Hong Kong, metropolis in special administrative area. It is neither completely Chinese nor British any more. For me it is well known gateway between China and the rest of the world, a place where you can get export goods for nearly half of its retail price, like my Rigol DSO or DDS wave generator. I took an opportunity to be assigned for a short work there in June, curious to see a tip of an iceberg of Chinese culture.
While many documentary TV programs praise Hong Kong docks for high throughput I have to admit it was the same with the airport capabilities: massive infrastructure and virtually no lines to passport control comparing for instance to Chicago/US or Riyadh/KSA where you are queued for 2 hours on average. Another surprise was express train from airport to the center for fair price of 90HKD, departing every 10 minutes and taking only 30 minutes to get to most distant location.
Even though Hong Kong in no longer British colony, you can find a lot of heritage like traffic rules: yellow number plates and intersection horizontal markings not allowed to stop, as well as for humans: keep left on staircases; also coins struck before 1997 with queen of Britain on front side. Finally English signs and names everywhere, a westerners’ heritage that helps a lot if you are not fluent in Cantonese.
Subtropical climate was noticeable to maximum. Early June, temperature around 30*C, thunderstorms and rainfalls day by day and humidity over 70%. Reminiscence of Dubai become true last day of my stay when humidity reached 90% and I was trying to have a sightseeing. Trying and failed because in an hour my clothes were completely wet of my perspiration and I got to the dangerous point of overheating. Weather forecast I checked before travel ensured my decision not to take skate boots with me this time.
On the other hand getting wet by rain late evening was quite pleasant. Unusual experience comparing to showers even in summer in Europe which are still quite cool. Rain with temperature close to warmth of body would not brush me out of streets if clothes would not become sticky feeling uncomfortable. I also had to protect my DSLR that is not waterproof.
My food experience has not started well. I reached hotel thirsty and I was glad to see complimentary bottles of mineral water in my hotel room. Glad until I tried it: strong chlorine taste and echoes of iron made it closer to tap water than spring source. Fortunately bottled water from market nearby was much better.
Also randomly chosen cheap restaurants were misunderstanding: first night after long flight I was tired and hungry yet decided to try out something new. I picked up one of places crowded by locals, browsed menu and picked up beef stew. It would be OK if not marked as ‘spicy‘. I did not do my homework to check that what is spicy for westerners is just tickling for Chinese. Waiter asked my how spicy I want and I said delicate (should say not spicy at all). The dish looked and smelled good: noodles, green herbs with slices of beef meat inside. I was unaware that red shreds grouped around bead of fat on surface: chili pepper or something even more damaging to taste receptors. I have not noticed how spicy it is taking pieces of meat first, they were hot and good.
The other day I picked another place and ordered classic pork&rise with some vegetable fried in the oven. The dish was completely different than picture of it in menu, I should know: big heap of rise perfectly covered with thin layer of tomatoes, pineapples, sauce and shreds of pork meat. I took 1/4 and left white pile of rise.
Hopefully locals told me where to go and I could taste more typical dishes during lunch time next to the office. Most of them were really tasty, like duck in different styles. I had to accustom however to a way they prepare meat: in western countries meat is cleaned from veins, tendons, mostly from skin and bones too. Chinese take it all, chopped into pieces and fried as it goes. Hotel breakfast also offered choice of local taste, I could try “dim sum” that is quite expensive in restaurants. I tried also “snacks” served from small kiosks on the streets: sea food on sticks like octopus arms, crab claws, fish balls , or more unusual tastes like pork skin deeply fried, beef lungs cut into pieces and other things I would not even think about.
century egg as it is called. We took rise and chicken thick soup with pieces of black egg inside. It took me a minute to lift up a spoon with egg to smell it and then taste it. Smell was hidden by soup and I decided just to take it (I had Chinese tee on side, just in case of flushing taste receptors). To my surprise it was good, white part that was brown and jelly, tasted like… gelatine, while yolk that had different tints of black tasted like yolk mixed with sulfur and some other strange but not unpleasant flavors. I was happy I could busted a myth of rotten egg I have heard years ago.
I knew that Tian Tan was a commercial project, place of cult surrounded by small souvenir and devotional items’ shops. Starbucks and Subway on a way between tram station and the temple is speaking for itself. I have similar observations for places or catholic cult in Europe, so I did not feel surprised. I could not feel atmosphere of ancient authenticity of Big Buddha but the temple nearby was less attractive but more neutral in perception. Despite the colorful facade looking a bit cheap and tacky, I was not irritated if I needed to pay for incense instead of Big Buddha internal rooms entrance fee.
Octopus card is a RF-ID prepaid card for public transportation. I did not want to pay additional 50HKD of pledge only for metro ticket but I did not know it can be used not only for metro, buses, taxis or parkings, but also for lunch bars and restaurants. Traveling every day from Tsim Sha Tsui to the office in Honk Kong island was around 11HKD (2USD) each way; with octopus card 20% less, if you travel intense or plan stay longer, do not hesitate, go after octopus.
Air conditioning of hotel and metro was not enough to get dry to the office. Ten minute walk in the morning outside was making me wet enough I wanted to change my shirt. Third day I gave up and decided to take taxis in the morning. Costs was obviously incomparable – 120HKD plus tunnel entrance fee 20-40HKD. Despite moderate traffic, taxi was not faster even including walking distance to metro, mainly because taxi had to drive around either east or west to underwater tunnel. The only benefit was comfort. Fair enough, company was paying anyway.
High resolution panoramas stitched with Hugin: