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Archive for January, 2011

Hi everyone

My non-profit organisation, I Learn to Live – Ngifundela ukuphila, is in its first year of operation and I’d like to ask you all for your assistance. I’m writing to you all because you’re either mad enough to do the Duzi or know someone who is. I Learn to Live is putting out a challenge to both competitors and supporters to help us raise money for the three students whom I Learn to Live has committed to helping for the duration of their three year tertiary education journey.

If you are interested in getting involved either as a competitor or as a supporter of one (we can link you with an athelete if you do not know one), then please get in touch with me via email: ashling.mcc@gmail.com or ash@ilearntolive.co.za or call me on +27 72 432 0316. We are also on facebook.

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My best friend Kirsten and I made a pact four years ago that we’d do our best to go somewhere exciting every year: together we’ve done Zanzibar, America and Morocco; separately India, Ireland, and Hong Kong. One of the best things we’ve done while travelling (or before really) is to find out about the place we’re going from other travellers. We’ve talked with friends, visited blogs, and relied upon reviews on Trip Advisor. And we’ve been given some fantastic tips and met some amazing people. So this section is about the countries I’ve visited, the wonderful guides we’ve met (and the not so wonderful), the places we’ve stayed and the general happenings of holiday life. I hope it inspires you to travel to places you might not have considered but also gives you helpful tips which have certainly enhanced our travels.

 

An African in Asia – Hong Kong (2010):

Beautiful blooms

My twin sister Niamh moved to Hong Kong in October 2010. She’s engaged to an Englishman (Dom) and they decided to make the move from the West to the East for various reasons, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to travel there while free lodging was on offer and while our mutual friend Kirsten (another one) was visiting as well.

Hong Kong was simply not what I expected. And I say that with some hesitation because I’m not exactly sure what I expected. On the one hand I visualised a sleek, sophisticated, technology driven city but on the other hand, I had expected … well, the East: exotic, crowded, dirty, fish heads and chocolate covered insect cuisine. What I got was a wonderful combination of the two!

Niamh and Dom live in an area called Mid-levels: basically an area built on a ridiculously steep incline. You really would never have to do bum exercises again in your life if you just walked down and then climbed up that hill every day for the duration of your stay. On the plus side there is an escalator that runs up the hill – before 10am it goes down (taking everyone to work), and then it runs up the hill for the rest of the day. Very handy – especially after a glass or two of wine. Mid-levels has more restaurants and drinking holes than your could possibly visit if you lived there for 10 years – every conceivable cuisine is available. Sick of Asian food – trot yourself down to the local English Pub, or Australian Bar, French Bistro, or American Diner, …it’s all on offer.

Below are a few descriptions of life in Hong Kong and what you might expect.

 

Your Asian Name:

Much like many indigenous cultures, names are incredibly important to the Asians. So while you might arrive bearing a Western Name (or Irish in this case), you will most likely be given an Asian name. My sister’s name, Niamh, means Queen of the Fairy’s in Gaelic. In Cantonese each portion of your name is given a meaning due to the fact that the same sound can actually have numerous meanings. A South African example of this would be the name Busisiwe which is shortened to Busi.  Say it the wrong way, Buzi, and you’re calling the girl a goat, rather than the intentioned meaning: blessed one.

So the sound Niamh apparently has two interpretations in Cantonese: the first is a husband pincher and the second is pretty – but not like gorgeous, rather like a dumb blonde is pretty. Nice! On that note if you are called Alice, then change your name before you head to Morocco – Alice is the name for a donkey!

 

Transport:

I was blown away by how cheap and efficient the transport is in Hong Kong. Compared to London which is super expensive, Hong Kong was a dream. The Star Ferry, which takes you across to Kowloon is only R2. Taxi’s which are plentiful are also relatively cheap – I don’t think we spent more than R30 travelling around town. The most we spent was on 40 minute trip which cost us around R110. Cheap man! It’ll cost you R400 to get from Glenwood to the new airport in Durban! I kid you not!!!

And on that note – the airport (in Hong Kong) is AMAZING! You arrive, make your way through customs and then get on a train which takes you directly into Hong Kong city at R100 a ticket. It’s clean, fast and is the perfect, stress free introduction to a foreign world!

 

These feet were made for walking:

Kirst outside Gao’s (prior to the torture session)

Everyone knows that Asia is king at looking after your tired and aching body. So off we went to Gao’s Foot Massage Co in Peel Street, at the recommendation of my travel partner Kirsten. She’d been told about it by another friend who’d travelled to Hong Kong and swears by the place. So Dom, Niamh, Kirst and I entered this gorgeous little place and were seated in nice big comfy arm chairs and handed cups of steaming rose tea (with little rose buds floating in it). That’s about where the calmness and relaxation ended. I will admit that I have the pain threshold of a gnat but seriously – I have never had my feet and legs kneaded so vigorously in my life. I actually came out with bruises (and perfectly smooth feet so maybe I shouldn’t complain too much). I did have a good laugh though when Kirsten, who can withstand pain that not even an American spy could endure in a torture session, decided to return for a back massage. She came home with the most insanely bruised back I’ve ever seen. It looked like the masseuse did a tango on her back in stilettos! We did find out later that this was not the place which had been recommended but rather another Gao’s – see it’s not in the name but in the pronunciation!

