Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cramped & Crowded IV: Shop, Shop, Shop

Shopping Street by williamnyk
Shopping Street, swiped from williamnyk on Flickr.
Note: A photo-intensive post. Please expect a slower loading period. But I'm sure you won't complain due to the increased number of cuties in this post.

Shopping was next on our to-do list in Hong Kong. Munched on some toast from ToastBox (the only place that serves Milo I suspect) before hopping on the MTR. Exited at Tsim Tsa Tsui to go to Harbour City Mall. Quite a mistake, an atas place to shop, but at least it had free WIFI. For some reason, the whole mall was decked out in a chocolate theme. The main concourse had a giant chocolate fountain flanked with giant bars of chocolate, while at other places giant donuts and chocolate strawberries. Even the benches were replaced by chocolate eclairs and chocolate bunnies! Trying to escape the brand names, sis brought us to Cheong Sa Wan for more down-to-earth shopping. Unfortunately, it was another mistake. Wrong stop. Wandered around for more than an hour in the rain. The whole place had a very residential feel to it. Less rushed. Stopped for a late lunch at Ming Yuen Noodle House to rest and get our bearings. The waiter at the char chan teng was quite the joker, but we were too tired to respond. As usual, our tea come with fingers in it and we ordered. Had my frist taste of wantan noodles. The noodles were super crunchy! And the vegetable practically melted in my mouth. Unfortunately, the soup was too salty (typical of HK?) and the content of boric acid was a tad overpowering. On the other hand, the dumplings were superb. XL! With two succulent prawns in each. Lovely. Mum took the fish slice rice and that was very good too. Guess the ingredients were fresh.



Chocolate Galore!

Out to Sea





Wet Streets

Wantan Noodles

We continued our walk and we finally reached our destination-- Sam Sui Po! Talk about taking the scenic route. Anyway, mum and sis totally went crazy and started serbu-ing the wholesale clothes outlets. Judging from just a few shops I saw, the prices were dirt cheap. Unfortunately, 95% of the clothes were for the cold season. BIL and I went our own way looking through the night markets and scanning the IT centers. So many cute IT lalas there!!! To rest our legs, we had tong sui at Tim Tim Tei. I ordered a Devil's Mochi while BIL had their walnut paste and mango with noodles. Taste was average and the portions no so large. All over the place, people were having street food. Skewers of weird stuff, or steaming bowls of blood cake. So unlike me not to try these things. We went home earlier to see how my bro was faring. He did not leave the house due to a fever. Spent the whole day sleeping it off... Luckily he recovered the next day. :)

Sam Sui Po

Mango Noodles





Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cramped & Crowded III(b): Macau Marathon

Sit Down by williamnyk
Sit Down, swiped from williamnyk on Flickr.
Coming back down from the Ruins of St. Paul's back to Senado Square was just as tiring as the first time round. Couldn't cover much distance without stopping and buying something. Quite a challenge to escape the lure of almond cookies. Next up was Lou Kau Mansion, a typical Chinese courtyard house that belonged to a big shot in 1889. It supposedly combined eastern and western architectural influences, but that kinda escaped me. Inside, it felt very cool and drafty... worse than outside. Entah-entah... Then we climbed up to Cathedral, an old church dating back to 1622. Very beautiful religious statues inside. Took another wrong turn back down to Senado Square, we ended at St. Augustine's Square. St. Augustine's Church had a very different feel to it. My first time seeing a scene of the crucifixion where a ladder a depicted on the cross. And at the back of the altar, one sees a statue of Jesus carrying His cross. Uncommon to my eyes. Beside the square was the Dom Pedro V Theatre, but it was closed for upkeep. Took the winding cobble streets down and ended up at yet another church-- St. Lawrence's Church. Everyone was cranky and tired by that time, and the steep roads weren't helping, so we manouevered pass St. Joseph's Seminary and went looking for food (and on the way also bought Leggy's Door Gods). Random walking brought us to Estabelecimento De Comidas Si Ta Hao Veng Fai for some hot food. Ordered some teriyaki eel noodles, while mum ate herbal fish head noodles. As in Hong Kong, their bihun is lousy. A cute guy came for some take-out, but I did not manage to get a clear shot of him. Bah! It was getting late, so we quickly headed to Rua de Cinco de Outubro to catch a cab to The Venetian Macao. Since there was five of us, we had to go in two separate vehicles. The fare was about HKD50.

