Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Happy Valley – a night at the races

8 Oct

Since I took my hiatus from the blog earlier this year, there are lots of places that I have visited in the last six months – both for pleasure and business – that I’d like to share now that I have some more time to go back through my memories.  Enjoy!

During my trip to Hong Kong in April I went to Happy Valley for the first time.  Happy Valley is Hong Kong’s horse racing track and they have races every Wednesday night there.  We were doing a launch for a new product, so had invited partners to celebrate with us and hear a product overview.

Because of the crazy rain the three days previous I wasn’t really sure what to expect – or even if the horses would race, but luckily the rain started letting up just before we headed over.  The box was packed with people ready to gamble and eat (I think our product launch was just the excuse).  They had a mix of traditional Hong Kong favorites and classic western dishes and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

The last time I had been at the races was when I was still working in Chicago at a summer outing to Arlington Race Track.  I didn’t remember much about betting and so had to ask advice from others and study the guide.  In addition – some of the names for the types of bets you could place were different as well because Hong Kong follows the British system instead of the American betting system.

I had decided before I went that I would be leaving after the third race because I had a phone call later that evening.  I was so caught up in eating that I missed the opportunity to place a bet on the first race, but for the second I studied my book and my horse came from behind!  It was amazing – my odds were pretty much the highest on the board and I won at a 9 to 1 ratio.

After such a great win, I didn’t bet on the last race and slipped out as the rest of my colleagues and partners settled in for a late night.

The lone photo I took as I headed back to the hotel.  I'm not sure I would describe Hong Kong as the "Equine Capital" - but it was a fun night!

The lone photo I took as I headed back to the hotel. I’m not sure I would describe Hong Kong as the “Equine Capital” – but it was a fun night!

I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to Happy Valley and would gladly go back for another Wednesday evening of fun next time I’m in Hong Kong.

Have you tried something again after a long absence and had a great experience?  I am not a gambler (despite many actuaries being very serious about playing the odds, especially for poker) – but the win was a bit addictive.  Share your travel or local explorations!


A light-filled afternoon

5 May

I recently was in Hong Kong for a conference.  One afternoon I was able to work from the hotel room instead of going into the office.  I was incredibly productive without any phones ringing or distractions from colleagues and I had a beautiful view to keep me company.

Sun streaking through the clouds over Hong Kong Island

Sun streaking through the clouds over Hong Kong Island

As the sun traveled across the sky I had to close the drapes as it kept getting brighter and brighter.  However, even through the drapes you can still pick out the mountains on Hong Kong island through the sheers.  The light and blue sky made my afternoon.

Sun through the sheers - now all I need is a cat to curl up in the sunbeam

Sun through the sheers – now all I need is a cat to curl up in the sunbeam

I am connecting up with Alisa’s travel theme at Where’s My Backpack? – Light – for the first time in several months.  It seemed to me that this picture captures that concept – a bright, sunny day.  To see how others portray “Light” please click here.

Happy Cinco de Mayo – may you all have a sunny day to celebrate!

Hong Kong blue sky day

7 Aug

After heading to Shenzhen and catching the tail end of Typhoon Vicente, I spent a fun weekend in Hong Kong, shopping, catching up with friends and enjoying the beautiful blue sky day.  I also finally got a couple of photos of myself with the classic view of Hong Kong island in the background.

What skylines inspire you?

Buying a jade bangle

5 Aug

Ever since my parents and sister visited China in 2008 and purchased my sister a jade bracelet, I have been getting asked when I am going to purchase one myself.  I’ve put it off – most of the jewelry I wear has been a gift, but my mom kept up the constant pressure and I eventually felt myself that it would be a worthwhile purchase.  Jade bangles traditionally signify protection and are linked to your physical health.

Earlier this year when I visited Tengchong with my colleagues we saw lots and lots of jade bangles, but I wasn’t quite ready to buy, plus making a major purchase when you’re with a tour group seemed complicated.  I asked lots of questions, trying to understand the different qualities of jade and my options, but didn’t buy anything.  This past weekend though on a beautiful Hong Kong Saturday, I finally took the plunge.

I spent the day with a colleague who had previously lived in Hong Kong and had family who had lived there as well.  We headed to the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong where there are lots of small shops, many of which focus on jewelry.  My colleague wasn’t an expert in jewelry, but she offered to help me bargain and translate – even though most shops have Mandarin speakers, having a Cantonese speaker on my side made me feel more comfortable.  Before we headed out we discussed my price range and how much we would try to bargain but I still wasn’t sure if it would be a successful trip or not.

