Solo-navacation update!

Tl;dr: We still travel, I’m just not as good as updating about it. Here’s some pictures of a day in Hong Kong!

The long version: It’s been just over a year since we moved to Taiwan, and we’ve been busier and busier! Some reasons for that: Steve’s app start-up is really taking off, I got a new job in April that keeps me really busy, and in May, we finally welcomed our puppers Stella to Taiwan. She’s becoming a circumnavacator too! Just because we haven’t been posting doesn’t mean we haven’t been traveling though: last November, we made a 48-hour trip to Shanghai and Beijing to see some family, in December we visited Bangkok and Krabi with my parents, and in March, we put a pin in a new country: a weekend in Seoul, South Korea. Oh, and we made another trip in June to Hong Kong, and hung out with Steve’s cousin. Maybe sometime we’ll write updates about those trips, but they were all really cool! I wanted to update this weekend given that Steve and I have both been on solo vacations lately, him to visit family back in the US, and me on a day trip this weekend. my Traveling solo is a really interesting experience to go back to after years and years of going places with each other, but I’m going to say that I prefer going places as a pair. We’ll let Steve weigh in on that eventually. *wink*

This trip was stressful for a number of reasons. Two weeks ago, I had booked a trip to Xiamen for my visa run in June, and was eagerly anticipating a good weekend away from Taipei. Xiamen sounds like a beautiful place, and I spent time reading up on the history of this city, formerly known as Amoy, one of the treaty ports ceded to the western powers in the Treaty of Nanking. I was going to finally put that Chinese visa to good use on something other than seeing family (nothing but love for those people, but really, it’s a big country). I was even signed up to stay with a Couchsurfer, and was relishing the opportunity to walk around on a nice island, maybe do some watercolors, and eat some Asian food that hasn’t been filled with sugar (looking at you, Taiwanese cuisine!).

Of course there has to be a but. And there was a really big but. Literally, an internationally-scaled but. The 9th annual BRICS Summit starts today in Xiamen and runs through 9/5, hosting the national leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. It’s just exhausting to think about, and apparently, there was an unprecedented crackdown for foreign residents and visitors by police in the area. Reddit was abound with posts for people who couldn’t find places to stay, people whose employers were being dragged downtown and questioned on their employment contracts and visas. Guesthouses were closed to foreigners in every way but in name. When my Couchsurfing host pulled out last Tuesday, I scrambled around for two days before deciding that it was a useless endeavor to find a place to stay that wouldn’t cost me $60 USD a night, and that Xiamen would be for another run. Fortunately, I was able to refund the flight for only a $30 fee.

After some negotiations with my dogsitter and looking at all the viable options, I decided on a return trip to Hong Kong, but with a slight catch: just one day!  On Friday night, I packed just one backpack with my DSLR camera, a spare top, and currency for three different countries (HKD, TWD, and RMB). Why? Because I had lost my wallet last week along with all my American credit cards. It really compounded the complexity of going overseas. Fortunately, Steve and I have a small stockpile of all the miscellaneous currency we have from different countries, and we had about 180 HKD left along with our Octopus cards, so that was all fine. I ended up needing all of it and then some! The last complication to this story was that there was an impending typhoon that was going to hit Hong Kong on Sunday, and my flight Saturday night out might be affected. After I found out, I just gave up on the Internet and  went to bed, which is never a bad option.

I woke up at 6:15 am so I could take a shower, clean the house a little, and walk the dog before I hustled to the airport. When I swung into the airport an hour and a half before boarding time, I was flying pretty high, hanging out at perfume counters and trying out Singleton shots at the duty-free shops for fun. Before long, I was thinking that these solo day-trips were the bomb. I had barely any luggage, and could pretty much do anything I wanted to. I even browsed the books at an airport library gate out of curiosity, finding a Traditional Chinese translation of Dianetics. I napped on the plane, and after I cruised through security at HKG, I rounded the corner to the bus terminal, and by sprinting the last fifty meters, caught the A22 bus right before it left, snagging the front left seat on the second deck, with a picture perfect view of the entire ride into the city. WIN!!!

