Getting Fancy: Hong Kong Part 1

From Shanghai we took the overnight train to Hong Kong. We splurged a bit on a soft sleeper (which means the bunks are in their own compartments and the mattresses are nicer, compared to a hard sleeper) and got the double bonus of getting a compartment all to ourselves since the train wasn’t very full. We brought a lot of snacks, including delicious cheese-filled croissants, so we spent most of the journey eating. We also ate in the dining car of the train for the first time, since we were feeling fancy.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong they check to make sure you’re healthy by pointing this heat-detecting gun at your forehead, which is a bit disconcerting when you don’t know what’s happening. They also apparently don’t stamp your passport, even though it’s a Special Administrative Region or whatnot, which is sad. But the border crossing went pretty smoothly overall.

As we were trying to save money, we had ignored the warnings on the internet and booked at a guesthouse in the infamous Chunking Mansions. Chunking Mansions is a 16-storey building crammed with a whole bunch of guesthouses offering super cheap shoebox-sized rooms. A lot of them seemed to be owned by the same people, and we’re pretty sure the one we stayed in wasn’t the same one that we had booked in, but oh well. The room was basically a bed and a bathroom with about a meter of walking space between the two, but it was clean. It was also served by the slowest elevator ever, which was reached by walking through the ground floor maze of shops staffed by East Indians selling samosas and sim cards. It was… interesting? But not dangerous or sketchy as the internet had suggested, just inconvenient.

Anyways, we spent our first day wandering around amongst the throngs of people in Kowloon. Kowloon is the older, more Chinese part of Hong Kong, and is where all the markets are. It’s also where you can walk around and see the fancy skyline across Victoria Harbour.

Victoria Harbour.

During our exploring we discovered that food is Hong Kong is just as expensive as Shanghai, and decided the enormous fancy mall food courts were probably the best way to go. There are a lot of fancy malls in Hong Kong, and unlike North American malls they are super tall instead of super wide. So sometimes you have to go up a million escalators because the movie theatre is on like the 20th floor. It’s weird.

Hong Kong Museum

It was a bit rainy so we decided to check out the Hong Kong Museum to see if we could learn something about the local area. Reviews of the museum online said that the museum starts boring and gets better – which is pretty much our review as well. It goes through the history of Hong Kong, but like, the WHOLE history, starting basically from the Big Bang. So the first exhibits are a lot of dioramas of rocks and prehistoric peoples (less exciting) but then it continues to more recent history, with faux town streets showing old Hong Kong in the 1800s, complete with tea houses, schools, pharmacies, and other stores (more exciting).

Inside the Hong Kong Museum.

There was also some stuff about the Opium Wars between Britain and China, which was interesting. It seems like the colonial attitude of the British basically caused a bunch of suffering for China. But maybe not as bad as the Japanese, that period of history (WWII) seemed quite bad. The exhibit concluded with a bit about how China will regain complete control of Hong Kong again in 2047, which will be an interesting time I think.

Sam’s Tailor

Chris was super excited to get a bespoke suit made in Hong Kong, because he had heard that it was both high quality and quite cheap. One of the most famous tailor shops in town is Sam’s Tailor. Chris originally thought that the store would be definitely out of his price range, but after reading some expat reviews, he decided it was possible to head there. When you are out and about in Kowloon, lots of people accost you in the street trying to get you to come to their store for custom suits and shirts, but we resisted so we could go to Sam’s.

Heading over to Sam’s Tailor.

When you go into the tiny store, you are immediately struck by all the bolts of fabric, and all the photos on the walls. Sam has made suits for lots and lots of famous people, such as members of the British royal family, British military, high up US politicians, actors, etc. When we got there we were greeted by Sam (Jr. I think? Pretty sure the original Sam is retired and his sons now run it) who personally measured Chris and helped him choose fabrics and styles. Chris basically just went with whatever he said because he doesn’t really know anything about suit styles. And consequently got upsold to get a custom shirt as well. But all in all, it was quite cheap for a custom suit and shirt at $4000 HKD (about $650 CAD). We agreed to come back the next day once one of the tailors had roughed up the suit for the first fitting, but only after finishing the complimentary Starbucks he had given us!

The second fitting involved Chris trying on the pants with just some elastic in them and the suit jacket with the shoulders roughed in and one sleeve attached. Everything seemed good (if tight, but that’s the modern look). While Chris was being fitted we noticed that there were a couple of pictures of women in dresses, including the traditional Chinese kind. We spontaneously decided that I also needed some custom clothing, because why should Chris have all the fun? After getting measured, we picked out some really exciting silk dragon print fabric. Sam also let us know there were no drinking laws in Hong Kong, as Chris and I had now been given two ice cold beers to drink. Custom clothing experiences are fun!

I think Sam might have thought we were a little richer than we were, mainly because Chris didn’t tell him where we were staying (and also because of all the things we bought, of course). Consequently, Sam suggested that we head up to the 28th floor of the Ritz Carlton for drinks and then head down a few floors to the excellent Italian restaurant. Needless to say, after both splurging with the clothing and having travelled for over a year, we didn’t have the budget for that!

