Sunday, August 14, 2016

Travel Diary Part 2: Hongkong


Hello & welcome to part 2 of my travel diary!

In just a couple of weeks I visited three cities starting with H.... the first was Heidelberg, and the second Hongkong. This entry will be much longer, simply because I spent more time in the city and not just 10 h a day at a seminar :) Though it was a business trip, I was there with two colleagues and we had some free time which we spent sight seeing and getting to know the city. It was particularly exciting for me, because it was my first trip to Asia in general!


Arriving on the airport and taking a taxi to the campus where we stayed was the first little adventure, as the taxi driver barely spoke any English and I was on my own coming from Frankfurt airport. My colleagues had arrived two days earlier. So I tried my best to explain to the taxi driver that I had to go to the Chinese University of Hongkong - not to be confused with the University of Hongkong on Hongkong island XD It was fine in the end - he was very nice, but I was already kinda surprised on my first day because I had often heard that almost everyone in Hongkong speaks English because it used to be a British colony.

On my way to the campus, I was amazed by the sight outside the window of the taxi - skyscrapers, one next to the other, one taller than the other. It was incredible, unlike anything I had seen in my life. Vienna is not exactly famous for it's high rise buildings - there just are not that many. Hongkong itself has about 8mio inhabitants, which is about as much as the entirety of my country, Austria, has! And it took my a while to get it, but looking at the skyscrapers I suddenly understood that all of those were apartments. Tiny apartments stacked sky-high for what must have been at least 30 floors and more! :o

View from the mainland towards Hongkong Island across Victoria Harbor.

Well, after my first surprise I quickly got used to the sight, but I was still very impressed throughout my entire stay. It's definitely the biggest city I've ever been to, and I imagined it would be much more crowded. But except for the occasional jammed subway cart at rush hour, I was positively surprised that the city did not "feel" like the most densely populated area on the planet. I often feel uneasy in a crowd, but apart from the subway I never really had that feeling. It was really a pleasant experience to walk the streets of this city.


On the last pic, you see a couple of buildings on the top of the hills... we went there one night and had a fantastic view of the skyline! The buildings are beautifully illuminated and there was even a light "show" on one of them.

Another big surprise was the air quality. I expected there to be much more pollution, but it seemed to me that there's actually not that much traffic, at least in the parts of town where we hung out. I guess with the metro system that covers the city pretty well, public transport is probably the better option for many people in this city. Can you imagine if every person living in one of those apartments had a car? They would have to stack the cars as high as the skyscrapers to have enough parking spot! 

But not only while walking the streets towards Victoria Harbour, also on Hongkong Island at night I was positively surprised by the clean air in this city. You can see in the photo above how far the view from the hill extended to the horizon. That night, the sky also cleared from clouds and you could see a lot of stars, despite the bright city lights below.

Food! We ate so much food in this city, because the food at our accommodation was super shitty :'D One time we snuck away from the conference to get a proper meal because we were so hungry....

We kinda coincidentally made perfect travel arrangements - one colleague had checked out cool places to eat, the other checked for sight seeing options for our last free day, and I had insight on shopping spots :'D



The day after I arrived, we went to the Hello Kitty Restaurant for lunch - my colleague said I would definitely love it and he was so right XD Not only did the buns look super cute, they were also incredibly delicious. I had only ever eaten the Chinese food you can get in Austria, which is probably not even real Chinese food, if you were to ask a Chinese person. And to be quite honest, I don't like the "Austrian Chinese" food at all, I always get sick after eating it. The food at our accomodation was pretty much the same - cheap, low quality, almost everything was deep fried. So we were very happy to get a taste of something different at the Hello Kitty Restaurant.