There are plenty of salons dotted all over the city so you are never far from resting your weary feet and being spoilt for an hour or two.

 

Eating Out:

There is no need to panic at the thought of eating out in Hong Kong – you will find something to suit you and your budget. We had some lovely experiences as well as some fairly mediocre ones, so it’s always good to go with a few recommendations:

Soho Street Fair and Wine Walk

Street party

This just happened to be on at the time we arrived and it was so fantastic to experience. Mid levels basically became one big street party with all the restaurants opening up and many offering wine tasting with snack menus to go with it. You bought a book of six tickets which entitled you to six glasses of wine at the various restaurants. Small craft stalls were selling their wares and people milled about drinking wine, eating food and generally creating a jovial atmosphere. If you are in Hong Kong in November – definitely see if this is happening again.

The Brunch Club on Peel Street

A gorgeous little place which is hugely popular with the ex-pats mainly due to the copious amounts of international fashion and gossip magazines which are available to you for the duration of your stay. This place is purely organic so it sometimes takes awhile for your food to arrive. They make killer fresh fruit smoothies and their breakfast & brunch menu is filled with lovely offerings – eggs Benedict, French toast with bananas and honey, and so much more. It’s also situated near to Caine Road (one of the main roads) near the top so it’s a bit more out of the way of the chaos of town.

Brunch club

Spiaggios in Stanley

We took a bus out to Stanley, a seaside town which hosts a market which is quite popular with the tourists. They sell every conceivable nic-nac you can think of. After wandering around and picking up a few things we headed off to find some lunch and came across Spaggios, which overlooks the bay. The fish and chips were amazing as was the scallop salad. Food is not exactly cheap in Hong Kong, nor is alcohol but this delicious meal was worth the moola.

Too delish

Just order it!

Le Blanc French Private Kitchen –

Deliceuse! As the French would say. What a fantastic little place. Apparently it first stared out as a private kitchen which is a popular concept in Hong Kong. Basically people start small restaurants out of their own kitchens and you hire it out for the evening with friends. We stepped out of the elevator into a wonderland of fairy lights and soft fabrics which separated each table into a private box. We were welcomed in by a fantastic host who really went all out the entire evening ensuring we were happy. The evening is based on a menu where all three courses must be ordered from. There are so many beautiful dishes to choose from and it was definitely the food highlight of the trip.

Minimum charge of $290 per meal per person. You can bring your own booze.

83 Wanchai Road , 6th Floor

Le Blanc with the girls

               Chinese and Thai Restaurant on the Shek-O road

After a day at Ocean Park we headed off to a restaurant my sister had heard about from some ex-pats. We didn’t know the name but we did know it was on the Shek-O road. We also didn’t realise how far away it was but it was definitely worth the trip! It’s in a very non-descript, run down looking town and the décor is certainly nothing to get excited about. But the food! The menu must have had 200 dishes in it, each with a photo to help you work out what it was you were ordering (very, very handy when no English is used is the description). We gorged ourselves on scallops with black bean sauce, a massive bbq’d fish, garlic asparagus, pad thai and loads of Singha beer – fantastic!!

The Stoep South African Restaurant  in Lan Tau Chenuycha

If you are desperate for some home fare then you could make your way down to the Stoep – a South African restaurant. However, I have to say that it’s not worth it for the food but they’re right on a lovely beach so that’s pretty cool. Get yourself a cocktail, put your toes in the sand and listen to the waves.

The Stoep

 

 

Shopping & Markets:

One of the many reasons people go to Hong Kong is to shop. I cannot lie – the idea did fill me with some excitement! If you enter a train station, bus station, air port, office building, or tourist attraction of any sort in Hong Kong – you will find shopping mecca. It’s almost vulgar in its obviousness, however, you came to shop – and so you will! Not being hugely into shopping myself, I thought I’d just fill you in on a few of the markets we visited (and didn’t).

Stanley Market

Stanley market is found in one of the coastal towns near the City. You jump on a bus and take a hair raising, vomit inducing trip over the top of a mountain or two until finally you see the sea. What a relief. It’s quite an informal set up – very much like a market you might find in the centre of Durban so don’t expect air conditioning and tiled floors. There are two linen shops which sell fantastic sheets, table cloths and linens off sorts for a great price. Cheap dress shops, touristy curios and pretty much anything that is made in the East. It’s worth a look around if you’re into that sort of thing. Afterwards, you should head down to the bay area and eat at one of the restaurants which dot the edge.

