Wednesday, August 27, 2014

[Grandma and Jacki in Asia] Day 8: Flight to Hong Kong (Hong Kong)

My sister and grandma came to visit me in Korea during my summer break. We were together from August 8 - 20, 2014. Here are the retellings of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4Day 5Day 6, and Day 7.

We stopped and had breakfast at Dunkin Donuts on our way to the airport. I watched two movies on the flight to Hong Kong: The Other Woman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Since our hostel said they only accept cash on arrival, just like all of the hostels I've ever stayed at in Korea, Grandma stopped at an ATM in the Hong Kong airport to pull out some money before we found Charmaine. You could only take out $2,500 HKD at a time, so she did that much first, and then did it again.

Hong Kong

But the second time the transaction was cancelled and the ATM told us to contact the card's bank. So we went out and found Charmaine, my sister's friend from grad school who I was meeting for the first time. She had stayed at our house in Wisconsin for a Thanksgiving, but that was the year I was living in Spain teaching English, which is why my Grandma knew her but I didn't.

Her boyfriend Tom had also come to the airport, but he was currently getting money from an ATM. Perfect, we need to take out some more money too! Grandma tried at this other ATM with her card, but it was denied again, as I'd suspected.

Jacki offered to take out the remaining cash we'd need for the hostel using her debit card, but I said not to. I'd had recent ATM problems when I was in Bangkok over winter break, and my hostel let me figure things out with my bank and pay the next morning. Luckily, I'd convinced my grandma and sister to go along with my "don't worry" attitude. I was actually really impressed the whole trip at how well they both did at rolling with the punches, like when our hostel in Gwangju was overbooked because they hadn't gotten our reservation.

Charmaine and Tom help us buy "octopus cards" in the airport, which is the Hong Kong version of our T-Money cards in Korea, or in other words, a public transportation card.

Then we took a bus for about an hour from the airport into Kowloon. It was a double decker bus, like in London, and since this bus always goes to the airport, there was an awesome place to put luggage during the ride.

I loved looking at the mountains on our way, trying to articulate in my thoughts how exactly they seemed different from the Korean mountains I see every day.

The apartment buildings we passed were both tall and numerous, and they had a different shape that maximized windows.

The hostel wasn't far from where the bus dropped us off, but holy cow was it ever hot and humid. I'd warned grandma and Jacki about the Korean heat before they came, but they'd really lucked out on their visit. Although it was still hot some of the days in Korea, the weather was actually so much cooler than the weeks prior to their arrival. But we weren't that lucky with Hong Kong.

After the five of us and our luggage took the elevator up to the 8th floor, we found the hostel with ease. I gave them our name and the woman behind the counter looked through her basket of check-in papers and it was apparent that our name was not in there.

What's your confirmation number, she asked me next. I pulled out the sheet and showed her the number. Oh no, did we strike out a second time? Couldn't be, this wouldn't happen twice, not to us (please?). The lady speaks to Charmaine in Cantonese, so the rest of us have no idea what's going on. Then the woman has pulled out a map and is making two marks on it, explaining to both Tom and Charmaine directions to somewhere.

While she could have been telling us where another hostel was to try, I wasn't worried. I remembered from reading many Hong Kong hostel reviews online that often a hostel had multiple buildings, so you'd be sent to another building when you checked in. I hoped that's what was happening, and in the end it was.

We all went back down - in two elevators because we didn't fit in one - to the first floor and left the building. We followed Tom, who had the map and had heard directions, until we got to a new building. I could feel sweat drops rolling down my legs, it was so so hot and humid.

It was at least another 15 minutes of sweating in this building's halls before we actually found the hostel. Long story short, one of the elevators was broken, and the others only went up to different wings - which we didn't realize. So we'd originally gone up to the wrong wing of the second floor, which is why we couldn't see/get to the hostel from there. Tom went off looking by himself as we waited back downstairs, and eventually Charmaine called the hostel's number and someone came down and brought us up.

And guess what surprise we had when we went to the hostel? (It's a good one, don't worry.) The hostel asked if we wanted to pay by cash or credit card! Even though the confirmation email had said that only cash is accepted, we were able to pay by credit card, so the cash Grandma got at the airport lasted us the rest of the trip.

Most nights in Korea we headed back to our hostel between 5 and 7 every evening and be in for the night. It was nice to have the time to journal, go over daily expenses, escape the heat, and rest. But now it was well past 7:30, after a tiring day of air travel, and we were still going out for dinner.

We went back out into the humid heat (even later in the evening, the city of Hong Kong is much hotter than surrounding rural areas) and followed Charmaine and Tom to the metro. We went one stop and walked to Temple Street.

Temple Street

Temple Street is home to a popular outdoor night market in Hong Kong.

We were fairly exhausted though, and after having just jammed full packed our bags the previous night, we knew how little space was left and weren't in much of a buying mood. So the walk through all of the stands was a quicker pace than we'd usually have had.

After a while Tom turned off to the right and led us into a restaurant. There was no door, an entire side of the joint was simply open to the street. It was noisy and a bit smoky, with a grungy feel all around.

But it was authentic and clearly alive. The place was full of locals enjoying food, beer, and animated conversations. We never would have chosen to eat here had we been on our own, so I was already feeling grateful for our Hong Kong "tour guides" - even before we sat down.

As soon as we did sit down, Charmaine grabbed the metal pitcher sitting on the table and poured a hot, light-brown colored liquid into a glass cup and put all of the plastic green chopsticks inside. She rubbed around the bottom of the cup with the chopsticks, and eventually dumped the liquid out into a bowl.

She poured a little more from the pitcher into the bowl, and then put the side of the glass into the bowl, slowly turning it around so that every surface was touched by the liquid.

Then she grabbed another cup and did the same, seemingly "washing" it with this liquid and the chopsticks.

I asked Charmaine what was in the pitcher.

"Tea," she replied.

This was not the only time we'd see this done before a meal. Charmaine "washed" all of the cups, bowls, spoons, and chopsticks while we took a look at the menu. Again, I reflected that we would have never known to do that with the pitcher and utensils that were on the table when we arrived. How lucky to have locals showing us around!

Charmaine and Tom ordered a bunch of dishes from the menu to share, as is often done in Korea too. The first plate was brought out, and by the time we had nearly finished it, the second dish was ready and slid onto the table. The timing was great like this for the rest of the meal.

The flavors were wonderful! Korean food has variety and flavor, but I'd been eating the same sorts of Korean foods all year. This was quite a change for my mouth, and I loved it!

It was nearly 10 by the time we got back to the hostel, so it wasn't long before we were all asleep in our comfortable air-conditioned room.

> > > Next: Day 9 - Charmaine's apartment
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