Continued from yesterday… There is a walkway along the waterfront. A small section of this walkway is called “Avenue of the Stars” and it is a cross between the “Hollywood walk of fame” and “toontown”, with a statue that looks like a giant Academy Award, stars inset into the concrete and vendor stalls that look like cartoons. We didn’t recognize any of the names on the stars.
We continued past “Avenue of the Stars” up to the Star Ferry terminal. We took the ferry over to Hong Kong Island, which is a scenic ride. The ferry lets you off in the heart of the financial district, which looks much the same as downtown Singapore, with elegant, aesthetically appealing modern buildings. There are a handful of turn-of-the-century colonial buildings around, including the old parliament house and the original Bank of China building, as well as a few park areas. While on paper the two downtowns sound comparable, they feel worlds apart.
We tried to sneak into the International Finance Center Building, one of the tallest in the world, to check out the view, but you needed a security card to get in the elevator. We strolled around the streets, appreciating the architecture of some of the more unique buildings.
Then we hopped on the tram. The trams are two stories tall and very narrow. The one we were on ran down the main road. As the tram carried us away from the business district, the tall buildings became blockier and looked increasingly residential. Many of the apartments had laundry hanging from the balconies. The side streets seemed to be crowded with pedestrian traffic.
We got off at “Times Square” in the Wan Chai and walked around some of the side streets. Like Chinatown in Singapore, all the first floors of the buildings are mom and pop shops with merchandise spilling beyond the shop out into the street and the upper levels are residential. Some of the merchandise is the same as in Singapore, such as clothes and knick knacks, but there are also vendors selling raw food products. Many people were selling seafood out of buckets, some of it still alive and trying to escape from the buckets. We often saw seafood for sale on the street in Indonesia and the South Pacific, and it was usually whole fish. Here, many of the shops pre-cut it for you, so you can pick up fillets, or perhaps fish heads or gills, for your dinner tonight without having to deal with the rest of the body. There were a number of butcher shops with assorted meat products hanging from the ceiling, including delicacies like pig snouts (complete with the whole face), and pig hooves. Then there was the poultry butcher, who had a bunch of chickens in cages and was killing them right there. You buy them completely whole. No one can question how fresh those chickens are. We’ll spare you the photos.
We made our way back to the financial district on foot, and then took the subway under the bay back to Kowloon for dinner. We picked a suitable looking restaurant and sat down. It was hard to choose between all the delectable sounding items on the menu. Hmmm, sautÃ©ed duck tongue, fish bladder soup, congee with pig liver, concubine with noodle in soup, fried rice with frog, or deep fried head of fish balls”¦ decisions, decisions. Eric wound up getting egg noodles with mushrooms in abalone sauce, which was good. Omar got beef with bok choy in chili sauce that came with a raw egg in top. Christi got beef and pumpkin in curry sauce. Christi was very unhappy with hers. The curry sauce was yummy, but the “beef” was about 90% fat and there was no pumpkin in it. It was served in a hollowed out pumpkin that was hard and inedible. For dessert we ordered a dish that said “sweet tofu” on the menu, but the waiter told us it was bread. Whatever. It tasted just like thick French toast. Here is a picture of Omar’s meal:
It was dark by the time we were done eating. We walked out of the restaurant to a city completely transformed. It is so lit up that it almost looks like Las Vegas. The buildings themselves are adorned with various colored lights and moving ads. There are tons and tons of neon lights. It is very busy, cheerful and bright.
We walked several blocks to the Temple Street night markets. By day it is a business district, and after dark all the vendors pull out mobile carts and set up shop in the street. This is the best swap meet style market we have been to yet, with the biggest variety of interesting and useful products. At most of the markets we have been to it seemed every stall sold more of less the same useless junk, but this place had a really good variety. Omar also commented that the starting prices here are much lower than all the other markets he has been to in Hong Kong.
Christi hasn’t bought any clothes since arriving to Asia because most places we have been to have a “no try” policy, and she would rather not buy anything than risk buying something that may not fit. She found a shirt she liked and the seller said she could try it on. Wow! She asked for a medium and he looked at her and said “No! You need large!” Turns out he was wrong she needed an extra large. She isn’t upset since it means the garment was made for the locals, who are smaller than Americans, and not for tourists. It also assured her she made the right choice in passing on clothes in the past.
We walked around Temple Street for a couple of hours, then headed back to the hotel. Omar’s friend Marion was arriving tonight to join us, so Omar went to meet her and help her get settled. Sadly, her luggage got left behind, so they went shopping for some clothes and shoes for her. Eric and Christi went to bed.
After walking miles in both Hong Kong and Singapore, we have an observation to make. As you walk down an average street in both cities, you will pass an Esprit, Starbucks, 7-11 and KFC. In Hong Kong, the fifth store will be small market selling very stinky dried seafood. The biggest difference to us that in Hong Kong there is still enough authentic Chinese culture around that you don’t forget you are in Asia. In Singapore it is easy to forget you aren’t in America.