Annie Bananie en Europe

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My stories 03: The French toast that I never had in Hong Kong

A couple of weeks ago I was in Hong Kong, a place with which I have a love-hate relationship (I might write about that in a future post). I’ve been to Hong Kong plenty of times, discovering a new unique place on every occasion and still not deciding whether I like it or not. It is not a place for the budget-friendly traveler, even for western standards, though I cannot deny its charm and diversity. The most recent trip was unavoidable as it was for work purposes, but I did get a chance to wander around a bit in the midst of the official affairs that I had to handle.

One thing that I make sure I do a lot when I’m in Hong Kong is eat at a “cha chaan teng” (literally translated to “tea restaurant”), otherwise known as an “ice room”. These are traditional eateries that you can find in every corner of Hong Kong, serving a vast variety of items. Baked seafood rice with cream sauce, chicken wings, soup udon, fish skin, steak, baked vegetable, egg and ham sandwich, satay beef macaroni…just to name a few. If you could think of it, it’s probably on the menu. I could eat at an ice room for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all extra meals in between and never get bored.

I am particularly in love with the classic Hong-Kong-style milk tea, an iced one in the summer to refresh the mind and a hot one in the winter to warm the soul. It’s got this unique rough texture that distinguishes it from the rather smooth and sugary powdered bubble tea, which feels overly fake. I couldn’t resist having a cup every morning with my breakfast, before doing any work, and that has become a necessary part of my daily morning routine in Hong Kong.

And Hong-Kong-style French toast. We call it “sai dor see” in Cantonese, which translates to “western toast”. It’s one of those things that I love but don’t feel the need to order every time. One day during lunch, while I was dining at an ice room, the lady with whom I shared a table ordered a French toast, and that instantly triggered my desire for one. With two days left in Hong Kong, I decided that I would certainly have a French toast before I leave. That definitely shouldn’t have been a difficult task, as there are so many ice rooms around.

On my last day, while having lunch right before catching my train, I happily ordered a bite-sized French toast (bonus points!) and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Certainly, this would have ended my short trip on a positive note. A few minutes after I placed my order, the waitress came to my table and informed me that they “couldn’t make” the French toast…what! I interpreted that as they were out of toast or out of butter or out of batter or something…but the fact remained that I wasn’t getting my long-awaited French toast. I was…disappointed, to say the least, but I didn’t have enough time to go to another restaurant, and so I left Hong Kong French-toast-less.

They say you leave a place with some regret so that there’s a motivation of going back. Maybe I’ll make French toast my priority the next time I visit Hong Kong, instead of waiting until the last day.

A very lovely hot Hong-Kong-style milk tea at Tsui Wah Restaurant near Tsim Sha Tsui, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong.

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February 2019

February was a fantastic month not only because I got to spend a couple of weeks at home with my loved ones, but also because I spent several days in Hong Kong and had good fun. The trip to Hong Kong was for work purposes, but I had ample time to explore and see old friends. And as is the case for every visit to Hong Kong, I discovered some unique, less touristy places…

First up: Garden Hill in Sham Shui Po. I had wanted to climb this small hill in Kowloon before but I ended up not staying at the hostel near it as planned, and so I never got around to doing it. It only took around 10 minutes to get to the top, but the view of Kowloon was amazing! What caught my attention were a few trees with these white-yellowish flowers – I don’t know their name (if you do, please let me know!) They were so pretty and smelled wonderful too!

Sunset on Garden Hill, overlooking the high-rise buildings in Kowloon. Hong Kong is so densely populated and smothered with high-rise buildings, and I can’t imagine how many people each one must house, all within ultra-small apartments/flats that are so typical of Hong Kong.

Whenever I take the bus in Hong Kong, if the front-row seats on the top deck are empty, I almost always take one of them. I love the feeling of sitting at the top and traversing through the city with a view in front of me, especially during the night when the roads are not so conested. One evening, I was lucky enough to get a top-deck front-row seat, and off I went into the night!

People like to leave their mark everywhere they go, and someone – probably a heartbroken person on September 23 2017 – wrote this on public property: (translated) “I will not love _______ again” (fill in the blank with the name that is scratched out).