St. Augustine's Square

Pietà

Angelic

Wired

Eel

Arrived at the casino at its West Lobby. Walking in, one could see busloads and busloads of PRC tourists getting in and out! The management provides free shuttle to the China border. It didn't look like much at first but as we got deeper into the bowels of the place, it got a whole lot grander. Inside is the Grand Canal, a indoor reproduction of Venice (one hundred times better than the one in First World Plaza). For a fee, you could get a gondola ride and if you choose the right rower, you get a song thrown in. Saw one fat guy who could actually sing in Italian and his boomed across the canal! Along the way, shopping, shopping and more shopping. The whole scene comes complete with a fake sky. As one walks, the clouds seem to roll. Depending on where yoy go, you get to experience day time, night time or dusk. At the Main Hall was gilded columns and marble everywhere. Walking towards the Great Hall where all the gambling went on, one could see a giant mural on the ceiling with passageways radiating from it to all the other luxury shopping areas. By 7:30pm, we had nothing better to do, so we left. Only after leaving did I see the whole scale of the place. Enormous! Back at the ferry terminal, we finished up our Macau currency by buying mineral water and instant noodles. Those patacas are quite useless in HK. Lined up at the standby queue for the 8:30pm ferry as our tickets were for 11:00pm. Thank goodness the earlier ferry had plenty of seats as by the time we got home it was already late. Can't imagine if we actually went home any later! That trip to Macau really sapped my energy! But there was more to see. Maybe I'll finish it up the next I am there... with KH perhaps. :)

Grand Canal

Opulence

Great Hall



Friday, January 27, 2012

Cramped & Crowded III(a): Egg Tart Thursday

Port-Tarts by williamnyk
Port-Tarts, swiped from williamnyk on Flickr.
With so many days in HK for us, we decided to shave one day off and go to Macau for a day trip. So early Thursday morning (as early as it can get trying to drag everyone out of bed, especially the kid) we took the MTR to Central to catch the TurboJet to the land of casinos. At Central, we walked and walked and walked trying to look for the HK-Macau Ferry Terminal. By the time we had found it, we had noticed that we had walked right up to Sheung Wan. :S. Kinda wasted an hour there. Luckily my brother bought me a coffee from Pret A Manger to perk me up. At the terminal, we ended up buying tickets from a reseller called Beng Seng. They were very aggressive and assured us that their prices were cheaper than TurboJet. Having no energy to verify that fact, we bought from them anyway. At least they were genuine tickets as we were able to board the 11:00am vessel. The TurboJet's ship was super huge. Built kinda like an airplane with stewards and 'in-flight' magazines. The trip took about an hour and during that time, BIL endured the wonders of sea sickness. The Macau Ferry Terminal was quite large and clean. Upon arrival, we were already bombarded by offers of 3-hour city tours by tour operators. My sister had the bad luck of going for one of those some years back and was left with a bad taste in her mouth. Just point and see from the van. Another con job. Having secured a walking tour from JL, we decided to start our journey at the Ruins of St. Paul's. Took the bus from the ferry terminal and found that people in Macau are quite homegenous with those in HK in terms of attitude!

Moi: How much is the fare to St. Paul's?

Driver: (pointing to the sign)

Moi: How much for four adults, one senior and one child?

Driver: I don't do the math, I just take the money.


