Hong Kong: A Photographic Essay (Day 2)

When I visited Hong Kong earlier this month, I had a lifetime of expectations and anticipation about the city. I never thought these expectations could be met. Not only were these expectations and travel visions met, they were far and away exceeded by the time the first of three days in the region was completed. Here’s a look into day two in Hong Kong and why the full day in Hong Kong and Kowloon was so enjoyable and different than our first day/evening on Hong Kong Island. 

Following our late return from Macau on the last train the previous evening, my friend and I agreed that we would sleep in for our third day in Hong Kong. We wanted to be fresh and well rested for what would be a grueling day on foot throughout the Asian metropolis. After waking up at around 10:00 and enjoying some quality breakfast, we were off and on our way to Admiralty Station to begin our day on the northern part of Hong Kong Island. At the station, one holdover of British rule hit us right in the face. We had to “mind the gap” as we entered the subway car. 

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Mind the Gap – (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

Following the advice of one of my seasoned traveller friends, our first stop of the day was the IFC Mall, located right on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbor. On the roof of the mall, there is a nice park that provides stunning views of the Hong Kong skyline, Victoria Harbor, and Kowloon. Even better than that, the IFC roof allows individuals to bring food and drinks to the top. We took advantage of the supermarket inside the mall and took up some refreshments and snacks to enjoy a few minutes overlooking Hong Kong to get a different perspective than we had at Victoria Peak the previous evening. It was a great view and great late morning activity. 

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IFC Roof (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

After a while enjoying some drinks and snacks, we passed the entrance to Hong Kong Station and continued, on foot, through Hong Kong Island to make our way to one of Hong Kong’s most famous noodle shops, Tsim Chai Kee. Along the way on Hong Kong’s long, steep, and interesting streets, I could not stop thinking about how much some of these streets resembled a cross between New York and San Francisco. The architecture and layout were certainly different than any other city I’ve seen in Asia to this point. Image

Steep Hong Kong (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

Given that my friend and I live in Japan, we are more than accustomed to having delicious ramen and noodles almost whenever we want it. True ramen and home cooked noodles are some of the most delicious Japanese and Asian foods and I enjoy getting them whenever I get the chance. From Seoul and Tokyo to Hiroshima and Kobe, I have had more than my fair share of delicious noodles. When we read reviews about Tsim Chai Kee online, we knew we had to go to see what all the rage was. As soon as we arrived, we knew we would be in for a treat. Tsim Chai Kee and another Japanese-style ramen shop were the only wo shops on the whole street that had lines of patrons waiting to get in to enjoy lunch. More than that, this place was definitely not a chain restaurant. It was a family run institution. 

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Tsim Chai Kee Noodle (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

I ordered the noodle bowl which offered a smattering of all the meats the store had to offer and was not disappointed. The purely family restaurant feel of sitting with strangers at the table and the ambiance of hustle and bustle inside the store made for a great atmosphere. The food was even better. Once the steaming hot noodles and cans of Coca-Cola made it to the table, we knew we were in for a treat. The spicy and homemade flavor of the noodles was amazing! It looked pretty good, too. Image

Noodles for All (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs erikabroad.com

From Tsim Chai Kee, we were off to another Hong Kong institution, the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. While researching Hong Kong, I had read quite a bit about this escalator and walkway system which traversed through the heart of Hong Kong Island. For full disclosure, we had completely forgotten about this stop on our trip until we saw it out of the corner of our eye while we were on the way to Tsim Chai Kee Noodle. We reshuffled some of our plans and made time to take the entire escalator route through Hong Kong. I won’t soon forget the experience of riding an elevated escalator through one of the world’s biggest cities.

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Central-Mid-Levels Elevator (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

As we climbed through the city, we passed by all kinds of shops, stores, construction, and streets to our right and left. There were entrance and exit staircases and escalators on both sides of the route so it almost felt like we were riding on a highway back in the United States, except this highway was one big escalator. The bars, restaurants, and stores were all teem ping with life as people hopped on and off the escalator.

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Entrance and Exit (c) Erik Jacobs, 2013. erikabroad.com

Once we reached the end of the escalator ride, my friend and I agreed to stake a taxi back to Victoria Harbor to take a ride on another one of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions, the Star Ferry. As one of the world’s oldest and the world’s most busiest ferries, you have to ride if when you go to Hong Kong. Given the price (less than 50 cents, USD), skip the subway ride from Hong Kong to Kowloon and take a ride across the Harbor. I won’t forget the view from the boat as we passed through Victoria Harbor. CI also got to cross off one more thing from my travel bucket list in the process. 

