Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Family Visitations Part 1

My Japanese family came to visit! It was only for a short weekend, but we tried to fill it up as much as we could.
The first thing I did was go to pick them up at the airport via bus. I figured being in the very front seat of the top of a double-decker bus would have a great view.

And indeed it did. Wow.
Once together, we checked in at an amazing hotel. I felt slightly out of place because of all the grandeur. The view from the room was absolutely worth it.

Casually watched some boats go by.
As often is the case with Hong Kong, the view at night was even better, although the flashing lights from all the buildings made it a little bit difficult to fall asleep.

The evening was spent walking along the Avenue of Stars right outside and admiring the big names.

Unsurprisingly, Jackie Chan's hands are far bigger than my sister's.
The following day, we went to the locals' favorite amusement park - Ocean Park! My Hong Kong friends had all told me that it was far better than Disneyland, so I trusted their judgement. I sure am glad that I did. The line for the shuttle bus to the park was long enough that it literally wrapped around an entire office building, but we made it eventually.

This park had roller coasters, pandas, theme rides, carnival stands, aquarium shows, gondolas...you name it. And it is very large -  large enough to cover an entire mountainside and its surrounding areas. There's even a subterranean ride that goes under the mountain to get from one side of the park to the other. Not only the size, but the sheer amount of cute and cuddly animals everywhere was wonderful.

Pygmy Marmoset!

Arctic Fox!
And much much more. I had so much fun that I forgot to take more pictures! Bit by bit, we made our way along through arctic escapades, dolphin shows, and jungle adventures. At the end, we made our way out of the park via gondola.

After picking up some egg tarts and macarons first of course.
We finished up the day with a lovely dinner at a Cantonese restaurant, admiring the waterfront at night from the hotel lobby, and some late-night swimming in the hotel pool.

My family left the next day, but before going to the airport, we made a quick run over to the top of Victoria's Peak (something that every visitor to Hong Kong should do.)

Despite the warm weather, it was quite windy.
A trip to Hong Kong would also not be complete without the amazing meal of dim sum (otherwise known as yam cha).

15 plates to share among 4 people. Absolute heaven.
All in all, I think everybody enjoyed the trip. We parted ways at the airport - my family back to Japan, and me back to continue my adventures here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Solo Adventuring in Central, PolyU Sports Festival and Hiking along a Dragon's Back

I had a free Wednesday, so I figured a long-overdue visit to Victoria's Peak was in order. This mountain that overlooks all of Kowloon is actually across the water on Hong Kong Island. There are buses and roads that lead to the top, but the most popular option was by the Peak Tram.

A short 10 minutes of intense uphill traversing later, I arrived at the station at the top, which was built into a massive mall with a bunch of stores, including a...

The roof of the building had the best view (although I had to pay to see it).

If I looked closely, I could find my school.
The view to the other side had less buildings but just as good a view.

Across the water is Macao...?
While at the top, I noticed an interesting looking building.

So I went to check it out.

Lion roar!
After that, I descended the mountain. With some last bit of wandering around a park, I concluded my day in Central.

Fountains are always nice.

Every year, Hong Kong PolyU holds a school-wide festival in which all the different clubs and sports teams try to draw in new members. The choir clubs set up speakers and sang outside the buildings, the hiking clubs displayed pictures of different club trips, and the martial arts teams showed off their jump-kicking skills.

As a temporary member of the karate team, I wanted to join in with the performances, but I unfortunately had a small cold I was getting over. It was definitely fun to watch everybody get hyped though.

The next day, I managed to make a full recovery and decided to go hiking to celebrate. Like most of my time spent so far in Hong Kong, the weather was absolutely beautiful (and maybe on the hot side), and so the views proved to be just the same.

 To the dragon's back!
The water was blue.
The view ahead.
And the mountains were green.
The view behind.
Ah, nature.
All in all, the hike took about 3 hours, and really wasn't that hard. I definitely recommend it for some fairly light but sweat-inducing adventuring outside the city. My hiking mates and I celebrated the end of our fun journey with some delicious ramen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mid-Autumn Festival and a beach barbecue

Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the great events in and around China. It was no different here in Hong Kong. Classes were cancelled for the day and local students were free to go home and enjoy the festival with their families. Lights were everywhere, and mooncakes abound. That night, I joined a bunch of exchange students from my school to go to a Mid-Autumn Lantern festival in Tin Hau (on Hong Kong island).

There were a ton of people.
A glowy dome made entirely of recycled materials.

All the pretty glowy animals
And glowy people

Can you spot the full moon?
All in all, it was an incredible affair that you definitely can't experience in the States.

That weekend, I was invited to a beach barbecue out in the New Territories. After taking a metro line all the way to the end, we went shopping for food to grill.

Getting all the food to the beach required a group effort.

