The Final Countdown

My finals are over!! Finally. (Haha bad puns.) Glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore, but it does mean that this semester is actually over. Considering I was supposed to be studying all last week, I did quite a bit. Knocked out a few good bucket list items.

I finally had conveyor belt sushi – something I’ve wanted to do forever, but it’s a little difficult when you’re eating vegetarian. They did have one of those yummy egg sushis though. Basically the way it works is sushi on small plates comes around on a conveyor belt and you take whatever you want. The cost of each plate depends on the color – that purple plate was my one splurge item. Crab and crab roe. Yummy. No, I did not eat all those plates by myself. I’m not that much of a fatty, I was with a friend!

I also took a ferry out to Cheung Chau for a day, one of the smaller islands in Hong Kong. There’s a small neighborhood and a couple beaches and trails. It’s actually so small that there aren’t any cars on the entire island! Everyone just gets around on bikes, even little old ladies. Most of them use training wheels though, which I thought was pretty adorable. Cheung Chau is where they have the bun festival every year, but that isn’t until spring. I don’t actually know much about it except that people climb up this gigantic structure covered in buns. It sounds pretty weird. The buns were delicious though! Just steamed bread with red bean inside, my favorite.

Like most tiny little islands, Cheung Chau also has amazing seafood. We had a gigantic meal of ginger crab, clams with bell peppers in some sort of gravy sauce, steamed shrimp, some kind of fish, and mantis shrimp. Mantis shrimp are also called pissing shrimp, and they’re sort of purplish inside. Really good but not worth all the effort it took to get their shells open.

Whenever I have a really great meal here I’m always shocked by how cheap everything is. All the seafood I could possibly stuff my face with, and so fresh. It came out to less than US$10 per person. Really, the little places with folding tables and plastic chairs are always the best.

On Saturday I went to Ozone, the highest bar in the world. It’s on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton in the ICC building.

Super swanky, super expensive. The view was really nice, but honestly I more just went so I could check it off the list. I had an unbelievably overpriced “dragontini,” which was delicious, and got really sad when I remembered I won’t be able to do any of this when I get back home. I don’t turn 21 until next August, so it’s all pretty miserable.

Sunday was probably my best day ever in Hong Kong. The plan was: wake up early to watch the live stream of the dance show at CMU, go to Tuen Mun where my local friend lives for a nice lunch, study, and then finish up with a free concert. I made it through the dance show (which was AWESOME guys, so proud of you! and so jealous I wasn’t in it this semester!), but then about ten minutes before I was going to leave for Tuen Mun I started feeling really sick. Spent the rest of the day going back and forth between sleeping and throwing up my guts. It was a fun time. I still don’t know what got me so sick, but I woke up on Monday feeling great again.

So that was my week, besides two finals and an essay. The next couple of weeks until I go home are going to be absolutely crazy, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have for blogging. I’m off to Taipei tomorrow, then Bangkok and back to mainland China before I leave Asia for good. Well, not for good, but for now at least. I’ll be back.

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Hung Sweet Hom

I had a really traumatic incident yesterday. I was at the grocery store, casually looking at some apples, when a fish committed suicide. It somehow knocked the top off of the tank and jumped out onto the floor. It was a pretty huge fish, too. I really wonder how often it happens, because the workers really had no idea what to do, but they weren’t exactly scared, either. I, on the other hand, was screaming bloody murder. It flopped around pretty violently on the floor for at least three minutes before the people could catch it, and by that time it was dead. So depressing.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system… I took it pretty easy this past weekend. I had a couple of midterms this week, in networks and Chinese, so not tons of free time. On Saturday I walked around the goldfish market in Mong Kok, which was pretty cool. It’s a full block of shops selling fish and turtles and any of your other aquarium needs. A lot of the fish are in tanks, but there were also racks and racks of bags of fish! I felt pretty bad for them, but hopefully the ones in bags are the ones that sell quickly. Those fish shouldn’t be cooped up like that for so long.

On Sunday I went to the Kowloon Walled City Park, which was very beautiful. Kowloon used to be a fort, and the park sits where that used to be. The original south gate of the fort is there, which is pretty cool. Going there just made me wish we had parks like that at home…

Tonight, I went out for dinner with a friend, and then we stopped at a bubble pancake place. I’ve had those a few times, but this time I decided to get a “Hong Kong Style Waffle.” It was heavenly. The waffle was really eggy and soft, freshly made. They fold it in half and in the inside they put peanut butter, condensed milk, margarine, and sugar. Talk about sweet! It was seriously to die for, and so cheap. I’m gonna have to try really hard not to go back there all the time.

That’s pretty much it for this week. Since I didn’t do much, I thought I’d explain a little more about the area where I live, Hung Hom, and just Hong Kong in general. Here are some differences between Hong Kong and home.

