We arrived at possibly the worst time, getting into a taxi at the airport at about 10 to midnight on Christmas eve. I was immediately discombobulated by the deliciously quaint, tiny, Euro-style cars-the driver was on the right! What do I do?! As we headed toward the Kowloon Hotel on the harbor we were immediately stopped by massive amounts of traffic, all due to an apparent display of fireworks and other spectacle going off that we’d been completely unaware of prior to arrival. After our supposed 15 minute journey was passing the 45 minute mark and the driver was making his second attempted circle around the city to pass the throngs of people everywhere, we hopped out and made our way to the hotel on foot. We checked in, got settled in our cozy rooms and called it a night. Merry Christmas!
I think the thing that struck me most on Christmas day-and what led to me forgetting multiple times that it was Christmas day at all-was the amount of people wandering everywhere, going about their business. Even upon our arrival and subsequent trek to the hotel which had us out until nearly 1 am, there were couples, families, teenagers, babies and old people everywhere. I had feared that our short trip would be made to feel even shorter by the fact that we’d have nothing to do and nowhere to go on Christmas Day-I mean, what shops and restaurants are open then? But not a single store was closed as I could see, nor were any of the market dealers shut down for the holiday.
We began our Christmas Day, gifts previously exchanged, by taking a trip to the Starbucks next door for a little breakfast. I swear, I get more excited by a Starbucks in Asia than I ever did in the States. Not to mention Hong Kong has a ridiculous amount of them. I’ve never seen so many Starbucks before, nor so many Chanel boutiques…how’s that for juxtaposition? Anyway, Friday consisted of mostly a lot of wandering. We made our way across the harbor to Hong Kong side from Kowloon side on the Star Ferry and ventured up to the SoHo district and around to Victoria Prison, me snapping photos all the while. I found the city incredibly interesting-a sort of “Asia for Dummies”-due to the influence of British colonialism that exists everywhere. All signs are in English and Chinese, there’s a lot of delicious western and eastern food, even the bookstores have English magazines and books in them. Yay for that! It had all the amazing parts of Asia that I love, coupled with the simplicity of staying in a country where I could understand nearly everything and easily navigate myself to anywhere I wanted to go. Not saying that it wasn’t very, very Chinese-just that it was a perfect vacation in an East meets West way, particularly coming from my very East meets East existence in Korea.
Christmas dinner that night was without competition the strangest one of my life. We (Jon, Jon’s parents and myself) had booked reservations at the hotel for their buffet meal. We were seated at a table decorated with balloons and party hats/noisemakers and then fed some somewhat expected fare-cheese, crackers, ham, turkey, fruit etc. But most of the buffet consisted of more Asian cuisine than we were prepared for. Example: fried frog’s legs, a table full of various curries, mussels, lobster thermidor (side note: Jon’s dad ate his own lobster, than mine and his wife’s and then had a terrible stomachache the next day), crab, shrimp, shark fin soup, turtle soup and squid. The dessert selection was nice though-little shot glasses full of puddings and fruits-so basically I ate a lot of cheese, crackers and pudding. And there was a chocolate fountain. Oh and brussel sprouts! An interesting experience, no doubt. Particularly the part of being stuffed in with a ton of pushy, loudly chattering Chinese people.
Saturday Jon and I took a day trip out to Lantau Island so we could go up the Ngong Ping cable car. The trip to the top of the mountain was frightening, albeit beautiful, even more so because we decided to take up on the offer being pitched by a guy walking around the line for the regular cable car and ended up paying only a few bucks more to take the new “crystal cabin” which involved getting on a completely glass cable car-glass bottom included. The view going up was amazing-a full 25 minutes of uphill mountainous terrain. When we got to the top we went to see the “Big Buddha”. It apparently was the biggest seated Buddha in the world until 2007, but I was still very, very impressed, and a little bit too tired after climbing all the steps required to get up to the Buddha. The Buddha is just up the hill from the Po Lin Monastery, and there are places in front for people to light joss sticks and say their prayers. We wandered around a few hours before catching the cable car back down the mountain.
So to keep this entry from turning into a play-by-play of my vacation, I’ll just say that it was pretty amazing all together. Other adventures of the trip: cocktails at Felix bar on top of the Peninsula Hotel overlooking the harbor lights at night, my first meal of dim sum (delicious!), attempting to go up Victoria Peak only to be held back by the massive line waiting for the tram, refusing to be swindled by a woman trying to hawk me a Chinese iphone touch rather than the American version she had originally promised me, having some truly delicious beer in an Irish pub on Nathan Road, and just generally exploring the city with my man.
I can’t wait to go back.