Super Slick Hong Kong Video

Wow , I wish I could claim credit for this but lo and behold right after I return from Hong Kong Shanghaiist posts a link to this masterpiece.

What I love about this video ( in addition to its awesomeness) is that it shows several of the places I just mentioned in my highlights list

We see the Star Ferry ride with Central in the background , the Wan Chai neighborhood I walked through to get back to my hotel , Tin Hau temple , the temple street night market , and the Happy Valley racecourse. I feel so cool recognizing these places. Oh yea , been there , right , uh-huh. 🙂

Gregory Kane, you are awesome for making this video.

How To Win Big In Happy Valley

Like I said before , I first learned about Hong Kong through the stellar James Clavell novel Noble House. Many key scenes took place over big dollar betting at the Happy Valley Racecourse. Alas, I was left without a private VIP room (and millions to bet with) but I had a damn good time at Happy Valley.

I could see the racetrack from my hotel window so my cousin and I rambled over after dinner one night. Lucky for us it was Oktoberfest! ( In November but I’m not complaining!)

How to Win

Step 1.

Buy large pitchers of beer. Consume said beer. ( Alcohol is a key factor in the enjoyment of the races.)

Step 2.

When you’re starting to feel pretty fine pour an indiscriminate amount of brew into a cup. Chug that beer to the best of your ability. The number of seconds it takes = your lucky horse number.

Step 3.

I bet the minimum of 20HKD on win .

The winning ticket.

Step 4.

Profit and bask in the glory!

I discovered this foolproof technique on my first ever attempt at betting on anything.
I placed the bet and did the worst possible thing you can do on the first time you ever bet. Win.
Winning the very first time , who could just walk away?

AFter waiting in line in between hardcore gamblers wearing sunglasses at night , clenching their horse-betting newspaper with vice-like grips , we fought our way through the crowds thick with the young , beautiful , and business-suited.

Straining to see , up on our very tiptoes, the gates open and the horses are off! I can’t see anything! Dang , being on ground level at a circular track leaves at least 50% of the race to the video screens!

My beloved horse #2 (2 second chug!) was quickly behind. Nooooo! We felt dejected , let-down , cheated. Until #2 had a surge of power in the last quarter and overtook the pack to win by a body length! All those previous negative energies disappeared and we were left ecstatic , amazed by what just happened , and slighty drunk.

Waiting in line to cash in the ticket, I was saying there is no way we can win anything big ( totally not understanding the system that lets you know exactly what you win) . My 20HKD turned into 146 HKD , that’s $2.58 USD to $18.83 for those who don’t have the conversions memorized. 7 to 1 payoff on win!

AFter winning, we committed a grave error. We switched to the mathematical principles of addition , multiplication , and parity ( that’s odd or evens . Don’t feel bad , I had to look the word up.) We foolishly dismissed our winning strategy as luck or chance. It’s not. Trust the beer. Fear the math.

By the end of it we were down to our initial cash levels minus the beer but plus a Gangnam Style dance competition, so I’d say we left ahead.

Unfortunately the place in Shanghai named Happy Valley is a mere amusement park. The original horse racing track was at People’s Square prior to 1949. Communists don’t like betting or fun so they tore it down. I really wish they hadn’t. It would great to be able to go once or twice a month. Instead I’ll have to wait till the next time I’m in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Foods – Round Two!

Man , Cantonese fair won my heart over while in Hong Kong!
Be jealous everyone!

Hong Kong Round Two

Wow! Sorry everyone. I’ve been back from my trip for 5 days now but uploading problems on wordpress/facebook have been plaguing me. Perhaps this has something to do with the Communist Party power change that was going on earlier this week. Coincidence? Most likely not.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Hong Kong via a dual overnight layover on the way to/from Vietnam. This month I had a chance to get to know her glorious self a little bit better while simultaneously getting caught up with my mountain trekking Uncle and Cousin. Score!
I just took the better part of last week off and spent some time in Hong Kong with a day side trip to Macau! This trip was also on the Uncle’s (significantly more impressive than mine) budget. Bye bye Chungking Mansions and 30HKD breakfasts. Hello gourmet food , taxis, and a nice hotel. YES!