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Star Ferry (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

As the photographs show, the ride across the harbor provides some spectacular views of the skyline and other ferries. I finally was able to capture that photo I saw many years ago, hung on the wall of the Chinese restaurant in my hometown. It was as breathtaking as I thought it would be. 

After disembarking the ferry, my friend and I headed to the harbor for one final look at Hong Kong Island from the famous Clock Tower. The view was remarkable. The high buildings contrasted with the harbor and passing boats made a great scene where we just sat and watched passing boats for about thirty minutes. Even the sun burst through for a brief period of time. 

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From there, we stumbled into another ritzy and unforgettable shopping center much like the one I mentioned in my previous postings. All the name brand designers and watch makers were there. This one, however, had a unique twist: there was a park and green space on the roof near one of the entrances. A high school graduation ceremony was taking place and I was fortunate to capture a moment of pure joy as some girls remarked on their time as students together. 

 

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Pure Joy (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs erikabroad.com

Following some more street food and some browsing in the shopping centers, we made our way tom more Hong Kong Landmarks as our stay began to wind down to its conclusion. We returned to Jordan Street to see the famous Hong Kong Night Market, browse some more of the local shopping stores and take in one of Hong Kong’s most famous images: neon signs overhanging the streets. We were not disappointed, and I was able to pick up a Hong Kong t-shirt for all of $2.50 US. It was a great way to wrap up an unforgettable trip. 

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Neon to End the Day (c) Erik Jacobs, 2013. Erikabroad.com

When I look back on the trip to Hong Kong, I will never forget the nighttime scenery, the views from Victoria Harbor, or spending time with one of my new friends at another relocation in Asia. Very rarely do travel destinations live up to all of our expectations and then surpass all. Hong Kong certainly did that for me. I will be back in less than three weeks as Hong Kong is the starting and ending point for a forthcoming trip which will be more grueling and three times as long as the four day trip to Hong Kong earlier this month.

I look forward to bringing you along with me on another Asian adventure. I just hope the next one is as enjoyable as this one was.  

Speaking Japanese in… Hong Kong?

One of the first things that comes to mind when you think of communication in Hong Kong is most likely the British legacy of the English Language. I will certainly admit the English ability in Hong Kong was a major plus and benefit for someone like me in Hong Kong. If I said I used more Japanese than English on one evening in Hong Kong, I am sure you would be surprised. I certainly was, too.  The ability to speak Japanese in Hong Kong is another experience about my time in Hong Kong I will not readily forget. 

This unlikely evening all started when my friend and I made our way from our hotel to the Victoria Peak Tram station located near Hong Kong Park on Hong Kong Island. We were there to take in the view from Victoria Peak. Once we passed through the turnstile, we saw the long line and were a little annoyed with how long the wait to ride the tram and get to the top of the peak would take. Image

Waiting to go to Victoria Peak. © Erik Jacobs, 2013. erikabroad.com

After waiting for about ten minutes, something very unique caught my ear. I heard a language that was certainly not English and most definitely not Cantonese coming. The two girls in line in front of us were either speaking Japanese or Korean, we thought, so I tuned in to find out what they were speaking. After a few seconds, we instantly recognized they were speaking Japanese and listened in to the discussion for a little bit. These girls had come from a place between Osaka and Tokyo and happened to be in Hong Kong just for the weekend to do some shopping and sightseeing. After a little bit of deliberation, I decided that I would just go up to them and ask the following question: すみません。日本人ですか。(Excuse me. Are you Japanese?)

We certainly knew they were Japanese, but I always like to ask Japanese people I see abroad in their mother tongue. The reactions I get, as a taller white male with light hair and light eyes are always fascinating. They just turned around and looked at us with a look of befuddlement. I am sure they were thinking whether or not we actually knew Japanese or just were joking around with them. After a brief discussion about Japan and our travels to Hong Kong, we boarded the tram together and went to the top of Victoria Peak as a group of four. 

One of the nice things about traveling alone or with one or two friends is that you always meet interesting people whenever you travel. Whether it is at Acadia National Park, a roadside diner in Vermont, a rest stop in New Hampshire, at the Subway in Quebec City, or on the hard benches at an airport, I have met some fascinating people on my travels. The exception here is this was the first time I ever met some fellow travelers who did not speak any English. This was certainly a different dynamic, but one certainly worth exploring. 