We started by doing a little window shopping to see what the stores in that area were offering.  That alone was intimidating because the bracelets shown in the window tended to be over $100,000 HKD which is over $12,000 USD – definitely over my price range.    Eventually we went into a store and asked them if they had lower price bangles.  They gave us tea and then pulled out some in $10,000 to $20,000 HKD range ($1200 to $2400 USD) which still was too expensive.  At that point I was getting a little discouraged, but we kept trying different shops.

At the third or fourth they finally pulled out some bracelets in my range, but when they opened the boxes the bracelets weren’t the traditional green jade I was expecting and instead was a dull gray color.  It seemed like finding a green jade bracelet in my range was going to be tough – the green and the translucence increased as the price went up.  I think if I had been on my own I likely would have stopped, but as I had already involved my colleague, we kept going.

The final shop we went into also said they had some bracelets in my price range but they needed to bring them out of storage.  While we were waiting, we looking at the very expensive bracelets in the display case – including one that was $1.6 million HKD.  The bracelet was beautiful – a balanced green and purple color and I’m guessing incredibly rare but in the US you can buy a house for the equivalent. The wait was worth it though because they had one bracelet that I really liked and after bargaining it was right in the range I wanted to pay.  I think it suits my wrist well.

This store let me try on the bracelet, but they insisted on rubbing my hand and arm in baby oil before sliding it on.  It slid on pretty easily and they told me that if I wanted  I could look at a smaller size, but I decided that I didn’t want to.  They also told me that lots of people sleep in their bracelets because it is too much trouble to remove them each day.  That evening when I tried to take off the bracelet I understood why.  I initially tried to slide it off and wound up bruising my hand before I grabbed the soap and managed to slide it off.

Note the bruise on my hand!

The bracelet matches my top. This may be part of the reason why I chose this one.

A beautiful bracelet and a bruise.  I think the bracelet will be with me a lot longer.

Have you made any interesting purchases lately?

Hong Kong – a gala dinner

21 Jun

One of the perks about attending the seminar in Hong Kong (where I laughed my way through the session), was that there was a gala dinner included.  I’ve never been to a true gala dinner and wasn’t quite sure what to expect – it was business formal dress and they told us to be ready for a night of entertainment.  I sat with one of my colleagues and our table quickly filled up with participants and their spouses from around the world – Canada, Mexico, Spain, China, Denmark…

The event started with a lion dance where the chairs of the various committees painted the eyes onto the lion so that it could see and perform.  The acrobatics and drumming were great – a part of Chinese culture that you don’t see in mainland China very often.  Our dinner was served western style – each person with a single portion – but Chinese specialties – with 8 courses.  The wine flowed freely and our tablemates told stories and we laughed and laughed.

Painting on the eyes

The lion prepares to dance

About halfway in the second act of the night started – it was a Sichuan face changer.  Sichuan face changing is a secretive art – it is a way of changing masks on your face without people being able to tell how you did it or where the masks go.  At first the performer was on a stage quite a way from me, so I thought – oh, I’m just not close enough – but then he worked the room and changed his mask while he was shaking the hand of a woman at my table.  It was really incredible.  My colleague (who is Chinese) said that she’d never seen it in person before – only on TV, so I felt special to be able to have the priveledge to attend.

The face changer and one of his masks

Another mask and different shot

All the photos here were taken by the official photographer at the event I attended and can be found on the IAA website.  Unfortunately I forgot my camera for the dinner, but at least I was able to get a few shots from him.

Have you ever attended a gala dinner?  I’d highly recommend it if you ever have the chance.

As an aside, the last couple of weeks I would imagine that everyone has started to enjoy the summer and not browse blogs.  This is a good thing – we probably all spend too much time in front of the computer, but if you do stop by, please feel free to leave a comment to let me know that I still have folks paying attention.  Your comments really mean a lot – my blog will turn one year old pretty soon and I’d like to finish the year on a high.

Exploring – Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon, Hong Kong

17 Jun

On a blistering hot day I went to Nan Lian Garden which is quite a ways from Central where I was staying with friends.  I used my Octopus card and got on the subway to the Diamond Hill MTR station and followed the very obvious signs under an elevated road and into the gardens.  It is a circular garden with a well defined path and strict rules that you are only supposed to go in one direction.  Because it was so hot there were very few people wandering through the garden and it was a peaceful and beautiful stroll.

From my tour notes it said the garden was in the style of the Tang Dynasty and noted that there was a restaurant inside run by the Chi Lin Nunnery.  As I walked by I decided to take a look and they had just opened for the day.  There was a set menu for one person, a seat inside with air conditioning and great vegetarian food and tea.  Since I arrived early I watched the rest of the bedraggled guests stream in looking for solace from the heat.  The majority were women (vegetarian food tends to do that) both young and old with everyone eating and tasting and talking in the middle of the day.

The garden is also connected – with a sky bridge over another high way – to a monastery in the traditional style.  Fortified with lunch I explored the area then headed back to the subway and on to my next destination.  It was a peaceful, calming place in the middle of one of the most dense cities in the world.

What’s your oasis in the city?  Where do you go for green and calm when you are too busy and have pollution and noise overload?

A Hong Kong sculpture snapshot

14 Jun

I seem to be attracted to sculpture lately.  When I went to the sculpture garden in Shanghai I had a great time looking there and Hong Kong also had lots of sculpture in different places and parks.  On my walking tours I saw quite a few and decided that these shots were my favorite and represent different sides of Hong Kong.

Some of these places had lots of people – like the Avenue of the Stars where I felt surrounded by mainland Chinese tourists – and others didn’t. The park in Kowloon because it was rainy felt very intimate which was not what I expected in Hong Kong.  Sculpture in public places makes them more beautiful, more accessible and brings art to a pedestrian level.  I’m a fan.

Any favorites here or what is your personal favorite sculpture?

Hong Kong – the home of dim sum

10 Jun

Gourd stuffed meatballs – yum!

One of my first posts as I started this blog nearly a year ago was when I had “early tea” in Guangzhou.  “Early tea” is dim sum and it is something that Cantonese speakers throw themselves into with both hands (or rather both chopsticks).  I had had dim sum in Chicago before I moved to China and went down to Chinatown on the South Side to try things that I had never seen before – the carts sliding through the dining room with the steamer baskets and small plates – endless combinations – salty, sour, sweet, rich…

In Shanghai and when I had early tea in Guangzhou, there are no carts – there’s a menu and you order off the menu and the servers bring you your order.  This method works well as you don’t have to wait for your favorites and everything is hot and fresh when delivered, but it hinders trying new things or looking at something on the cart and saying – “What is that?  Let’s give it a try.”  You can get so full on your favorites (once you’ve had dim sum twice you’ll have favorites) that you stop looking for new favorites.

Famous Dim Sum restaurant

When I was in Hong Kong this time my friend Cory took me too one of the last hold-outs that still have the carts roaming through the dining room – a restaurant called Maxim’s which is inside a performing arts center.  We got there early and didn’t have to wait for a table, but when we left there was quite a line.  It was only the two of us, but we managed to sample many things – including a few that I had never tried before.

I took a few photos, but the smells and my stomach didn’t allow me to take many before I gobbled up the different dishes.  On this trip in addition to the standard (and excellent) shrimp dumplings and rice rolls I now have several new favorites.  These include: sesame balls stuffed with custard(I’ve had red bean and also pork, but the custard was a great foil to the sesame seeds); barbecue pork buns with crispy tops (similar to the pineapple buns I’ve had many times but stuffed with superb barbecue) and gourd stuffed meatballs – it was kind of like a zucchini hollowed out with a meatball in the middle.

Barbecue pork buns with crispy tops

Food is one of the benefits of travel and while I’m sure there is intense debate as to who does dim sum best, my Hong Kong Dim Sum is now at the top of my list – for now!

Any favorite dim sum restaurants or dishes?  Any that you just really think are weird?  I’d love to add some new spots/dishes to my list for next time.

Exploring – Hong Kong temples

7 Jun

Before I went to Hong Kong I looked to see if I could find any walking tours, similar to the ones that I took in Shanghai.  I found lots of options, but finally settled on a set that was on the Hong Kong Tourism website (www.discoverhongkong.com).  Over my free days I was able to do several of them – either on my own or with friends.   Instead of detailing the routes that I took I thought that I would combine walks from different days and focus on certain topics.  Today is the first of this series where I look at two temples that I explored – one in the Central area of Hong Kong Island – Man Mo Temple and the second on the Kowloon side the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple (Wong Tai Sin for short).

