Thanksgiving Day in the H.K.

Ok, ok, it’s been too long since I last posted—I know! I blame a busy work schedule and my inability to commit to writing a blog consistently. I promise I’m going to update as much as possible, ASAP.

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There’s a LOT to share about school, but for now I’ll write about my Thanksgiving romp around Hong Kong, as it is most fresh in my mind and has me hooked on phonics travel again.

When I realized I’d most likely be missing both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I worried I’d be homesick—but it ended up being pretty awesome. I will say, though I love both Thanksgiving and Christmas and missed seeing my friends and family, it is a welcome break from the deluge of holiday cheer and fanfare. It’s kind of like when I would eat Chipotle all the time or how I constantly listen to Adele—it’s mostly fabulous but a girl needs a chance to miss the good stuff. I feel like missing the holidays this year will allow me to enjoy them more when I am eventually back with said friends and family and enjoying all the merriment.

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That said, I decided to visit Hong Kong for my Thanksgiving break this year. The original plan was to go with my friend Kate who was visiting some friends for a music festival. Funny enough, we never met up (I wasn’t that into the music festival idea and usually prefer exploring on my own) but I ended up having a blast. I can’t say it enough—if you’ve never traveled solo, GO DO IT. DO IT NOOOOOOOWWWWW. It changes you in ways you cannot even fathom until you do it—and nothing seems intimidating after you survive being locked out of your hostel at midnight with all your baggage on a street where strange men keep inviting you to brothels.

Which is exactly what happened my first night in the HK. I took a bus into the city with all my baggage and immediately as I got off there were several men mumbling to me “Hello miss? Miss? Do you need a place to stay? Would you like someone to spend the evening with? Hello, miss? Nice place to stay, someone to keep you company…”

As compelled as I was to accept these scintillating offers, I considered them for negative 5 seconds and walked away (let me be completely, unsarcastically clear here, should I ever consider a career in public office—I DID NOT CONSIDER ANY OF THESE OFFERS). I was actually proud of my no-nonsense, “I don’t want none of what you’re sellin’” attitude. And if I might add, not at any point was I in the slightest perturbed by this experience because I knew I could deal with it and figure it all out. See? Solo travel = bad-assery.

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Anyways, I found my hostel, that despite being very highly rated on Hostelworld was down a narrow corridor, up a rickety elevator that looked like I was breaking into a (human)meatpacking ring and was inevitably closed. Oh, but don’t worry, you just had to call the special number. For all of us international travelers who love to pay for cell service for a 4 day trip.

So I bagged the hostel and luckily there was a Holiday Inn across the street. Despite the fact that it was about $250USD/night (OOF. Double OOF) I charged the damn room, went to it, put on the fluffy bathrobe that was supplied, paid $5USD for mini-bar pretzels and enjoyed the pants off that room.

Day 1 of exploring (which also happened to be Thanksgiving Day) took me first to the free breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn, which I took full advantage of, given the exorbitant price I’d paid the previous evening for my room. I wanted to also soak in the pool but the temperature was a bit too chilly for that, sadly. So I made sure to put on both bathrobes and slippers, and to use all the free toiletries.

I had to feel like I was getting my money’s worth.

I then switched to the more cost-effective Mini Hotel—still not very cost-effective but it was better than the hostel and it was less than Holiday Inn. The room was literally a bed and a shower. That’s all. But then, that’s all I needed.

I then hopped down to the subway to head to Victoria Peak. If I may take a short interlude, I must say that I just love taking subways/metros in cities—and the trains of Asia are so incredibly reliable and efficient! All moving escalators, divided stairways and swiftly moving people and machinery. It makes my efficiency-loving heart do high-kicks, I just love it. One day, when I settle somewhere for more than half a second, I plan to frame maps of subway systems. Plus, you know, Dumbledore had that London tube shaped birthmark on his knee…

Anyhoo, I headed to Victoria Peak—for which there are multiple options to arrive. I chose the tram. Yes, it’s touristy, but honestly I’m tired of things being called “touristy” as if you shouldn’t ever go there. That often just means it’s the place everyone wants to go, and with the exception of Bourbon Street in NOLA and places like Bubba Gump Shrimp, I have no problem with touristy. I love Times Square, I love Navy Pier, what can I say? I’m a traveler—I like to do unique things and experience local culture and all, but I love me some tourist traps.

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Up the tram I went—and dayum, that thing gets near vertical. Seriously, I was concerned with the lack of safety harnesses on the seats—especially with small children and their tendency to not want to sit quietly in seats. Also adults’ tendency to not want to sit quietly in seats but rather hang out of windows to take pictures of everything. But we made it to the top—which was a giant tourist trap! Complete with a Bubba Gump Shrimp!!!