This trip gave me more time to see the places I learned about in the fantastic novel , Noble House, by James Clavell. If you haven’t checked this author out before , proceed to do so. Noble House is a massive , more than 1000 page epic tome that takes place in 1960’s Hong Kong. It has multiple storylines intertwining , dozens of characters, and features some of the Taipans 大班 (bosses) of massive trading companies warring it out with each other all while dealing with spies , movie stars, and pirates. It’s some heavy sh*t.

As I was taking the windy road up to Hong Kong’s highest point (Victoria Peak) I could just imagine Ian Dunross (Main character from Noble House) gunning his high-powered sports car up the dangerously curving roads, I could envision the battle between developers to build the tallest buildings with the best views of Central consequently sparking up feuds with new apartments blocking the view from the older multimillionaire dollar apartments , I could see the fishing junks moored in Aberdeen waiting out the latest typhoon. I was transported to the real life settings of the book only 50 years later and 50 years more advanced. Hong Kong of now is a whole new beast. Even though Shanghai has three times the population , it feels small in comparison with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is packed into a small area resulting in a craze to build everything taller and closer together. I’ve never been in an environment that felt so urban.

This trip I revisited some of the biggies that I went to during my quick layovers . I had to show the Uncle and Cousin the classic Victoria Peak , Hong Kong skyline at night , and the Star Ferry trip across the harbor. I also got to use the extended time to check out new places in the city and make a trip over charming Macau.

Some of the highlights include :

a fortune-telling in the crowded Temple Street Night Market

betting on the horse races in Happy Valley

matching an insane Gangnam style dance competition in between betting on horses

learning Obama won the U.S presidency by reading the traditional characters on a newspaper in the morning

checking out the beautiful Wong Tai Sin temple and Hau Tin temple

seeing the touristy but slick night city skyline dance of the stars

and the food , oh my the God the food!
(but this is for a totally separate post)

and most importantly , catching up with my relatives!

I’m definitely not done with Hong Kong . I’ve fallen quite hard for the city and look forward to return visits in order to see more of it. I really want to head out to the out-of-the-way places : the little fishing villages on separate islands , the working class neighborhoods of Kowloon , and the functional monasteries all come to mind. The big Buddha on Lantau island has also been eluding me! I’ll be back Hong Kong!

Dear Shanghai


I’m sorry to have to tell you this , but something’s wrong. Something’s changed. It’s not me. It’s you. Remember those days we used to lounge in Fuxing park , and those nights we passed sitting outside Shanghai Brewery? What happened to us? We’d always be down to meet up. These days we haven’t been seeing each other much. You’ve turned rather frigid towards me. All you want me to do is watch DVDs. Gone are the days of carefree strolling . All we have now is frightening lack of enthuastism for being seen in public together. I miss the nights of laying , sweating like a pig in the bed, drained from what you did to me all day! We’d do our thing , sweat , shower , and repeat like a washing machine on an endless cycle. I just wanna be with you , but you’re turning me away! Why , why , are you doing this to me?

Well, enough is enough. I’m leaving. I’ve found a new girl. She’s fun and hotter than you. 11 degrees Celsius hotter than you to be exact.
Her name is Hong Kong , and I’m out. Call me in the spring. Peace.

It’s time to head off to Hong Kong once again! This time longer than just a layover. Also a brutal re-tease of the weather I’m missing. October 22 was great in Shanghai. I had shorts , sandals , and the sun was nice on my skin. Perfect weather. I thought perhaps this was the year that the cold doesn’t come. Like always , I’m fooled. Since then it’s turned to blanket , hoodie, and pants weather. I fear the next months when it’s nearly impossible to feel truly warm. Shanghai’s is a humid cold. A dampness that chills down to the bone. Lack of good heating in homes and work is a killer. Try as hard as you like , but even after the 5th cup of scalding tea you can’t quite get rid of that lingering cold in the marrow of your bones. I’m only delaying the inevitable with my trip to Hong Kong , but oh well.

Tomorrow I’m off for the mini-family reunion with my mountain climbing (just got into HK from Nepal) Uncle and Cousin! Whoo hooo!

