Kuala, not Koala

Just warning you, this is going to be a really long post.

I spent last weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not a long trip – just Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. Considering the limited time we had, we did quite a lot. It was a jam-packed, exhausting weekend.

Sidebar: classes are officially cancelled today because Hong Kong is under a Typhoon Signal level 8, meaning winds are at or above 63km/h and Typhoon Nesat is approximately 350km away. Gonna be honest, I’m a little freaked out… I’ve never been in a storm like this before!

First of all, remember back around Mid Autumn Festival when I was super sad I didn’t get to try more mooncakes? Especially the frozen kind? I had been hoping they would get cheaper after the holiday, but by the time I went to look they were all sold out. I was super depressed – I really wanted to try them! Well, guess what I found at the airport?

That’s right. Snowy mooncakes. The one on the left is strawberry and mung bean, and the one on the right is coffee with chocolate in the center. Oh my god, these things were worth the wait. The outside, instead of being a doughy sort of pastry like the regular ones, is basically just mochi. Yum!

Then came the flight. Four hours long, but at least the view was okay.

Friday morning, we got up early and made our way 13km outside the city to the Batu Caves. They’re these gigantic limestone caves that double as a Hindu temple. Some temple buildings and statues are outside the cave, including the 140ft gold statue of Murugan (I Wikipedia‘d that one) standing next to the 272 steps leading up to the cave. All along the steps are KAJILLIONS of monkeys. Tourists must feed them all the time, because they’re all over and they’re really comfortable around the people. I got some pretty close up pictures, and one even reached out and grabbed my ankle after I took its photo! This was extremely shocking because I’ve gotten so used to never seeing animals. Around Hong Kong, the only animals I see are bugs and pet dogs, barely ever even birds, let alone monkeys. Even hiking out on Lantau I never saw any animals! To come to Kuala Lumpur and see all these animals was such a change.

Once you finally get up to the caves, you basically just stand there in awe. I won’t try to explain how beautiful and just huge they are because I will never do it justice. Although I will say it’s the most perfect place for a temple if there ever was one. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

After we left the main temple cave, we went into what’s called the Dark Caves. Just like in Hong Kong, these people aren’t very creative with names. The caves are literally pitch black inside, and filled with all sorts of gross things like bats, cockroaches, centipedes, and the world’s rarest spider. They neglected to tell us all of this until after we paid for the tour. I swear, three hours later I still felt like there were bugs crawling all over my legs.

At the bottom of the caves, we found a small Indian restaurant for lunch. Well, to put it more accurately, the restaurant found us. One of the biggest differences between HK and KL, besides the animals, is the people in restaurants. In HK, the doors to restaurants stay closed and the people working there don’t really care whether or not you come in. In KL, they act like those annoying girls at the mall kiosks that sell curling irons. “Come in here! Our food is great! Are you hungry? Come eat! So cheap, so delicious, come in, come in!!”

See that? That would be rice with lentils and green beans and cauliflower and squash all on top of a banana leaf. The fact that they serve it on a banana leaf is ridiculously cool, but you know what’s even cooler? The fact that it’s all 100% vegetarian. Oh my god I love Malaysia and its high Hindu population. All the Indian vegetarian food I ate made me so happy. And those green beans were out-of-this-world delicious.

After the Batu Caves, we made our way back to KL and got on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s a tour bus where you can buy a ticket for 24 or 48 hours and it stops at all the different touristy locations within the city. You can get on at any stop, get off whenever you see something cool, and then get back on again when you’re done. It even has audio commentary about whatever you’re going towards next! It’s a really neat idea, but it only runs in one direction, which is a pretty big bummer. Anyway, we took it to the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Garden, and then to the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world.

Did I mention who I was travelling with? It was me, a girl from New York, and two girls from Japan. Everywhere we went, people would ask us where we’re from. “The two of us are from the US, and they’re from Japan.” “…but … why are you together?”

