fireworks, but for some reason Hong Kong does their fireworks on Tuesday, even though the Mainland does theirs on Monday night. I was momentarily disappointed but then realized we'd get to see the light show anyway.

We discovered a bigger problem when we got in the taxi to take us over to Kowloon. The Chinese New Year parade was Monday night and it went right by the Intercontinental. The roads leading to the hotel were all blocked and there was no way for the taxi to get us directly to the hotel.

Normally this would be no big deal, but I was all dressed up, wearing a nice dress and high heels. I could walk in them, but it wasn't going to be fun.

We took the Star Ferry, thinking that might involve less walking, since the MTR doesn't go very close to the Intercontinental. This would have worked pretty well if it hadn't been for all the blocked off streets. We grimly pushed our way through the throngs, even catching a glimpse of a very cool dragon at the beginning of the parade, but we kept having to backtrack and change our route. By the time we finally sat ate our table overlooking the water, I was very glad to just sit.

Our meal, was very, very nice. Lee chose 3 courses, foie gras, duck, and a salad. I had the 7 course tasting menu, and enjoyed every single one. For dessert Lee got a chocolate soufflé that was just amazing. I was so stuffed, but I kept stealing bites from him anyway.

When it came time to leave we discovered that the roads were still blocked. There was nothing we could do, except sit in the lobby of the hotel with other disgruntled patrons until the roads finally opened. It was almost midnight by the time we got back to our hotel, way past our normal bedtime!

Tuesday was our last day in Hong Kong. Around noon we headed to Airport Express and decided to see if we could get a table at the Tasty Congee restaurant above the airport check-in counters. This is the place Sandy took me to that exposed me to the delights of congee, and I was happy to be able to finally share it with Lee.

We were able to get a table with only a 30 minute wait. It was packed as usual, and we were the only Westerners there. We decided to try the fish congee, plus a beef noodle dish and we were not disappointed. Congee is such an interesting food. It's basically rice porridge, but when flavored with fish, onion and ginger it turns into something way better than a breakfast cereal. I know Asians eat it for breakfast, but that doesn't appeal to me. I'll eat it for any other meal, however!

Well it's time to finish this up and get it posted to my blog. I'm hanging out in Lee's apartment in KL now, and the contrast couldn't be more pronounced. The temps are in the 90's, the sky is blue, with puffy white clouds, and we're back in the land of ethnic diversity and grocery stores that sell alcohol and pork as if they were slightly illegal. I'm ready to enjoy the heat and sunny skies for a couple of weeks, until it's time to head back to winter.

1 comment:

  1. Congee is the first food my daughter ever ate that involved "real food" . She looked forward to Sunday visits with Popo who would make her congee with tiny tiny cut up little bits of all kinds of things in it. She still loves it. In our world lingo though it was called "jook"



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