"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Monday, January 17, 2011

唔好意思. M̀h'gōi.

So, I'm in Hong Kong! (I actually have been for about a week.)

I'm staying in a guest house in Kowloon, the peninsula north of Hong Kong Island, and though most people on the island speak English, up here I've gotten very good at explaining myself through sign language. I can't seem to get a grip on even a few short phrases in Cantonese with its daunting nine tones, but I have gotten "M̀h'gōi" down. It can be used to mean "please," "thank you," or "excuse me," which makes up for a lot of other things I can't get across. The strangest thing about being here after New Zealand has been going from being surrounded by backpackers in hostels to being alone and unable to communicate a large amount of the time. It's a bit isolating, but I've really been enjoying it.

Hong Kong is expensive, but there's loads to do on the cheap as well--like eat with friends. Or eat alone. You could eat dim sum. Or wanton soup. Or moon cake, fish balls, tea eggs, congee, pork buns, various noodle, rice, and curry dishes, sweet tofu soup with ginger (tong sui), giant shrimp, bird's nest soup, spicy crab, these tasty bubbly waffle things they sell on the street... You get the idea. A few people told me that two weeks was way too long to be in HK, and that there wasn't much to do. To those people I say: you gravely underestimate my dedication to eating. Hong Kong is ALL about food, and I have been reveling in it. There's even a terrific vegetarian restaurant right next to my guest house (though I am eating meat, too).

My old friend (as in we go way back), John, lives here, and we've been hanging out. John is a toy designer, so I got to see the showroom full of all the awesome stuff he's working on. Way to be 500% cooler than the rest of us, John. When I first got to town, we met up for very hot fish soup at Spicy Mama, and rode the ferry over to Hong Kong to watch the light show on the buildings (every night at 8pm). Later in the week we checked out Wing Wah, which Francis had recommended. Delicious shrimp and pork wonton soup with hovering-between-soft-and-crunchy-perfectly-done egg noodles. John also told me about this famous Australian dairy where they have the fluffiest scrambled eggs served with noodle soup. Yum.

Besides eating and thinking about eating, I've mostly been working quite a bit in various cafes (slurping down pearl tea and milk tea with condensed milk; I'm seriously going to gain 100 lbs). I have ventured out to a few of the night markets like a good little tourist, and am sharpening my bargaining skills.

On Saturday evening, I met Joe, who Bryn and Ad grew up with and who is also living in HK. We joined up with his friends for a very lively night of bar-hopping in Lan Kwai Fong, including everything from a dive bar with a great jukebox to a club with a Filipino band covering American pop songs to a swanky rooftop place with a view of the harbor to the place at the very end of the night when Joe said, "You might be the only woman in here who is not a prostitute. Are you okay with that?" Hey, I just go with it.

Sunday morning, I got up early and joined John and his friends Jeff, Nancy, and Winnie for an all day hike up to Lantau Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong at 934 meters. Lantau Island is also home to the Big Buddha and Lo Pin Monastery, both of which we passed on the way to the trail head. I thought it was the biggest Buddha in the world, but John said it's more like the world's tallest, outdoor, bronze Buddha seated on a lotus blossom with its right hand up... or something. Either way, the statue is gigantic and impressive, and from the scale of this picture, you can see how it towers over its surroundings.

The hike itself was awesome, challenging, and unlike anything I thought I could've found in Hong Kong. Over seven hours, we scrambled up a steep hillside dense with reedy grasses, crawled over boulders, and tip-toed across narrow exposed ridges on a trail that you wouldn't know was there were it not for the ribbons hanging from trees every so often. It was particularly surreal to be pushing our way through such wild surroundings and still be able to see the skyscrapers of the city below. Through the fog at Lantau Peak, the sun looked like it was setting right in the middle of the sky. It was there one second, and then just gone. With darkness encroaching, we started the hour and a half jaunt down rock stairs that went all the way back to the Buddha. If you are feeling like you are in decent shape and not so very old, attempt this activity and see how you feel afterward. We were all creaking and groaning, and my knees were already starting to swell by the time we reached the bottom.

The meal after our long hike was pretty much the culmination of all my food fantasies. Amazing crispy tofu (the inside was silky smooth), broccoli in black bean sauce, steamed veggies with canned fish (way better than description implies), and the wonderful, hot, garlicky goodness that was the spicy crab.

After dinner, we were all in a food coma and zombified from our physical exhaustion, but Nancy convinced us to go for a late-night massage so we could actually walk the next morning. For one tenth of the cost of a massage in New York, a sweet older lady poked, prodded, and kneaded my aching muscles to total bliss with her Hulk-strength hands. It was the best massage ever, but it's been two days and I'm still limping from the hike. Maybe one more is in order...


  1. As I'm sitting at my work desk at 9am on Tuesday morning, still wiping the sleep from my eyes and trying to focus on this emerald ash borer grant I need to finish writing, your blog has flooded me with emotions. I'm so excited for you, so happy you've found the capability you forgot you had (I remember it from Nelp), but also jealous of this amazing opportunity (and test) you've given yourself. I'm not sure if I could get by in Asia (ANYWHERE in Asia!), and New Zealand has long been a dream of mine. I have no idea if I will ever have the guts to take the long break needed to really familiarize yourself with a foreign place, but your blog has certainly made me hope that I will. Keep traveling, Jill! And I'll keep living vicariously... (FYI, I almost fell about 15 times on my way to the train this morning, as it rained icy sleet all night in Chicago -- just as a reminder of the other crap that comes with the snow weather you're missing. ;)

  2. Gah, I'm jealous of the food. I'm with you on that -- I love to eat and often plan my vacations around great food/dining options.

  3. Judging by your exquisite depictions of the various feasting options, I thought that may be a picture of you, sitting on the top of the mountain!! lol. love you, dad

  4. Anya--HEY! I never really got up the guts, it was more that the opportunity presented itself and I thought "now or never" and just sort of stumbled into the abyss. I still don't know if I'm ready for all this, but I'm getting there. As for NZ, all I can say is GO. When it's time, you'll know, and I know you'll tackle travel with the same verve you do with everything else. Speaking of, hope you're surviving wedding planning!

    Bec and Dad--The first step to Zen is achieving the Buddha belly, right?

  5. Make sure you eat some wax apples! They're my favorite fruit. Most markets should have them.

    Yum! I love food cities!

  6. Alvina, I went to the market yesterday and bought some. You're right--delicious! Almost watermelony, but sneakily posing as an apple. Thanks for the tip.

  7. Quivering with jealousy. I've always wanted to go to Hong Kong. I HEART ASIA.

    Are you sure you can't bring me back some crabs?

    Whoa. Did not mean it that way...