Nova Roma (or Hong Kong)

January 1, 2010 · Posted in Travel · 1 Comment 

This must be what the future will be like, someday, in America.  Trains are clean and almost noise-less.  Streets are clean.  Cars run on garbage and….okay something like that.  They do make toy trains out of solid lead and mercury still so it’s not perfect yet.  The best analogy I can come up with is that Hong Kong in 2010 is probably what New York would have looked like in the 1920’s if, in the 1920’s, we possessed the same level of technology we do today.  That’s just my best guess.  I have no idea.  But there’s an opulence here not often matched in the US with the exception of some parts of Vegas and maybe a few others.  Here, it is ubiquitous.  Down every street is another watch store selling $5,000 US watches, or handmade Italian leather bags, and, wait, there’s yet another Ferragamo store.  (Although, to be fair, just while switching planes in the Tokyo Narita airport, I saw two Ferragamo stores.  Within 400 yards of each other.)

I am probably most jealous of the train system here.  It’s dorky but I don’t buy $5,000 watches every day.  Or ever.  I ride the train every day back home.  The stations are well-lit, super clean, they don’t smell, and there are doors separating you from the tracks.  This keeps the grime from the train out of the station.  Novel concept, I know.  Doors.  Whudathunkit?  The cars themselves are nicer, and they’ve done away with doors in the middle of the cars so it looks like one giant tube careening through the city at warp speed.  (I guess you add some doors, you lose some doors…)  Really a well-designed, convenient and clean system.

Super clean, right?  I guess if you have all sorts of animal-related flu running around you’ve got to be careful.

Hong Kong itself is divided into two major parts, more or less.  Hong Kong proper, which is the island, and Kowloon, which is on but not part of the mainland.  I’m staying in Kowloon, and I actually appreciate this side more.  Hong Kong proper feels a bit too sterile, a bit too clean, and almost contrived at parts.  Kowloon is a bit more real and I think provides a bit more culture.  But this is just my been-here-for-two-days-don’t-speak-the-language-so-what-do-I-know opinion.  Take it for what it’s worth.

My trip here started with a bump to Business Class – and – being suspicious, I demanded to know why.  They said “No reason, but we can put you back in coach if you like.”  No thank you!  I will fly business class, if you insist Mr. United person.  I think it might have been the “I’m not carrying an I.E.D.” upgrade special, who knows?  Quick travel note : security actually wasn’t that bad.  I think the deepest darkest pits of hell are reserved for TSA operatives and their sniveling governmental counterparts, so it takes a lot for me to admit that.  I guess technically they weren’t USA-based but it was a US airline and the US does like to bully around…

Flight got in on time, and I promptly took an hour nap.  I’d been up since 3:30 and was a bit tired.  Now where I took the nap was interesting – I checked into the Lee Guest House as recommended by Lonely Planet only to discover it was in the Fook Kiu Mansion.  I am not making this up. The Fook Kiu mansion.  I had to reread it a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.

It was Wednesday, and most of the museums in HK are free on Wednesday.  I grabbed a quick bowl of braised brisket, water spinach, and noodles in soup, and visited the HK Museum of Art, the Museum of Space, walked along the pier in Kowloon, visited the Avenue of Stars, and watched sunset over the harbor.

Also got a few good shots once sun went down….

The building with all the triangles is an I.M. Pei-designed building that houses the new Bank of China HQ.  There’s a public viewing gallery located on the 43rd floor (also free) but it was pretty overcast on the 31st when I visited.