Fortunately, there was also a lookout spot with beautiful, glorious views of the city and sea. I could have stayed up there for quite a long time, save for all the people. This is the one flaw I sometimes have with touristy locations—all the people. Don’t get me wrong, I like people and all, I just abhor the decorum many people have for public locations. I’m going to allow myself a small rant here—though I typically like to remain positive—but I just have to say it. Tourist behavior is absolutely the worst part of tourist spots and I feel like it should be a mandatory class in every school, everywhere, ever.

My biggest problem is those who seem to feel the location is their own personal spot—they take up lots of space, jump in front of others, push, shove, and generally dampen my merriment. China seems to be particularly bad for the pushing/shoving/lack of personal space deal. I’m not entirely sure why but I can assume that it’s just not a priority given how many people live here—I suppose everyone just has an unspoken agreement that personal space ain’t gonna happen. But it drives me nuts.

Additionally, and this is one I see everywhere that just irks me, are the paparazzi. Not the actual paparazzi who take photos of things people are actually interested in looking at (though they often seem to be some pretty obnoxious, personal privacy ignoring jerks from the stories I’ve read), but the tourist-razzi. The people who have to take 1,000 photos of the pretty view from the side of the line while waiting to go up the tram. By the way, that “pretty view” is half of a sliver of one part of the city, and the rest is all concrete buildings. I saw people taking photos of “no smoking” signs and of the sidewalk (yes, literally the sidewalk). I tried and tried to determine what could be so interesting—I get the unique photography thing, I take pictures of fleurs de lis everywhere—but I just couldn’t figure it out. The piece that bugs me is that everyone is so damn obsessed with taking photos that they don’t actually experience the place they’re in!!! There’s no stopping to appreciate and enjoy the experience. That’s why I feel like people are so underwhelmed by everything—they show up, take 800 pictures, observe only through the screen of their phone or iPad (still don’t understand that one) and never actually have the experience.

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Case in point—seeing the Mona Lisa last year. Everyone whines that it’s anti-climactic and unexciting to see her, yet I could not help be in awe. There I was, standing in front of the most recognized work of art in the world, by arguably one of the most influential painters, in a famous museum, in a beautiful city, taking part in an experience that so many people will never have. The sheer history seemed to radiate off the painting—of how many people have stood before her, of how many events have come to pass during her existence. Had I walked in, shoved through the crowds, taken 1800 photos and left, I never would have even considered these facts.

And so, to end my ever-lengthening diatribe, I feel like every bit of travel should come with some time to reflect and respect the places that you have traveled to. Is that not the real point of travel—to not just see, but truly experience? I love photos and I take many, but I think people miss the point when the entire trip is virtually observed through a phone screen.

After Victoria Peak I made my way to the Botanical Garden and found it to be quite tranquil and beautiful. The lack of people in a still tourist-y location was good enough for me. The greenhouse was beautiful, it had some of the most incredibly unbelievable orchids I’ve ever seen–they were perfectly manicured and cared for.

I ended up sitting next to a fountain for a while and watched a bunch of little children playing with bubbles. I think it’s just delightful how eagerly little kids will play with other children they’ve never met. Everyone just jumps right in, no questions asked—“hey, I’ve got bubbles.” “Oh, bubbles? Great, I love those. New best friend.”
If only the world worked like that all the time…

After much wandering, I made my way back into the heart of the city and found myself at the IFC mall, which has a super cool rooftop. I bought bunch of food/snacks at the grocery store and sat on the roof for a picnic. The skyline was gorgeous and I quite enjoyed my no-fuss Thanksgiving dinner—I was certainly very thankful to be there. I then treated myself to a movie (Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2—they definitely didn’t need to split it into two parts) and was jazzed to find a Garrett’s popcorn in the mall—Chicago blend all the way!

 

Onward and upward (literally)

Day 2 of my travels took me to The Flying Pan for breakfast. The Flying Pan is an American-style diner of which there are two locations. I had been dying for American breakfast—it being the one type of food I really cannot find in the the ol’ Shanghai and therefore hiked my way to The Flying Pan.

Yes, I hiked.

As in, walked up very steep hills—because Hong Kong is apparently just on one large mountain. I neglected to research The Flying Pan enough to learn that the other location was on flat, easily walkable ground, but then I would have missed the awesome little markets and food stalls all throughout the billy goat area. It reminded me vividly of stories my dad has told me about growing up in an Italian immigrant neighborhood in New Haven. The fresh food stalls I saw in Hong Kong seemed to give the impression of “this is how we’ve always done things”–and that’s exactly the way I always imagined my dad’s tales.

After getting lost several times (I am terrible at orienting myself—I literally forgot how to get to my hotel every night, and the streets in HK also make zero sense. All circles and loop-de-loos) I arrived and enjoyed eggs, bacon, and toast for the first time in for-ev-er. It was amazing. I seriously love breakfast.