 It was my first time trying these steamed dumplings, and they were SO. FREAKING. GOOD. We had vegetable and meat filled ones and from that day on, dumplings have become my favorite Chinese food! Ohh I just love the ones made with the fluffy dough ♥ 

On one day, we had the chance to visit a local temple. It was actually a bit disappointing because you kinda imagine it like visiting an old church in Europe or something like that, but we learned that the temple had been built in the 90s because the several hundred years old original one had become too small XD
Still, albeit not "historical", the building was definitely worth a visit simply because it was an insight into another culture's beliefs. I always found it very fascinating that many Asian beliefs have local gods or spirits, or even regard their ancestor's spirits as god-like figures or guardian angles. It's just extremely different from the monotheistic belief system in the country I grew up in, and still different from the Roman and Greek culture which I am very familiar with because we learn about it at school. In general, my time in Hongkong made me realize how extremely Euro-centric our education is. I barely knew anything about history in Asia, and all that I know I learned outside of school.




 

The first impression of the temple was probably the scent - there was so much incense burning everywhere, the scent hang heavy in the air. But it was actually a very pleasant experience. Since it was monsoon season, there was rainfall pretty much every day, it was hot and humid (30°C and up to 90% humidity). Somehow, the incense made the air feel less heavy.

Little windmills hanging everywhere in the courtyard!



One girl at the conference was Chinese-American and tried to explain to us a bit about the beliefs and who the different statues were. But she didn't really know it herself because she was atheist, and only knew some stories her grandma told her. But apparently, there is a lot of local variation, there are minor deities worshiped in different places... the big golden statue represents Che Kung, a fact I was only able to find out later back at home XD So he's not exactly a god or deity either.... like I said, to me the local beliefs are rather confusing. If any of my readers are more savvy in Asian religions and beliefs I'd be happy to learn, though!


A guardian lion in front of the temple! I always found it funny how these lions sometimes seem to resemble dogs or even dragons, at least to my eyes.

One night, we decided to go shopping and have dinner "downtown" on Hongkong island. There's many great shopping centers there - I took a lot of shopping advice from La Carmina's travel blog, so I was able to guide my colleagues to the best shopping spots, haha! We started our tour from Time Square, and walked through a very modern and cool part of the city.



I was most impressed by how long the shops are open in Hongkong. In Austria, shops usually close around 6-7pm, in Vienna it may even be a bit later but in smaller cities it's earlier and sometimes on Saturday they even close at 1pm. Sundays, everything is generally closed. In Hongkong, we went shopping at something like 9pm and the streets were still super busy and there were lots of people! I quite enjoyed that and I wish there were more evening shopping opportunities in Austria too....

 
The stuff I bought - in particular the Dolly Wink stuff was a major bargain, the MAC stuff was not that much cheaper than in Austria but I wanted to treat myself, lol. My favorite part of the haul is the Etude House make up! And the shop girl there was so super nice ♥ Great experience shopping there!


We went for dinner in a cute little ramen place. Our first "real" food in some days (since the Hello Kitty Restaurant in fact) and we were starving, so we ordered three big bowls of ramen, one chicken, one pork and one sea food. I liked the chicken one best - the broth really tasted like it had healing powers! The pork soup I didn't like so much, it had a very peculiar taste that reminded me of "Grammeln", an Austrian "delicacy" that consists of big pieces of pork fat that are heated in a big pan until they become crispy (the remaining fat will solidify and becomes "Schmalz"). The soup basically tasted like liquid Grammeln, which I did not appreciate so much, but my colleague absolutely loved it!

We had originally planned to go to another restaurant that our colleague had read about, but it closed right in front of our faces :( I think it was good fortune though, because the place we ended up inw as much cooler :D The owner spoke a little English and asked us about Austria, if there's any good Ramen shops in Vienna and such :D


Afterwards, we went to a place where they make ice cream with liquid nitrogen! As scientists, we decided we had to give it a try. I was a little bit disappointed though, because after freezing, the taste is not that special and the consistency was a bit too liquid for my taste. They basically make fruit mush in a mixer and then stir in the nitrogen until it freezers, but it also starts melting super fast again, and becomes fruit mush again XD Still, the taste was okay, just not too different from sorbet ice cream or such.



On our last day, we had a lot of time before our late evening flights. We dropped off our luggage at the airport and went to the nearby cable car to Lantau island. Coincidentally, the cable car is manufactured by Austrian company Leitner! :D Felt like home right away, except the monosson weather did not quite as much resemble the winter conditions under which I normally hop on cable cars.