Senado Square

The Ruins

Errrr... I should have just gave him HKD1.00 since he doesn't know how to count. A nice lady assisted us and told us to dump in HKD16. The bus was quite and empty, and at every stop, and pre-recorded voice would let you know where you were. Reminded me of buses in Barcelona. The moment we hopped off the bus, we landed in Pastelaria Choi Heong Yuen, a rival of the famous Pastelaria Koi Kee. BIL started the ball rolling by eating Portugese egg tarts, while mum and I went almond biscuit shopping. Bak kwa in Macau come in such obscene sizes. So thick and large (wink wink). Full of porky goodness. From there on, we crossed from the Leal Senado Building on Avenida de Almeido Ribeiro to Senado Square with its beautifully paved floors (turns out that the government paved most of the areas near the tourist attractions, very much like in Barcelona) and gaudy Chinese New Year decorations. It was decked out in lanterns and humanoid lanterns. Flanking the square was the pristinely white Holy House of Mercy. Continued to walk towards the ruins, but we stopped midway to eat, eat and eat in the drizzle. BIL went around bringing back fried chicken and pork chop buns from Cafe E.S.KIMO, fried salted chicken popcorn, pepper meat pies and more Portugese egg tarts from Tea Plus!

The Gauntlet

Having had our fill, we continued on to Rua de S. Paulo, passing by all the flashy shopping in Senado Square. With all the commercial shops jostling for retail space, the food outlets look like just holes in wall. The road up to the Ruins of St. Paul's was a really a gauntlet of tourists, pastry shops, free food tastings and souvenirs. Shops let you eat to your heart's delight. Not stingy with the samples at all. And for good reason-- customers buy and buy and buy!

"Are you full yet? Not yet wor. Lets go another round!"

The Ruins II

Friendship

I did not have high hopes for the Ruins of St. Paul's because it is basically just the glorified facade of a church, but.... it was quite nice la. A nice place to take photographs. A nice location on top of a hill with long steps and flowers, quite scenic. Even climbed up the facade to have a view down the hill. Did not go down the crypt though. A few cuties roamed around the place, which I had faithfully documented for my readers. Enjoy!

XXX

XXX

XXX

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cramped & Crowded II: Time to Yum Cha!

Fountain in the City by williamnyk
Fountain in the City, swiped from williamnyk on Flickr.
We started the day by taking the MTR from Wan Chai to Sheung Wan. Had my first taste of the MTR and doing it during morning rush hour can be quite stressful. The trains were fast and frequent and commuters behaved like a stampede. Our destination was Lin Heung, an old place for the yum cha experience. Took us some time to navigate the streets. My brother was our organic GPS. And knowing how accurate GPSs are, we took the scenic route to the restaurant. Food was on the second floor. Upon arrival, a very bengis old waiter barked at us:

"Find your own seats!"

Gradient

Meal Time

Every table was taken. We had to circle the tables looking for an opening. Felt like vultures waiting for an antelope to keel over. In the end, we tumpang at a table with an old man and two women. The 'legacy' waiters quickly dumped bowls and cups on our table and asked what tea we wanted. Sensing trouble if we hesitated, I blurted out "Ti Kuan Yin"! A few more shouts later, the waiter scooted off to get our tea. Sitting down, I observed that the interior was very noisy. Waiters in white uniforms were dancing around the tables dispensing super hot water from kettles. On the ceilings, many empty birdcages were hung, perhaps used in years past. Group after group of waiters sat down at a table in the corner having giant bowls of white rice with plates of steamed pork. The key to dim sum esperience there lies in a long piece of order chit. Whatever food you get must be stamped on it. No order chit, no food. And so, when the trolley comes, people rush up to the cart with their order chits in hand and start grabbing. Don't expect the cart to ever reach your table if you're far from the kitchen. BIL just took whatever was available. No luxury to choose.

"Pau? What pau you want? Want so many pau for what!?"

Eggs On Top

Layered

XXX

The old man who sat with us explained that the restaurant was one of the better places with fresher ingredients. However, we weren't wow-ed by the food. Tried stuff like char siew cheong fun (quite good), beef balls (with dried orange peel inside ack!), kuih melayu, lotus seed paste pau (comes with salted egg yolk inside), char siew pau, duck feet pau (wrapped with beancurd skin with prawn and pork) and layered cake (many layers of beancurd skin alternated with egg and dried orange peel). Even when leaving, we were practically thrown out.