As a relaxing way to end a long day, we decided to go to a fish spa. What’s a fish spa, you ask? Basically you put your feet into a pool of small fish and they nibble off all the dead skin. Sounds wonderful. It’s just such a weird idea that we wanted to try it. Well, it took us so long to finally get to the mall where the fish spa was supposed to be, and then it was closed for remodeling! What a disappointment! We were able to, at least, find a really good Malaysian restaurant in the mall, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

We had everything the waiter recommended. A spicy chicken dish, prawns, pineapple fried rice, an egg “flower” (basically scrambled egg with vegetables), and some sort of veggie. I don’t know what kind of vegetable that was, but I wish I did because it definitely stole the show. The whole dish is really garlicky (my favorite), with both the stems and the leaves. The stems are pretty crunchy, like broccoli almost, and the leaves reminded me a lot of kale chips. Ugh, just talking about it is making me want to eat it again.

Saturday morning, we were up bright and early again, off to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Center. It’s located about two hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, so it takes a really long time to get there. We decided not to book a tour, since everything we read online said the only thing the tour is good for is transportation – once you’re there, it’s the same whether or not you’re with a tour group. So, we hopped on a train, took it to the very last stop, and then rode the bus for an hour.

We were in Middle-of-the-Forest, Malaysia, just south of I-Have-No-Idea-Where-We-Are. The bus only takes you so far, so after that you have to take a taxi the last 14km. The only problem is, once you’re that far out in the boonies, there aren’t really taxis, just people with cars who want to make an extra couple of bucks. Consequently, we were given a ride by a toothless old Malaysian man with an Aloha shirt and a 1980s Corolla. Don’t freak out, Mom. Somehow, going with him was the best decision we could have made – he must spend all his time waiting around for confused tourists in need of a ride to the sanctuary. Not only did he know the way by heart, but he also showed us where to buy tickets for the bus back to KL and was even waiting patiently for us outside the sanctuary when the activities were over, like a dad picking up his preteen daughter and her friends after a movie. All that for 60 ringgits? I’ll take it. Even if he had no teeth.

Once there, we watched a video about the elephant relocation program – basically, they move elephants that are pillaging farms to a new habitat. The only reason they eat the crops, though, is because their natural habitats are being destroyed to make room for the farms. It sounds mean, but I guess it’s better to move them than to have them killed by angry farmers. The elephants at the Center are trained to help move the “problem” elephants, since being around other elephants seems to help comfort them during the transport and keeps them from getting scared and possibly hurting people.

After being thoroughly depressed by the movie, we got to feed the elephants, ride them, and then “bathe” with them in the river. I felt bad for the elephants giving rides; they seemed so bored just walking in a circle over and over again. The ones in the water, though, seemed like they were having tons of fun with the people. They would spray everyone with their trunks, and loved splashing around. It was seriously one of the coolest experiences of my life.

After we became official “Elefriends” (their word, not mine) we made our way back to the city and headed over to Little India. It’s only about two blocks long, but packed with restaurants, produce markets, and tons of stores selling beautiful sari fabric. I kind of wish I had bought some.

We passed by a bakery called Venusitas that had the most beautiful, colorful displays in the window. It all looked so good, I ended up buying a box with one of everything just so I could try it all. Most of it was way too sugary for me, but still nice to have a bite or two. For the most part, they all had just a plain, sweet flavor, but some had hints of coconut, and one cookie was even a bit lemony.

Again, we ate delicious Indian food. We were accosted by a man in an orange polo shirt telling us we absolutely had to eat at his restaurant. We decided to trust him, and I had naan with two really good types of curry and one other sauce that was good but way too intense with the lime.

Finally, it was time to go back to Hong Kong. We had a little bit of time on Sunday morning before we had to leave for the airport, so we spent about half an hour at the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple, just a few minutes’ walk from our hostel. After this trip, I officially love Hindu temples. They are all so colorful and fun to look at! The statues are beautiful.

For our last meal at the airport, we went to Marrybrown, the Malaysian competitor to KFC. (KFC is a HUGE deal in KL. I’m talking way bigger than McDonald’s, and it’s not out of the ordinary to see KFC’s with two floors. I realized it’s probably because of the religious groups there – predominantly Hindu and Muslim.) Looking at the menu, my eyes immediately jumped to the #5 combo, a veggie burger with curly fries and a drink. Veggie burger?! CURLY FRIES?! Talk about exciting!

