This little piggy went to market……….

Somehow, I have found myself in a rather questionable relationship and this madly discouraging affair is with time.  Time so often reveals the worth of our moments and it seems I always, quite selfishly, want more of it when I am travelling.  The simple yet tenuous thing with time, is that it will keep moving on whether you are ready to or not and five days in Hong Kong just wasn’t quite long enough for me.

I took hundreds of photos.  Far more than I could ever share, and I walked.  A lot!  Sometimes these walks simply ended at a newly favoured cocktail bar or at the door of the egg custard tart shop which I swear was purely coincidence 🙂  Yet at other times, there was a destination in mind such as the Islamic Mosque in Kowloon or the markets of Hong Kong…….

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Some markets in Asian countries will often challenge in some way but they are a timeless window into a world few of us venture.  It is a world which refuses to conform to modern living and as such, they can be an intense sensory overload.

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There are no aisles and no junk food.  No refrigeration to speak of, no talkative ‘check-out chicks’ and no piped music.  It is noisy and chaotic, and it makes you feel very far away from home……which is the point of travel anyway.  I always feel a city like Hong Kong is revealed through its markets.  Everything is less familiar and the fetid air is heavy with the combinations of sweet char sui, metallic blood, ripening fruit and exhaust fumes of which none, are easy to capture in a photograph.

Some of the markets in Hong Kong are very old school.  Rabbit warrens of alleyways or shanties of entire blocks to tiny hole in the wall places.  It all seems to cluster beautifully together and they sell everything from souvenirs, fresh meat, fruit, goldfish, jade and antiques to vegetables.

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There are glorious blooms, fresh seafood, low cost electronics, gold, clothing, noodles, birds and plants sold to the buyer with a promise of much good luck to come.

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It is an incredibly communal way to shop as these busy, rustic and very colourful markets are a huge part of everyday life for the locals.  Do be respectful in how you react to what you see as often you will see things which may not sit comfortably with you.  Watery blood and iced is swilled down the streets and live animals or the bodies of animals being dispatched with efficient, yet brutal precision may also be difficult to witness.

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And this little piggy (really should have) stayed home…….

It can also get a little rough and tumble due to the crowds, but I don’t go for the shopping, I go for the experience.  Years ago, I would buy the odd souvenir or something I had thought at the time I had dearly wanted.  Perhaps in some way I thought a keepsake would tie my memory of that place to me forever but now, I just prefer to collect memories.

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And sometimes your memories, your gratitude and possibly even your love of a place or of something quite wonderful are souvenir enough…….xx

 

 

The leading causes of death among Sea Monkeys and getting the phat on mooncakes…….

There has been the odd occasion, where I have built something up in my mind so much so the reality of it just could not possibly have lived up to what I had imagined.  Although my enthusiasm had been high, I have often been left dispirited and Sea Monkeys are a perfect example.   As a child of eight I was smitten with Sea Monkeys.  Those endearing little crown wearing nipple pink sea nymphs and their underwater world swam through my imagination and so besotted was I, I invested my entire savings (a years worth of very hard earned pocket money) on a colony of what was to be a family of my very own.

My euphoric bliss upon their arrival very quickly turned to despair as my beautiful glass fish bowl turned to nothing more than a murky pea-like-soup, with not one single little water monkey to be found.

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The leading causes of death among Sea Monkeys:    1.  A fall from the castle tower.   2.  The microwave!

With travel however, I am the complete opposite.  I have absolutely no expectation and because of this, my disappointment is rare.  For me, travel is a beautiful parasol under which all my passions and hopes exist.  Also during my childhood, I had often wondered if the ocean smelt differently in other parts of the world and with all certainty I can say it does.  Everything smells different and looks different and is different and I want to keep seeing that world of difference over and over again.  And you really don’t see a city like Hong Kong until you have used its public transport system……..

Getting around Hong Kong:

Taxi! – “Get something tailor made for yourself in Hong Kong, but do not take a taxi!”  was the sage advice offered to me in the departure lounge before boarding the flight to Hong Kong.  I am however, one who firmly believes fortune favors the bold so I hailed a Hong Kong cab down like I was a seasoned New Yorker.

The cabs in Hong Kong are very clean and surprisingly inexpensive.  Those on the island and in Kowloon are red with silver tops and they are in plentiful supply.  The cabs are also metered and for the most part, the drivers are not only scrupulously honest but wonderfully friendly.  Fair warning though as your taxi ride could be as frenetic and as fast paced as the city itself as the drivers use only one speed which is ………..flat out!