Both temples struck me as functioning, working temples – with people streaming in and out, incense sticks in hand, making offerings and talking.  While there were some tourists there I felt in the minority which is different from the Chinese temples I’ve visited where it seems like over 90% of the folks are touting cameras and day packs.  I wonder if prior to the 1950s China would have been the same way.

Man Mo temple is dedicated to the Taoist gods of literature (man) and war (mo), but in my mind, the most striking feature of the temple were the incense coils overhead that were difficult to capture in photos.  I have two here that attempt to capture them.  I’ve never seen so many in such a small space – they were different sizes and I am sure different price tags – the red intentions of the purchasers can be seen through the middle of the coils.  The smell of incense inside was overpowering and the temple was on the small side and dark, right in the center of the busy central business district.

Rising smoke in Man Mo temple

Man Mo Temple

Wong Tai Sin was in Kowloon, right next to a busy subway stop and shopping mall, but still in an area where there was space to see the sky and the sky scrapers were at more of a distance.  It was more of a temple complex with gardens and multiple pagodas and pavilions.  My tourist literature said it is one of the busiest and most loved temples in Hong Kong.  One thing that I saw there that I hadn’t seen in other temples was a set of statues with an elder “tying the knot” for a married couple.  I saw a progression of couples pose for their picture in front of it and assume that making an offering there ensures marital bliss.  Another image that has remained in my head are the red and yellow lanterns strung over the temple entrance.  The contrast with the blue sky was something I won’t soon forget.

Bobbing lanterns on a beautiful day (Kowloon)

A tribute to marriage and “tying the knot” (Kowloon Temple)

Cranes in the fountain

Guardian Lion at Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple

I like visiting monuments that have a second purpose – a part of daily life combined with grandeur and both of these made me feel as I were glimpsing another way of life.  Have you ever experienced that during your travels?  Any favorite temples, mosques, churches or monuments?

First impressions of Hong Kong

3 Jun

Hong Kong – whirl of life, steps, the peak, skyline, mountains, cantonese, british, foreign, china, shopping, tourists, financial system, dim sum, monasteries, crowds, ferries, the harbor, movies, martial arts, history, change…

Hong Kong Island on a rainy day

Famous Dim Sum restaurant

I had been to Hong Kong once before, but my recent trip there was the first time I felt that I had any of my own time to really explore.  The reason for my trip was the conference that I spoke about a few weeks ago which I added some personal travel at the front and the back.  After over four years in China, my views on Hong Kong are a constant comparison to other places in Asia – mostly China, but with Singapore and Thailand and the Philippines thrown in.

A few things of note as I looked back:

People are even pushier than in Shanghai – I walked down the main street on a weekday in Central and had to weave my way around.

Octopus cards (a transportation/cash card used on the metro and everywhere else) are so convenient!  You hardly have to carry small bills.

Hong Kong Island is all steps.  One friend told me that she hurt for the first month she lived in Hong Kong from all the steps.

The toilets are clean and not squat toilets and have toilet paper – even in small cafes and big malls. (Unfortunately I have developed a fixation on the availability and quality of toilets after so many years abroad.)

The “cheap shopping” isn’t really that inexpensive compared to the US, but is much cheaper than mainland China.  The benefit is having all of the stores so close together – it is much more efficient.

Getting off the beaten path – or even to China – is incredibly easy.  I took the subway to the outskirts and found greenery and temples and space.

Peace in the outskirts of the city

There are so many westerners and stores that cater to them – I could find chai lattes, hummus, hamburgers, clothes that fit, and so much more!

Sarah in Guangzhou, one of the blogs I follow, also wrote a post on her favorite parts of Hong Kong earlier this year.  If you’d like to compare her list to mine, you can click here.

Do you have a place that serves as an antidote to the ordinary?  Where do you go when you’re looking to stretch a little – enough different,but still the same?

To my loyal readers: Thanks for your patience over the last week as I’ve been continuing my constant stream of motion.  I anticipate that my posting will soon return to normal.  In an ironic twist – my site stats for the week that I did not post were just in the same normal range as when I do.  I’m sure there is a lesson here, but at first glance it is both rewarding and a bit odd.  I appreciate your support.

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