Well, at least the fries were good. What looked like a delicious veggie burger in the photo turned out to be hash browns and lettuce in a bun. Not kidding, hash browns. Straight up potato. No yummy Boca patty, no vegetables smushed into a disk, nope. A McDonald’s style hash brown. I got chicken nuggets afterward to supplement my “meal.”

I never thought in my whole life I would travel to Malaysia. It was never really on my “list,” you know? I didn’t know anything about the country until I booked the flights and started doing a bit of research! But I had such an amazing time and I am so happy I went. Can’t wait for more weekend trips like this one!

Buddhaful

School is finally into a regular schedule, and it’s official: my Tuesdays are awful. Sure, I only have one class on Monday and Thursday, and I get Wednesday and Friday off, but I definitely pay for it with Tuesday. I have class from 12:30-10 with only an hour for dinner. Yeah, that’s right, 10pm. Last Tuesday, classes were cancelled, and the Tuesday before that was the first week and only two of my classes met, so yesterday was my first real hell day. I was absolutely exhausted by the end! And I thought I had packed enough food with an apple and some crackers, but my stomach was growling the whole time.

Last post, I talked about the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which literally has over ten thousand Buddha statues. As a follow up to that, last Friday I went to the Big Buddha. It’s literally a gigantic Buddha. They’re not very creative with names here, I think. Either way, it was awesome.

It’s way up on the mountain in Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. The subway doesn’t go that far, so after that you can either take a bus or go with the more exciting/expensive option: cable cars.

(I say expensive, but really it’s only about $150HKD roundtrip, or 20 bucks for the fans back home.)

If the cable cars weren’t cool enough, you can pay a little extra to ride in a crystal cabin. What does a crystal cabin entail, you ask? Glass. Floor.

Those are my stylin’ Birkenstocks, if you were wondering.

Anyway, once you get there, there’s plenty to do. The cable car lets off in Ngong Ping Village, a ridiculously touristy area of shops where all the buildings are made with stereotypical Chinese architecture – think Disneyland’s Main Street but Asian. They did have a shop filled entirely with vending machines, which was awesome! Not like food vending machines, but the kind where you put in a coin and hope/pray the little plastic ball that comes out doesn’t have something lame inside. I got a couple of ridiculously adorable cell phone charms.

Besides that, there’s plenty to just look at. There’s the Po Lin Monastery, where lots of people were praying, burning incense, that sort of thing. Plus there were tons of flowers, which I love, and I was able to snap a couple National-Geographic-esque shots:

At the monastery they have an all vegetarian restaurant. Yes, that’s right. All vegetarian. I can’t even explain how happy that made me. I had asked a friend – a local – why it’s impossible to get tofu at a restaurant here. He said, “Are you kidding? Tofu is cheap! No one goes out to eat and orders tofu!” Well, the monastery is my new favorite restaurant. It’s a set menu based on how many people are at your table, but everything was delicious. I haven’t seen so many vegetables on one table since I got here! There was an all-veggie soup, a cauliflower dish with fried tofu, bell peppers and cucumber with something very similar to Tofurkey, curry with corn and soft tofu, veggie spring rolls, mushrooms with bok choy… I was in tofu heaven.

After that, finally, what I had been waiting for: Big Buddha. You have to climb about a million stairs to get up to it, which is actually really awesome because it looks bigger and bigger the closer you get. I’m not kidding, this thing is huge – over a hundred feet tall. And since it’s way up on the top of the mountain, you can see it for miles! Pretty crazy.

At the very top, there are six smaller (but still pretty big) statues circling it, giving offerings of flowers, fruit, and other things Wikipedia tells me are necessary to enter nirvana.

Then on Saturday I made a complete turnaround from Buddhist temples and went shopping. Considering my bargaining skills are unbelievably poor, I think I did pretty well for myself – shorts, a shirt, a belt, sunglasses, a wallet, and a reusable grocery bag for under $50USD. Mong Kok is the best.

