13 March 2008

Travel: CNY in HK, Part 2

Saturday morning brought the first hint of sun during our stay, as well as the feeling that the city would start returning to normal. Chinese New Year celebrations last 15 days, with a different activity for each day, but the first two are the most important. Shops and restaurants previously closed were now open, and the city was back to its normal hectic self.

We wanted to get away from the city and visit Stanley, a beach area and market on the southeast end of the island, so we headed to Central terminal and caught a double decker bus (just in time - we bypassed a large group that was debating whether to board; as soon as we sat down, the bus left). The ride takes you out east through the city, then up into the hills and down to the seaside area. The city portion was great - we passed right by Happy Valley, the horse racing park nestled in Causeway Bay. It features turf racing, and it looks like a massive oasis of green in a concrete and steel jungle. Soon after, the bus passes through a tunnel, which serves as a transition from urban to rural. Hong Kong can be a crowded, dirty, stressful city, but you only have to go a few miles east or west and find green spaces, hiking trails, and more laid back communities. You see this on the train to the airport, as well as on the bus rides out east.

The road leading to Stanley is narrow and winding, steadily climbing up the hills. That is, until it reaches the peak, where it becomes narrow and winding, steadily leading down to the sea. And we are in a double decker bus with a driver who must think he is in a sports car. It is the kind of ride where you just have to relax and not pay too much attention. We actually rode in the front seats on the top deck coming back. It's better than a theme park ride!

Originally a fishing village, Stanley was the largest settlement on Hong Kong Island before the arrival of the British. A couple of vestiges of British rule (complete with reminders of their departure) remain: the old police station (used by the Japanese during their brutal occupation of the city in World War II) and the old fort (now occupied by the Chinese People's Liberation Army). The appeal of Stanley, however, is its relaxed pace, large market with all kinds of goods, and seaside restaurants.

We wandered through the market and then over to the seafront, where we found King Ludwig's Beerhall and German Restaurant. This is a recreation of a Bavarian beerhall, run by a very energetic Chinese man. It was hilarious! To feed the never-ending flow of tour visitors, chefs on the outside deck constantly cooked all kinds of German sausage you could think of (in woks), which they combined with Italian and Chinese dishes. We did not eat, but the beer was cold and refreshing. Just like in Germany.

We even ran into a Chinese god outside the beerhall! (See above)

After an exciting ride back, we jumped off the bus at the convenient Wan Chai stop, a couple of blocks (actually, elevated walkways) from our hotel, and then we headed back to Kowloon to check out the Temple Street Night Market.

The market was back in business. The stalls and restaurants silent only two days before were a hive of activity on Saturday night. We didn't buy anything (few, if any, of the goods are authentic), but instead went in search of a place to eat. Every place was packed with locals and tourists alike, but we finally found a seat at a large outdoor restaurant. After a long wait for our food and a conversation with a couple from Oregon, we finally ate our delicious crispy chicken, roasted duck, and vegetables.

After, it was a trip to Lan Kwai Fong for a taste of expat Hong Kong. I have written about this area before, which reminds me of San Francisco, its buildings perched on steep, narrow streets. As usual, it was full of life on a Saturday night, but we weren't.

My flight on Sunday gave me just enough time to have breakfast at a great little cafe called the Flying Pan. I wish I could find such a western-style breakfast place in Singapore. After that, it was time to head to the airport and return to real life. As a 40 year old.

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