Archive | August, 2013

Hong Kong…the return journey

18 Aug

Since my departure to Southeast Asia was somewhat abrupt, and its summer time, it’s hard for people to make plans to visit me in Manila or meet me somewhere in Asia. My first trip to to Asia was also to Hong Kong in 2009 to visit a friend who was teaching English, so I am vaguely familiar with the city. It just so happened that my very first friend in the world was making her way to Asia for the first time to Hong Kong / Dauggon, China. It only made sense that I would go there for the weekend to meet up with her.

Landing in Hong Kong and traveling to the city is one of the easiest things to do. There is an Airport Express train which goes directly to the heart of the city, the IFC building, in 24 minutes, for less than $30usd round trip. Why there is nothing as efficient in NY or the US for that matter, is beyond me. The MTR in Hong Kong is equally as easy to use and just as quick and clean as the MRT’s in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile in Tsim Sha Tsui on Nathan road which is one of the tourist centers in the Kowloon area. It also resembles Canal street in that strangers approach you asking if you want bags, watches, and suits. For our first day we decided to get our shopping out of the way and were in the market for suits as well. I had a suit made in 2009 but I had left the receipt with the address somewhere in my parents house in CT. My dad had shirts made in 2011 and my mom had the information handy, so I emailed the tailor asking for an appointment. He never responded but my friend and I decided to go there in person and check it out. Turns out their office is now vacant and apparently they closed 7 months ago, but there was another tailor on the same floor, Vogue Tailors. We caught them on their way back from the US to take orders, always a good sign. We sifted through hundreds of samples, were measured from neck to toe, and told to come back at 6pm. From there we set off for Mongkok station and the Ladies Market. They have everything from Chinese amulets, phone cases, and paintings, to t-shirts, belts, and scarves. I really wish we had these kinds of markets in the US. We also journeyed over to the Temple Street night market which really starts opening in the late afternoon. Between negotiations we stopped to buy buko juice/coconuts and mangosteens which are abundant in Asia and very hard to find in the US. After our fitting we stopped to watch the “Symphony of lights” show at the star ferry harbor. The light show is every evening at 8pm and most of the buildings along Hong Kong harbour participate by arranging the lights on their buildings to music.

Another one of my favorite places in Hong Kong is Lan Kwai Fong and the Soho area. My friend used to live in soho right off the mid-levels escalator and frequented a restaurant called Wagyu, which I dragged my friend to for brunch one morning. Even since 2009 the area seems built up with more trendy restaurants and bars. One notable stop was the Hong Kong brew house with an extensive beer selection, live music, and reasonable prices.

Our last adventure was Victoria peak and the tram. In November 2009 there was virtually no one in que for the tram and we went right up. Now we were fighting Chinese and Korean tourists left and right. And by fighting I mean we pushed our way through adults and small children onto the tram car in order to grab a seat. Somehow we even beat a group of Germans who looked a bit nervous and were forced to stand for the ride up. The sky was crystal clear and we were able to see the entire city. Our feet were tired from all the walking so we went back to soho for a foot massage to end the day. I was sad to leave Hong Kong, I wish we had one more day. There is so much to do and so many good restaurants, it’s hard to get it all done in a weekend. I’m looking forward to getting the suit and dress I had made as a reminder of my second trip to HK.

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Singapore

9 Aug

Similar to KL, I was told Singapore is a giant mall and there’s nothing to do except expensive shopping and drinking…. I’m sorry, how is this boring? Anyway, this time I decided to take Singapore Air to avoid random flight schedule changes, and unwarranted flight delays. It also doesn’t hurt that the three hour flight included and adult beverages. I’m also getting the hang of living in a third world country… random chaos mixed with surprising efficiency. En route to the airport the cab driver in Manila turned off the meter….Oh no he di’int! The exchange went something like this:
Me: “Sir why did you turn off the meter, you can’t do that.”
Taxi: “Excuse me Ms. its a flat rate of $400 to the airport from Makati.”
Me:”No it’s not, turn the meter back on your not allowed to just turn it off.”
Taxi:”How much you pay before?”
Me:”I paid 120php last weekend, I’m not paying anymore than $140″
Taxi:”Fine, ok, sorry Ms.”
Me:”You can’t just turn the meter off, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know you’re not allowed to do that.”
Taxi:”Sorry Ms.”
After that I received a surprising amount of respect from the man who just tried to con me out of an additional…$7USD. Hey every bit counts right?

Fortunately the flight to Singapore and the taxi ride to the Sheraton Towers hotel was smooth sailing. The taxi even tried to give me change back! Wow. One of my awesome coworkers in Manila let me use her EZ link card for the SMRT, which was so easy to use and very clean and efficient. The EZ link card even works in the taxis and at some convenience stores. From my hotel it was an easy walk to Orchard road, the Michigan ave and Fifth avenue of Singapore. There I met a friend of a friend who was kind enough to meet me for coffee and take me downtown to the city hall area. From there I went to the infamous Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. Even though it was late, taking the MRT at night and walking back to my hotel was very safe. Not once did I feel uncomfortable.

The following day we went to brunch at a great place called P.S. Cafe on Dempsey hill. The garden area outside was adorable and the food was every bit traditional Sunday brunch, which is something I hadn’t had in say…three months or so. Plus they had shoestring truffle fries which are a personal favorite. Outside of the restaurant there was, what looked like a koi pond, with some the largest fish I’ve every seen.

We continued our Sunday fun day to the Singapore botanical gardens, which is also easily accessible from the MRT. Apparently it was modeled after Central Park in the sense that admission is free and they encourage picnicking and outdoor activities. However, Singapore is brutally hot, so I would not suggest spending too much time exposed to the sun. The gardens are massive, we could have walked around all day. There’s also a Ginger garden and Orchid garden.

On a daily basis, the infamous Marina Bay Sands puts on a water show complete with lights, fire, bubbles, and sound effects. In the evening we made our way down to the staging area, which also has a full view of the central business district and the Merlion fountain. The show was pretty impressive, as is the Marina Bay Sands building, complete with a casino, shopping, theater, restaurants, a hotel, and supposedly the worlds craziest infinity pool. I was more obsessed with taking pictures of the actual building than paying to go all the way to the top, but we did ogle at the high end shops and enjoy some nice ice cream at Au Chocolat.

I wish I had more time to explore and experience the culinary delights, especially in La Passat and Little India, but I have a feeling I’ll be back.

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