After that we went to Pui O beach (again on Lantau) for a concert-type thing at a bar right on the shore. I felt like, just for that evening, I left Hong Kong and was back in California. The band playing when I got there was really great – calm, beachy music, very appropriate for the occasion. The sand on the beach was the softest I’ve ever felt on my life, and it was so relaxing to stand with my feet in the water and listen to the music in the background. The band that came on after that was pretty terrible, but at least I still had the waves! I definitely want to go back to that beach in the daytime.

中秋节

Mid Autumn Festival was Monday and I didn’t eat nearly enough mooncakes. They’re a Chinese dessert eaten almost only for Mid Autumn Festival, usually filled with lotus paste and possibly duck egg yolks. I think I’m the only person on the planet that actually likes the yolks, so there are other flavors too – I had a few with just lotus paste and one with date paste and nuts. I wish I had tried some of the fancier ones though! They have all sorts of fruit ones, and even some with ice cream. I was kind of hoping to try one with durian too… I haven’t looked much, but I’m hoping it’s like Easter and they’ll all be on sale now that the holiday is over. I’ll have to find some before they’re gone!

For the actual festival we went to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, where they were having a huge lantern carnival! They had a bunch of displays with huge lanterns – like, bigger than me, lanterns. There were lanterns shaped like people, buildings, fish, farm animals, everything! The biggest one, though, was this gigantic fish lantern made of tons of smaller lanterns. It was ginormous! There had to be thousands of lanterns in that thing, and they kept changing colors to make different patterns. It was so beautiful.

Then Tuesday I went to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. It’s not actually monastery because there aren’t any monks, but that’s the only part of the name that’s a lie. There are literally ten thousand Buddha statues. Almost all of them are gold, too. Some were tiny, only a couple inches tall, and some were 20 feet high. It was all the way up on the mountain, and you had to hike the stairs up, so honestly they could’ve gotten away with calling it the Ten Thousand Stairs Monastery. Good calf workout.

I went by myself. I’m so used to doing things on my own, and I haven’t been able to in awhile. Obviously I want to be around friends, but sometimes I just really want to be by myself. Going to the monastery alone was great – I got to walk at my own pace, go on my own schedule. I think I’m going to explore Hong Kong a little more on my own.

Mango Rice Noddles

This is officially my longest weekend ever. No class from last Friday through next Thursday because of 中秋节 (Mid Autumn Festival)! We only officially get Monday evening and Tuesday off, but I already have no classes Friday, Monday in the daytime, and Wednesday. Basically I never go to school.

Friday I went on a four hour hike on Lantau Island to a small fishing village called Tai O. It was such a long hike, but totally worth it. It was a paved sidewalk almost the whole way, which was very strange to see on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, but it made it a lot easier. Tai O is amazing – all the houses are up on stilts for when the water comes in, and the marketplaces have all sorts of crazy things. It’s mostly dried fish, but all kinds of fish – I saw dried shrimp, squid, seahorses, even blowfish. I even saw what looked like a dried shark! Just on display at the storefront though, not for sale.

Walking around, we saw someone making those bubble waffle things! It was really neat how they do it – you pour the batter into the mold, which is sort of like a waffle iron except handheld. Then you hold it over hot coals until it cooks! This one was way better than when I got it a little while ago in Mong Kok; that one had been sitting out for awhile (aka not blog-worthy), but this one was nice and fresh. It tastes just like a waffle, but the shape just makes it way more fun. It’s like bubble wrap!

Then Saturday I went to Macau, which was awesome. Macau used to be Portuguese territory, so the mix of culture there is so unique. All of the streets have Portuguese names, and you can definitely see the Portuguese influence in the architecture, but everyone is Chinese! Plus, it’s sort of like the Las Vegas of China – tons of hotel casinos. Ones you’ve heard of too, like the Venetian and the MGM Grand.

