Not too much snark this time. Just what to expect when you’re traveling there and how much we loved it. Enjoy:)
5 April – 9 April: Hyatt Regency, Sha Tin, New Territories, Hong Kong
So, after a melancholy drive up to Sha Tin, our cab pulled into the University district, where the Chinese University of Hong Kong is located. The Hotel sat up on a hill, towering over the MRT University Station, and our cab drove up the hill and pulled up to the lobby. The City Garden Hotel had a check out time of noon, but the Hyatt’s check in time wasn’t until 2pm. They checked us in, but a room wasn’t available yet; it was just after 12pm. So we went into their cafe/restaurant to get something to eat, and wait for our room. There, we both had a burger, strangely enough. My wife rarely likes to eat meat, but she ate the whole thing! We took our time there, had some jasmine tea, some decadent desserts and eventually, 2 o’clock came and our room was ready, again on the 15th floor. Again, they took our bag up for us. We found our room and went in.
Amazing. We had a stunning view of Sha Tin Bay, a beautiful big room with two beds, a lounge chair, desk, and a sitting area right in front of the massive windows overlooking the bay and the towering buildings on the other side. The bathroom was equally impressive. It had a separate area for the toilet, a sink with a large counter, a shower with a rainfall shower-head, and a big, comfortable, luxurious bathtub, that my wife practically moved into when we got there. I did get in there once too (please don’t try to visualize that – it will scar you for life), but baths just aren’t my thing.
The one down side of the hotel that made us miss the City Garden even more – it’s not located near anything, other than the university and the subway station. There were a few shops around the station – a tiny 7-11, a bakery, and a nice little Chinese restaurant that we discovered WAY too late in our stay – but there was no neighborhood to walk through. The nearest one was two subway stops (about 5km) away. This was an area that people passed on their way to somewhere else, with the exception of the hotel. So unless we wanted to go to the trouble of getting on the MRT just to eat (which we did do a few times), we were stuck with the local shops and the hotel’s restaurants, which weren’t bad at all, just expensive. However, we ordered room service several times, for those burgers again, and their REALLY nice breakfasts. I love room service! It was decadent, and I didn’t give a shit. This was our vacation; we were allowed to be decadent, so don’t judge me!
So while at this hotel, we explored the Sha Tin area, and other parts of Kowloon. We went to a beautiful Buddhist temple located in the far southwestern part of the New Territories, and I went to the ruins of Kowloon’s old walled city. We went to a mall in Sha Tin one evening, looking for a restaurant that we’d seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, but it wasn’t there anymore. The mall was filled with more high-end stores for the mainland Chinese to plunder. However, we did find a restaurant with some room there, and had a nice dinner, but it was so big, we couldn’t finish it all, a common theme here. Afterwards, we went outside and walked out into a little square, where a young woman with a guitar, a microphone, and a couple of speakers was performing soft pop songs from the 1970s (The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John, etc.), in front of a surprisingly large group of enthralled onlookers who applauded enthusiastically after every song. It was very entertaining, and we even joined in on the cheers.
On our last full day there, we went to Kowloon to go to the Ladies’ Market and the Temple Street Market. One thing about these street markets if you’re ever over here: learn to haggle. Bargaining over the price isn’t just common, it’s expected. It’s hard at first for an American to accept the fact that you don’t just accept the price that’s given to you. Counteroffer with half of what you think it’s worth, and go up from there. There are similar shops nearby, so it’s possible to tell someone that you can get it cheaper just down the street, whether it’s true or not. It’s hard to get the hang of at first, but it’s a good thing, and will most certainly save you money in the long run. Later on, I finally had my 1st Indian food – it was almost like a spicy lamb pizza – and it was very good! Dead baby animals are delicious! Think I’m being gross? You like eggs, don’t you? Thought so. Shut up.
The people in the Sha Tin area were noticeably different from those in the North Point area. The people in North Point seemed a bit nicer, but quieter and more reserved in manner and dress than those in Sha Tin. I hardly noticed any girls in North Point, but it was hard to miss them in Sha Tin, because of what they wore…or more accurately, how little they were wearing or how tightly they were wearing it. It was nice to look at, but I was still a little taken aback over the drastic difference in socially acceptable dress codes in neighborhoods separated by a distance of less than 15 miles.
Pharmacies. In a grocery store or a Walmart back home, all pharmaceutical items you want, prescription and over-the-counter items, are in one section of the store. Not so here. Some items are located in separate, small pharmacy shops, scattered around town. Some examples: Feminine items for your menstrual cycle? Grocery store. Eye drops? Pharmacy. Colgate toothpaste? Grocery store. Sensodyne toothpaste? Pharmacy. Hand sanitizer? Grocery store. Hydrogen peroxide, allergy medicine, and acid reflux medicine? Pharmacy. Seems a little inconvenient to have to go to two separate places for your grocery list, but keep in mind one thing: at pharmacies here, you can also get birth control and antibiotics WITHOUT a prescription!
The children. I don’t know about you, but back home I’d seen A LOT of ugly kids. I mean, damn! Honey Boo Boo is exhibit A. Hard to find ugly kids here. They are friggin’ adorable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to pull a Madonna or Angelina and adopt enough kids to start my own sweat shop. Still, they’re entertaining to watch, and they’re usually the first ones to say ‘hello’ to you.
The food and the people. Have I mentioned how much we loved the food and the people? Oh, nevermind, then.
So April 9 came around, and much too soon. After 8 days there, we had fallen in love with this place, and we DID NOT want to leave. But we had to; teaching opportunities for someone with no experience were not as readily available here as they were elsewhere, not to mention the fact that we already had reservations in Vietnam. So reluctantly and tearfully, we checked out of our wonderful hotel, and our driver picked us up for our little ride in a Mercedes back to the airport while we told us about Hong Kong, what the people there thought of the mainland Chinese (see part 5), and how we should visit Macau sometime. Due to the checkout time, we had plenty of time to explore the airport, look in its shops, even get something to eat, before we went through security (easy, this time) and wait for our plane. They began boarding about 30 minutes late, but otherwise, everything went smoothly. The flight was only 2 hours this time, very manageable. We landed in Hanoi at about 5:30 local time. After a lengthy wait at customs (hint?), we walked through a disturbingly quiet airport to our ride, which was waiting for us to take us into the city.
Now, I know there may be some of you who know me who might be thinking, “Richard, you were so nice and polite writing about Hong Kong. Where is that snarky, sarcastic attitude we know and love about you?” Don’t worry…Vietnam’s coming next.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston