Hidden Parks and Egg Tarts in Hong Kong

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When I was gearing up to travel to Hong Kong for the week off work for the Spring Festival (also known as the Chinese New Year–these holidays all have several names which can be extremely confusing), I would tell co-workers and friends where I was headed. Every time, they would exclaim, “Ohhhh shopping!” To which I would respond by shrugging and saying, “I guess I might do some shopping…”

As soon as I arrived in Hong Kong, I understood why the majority thought I was set on retail therapy. I could not walk a single, overcrowded block without running into a mall. It was heavenly. And also very dangerous for my wallet. Instead of whittling all of my time away in Zara and H&M, I made a point to wander outside and see things that I can’t find in Beijing.

The humid, salty sea air and the ferry boats that shuttled both tourists and local commuters alike were special treats unique to Hong Kong. I enjoyed every second of the lush, green parks crammed in between skyscrapers and traditional food like dim sum with a new Australian friend.

I met up with a friend and native Hong Kongian (totally made up word) who accompanied me to The Victoria Peak and mouth watering sushi. I also spent time with my roommate, Katie, who was visiting her uncle in Hong Kong on her way back the The U.K. It was a bitter sweet way to end our adventure together as roommates.

While my 9-person dorm was less than ideal for rest, I found my holiday as relaxing as ever and Hong Kong is definitely one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited.

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Enjoying a traditional Hong Kong meal of Dim Sum

A dragon dance in the mall for CNY. Rub his nose for good luck!

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

Tram ride

Tram ride

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Taking the Peak Tram to the Victoria Peak

Taking the Peak Tram to the Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak & astounding views

Victoria Peak & astounding views

Trying egg tart for the first time

Trying egg tart for the first time

Drum decorations

Drum decorations

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Glass floored cable car to see the Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

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People burning incense for prayers at the Po Lin Monastery

People burning incense for prayers at the Po Lin Monastery

Discovery Bay on Lantau Island with Katie

Discovery Bay on Lantau Island with Katie

Buddy the Elf, What’s Your Favorite Color?

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This year Christmas was different, to say the least. I began the holiday by saying goodbye to three friends with whom I had become closest since arriving here. My roommate Keith, Amy, and Lorena had all planned to leave China in time to be home for Christmas, so right before the holiday we had to part ways. I was not terribly unsettled about those goodbyes. Maybe it was due to the fact that I truly believe I’ll stay in touch with them (and I’m definitely inviting myself to the U.K. to visit them).

My friend, and new roommate, Katie, seemed more upset than I was about not being home for Christmas, so we drowned her sorrows in hot chocolate, Christmas candy, and classic movies like The Santa Clause, Elf, and The Polar Express.

On Christmas day I forced Christmas cheer upon my Chinese roommate (who doesn’t celebrate Christmas). I had the honor of giving him his first Christmas card he’s ever received and later I taught him how to create paper snowflakes. To make ourselves miss home less, Katie and I went to get massages and lunch together and afterward, we joined a friend and his co-workers for a big American-style turkey dinner. The wonderful air of relaxation I found after a full spa day and delicious meal confirmed that was the best money I have spent so far in Beijing.

The Real Housewives of Beijing

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Most of the people I have met while abroad are in a similar situation as I am and gaining the same sense of independence that comes with renting an apartment in a foreign country while working or interning full time. The exception is two of my friends from the U.K., Lorena and Amy, who are here during their undergrad studies to teach English and placed with a Chinese host family. They are full of stories from an entirely different perspective of life here in Beijing; mostly their host moms treating them to nice dinners, traditional Chinese home life, and the mothers having each other over for in-home facials and beauty treatments (à la Real Housewives).

I finally got to visit them this weekend and it was perfect timing–Christmas lights were roped across front porches to create a decadent Christmas-y feeling. I almost felt like I had left the bustling city for the suburbs. Almost.

Pedal Practice

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Lorena trying her hand at DJing earlier that night

After pestering an old Chinese rickshaw driver (who spoke no English) during a night out, Lorena and I convinced him to let us pedal his bicycle and carriage down the street. I was able to get an awesome video of onlookers cheering and the driver chasing after her, but sadly there’s no proof of me navigating the bike. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I must give those drivers kudos–the bike is much harder to get going than you’d ever expect!

Hipster Art District

As implied by the open-mouthed gasps I received when I told people I had not been to the 798 Art District, I had to go. An autumn leaf scent so crisp that it made me long for hot apple cider filled the sunny Saturday afternoon. It was perfect for wandering through the graffiti-ed back alleys, colorful art galleries, and quaint knick knack shops.

As I wandered through the exhibits and stores with my British friend Katie, I was consistently yelled at for taking pictures. Apparently I have no shame in pretending to be a clueless foreigner. In most of the shops there were signs, written in both Chinese in English, clearly stating you shouldn’t take pictures, but I was scolded on multiple occasions for ignoring them. So many cat trinkets and quirky displays made it difficult to fight the urge to take pictures. It became somewhat of a game to feign innocence about my ability to read the signs. At one point, Katie and I pretended not to speak Chinese nor English and she began speaking German, as I responded to her in Spanish.

We ended up sipping coffee in a small, dark restaurant booming with Spanish songs from a live band. The band members sat next to our table after their performance and I asked them about where they learned Spanish. “Spanish? Oh, we don’t speak it…we just sing it.” Oh, right. Only in China…

 

 

 

Buddha Bellies in a Speakeasy

I am by no means a history buff, but I got really excited this past weekend when some friends and I planned to celebrate a birthday at Fubar, which was a restaurant/bar modeled after a speakeasy.

The exciting part was being able to explain the American history that inspired replication of the kind of bar that was illegal during Prohibition in the 1920s. I found it interesting that I had to explain it even to my roommate from the U.S. This bar wasn’t mafia themed on the inside, but had the allure of a speakeasy due to its hidden entryway. A large brick wall disguised the door. In order to enter the bar you had to flip a light switch, causing the brick wall to slide away, revealing the entrance.

My admiration for this bar grew from love to slight obsession as I realized you could purchase a large, porcelain Buddha to drink from. Of course I had to buy him, even though the Buddha is heavy and will be cumbersome to take back to the U.S. with me. For now, he’ll sit on my desk and may or may not be used to hold an everyday drink when I need a giggle.

Asian John Mayer

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rich, Katie, me, Amy, and Lorena in front of Nanluoguxiang Ancient Alley

My roommate and I set out with some friends–three girls from the U.K. and a fellow American bloke–to Nanluoguxiang Ancient Alley. It was basically a long stretch of adorable coffee shops, food stands, and trinket stores within a hutong. We spent the afternoon sipping coffee on a rooftop coffee shop exploring our own cultural distinctions. We Americans learned correct usage of British phrases such as “bloke” and “proper” and we, in turn, taught the girls how to properly use the word “legit.”

Keith and Katie cheesin’ in front of lanterns in front of Nanluoguxiang Ancient Alley

Check out the lady on the side yelling at me to take off the fuzzy panda hat. Tehe

Me and the UK girlies

Yep, we bought ears

As the sun began to set, we ventured toward Houhai where the restaurants bordering the lake were glowing with a mixture of Christmas lights and Chinese lanterns. While we were enjoying drinks on an outdoor patio, a little Chinese girl started took interest in us. Somehow Keith got the child’s parents to cheers with everyone, and the parents handed a beverage to the 2-year-old so she could clink glasses with us! An infant cheersed us with an adult beverage; something that I can’t imagine happening too often in the U.S.

Pretty lights in Houhai

After corrupting the youth of China, we ended up at a venue filled with acoustic sounds of John Mayer. Once the Chinese singer/guitarist finished his set, he took a great liking to me and I found out that he was from Shanghai and he was fabulous at applying liquid eyeliner. After I tried octopus on a stick, swung around in a hammock strung over a table in the bar, and we all danced on stage a bit, we called it a night. I decided if all nights in Beijing were this randomly awesome, I just might love it here.

Asian John Mayer