My best tip for a Hong Kong cab ride is to write your destination down then ask a local to translate this to Chinese on the same piece of paper.  Hand that to the driver then buckle up for the ride of your life.  I hailed a cab on a rainy night and our trip was an absolute hoot as we slid around the bends and curves of the slippery, oil slicked and congested roads of Hong Kong before coming to a screeching halt in front of our hotel.  And I would have happily paid double for that experience 🙂

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Walking –  Hong Kong, as with most great cities of the world, is made for walking.  To walk the streets and neighborhoods of any destination is always my unspoken ritual as I truly believe some things can only really be appreciated on foot.   Surprisingly, in this overcrowded city there really is an ease in which you can go about your business.  Even in the smog, soaring humidity and hum of a thousand air-conditioning units, to walk the streets of Hong Kong is pure bliss.

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Octopus Card – And if not on foot, getting around is still a breeze.  Purchase an Octopus Card, available from any of the 7-11 stores.  And btw, these convenience stores are mega convenient and more popular than Starbucks!  You can use your Octopus Card on all public transport including the ferries, trains and trams, all of which are clean, reliable and very efficient.  Just try to avoid taking public transport during rush hour.

Ferry – Hong Kong is a harbour city and water transport including Sampans, Jet Foils, Junks, Cats and Ferries are everywhere.  We used the Star Ferry system which transports over 20 million people across Victoria Harbour each year.  We left the island and were over on the mainland in Kawloon in under 10 minutes all while enjoying an uninterrupted view of that impressive Hong Kong skyline.

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The Ding Ding –  Hong Kong’s tram system as it is affectingly known by locals, is possibly the best way to acquaint yourself with this wonderful city.  The tram line runs for almost 30 kilometers from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan.  One nimble swipe of your Octopus Card will have you seeing the very best of Hong Kong and its surrounds.

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Peak Tram – And do take a ride on the Peak Tram, the worlds steepest funicular railway which opened in 1926.  A return trip is HK$ 90 which is around $15 Australian.  Once at the top, you again have the most incredible views of that breathtaking Hong Kong skyline.

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The Mid Autumn Festival…….

Hong Kong holds the most enchanting homage to the moon with its Mid Autumn Festival.  This beautifully charming fusion of an uber modern city and its ancient traditions is celebrated with lanterns, a lantern festival, mooncakes and fire dragons.

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It is thought this festival evolved from the moon worshipping ceremony held by the Emperor during Autumn in ancient China and a very full and luminous moon was out on the evening we attended.

The thunder of drums and gongs signaled the arrival of the fire dragon, an amazing 67 meter long straw dragon smoking from the tens of thousands of incense sticks inserted into its body.  Amid the chaos and noise the beautifully ablaze dragon was danced through the streets by a team of around 300 people.  Tai Hang, the suburb where this ceremony we attended was held, was awash with tens of thousands of people and I can say with hand on heart, that to be in the crush of radiantly happy and exuberant Chinese folk is all you can hope for really.

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Mooncake is traditionally eaten during the Mid Autumn Festival and just as vegemite divides this great nation of ours, the same can be said of mooncake.  It is something you are either going to love or love……not so much!  Typically round to signify completeness and unity, these densely rich little delights are meant to be shared with tea.  They should however, come with a cardiology appointment as one tiny luxurious cake (approx. 10 cm in diameter), consisting of pastry encasing a filling of lotus seed paste and the salted yolk of a duck egg, can have up to 900 calories!

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There were lights, lovely lanterns of all shapes and sizes, wishing lanterns and a wishing tree.  I do love the idea of a wish.  I still wish on a shooting star when fortunate enough to see one but I am very careful what I wish for as not all things lost to me, need be found.

To make a wish you simply write your wish on the card provided then attach this to the wishing tree.  A young boy ahead of me, writing his wish in perfect script, asked as he handed me the pen “do you know what I wished for'”.

“But if you tell me your wish, it won’t come true”  I replied As I helped him tie his wish to a branch he said that for a wish to come true, it only had to stay where it was tied.

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These beautiful works of art are lanterns……….

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And his wish he told me, was for more mooncake and so lovely and innocent a wish, I hoped it came true………..

And this is what it means to travel.  To capture those small moments which settle over us to become as warm and as sunny as a promise.  To see difference, to restore our hope when humanity has caused such doubt and to allow bold and wondrous freedoms.

So travel.  Travel until your heart and your mind is full.  Travel until the better part of you emerges then once you are done, you should travel some more……… xx

Footnote:  A strong breeze blew over and through the festival toward the end of the evening and hundreds of wishes fell from the trees to scatter throughout the parkland.  The wish I made and the wish the little boy made held fast to their branch…..

Part III Hong Kong – the ‘wet’ markets where everything is so fresh it is still alive and kicking – coming soon.

An affair to remember……..

Hong Kong Part I

It seems I always form attachments to big cities and Hong Kong is no different.  This beautifully chaotic city really gets under my skin and my relationship with it can be as intense and as passionate as any love affair.

Hong Kong is a sophisticated city with its perfect mix of modern and traditional and it is also one of the most densely packed cities in the world with a population of over 7.3 million people.  There is massive wealth right alongside those who are poverty stricken and believe it or not, this city is still growing with construction and sympathetic renovation.

