SHA TIN, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 7

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!

Buddhist Monastery entrance
Buddhist Monastery entrance

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.

Random Observations

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.

View from our hotel.
View from our hotel.

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

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KOWLOON, HONG KONG: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 6

Enjoy it while it lasts because I go for the throat when we move on to Vietnam:) Enjoy!

3 April – 5 April, pt. 2: City Garden Hotel, North Point, Hong Kong

While we didn’t do as much sightseeing as we had originally planned, we had gotten to experience the culture, which in some ways may have been better and certainly less touristy. However, we did go to some of the places we wanted to go. The subway was our main mode of transportation for these excursions, but sometimes a taxi supplemented the journey, when the remaining distance was short, but too far for walking.

One of the first places we went to was the Hong Kong Botanical and Zoological Gardens, which was so beautiful. This lush hilltop park filled with exotic plants, birds, reptiles, and mammals, was very peaceful, with one exception: the primates, and no, I’m not referring to the humans. We were about to head back when we heard a loud commotion coming from one of the monkey exhibits that we had passed earlier. The were whooping, chattering, howling so loud, you could feel the sound vibrate in your inner ear. It was amazing; never heard anything like it! It was a very beautiful place.

My hubby goes to the zoo:)
My hubby goes to the zoo:)

Our last full day in North Point, I took my longest MRT trip to date. I went across most of Hong Kong Island, transferred to another MRT, which took me under Victoria Harbor to Kowloon to see the Avenue of Stars, which is basically the Hong Kong film industry’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, combined with Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. They have marble stars scattered along a broad sidewalk, with a breathtaking view back across Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong Island. Some of the stars also include hand prints. They had Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Phat, among others, and of course, Bruce Lee. They even have a beautiful 10-foot bronze statue of him. It was fun to see and the view was magnificent, as it was a bright, sunny day.

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My next stop was to Hong Kong’s 3D Museum. It’s a very touristy place, and overpriced considering how small it was. It was still kinda cool to see this impressive 3D artwork, but it’s hard to describe it. I’d recommend checking out their website to get a feel for how impressive it really is. Still, it only took maybe 30 minutes to go through all of it, and the entrance fee was the equivalent of $30.

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After that, I walked around Kowloon for a bit before heading back. Not as much of a fan of Kowloon as I am Central Hong Kong. This place used to be and overpopulated slum; not anymore, though based on the southernmost tip of it, I’m not sure it’s an improvement. It’s a massive shopping district for the wealthy, filled with stores that may only the wealthiest 5% can afford. And the salespeople standing outside of some of the privately owned stores…they are pushy. They’ll see a tourist, and aggressively try anything to get you to go into their store.

I’d see other parts of Kowloon later, but the next day, we were leaving North Point, and switching hotels; to the Hyatt Regency in Sha Tin, New Territories, about 22km to the north. By this point, we weren’t looking forward to the move,and were regretting dividing our vacation in Hong Kong between two separate hotels. We’d fallen in love with this neighborhood, and we didn’t want to leave. To be honest, I was a little tearful about having to go. Nevertheless, on 5 April, at noon, we checked out of the City Garden Hotel and took a cab up to the New Territories.

One thing I’ll say about cab drivers here; they may not know much English, so you need the hotel concierge to give you one of their business cards and write where you want to go in Cantonese. But those drivers are honest. They’ll take you exactly where you need to go, and they won’t take the scenic route to boost their fare. It’s something we wouldn’t always encounter in our travels, but we were very grateful for it.

North Point
North Point

As we left North Point, we were feeling rather melancholy about the move. We knew the hotel would probably be nice, but it wouldn’t be the same…it wouldn’t be North Point. Nevertheless, off we went, not sure of what to expect from our new surroundings.
– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston