Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating in Hong Kong

Well, actually tonight it was eating in Kowloon…TST to be exact. I went to an Indian Buffet this week. I will admit I think it is the first Indian meal I had ever had.

I went with my Foo Ying group (it means “welcome” in Cantonese). Lisa was nice enough to coordinate the meal. There were twelve of us, but 3 get one free…so instead of the meal being 98 HKD each (+ 10% service) it came to $82 HKD all in.

The meal was nice and the company was great! We opened the place and literally closed down their lunch service.

Well, Corey caught wind that I ventured out of my very small comfort zone, so tonight; off we went in search of Indian food here in TST. Corey had heard that good Indian food was to be had at the Chung King Mansions (2nd floor to be exact). is just not that easy.

I think I told you earlier that as you walk down Nathan Road in Kowloon, there is a litany of hawkers... It is literally impossible to walk down the road without hearing “Copy handbags. Copy watches. Tailor Madame?” Corey and I are fair game b/c we are thought to be tourists.

After 7pm one more element is added to the street. Restaurant Hawkers. They hand out menus, discount coupons and try to entice you to THEIR place. Well, we were looking for one specific place (we thought). We found Chung King Mansions. Corey took handouts from three or four people, but the last one caught his eye (was it the 10% discount? I think so)

I got just a little nervous when we had to be….ummmm….escorted down a loooonnnngg corridor to an elevator. We were handed off to the next guy who put us in the elevator. We were going to the 4th floor…but wait…this lift only goes to the odd floors…we got off at 5 and walked down (I cannot make this up people, I’m serious!)

We walk into a room with 7 tables. There are two other patrons there. The room is painted pepto bismal pink but paint job aside, it looked clean, and so we took the risk. In the back were two older women doing the cooking. They were both dressed traditionally, and moved very confidently around that small kitchen. There was one waiter on full duty. From what we understand, the India/Pakistan cricket match was on TV and EVERYONE was more into that than working tonight!

Corey took over the ordering while I was trying to find my nerve and NOT flee the scene. We had vegetable curry, chicken vindaloo, a fried veggie/potato thing, a puffy fried thing, and rice (see how much I know about Indian food?)

In two words the food was HOT (a total thing for me) and it was…YUMMY! Yes, it was great! I mean, if you had ever told me I would be eating in a seven table restaurant (and the tables look like kitchen tables from the 1960’s) where I had to be escorted there, walk to it b/c the elevators only run every other floor, I would call you CRAZY!

What we saw on the way out was just as interesting as the restaurant itself. There were 3 restaurants on this floor and TWO hotel entrances (this all within a 20 sq foot area). Our restaurant was the busiest. As we took the elevator down to the ground floor, there were lines of people with luggage waiting to go up to the hotels.

Chalk it up to another HK experience. The one thing I have learned about HK this early is that if you do not look UP, you will miss 90% of what it has to offer.

OH…most importantly? The price. WITH our 10% discount $160 HKD (20 US dollars).

A better deal could not be had!

Will we go back? YES!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Let's Shop STANLEY!

“The bus ride to Stanley, a trip in itself due to hair-raising curves and coastal vistas, takes approximately 30 heart-stopping minutes” –Frommer's Guide to Hong Kong 2010

So, last week I went off to Stanley. After I decided to go, I looked up in my tour book how to get there. The above blurb in the book is what greeted me. The bus drivers are crazy enough and now I had to deal with “hair raising curves” and “30 heart stopping minutes.” GREAT.

I have taken a bus tour of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. That was with a bunch of mucky mucks from the United Airlines and VPs of forwarders. On that tour, the bus driver actually CARED about getting us back alive…his tip relied on it. Now THAT ride was crazy. So winding and curving that the road actually only goes one way so cars and buses do not collide or maneuver themselves off of the cliff.

In Hong Kong the bus drivers care nothing about the passengers (see previous post). Their job is to get the bus from point A to point B. If the riders get off alive, well, that is just a bonus (to the rider).

This was my first trip on a bus without Corey checking it out for me. I had to find Exchange Square (exit A from the Central Station. I LOVE how the stations are marked). I exited to a SEA of people. I think it was all of the helpers on their day off. There were thousands of people in a one block area with bags and bags of goods. The noise was deafening with everyone talking at once. I had to cross the walkway to get over to “my” side of Exchange Square to catch my bus. I could not take the stairs b/c of all of the people sitting on them. (grrrr) I just don’t know why they were all there! When I got to the other side there were lines of people sitting on flattened boxes, shoes neatly lined up next to them, having lunch. It was almost like these boxes on the ground were their “houses” and the flat areas their living rooms or kitchens. There was even a cardboard house with a door. This went on for an entire block!

I wove my way through the “houses” to bus 6X, direct to Stanley. I had been told to sit upstairs on the double decker bus to make sure I could see everything on the road. The bus filled and off we went.

I enjoyed the ride because I got to see parts of Hong Kong I had only seen once before, and that was back in October when we were looking at flats. The island is more spacious and green than one would think. We passed the race course (horses), the Rugby club and the Tennis club! As we climbed the mountain, there were those typical show offs, RUNNING up the hill…hate them. They were really moving along.

The ride was twisty, and curvy, and maybe I had a “good” driver, but hair raising it was not. That might have had to do with the amount of traffic there was, and how slow we went. We did do a fair amount of free “tree trimming” on the way.

The one thing about Stanley is that there is only one place to get off. No question. Get off at Stanley!

Stanley itself is a coastal town with a mall (open during reconstruction) and an open market area of ALL different kinds of stores….well, they are more like stalls of varying sizes.

You can buy anything. I went looking for one particular item (I’m not telling, it’s a surprise for a friend in the States). I am pleased to say I found it, and I have been looking here on our side, so the trip was a total success.

There are shoe stores, ”name brand” clothing stores, jewelry, antiques, porcelain, trinkets, and souvenirs. You name it, they’ve got it…and they’ve got it ALL over. My rule is to walk a market, see what there is to see, note prices, and go back. Some places will bargain, some will not. My guess is they all import from the same place….and that place is NOT so far away!

I have taken Mahjong lessons since I have been here, and I got to see four elderly Chinese ladies playing behind one of the stores. I have NEVER seen anything like it. The eight of us who learned together are very measured and careful and SLOW. These ladies played with lightening speed, showing their skill and years of experience. I was just watching and could not follow. I know there was money changing hands and it reinforced NEVER to get into a game with natives. Remember that old poker rule… if you can’t spot the sucker at the table, it’s YOU! (Team Dead Money)

After shopping I went to restaurant row for lunch and a beer. I had a really nice steak sandwich, a Stella and a view. It was lovely. I enjoy people watching and I have no problem having a meal by myself. I do always have my Kindle with me for these times, but I find don’t look at it very much.

After lunch I walked to the end of the pier. I followed a family who had two daughters learning to roller blade. The older daughter had on a Barbie helmet, elbow and knee pads with pink skates. It took me right back to TX and when Kari was learning to roller blade. It made me just a little nostalgic.

The sun peaked out about now…just in time to head back to the city. I took a different bus home. I knew this bus would stop at an MTR station closer to where I needed to get off (saving $2.9 HKD). The ride back was quiet, quicker (an express bus too) and not nerve wracking at all (I am a veteran of the Stanley bus experience now).

I am hoping to go back in the next couple of weeks with a couple of ladies I have met. Dining alone is one thing, but shopping alone is another. There was no one there to “encourage” me. ( I think Corey just removed my bank card from my wallet)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekend on my own...

A Full weekend on my own

Wish me luck Corey left around 1am Saturday morning. This trip he goes to London, some points in Europe, Dubai then home. This trip covers two weekends since Sunday is a working day in Dubai.

I have never had a full weekend on my own, and now I have two of them! I find the weekdays easier to fill my time than the weekends for some odd reason.

I live in a place where I literally could never step outside and survive. I have a washer/dryer. The grocery store is inside the building, I think it’s less than 500 steps there and back. With the computer, the store, the washer/dryer, my world could easily become this 1300 sq foot bubble. On Saturday it did.

Realizing this is NOT a good way to be, I pulled out my Frommer’s Hong Kong and looked up and decided on something to do. Today, I am off to Stanley. Stanley is sort of “over the river and through the woods” from here. It is literally on the other side of Hong Kong Island.

I have written about the bus situation, and from what I understand, the only way to enjoy the trip to Stanley is on the top deck of the bus. I will do it…though I am very frightened of climbing the stairs.

So, that is my plan. A good diver always shares their dive profile with a friend…so now you all know that I am heading out. Now you all know where to tell the authorities to start looking for me ! :)

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

DRIVE and DIVE Victoria

I’ve already written that I was SO fortunate to go to Australia with Corey. It is a neat place….it was nice and warm (loved that!) I also shared with you that the reason Corey took me is because the price of the plane ticket was cheaper than the therapy he would have to cover if he left me in Hong Kong for 16 days, when I had not even BEEN in HK for 16 days. What I did not tell you is that Corey had been planning scuba diving all along in OZ and I was a little bitter that he would be getting dives in while I was quietly having a nervous breakdown in a strange city. You see, you count your dives. Corey is already 2 dives ahead of me, and it did not sit right that after this trip he would be 6 dives ahead (this is something we were to do TOGETHER…Corey was cheating by diving on trips I did not attend)

He asked me on the trip by putting my reservation in an early Valentine’s card. (Collective AWWWWW). He said he needed a “dive buddy” and please come with him (well, the ticket was bought, so off we go!)

We dove in Sydney, but quite honestly, they weren’t great. It was nice to get those “check” dives out of the way before we went on our wreck dive in Victoria. My muscle memory was back, and we were ready to rock

Let me state now that my husband is a Type A personality. Not in a bad manipulative way, but when we travel there are folders, punched pages in trip order and plastic sleeves to hold receipts. We are very organized.

For those that don’t know, my husband is also a logistics expert. No, really, a professional (yes, he gets paid) logistics expert. I’m not sure what happened here, but his type A-ness had abandoned him. Remember, we don’t plan to fail, we just fail to plan.

OK…background done. We were scheduled to Dive Victoria on Saturday morning. Corey was lucky enough to be done with his sales calls early Friday so we had a chance to tour Melbourne together. We headed back to the hotel after a great walk around the city. Around 4:30, Corey decides it’s time to “check where we are going tomorrow”

HUH? I saw printed pages! There were reservation forms, phone calls, sizing questions answered…what is this “check where we are going”?

Ok…here is where I knew we were in a little bit of a pickle. The zip code of OUR hotel in Melbourne was 3000. The zip code to where we HAD to be at 8 am in the morning? 3922.

Corey pointed out on the map where we were headed. My voice immediately went up 7 or 8 notches…”do you realize how FAR that is? It’s a 2 hour drive”

A quick Google search showed that mass transit was not to be, at least, not at that hour of the day on a weekend. It would have been a train ride, then a bus ride of over an hour. Yep, not a solution.

“I guess we better rent a car” So, again, the internet is a wondrous thing. We found a Hertz rental right in town (but wait, if we used our Hertz Gold number the rental was $50 MORE…yea, we deleted THAT number pretty quick)…and off we went, and me without my anti-anxiety meds.

We got to Hertz in the nick of time. Of course, they were out of GPS systems, so navigating was on me. We normally don’t, but b/c of the whole driving on the wrong side of the road and car thing (don’t even ASK where the turn signals are), we bought the insurance. ($38 bucks and we had complete peace of mind). The Hertz Rep did NOT appreciate Corey's "I can total the thing and just walk away?" comment. (While he smiled, he was NOT kidding)

Now, it’s Friday night in downtown Melbourne. You think there was a little traffic? There was a TON of traffic. Friday night is the same everywhere in the world. OH and it was raining by now.

