Archive | April, 2012

Hong Kong Trip 4: The Big Buddha & Monk on Holiday

16 Apr

On my second day in Hong Kong I made it over to Lantau Island, the largest island in Hong Kong. It’s famous for the Big Buddha, which apparently even Buddhist monks get excited about. (I guess it makes sense, since not every monk gets to be a Big Buddha monk, it just seems like Buddhist monuments would stop being exciting if it’s your profession? Whatevs dude that guy is putting his pics on facebook.)

The prayer line to the right was very ritualized–people would pray a bit, then take a step up. I’m not sure if they were aiming for a specific number of steps (a holy number?) or what. The Buddha is 112 feet tall, made of bronze, and was finished in 1993. That’s right, ’93! He’s a spring chicken of a monument.

Nearby is the Po Lin Monastery.

The above is a view from the monastery. You could see the monument from all sides, but this was a particularly nice angle. The monastery itself wasn’t a particularly remarkable temple complex, but they served fantastic vegetarian dim sum. I put it in my mouth and it was delicious.

By this point in the trip, I was already fairly tired, as you can see below…

Tired, but happy.

Next time: I visit a fishing village (Tai O) and watch a dude make STREET WAFFLES.


Hong Kong Trip 3: My Continued Struggle to Accept Potable Water and Victoria Peak, which is a Metaphor for Victory

11 Apr

This view from the the Circle Trail at the top of Victoria Peak is a metaphor for potable water, which is a metaphor for development, which is a metaphor for what I was deprived of in Changsha, which is a metaphor for love. I’m not saying the developing world is devoid of love. I’m saying that Changsha was.

I’m also saying that metaphors don’t obey the transitive property.

About two hours later, on the other side of Victoria Peak, this was the view:

The Victoria Harbour, seen above, has been shrinking due to land reclamation projects for two thousand years, starting during the Western Han Dynasty when beaches were reclaimed into fields for salt production. Major land reclamation projects have been conducted since the 19th century, when the British first colonized the area.

The entire urban area of Tsim Sha Tsui (one of the many names I carefully avoided saying during my grueling 2.5-day stay in Hong Kong), for example, was reclaimed from the Bay. It’s the part of Kowloon that I was staying in, and where many of the territory’s museums are now located.

As I was staring out at this extremely historically-charged view and considering the epic wonder of human continuity, inevitable geological change, and glittery lights, an attractive Indian-Canadian man came and struck up a conversation with me. He casually offered to take a photo of me in front of the view, which turned out terrible. He took one without flash, which turned out worse.

Then, said easy-on-the-eyes gentleman invited me to take a turn about the Circle Trail with him in the deepening twilight. Ever quick on the uptake, I unhesitatingly said, “No, I’ve been going clockwise on the path, I don’t want to go backwards.”

I guess the moral is that when they called me “task-oriented instead of people-oriented,” they meant “borderline autistic,” and I will probably die alone. But at least my children (born out of wedlock) won’t have a weird Alberta accent.

Next: Katherine stops bumming us all out with romantic incompetence and takes us all on a trip to see A MASSIVE STATUE OF BUDDHA ON A MOUNTAIN. Will there be vegetarian dim sum? Will there be pictures of large quantities of dried fish?! Only time can tell!

Hong Kong Trip 2: The Ladies’ Market Ain’t Just for Ladies

9 Apr

I went to the Ladies’ Market of Hong Kong, and saw garments meant to present the male genitalia in ways Western civilization is not ready for. A hint: a nether-region so-clad would wind up resembling an exotic bird.

In case you were wondering, the Ladies’ Market is in fact located in the aforementioned Kowloon (northern Kowloon, in fact, significantly removed from Victoria Bay and Hong Kong island). For those of you still doubting, as apparently Western businessmen still do, as to whether Kowloon is developed enough for you to deign to visit–I tell you this: before I stepped into the market area, I bought a cup of coffee at Starbucks. A few minutes later, I was seeking shelter from the relentless crowd, and I walked straight into another Starbucks–with the same unfinished cup of coffee in my hand.

As you can see, Kowloon is pretty freaking posh. In addition to designer clothing stores, there were a ton of nice sit-down restaurants, as well as a couple more basic food stands. And in this gourmand paradise, just in case you wanted to feel like you’re in The Puritanical  States again…you can go back to Hong Kong island, and visit a restaurant with nothing but salads.

You’re welcome. 😉

Next time: the view of Kowloon (and etc.) from Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong island!

Hong Kong, Land of Potable Water and Colonial-era Firetraps: Part I

6 Apr

My hostel was this sketchy little quarter-of-a-floor in a weird massive building with multiple elevators to non-adjoining wings. It was pure luck that I actually found the darn thing in under 20 minutes, as opposed to 3 hours. Luck plus good signage on the ground floor, I guess…there were like a hundred hostels in the building, which was this colonial-era firetrap called the Chungking Mansions (actually only one mansion?? more like the Chungking Sketchy Apartment Building, if you ask me). The ground floor was absolutely filled with Indian dudes conducting business (specifically men, not women for some reason). At the front were money-changers, and there were little convenience stands and restaurants sprinkled throughout–but when I wandered towards the back of the floor I got lots of stares as a white lady alone. I also got delicious gulab jamun for breakfast because no one could stop me, and a random semi-date with a nice Finnish boy because I was young, free and in Hong Kong for a weekend.

