Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Year in Hong Kong

We went to Hong Kong knowing it was technically winter but we were not prepared for the temperature drop! We pulled our warmest clothes out of our backpacks but still managed to get the sniffles, so we had the opportunity to try Chinese cold medicine.

Living space in HK really comes at a premium, and with very few affordable options especially at the Chinese New Year holiday we opted to try AirBnB for the first time. We stuck with reviewed hosts and overall had a really good experience, getting a truly authentic apartment (for better or worse)-- the cramped space reminded me of living on a boat, but we could easily walk or use the efficient public transportation to get to thousands of shops and restaurants, from cheap and dirty to world-class brands.

To celebrate Diego's birthday we went to the local theme park, Ocean Park, which actually has a pretty great view of parts of the harbor and skyline and hosts some animals we rarely get to see. The opportunity to visit pandas was really special since there are so few in the world. Unfortunately it was all accompanied with crowds of people pushing each other for just about everything!

As always, we seek to know a place through its food, and in HK it was both scary and exciting to eat in neighborhood noodle shops and local dessert places. We've elected not to use any elaborate methods of communication when dining in different languages (from trying to learn food vocabulary in the local tongues to picture flash cards, there are a lot of suggestions out there), and are instead trying to enjoy the suspenseful moments from when we order to when we see what's brought to the table!

I was really impressed by our visit to the Hong Kong History Museum, where the main exhibit is free for everyone and features a number of short videos as well as quality displays explaining HK, from land formation to the present. I'd definitely recommend that anyway visiting spend a few hours here.

Finally, we had to take part in some of the Chinese New Year celebrations happening and caught a fireworks show with fellow traveler Will and what seemed like many thousands of others! I have to say, for the sheer volume of people involved the event staff really did a good job of keeping the crowds relatively safe and orderly, and it made for a long but fun night.

Leaving HK, we were impressed by its automated systems, including this multicolored umbrella vending machine, and puzzled by its quirks, like multiple designs for each currency denomination (see the picture of $20 notes printed by 3 different banks). The end of this leg ended perfectly, though, when our flight was oversold and we were upgraded to business class, fulfilling one of my lifelong goals :D

CURRENTLY: arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
UP NEXT: around Malaysia for a week

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