27 May 2014

HK Day 4: Real Hong Kong

Monday, T and I decided to try breakfasting like the locals.  Various blogs and other info on the interwebs pointed us to a place in Central called Lin Heung Tea House.  Known for delicious congee (xi fan for Mandarin speakers, jok for Cantonese), we were excited to be able to order our breakfast off of carts (like Dim Sum).

Even though we were up super early (about 4:30am), our internet perusings kept us from getting underway until 7:00am, which we felt was a more suitable time to actually get going.  Being on the MTR at that early hour meant that we got to experience the HK morning commute.  Lots of tired looking people, as to be expected, and being out here in the "suburbs" on Lantau Island, we saw a higher ratio of expats.  We did not envy the men's full suits in the HK heat and humidity, but figure at least they won't freeze in their offices which are likely air conditioned to near-tundra temperatures (as are most of the shops).

Thanking the Google Gods for designing such amazing maps (the directional arrow, showing which way you're facing is particularly handy), we had little difficulty finding our breakfasting location.  The greater difficulty was in communicating and wondering about how sanitary the place might be.  [Vi, you would not have gone in.]  As an answer to my concerns about the cleanliness of the dishes (clean ones are stacked on the floor, for quick resetting of tables), a server/bus boy set a bowl of steaming hot water on the table in front of us.  He also threw down a little card listing the types of tea available.  I chose Jasmine and quickly looked around, looking at how others were using the water bowl.  Not seeing any other new diners, I assumed it was for washing our dishes.  As I swirled our little bowls and cups in the piping hot water, we noticed someone else pouring their tea over the ends of their chopsticks, also into the bowl.  We did that too.  Dishes "sanitized," we started looking around at the few carts, searching for recognizable foods.

No need to wait patiently for the carts to come to your table!  When a new cart came out, people would get up from their tables to check out the steaming items.

Unfortunately, they didn't actually have xi fan, which was disappointing.  Maybe we missed it, or maybe the people just couldn't understand what we were saying.  We did sample a variety of other things, none of which we'd ever had before.  The zhong zi (sticky rice with some kind of meaty filling, wrapped in leaves) was the closest item to anything we recognized.  About halfway through our dining experience, a nice couple sat at our table (shared tables appears common here) and the man offered us a variety of helpful tips - in English!  He taught us how to pour from a teapot properly (2 fingers inside the handle, thumb pressing down on top to keep it steady), told us what some of the more interesting looking foods were (another pair at our table ordered a LARGE helping of steamed pork liver...), and generally gave us advice about how and what to see in the city.

Tummies full, and hoping the hot water/tea dish washing was sufficient, we headed off in search of the Peak Tram.  Again, following the guidance of Google maps, we found the Peak Tram fairly easily.  We were expecting something somewhat more elaborate, especially after having been on the cable cars.  The tram is literally one tram vehicle with two cars that goes up and down a single, very steep track.  It has the feel of an old trolley from some place like Louisiana, but the track is so steep, you also kind of feel like you're on a roller coaster, and thus keep waiting for a stomach turning drop (which thankfully never happens).

There's the tram!
At the top of Victoria Peak, the main attraction is the Peak Tower, which has undergone several total make-overs - there are many photos showing previous iterations.  Inside the tower is a sort of mini-mall, with a random sampling of stores.  At the top level, next to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (yes, themed after Forrest Gump...) is TonyMoly, a Korean cosmetics company that makes some of the cutest packaging.  We made a quick pit stop.

View from the coffee shop
Thirsty and hot, as usual, our next stop was a little coffee shop with fantastic views out over the city.  T tried a blended iced coffee, but I stuck with bottled water.  Re-hydrated, we explored the rest of the establishments on Victoria Peak before joining the queue for the return trip.  As I mentioned earlier, it's one vehicle that goes up and down the track.  There's no turning around.  So on the way down the mountain, you're sitting backwards.  This really feels like a roller coaster, but fortunately the ride is just slow and smooth enough to prevent any freak-outs.  Still, I think there were some who were glad when the tram ground to a stop.

The Peak Tram stop is at the edge of Honk Kong Park, a large, outdoor, somewhat jungly place with paved walkways and lots of stairs.  We saw a somewhat extreme looking work out group that made us think of Fit Camp (except perhaps less safe).  In the 93F heat, with 100% humidity (really, it was raining), weather.com told us it felt like 106F.  This group was running up and down the stairs, interspersed with burpees, and sprinting/grapevining/high-knee-ing up the slope of the mountain.  We were tired just watching them.  So we continued on our way through the park.  We walked past gardens, a large koi pond, and fountains before arriving at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware.

The museum showcases all types of Chinese tea ware and even had a room for viewing a short video showing how teapots are traditionally made by hand.  Using the Museum as a welcome respite from the heat and giving our feet a change to relax, we spent the majority of our time in the children's playroom watching the videos about tea customs and how tea is made (from picking to packaging with Mr. Black Tea Leaf).  I'm pretty sure the playroom attendant thought we were quite odd.

Our last stop for the day was tea at the Upper House.  This is a hotel that is somehow attached to/on top of the JW Marriott.  A very stylish hotel in a stylish part of the city, our reservation was at 4:30, not for another 3 hours!  We were able to move it up to 3:30pm, but still needed to bide some time.  We looked around both the JW and Upper House for a place to sit and relax, but large hotel lobbies (with comfy couches and chairs for lounging) are not really a thing here.  Instead, we settled for just being out of the heat and walked around the large mall across the street.

Full of high end brands like Cartier, Hermes, and Burberry, we made one $5USD purchase at a pharmacy for throat lozenges.  The over-helpful shop attendants wanted me to buy a large glass bottle of Chinese medicine, whose main ingredient appeared to be bee propolis.  Interestingly, we got 3 flavors of lozenges - blackberry, plum, and green tea - and they all have bee propolis also.  They do have a medicine-y flavour, but much better than the medicated ones at home.

Mini sliders!
Tea at the Upper House is at Cafe Gray Deluxe on the 49th floor, providing more fantastic views of Hong Kong.  T chose Chinese oolong and I had lemon ginger.  The tea set itself was comparable in taste and quality to the Peninsula, we thought.  Cafe Gray was less expensive, but the ability to make reservations and thus not having to wait really earned Cafe Gray a lot of points.  The tea itself was definitely better at the Peninsula - both mine (green tea based) and T's (black tea based) were bitter on the second cup, thanks to their use of 3 tea bags in 2 cup teapots.  But, did we mention the view?

After a leisurely tea, with tummies full, we headed back to Disneyland, where we showered and promptly fell asleep.

Next time:  Enchanted Garden and Sham Shui Po!

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