The Fragrant Harbor: Hong Kong Photo Diary

Not supposed to take photos inside Bloomberg Hong Kong, but I did anyway.

In 2011 I spent a day in Hong Kong, walking around Lantau Island and then Central to kill time while waiting for my Chinese Visa to be processed. It definitely wasn’t enough time and I left wondering when I’d get the chance to go back. This year, I jumped at the chance to visit again with E and C, two friends from college whose first stop was Taipei, Taiwan.

C now works at Bloomberg and gave us a taste of Hong Kong corporate life by getting us badges into the HK office. We weren’t allowed to take photos but I did anyway, from the fully stocked Bloomberg cafeteria which boasted an amazing view (though it was quite hazy the entire weekend) to say the least. The coffee was good and there were snacks from the States and all over Asia. I’m such a sucker for little perks that I kept on saying (with my mouth full), “I could definitely work here. I could I could I could.” But then I noticed all the glum faces around me staring at screens filled with tiny, fast moving numbers, and then at the glittery little packets of empty calories in my hands. It felt like a dirty trick.

Anyway, what follows is a weird handbook for the afternoon hours. Imagine that you’re the EA to a banker and because he’s left for the day to see his mistress, you’re off the hook too.

Get dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, cantonese for “Fill With Luck,” that is, if you don’t mind waiting forty minutes with rowdy Chinese tourists, paying 5HKD for napkins (otherwise they don’t provide them), and sitting elbow to elbow with the IFC lunch crowd, many of whom eat alone sitting across from other strangers eating alone. We thought the women sitting next to us were friends until one of them left abruptly, thus answering our questions (asked mostly by our expressive eye-browing each other: “Why aren’t they talking?”) Order the Flakey Chia Siu Pork Bun – different from the steamed kind and ten thousand times better. Probably the most fragrant thing about the Fragrant Harbour.

Stroll down Hollywood Road in Central’s trendy Soho neighborhood, where restaurants turn into bars turn into nightclubs and where, by twelve am, people are spilling out into the streets. If you have too much to drink and forget where you are, just look down, as I did.

 

Explore the urban jungle. I realize this shot is super grainy, but it was nighttime and all I had was my iPhone. Notice how the little red trash bin looks terrified but is actually quite brave because it stood its ground.

Take in the (street) art scene. I will venture to say the following was the product of three minds.

Take the obligatory group photo at the top of Victoria Peak, even if visibility is so bad you can only see that one building (visible below just above my right shoulder). The Peak it was freezing and filled with rowdy Mainland Chinese tourists and their spoiled children. Waiting in the long line to go down the Peak, Erica and Carson feared I would strangle the bratty little girl in front of us who only had to open her mouth with the most disdainful expression so that her parents and haggardly grandmother could shove sweets into it. At one point, the grandmother ran out of candy and she threatened, “When we get home, you’d better give me a hundred of them!” The grandma nodded and said, “Of course.” I didn’t want to strangle her, I wanted to slap the parents and throw the little girl off the Peak. But mostly I was threatening my future children saying, “If you ever act like that I’ll give you a good Chinese thrashing, like they did back in the day.” And that’s my Peak story. This time. 

Have dinner at a really cheap but pretty famous Cantonese noodle house where you struggle to order Chinese food in Mandarin from an elderly gentleman who only speaks Cantonese while your Caucasian friends sit and wait and wait to be fed.

Then cab it to the Mandarian Oriental and have a drink at The Chinnery, an old school whiskey bar where the servers wear white jackets. Realize you are the youngest group in the entire bar and shamelessly take photos of each other, of the menu, of the bar snacks. Reposition the menu and the bar snacks to get the perfect Instagram shot, then eat all the bar snacks because things like potato chips and rice crackers (completely affordable) taste ten thousand times better when they are given for free at an upscale dining establishment.

Order a whiskey flight if you are a man or if you are a woman who drinks like a man. Or a Korean woman. 

Order two glasses of Pinot Noir and because you’re young women who take good care of their uteruses (just ask any doctor of Chinese medicine), you order two hot waters with lemon. The bill comes and whoa, the price of the two hot waters costs more than your entire dinner for three at the noodle house. You shamelessly argue with the server in the white jacket who says, “This is what we charge here.”

“But I’m a tourst,” you practically shout, “I didn’t know you would do that here. You can’t do that. It’s not right.”

You realize your logic is not particularly sound, but what you were thinking but did not say aloud was that you were an American tourist who expects certain things (like water and along with it, air) to be free. After all, it’s free in America, why not here? Why not?

The server senses that the glass of wine has made you bold and that you are not afraid of making a scene. He holds the bill in one hand and puts the other hand up – a half defeat.

“I will just charge you for one,” he says. You are not mollified, but then again, you’re in Hong Kong and the night is young. The diners on Hollywood Road have left to make room for the drinkers, and the music is just beginning to get loud. You leave the Chinnery and head to a less upscale bar but with a much younger crowd. You stop taking photos after a while because things get blurry.

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