The Chungking Mansions: Source of hostel beds, gulab jamun and Finns

My hostel was located on Kowloon Peninsula, not Hong Kong island proper. The difference between the two areas, in feel, is this: the “Central” district of Hong Kong island is the business district, where all the foreigners have traditionally hung out. It feels pretty much like the financial district of New York City–tall buildings, impersonal, lots of gray and neon.

Kowloon, on the other hand, feels like the area right next to the financial district of New York City, where you might actually be able to buy food for under $50 while still feeling fairly ritzy, still surrounded by tall buildings, gray and neon. It seems foreigners have traditionally shunned this area as “too Chinese to deign to visit,” because the Sort of Foreigners Who Go to Hong Kong Regularly For Business are apparently kind of d-bags. (citation: my friend Dora who is from Hong Kong, also Lonely Planet I think).

Separating the two areas is Victoria Harbour.

I was excited about Hong Kong’s potable water, but less so the firetraps. I heard that the best way to find cheap housing in Hong Kong was to live in the harbour. So I purchased the below boat.

Next time: Did Katherine really spend the rest of her year abroad living on a traditional Chinese junk in Victoria Harbour? What about spring semester? What about AMERICA?! The mystery continues

Trip to Shenzhen: The Armpit of China

4 Apr

At the end of my fall semester last year, my Chinese tutor xiao Pan invited me to visit her older sister’s family in Shenzhen!

“That’s in the south,” I thought. “It’s getting cold up here in Changsha, time to follow the sun. Besides, it’s in Guangdong province–home of dim sum. Civilization!”

I also had wild dreams of making a run for it into Hong Kong, before my January trip to America. Xiao Pan wouldn’t be able to come with me, since she was a mainland Chinese citizen, so I’d have to brave the trek across the Luohu land boundary alone.

Xiao Pan and I took an overnight train to Shenzhen, and I was not groped-while-sleeping, kept-awake-all-night-by-curious-passengers, or subjected to any of the other inconveniences I’d been warned that foreigners suffer on Chinese trains. I was kept awake part of the night by giggling with my good friend xiao Pan, pictured above on the right with her little nephew. But that was another matter.

Shortly after we arrived in the sooty, chilly town of Shenzhen (it was snowing in Changsha by then, so I couldn’t complain), I broached the idea to xiao Sarah.

“Where is the dim sum?” I asked.


“Dim sum!” I said, making hand gestures in the shape of small fried rolls stuffed with unholy parts of the pig. “Sum dim. Dim sum?”

She stared blankly at me, and we spent a few minutes Googling things. Then, after a few image searches, realization dawned.

“You mean yum cha.”


“Tea tasting. I’ll find a place.” So that was settled.

Meanwhile, we went out and bought ourselves a rock-hard mattress that was placed in the loft next to her sister’s bedroom. I called it our marriage bed. It was cold at night, we didn’t have sheets and there was no heating. During the day, my favorite thing to do was cuddle up in our blanket with xiao Pan and watch Merlin. That’s right–we were classy.

One day that week we decided to be classy, and go on an expedition. Xiao Pan had never seen the ocean before, and Shenzhen has a coast, so we made our way down to the seaside.

When we got there, it was about 50 degrees and windy as shit. I tried to explain to her that the homeland of my people–San Francisco and/or Oregon–was exactly like this, and that it was traditional to buy a commemorative sweatshirt and have fish and chips while staring into the grey and angry waters. But she’d apparently had her heart set on LA surfer-type weather complete avec shirtless copper-skinned men (okay, I might be embellishing slightly) and was extremely disappointed.

And so it was that the normally Pollyangelique-xiao Pan grew to detest the chilly, smoky city much like most of us jaded foreigners do. She cutely stamped her cute foot into the pavement of the sidewalk, saying, “I hate Shenzhen! I hate Shenzhen!”

Hopefully when she finally visits me, San Francisco will be having its one sunny day that year.

Sarah's nephew eating dinner with his grandpa!

After an extremely frustrating and unpleasant 3-hour trip across the city via public transit our dim sum trip turned into dim NONE (haha see what I did there), and we reassessed our options. It turned out we were staying not in Shenzhen proper but in a suburb, which is like staying not in the armpit of China but in an orbiting sweat-covered dust mite. So we decided to cherish the fact that we were in a shopping mall that had, like, stores in it, and restaurants not-serving-Changsha-food.

“That restaurant serves Thai food,” said xiao Pan helpfully, pointing to a facade in a small food court. I was sorely tempted, but I hadn’t yet given up on the dim sum idea.

“Let’s go look for dim sum, and if it doesn’t work out we can come back.” At this point in life, I had figured out that pad thai can solve almost any problem, even those caused by six hours of public transit for basically no reason.

We spent about twenty desperately hungry minutes searching, and then wandered back to the original restaurant.

“I can’t believe there’s Thai food in this place, I haven’t had any since coming to China.”

“There’s Thai food in Changsha,” said xiao Pan helpfully. “It is tasty, I like it.”

We sat down in the restaurant, and I looked at the menu. I looked at xiao Pan.

“I like Taiwan Province food,” she repeated. “Have you tried it?”

“Thai…thai-wan?” I said, staring blankly. “Not Thai-LAND?!”

“In my opinion,” xiao Pan said, misusing the phrase, “Thai-land is Thai-wan Province.”

And then I did not kill one of my best friends for the sake of lost pad thai. I’d say it was big of me.

This baby cried whenever I looked at him for more than 2 seconds. The grandmother, luckily, thought his fear of foreigners was HILARIOUS.