We were greeted by -27°c weather in Novosibirsk, where our layover towards Hong Kong was. We braved the bitter cold from the plane to the gate with only our modest sweatshirts, which were sufficient for the relative balmy climes of Osh.
The layover was unspectacular, and the end of our second leg saw us in the +26°c weather of Hong Kong. A difference of more than 50° in a matter of hours is pretty extreme.
Oona’s previous experience with the city helped us to our hostel, and it was a simple one seat ride from the airport to our temporary ‘hood of Wan Chai. We arrived to the fixtures to-be of our week long stay in Hong Kong: for lack of having gotten proper introductions, there was the young Canadian guy, whose naïveté about basically everything led us to believe he was much younger than he actually was; there was the older Canadian guy, from the same city as the younger one, who was mostly quiet and unobtrusive; there was the Aussie, who became our partner in exploring the city and ended up saving Oona from quite a bind one night (more on that shortly); there was the Brazilian, whose bulldozing and self-serving ways were to draw much ire from all parties; and finally there was the Scot, intelligent and compassionate, but inspiring unwavering confidence — the antithesis of the Brazilian, in some ways. Others came and went, but each of these people, for better or for worse, was to be with us in some way or another for the next week.
Our overnight trip got the better of us, and after dropping Oona’s passport off at the Chinese visa agency, we napped for a bit in the afternoon of our arrival. Ian was still reeling from the food poisoning, but our new arrival in somewhere not Central Asia had Oona inspired, and she decided to join the pub crawl (a weekly affair organized by some local hostels). Her and a handful of others from the hostel, including the Aussie, headed out into the night. The group consisted of sixty or so, once several other hostels joined, and they went from bar to bar, terrorizing the neighborhood. They were greeted by complimentary shots at each bar, and many beers were gotten. The night finished off at a club, at which point our heroes were sufficiently imbibed. A lurking predator, affiliated in some way with the pub crawl, had his sights set on Oona though, and treated the Aussie as a mere obstacle. Over and over trying to do away with him and coax her into his plans. Oona politely refused a handful of times, and the Aussie was fortunately ever-present. The predator was a middle-man for any new drinks, and had complete immunity to put whatever he wished into them, a likelihood which suddenly became much more believable. Heretofore clear memories sulked into obscurity; the palpability of the night’s events recoiled. Left only with the presence of mind for flight, our travelers did just that, and attempted to walk off their buzz on the several kilometer trip home.
The nature of Oona’s hangover the following day led us to believe even more that she had been drugged. Not only the familiar headache and nausea prevailed, but neurological symptoms, such as numbness, shaking, crawling skin, and cramping muscles accompanied. Unfortunately, a precious day to be wasted, in the grand scheme of things. Ian’s food poisoning was taking a victory lap, and our dynamic duo was largely confined to local happenings for the second day.
The third day, with our schedules shifted heavily towards those of true night owls, we decided to explore the city in earnest. We walked with the Aussie around Central, and dabbled in the shops and restaurants of Hollywood Road. Hong Kong is a true cosmopolitan city; a gem of modern urbanism at its finest. Neighborhoods like Central host in their lovely contours modern niceties like organic juice shops, stylish coffee houses, and upscale bars and restaurants. Collocated startlingly nearby are the artifacts of a rich and varied colonial history, adding a layer of nuance and charm to the already-impressive cityscape. Having made a true believer out of Ian, and reaffirming Oona’s positive memories, Hong Kong retreated into the limelight for the night.
Not only is Hong Kong host to a sheer ton of fantastic restaurants, but it also boasts the world’s cheapest Michelin starred eatery as well. Known as Tim Ho Won, this workhorse of a dim sum joint is located in an unpretentious corner of a mall, but the snaking line and efficient customer handling lend credence to the fact that thousands of patrons flock to this place every day. We waited for a little over an hour in the mid afternoon, and filled out our order card while in line (as is usual at this place, since it reduces the overall time of table occupancy). Our food arrived just after we sat down, and the barbecue pork buns for which Tim Ho Won is famous did not disappoint. Perfectly crispy with a light, buttery finish on the outside, concealing a core of sweet, slow-cooked pork, these things are the real deal. The other dishes, while rightful stars in their own, paled in the presence of such masters, and we had half a mind to order more to go. We left having consumed far too much food.
As the day wound to a close, we explored the Temple Street night market. A veritable tourist trap, we and several thousand other foreigners ambled our way down the well-lit market street, perusing knick knacks of little worth. We ate at a little restaurant, more fitting of a Triad hangout, nestled down a dirty alleyway. We had some Cantonese classics like fried rice, sweet and sour beef, and stir fried tofu. The treatment of these dishes in their homeland is a far cry from how they’re prepared at western restaurants, and it was great to be able to try them in their authentic surroundings. We wandered home via Victoria Harbor, with a beer-long pitstop at a cool streetside taproom. The views from the harbor were not as they always are, with the city lights dimmed (perhaps to conserve energy on Sundays?), but the skyline views were still pretty impressive.
The day before our departure, we picked up Oona’s passport, new visa and all, and headed for Macau, just across the bay from Hong Kong. There are a huge number of ferries leaving every day, and we only waited for a few minutes for a departure. The rain was coming down in sheets, so our stay in Macau amounted to much ducking underneath awnings and into random establishments, searching for things to buy. However, we were able to soak up a bit of the old world charm of the place. The Portuguese history is very clear, and many of the streets and squares feel more European than Asian, complete with Catholic churches and cathedrals. Alongside these quaint attractions is the glittering nucleus that is Macau, a neon-drenched casino sanctuary, replete with jewelry stores and high end clothing shops.
The following day we shipped home a few souvenirs, collected over the past several months across Central Asia and headed to the bus stop. We waved goodbye to the beautiful Hong Kong on our way to Guangzhou, and ultimately Zhangjiajie.