We walked around a bit getting some street food… EGG TARTS!! They’re hot, with a really buttery crust and eggy filling. They sell them all over at little shops along the street for ridiculously cheap. Also, if you walk around the marketplace people will try to get you to eat samples of whatever they’re selling, like these awfully dry cookies and amazing beef jerky thing. You could basically eat a whole meal there for free! I also got a delicious matcha milk tea with red beans (my favorite) instead of my usual boba. For some reason, none of my friends like red bean… they’re crazy. But anyway. We went to the Ruínas de São Paulo, one of the most famous landmarks in Macau, and that’s basically it. I’d definitely like to go back and explore a little more and see what else Macau has to offer; I feel like there is so much more to see there!

After all that adventuring, I was feeling pretty tired today and just stayed local. We went to a place in Hung Hom called Dumpling King for dinner, and had noodles and 饺子, or pot stickers. It seems like dumplings are the only time I can get vegetables! I had some that were all veggie and some with spinach and pork, plus freshly made soy milk. They were pretty greasy, but very fresh – you could tell they had just made them.

Then we went to a place right next door for dessert, and of course I got sago – mango with fresh mango chunks and grass jelly.  It was sooooo good. Seriously, sago is my new favorite food. Someone else ordered peanut 汤圆 (tangyuan), which is sort of like mochi filled with peanut butter and served in a sweet broth. And then, one of my friends ordered…. mango rice noodles. Or, “noddles,” as the menu said. I don’t know what the waitress thought she ordered, but it definitely wasn’t mango rice noodles. It was a big bowl of grass jelly in this ridiculously strong sesame soup with a little bit of mango on top.

I didn’t think it was that bad, just too strong. I was the only one who didn’t make a gross face when I tasted it. Next time, I think we’re all going to order by just pointing to the pictures.

I have a new favorite food.

Sago. Well, sago pudding. This is my new favorite food dessert food. Sago is kind of like tapioca, and they put it into a cold, sweet soup. It’s so light and refreshing and not too sweet. I swear, I can eat that stuff everyday! They make lots of flavors with different fruits in the soup.

I’ve been having too much dessert lately. On Tuesday, I went to a dessert place called Honeymoon (it’s a chain, you can find them here) with some friends and a couple of local students. We had no idea what to get, so we told the local girls to just order whatever they wanted us to try. I didn’t get any photos, unfortunately, because it was right after class and I didn’t have my camera, but I will definitely be going back! We had a lot, so let’s see if I can remember it all.

  • Pineapple parfait, which was like really icy ice cream. Very light and sweet.
  • Durian mochi things. The local girls thought they would gross us out, but I actually liked it! I don’t mind the smell of durian like a lot of other people do. Durian is that big, spiky, smelly thing.
  • Mango sago with vanilla ice cream and pomelo (a type of citrus).
  • Tofu pudding with sesame soup and green tea ice cream. The tofu pudding is white, not quite as firm as Jello, and tastes like almonds; the sesame is black and thick with a nutty flavor; and the green tea ice cream was like forest green and tasted like TEA. I mean hardcore, straight up tea, not the sugary stuff at home. But honestly, take a second and imagine those colors. Black, white, and green. The presentation was beautiful when it came out, but when it got all mixed up in the bowl that stuff looked like Star Wars. I’m not kidding, intergalactic desserts here in Hong Kong.
  • A really eggy warm custard served IN THE EGG SHELL. I don’t know how they hollowed it out but honestly I don’t want to know. I want to keep believing it was magic.
  • These warm, mochi-like dough balls served with crushed peanuts and I think honey. You stick one of the balls with a toothpick and roll it in the peanuts. By far my favorite.

Needless to say, this dessert was basically an entire meal and I am SO SAD I didn’t get pictures. That’s why I brought my camera last night when I got dessert again!

This time it wasn’t at Honeymoon – we went to some hole in the wall type place here in Hung Hom, right by the dorms. We had mango/pomelo sago, strawberry sago, and a coconut custard thing.

The custard was so good! It was warm, which I wasn’t expecting, and not overly coconutty.

I love sago pudding. It is my new go-to dessert for sure. The mango one here was even better than the one at Honeymoon, I think, and walking distance from the dorm! I better not get fat from all the sago I’m going to eat.

