Thank you for the amazing 8 years here at A Baked Creation, we can't thank you enough for the memories! But we've decided to move over to a new site - Sincerely, Syl. Please join us there for future posts on all the things you loved here!


Friday, April 8, 2016

Hong Kong 2016

Friends! I did it!! We decided to take the plunge and do a big Asia trip this year. We meant to go two years ago, but a lot of things came up and I was really, really scared about the flight. I mean, I still was, but I survived it. And that probably means I'm stronger for it. Right? If you're wondering, the flight from Toronto to Hong Kong is about 15-16 hours depending on lots of sciency things that I can't explain. That is a long time to be stuck in a vehicle with little arm and leg space. That is a long time to travel in economy (because have you seen the prices for any of the seat upgrades? They're insane). We decided to fly Cathay Pacific and collected a lot of Asia Miles - which means we might be able to actually upgrade our seats next time (that's if I can stomach another long flight).
Obviously there aren't any perks flying economy, but compared to Air Canada, we were allowed to bring two suitcases each at no extra cost (not that we needed four suitcases for three weeks). You line up to check in your luggage with everyone else. You wait in a long, snake-like line to board. You fight for overhead space for your carry on (we did see a heated argument between some people sitting in front of us which didn't help with my calming my nerves).
But the service is lovely on this airline. We were handed napkins and a menu of the in-flight meals. The individual screens were loaded with movies, television shows, games, and even a camera under the airplane so you can watch the city twinkle beneath you during take off. Pillows, blankets, and headphones are given to everyone. The facilities are kept clean. And there are snacks and beverages hat you can ask for anytime during the flight. Fruits, instant noodles, and even ice cream! Hey, I can get excited about that. You can tell I'm not a frequent flyer.
Still, the flight was long and it's really difficult to sleep when your bum is getting numb. I watched a bunch of movies and tried to nap as much as I could between the served meals (we had congee for breakfast on the plane! What!). It was fantastic to finally land and see my aunt and uncle waiting to pick us up bright and early.
After dropping our things and freshening up, we went downstairs for breakfast. Paper lanterns hung from the ceiling. The food is made right at the door for those who want to grab a quick take out on their way to work. We got in to sit down on the stools and order sticky rice (chi fan), fried dumplings, and sweet soy milk. Sigh, we rarely get this in Toronto because there are so few places that make it well. The food is so good that I don't mind the cracked plastic bowls and the feeling of a matte film over the utensils. Or the fact that the sticky rice was made wrapped in a thin plastic bag. We're definitely not in Canada anymore.
I'm incredibly weary of cleanliness because of my sensitive stomach, but I felt that I had to ignore it all or I'd miss out on some great eats. We got rice noodle rolls (chee cheong fun), another favourite breakfast item of mine, from a street vendor that sold mini bouquets. I watched with fascination behind the glass window as the vendor pulled out the noodles onto a piece of paper and then topped it with black sweet sauce and chili sauce with sprinkles of sesame. Two wooden sticks get skewered in and breakfast is served. Um, it was ridiculously good as the sign of a good rice noodle roll is how smooth and silky it is. (We also did end up buying bouquets from him before we went to pay our respects to our ancestors.)
If you've never been to Hong Kong or haven't been back since you were an infant (like me), here are some of the things you'll notice right off the bat. The buildings are tall. And there are lots of them. If you thought New York City had lots of skyscrapers, imagine double, triple, or quadruple that. Apartments are clustered close together and you wonder in astonishment what happens during a fire drill or how long those elevator waits must be or if anyone ever tackles the stairs. Stores and restaurants aren't always on street level. You might have to walk up a few staircases and follow signs and arrows before you find the place.
It's also very hilly there - think San Francisco. There are lots and lots of high-end malls that are connected by the subways or high walks - think Las Vegas. You can actually manage to go an entire day under awnings and weaving in malls and subways, which is pretty handy when it's raining. If you go during winter, it is cold. Apartments here aren't insulated, nor do they have heaters. Instead, there's a bone chilling cold that feels damp, a type of shiver that we don't feel in Toronto. The subway system is so great, clean, clear on directions, and well thought out. There are lines on the floor for us to line up where the train's door will stop. There are designated seats that people actually respect (unlike Toronto where commuters rudely take priority seating). And best of all, there is the Octopus card that works for transportation and in stores!
