Hong Kong, Part 2: And So It Continues

It is said that if New York is the city that never sleeps, Hong Kong is the city that never even sits to catch its breath. Yet, it made a pretty good pretence of slowly rousing itself to greet the day. The daytime denizens of the city were gradually opening up shop all around us. We saw queues of people waiting outside shop lots selling congee and yew char koey, conversing raucously. The iconic double decker buses and Cadillac sized taxis formed the backdrop to the steadily increasing hum around us. Add the vibrant signs in Chinese that glow neon even in bright daylight and you have before you a pretty invigorating, atmospheric scene to wake up to. And I say this having been brought up in another bustling, “exotic” Asian city.

Well, what did we do today? After some very good congee, unfortunately eaten amidst a gaggle of boisterous Little Emperors, we took a van from Causeway Bay to Stanley Market. It’s a bit of a ways off from the city proper, so we drove for about 45 minutes on a path cut into lush, verdant South China Sea coastline. It actually looked a good deal like the tropical shores back home, with the same humidity and polluted water but without much beach to speak of. Stanley Market proved to be a little too touristy for us. Not to sound elitist, but it was somewhat grating hearing my parents play the tourists and feign ignorance of their native tongue by speaking in English to the vendors. I can’t exactly explain the linguistic shift, but I’m chalking it down to the atmosphere of foreign backpackers and cheap mass-produced souvenirs. We left pretty soon afterwards.

This excursion took up quite a bit of the day, so we ended up heading back and emerging from our rooms only at dusk to feed, of course. But first, some shopping. We headed back to Lan Kwai Fong, which was becoming a bit of a favourite with us thanks to its quirky (but expensive) boutiques and ridiculously steep, narrow streets. Again, I should really have taken more pictures. Our next encounter is one that sticks in my mind as one of those interactions with locals that are such an essential part of every travel journal. My sisters and I got into one of the small boutiques perched at an intersection of dramatically sloped streets. The windows were crowded with an array of eclectic inhabitants, from felt gorillas to vintage dolls wearing Sixties pop-art shifts. It just seemed to implore us to dive in and bask in the craziness. We were all quite nervous, as we were armed only with very rudimentary Cantonese skills and were bound to run into misunderstanding at one point. Our worst fears were confirmed when the bubbly salesgirl launched into a excited tirade of greetings, questions and exclamations that I alone had to decipher, as my sisters promptly hid behind me the moment she opened her mouth. Surprisingly, I actually managed ok, despite one embarrassing moment where I asked her for “ears” instead of “earrings”. In my defence though, no one has ever described my ears as “cute” before; I simply assumed she was complimenting my earrings. At least I know the difference now. And she offered to come shopping with us in Causeway Bay should we ever end up in Hong Kong again.

Dinner was a bit of an event. Happily, I was much smarter and actually charged my camera. Good thing, the food was definitely worth taking note of.

Does this look innocuous to you? Mild, milky? It is, and yet it isn’t. Take a mouthful of this and you do get a subtly creamy, dairy smooth undertone, but it all underlies a broth that explodes into fragrant, meaty juiciness on the palate. Yes, this is a carnivorous indulgence. And it’s pig’s lung soup, no less. And to illustrate my point…

There’s the lung!

And then there was the deep-fried oyster hot pot, my personal favourite. Crisply savoury on the outside, luxuriant and redolent with pungent oceany flavour on the inside, they were probably the best cooked oysters I’ve had.

We decided we couldn’t leave Hong Kong without having our roast pigeon. The restaurant’s version was dense, rich and gamy as all good pigeon should be, but we were a little disappointed by the size of each scrawny bird. However, the manager assured us that we were not simply getting the short end of the stick; apparently, the ganglier the pigeon, the more flavourful its meat would be. Concentrated juices, methinks.

After dinner, we wandered around Soho and Lan Kwai Fong, checking out the nightlife. Admittedly, it was a little awkward with the parents and little brat sister (you know who you are!) in tow. Moreover, at the risk of sounding like a snob again, I must add that the drunk, rowdy gweilos weren’t helping the situation too much. We decided to look for some tong shui, desert in a soup. With the help of yet another taxi driver, we found a very, very local hangout that would have been virtually invisible to the untrained eye.

This shady looking joint was apparently well-known among insiders as the place to have tong shui. And we can attest to this. The desserts served were of the traditional variety: creamy walnut soup, red bean soup, almond soup, and kai dan cha (egg tea, with an actual hard-boiled egg floating in murky brown liquid). This was the very antithesis of the bright dessert place of yesternight filled with teenagers and pretentiously fancy concoctions. It was simple, no-frills and superb. And sadly a dying business; not a single waiter or cook there was under 40, by the looks of it.

Clockwise from left: walnut soup, almond soup, kai dan cha, red bean soup

This was quite the antidote to the foreign invasion at Soho. I just felt lucky we actually got to sample these before the owner’s grandchildren sold the business and turned it into an Apple store.

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