Hong Kong: “Asia’s World City”

Graduation weekend was a whirlwind. Between the invasion of family members from all over, cherishing those final Grove nights and avoiding the imminent ending of college, it’s no surprise I made some hasty decisions.

Thanks to my amazing grandparents, I was able to join my five best friends from Miami in Hong Kong this past week. My friend Claire’s parents recently moved to the city for work so she has visited a couple times before. This time, her parents extended the invitation to all of us us and without knowing where I was going to be living or working after Friday the 13th (yes, that is the day I graduated on… Ironic?), I was hesitant to commit. But when my grandma leaned over the table at my post-graduation ceremony lunch at my favorite restaurant saying she would pay for my plane ticket as a grad present, I knew that I had to make it happen. My flight was booked before dinnertime and I could not wait to tell my friends I would be joining them in “Asia’s World City” June 8-18.

Now this more-or-less hasty decision landed me booking a less-than-convenient flight for the way back home. While my friends are enjoying a direct Hong Kong-Newark journey, I’m headed to Tokyo and then Tokyo-Newark, spending the night at a Marriot then eventually will be back in Miami by Sunday morning. The one plus to this long journey back? I’d say the time for much needed reflection of this last month (or entire last semester while we are at it). That, and when I land in Tokyo I can say I’ve been to Japan for the first time! Hopefully next time I can stay for longer though.

So let’s begin with Hong Kong. While I feel like I can write about the previous ten days for hours, chances are you do not want to read for that long so I’m going to do this in a few installments. Little blurbs about certain aspects about the city that will forever be engraved in my mind. This was my first experience in Asia and I had no idea of what to expect. Too busy working beforehand, I did not do my regular research that usually involves making long lists of places to go, foods to eat and noteworthy facts. Thankfully, we had two experts on hand at all time- Claire and her mom  (now a Hong Kong resident). Looking back, I cannot imagine getting around without them.

I left Miami a week and a half ago on a Wednesday. Now that college is over, we have all ended up in different places. Kelly was coming from Colorado, Claire from Delaware, Alex from Baltimore, Sophia from Connecticut and Chelsea from Tampa. We all congregated in Newark to make the trip across seas. We arrived to find that our flight to HK was delayed four hours but happy to be back in each other’s company, we grabbed drinks at the bar and waited for boarding.

We ended up sitting close to each other on the flight and about 14 hours later found ourselves greeted by Claire’s mom at the HK airport at around midnight on Thursday. After settling in at their wonderful apartment, we went to sleep for the evening but due to the timechange, woke up bright eyed early Friday morning, ready to climb Victoria’s Peak. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city around their apartment, SoHo and Central. We had our first meal of noodles then returned to their building to enjoy the gorgeous pool and spa. After a home cooked meal around a table family-style (something I regretfully realized I hadn’t experienced in some time), we headed out for our first night on the town in Lan Kwai Fong, much like the Coconut Grove of Hong Kong with a little more edge.

View from The Peak

First Meal in Hong Kong- Roasted Duck and Noodles

HK is made up of 235 islands accessible by ferries. We headed to Lamma Island early on Saturday and learned some of our friends are a little prone to sea sickness. Or you can blame it on Lan Kwai Fong, I’ll let you decide. We had a delicious meal consisting of a little bit of dim sum and some other Cantonese dishes. We hiked the perimeter of the island to the other side where we heading to the fishery to try our hand at hook-free fishing. I’d be lying if I said we caught anything. Then it was time to return home to get ready for a Teppanyaki dinner which I’ll get to in my food post.

Attempting to fish

Sunday brunch is my favorite meal and I might have had one of the best yet at The Verandah at Repulse Bay. It was a great way to start out the easygoing day that ended with pizza delivery and traipsing around SoHo in the evening where we met (much to Alex’s chagrin) cameramen from CNN.

When we awoke on Monday we headed to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha, the largest brass sculpture of Siddhartha in the world and it was just that.

Tian Tan Buddha is it's official name, but Big Buddha is just more fun

Afterwards we explored and ate at the Po Lin Monastery on the grounds, an all-vegetarian but delicious meal. Once we got back to Central, we headed to a spa where everyone got massages and I went for a much-needed manicure and pedicure. Afterwards, we headed for a Vietnamese dinner where I had my very first bahn-mi.

There’s no denying people who live here love to shop (another post to follow). Tuesday was spent at the many markets beginning with the flower market followed by the bird, fish, Ladies and jade markets. We ended up going to Lan Kwai Fong again that night. Wednesday we did some more shopping in the boutiques of SoHo after climbing the peak followed by a full-on dim sum meal before the horse races at Happy Valley. I’ve only been to one other horse-track in my life and this was huge in comparison. There were so many people drinking pitchers of beer, a band performing and old men marking up their papers with the most recent statistics. We all put down some bets with Alex coming out as the biggest winner of the night.

Happy Valley Racecourse

After hiking Victoria’s Peak our very first day, we swore we would do it every day after that and return to the United States with super-tight legs and the fitness level of Lance Armstrong right before the Tour de France. For better or for worse, that plan went a bit awry but we still made it back up to the top on Thursday by foot and Friday by a very steep tram, and it really was a lot easier than the first time around. Since it was our last full day in the city, we decided to take it easy and returned back to the spa for foot massages and pedicures followed by Happy Hour at a place called Pure where they gave us free cosmopolitans from 6-8. After that, we headed out for a Greek dinner that was delicious. And we made it out for one final night in Lan Kwai Fong.

Friday we awoke not in the best of shape after the previous night’s activities but we still made it onto the TurboJet to get to Macau, aka the Las Vegas of Asia. In dire need to some food, we stopped at Sands Resort first but quickly after refueling headed to the Venetian where there was an awesome ice sculpture exhibited entitled “Fun Ice World.” I joked that any place that feels the need to put “Fun” in the title of the exhibition probably isn’t all that fun, but this ended up being a great time. Afterwards, we explored the shops in the Venetian and then tried our luck at the casino. We’ll just say that it was an excellent way to get rid of my remaining Hong Kong dollars so that I didn’t need to exchange any back to U.S. dollars at the airport…

Turns out Macau is a Portuguese colony and we tried out some Portuguese cuisine at Fernando’s Restaurant that was great. We returned home that night to pack and wallow in the fact that our trip’s end was looming.

Entertaining Sign at Fernando's

As cheesy as it might sound, I am so thankful for being granted this opportunity by Claire (and her generous family), to my grandparents for the plane ticket (and just being the best), along with my work for giving me the time off! I was so worried about graduating and jumping right into the workplace but this definitely made any anxiety obsolete. That just sounded like an Academy Awards speech.

Saying goodbye to my five friends in the Hong Kong airport was quite bittersweet. When we left Miami we knew that we only had a few short weeks until we would be reunited for this trip and now that it’s over, it’s hard to say when the next time we will all be together again. Even so, I’m grateful we will always have these memories (not to mention the past four years) to look back on and appreciate forever. Stay tuned for a couple more posts detailing two of my favorite things: food and shopping.

Hong Kong Love

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