Hello Uncle Foreigner

slideshow

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong: Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui

A beautiful day in the neighborhoods

On our third morning, we grabbed breakfast and took the ferry across the harbor.

Real English-style breakfast is available at 18 Grams
Check out our album of photos in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui are two neighborhoods on the island to the north of Hong Kong Island. Whereas on our side of things, the shopping seemed to be more high end (we had Max Azria, Louis Vutton, etc.), in TST, things were a little more casual. I bought months and months worth of leave-in conditioner, and we browsed Tom Lee for an hour.

The streets were wide and crowded, somewhat like Fifth Avenue in midtown. Indian men were hawking fake designer watches every couple of feet, with very few takers.

After shopping, we hit up the Hong Kong Science Museum. I know science museums are usually for kids, but I love them. Tickets for both Peter and I cost HK$60, which is less than US$10. Attractions and public transportation are really cheap here.

Headless Emily at the Hong Kong science museum
Check out more photos of our trip to the Science Museum.

The museum’s special exhibit was on food science. They were sponsored by, or had the cooperation of - or something - McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It was really weird to see those American brands splashed all over. Especially because the exhibit was put together by a Japanese institution.

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong’s Walk of Stars

A walk by the harbor

Bruce Lee on the Walk of Stars

The Hong Kong Walk of Stars is located in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s not quite as fancy as the one in Hollywood, but there’s a plaque commemorating Hong Kong and Mainland movie stars, like Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, etc. Some have the stars’ handprints, but many just have their name. I got the sense that it wasn’t really that big a deal.

In fact, as an attraction it’d be only alright if it wasn’t for its location: along the waterfront with a stunning view of the harbor and Hong Kong Island. We walked it at sunset, and it was gorgeous. We ran into many other people enjoying the view (and some joggers, even though this seems like it would be a crowded and annoying run).

Anyway, take a gander:

Hong Kong's waterfront Walk of Stars
Check out our slideshow of photos of the Walk of Stars.

Nov 24, 2011

Our first night in Hong Kong

Man, there are a lot of people here

Hong Kong street scene

Hong Kong reminded us a lot of New York in the best way. The population of Hong Kong is 90% Chinese, but still feels very international. The city is very walkable, and the public transportation is extremely user friendly. Oh yeah, and pretty much everyone speaks English. We were able to find foreign food (ie, non-Chinese) we were craving, as well as good beer and wine (non-existent in Luzhou). We found all the comforts of our old home with out having to go back across the world.

Our first night, it was raining, but we were back in a real city and we just had to get out there. We took the tram (which is more than 100 years old) down the busy main street by our hostel and got out and wandered through the districts of Central and Admirality. These were more businessy and sterile than where we were staying in Causeway Bay, which seemed a much younger, hipper, bustling area. So we bussed it back (that’s two modes of transport, if you’re keeping track) and wandered there.

There were shops upon shops and people upon people. Being a series of islands, the city is very vertical. You could find restaurants and shops on the tenth floors of buildings that didn’t look accessible to the public at all. Our first hostel was tucked away on the fourth and fifth floors of an unassuming-looking apartment building. It’s an extreme case of using the limited space you have however you can.

We were tired from travelling all day, so we packed it in and made it an early night. But something sparked: We were pretty sure we were going to like Hong Kong.

Nighttime in the city on our first night in Hong Kong
Our first night in Hong Kong was rainy and fun. Check out the full album.

Nov 9, 2011

Food on sticks

Yum

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been seeing these vendors all over everywhere selling food on sticks. Just an array of lotus root, cucumbers, bamboo, everything, all skewered and stacked on top of each other.

Food on sticks
More food on sticks!

In the past few weeks, we’ve figured out what the deal is. Things on sticks, as we call it, is a meal where you grab up some things on sticks and throw them into a spicy broth to cook. It’s kind of the same idea as hot pot, although it’s not the same. I don’t know why, but when we told some locals about it, they were like, “That’s not hot pot.” Whatever it is, it has become our favorite meal out. Partly because of the level of control we have over the food - you take what you want, and no one’s trying to serve you “duck’s paw”.

The place we frequent is just down the street from our house. You start out by grabbing a tray and hitting the big table.

Sticks 1

Grab all the sticks you want. We’re partial to the broccoli, green beans, cucumbers and red pepper. I like to grab a few porky-looking ones as well. We also like to get a couple different kinds of tofu. (Chinese for tofu = dofu. Pretty easy.) That little silver dish below has a mix of more spices, cilantro, peanuts and some other stuff. It’s really tasty to put on the cooked veggies.

