Lessons from Hong Kong.

We watched our last sunset in Asia from the Avenue of Stars in Kowloon today, gazing over the water at Hong Kong Island. While we strolled toward the Star Ferry, Steve offhandedly remarked that this had been a great visit to Hong Kong – we’d hit all our old highlights, and we’d also seen some new things. We had made one extraordinarily bad decision, but everything else turned out pretty well. It was a net positive in total!

Lesson #1: Oldies are goodies. This was Steve’s fourth trip, and my third trip to Hong Kong. We have the restaurants and the places that we go to every time. This time, we reveled once more in Branto Pure Veg, a delicious, delicious Indian restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui that was recommended to us by close friends Kate and Erin. Branto is amazing Indian food that really spoiled me for actual food in India – so good and so flavorful! We ordered peas palak, chana masala, and a paper masala dosa, a giant crunchy roll stuffed with mashed spicy potato. The last time we were here, it was a year and a half ago on Christmas Day, during our visa run from Taiwan. Today, we visited another oldie but goodie location – the Central to Mid-Levels Escalators, which is the longest covered walkway in the world. We traveled some ways up, saw the Jamia Masjid, a lovely celadon-green mosque, and then went halfway back down to sit at a bar with great seats overlooking Shelley Street and the escalators. Steve enjoyed a beer while I had a mojito (okay, it was already 2 pm, you know?), and we people-watched for a while. While Asia is always full of Engrish shirts, we saw our favorite today – a woman whose shirt said “In memory of when I cared”. Man, those good old days!

Our last tried-and-true experience in Hong Kong was high tea at the Peninsula Hotel this evening. About three years ago, when we first came to Hong Kong together, Steve and I had our first experience at the Peninsula Hotel, which has been serving the most exquisite high tea in their lobby for decades. It is hands down one of the most expensive non-meals I’ve had, but it is so delicious and quaint that the experience is totally worth the money. This time, we came late (high tea is served from 2-6 pm) at 5 pm and made a dinner out of it. We savored lovely scones, the most diminutive quiches, and teensy key lime tarts with soft whipped cream tops and bits of lime. And vanilla mousse with raspberries on top and pumpernickel and salmon sandwiches and macaroons and you get the picture. I ordered earl grey for the actual tea, and Steve got darjeeling. We talked about future vacations, and imagined all the things we would do in Asia the next time we came, and generally had a great time. Finally, we took the Star Ferry, which costs around 3 HKD (about $0.50 USD), back to the Hong Kong Island side where we are staying. The ferry is always fun too!

Lesson #2: Try new things sometimes! We did quite a lot of new things on this visit, even though we only had three whole days. We did an impromptu tour of some co-working spaces on Thursday, because our hostel situation was pretty insufficient for Steve to get any work done. We visited one space called the Hive in Wan Chai, and got a guided tour by a lovely woman named Angie. She showed us some hot desks (where people just pay for an individual desk space) and some office situations, where small start-ups rent a two or three person room. The co-working space itself provides some conference rooms, maybe a café bar, copying machine, etc. At 300 HKD for a day pass, it was a bit too expensive for us to both spend the day there, but it was really fascinating to see. We looked at another called Tuspark, which was practically empty and much less put-together than the Hive, but featured equally high prices. Not a great choice! Finally, we settled on Thinkaholic in Causeway Bay, just a few blocks away from our hostel. It was a small space, and had only a few people there, but we paid by the minute for a two-person room with a fantastic view of Hong Kong. Steve got a lot of work done, and I managed to send off a bunch of emails I’ve been sitting on. We paid 130 HKD per person for about four hours, which comes out to less than 5 USD per hour. Pretty great deal!

Another new thing we did was to travel to the south part of the island. We had a great afternoon swim at Big Wave Bay, which is a very small town on the south part of the island, but it was a beautiful, beautiful beach. We saw quite a few people surfing on the surprisingly large waves there, and enjoyed bodysurfing through the waves ourself. We also saw silvery fish jumping in the water so close to us it seemed incredible. At the end of the day, we took a local bus back to the MTR, and enjoyed the glimpses of the south part of the island around Shek O. We also took a small walk to Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen, which is the only walled village left in Kowloon.