My destination was Yau Tong, on the eastern side of the Kowloon Peninsula. While searching around on Google Maps, I had found a hike to Devil’s Peak very appealing. It was labeled as an easy hike at just an hour and a half round trip, and had an excellent view of Hong Kong Island and the entire harbor. Predictably, I am not into long hikes in Hong Kong summers anymore. When I disembarked at Yau Tong MTR station, I found the village of Sam Ka Tsuen a little less picturesque than I figured. Fishing villages smell, for the record. Everything near the water does in an old port like Hong Kong. I had also erroneously passed up much better looking eateries near the MTR station, and ended up having a plate of barely palatable chicken curry in a restaurant there. After wolfing it down, I was ready for the hike. I have to say, thank goodness for people who minutely document their hikes, because posts like this one really helped me find my way around. Despite my light pack, by the time I was halfway up the mountain, I was already soaked in sweat. Fortunately, I had enough water this time, and the day was overcast, with a typhoon threatening for the next day. It misted and drizzled intermittently as I climbed. I had some awesome scenery though. Yau Tong is filled with estates – Hong Kong speak for public housing. These towers were absolutely immense – thirty-story towers in solid pastel colors of blue, pink, orange, or green soaring around the station. It was a jolt to suddenly see that I was eye-level with the tops of these towers, and then climbing above them.

The top of Devil’s Peak includes old fortifications and remnants of a redoubt. Up there, it was easy to see why it was a strategic point, because it commanded beautiful views of Victoria Harbor to the east. I could easily see parts of southern Hong Kong Island from where I was, even with the overcast sky. And I had it mostly to myself. I met three other people hiking up, and a troop of five or six friends came up while I was on my way down.

On the other side of Devil’s Peak was the Tseung Kwan O Chinese Permanent Cemetery, facing the sea. I took a detour on my way down to check it out – it was laid out on the hillside, with what looked like hundreds and maybe thousands of tombs. Maps told me that a columbarium, which handled cremations, was also located here. It seemed like a beautiful, quiet place to be buried in Hong Kong. Judging by the people I saw who walked by and the reviews on Google Maps, it was also a popular place to exercise. Certainly, the residents don’t mind.

I picked my way off the mountain carefully, because the paths were well-laid but sodden with leaves and still slippery. When I got to Yau Tong MTR, I got an iced milk tea, found a mall and some public restrooms, and with a new shirt on, I basically felt like a new gal. I took the MTR across the harbor to North Point on Hong Kong Island, and walked to the nearest tram stop. By then, my leisurely afternoon had turned to evening, and while on the tram, I started trying to plan my last steps. I was planning to get dinner somewhere, grab a few presents for co-workers and my dogsitter, and catch the A11 airport bus from the island to the airport. However, as I walked around Wan Chai, I realized that my money and my time was running very low. I ended up making a trip to a Wellcome I’d seen before and buying some presents there with some cash, thinking I could put the rest of my money on my Octopus card, which would be enough to get on the bus. Food could wait until the airport, and I didn’t feel hungry having eaten at 2 pm anyway. However, the clerk told me that the lowest denomination for reupping my card would be 50 HKD. Walking around frantically afterwards trying to get to the MTR station (which I judged my best possibility for refilling my Octopus card with only 25 HKD), I ended up at a Western Union, and had a truly frustrating encounter with a woman while trying to change exactly 40 HKD worth from a 100 RMB bill. Language difficulties played a role as well, and I found that English got me further than Mandarin, which is not an experience I’m used to. ANYWAY. I raced to Gloucester Road after that, turning right due to a dim memory of doing the same thing back in June when we had our last trip to Hong Kong, and ended up flagging down the A11 which arrived 10 seconds later. I jumped on, and was rewarded with the best seat in the house again, and labeled myself one lucky duck.

The rest is even more mundane to describe. I had some Popeye’s at the HKD airport, sat on the tarmac for about half an hour longer than we needed to because of the incoming typhoon, and arrived back in Taipei, stamped back into the country right at midnight. It took another hour to bus back to the house, but Stella and I were very glad to see each other again, and I ended my very, very long 20-hour day by falling asleep around 2:30 am. While it was a thrilling time, it was a lot more stressful than it needed to be because of the weather and all the situations, but I got some pretty awesome pictures and a hike in a different part of HK in. Highly recommend Devil’s Peak to everyone who visits, and maybe I’ll get to have a solo vacation some other time that’s a little less stressful!

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