Hong Kong – Layover #1

Hong Kong , easy and pricy. An enclave of Chinese culture without the authoritarian grasp of the CCP. An interesting mix of West and East , formed from thousands of years of mainland Chinese history and founded/ruled as a colony of the British empire. To me , Hong Kong is the very definition of urban. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated places with 7,103,700 people packed into 425 square miles. These numbers are a little tricky though as only about 25% of that land is developed with the rest being hilly green areas and country parks. This means all those people are actually crammed in a much smaller space! The result? Towering apartment blocks stretching into the sky with only very tiny alleyways separating the massive concrete structures, residential spaces above with , convenient stores , restaurants , shopping, below. A true concrete jungle.

We started out how most people start their trips to Hong Kong , the super easy , convenient , and comparatively (to Shanghai) expensive airport train. 24 minutes from the airport to the city in a comfy train. Nice compared to Hanoi where the methods of transport are all almost solely cut-throat taxi drivers looking to rip you off.

We didn’t have much money to spend on our trip so we opted for Hong Kong’s cheapest guesthouses in the infamous Chungking Mansions. The Mansions are a 17 story world microcosm. They are infamous for illegal immigrants , sex workers, and drugs. It’s also a backpacker hotspot for those looking to save money with 90 guesthouses and more than 1,000 beds. It’s also a place I wouldn’t want to be if a fire broke out. Not enough elevators and a confusing layout of stairwells with dead-ends make it a deathtrap. In addition it’s a place where low-scale globalization trade occurs with many hard-working honest traders from all over Asia, the Middle-East, and Africa carrying goods over in suitcases looking to make a sale. Estimates claim that nearly 20% of cell phones in Sub-Saharan Africa pass through the ChungKing Mansions.

Standing in line for the elevator (it took like half a hour) , I certainly didn’t feel like I was in Hong Kong. I waited in line hearing African French , seeing dudes with long black beards and turbans stroll by , and smelling Indian curries. I was accosted by guys with Bollywood accents trying to get me to stay in their guesthouses. I was comforted by fellow backpackers also sweating , looking lost , and trying to find their way in this maze.

I couldn’t complain about the guesthouse. The manager was really friendly and I guess $50 for a closet with an adjoining toilet/shower closet is a good deal for space strapped Hong Kong. ( $25 would get me a really nice spacious hotel with free breakfast in Hanoi and $3 dollars got me a bigger room in rural Sagada, Philippines). If you want to save some cash in Hk don’t be scared of the Chungking Mansions and go stay at the Apple Hostel!

Chungking Mansions

Waiting in Line in Chungking Mansions

We got checked in, and dropped all our stuff off pretty late ,but we went on a night stroll down to the Star Ferry terminal. It was too late to see the famous skyline all lit up but it was still cool. We got to watch some fisherman hook a huge fish and see the fish drop on a lady’s back who was trying to pose with it. Stopping in at the convenient store on the way back, we were shocked at how much more expensive everything was.

Late night skyline view.

Water = 2x to 3x the price of Shanghai.
Instant Noodles = 3x the price
Beer = 50% more.
The sticker shock would only continue the next day.

With a limited time-frame we were checked out by 6:00 am and on the road. First things first, we took the ferry over to Hong Kong island , totally oblivious to the fact that the day before had seen a ferry sinking with 30 some deaths. Fortunately our trip was smoother, we had wondered why there were so few people on board. Arriving in Central we hopped one of the double-decker buses and went up to Victoria Peak , the classic view of Hong Kong from up high. I was a bit taken aback at the price (9.50 HKD is about 2-3 times the price I would pay in Shanghai for a similar distance on a bus). It was worth the $1.22 USD though for the windy trip up through the mountainous HK terrain. Upon reaching the top we took in the cool air and the great views. It was a bit foggy/smoggy but still insanely impressive. We hopped on one of the famous cable cars to go down and we were glad we choose the bus to go up. The lines for the ride up the mountain via tram were very , very long.

Bus ride up to the peak.

View from the peak.

Cable Car line to the peak.

After the tram ride we were down in the heart of things and took a long walk down Queen’s Road. We were in awe all how tall and how closely packed Hong Kong is . Apartment buildings soared overheard with only tiny alleys separating them. It felt like the most city like environment I had ever been in. While I loved it , it made me realize how nice Shanghai’s tree-lined former French Concession really is.



