The Lunar New Year in Hong Kong
I borrowed a couple days from my renewal bonus and took a second vacation with some of the national holidays devoted to the lunar new year. I went to Hong Kong with two friends from Donghae, both of whom have family there. Here are some of my impressions of the 9-day trip.
The New Year’s decorations were incredible. Even the lobbies of the apartment complexes were decorated in bright red and gold signs. In Korea, you mostly get the same display boxes of Spam and shampoo that they sell for Chuseok.
The temples, of course, were just as beautiful. Pictured below is Wong Tai Sin in Kowloon:
Almost as soon as we landed, the English influence struck me. Because Hong Kong was a British colony for so long, many of its citizens speak English with impressive fluency. Most of the signs are translated into English, and their word choice generally stems from the manner of speech befitting an Englishman. Being an American, I sometimes forget that programs like EPIK want their teachers, regardless of nationality, to teach standard North American English.
It’s not enough that the traffic goes on the left; double-decker buses fill the streets. Even the trolleys are two-story.
Then again, most things in Hong Kong seem to have been built up rather than out. Shops have narrower aisles to pack as many goods as possible into tiny corner stores.
The apartment buildings are tall and thin, and most of them have laundry hanging everywhere.
I saw this in Japan, too, but it struck me more in Hong Kong because I saw everything—even underpants and bedsheets—strung outside windows. These things sometimes fall and get stuck on neighbors’ windowsills.
Things move quickly here. I swear the escalators in the MTR stations are faster.
N.B.: This video is playing at normal speed.
Hong Kong’s skyline stays lit the whole night. It makes for a really lovely view from the harbor, but it must use up a lot of energy. Namsan Tower is a really famous landmark in Seoul, but they usually stop illuminating it around midnight on weeknights.
Insider tip: the ferry between Hong Kong and Kowloon is cheap (about $2.50 Hong Kong dollars, or $0.32 USD), and a great way to view the skyline at night. Just watch out for that haze, and the occasional bout of motion sickness.
I can’t spend this much time on other facets of Hong Kong and not mention the food.
Hong Kong is a gastronomical wonderland. While my friends and I were planning our trip, we concerned ourselves not so much with what we were going to do, but what we were going to eat. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner we supped upon a myriad of delectations. I hadn’t realized it until I met a friend in university from Shanghai, but most of the “Chinese” restaurants near my old university campus are Hong Kong style. It was great to try the real thing.
Hong Kong “fish ball” soup still has the flaky softness of fish, whereas Korean fish paste has a thick, rubbery texture.
Speaking of things you can’t find, Hong Kong rules at imports. I’m quite partial to a particular brand of German chocolate, but the variety they have at E-mart in Korea isn’t the same as what I found in Germany. In Hong Kong, though, I could find even the seasonal varieties, which I’ve only ever seen in Germany.
They came at an imported price, but I didn’t mind.
This was taken through the window of a shop near where I was staying. “Waste not, want not,” I guess. I had similar chicken with my friend’s family at a fancy restaurant, and it was delicious.
Hong Kong generosity is boundless, by the way—when my friends from Donghae met up with their other pals, I was adopted for the afternoon by one friend’s aunts, who took me around Stanley and Repulse Bay.
Other delicacies sampled in Hong Kong include pork cheek, ox tail, and pork arm. These were all much more appetizing than they might sound.
In hindsight, it makes sense that I got food poisoning.
I’ll spare you the details, but it was bad enough that I went to the hospital. En route with my amazing friend (Vanessa, I will dance at your wedding), I tried not to think about my lack of traveler’s insurance.
The whole procedure—consultation, shot, and three days’ medication, cost 580 Hong Kong dollars. 8 Hong Kong dollars are equal to about one U.S. dollar, so the sum of my medical expenses was about 75 USD. According to my friends, it’s astronomical in comparison to what a Hong Kong citizen would pay, but I’m counting my blessings. Not only were the hospitals open and empty on New Year’s Day, the day I fell ill, but most of the shops were closed. As I recuperated for the next two days, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on as much as I might have. Still, I regret having to cancel my day trip to Macau.
Thankfully, I pulled myself together in time for one more day out on the town before we flew back to Korea. Even with the food poisoning surprise, I’m really glad I got to know the city.