Most of the 31st was spent hunting for food – some of which I found, most of which I didn’t.  I did find Kau Kee (21 Gough street, Sheung Wan)  that was listed in T&L 30 Dishes worth traveling for.  It was an honorable mention in the “Under $5” section but deserves a place in the top 30 I think.  They serve little soup bowl of four different kinds of noodle and about six or so different kinds of meat.  I’m not entirely sure – I was given 30 seconds to look at the menu.  I ate two – one was a plain braised beef brisket with rice noodles in a traditional broth.  The second was a curried braised beef brisket with tendon, egg noodles, and a thicker broth.  You’ll notice the use of braised meats here – yet another reason why I love this country.  Braising is the best way to cook meat IMO and damn near everything here is braised.  Wonderful.  Anyway Kau Kee has a huge line out the door so it’s hard to miss.  They sit you at a table with a bunch of other people and since I was alone, I ate with six Chinese men and two women, all over 45 years old.  They just stared me for like 20 minutes wondering what the hell I was doing in their beloved noodle shop.  The wait and the stares were worth it.  Hands down some of the best soup I’ve ever had.  Up there with Pho, for sure.  I don’t have a picture because I was too nervous to take one…

And of course, I saw the fireworks over the harbor.  They shot them off of 2 IFC which was actually pretty cool to see.  The display itself wasn’t that big (and in America we know bigger means better) but I guess the logistics of firing rockets off the sides of a glass building sort of impose some limits to what you can actually do?

Fireworks off the building…

Friday, the 1st, was pretty low key.  After hearing much ado about this movie, I went to see Avatar in 3-D and all I can say is WOW.  Go see it in IMAX 3-D.  It was that incredible.  The theatre was located in “one of the poshest shopping malls in Hong Kong” according to one of the websites I looked at.  It was actually an enjoyable mall to visit, which was weird.  Usually I find malls incredibly annoying, filled with dirty rude teenagers and out-of-towners not realizing they’re overpaying for whatever they’re buying.  (Guilty on this last count for this particular mall.)  But Festival Walk had an ice rink built in and so I sat and watched little kids practice eventually win gold medals or else!  The theatre itself was sort of amusing – it had signs everywhere saying “Outside food and beverage (EXCEPT STARBUCKS) forbidden!” (Caps theirs)  I guess Starbucks is doing pretty well over here…

I ate at a little cheap place called mi2Cool – a Japanese place through and through.  I got these little fried dumplings for about $3US.  Not bad for cheap mall food –

After a hard day of shopping, I decided to spend the night…shopping.  The Temple Street Night Market was one of my favorite things about Hong Kong.  It’s hard not to smile just wandering around – crowds are everywhere, street stall-type restaurants spill out into the streets and the smells waft over the booths, drawing you in.  If you can spare the time, wait in one of the insane lines for the two or three most popular restaurants.  One was Four Seasons Rice, another was called Hing Kee restaurant.  Although Hing Kee seemed to be a restaurant in about 12 different buildings – it confused me a bit.  The market itself sells every kind of good imaginable from flashlights to leather goods to ironic t-shirts of Che or Chairman Mao to paintings to lighters to underwear to jewelry to socks to…and so on.  (PG – 13 warning)  There was even a particular strip selling all manner of weird sex toys including something called an inflatable anus.  I have no idea what one does with that…

After the market I walked down to the Peninsula Hotel where the Felix bar on the 28th floor looks out over the harbor.  While the view was great, and the bar itself was nice, the bathroom steals the show.  Philippe Starck designed the men’s room to give you a very unique experience.  I think he designed it with 55 year old white male corporate execs in mind who spend their days pissing on the little people because, frankly, you get the feeling you’re doing just that when you’re at one of his urinals.

So the black thing is the urinal and yes, that’s a window looking out over Kowloon.  I was watching people go about their jobs in their offices right across the street.  For those of us who don’t spend our days pissing on people below us, it gives a good approximation of what it’s like to be The Man.  I quite enjoyed it.  <there’s no ironic emoticon to go here..>  I kind of want one in my house, sans window.  Or maybe with window, who knows.

I’m currently at the airport, waiting for my flight to take me to Istanbul.  I probably won’t post there because I only have two days and somehow I feel like your life will be just fine if I don’t post for a bit.  I will have another one coming out soon that I’ve time-delayed to post so if you in fact won’t be fine, you’ll have a short note to keep you company.

Next time I write I will have traveled about 2/3 of the way around the world.

A domani…