So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

We set out with the best intentions to blog our new life here in Hong Kong. It started kind of OK, but soon it tapered out. But now, well, nothing has been written here in quite a while and it starts getting more and more like a yoke weighing us down.

So we decided to officially stop.

We might start again some day. Maybe. Don't hold your breath.


Far from home

Yesterday we got the news that Mats' son has come down with encephalitis, a virus infection to the brain. The doctors still don't know what kind of virus, so it's still not known if there is any treatment. For now, rest is what is prescribed.

All of a sudden, we feel very, very far away from home.


Random Meeting at a Restaurant

Last night we went to Nagahama No. 1 Ramen on Lau U Fong together with Mats' boss who is visiting Hong Kong. Nagahama is a small place on a back alley, but it is also our current favorite ramen place in Hong Kong (and since we really haven't had ramen until we came here, it's our current favorite ramen place in the world).

There are just three tables, each seating six people, so naturally you share table with random people. We got our seats, and ordered our ramen and an Asahi beer each. ("Yes, we know the bottles are big, but we still want one each.") Soon two more seats where taken, leaving an empty chair in the middle of the table.

We got our ramen, delicious as ever, and slurped away (you can't eat ramen quietly). A little while later the last seat was taken by a Japanese man. When he got his ramen, I realized that Yvonne and I had ordered way to much extra seaweed, so I offered the plate with my two sheets to the Japanese man.

He seemed utterly surprised at first, but accepted the gift happily. He ordered another Asahi to share with us, and we started talking. Mostly about Japan, but also about Sweden. When we told him that we are going to Japan in May, and mostly for the food, he gave us a number of tips on where to go and what to eat. Obviously, Fukuoka Prefecture, and especially the town Hakata is *the* place to go for ramen. He even tore out the map from his pocket calender and pointed out where it is. And where Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo is. And Sapporo, we really should go there, he said.

A random meeting at a restaurant turned out to make the dinner a really interesting and pleasant evening!


Moving - Again

We've been here for almost three months now. The first month, we lived in Causeway Bay and while the apartment was a cell-like bunker, the area was bustling with life 24/7. Almost a little bit too much, really.

But that's not where we wanted to live. We, or rather Mats, thought that Mid-Levels was the place to stay. Just an elevator ride to/from work, lots and lots of restaurants and nightlife.

It turned out not to be all that nice...

Mid-Levels, especially a block or two on either side of the escalator, is an expat ghetto. Almost all living here are expats, the restaurants and bars are filled with expats, and everything is geared towards the wants and needs of expats. Boring. Extremely boring. So after two months here, we have decided to go to another part of town.

Question is: Where?

Last Sunday, we entered our requirements on a portal site for serviced apartments, asking for offers anywhere from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay. All on the north shore of Hong Kong island. We got 30+ replies. From all over Hong Kong. From as far away as Shatin and Tin Shui Wai in the Northern Territories, more than an hour away from Hong Kong Island. And we got quite a few way outside of our budget. No, we don't want to pay almost HKD 100'000 per month for a one bedroom apartment, even if it's got harbor view.

But a few of the offers were quite interesting, and we have currently a short list of two places: One in Wan Chai, twenty minutes from work on the tram, and one in Sheung Wan, ten minutes walk from work.

On Tuesday, when we are back from Hanoi, we will make a decision. Hopefully.


More Observations

  • Hong Kong is a city of scents. New scents meet you where ever you go. On the streets, in the markets, in the subways, in the restaurants.
    Not always pleasant, though.
  • You are rarely harassed by street peddlers in Hong Kong (except in the tourist infested Tsim Sha Tsui). Not even in the street markets, where the hawkers ignores you until you pick something up.
    The contrast was startling when we crossed the border into China and the city of Shenzhen. The Mongolian Horde (or at least a bunch of Chinese men) came down on us like, well, the Mongolian Horde!
  • Banking is so different here from in Sweden:
    • In Sweden, you can use any ATM. Not so here. Our bank here is HSBC, and we can only use ATMs belonging to HSBC and Hang Seng.
    • Checks. We got checks! We haven't seen checks in Sweden since the late eighties.
    • Paying your invoices. Done by check. Or in the utility companies shops. Or at seven-11. Not online using a centralized money transfer system as in Sweden.
    • MasterCard/Visa debit cards are basically unheard of. They are credit cards.
  • Eating at restaurants:
    • Don't expect the starter to come in before the main dish! The order is random.
    • In most restaurants the guests are expected to share the dishes.
    • Tips are not expected. There is often a service charge added to the bill.
    • The front and interior of the restaurant give no hint at all on what the food will taste like. We have had some of our best meals in places that seemed to be in serious need of an uplift.
    • Food court restaurants and restaurants at tourist attractions can be really, really good!
    • It's traditional to serve warm water to drink at Chinese restaurants. Quite a surprise the first time.
  • Many restaurants and shops are not located at ground floor but instead you can find them several floors up or in the basement. And the signing is often difficult to see. So bend your neck and look upward.
  • Bus routes numbering are obviously meant to confuse. The same number can be used by any number of routes, even routes running in the same area. And to make things even worse: Not all bus stops have signs. You're supposed to know where to stand and wait for your bus. And you have to flag it down. or it will just go by without picking anyone up.


Hong Kong ID

As a Hong Kong resident, you are obliged to have (and carry, we guess) a Hong Kong ID. It must be applied for withing thirty days of activating the long term visa. So you go to the Immigration Tower and apply for your ID. A week or so later, the ID is ready to pick up.