Bus # 6 from Hong Kong City bus terminus ($7.90)

Shenzhen

I arrived in Hong Kong with the words Shenzhen on my lips. It’s all I’d heard about since my sister arrived in Hong Kong. Knock off clothing, bags, belts and shoes for dirt cheap. So it was with great excitement that we headed off to this shopping mecca. Sadly we’d fail to gather crucial information and due to the fact that South African’s must have a visa to enter main land China (but weirdly not Hong Kong), we turned away and headed home. So ensure you know what the deal is before you leave South Africa because apparently the rules change…often…and without warning. So for more information on what I missed out on but what you can still enjoy – click here.

 

               Shopping Centres…..

Are EVERYWHERE! You cannot escape them. They are beautiful, air conditioned and great to look around. So if you are trying to escape the heat and humidity – locate one and spend a few hours in it browsing around.

 

Touristy things to do:

Star Ferry

To orientate yourself and see Hong Kong from a different perspective, catching a ferry and taking a trip around the harbour is a must. For an hour or so you trawl the waters, watching Hong Kong float by. By day or by night you get a wonderful view: Hong Kong lights up at night with amazing light shows so you can watch it from the boat or from one of the restaurants at the top of the highest skyscrapers.

Beautiful lights to enjoy at night from a ferry or from a sky high bar

We went up to watch the light show from the Peking One building. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but it’s the one right at the top and we had probably one of the best snacks there. They have this amazing mushroom and truffle pizza which was outstanding and I had the most delicious raspberry Mojito. Definitely worth a visit.

Horse racing

Wednesday night is horse racing night and at only $10 it is one cheap way to get out there and watch Hong Kongs finest prance about – and I don’t mean the horses! The ex-pats are out in all the Shenzhen finery and if you’re single and looking for a mate, this is your gateway to coupledom.  Just catch up bus or taxi to Causeway Bay and as you come out of the station you an either walk (I recommend it as it’s literally 5 minutes away) or you can join the endless cue to people waiting to get a taxi. We had a particularly loony driver who drove the 2m gap left by the car in front of us and then slammed on brakes in order to avoid hitting that car – this was done repeatedly until Niamh gave him a talking to.

Night racing

Peak Train and Sky Terrace – $56

This is  very touristy thing to do but it must be done as you do get to see Hong Kong from a very loft vantage point and it really is rather pretty. Pick a day which is not in the least bit hazy or smoggy as you’ll see bugger all after getting all the way to the top. You jump on a vincula which takes you all the way to the top at a 45 degree angle and then walk straight into a shopping centre – again…weird but they’ve got you cornered! Kirst and I didn’t really get a great view due to the smog but we took a fantastic walk around the mountain which was lovely. They have designated walking paths and it was great to get away from the crowds and spend some time watching the huge kites circle the peaks and call out to each other.

It was pretty smoggy up there so the view wasn’t great

              Ocean Park

After our failed Shenzhen attempt we decided we needed something to cheer us up so we made our way to Hong Kong’s famous Ocean Park. Nothing like a few death defying, hair raising, scream creating rides to get you over your grump! Ocean Park is built on a hill and you take escalators up to various levels where you jump off to visit attractions. To get down the mountain you can either take the escalators or you can catch a sky car which gives you the most beautiful views of the shoreline and parts of Hong Kong.

It really was great fun and we had a cool day just chilling out and watching Hong Kong(ians) take photos of themselves standing next to random objects with the obligatory peace sign being pulled.

Bus $10 from Hong Kong City and $250 entrance fee.

The Big Buddha

To be honest, this didn’t really float my boat but it is an attraction worth seeing. You need to get a ferry to Lantau Island so grab one at the Star Ferry terminal. He really is rather large! You climb a vast amount of stairs and as you huff and puff your way up them, a spritely octogenarian sprints past you in order to pay her respects at the top. When you buy your ticket, go for the option of paying a tiny bit extra for the free ice-cream and water. You’ll need it – trust me!

In case you didn’t see the 34m statue – follow this sign

The pretty ladies surrounding Buddha

Last tips:

The Hong Kong dollar is equivalent to the South African Rand so it’s easy to work out what you’re spending. As I mentioned before, food and booze is not cheap but if you are brave I would recommend eating in local joints as you’ll pay far less and the food really is good. Booze is insanely expensive – you won’t pay less that R60 a glass of wine (and generally it’s around R90 a glass). Cocktails average R90.

I’ve really just given you my experience of Hong Kong and I can assure you we didn’t do half of what we could have.  My sister recommends a day trip on a junk boat, you can go hiking around Hong Kong and there are islands dotted around which are worth a visit.

Probably the best part of being in Hong Kong was spending time with Niamh and Kirsten – two people I don’t get to see enough of. So my final suggestion is to travel with a friend and explore, explore, explore!!!

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