We exited the garage ok. We only had to make two right hand turns and a left to get back to our hotel. Never underestimate these turns when you are dodging cabs, pedestrians, trolleys, bike riders, more trolleys and roads divided into 4’s (each side of the road had a road and an access road)

Well, we made it back. Even Corey was a little bit pale from this experience…it was the double trolley dodging that almost did him in.

The next day we did just great getting to Victoria. Corey did have some issues with the car wanting to go left…the lane separators and my screams reminding him he was not in a lane or was about to hit a curb (it was MY side of the car mind you…I had clear view of how out of the lane we were). This stopped pretty quickly. The only thing that eluded him was the turn signals.

We got there, got everything sized and were ready to go.

We walked to the boat fully geared up. (Think 40-50 pounds of gear). I was the only woman on a boat with 15 guys (our guide had NO trouble spotting the “Katherine” on the boat…boy is he observant).

Most of these guys are hard core, dry suit, double tank divers. They go out most weekends...probably diving 100-150 dives year. (We get 10 to 15 if we are in Maui for 2 weeks)

We set off and it’s all good. However, we were warned it “might get rough” getting to the site. Cue the waves. The captain had to throw the boat into reverse as we climbed these 10 foot “swells” No, they weren’t “Deadliest Catch” waves and I would not disrespect those who do that work or who have been injured or died on the seas, but to me…all I could think was “rogue wave”

The dive is the HMAS Canberra FFG2. This ship was purposely sunk to create a reef.

We get to the site, and I am once again thankful that I am not prone to motion sickness of any kind. Now is the time that we are told that b/c of the conditions, the boat could not anchor, we would be doing “live” pickups…don’t worry, the captain is GREAT at live pickups. He brings the boat right at you and just before he runs you over, he maneuvers it so you can grab the rail on the side and then move to the ladder, where you will climb up fully geared, fins and reg in your mouth (in case you fall back into the water)


Here is where I confess that while Corey LOVES diving, I like diving. I do it, but I want those “pristine” conditions and trying something new really freaks me out and I have to mentally work into it. I am also petrified of making an ass out of myself.

I start to panic at the thought of getting back into the boat, and I haven’t even gotten out of it yet. Corey and I snipe a little back and forth and I’m still panicking as I make my way to the back. Corey made a pretty valid point. They had never left me in the ocean yet, what made me think they were going to leave me here?

Our guide goes first, I follow. Conditions dictate get in and submerge, but he sees I am not ready for this. Corey and two other divers follow and we wait a couple minutes for my heart rate to come down from cardiac arrest.

This guy was a real pro. He knew that by giving me some time to calm down, I would be fine…and I was. It was a GREAT dive! The ship was from the Korean War, and while we did not “go fully” into the ship, we did get to go into the bridge, see the controls and the captain’s chair, and we went into the hanger where the helicopters were stored. The water was cold, but not too cold. We were in the water 33 minutes (that was a lot of anxiety for 33 minutes…I like shore diving…you get 50 to 60 minutes for your anxiety attack!)

We were at our deepest 90 feet, and shallowest at 70, until we surfaced.

Now, it’s time to get the dive boat aimed at me and time to climb a ladder in fins. Thank heaven for Corey and the helper on the boat…I had one unsteady moment, but did as I was told and voila! Safely on board.

We only did one dive that day (had to get the rental car back by 4).

Drive AND Dive Victoria was a complete success, but not without its nerve wracking moments. Those moments prove, once again, that you have to try something before you can know that you can do it.

I did let Corey know how much I love that he pushes me beyond my comfort zones. I would not be a diver, I would not be in Hong Kong, and I would have missed a lot of “life” if it was not for Corey. His faith in my abilities (where I have none) makes me a more complete person. I just need to locate and channel that myself, but for now, I will take his help.