Cars
There are two kinds of buses here: the regular public buses, which are all double-deckers, and the “light” buses, which are teeny and only seat 16 people. The light buses usually cost more, but since there are fewer people they stop less often and usually get you where you want to go much faster.

Hong Kong is too crowded for cars. Besides buses, you really only see taxis, delivery trucks, and expensive cars. Seriously, almost everyone who drives has a Mercedes or a BMW. Bentleys and Maseratis aren’t uncommon either. You do see some more affordable makes, too, like Toyota, but they’re all within a couple of years old. No ’98 Camrys here. And definitely no Karmann Ghias.

Exchange rate
The exchange rate confuses me. It’s approximately 1 US dollar to 8 Hong Kong dollars, but you can’t buy anything for a dollar here. In a cheap market, you can get clothes for like $50, but in a real mall they cost anywhere from $200 to $1000, and stores like H&M are a little more expensive here than they are at home. At the same time, a pair of Nikes will only run you about $500-600. A cheap dinner will cost $30-$40, and dinner at a nicer place will be at least over $100. A drink at Starbucks is maybe $35, but you can get a giant flavored milk tea with boba for $15. It’s really strange how some things are much, much cheaper, but other things cost more.

Eating
Another thing about restaurants: a lot of the time, I eat in a mall food court on the walk back from school or one of the infinitely many hole-in-the-wall places nearby. None of those places give paper napkins; you have to bring your own. If you want free napkins, you have to go either to an American fast food chain or a real restaurant with a hostess and everything. Not necessarily a fancy restaurant, just a real one. I haven’t been anywhere with cloth napkins, either. Plus, you never ever tip the waiters.

Food is different here. I don’t just mean the types of dishes, but just how they describe it. Whatever you read on the menu is EXACTLY what you get. If it says “rice and beef,” you get white rice with beef. Never expect vegetables unless they are explicitly mentioned, because 9 times out of 10 you will be disappointed.

Cellphone picture of "fried noodles with mushrooms" from the school canteen. How many mushrooms do you see? Because I only see one. This was a bad dinner.

Things are a little different at supermarkets too. You know how lots of foods at home say things like “added blahblahblah” or “great for blahblahblah”? Like, how the blue orange juice carton is always “plus calcium and vitamin D”? They don’t put any of that stuff, and black it out with Sharpie on the imported items. I have no idea why, but I can usually read what it says through the marker anyway.

Nutrition facts are different, too. It will still tell you what the serving size is, but the calorie counts and everything else is all based on 100g. So, that means, even if there’s only 40g in the package, it will trick you into thinking you’ve just eaten 750 calories because that’s how many are in 100g. Plus, sometimes they’ll randomly put it in kilojoules instead of calories. Who knows what a kilojoule is? I sure don’t. It’s all very confusing. Speaking of strange units, fruit is priced by the pound, but everything else is metric.

Pretty much everywhere, but especially in Hung Hom, there are little corner markets for fruit. You can get fruit at the big supermarkets too, of course, but it seems like the locals go to these little places more often. They have a very farmers’ market feel, until you see the stickers on the fruit saying they’re all grown in California or Florida. New Zealand, sometimes, too. But they’ve got all sorts of fruits – regular ones like apples, bananas, grapes, and oranges, but also dragon fruit, starfruit, and pomelo. They usually sell chestnuts, too.

The picture on the left is sort of a dry goods store – I don’t know what else to call it. They usually have a sign that says 茶, tea, so my guess is they’ve got loose tea in some of those huge crates. They also have lots of nuts and dried beans and that sort of thing. These are everywhere.

Shopping
Most clothes here are one size only, and you can’t try anything on. Only real stores have dressing rooms, and by that I mean they have an actual cash register instead of a calculator and an envelope, and the clothes have tags on them, sometimes even with barcodes. Sometimes. The one-size clothes stores only keep one of each thing out, and if you want to buy it, they run into the back closet and come out with a little plastic baggy with your shirt or whatever inside. Can you believe that? All the clothes are packaged, like when you order them online. I don’t know why they keep it packaged that way, but it’s always strange to unwrap my clothes from a little plastic bag.

Also, every subway station is a shopping mall. I don’t know how else to explain it. Most of them are in the basement of a multistory mall, and the ones that aren’t still have tons of stores and are probably within a 2 minute walk from a mall. Hong Kong has more malls than anywhere I’ve ever been in my entire life.

Backpacks
Girls don’t wear backpacks here. I showed up on the first day of school with my Google backpack, feelin’ supafly, and people are staring at me like I’ve got my pants on backwards.

Me on the first day of school.

The girls always either hold their books or put them in some gigantic “purse” that really has no business being so large. A lot of guys even carry messenger bags! I felt pretty stupid until I got to my computer networks class, where my backpack gave me the instant cool factor. I am always the coolest geek in the room.

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!