Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hong Kong and Macau

So after Singapore with it's food and shops, I went up to Hong Kong...
with all it's food and shops... hmm..

Anyway, my first impression of Hong Kong was "Ah what a dump!" Which
is not really fair for Hong Kong seeing I decided to stay for 5 nights
at a place in the Kowloon side called ChungKing Mansions.


ChungKing Mansions is a big seedy building wedged between nicer hotels
and affluent buildings. It is a kind of sore spot in the famous Golden
Mile Road (a long road full of neon signs and department stores and
expensive hotels). Although I hated staying there, I kinda liked it's
raw unique in-your-face character. In this place you'd find all sorts
of strange and unusual characters and vagrants, hear stories about
dead bodies, bloodstains on walls, ghosts and disappearances, and
other kinds of oddities. Indeed, my room featured torn wallpaper, and
strange switches that seemingly had no purpose (or a random
combination of which would turn on the hot water). We had a cable TV
which I fidgeted with until it worked (I'm sure we're not supposed to
use it), and for some reason, two outdoor floodlights connected to the
wall (but didn't work. But why are they there?!!) We also had the
tiniest shower/toilet in the hallway seperated from everyone by a
see-through glass door - which meant that anyone who showered there
would not only be pressed against the door, but can be seen by people
who walk past. I still have bad images burned in my brain of distorted
anatomy from what I saw walking past.

Anyway, a little depressed about my first impression of Hong Kong,
thank god I was able to meet up with Marie (who I was with in
Singapore), who also came to Hong Kong for a day on route back to
Korea. Even though she was sick, she still helped me find the hostel
(it was in a different building block from the reception - and the
reception didn't even have a sign!), showed me cool places to eat
(street dim sum yay!), and introduced me to the largest light and
sound show in the world, known as the "Symphony of Lights". This
involves laser beams dancing from buildings from the Hong Kong Island
side over the river to the sound of cheesy classical music every night
for 30 minutes. The view of the Hong Kong skyline in lights is one of
the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Afterwards, we walked along the Avenue of the stars, which is similar
to Hollywoods hand prints in ground by famous actors place, except
here it was just Asian celebrities such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li,
Stephen Chow, and others i'm not Asian enough to have heard of.

Hong Kong consists of 3 parts, the rich businessy hilly Hong Kong
Island which has a very british feel and design, the rough asian
Kowloon mainland side which I was staying in, and the peaceful Lantau

I prefered the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, as it was full of street
food vendors (I lived on dim sum for $1.50 a dish), night markets
selling pretty much everything, from gold fish to adult toys, and
department stores (which were my source of public toilets, seeing that
in Hong Kong, decent public toilets are so hard to find!)

I actually went and bought myself two tailored suits, as Hong Kong is
one of the cheapest and best places to have one made. I got them quite
cheaply too and was impressed with their quality. If anyone wants a
tailored suit I can surely recommend a place. :)

In Hong Kong Island, they have some affluent stylish drinking areas,
an old temple, and the longest outdoor escalator in the world (800m
long, heading uphill as most of Hong Kong Island is on a steep slope.
Thats about it. Well there was a tram going to the peak of Hong Kong
Island to witness amazing views, but I never went due to the poor
visibility of the cloudy misty weather.

Lantau Island is a cool place to relax, because of its giant bronze
buddha on mountain top thang, and if you are willing to walk into the
wilderness a bit, a peaceful quiet area called Wisdom path, which
features a series of tall sticks in the middle of nowhere in a figure
8 stating something called the heart sutra. There was also a monastery
where you could eat vegetarian food prepared by the monks. The
portions were huge but nothing spectacular (they're monks, not

I wasn't alone in my travels, as I was fortunete enough to meet a cool
Swiss girl named Leila, who was seemingly the only other normal person
in the whole hostel. Together we went to Macau, which is a 1hr ferry
ride away.