A neat little man-made waterfall in the Nan Lian Garden near Diamond Hill MTR station, on a surprisingly clear and sunny day amidst the rainy days of mid-February. I had wanted to go see the Ng Tung Chai waterfalls, which would have been an actual hike in a natural settings, but decided against it because of the rain and my lack of proper attire. Next time…you’re top priority on my list, Ng Tung Chai!

I didn’t hesitate to eat at many cha chaan tengs (“tea restaurants” or “ice rooms”), and every morning I made sure I started off the day with a nice cup of hot Hong-Kong-style milk tea at a cha chaan teng. Every place makes it a bit differently but I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t taste amazing – or I just can’t tell the difference?!! It matters not, HK-style milk tea will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite beverages!

Time to see some friends! Annie met up with Sharon after a bit more than a year and had a great time catching up over delicious food (not shown unfortunately). Bordeaux days never fade!

Of course, a meeting with Mingming, Captain, and their kid V was in order. They’ve been in Hong Kong so long that sometimes I feel like they will stay there forever. These are people that I’ve known for over 15 years (well, not V…) and I cherish them dearly still today ❤

Finally…a photo taken in Wuhan! Yes, this is the only photo in this batch that was NOT taken in Hong Kong. The new year’s resolution of cooking more has been working out well so far, except it’s almost always J who cooks, and I’m totally cool with that. This meal might have been just a bit toooooo healthy/green, if that’s even possible? Still love my green veggies though!

March started off with promising weather as we’ve seen TWO days of sunshine out of four already – and before that, the sun must have been absent for three months. Let’s hope spring is here and STAYS for a bit before the summer inevitably takes over… >_<

26 days in China, part 8 – Hong Kong

The final stop of the 26-day China trip was Hong Kong, perhaps the most prosperous city that I had ever been to. I must have mentioned before that I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong – love because of its friendly people, convenience and efficiency, and diverse cultural scenes; hate because of its “I’m not part of China” mentality (Taiwan has grounds to say that, but not you HK). But I’m not here to talk politics. With two days in Hong Kong, I wanted to discover parts of Hong Kong that I had not yet seen in my previous visits, and indeed my explorations brought me quite a few surprises…

Most people go to Victoria Peak to get the best view of Hong Kong, and I had thought of going there (I don’t even remember if I had ever been during any of my past trips to Hong Kong), until I discovered the sightseeing elevator in a “guide to secret places in Hong Kong”. From the 17th floor the glass elevator takes you all the way up to the 56th floor amidst all of the other tall buildings in the Wan Chai area – what an experience!! Here you aren’t just looking AT skyscrapers from a distance – you ARE part of the densely packed skyscrapers and you just feel like you are soaring and excelling through them. It was so fascinating that I made the journey twice, along with a family with several kids who did the same, heh. Oh, did I mention it was free? 😉

During the day I travelled through the Central-Mid-Levels Elevator, an elevator system designed to transport commuters uphill or downhill in the Central area on Hong Kong Island. At 800 m it is the longest outdoor covered elevator system in the world. A lot of elevators on this trip, huh. The elevator has breaks at various points along the route at different neighbourhoods around the area where I was able to stop and explore. Hong Kong really is the city of skyscrapers, no doubt about that. On the left is a church banner that says: “Jesus says – my peace I give you.” The one in the back says: “Do not be anxious about anything. Be joyful in the Lord.”

Final destination Hong Kong meant that I got to see the last group of Bordeaux friends, Ting and Sharon. Had a nice time catching up with the ladies over afternoon tea and our conversations made me realize how tough and hectic life in Hong Kong could be. Take care my dear ladies!

The thing I enjoyed the most this time in Hong Kong was travelling across Hong Kong Island on the old trams, also known commonly as the “ding ding trams” because of the sound they make. It was a cheap and convenient way of sightseeing when you’re not in a rush, and not being in a rush is very important because the trams are rather slow, shaky, and often crowded. As I was staying in a hostel on Hong Kong Island, the tram stop was two steps away and I found myself using it often not only to get to my next destination but also to immerse myself in the everyday life of the city. In fact, the trams were a nice contrast to the running pace of the crowds in the subway during rush hour.

One evening, I managed to get a front seat on the top level of the tram and saw Hong Kong Island from the driver’s eyes. Passing by lit up streets, people crossing the road to get home, and trams coming the other way, life never felt more ordinary. It was then that I played the role of philosopher and began to think about the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? But then, who knows? Who really NEEDS to know?

Philosophy aside, I managed to make a trip to Stanley, an area to the south of Hong Kong Island that is known for its expat communities. Hong Kong is a wonderful place to travel to, but it’s easy to get weary from the extremely fast pace of the city. On new year’s eve, I hopped on a mini-bus from Causeway Bay, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong, and within 20 minutes arrived at Stanley, a touristy but much quieter place to enjoy my evening. The ambience of the entire place made me feel relaxed and I almost thought I wasn’t in Hong Kong anymore. Combined with a gorgeous sunset and magnificent night views, it was a perfect end to my 2016.

This time around I also wanted to explore some of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After finding out that Dragon’s Back in the Shek O area (southwestern region of Hong Kong island) is a popular hiking route, I decided to hike it on new year’s day, and my local friend May – with whom I spent the first day of the year in 2016 as well – offered to accompany me! I gotta say, the views from the top of Dragon’s Back were amazing!

Oh yes, it was windy! You could clearly tell from my flying hair in this photo with May, heh. The climb was quite easy, and the best part was the two of us catching up on things that’s happened within the one year that we haven’t seen each other. May would be the last friend I saw before leaving Hong Kong and returning to Glasgow the next day, but I will see her again very soon, during the summer in the UK, where the travels will continue!

After the descent from Dragon’s Back, we ventured into Shek O village, which was a short ride away. There I passed by a house with some nice decorations hanging above the front gate, including Santa who seemed to be having a jolly time parachuting. Christmas may be over, but Santa is always welcome any time, anywhere!

Hopewell Centre, Central-Mid-Levels elevator, Stanley, Shek O – all new places for me, not too bad for two days, huh! I know Hong Kong is full of interesting places and I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that’s what happens when I spend no more than 3 days there every time. Oh well. At least since Hong Kong is so close to my hometown I’m sure I’ll come back again 😉

Cheung Chau, the dumbbell island

The “dumbbell” island of Cheung Chau, so nicknamed because of its shape on a map, is one of the many tourist attractions near Hong Kong. By ferry, it takes about 40 minutes (an hour by slow boat) to reach from Hong Kong island, making it a perfect day trip. When my friend suggested it, she caught my interest by telling me that Cheung Chau would be a food lover’s heaven. In addition to an island breakaway, it’d also be a food hunt! Of course I more than gladly accepted because HEY, who wouldn’t want some super-sized mango mochi and giant curry fish balls?

Upon arriving at the ferry terminal, we realized that clearly we weren’t the only ones who were going after the mango mochi and curry fish balls, as the crowd waiting the board the ferry was huge! OK, they’re probably not all tourists, but I do wonder if this mass exodus from Hong Kong to Cheung Chau occurs on a daily basis. On the way to the island, my friend and I took the slower ferry with a travel time of one hour.

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Street photography in Hong Kong, Cheung Chau, and Guangzhou

I love people-watching, especially in large cities bustling with life. However, I have yet to get a hang of street photography, and I often don’t feel comfortable with photographing people in public. During my most recent trip to Asia, which was in April this year, several occasions presented themselves as perfect street photography opportunities. And so I gave them a shot (pun mostly unintended). Hong Kong, Cheung Chau, and Guangzhou are places with different characteristics yet each full of interesting people, so whom did I encounter in the heart of the cities? (Coloured versions of these photos are available by clicking links at the end of the descriptions.)

Hong Kong

Modern, dynamic, glamorous, exciting – these are all words worthy of describing Hong Kong, a booming metropolis in the center of East Asia. What ultimately attracted me about Hong Kong – and I never liked to admit that I actually LIKED Hong Kong – were not the suits and ties, the fast-paced lifestyle, or the skyscrapers that hid the skies. Rather, I enjoyed observing the ordinary everyday lives of the locals, savouring the small yet irresistible joys of street food, and getting lost in a sea of people trying to find their way, just like me. Hong Kong has many sides, and what will you find in its people?

I took a swift shot of this elderly gentleman as he walked past me, not looking too pleasant – hopefully not because I was taking a photo of him. The sharp look in his eyes seemed to be able to pierce through even the most rigid of souls. (Click to view photo in colour.)

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