"Please don't linger here!"

Chater Garden

From there, we took the MTR to Central, then walked a short distance uphill to the Peak Tram. The seven minute ride was quite interesting with an incline of forty five degrees. Initially, one could see buildings sprouting up on both sides, but as we climbed, it was all greenery. Arriving at Peak Tower, one couldn't shake off the feeling Genting Highlands. The shops selling souveniers and what nots were just too similar. Going further up, we reached the observation deck where one could get a wonderful view of HK over the harbour with all its skyscrapers. Visibility was quite good and it wasn't cold or windy at all. Didn't go into Madame Tussaud's. Good enough having seen Bruce Lee and Michelle Yeoh. On the way down, I stood because there weren't any more available seats. Could really feel how steep it was!

Skyline

Bruce / Beatrix ?

Next up was Mong Kok. Another place full of energy and teeming with people. Walked around a bit and grabbed a cooling mango drink from Hui Lau Shan. Ended up in Lui Yan Kai, looking very much like an orderly night market. Nothing uniqe as each stall was a copy of the next. Clothes, sequined-slutwear, a-string-of-pearls-to-cover-your-beaver underwear, smartphone accessories, soft toys, counterfeit bags and some food. Similar to Petaling Street, the stalls were usually manned by immigrants. The enforcement officers were very strict, making sure that every stall did not cross the designated red border. Drizzled and rained a bit, making the experience a bit troublesome.

XXX

XXX

Night Market

For dinner, we ventured back to Wan Chai. Settled for a cher chai mien shop in a secluded alley. Basically just mix and match, but the order chit was completely in Chinese. I choose clear soup noodles with kuchai flowers, stewed pig's ear and roast pork neck. An excellent choice on a cold night. On the way back, saw a bunch of old ladies offering ta siew yan services underneath a flyover. For just HKD50, you get a full package of curses and hexes to throw at your enemies. In their arsenal are clogs wrapped with paper tigers, the White Tiger. The would smack a paper effigy of your enemy while muttering their magic. All over one can idols in makeshift altars of cardboard boxes and incense. Before going home, made a short stop at the markets to buy some groceries for breakfast the next day! Ended the night drinking a bottle of cheap wine with peanuts at home. Zzz...

Hot Noodles

Little Person

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cramped & Crowded I: Sparse to Dense

Divergence by williamnyk
Divergence, swiped from williamnyk on Flickr.

My sister bought tickets to Hong Kong approximately one year ago. I wasn't too keen really, but what the heck, I've never been there. And it isn't mainland China, so I guess I shouldn't be phobic about it. A family trip with mum, bro, sis, BIL and little Cyan. On Tuesday, I woke up at 3:30am to prepare for the trip ahead. BIL's little brother sent us in an Avanza. Had to fit four at the back with all the luggage and all, so we had to do some 'hovering' for forty five minutes or so. An ass-numbing experience. Definitely not as enjoyable as having your ass plowed for the same amount of time. LCCT was actually quite busy even at that ungodly hour and I saw several cute twinks here and there. Perked me up better than a cup of kopi o. Our boarding gate was Y1, the infamous gate that is hidden at the domestic departure. Doesn't even have a toilet! So I went to the loo and was greeted by a PLU who was taking his sweet time powdering his nose. Hebat. The flight was quite pleasant. The in-flight fried rice was horrible. I think they over-dosed my meal with MSG. Definitely above the legal limit. Arrived at Chek Lap Kok Aiport twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Very large and the toilets were squeeky clean. Waited at the arrival hall for a Mr. Singh to pick us up, but there was no sight of him even after we had loitered around and settled our Octopus cards. Turns out that the arrival hall has two entrances! Really unexpected. He was waiting at the other side. He motioned us to follow him to the car park. He zoomed ahead at Warp Three, stopping a while to see if we were following. Mr Singh is a without a doubt a Hongkee. Hahaha. Rush. Rush. Rush. From the van, we had a great first glimpse of Hong Kong. Very scenic especially when we were crossing the bridge on the North Lantau Highway to the city.