I then made my way to the train and headed to Ocean Park for the day. Ocean Park is an amusement park/zoo/aquarium-type place and I definitely love a good amusement park (see? Tourist traps). After a short train ride and a longer bus ride through the mountain I’d recently hiked part of, I arrived on the southern edge of the island in front of a ticket kiosk and loud triumphant music that reminded me of “Jurassic Park”. I kept secretly hoping that some super awesome velociraptors would show up and flank me as I sped through the park on a moped but no such luck…

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The park was a pretty decent one—though I’d just read a bunch about the detriment of keeping animals in captivity and had very mixed feelings about it the whole time. On the one hand, I do think it’s educational to allow people to see animals close up, and I know there can be other conservation benefits. On the other, I feel like it’s cruel to keep animals caged and out of their natural habitats and lifestyles. It’s something I’m still mulling over and learning more about, so perhaps more to discuss another day.

I did see two pandas, though they were being shy. If I may add, the Red Pandas were by far the cutest. I was instantly thrown back to my 2nd grade days, when I completed a project on Red Pandas. Never thought I’d actually see one, but 7 year old me was super psyched. Also, I saw a Basilisk—a real one. Just going to leave it at that… #HarryPotterNerdReference

I wandered the rest of the park for most of the afternoon, amused by the different theme park food options here. There are the usual choices—hotdogs, French fries—but also kiosks selling friend squid legs, fish balls, rice, and other unusual dishes (for me anyway). I didn’t try any of them, given the incredibly long lines, but it was interesting to observe.

The park got old after a while and I decided to head back to the city right at peak traffic time—which turned out to be perfect because I caught a quick nap on the bus. I then took the Star Ferry across the (very windy, rocky) harbor and found…A BOOKSTORE!!! I probably could have bought 30 books there, but I only bought 2 3 4.

City skyline in the background, bag full of new books, is there anything better?

Wandering along the waterfront and then through the city, I saw a lot of lux hotels that made me wish I made enough money to travel a little more in style (hey I can be grateful and a little wishful at the same time, right?). Made it eventually to the Temple Street Night Market and wandered through the stalls for a bit. It’s mostly kitschy, souvenir-type wares but I did buy a cool turquoise-colored bracelet. Typically I try to find unique souvenirs—if I buy any—but hey, I can tell people I bought it in Hong Kong.

My 3rd and final full day of exploring had me a bit sluggish and lazy. I went to the other Flying Pan location (down an easily walkable city block and closer to my hotel—good planning, me!) because I obviously needed more breakfast. I then headed out to Tung Chung on Lantau Island to visit the Tian Tan Buddha. Quick up and back, I thought, and then maybe stop by Hong Kong Disney for a couple hours? Who knew, the day was mine!

Luckily, I hit the gondolas right at the perfect time of day—when there was only a two hour line to go up the mountain.

More fortunately, I’d recently made a small investment in four new books to read, all of which I’d packed in my bookbag. I’m tellin’ you, two hours of playing with your cell phone? BORING. Two hours of reading an excellent book? BLISS

Ok, it did suck that I was standing in line the whole time, but still, it was good reading time. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, if you’re interested.

The ride up in the gondola was beautiful, if a little knee-wobble-inducing. The Buddha itself was pretty cool, as well as Po Lin Monastery and the little town around them. Again, a pretty big tourist trap (there was a Starbucks and a Subway…) but still a cool experience.

The second 2 hour wait to go back down the mountain was not as cool however. Thank goodness Liane Moriarty knows how to entertain. The pitch-black gondola ride was also quite the experience, especially given that all 7 additional members of my gondola did not speak English. Any sort of emergency rescue situation would have been quite the ordeal.

Eventually made it back down the mountain and chose to chill in my hotel for the rest of the night. Enjoyed one more breakfast at The Flying Pan the next morning (I don’t think you understood that I really, really like breakfast) before heading back to the hotel and off to the airport to fly home.

I have to say, I quite enjoyed Hong Kong and definitely plan to return at some point. It reminds me much more of New York than Shanghai does, and I’ve always had a soft spot for New York. Hong Kong does win in the population density department though–I saw no fewer than 6 of these massive apartment buildings, just in Tung Chung! They have to hold at least 1,000 apartments…those poor residents won’t stand a chance in the zombie apocalypse…

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All in all, a cool city though. I was also re-infected by that pesky travel bug, and my adoration of visiting new cities and exploring new places—especially on my own. I really do recommend solo travel.

I’ll add more soon about school and life in Shanghai—and I will certainly post about my pending Christmas holiday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Thanks for reading. People who read are my favorite kind of people.

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