Finally, we tried another new method of public transportation. In addition to double-decker buses, Hong Kong Island also has double-decker trams that run through the middle of the road here. They are the cheapest way to get around for sure – adults are charged a flat fee of $2.30 HKD (about $0.30 USD) no matter how far you travel. They don’t offer air-conditioning, but if you sit on the top level and gaze out the window, it offers a pretty good breeze. It was a lot of fun to take the tram, and we did it twice today.

Lesson #3: Stay on the path. We only made one monumental travel mistake this time, which is not a bad record, and it was on our last hike in Asia. The Dragon’s Back, along Shek O Country Park, is a well-known hike. It is so named because the trail takes you to the top of a series of “mountains” or very tall hills, and undulates up and down like you’re climbing the back of a dragon. It is supposed to take about 3-4 hours and cover about eight kilometers. However, we carried far too little water (just one large bottle of 1.8 liters for both of us), and the sun was absolutely brutal. A girl at the hostel the other day had told us it was hot but manageable, but that was an absolute lie. The trail was in the sun almost the whole way, and we made it to Shek O Peak all but blind to the beauty of the trail. Steve and I have done five to six hikes this past month, in Taitung, Sun Moon Lake, and Taipei, but this was the worst. After hitting the peak, we rested in a shady patch, but both of us were already drenched with sweat, and I was feeling kind of dizzy. We had decided that in order to end up at Big Wave Bay for a swim, we would leave the trail at the H089 marker, and take a short-cut down the mountain along a lesser-used path that was dotted.

About an hour into our hike, we started going down the mountain via the short-cut. That was the monumental mistake. It didn’t seem terrible at first – it was a thin, shady path through trees and bamboo. However, it eventually started going down the mountain, and stopped being a path and started looking more like a glorified gully, with a very steep descent that took all four limbs to manage. Pretty soon, we were getting lashed and stung by plants and branches all over the place. Though the GPS showed us closer to getting out of the forest, we felt very lost. At one point, we thought we were supposed to turn to our right, but the path seemed much less traveled, and we were brought to an abrupt halt by some tree-spanning spiderwebs spun by giant golden orb weavers. Those things were around five inches in diameter including legs. We stopped just short of walking directly into them, the spider literally inches from our faces, and it gave both of us mild panic attacks. At this point, we knew we had made a terrible mistake by going off the path. I would have done ANYTHING at that point to get out of that situation.

We ended up going back to take the left turn, which ended up being correct. We descended the mountain faster, but it was hard going for Steve, whose athletic flip-flops were starting to fall apart. Finally, one of the thongs came loose, and he had to manage the rest of the hike very, very carefully. When the GPS showed us less than a hundred meters away from getting out of the park, the path directed us into a wide gully that would definitely run with water in the wet season. Unfortunately, it also seemed to have not been traversed in some time. We ran into a gigantic, rambling briar patch that all but covered the gully in some parts. It was literally a nightmare hiking situation. Finally, we came to one last briar patch that really seemed impassable, and there was another golden orb weaver spider about eye-height to boot. It took all our courage to slide under that patch in a grotesque limbo, and we emerged shaken and scratched and entirely drenched in sweat into a farmer’s backyard. He took one look at us, and told us we had taken the wrong turn, and ushered us through his property onto the road to Big Wave Beach. At the first beverage stand we saw, we bought Steve new flip-flops and two large bottles of Pocari Sweat, which we both chugged. It was 3 pm, exactly three hours after we started the trail. At the beach, we changed into our swimsuits, and I rinsed our dirty clothes and laid them out to dry in the sun while we swam. While we were in no danger of actually dying on that mountain, it was full of real perils, and definitely the most uncomfortable I have been in a long time! Steve and I have not stopped congratulating each other on getting out in one piece, though both of us nurse scrapes and insect bites on our arms and legs from that hike, and our arms are sore from hanging onto branches and trees as we descended.

And so, tonight, we are sitting in our hostel bunks musing over the computer. We leave tomorrow afternoon from Hong Kong for a long flight that will put us back in DFW, and then to Greenville with Steve’s family. It has been a long, memorable summer in Asia, and I am so glad we were here. Ending with Hong Kong has been good – a fun interesting few days with more adventures than we bargained for. I’ll post more photos when I finally get to uploading all of those. There are a few more travels left before I start my second year of grad school!


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