Go Home

In forty minutes or so, we reached Wan Chai, where our apartment was located. In my mind, I was thinking of a white building with a compound like we we have back home, but in reality, it's a nine-floor building with just an entrance from a busy sidewalk on Wan Chai Road. Getting down, I experienced firsthand the crampness and the crowds! Ugh. Felt like I was always in someone's way. And the surrounding buildings were really old, true to the wiki article that highlighted Wan Chai's urban decay as it's hallmark feature. Didn't know how to get into the apartment building (password required) as I had forgotten to print out the guide from the welcome kit. Luckily a resident let us in. At the lift lobby, we also hesitated on where to go as the lift controls looked very funny.

Caretaker: Where do you want to go?

Moi: Ninth floor.

Caretaker: Ninth floor!? Of course take the lift la, takkan take the stairs?!


Fruity

Marketing

After that little gift of Hong Kong sarcasm, the old man pressed a mysterious little button and the lif opened. We quickly rushed in. Up on the ninth floor, we were once again presented with many choices. Crap, the information didn't quite say which unit! Luckily the landlord's wife arrived not long after and opened the door just beside the elevator. They were still cleaning the place. Two rooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen. Fully-furnished. And there was a sofa bed in the living room. Paid cash to the landlord's wife to settle the six days of lodging and we left for lunch while they tidied the place up. Our first stop was actually Bowrington Road Market, one of the few open air wet markets left in Hong Kong. Bowrington Market is full of fresh fruits, vegetables (a beautiful green!), pork, waxed meat and live seafood (geoduck! scallops! jumping prawns! dancing fish!)! For some reason, poultry's rare. Bird flu? Very lively and colorful. Everything looked super fresh! Maybe it was the cold weather. Then we bumped into a hawker selling dried abalone.

Madam Abalone: Buy, buy, buy! This abalone is good and cheap! Only HKD160 per tael! Buy more, free more!

Abalone

My mother gravitated towards her and was kinda sucked in by her marketing talk. At the table, there was also another woman choosing abalone. She had a big of abalone but wasn't quite done selecting. The seller encouraged my mum to buy six hundred grams of it, which translated to sixteen taels. That came to HKD2560. My mum did not quite gauge how much money that meant. I just told her that by buying so much, she would have zero spending money left for the whole trip and dragged her away. Further down the road, we saw another abalone seller. With also another woman at the table selecting abalone. Further observation revealed their modus operandi. They worked in pairs. The woman was a planted customer. We could see that they were muttering under their breathes and giving each other secret glances. And the 'customer' would be choosing and choosing and never ever finish. Ish. What a con job!

Express

Lunch was at a place called Nam Kei. Had a sketch of a cute guy on the front, I was immediately sold. It was lunch time so it was very difficult to find a seat. Ordering was a also a challenge cause we did not know how it worked. Simply ordered some fishball-beancurd skin combination noodles and prayed that it was good. BIL paid at the counter and walked towards our table. Before he even had the chance to sit down, his number was called and our noodles were ready! HK efficiency is scary. But I suspect that they just want you to eat and leave as soon as possible. No dawdling! After filling our bellies, we went back to the apartment to rest. Later that night, we went out exploring Wan Chai again. Blindly walked up and down the streets until we settled on a dinner place that served roasted goose, roasted pork, vegetables and mapo tofu. The goose was quite a disappointment. Tasted just like duck (I was told it tastes the same, so what is the big deal?). The roasted pork wasn't good and the beancurd had a nauseating meat smell. Not a good meal at Hei. Tried a phut chai kou on the walk back, we weren't impressed. :P. Quite a mundane first day in HK right?

Wan Chai Evenings

Fake Duck