My classes here have been riddikulus. (Yes, I did just say “riddikulus,” like the spell to vanish a Boggart.) My computer science classes are pretty awful. They’re on Monday and Tuesday evening until 10 o’clock at night!  Both are pretty big lectures, and all the students talk nonstop. Seriously, they just jabber away in Cantonese the whole time while the professors talk. Don’t they get upset or offended? That kind of disrespect would never fly at CMU. There were some other exchange students in my Artificial Intelligence class, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I am the whitest person taking Networks. People were staring at me like I didn’t belong in the room! They’ll just have to get used to me, I guess. At least I’m not blonde; then the stares would be even worse.

I found something else familiar at the grocery store the other day and decided to buy it. Let me know if you guys recognize this…

Last Hurrahs

Finally, I have my first class today. Artificial Intelligence from 6:30pm-10:00pm. I can’t believe how late classes go here! It’s ridiculous. My evening classes are already making me miss out on things, like the exchange student dinner tomorrow. Bah. If it weren’t the first week, I would ditch.

The past few days I’ve been having a lot of foods reminding me of home. I’ve gone out of my way to eat simple things like sandwiches. It’s not that I’m really tired of Chinese food or anything, I just need some variety! Every meal seems to be a choice between rice or noodles. There is plenty more Chinese food I need to experience! I haven’t really had dumpling soup or dim sum or anything like that, and I’m getting tired of constant noodles.

The other day we went to a burger place called BLT. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. I had a falafel burger (vegetarian yes!!) that was only so-so, and the fries tasted kind of McDonald’s-y. What was amazing though was the milkshakes. Let me just start by saying that being of age is amazing. I’m only 20, so I can’t drink at home. Not that I’m dying to go get drunk every night, but sometimes you look on a menu and the drinks just sound amazing! Because of that, I’m definitely taking advantage of my age while I’m here. I ordered a milkshake, called Silk Road, made of Kahlua, Bailey’s, espresso, and coffee ice cream. That thing must have been over 1500 calories, and I enjoyed every last drop of it. It’s something I can definitely make on my own, too. Yum.

Another taste of home I had this week: frozen yogurt. Froyo is such a big deal here! It’s actually very inexpensive too, considering most dairy products are pretty costly. There’s a Tutti Frutti pretty close to my dorm. I’ve seen it at home but never had it (I’m much more into Yogurtland or Menchie’s) so I’m not sure how the flavors compare, but it definitely had some unique options. I got half guava and half red bean yogurt – the guava was to die for but the red bean was only so-so. Then, as I usually do, I only topped it with fruit and mochi, plus the little jelly things you can get at bubble tea places. They had dragon fruit! If you haven’t had it before, it’s that hot pink scary looking thing but it’s white inside with black seeds. It tastes a little bit like kiwi, but less sweet.

The other day, my roommate went over to Macau for the day. Macau and Hong Kong are the two Special Administrative Regions of China, meaning they belong to China but are separate for the time being. The ferry to Macau only takes about one hour, so I definitely have to go! Anyway, she brought me back some “cookies”…

They look like normal cookies, right? Crunchy outside with maybe a chocolatey filling or something. When I looked at the box more closely, I realized they weren’t cookies at all. It says “Phoenix Egg Roll with Seaweed and Shredded Pork.” Not a cookie. I ate one though – very interesting. I know it says pork but they taste extremely fishy. Nice to try, but I don’t know how I’m going to finish the whole box.

Yesterday I went to Repulse Bay, a beach on Hong Kong Island. It was so nice! Everyone says that beach is so dirty, but honestly, compared to LA beaches it was ridiculously clean. Very little trash. Afterward we went to this fantastic Japanese restaurant in the Tsim Sha Tsui subway station. It’s crazy, almost every subway station here is its own little shopping center, with tons of places to eat and small boutiques. The TST one is a full mall with multiple floors, clothing stores, and sit down restaurants. This was a trendy place called Miso Cool. Not too expensive and absolutely delicious! I will definitely be going back.