Macau is a place more well known for its over the top kitsch casinos
(over 20 i think on a small area), but I was more interested in its
Portugese history (as it was formally a Portugese colony - and
Portugal is one of my favorite countries). Macau failed to dissapoint
- you can tell the influence of the Portugese by its beautiful tiled
pavements, aculejo tiles, stylish colorful buildings and the food
(custard tarts). I also noticed the large divide of rich vs poor, with
old decayed buildings with clothes being hung outside on barbed wire
on one side of the road, and expensive boudoirs, fancy cars and
department stores on the other side of the road. Somehow it all works.

Anyway, after 5 days in Hong Kong it was time to head home (via
singapore and laksa at an exclusive club my sister belongs to).

So thats about it for now. In July I'm headed for Japan, so until
then, keep in touch y'all!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Hey all,

So, after having gone back to Melbourne to study teaching and live
with my Korean girlfriend Sammy, three weeks later and i'm overseas
again! :) Guess I can't stay put for too long these days. This time
it's just a week in Singapore followed by a week in Hong Kong.

Anyway, I arrived in Singapore with images of old rickety boats and
seedy characters on decrepit piers and wooden walkways in an old dirty
port city as characterised from the movie "Pirates of the Carribean
3". Clearly I should do my research and not rely on pop culture, for
Singapore is far from that.

Singapore is a very humid hot city (as it sits on the equator), filled
with shopping malls, food centres and restaurants, and lots of
vegetation. This makes the city quite clean and pleasant if not for
the oppressive heat! They say Singapore has two climates: the hot
humid outdoors, and the freezing cold air conditioned buildings
inside. I'm surprised people don't get sick from the constant change
of environments.

It is pretty much illegal to do anything here, from bringing in drugs,
to eating on the subway, to chewing gum! That's why you have tshirts
calling Singapore the "Fine" City (Fine as in penalty for doing

Singapore I'm told is also very family orientated city, as there are
lots of facilities and activities where families can happily live and
spend quality time together on the beaches, east coast, shopping malls
and the famed Singapore zoo. In fact, as I was staying at my sister's
apartment with her husband and two kids (first time I saw my 2yo
niece, awww so cute!), the first place they took me to see as a family
outing was indeed the zoo.

The Singapore Zoo is reputed to be one of the best in the world, and
for good reason, since it is very well designed - bars and cages are
rare, instead there are wooden walkways through open enclosures where
you feel you're actually getting quite up close to the animals. The
place is more green with vegetation and waterways than modern style
concrete and steel structures. The environment is very natural.

I met up with Marie and Beckaroo (two friends I worked with in Korea)
in Orchard road, which is a mecca for shoppers since it is lined with
department stores. Marie also introduced us to a local friend called
Suresh, who was nice enough to drive us around places and give us the
grand tour of Singapore.

Over the week we explored Chinatown (i'm told that it's a little
strange that a country with 70% of the population being Chinese, that
there is a Chinatown in the city!), Little India (which was a little
dirty and seedy - i've heard the real India is worse), Sentosa Island
(which is a beach Island and resort area off the Singapore mainland
which we accessed through a cable car enabling lovely views of the
construction work around us). We also looked around the riverside
exploring the clean quays with pastel coloured buildings and affluent
bars and restaurants. I imagine the movie "Pirates of the Carribean"
would not have had the same effect if it was represented this way. We
also did a lot of shopping around all the huge malls (actually Marie
did the shopping, I mainly did the tagging along looking bored kinda
thing that guys generally do when dragged to shopping malls).

I ate alot of food here (as it was a welcome respite from all the
shopping). I tried the famous Chilli Crab, Black Pepper Crab, Stingray
(as revenge for what it did to the Crocodile Hunter), Laksa (a yummy
seafood and rice noodle dish in a light spicy coconut soup) and
various versions of noodles, rice and curries. Yep, Singapore is
definitely an awesome place to eat. Its not too expensive and has a
great variety of dishes as it is virtually a meeting place of
cultures. Alcohol is very expensive though :(

I also tried a singapore sling, which is a famous cocktail, sweet with
cherry and pineapple and other spirits. We chose not to try it at the
original location of Raffles Hotel, as I heard their version is
expensive, premixed and not the genuine version anymore. I actually
thought I was clever when I came up with a great pick up line, go up
to the counter next to your intended victim and say "would you like a
singapore fling?" Never tried it though as I'm sure Sammy would not
be impressed.