I tool this photo because I thought that probably more people in that high rise complex than in my entire home town XD

So Lantau island is mostly covered in forest, and the trip with the cable car of about 20min gives you a great view. I didn't manage to take a good photo, but you could see the airport, which is actually an artificial island, and a huge bridge they are building across the sea towards Macau. It must be near completion because we could see the other end coming from the horizon... I think when finished, it will definitely be one of the longest bridges in the world!


On Lantau island, there is a Buddhist monastery and a famous Buddha statue. It was sizzling hot that day, but we decided to take the steps to the top of the hill to see it up close! We were so exhausted when we arrived, but the view was amazing.


 



I was again surprised when I learned later that the statue itself was constructed in the 90s! In Europe, most catholic churches are very old and the only new churches built are protestant churches or mosques. So whenever I see something that looks to "old" it surprises me when I learn that it is, in fact, quite recently build. My perception of the world is really very much influenced by the culture I grew up in and it's always interesting to see how this affects you! 


Was also went to the monastery/temple, and again I realized how little I know of this culture and this religion. It felt like a trip to wonderland! A very magical and beautiful place.


In general, I wish I had the chance to simply learn more about the country I visited. We didn't get any chances to do guided tours and except for the limited knowledge we had prepared in advance (where to go, what could be interesting) we were mostly oblivious to the historical background of the places we visited, so I tried to read up on that later at home. It definitely made me realize how incredibly little I know of the world, despite the fact that I've been to many different places already. It's quite a humbling experience.



After two weeks away from home, and the last one mostly starved, I was actually starting to feel a bit homesick by the end of the week. Surely it would have been great to spend more time in Hongkong, but the conference we attended was quite exhausting too, and in the end I was just looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and eating some Austrian food. Though I will miss the dumplings, which I basically ate at every chance I got XD

On my flight back, I slept most of the time, even at the airport in Dubai where I waited for my connection flight :'D On the plane, I had to funniest interaction with a random guy who was apparently a Brit who had moved to Singapore a couple of years ago, and he really seemed to think I was a minor traveling alone or something. When he asked me if I was on vacation and I told him I'm on a business trip, and what I do for a living, I don't think he believed me :'D Though the plush shark and Nintendo DS I had with me may have given him the impression that I was a bit younger than I actually am XD
It happened again with a lady at Dubai airport, who basically chatted me up to see if I was okay, traveling all alone like that, if I was a backpacker or something. Her face when I explained to her the nature of my rip was quite priceless.

All in all, it was a great experience.
I am super happy and grateful that my job gives me these opportunities and it made me realize how much I crave traveling and seeing the world. For the past years - except for our trip to Australia - there hasn't been much opportunity (or money) to travel but I hope that in the upcoming years I get to experience more of this vast and beautiful world.


Next time, I will tell you about the third city starting with "H..." that I visited this year!
Can you guess which one it is? ;)



2 comments:

  1. xD Ich glaube, ich weiß welche die dritte Stadt ist! :D

    Business-Trips sind nice, wenn man zwischendurch Zeit hat, ein bisschen die Stadt zu erkunden. Leider hab ich da in meinem Beruf eigentlich null Chance, seh das aber immer bei meinem Besten.

    Hongkong sieht echt toll aus und echt vielseitig. Zwar einerseits so riesige Skyscraper, dann aber auch so krasse Shoppingmeilen und dann doch wieder Scheine und tolle Gebäude. Bei solchen Kathedralen und Schreinen bin ich auch immer überrascht wenn die erst kürzlich gebaut worden sind, haha. So typisch xD

    In dem Hello Kitty Restaurant wäre ich auch voll aufgegangen, ich liebe solches knuffiges Essen :'D
    Die Bilder, die du gemacht hast sind alle sehr schön geworden und es klingt insgesamt nach einer schönen, wenn auch anstrengenden, Reise :3

    ReplyDelete

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