After a mere 26 hours of travel, I arrived at my hotel in Hong Kong where I was greeted by two of my favorite things: hugs from my parents and a glass of red wine.
The next morning, thanks to a 12-hour time difference, I rose early. We enjoyed a lovely family breakfast in the hotel lounge and then my brother and I headed out to explore the city on foot while my parents went to church. Our hotel was in the Central District, perched above a shopping mall that looks like it was plucked straight from America. We navigated our way past Gucci and Chanel, out to the surprisingly quiet street. I took a look around and thought, so this is Hong Kong. If not for the signage in Cantonese, I could have been in almost any major American city. We turned left and started walking. My first impression was how beautiful the city is. Surprisingly green, the lush mountains provide a lovely background for all the modern architecture. We passed one sky scraper after another, plus the occasional Starbucks or Circle K. The weather was beautiful but I felt a little disappointed. I’d just flown halfway across the world to visit someplace that felt, initially, very much like home
Just as these thoughts were starting to take root, my surroundings began to change. We were leaving the nondescript business district and entering the Hong Kong I expected. My body began to tingle with excitement as the environment became new. My brother, who has visited Hong Kong before, began pointing out things I may have missed. For example, that all their scaffolding is bamboo. All of it. Even the skyscrapers. It’s quite a sight to see 30-something stories of bamboo scaffolding, if you’re not accustomed to it.
He also pointed out an interesting social custom – people gathering in open urban spaces to just hang out. They bring cardboard from home to sit on, and come together to picnic, play cards, and catch up with one another amidst the concrete jungle. At the end of the day, people go home.
As we walked farther, the city began to feel much more Chinese. Stores took on a more local flavor and the buildings between high rises became much less pristine. This was the Hong Kong I’d anticipated.
Reuniting with our parents, we continued to explore the city on foot. My favorite pockets of the city are the markets.
We passed stall after stall of fresh meat, seafood, and produce. My favorite stalls to look at were the seafood, with much of it still alive and flapping about on the table. I tried to absorb as many of the sights, smells, and sounds as I could but it was truly sensory overload!
Of course, I found the bakeries the most irresistible. We popped into one and got a couple of things to share: a warm, savory ham and cheese delight with a flakey bean-stuffed pastry for dessert. We devoured them instantly.
That evening, we went over to Kowloon to see the light show. It plays every night. The lovely and dynamic Island skyline dazzles in symphony- or that’s the idea, anyway. Despite drawing a healthy crowd, we found it sorely disappointing. If you’re ever in Hong Kong, I don’t suggest you waste your time.
We left early and grabbed a table at Din Tai Fung (affectionately known in my family as “DTF”). It’s a casual dumpling spot graced with one Michelin star, and can be found in many cities across Asia. They have a few in other major cities as well, and they’re well worth a visit if you enjoy authentic dumplings. It was my first foray into proper dumpling eating and my technique needs some work. There’s an art to plucking the dumpling without puncturing the delicate wrapping, getting the right balance of sauce, rupturing it so that the juice fills the spoon, and then consuming it in one proper bite. Despite the instructions on the table, I found it to be no piece of cake. I’ll be practicing though. Those little dumplings haven’t seen the last of me!