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.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Exploring the Area

The first two weeks in Hong Kong were quite rainy. On certain streets, there were small rivers running to the drains. There were government workers actually sweeping the water off the sidewalks. It was a bad time to be wearing sneakers.

It's usually a very pretty view, I promise.

Several friends had intended on going to Macau on one of these fine downpouring days but decided that it might be best to put it off until the sun came out. So we decided to go check out the museums around Hong Kong instead. Our first stop was at the Museum of Space, where we had an adventure looking at all the rockets and other spacey wacey things.

I tried walking on the moon. It went very poorly.

The space museum was very fun, but the exhibits seemed somewhat outdated. It was also quite small. We then moved on to the Museum of History, which is actually right next to my school.
This museum, unlike the other one, is HUGE. And I mean it. We spent several hours there even though we were moving quite quickly. The sheer immensity of this place is due to the fact that it covers the history of Hong Kong starting from several million years ago.

Looking down into the depths of a rumbling volcano.

Eventually, we made our way forward in time towards civilization.

I made acquaintance with several old-time fishermen and -women along the way.

Yes. There were boats inside this place.

Next up were several exhibits on the various indigenous peoples of Hong Kong, and each of their traditions and celebrations.

Giant festive people.
A city inside a museum. Of course.

And so on, through the rule of the British and the invasion of the Japanese to its return to China. By the end, all of us were quite tired, and were power-walking our way to the end. In addition to the main exhibit, there was a temporary one with dozens of outfits worn by the Emperors, Empresses, and royal concubines. They were all incredibly large, colorful and beautiful, and I really wish I could have taken pictures. (Photography was strictly forbidden.)

With that my day spent not in the rain drew to a close.

Later that week after class:...I went to a police parade! Why, do you ask? Well, a local student has been extremely helpful for us exchange students by setting up events, taking us to places to eat, etc...and he also works as a police officer. Since the city was having a parade for such officers, he invited the exchange students to come check it out. And so, I decided to tag along.

While watching this parade I got to hear something that I really did not expect to hear on this side of the planet, and guess what that was? Bagpipes! A wailing instrument that I have gotten used to hearing at least once a week while in Pittsburgh made an unlikely appearance in Hong Kong!

After the parade, the local student took us to an amazing dinner at a hotpot restaurant. Since the entire menu was in Chinese, the exchange students unanimously agreed to trust the local student with ordering all the ingredients to put in the hotpot. 

Many many more ingredients not pictured here.
It was the right decision. Yummm....

And here is my obligatory "Awesome food of the week" section!

Hong Kong's great delicacy: Milk Tea!

Some kind of squishy chrysanthemum roll. That is all I know.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Arrival in Hong Kong

Traveling from Tokyo to Hong Kong involved an early morning departure from Ebina to Narita airport and a short stop in Shanghai. Everything went as expected, and after arriving at the airport in Hong Kong, I made my way by airport shuttle to a very nice hotel. And so, I spent my first night in luxury, and went promptly to sleep.

I must admit, my next few days were a bit of a disaster.

The morning after arriving, I went to go meet the person from whom I was supposed to rent a room for the semester. We had a pleasant conversation, and it was decided that I would move in that afternoon after my school orientation.

I made my way to my school of the semester; Hong Kong Polytechnic University. There I met many exchange students from around the world also studying at PolyU. We went out to have (a very delicious) lunch, we came back to the orientation session.

Disaster struck, however, when I got a message from the renter saying that she was no longer willing to host me. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a panic as I had just lost a place to stay from that night onward. The school was very helpful in helping me to find temporary affordable housing.

I spent the next few nights in a hotel until I managed to secure a room for the semester.

Now I'm living in a very nice apartment on the sixteenth floor. The night view is incredible.

Admittedly, having to go 45 minutes by train or bus to class is somewhat of a hassle, but it is manageable.

Anyway, onto adventures! Hong Kong is an absolutely beautiful city, especially at night. My first day of wandering, I managed to get lost and found myself walking along a street of shops selling cacti and flowers. Nearby was bird garden where there were hundreds of birds squawking loudly in their cages.

It was pretty stinky.
After some aimless meandering, I got back on track and met up with a few newly made friends. We went on a short walk around Tsim Sha Tsui, which is a region of Kowloon with a ton of high end brand stores.

That night, we decided to meet up with several other exchange students at a rooftop garden. I couldn't stop staring at the night view.