We had fun walking through Central and saw some great examples of the whole East meets West thing. Shops selling deer antlers (with skull!) and deer fetuses peacefully existed with pizza places and fine Dutch cheeses. Constipated cats guarded dry seafood, old men in roast duck restaurants spoke great English , ladies in chadors shopped for the newest fashions while business suited men drank beer on plastic seats at plastic tables on the street. From somewhere incense wafted out into the air. What a place!

Deer Fetuses. You thought I was kidding.

After all those deer fetuses , it certainly does call for a Carlsberg.

Soooo tall!

After wandering around and getting tired we decided to take the subway over to Causeway Bay. This area is known for its massive shopping malls , and well more shopping malls. We just wanted to relax (and I needed to find a good place to poop , me being somewhat wary from Shanghai’s bathrooms.)

After taking a breather and dropping off some of my burdens , it was time to head back over to Kowloon side to grab our things and head off to the airport.

We had enough time to get off at Jordan Station and walk down HK’s “Golden Mile” Nathan Street. We stopped in at Tsim Tsa Tsui park and all of a sudden I was hearing Tagalog and seeing dark skin everywhere. Wha? Manila? Where I am? I had strolled into the park and right into the midst of a Filipina domestic maid party. Everyone was Filipino. Brought back some good memories of my month in the Philippines.

Filipinos in the Park.

Awesome new and the old shot.

We hurried back to the hostel , grabbed our things , and hit the airport express. Next stop Hanoi!

Hong Kong – Food N’ Drink

I’m working on the write-ups! I swear! Things are just busy right getting back into the swing of the work schedule and the home-living chores needed to keep the cockroaches away. I’ll distract you with some pics of eating and drankin in HK. We didn’t have much time and ,dang, Hong Kong restaurants are expensive compared to Shanghai. Just wait for the Vietnam eating pics!

Hong Kong – Same Same but Different

    Where am I?

    What is this place?

    Seemingly familiar , yet very different. It feels like China , but isn’t. Everyone looks Chinese but will most likely vehemently deny it. I’m from Hong Kong not China!

    Welcome to Hong Kong International Airport. The ancient Chinese characters beam down at me. However, I can only kind of , sort of read them. All that time studying and learning to read on Mainland China , and now I’m confronted by more bizarre , more complex , morphlings of what I learned. My brain is in overdrive trying to make the connections between the simplified characters used on the mainland and the traditional characters still used by Taiwan , Hong Kong , and many overseas Chinese communities.

    Inserting my Unionpay bank card into a Bank of China ATM at the airport , I receive unfamiliar paper currency adorned with fish and dragons. Most tellingly , gone is the gaze of Chairman Mao’s ugly mug. The beady eyes no longer following me from every bill.

    Stepping onto the airport express train , announcements speed out of the speakers and barrage my ears. I can’t understand anymore! But then they switch over to Putonghua which many of you might know as Mandarin. Though Mandarin is taught in schools , Cantonese is the language of Hong Kong.

    Arriving in Kowloon station we search out the K3 free airport hotel bus . My girlfriend cowers behind me , urging me to go ahead and ask for directions. She’s nervous , fearful the Hong Kongnese will shun her Mandarin and her mainland ways. An older man seems our halted motions and our searching eyes , comes over and helps us in impeccable English. The bus driver also has great English as he instructs to get off at the first stop to make it Chungking Mansions. This would never happen in Shanghai.

    After getting off the bus , I’m almost nailed by a red, speeding , double-decker bus. Right , right British style driving on the left side of the road. This will make things difficult.

    It’s late , we’re exhausted , and hungry after we check in and get our bags dropped off. Walking around not many food options are apparent. We spot the ubiquitous golden arch , symbol of the fat masses back in America , and saunter over. I’m greeted in perfect English and order in English. Weird. On the rare occasions I’ve stopped in to McDonald’s in Shanghai it seems like the cashiers are afraid , hiding behind the register , pointing blindly at the menu , hoping you will just go away. If you start speaking Mandarin , their relief is palpable in the air.

    After some chicken nuggets , it’s past midnight. Stopping in at a convenient store , I pick up the Tsingtao Beer that’s not sold in China. 5% Alcohol. Stronger. Better. Yummy. I like this place.

    I like the differences , both big and small , and it’s part of what drives me to travel. What drinks do they have here? How’s the food? Wow, look at the temple architecture style! No bicycles?