I’ve been trying to eat more meat for a more balanced diet, so I decided to go with spicy ramen with shrimp tempura. It was delicious! I haven’t had anything spicy since I got here, so the ramen really hit the spot. It came with corn, a bit of bok choy, and half an egg on top. The tempura had two shrimps plus one piece of eggplant and one piece of squash. It was really great, not too greasy or anything. And the presentation was so cute! All of us were gawking when our food came out. There’s a little picture on the inside of the bowls, and they’re all different. They also have some interesting smoothies, like green tea with Yakult, that I’ll have to try when I go back.

Oh, and one strange thing I’ve noticed here: The Chinese drink 紅茶 or 綠茶, which translates to red tea and green tea. The only problem is that when they say red tea, what they are actually talking about is what we call black tea. Since this bizarre translation was already explained to me by my Chinese teacher this year, I wasn’t surprised by it, but I know a few people were a bit confused. When my friend and I both ordered red milk tea the other day, I knew exactly what I was getting but she thought she was trying something new!

Hong Kong Hodge Podge

I’ve been in Hong Kong for about a week now. So much has been going on! Classes started today, so up until then everything was go go go go go, see this, do that, nonstop action. None of my classes start until Monday, though, so I have a little while to relax.

Eating here has been very hard. I’ve been slowly introducing meat into my diet, and I hate it. The times I avoided meat, I either couldn’t find anything on the menu or felt terrible because all I had was rice or noodles. I can barely find anything with tofu here, which is a surprise, let alone vegetable based dishes. It’s literally impossible to keep a well-balanced vegetarian diet here.

First thing I noticed when I got to Asia: the vending machines. They’re so cool here! I don’t know what about them is so awesome, but they’re just fantastic. You can get so many different types of snacks from vending machines, but I think the drink machines are even cooler:

So many types of juice and tea and soy milk and everything! I wish we had vending machines like this back home.

Another thing is the markets. People just stand out on the sidewalk selling fish or meat or whatever. I was expecting this, but it’s still so cool to see.

Some notable things I’ve done since I’ve been here: coolest thing so far, I think, was visiting the Nan Lian gardens. The landscape is beautiful, with so many plants and a temple. Visiting was such an amazing experience – probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. According to Wikipedia, my favorite source of information, the temple was built in 1990 in the style of the Tang Dynasty; it was gorgeous, but I can only imagine how much better it would be to visit a temple actually built that long ago.

Along the way, we stopped at a little fast food place in the subway station for lunch. I ordered one red bean and one sweet potato bao. Instead of sweet potato, I got something purple – I thought it was taro, which is always purple, and I was really disappointed because I HATE taro. When I ate it, it wasn’t bad, and actually tasted like sweet potato, so honestly I have no idea what it actually was. But it was good. And I got it in the subway station… Seriously? This was way better than the kind I get at home. I’ll go somewhere else and get the real, non-fast-food kind, and my mind will be blown.

Another really exciting thing is the street food. In Mong Kok there are tons of little booths where people sell delicious and terrible for you fried food.

The food either comes on a stick or in a bag, but the bag isn’t any neater since the grease soaks right through. And did I mention that no one gives napkins in Hong Kong? The only place I’ve seen giving napkins is good old Mickey D’s.

Earlier this week I went to Ocean Park. Don’t be fooled like I was – it’s not a water park. It’s actually the most confusing theme park I’ve ever been to. They have a couple of small roller coasters, a dolphin show kind of like at Sea World, an aquarium about as big as the one in Long Beach, and…

PANDAS. I was freaking out when I realized the park had pandas. I had never seen one before, and they had TWO. I wish I had bought something cheesy at the gift shop to commemorate the experience.

Finally, yesterday I went to the Peak, which is a spot on top of the mountain in Hong Kong Island where you can see literally everything.

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Gotta love that smog.

I feel like I’ve already seen so much of Hong Kong, but there’s so much to do. I’ve only had a little taste (hah) of the city, and really only tourist attractions. I can’t wait to really learn my way around, interact with local people, basically just live here. This is going to be such an exciting time.