Sticks 2

When the broth is bubbling, throw in your sticks. We often see groups of five to ten people out sharing one pot. They throw handfuls and handfuls of sticks in at a time. We like to do only a couple at a time, so nothing gets overcooked; the more it cooks, the spicier it gets.

Sticks 3

Because we’re out on the sidewalk (oh yeah, this restaurant is basically a few tents set up on the sidewalk), the steam blows every which way. Usually into my face. The white bowls, we use them thusly: When we’ve decided a morsel is finished cooking, we plunk it off the stick and into the bowl to cool off. Maybe we mix in some of the silver bowl spices. Not everyone uses the white bowls, but there’s no shame in it. It’s not like being given a fork or anything. (Chinese people constantly express amazement that we can use chopsticks.)

Sticks 4

Anyway, it’s a really fun, delicious meal. We’ve gone twice so far this week. Every time, you can pick something different, according to what you fancy, so it doesn’t get tired. Last night (our fourth time there), the staff started to chat (in a limited fashion) with us - we’re regulars!

Oct 23, 2011

A surprise trip to the Old Cellar

We’re, like, supermodels, or something

Luzhou Laojiao

This morning we were awakened by a phone call from one of our bosses: “A photographer who works with our school wants to take photos of you. Can you meet him in half an hour?”

I managed to buy us a whole hour, and we jumped in the shower and made ourselves presentable for what was explained to us as a “3-4 minute photo shoot.”

The disembodied drinker

We met the photographer at the gate of the school, along with two students - Cindy and Alice - who were to be our translators. We followed them, not to a photography studio, but the Old Cellar. This factory, which is right in our backyard, produces a liquor called Luzhou Laojiao. The locals call it wine, but it’s a white spirit brewed from sorghum, and it tastes INTENSE. This liquor has been brewed here for nearly 2,000 years, and it’s the pride of the city. Cindy told us our students receive two small bottles of it as a traditional gift upon high school graduation. She says she doesn’t drink it, because it’s too strong. (She’s about 16, I think, but there is no drinking age here.)

We were met at the factory by another photographer and a tour guide, Angie. It was very surreal. Angie gave us a private tour of the factory - which we had actually been intending to visit one of these days - with English help from the two students. Meanwhile the two photographers were snapping away. They posed us in front of everything. They even took pictures of Peter taking pictures of me. (Peter, fortuitously, thought to grab our camera on the way out the door.)

A bottle of Luzhou Laojiao

The tour itself was pretty simple; because of the language difference, a lot of it boiled down to, “this is a thing.” Having toured wineries and breweries before, I’ve seen how alcohol is made, and it was much the same here; take a grain, heat it up, store it away. It did take about an hour, though, because we had to keep stopping to pose for photos. The photographers snapped us listening to the tour guide, looking at stuff, reading plaques, joking with the kids, sitting on benches …

At the end of the tour, we had a small sample of the liquor in the ceremonial hall. It was about 11 in the morning, but why not? They sat us at this large wooden table with beautiful chairs and served us a small shot in a traditionally shaped porcelain glass. Much like a wine tasting, there’s an elaborate process to sipping the spirit, involving sniffing, sipping and inhaling. They even had us rub a little on our skin, although I don’t think that’s a traditional part of the ceremony.

And that was that. We went back out front, where the photographers had Peter and I kiss in front of the giant rock at the entrance. And then, our modeling job was over.

We exchanged phone numbers with Angie for possible language exchange, which would actually be pretty cool. She was very nice, and we’re definitely in the market for new friends here. But no explanation was offered for what we had just done, or why. Though we did get a nice private tour out of it in English. Check it out for yourself:

>An early-morning tour of a liquor showroom
Check out the full album of our tour.

This city is really serious about the liquor. Luzhou Laojiao is known throughout all of China. You can buy it EVERYWHERE here. There are liquor stores next to liquor stores, all selling those red boxes. Here’s just a small sample of shops that we’ve seen around town:

Stores selling baijiu
So many liquor stores!

Oct 16, 2011

On the other side of the other river

A tour of the supermarkets

Today we took the bus over to the far bank of the Tuojiang, the river to the west of us. We went in search of a Carrefour, which is a French supermarket chain, but what we found wasn’t all that different from the other supermarkets we’ve been in. We did buy some “sesame catsup,” which smells like it might be tahini.

But we had a nice walk around a different neighborhood. The riverside street there was dotted with tea houses, much like our riverside street, but it was a lot quieter. Inland, it seemed much more commercial, with stalls hawking everything from socks to tape.

We walked over the bridge back to our side of the river, and found this enormous market. In front of the brick-and-mortar stores, entrepreneurs had all set up their own racks and carts and stalls of merchandise. It seems if you have stuff to sell in this city, you just roll up on a piece of pavement and do it.

Tuo Jiang River
Check out the full album.