But it's also a place mixed with new and old. I didn't expect to see construction still help up by bamboo. Or expensive shops next to dives and hold-in-the-wall places. You can find the latest fashion here in boutiques or crevices (where you didn't think a store would fit) crammed with an assortment of items for less than a dollar. It's really baffling and amazing at the same time. And there are so many shops. How does one ever know where to even start?
There are so many alleys and streets where you could turn a corner and marvel at hundred-year-old trees incorporated into the landscape. Or you end up on a road where every store sells the exact same herbs or dried seafood. It's no wonder there isn't a need for large supermarkets, there's food vendors everywhere selling fruits, vegetables, protein, and snacks. Everyone is hustling and bustling, I can see why visitors to Canada find the pace slower.
We didn't stay long in Hong Kong, just four days in which the first I spent nursing some bad jet lag. I was running on adrenaline, but after lunch I really wanted to lie down and sleep. I lost my appetite and had a crushing headache. Luckily, I didn't get sick even though it felt like I was getting every flu symptom and was having trouble staying warm. I just had to remedy this by doing some retail therapy and buying some sweaters, extra layers, and a hoodie. Gawd I love Uniqlo. I even ended up buying a hot water bottle (no more cold feet!), that's when I knew I was finally old.
I had jotted down some rough plans for our four days. To climb Victoria Peak for the view and to walk by Victoria Harbour to check out the skyline by the water. But thanks to the fog and drizzly weather, we didn't do any of those. We stayed near Causeway Bay and Central, dragged my aunt and uncle out so they could show us around the city they grew up in. I couldn't even tell you where we've been, we just followed them around, walking everywhere and stopping for snacks where we saw lineups.
Howard and I both wore our Fitbits during this trip and logged in over 15,000-20,000 steps a day. The nights were spent cozy on a couch (hah, no night life for us) as we rested up for the next day of walking. What will also amaze me is that space is never an issue. My aunt has a breakfast nook in her apartment, not even a dining room, but the ten of us crammed into that space and we had hot pot like it was no big deal. And it wasn't. But here I am in Toronto struggling to invite any more than four friends over because our dining table doesn't comfortably fit more than four. The kitchen there is the size of a small powder room or a closet, but everything fits (gah, guess I'm not allowed to complain about my kitchen space). There may be three bedrooms and two washrooms, but every room is efficiently filled to the brim with stuff.
Eating out is the same. We share tables with strangers, sit with our backs against each other and keep our eyes on the best dishes coming out of the kitchens. We couldn't visit Hong Kong without having dim sum. To my surprise, my aunt and uncle took us to a traditional tea house where tea is served in bowls. I had the best egg custard bun there, I probably could have gobbled all three but wouldn't be able to live up the scolding I would get from my family.
We also couldn't stop in Hong Kong and not have egg waffles (gai daan jai). These are my favourite childhood snacks and lately there's been a resurgent of them in Toronto. To my delight, shops in Toronto now incorporate other ingredients like pork floss and seaweed, sausage and seaweed, cookies and cream, chocolate, matcha, red bean, cheese, coconut, and so on. And even pairing them with soft serve ice cream. I'm pretty tempted to open a shop of my own ... if only I could get the egg waffle maker here.
Finally, during the various legs of our trip, we stopped at the Hong Kong airport three times and have yet to fully explore it. This place was huge and the food offerings are amazing. There's restaurants and food courts with so many different types of food, each with their own fan base. Some of the lunches and dinners we had at the airport while waiting for our flights were even better than ones out in the city. Aside from the food, the service and cleanliness at this airport was top notch. The free WiFi must be hella strong because there are so many people on their mobile devices here. There are prayer rooms and breastfeeding rooms. Overall, we found Hong Kong to be friendly to new parents and respectful to people with various beliefs. Spots where you can fill your water bottles and lots of retail shops to browse. Frankly, you can't be bored waiting here!

Oh, and if you love bakeries, this is your city! There are bakeries on every corner, in every subway stop, and on every street. Feel like a sweet or savoury bun? You got it. Need a pick me up or a special dessert for a celebration? It's right there. It was simply impossible for us to sample every bakery, but I would like to see somebody try!

Okay, our next leg of the trip was to Vietnam, stay tuned!