After about five minutes of chatting, I realized I was having no problems and there was almost no language barrier. I was so grateful that I studied at Middlebury the previous summer and continued to study Japanese each night in my free time because those opportunities opened up so many doors for new friends, acquaintances, and conversations. Our new friends helped us take photos and provided some nice company for the evening atop the tower at Victoria Peak. 

One of the bonuses that goes with studying language is that you never know when you will have to use your other language. This time it happened to be in Hong Kong, of all places. I was grateful to have made some new friends for the evening as well getting in some solid Japanese conversation. From travel to college majors to interests and thoughts on the scenery at Victoria Peak, we were able to discuss things in Japanese with no difficulty. Certainly a moment I will never forget. 

There’s just one catch to this whole story: they bid farewell in English at the end of the night. 

All I can say is that if you are studying a foreign language right now, do not give up and keep pushing yourself. I push myself each night in anticipation of the next unexpected moment when I can use my Japanese ability. The moment is often magical and unforgettable. I went to Hong Kong and ended up speaking Japanese for a whole evening. I never would have conjured up this situation in my wildest dreams, let alone three years ago when I did not speak a word of the language. 

Had I never taken Japanese studies seriously, I know I would not have had the chance to engage in a conversation like this outside of English. Keep studying. The end result will be worth all of your effort!

Have you ever had an experience like this? 

 

 

Unforgettable Hong Kong (Day 1)

My one friend once told me, “There are only three great cities in the world: New York, London, and Hong Kong. Someday you will see for yourself.” I had my doubts, but once I moved to Japan I knew I had to go to Hong Kong to see if my friend was a soothsayer or if Hong Kong was overhyped. My friend certainly hit the nail on the head when it came to Hong Kong being one of the world’s “great cities.”

Before I travel, I often create expectations and conceptions about how places will be, how the people will be, and how enjoyable a certain location will be. Sometimes I am dissappointed and other times my expectations are completely destroyed as a destination outshines even my highest expectations. I must admit that Hong Kong destroyed all of my expectations and then some. My journey to Hong Kong with one of my close friends (and Macau in its own right) is an adventure I will never forget.

Things got off to an interesting start- a start that is only possible in Japan. Because public transportation in Japan shuts down between basically midnight and between five and 5:30AM, it was impossible to make it to the airport in time for checkin and security clearance prior to our 8:30AM departure to Hong Kong. The trip to Kobe would have taken too much time. As a result, my friend and I pulled and all-nighter on the cold, hard, wooden benches of Kansai International Airport Terminal 2. I will undoubtedly have to do this again because of the early nature of some of Japan’s international flights, but this is something to which I do not look forward, even in the slightest. We took advantage of the free rental blankets at the airport, made some new friends who were bound for Korea, and slept as best as we could for about four hours.  Once the terminal filled with people bound for Taiwan and South Korea, we were alive, awake, and ready to take on Hong Kong. Following a quick money exchange and an old school walk on the tarmac, we were onboard and ready to start our adventure in Hong Kong. I had to do the obligatory Richard Nixon wave and peace symbol before boarding. Image

Walking on the tarmac towards the Hong Kong-bound plane. © 2013 Erik Jacobserikabroad.com 

Four hours and one long nap later, we touched down in Hong Kong and it was so exhilarating to know I had finally arrived to one of my top travel destinations! Ever since I have been a child, I wanted to visit Hong Kong and I knew I was only a few minutes away from getting the coveted passport stamp to finally verify I had made it to the former British Colony! There was one catch- Hong Kong (and Macau) STOPPED issuing passport stamps in July! I was so disappointed when I passed through immigration and a flimsy card stating my permitted length of stay was stapled into my passport. One of my favorite things about travel is getting passport stamps and I was robbed of the Hong Kong stamp! The disappointment quickly faded as we headed towards our first destination of the whirlwind trip: Hong Kong’s famed Big Buddha. Image

Hong Kong International Airport. © 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

Following a short and remarkably easy ride on Hong Kong’s MTR, my friend and I exited and “minded the gap” as we made our way toward the Big Buddha. After a stellar hour long wait in the serpentining lines, we made our way onto one of the crystal cable cars for the unforgettable ride going through Hong Kong’s rolling hills and lush forested areas en route to the Buddha. If I can make one recommendation here, you MUST pay a few more Hong Kong Dollars and get the crystal carriage cable car for two reasons: First, the line is much shorter than the standard carriage line. Secondly, you can see through the bottom of the carriage and view some winding trails through the mountains, several inlets, and various other cool spots during your ride. The view was amazing. Image

Cable cars. © 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

After a trek through a heavily tourist area filled with nick-knacks, trinkets, and fake souvenirs, we had finally arrived at one of the most iconic images of all of Hong Kong: the staircase leading up to the 1996-built big Buddha statue. The view was completely breathtaking when you reach the bottom of this staircase. Unfortunately due to bad lighting with the sun directly behind Buddha, the photo cannot give this scene the justice it truly deserves.