And then we grilled!
Although I wasn't feeling all that well, it didn't change the fact that the food was absolutely delicious. Judging by all the public barbecuing pits along the beachfront, family and group outings for beach barbecues is a very regular occurrence around here. All the public ones were jam-packed,  so we had to pay to use one.

After stuffing ourselves full, we proceeded to kick off and enjoy the beach.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Solo Walking

My schedule this semester has allowed me much time to explore. I took one of my free weekdays to take a walk near one of the metro stations on the way to school; Diamond Hill. I had made no plans and had done no research, so I had absolutely no clue what to expect. After leaving the station, I started walking in a general direction and eventually found myself in a garden.

I'm pretty sure this says Nanlian Garden.
Suddenly there was calming Chinese instrumental music in the air and I was surrounded by small rivers, pretty bushes and beautiful looking Chinese-style buildings.

I was in the middle of a city a second ago...what happened??

If ever there was a place to take a quiet break and sip tea or write a book, this is it.

Eventually, I found myself in a middle of a monastery.

If you squint and look at the back right, you can vaguely tell that there is in fact a city near by.

This monastery had constant monotonous chanting coming from speakers all around to get people into the monastery mood. And yes, I was in the mood. Hummmmmmmmmmm.........

No monastery would be complete without its lily ponds and water-spewing dragon heads.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Beautiful Nights

I will start by stating that one of my favorite parts of Hong Kong is the awesome night views. When darkness falls on this busy metropolis, dozens of buildings all around the waterfront on both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island light up in all kinds of colors and designs. At 8 PM every night there is a show called The Symphony of Light in which these buildings all work together to pulse lasers and light up their lights along to some techno-Chinese music. Ultimately though, you don't have to see this show to see the awesomeness of Hong Kong at night.

The view of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon

After having a fabulous sushi dinner in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), a couple of friends and I made our way over to the Avenue of Stars, from which you can see the view above and more. This promenade along the waterfront commemorates all the big names in the Hong Kong film industry (kung fu films).

Hello film lady.

As you walk along, there are plaques spaced evenly out on the ground. On each is the name (and usually the handprints) of a notable actor or actress from Hong Kong.

Bruce Lee!
Further along this avenue, is the man himself!

Well....a very cool statue at least.
The air was warm and full of salty sea smell. As I walked along, I could see the occasional junk boat pass by with full red sails.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Outdoor Adventures

On my first weekend here, there were quite a few different options as to what I could do. There were groups going to the beach to hang out and another going to Lantau island to check out Buddha statues. I decided to do something epic and go jump off a cliff.

The journey began with travelling the subways all the way to the New Territories off to the east, and then a minibus for half an hour to Sai Kung Pier.

Must. Do. Heroic Pose.....among paper boats.
From there was yet another means of transportation by way of taxi, weaving around mountains and past random cows into the middle of nowhere. I got out of the taxi to find myself surrounded by trees and at least two spiders as large as my face. (No pictures, sorry)

Here's a cow instead.
The last leg of this fine journey involved much walking and hiking, which I had not prepared very well for since I had a heavy backpack, flip flops, and no sunscreen. I made do with an umbrella.

The winding road of bamboo.
The view was amazing, with water and multi-colored islands...

Eventually, I found myself in a tiny village that seems to have grown very accustomed to tourists.

Exorbitant prices for drinks and floaty noodles. The usual.
I had gotten very close to my destination by this time but not quite there yet. Next was some more hiking, interspersed with climbing with my hands and bare feet (since flip flops were too slippery) among some very pointy rocks.

Ow. My feet hurt for days afterward.
I was very much in danger of falling into the water the entire time but eventually I made it!

All this water was fresh water that would find its way into the ocean not too far away, and so were very nice to go swimming in. Beyond the fresh water pool pictured above, there was another bigger, deeper one with 10 meter-high cliffs along one side of it. You can see the cliffs above, with all the people standing on top. It is from those cliffs that I jumped into the water below. Four times. Ah....that was scary. I wish I had the courage to dive in head first, but alas it was not to be. (A few crazy people did flips though--that was fun to watch.)

After all the exhilarating submission to ten meters of gravitational pull, our time there came to an end. Most people made the (extremely sensible but slightly expensive) decision to go back to Sai Kung Pier by boat. I, however, joined my fellow PolyU friend and a group of travelling Filipinos in walking back to the point where the taxi dropped us off to catch a bus back to the pier.

But the bus never showed up. Taxis came and went, but they only picked up people who had ordered them in advance and unfortunately, nobody's cell had any signal at this point (since we were in the middle of nowhere). And so, as the sky darkened ominously, we set along the road in the direction of civilization.

Two hours later we made it back to Sai Kung, where we proceeded to eat pizzas to celebrate our return.

All in all, it was an incredible day, and I hope for many many more of adventures like this. It took a bit too long to get to this particular swimming hole (4 hours), and wandering the mountains at night was probably a bad idea but it was definitely worth it.