For Chris and my last and final fitting, we showed up early afternoon and were greeted by quite a hubbub in the store. Seeing that the staff were all quite busy, we offered to come back later, but were assured that we could be seen then.

It turns out the commotion was because Russell Crowe was there, with a whole posse, including a small film crew. One guy even tried to film the inside of the changing stall while Chris was inside. I sneakily took a photo of Russell while pretending to photograph Chris trying on his clothes, because why not?

Chris trying on his suit with Russell Crowe in the background.

Chris relaxed and had another beer while I tried on my dress. The dress fit like a glove, if a very snug glove. Sitting is a little bit more challenging than standing in the dress because Chris says my bum and thighs all spread out when I sit down, but I look so cute while standing and that’s all that matters.

Hong Kong Island

We took a ferry across to the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Bay, because that’s where all the rich people live. We went into the privately funded and run Man Mo Temple, which had shrines to some deities, one of which was a patron of martial arts. We thought it was fitting to go there since we had just finished our time at the kung fu school.

Inside Man Mo Temple.
Temple lamps.

There are lots of cute little European cafes and bars in the area, but Chris and I mainly just wandered around. This in itself was pretty exciting because in order to deal with the heavy traffic, there is a maze of raised pedestrian walkways that take you around the area. To deal with the hills they use long outdoor escalators, which Chris appreciated.

Victoria Harbour at Night

We headed back to the Kowloon side of the city to see the nightly light show over the harbour. It’s kind of a kitschy summer event, but it’s cool that they have coordinated flashing skyscrapers lights and lasers on on one side of the harbour with music playing on the other side.

The light show!
Victoria Harbour at night.

Iron Buddha

We took a day trip over to Lantau Island to see the giant Tian Tan Buddha. It’s the biggest outdoor sitting buddha in the world and since it’s basically on the top of a mountain, there is a cable car that takes you most of the way. Chris was very excited to ride the cable car because while waiting in line they show you a video of Donnie Yen also riding the cable car (and also because the alternative is a very long hike).

Riding the cable car!

The iron buddha was made fairly recently, meaning it’s basically a big tourist attraction, so at the top there is Ngong Ping, a small “village” of souvenir shops, restaurants, and a theatre showing kung fu shows and such. There is also a monastery up there, so I guess it’s not entirely manufactured. Anyways, after wandering through the village you then have to hike up a whole bunch of stairs to get to the actual buddha. The views are nice up there and, according to a random small child, there is also a lot of Pokemon.

At the big buddha!

Mak’s Noodles

We went to Mak’s Noodles for dinner specifically because Anthony Bourdain had gone there and we wanted to make Ed jealous. It’s a tiny local restaurant that makes won ton noodles, and in trying to emulate Anthony Bourdain we ordered a bunch of different dishes and then had way too much food (unlike Anthony Bourdain we can’t really afford to only eat one bite of everything).

Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

The names of many things in China are an exaggeration, but surprisingly there are actually a thousand buddhas at Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. More than that in fact. To get to the temple you have to walk up something like 400 steps lined with big gold buddha statues. All the statues are different, so it’s pretty interesting, though some are kind of weird and creepy, with extra long limbs or arms coming out of their eyes and such. I’m sure those must symbolize something, but I don’t know what. There are also cute ones of buddhas riding different animals and playing with small children and such.

Heading up to the monastery.

At the top there is a temple with over ten thousand buddhas inside, lining the walls. There is also a part where (I think) you can have your cremated remains set in the wall behind a golden buddha, in a temple-type building endlessly playing buddhist chants. Despite the name the area is not actually a monastery (as there are no monks), but a temple complex privately built by a devout buddhist.

Statues and monkeys.

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum

While on the outskirts of town, we decided to visit a couple other places on the MRT. One of these was the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, mainly because Chris wanted to see their Bruce Lee exhibit. They have a lot of artifacts from his life, but don’t let you to take any pictures for licensing reasons. We saw that he was really bad at math in high school (they had a ledger with his marks), that he was a great cha cha dancer (film footage), and that he loved exercising (they had a bunch of his homemade weight equipment). Then of course they had a bunch of props from his movies, including the iconic steel claw from Enter the Dragon and his famous yellow jump suit from Game of Death.

Nan Lin Garden

Whist on our tour of the greater Hong Kong area, we stopped for a relaxing wander in Nan Lin Garden. The garden was immaculately pruned, with some nice waterways and expensive tea houses, as well a couple exhibits on temple construction and garden rocks. There was also a nunnery, but we were too busy laughing at the “No Pokemon Go” signs and it closed before we got inside.

Inside Nan Lin Garden.

Back in the downtown area we took a walk around Mong Kok, the market area, which was pretty intense. You can buy pretty much anything ever there, and unlike a lot of Asia, I think it’s actually regulated so the goods aren’t fakes. There is even a whole street dedicated to colourful sneakers. We also found a takeaway place that made Shanghai dumplings, which was super exciting.

Stuff for sale in Mong Kok.

To cap off our trip to Hong Kong we decided to hit up Disneyland, which deserved its own post!

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