The ID is pretty plain, just a picture, some basic information like name and birthday. But also a chip with some biometrics.

And the biometrics makes for a very nice feature: You use it instead of your passport when entering and leaving the country. Fully automated gates works in two stages: First reads you ID and, if accepted, opens the first set of doors. You enter, the doors close behind you. The second stage is a finger print scanner that match the finger print on the chip with what is scans. If OK, the second doors open and the immigration/emigration procedure is done. 20 seconds, tops!

I wish we had an ID like this in Sweden, too.

Did I say you get the ID for free?


Weekend in Guangzhou

We took a short trip to Guangzhou, just over a weekend. Guangzhou was (and is) a blank spot for us, all we knew was that it is know as Canton and that it is the the capital of the Guangdong (Canton) province. The urban area has a population of 11 million, more than Sweden.

We took a train from Hung Hom, a railway station on the south tip of Kowloon. Pretty early, for us.

Boring waiting room at Hung Hom railway station.
And early!
It is just a two hour ride from Hung Hom to Guangzhou, and the ride was pretty uneventful. We had been warned about the Guangzhou East railway station, high risk of pickpockets and/or mugging, so we took the fastest route we saw out if the building. Our worries dissipated fast, IKEA is there to keep us safe!

IKEA - a soothing sight for Swedes on traveling foot.
Our hotel was five km from the station, straight south, so we took aim at the Canton Tower and set off. We didn't really know what to expect, but were surprised never the less. This part of Guangzhou is called the New City and is brand spanking new. Very modern architecture surrounded well designed parks and large open areas for people. Lots and lots of greenery!

A sixty or so meter wide waterfall at the end of what
turned out to be a underground shopping mall.
Growing more and more hungry, we became desperate for a restaurant with English menus. Eventually, we found Buddy's Bistro, what looked like a greasy spoon joint. But we could read the menu (maybe not understand it, though). So we ordered some noodle, a pork chop bun, some dumplings, and some stir fried broccoli with fermented bean curd. They got most of it right. And the food was really good! Surprise number 2.

We reached the hotel, way much more fancy that we had thought (surprise #3). The room was almost as big as our apartment with a generous king size, sofa, desk, and a bathroom that had everything. Including a TV.

The evening came and the view from our hotel windows turned spectacular! We had Canton Tower in full view and it had a light show that was mesmerizing.

Ever changing lights on Canton Tower.
Armed with the name and address for a seafood restaurant, we went out in the night. More lights. More colors. More.

Lights around the park in the middle of New City.
We grabbed a cab, gave the cabbie the address and went for a twenty minute ride to a place just by the river with lots of restaurants, bars, and clubs. Here was the Guang Zhou Hong Xing Seafood Restaurant. English was a problem here, just as at Buddy's Bistro, but they wrangled up two happy boys who did their best, and did fine. This was one of the gigantic Chinese restaurants that probably had room for a thousand seated guest. And a massive staff running around serving the guests. Yvonne wanted steamed fish, so she went off with one of the boys to all the fish tanks with live fish to decide which fish she wanted. And we order some more. Just a little. Some fried rice with seafood (most certainly the best we ever had, ever), some dumpling (ah, these little bundles of exquisite and subtle taste), a few deep fried seafood spring rolls (deep fried = good), some braised pork belly with abalone (pork belly = good, abalone = good, together very good), water cress stir fried with garlic (garlic anything is good). Unfortunately, the portions were quite a lot larger than they are in Hong Kong, so we ended up eating only half of what we ordered.

Half way through and we're already stuffed.
A stroll along the river got us out of the food induced coma.

They love their lights and colors in Guangzhou.
A cab took us back. Cabs are cheap in Guangzhou: A twenty minutes ride cost us just over US$ 3.

The hotel wanted US$ 40 for their buffet breakfast. We didn't want to pay that. So we had a light breakfast at our room. Worked just fine, thank you!

Bagels with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon plus fresh fruits and tea.
Breakfast for champions!
Sunday was spent mostly on Canton Tower. The highest observation deck is 488 m above ground, the highest we have ever been in a building. The view is great, albeit restricted by the hazy smog. You had to pay extra to get to the topmost deck. Money well spent, as we got our own security detail following us around.

What surprised (surprise #4) us when looking at Guangzhou from above was all the parks. Any direction you look, you see more than one park.

The park in the center of New City with the opera house in the lower left hand
corner, the library in the lower right hand corner and a sports arena in the middle.
As a Swede, you know that you should never, ever eat at tourist attractions like the highest building in town. But we gave the Chinese restaurant Color on 103rd floor a chance. Surprise #5: Excellent Dim Sum!

Dim Sum on 103rd floor.
We took the APM (Automatic People Mover) back towards the railway station and walked along the marvelous park in the middle of New City. Winding paths, small streams, benches, calm and serene.

Calm, serene, and anything but crowded.
It was now that we realized that all the parks we walked through, and all the vast open areas for people to mill around in where actually the roofs of vast, multi-storey, underground  malls. Surprise #6. We sauntered through one of them, just one floor, before it was time to head for the railway station and our ride home.

IKEA mini-bag
We know that we have only seen a very small part of Guangzhou, but we really liked what we saw. All we came in contact with were extremely polite and helpful. Language is an issue, as English isn't commonly known, and we don't speak neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, alas. But we want to go back. More than once.