    After some sleep (little because we went to bed at 1 a.m and were up at 6:00 a.m to take full advantage of the partial day in HK) I was ready to see what else this little enclave from the mainland, where Facebook , Youtube , and elections are to be had , had to offer.

Hong Kong Street Art

Hong Kong definitely has more tags and street art than Shanghai. I would like to visit a street art zone like Shanghai’s M50 next time I’m there (which is November 6th to meet my uncle and cousin!) Anyone know of any spots?

I got these pics while just wandering around the busy streets. Some are from Temple Street in Kowloon and others from around the Queen’s Road Central area.

Welcome Back! Now F*** Off!

The end of a trip is always a sad time, but it feels nice to get home. As I was standing in the “Foreigner” line for immigrations to China ( I like the Hong Kong “Visitors” line better) , I was just imagining how nice it would be to scrub my grubby self off in my tiny shower back in my pad. Alas , this was not to be.

Waiting at the baggage carousel , and waiting , and waiting , I was at last discouraged when the final remaining passenger scooped up his bag and left.

Going over to the lost baggage claims desk , I was welcomed back to China with its amazing (lack of) customer service. Sometimes service in the land of 1.3 billion is lacking. The attitude becomes that of “there are 1,299,999,999 other people available , get lost”.

Upon handing the worker behind the counter my baggage claim slip , the first thing I was informed was “China Eastern is not responsible for your loss and we will not give you any compensation”. Wow. Right off the bat , I was hit with that little gem. No desire to help , only to cover their tracks.

Back in Hanoi , I had a Hong Kong Airlines flight to Hong Kong , an overnight in Hong Kong , and a following day Hong Kong Airlines flight operated by China Eastern to Shanghai. In Hanoi , at check-in, the worker asked me if I wanted my bag to go to Hong Kong , and then I would collect it and have to re-check it the next day or if I wanted the bag to go straight to Shanghai. The latter was optimal , saving me time , and freeing myself from lugging the bag around Hong Kong.

After explaining the situation to the China Eastern lost baggage claims, they told me that this was “impossible” , that the bag had to be picked up in Hong Kong by myself. Upon asking her to call Hong Kong Airlines and check if the bag was in their system , she told me they didn’t have the phone number. She was clearly not willing to look the number up or help in any manner.

Trekking back home from the airport , I was in a bad mood. You see, all my personal hygiene things were in the bag. Hot shower with shampoo and soap = no go. (And I spent almost all my cash on the trip , I needed food money)

Five years ago when I was headed to Germany from the U.S , I had a hectic shuffling about involving delayed flights , missed connections, and lost luggage. In Germany , Lufthansa , which was the airline I was switched to , gave me 50 Euros , a fresh change of clothes , all the essential toiletrries I would need, and delivery of my bag the next day with no hassle, and they weren’t even the ones who misplaced my luggage! Now that is customer service.

It took us the next day of calling China Eastern and harrassing them to get my bag. China Eastern was having no part of bearing the responsibilty , and no part in helping me to get my bag. I didn’t ask for compensation , only my things. ( Which included my pair of shoes). They kept saying to call Hong Kong Airlines , yelled at my girlfriend , refused to have any responsibility, and even hung up on her.

We called Hong Kong Airlines , they profusely apologized , said China Eastern is crazy for their behavior , said since China Eastern was handling the flight and since it was the last connecting flight China Eastern was indeed resonsible for getting me my bag. They promised to take care of things and help us out.

Fast forward a bit and China Eastern calls us and tells us to come all the way back to Pudong Airport to pick the bag up. My girlfriend says hell no , China Eastern says they won’t spend a penny on us , and fighting ensues. Eventually we get them to say they will deliver. The delivery guy calls us and asks us if it’s okay to bring the bag tomorrow since he has NO MONEY to get transport into the city. What kind of joke is this? We tell him he works for a delivery company and he should get some money. ( We believe he just didn’t want to come since it was nearly 8pm)

At least we got the bag back , and in 24 hours but come on! Customer service fail. Pity for China Eastern as their pilots and stewardess are great (we even got Haagan Daazs ice-cream!)

Alright enough moaning and complaining. Next updates will be all about the trip + photos!