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Even though this Buddha was only finished in 1996, the amount of tourists and locals alike at this site was incredible. Buddhists praying, Asian and Western tourists taking photos, and the Korean comedy group outside one of the shops along the route there stuck out the most to me. Of course a trip to this Buddha would not be complete without a photo posing just like the largest sitting Buddha statue in the world.

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Posing with big Buddha. © 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

After another breathtaking ride on the cable car (this time at sunset) and checking in at our hotel on Hong Kong Island, my friend and I began our journey to another one of Hong Kong’s must-see attractions: Victoria Peak.

I had always heard fables about Hong Kong being the shopping Mecca of East Asia but never truly gave those claims the credence they probably deserved. After having lived in Tokyo for a few months in early 2011 as a study abroad student, I though nowhere in Asia could possibly beat Tokyo when it came to glamorous stores, ritzy stores, or sheer opulence. I was resoundingly incorrect. The walk from our hotel to the famed Victoria Peak Tram took us through a shopping mall which hosted stores like: Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Cartier, Gucci, and other top dollar stores, stores I had never seen before outside of a magazine or New York City. I was in awe at the wealth I had only started to see in Hong Kong. Things got even more interesting when we made our way to the tram.

I had never ridden a vehicle on such a steep incline in my whole life. Last summer, I attended language school in Oakland, California, and frequently went to San Francisco for sightseeing, eating Japanese cuisine, and visiting Fisherman’s Wharf. During that time, my friends and I took an obligatory ride on the outside of one of San Francisco’s cable cars. While those streets were steep, the Victoria Peak Tram took steepness to a whole new level. The tram ride felt like it was on more than a 45 degree angle for the entire ride up to the summit. As the car increased speed, the steepness also increased to the point where people were holding on for dear life as they attempted to stand in the cable car. I have added a photo from the inside of the car to give you an idea what this ride resembled. Image

Inside the Victoria Peak Tram. © Erik Jacobs, 2013. erikabroad.com

Following this ride, we had finally arrived at Victoria Peak, although a clear view of the city was not yet available from the tram exit. Already only in our first few hours of our four day excursion to Hong Kong and Macau, I felt our trip had met its moment of truth. Ever since I saw the first photo of the nighttime view from Victoria Peak, I knew I had to go there. I had pumped up this view to be as good as the Grand Canyon, but in a different way. The lights, the buildings, and the view had to be breathtaking, didn’t they? On the ride up to the top, I had noticed that the Bank of China lights were off and I feared for the worst. I will let you be the judge of how the view was at Victoria Peak before I write any more. Image

Stunning Victoria Peak. © 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

As you can surely see from this photo, reaching the top of Victoria Peak and peering over the handrail was one of the happiest and most rewarding travel moments I had ever experienced. The view there was everything I had imagined, and then some. The glistening skyline off of Victoria Harbor, the twinkling lights in all directions, the cool wind coming across the viewing balcony, the messages on the International Commerce Centre, and the moving lights on the Bank of China Tower combined with some new friends I made (more on that in a later post) to make this a night I will never forget. While this world seemed expansive, I was also reminded that the world is such a small place. A friend of mine from Japan happened to be there at the exact same time with his parents! We said our hellos and continued onward with our evenings. Moments like that are just one more reason why I love to travel.

I even went ahead and purchased one of the commemorative photos they had for sale. Someday I will proudly hang that in my room alongside my photo atop Roppongi’s Mori Tower in Tokyo. Image

Me with Hong Kong and Kowloon in the background. © 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

While the next morning called for a 4:45 am wakeup to make our ferry to Hong Kong, that did not seem to matter at all during our first night in Hong Kong. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Hong Kong could live up to the expectations I had built for the better part of 15 years. Happily, the city destroyed all of those expectations on the first night. From the rural and cultural Buddha to the urban and unforgettable Victoria Peak view, I had a feeling that the best of Hong Kong was yet to come. After a long walk back to our hotel, I settled down for a short night’s sleep.