Hong Kong does not sleep.  It sets a cracking pace 24 hours a day but do embrace this wonderful chaos as it is all part of the adventure.  If you do need a break, there are many places and much green space where you can seek moments of respite from the mayhem and heat……….and there is always ice-cream.126

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Hong Kong has the highest concentration of skyscrapers anywhere in the world.  It has an absolutely stunning skyline but I could not help but wonder if Hong Kong suffered the worst feng shui because of it.   My fears were allayed  as the planning and design of these magnificently enormous structures are not only decided by the architects and engineers, but also by feng shui masters.   These towering structures are always positioned and shaped with respect to nature which in turn brings good fortune.   How this sky-scape must continually grow and change.

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Perfectly positioned geographically, Hong Kong has mountain ranges to the back and water to the front.  There is a lovely belief that dragons, those mythical bearers of good luck and positive energy, live in the mountains and their energy blows over and through Hong Kong.  The dragons also need to make their way from the mountains to the water to drink and bath and this is why some buildings, especially those directly along the water front, have ‘holes’ in them.  These gaps allow the dragons an unobstructed path to water.  How wonderful is that.

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Eat Hong Kong……. 

Hong Kong is an absolute food lovers paradise.  This really is one of the great food cities of the world from its humble street food to its top-end restaurants.  It is also where you will find the best dim sum.

Translated, dim sum means ‘to touch the heart’.   The sticky glutinous joy of chickens and duck feet, bossy trolley dollies, billowing steam from stacked bamboo baskets, dusty pink shrimp, pungent tea, cramped quarters full of locals perched upon stools and the most perfectly fluffy steamed buns EVER (big call I know).  It all makes for the ultimate dim sum experience which really will touch your heart…….. although I did skip the thousand year old eggs!

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The perfect steamed pork bun on the streets of Hong Kong…….

In Hong Kong, your food experience is as fast paced as the city itself.  Blink and your meal is ready.  There is also never a bad time to eat so if you have a craving for dim sum or roast goose or beef brisket in broth or char siu or congee at 3am you’ll get it.  And do try ‘pantyhose milk tea’.  This is black tea and milk strained through pantyhose which gives the tea its silken texture.   Don’t expect it to be served in fine bone china though as this tea is best appreciated while sitting in a busy local filled establishment.  And if its not made from an old fashion stocking, then its not the real deal.

I can never pass up one (or five) of these……….

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Velvety egg tartsSmooth, cheerfully yellow egg custard nestled in the most perfect butter pasty shell.  And I can state with confidence that you really haven’t had pastry until you have had it in Hong Kong!  For almost eight years we lived in the heart of Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne, and this is where my true romance with these delicate little morsels really began.  The brilliant Brunswick Street and Johnston and Smith along with all the narrow back streets and alleys of this suburb and its surrounds became our backyard.  We knew every inch of Fitzroy.  The places to eat and drink, the wait and bar staff and some of the most interesting and eclectic inhabitants of that beautifully bohemian suburb.   Walking home from work, I would occasionally take a short cut through Chinatown (located along Little Bourke Street in the central business district of Melbourne).  Now truth be told, it really wasn’t much of a short cut at all but it did take me directly to the epicenter of egg tarts.  Our time in Melbourne was unforgettable and standing on a busy street in Hong Kong with one of these little tarts in my hand, I could but for a moment have been back in wonderful Fitzroy.

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You will find beautiful tea houses with art deco décor, alleys lined with hanging roast goose and pork (and these aren’t window dressings!), small areas with a folding table and plastic stools and noisy jam-packed markets to sample some of the best cuisine on offer.  Be open-minded and curious and go where the locals go.  This is how we love to eat, mixing and mingling with the locals so if you see a small and unassuming place filled with locals, go in.  These unpretentious little spaces are the soul of eating in Hong Kong.  You can even finish off with an egg tart………what the heck, you can even start your meal with one too. 1218

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Drink Hong Kong…….

This breathtaking city also has a very impressive craft beer industry with some top notch brews on offer from light summer ales to big bold darks.  We found a couple of great little spots, Roundhouse in particular, where we sampled many a beer because life really is far too short to drink bad beer.

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You can go high end or low brow for a cocktail in Hong Kong, which for very good reason, are ranked as some of the best in the world.  Negroni’s are king with their fruity bitterness and the gin and vermouths are gently infused with lavender, elderflower, marigold and thyme.  Just beautiful so Yum La

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I can never go past the perfect G & T…….

And what better way to bar hop in Hong Kong than on the worlds most intricate network of covered escalators, skyways, tunnels and walkways most of which, are air-conditioned.  Once up here, you don’t have to set foot on the ground all day.  Not only does it offer a birds eye view of life on the streets below, but it is also the perfect place to people-watch…….especially those on awkward Tinder hook-ups.

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Honestly, if you can’t find something to love about Hong Kong then there really is no hope for you.   Part II coming soon…….x

Footnote:  Yum La translated means drink up….