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Back on the South China Sea

After a year’s hiatus spent immersed in learning and working in public health, I’m back to explore Hong Kong once again. This year’s goal is to continue to push myself to find new things to see and do. Having spent so much time here in the past it is easy to go back to things I know and love. Such as these dumplings, which I could happily eat daily.

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The trip here was good if somewhat uneventful. The highlight of the plane ride was re-watching the Olsen twins hit movie It Takes Two, a cheesy remake of the Parent Trap that lacked the explanation of why two children who meet unexpectedly could look identical. Other than that movie I spent the time reading, eating bagels and wishing I could fall asleep.

Now I am here, and still have the same wish. Damn you jet lag! Oh well, it will pass. Bring it on Hong Kong, I’m ready for anything!

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Thank You, Buh-bye!

Until next time!

Well Hong Kong, its been fun, but now I must love you and leave you.

Until next time,

Gill

Living on a Boat in Hong Kong

My two theme songs while in Hong Kong:

Living on a boat in China does come with some differences.

Motion: Unlike a normal house that doesn’t move, living on a boat means that the house is always gently rocking. After a few days you get pretty used to it, but sometime a bigger wave will come by and really mess with your balance. Also, even when you don’t feel the boat moving, if you look at anything hanging in the boat it will be swaying and when you look out the window you can notice how the view sways slightly.

Getting Home: Instead of a driveway, we have a dock.

The dock

The dock

Toilets: When a boat is in motion there can’t be water in it or it would slosh, so you press one button before you use ‘the head’ to fill it and press another button afterward to empty it. Also, instead of the waste going into a sewer or septic tank, a boat comes by once a day and pumps out the hold.

The pump-out boat

The pump-out boat

Floors: Unlike a normal house where floors are flat, in a boat the floors are cambered (curved and slope toward the outside walls) to give structural integrity to the boat. It is something that needs getting used to because the sloping floor can make you feel like you are walking drunk if you are near the walls.

Appliances: Mostly normal, but our toaster and microwave have some interesting settings. Instead of the bagel setting, there is one for crumpets. On the microwave the four special buttons are for steamed fish, dumplings, roast ribs and meat skewers.

Transportation: Living on an island, in a city on the water, means that ferries are a main mode of transportation. I can’t even count the number of gangplanks that I have walked this trip. Ferries range from old/open topped/diesel fumey beaters to comfy/padded seats/ air conditioned people movers. If you have any more interest in Hong Kong ferries, check out this blog post from last year.

People going down the gangplank

Boarding the ferry

Humidity: Hong Kong can get WAY humid. Which means it takes things forever to dry. A recently discovered must-have for living in this climate is a towel heater. Sounds like an unnecessary extravagance but it is the only way to guarantee a that your towel dries in between showers.

Quick Story

I went to the washroom at a mall today (not because I was shopping at the mall but because if one needs to find a washroom in a part of HK that they don’t know well it is best to find a mall because they are usually cleaner and are almost guaranteed to have toilet paper), and when I when to go wash my hands, all but one of the sinks were being used . . . by women washing lettuce!

Needless to say, I did not get the salad for lunch in the food court.

Strays

There are many stray cats and dogs here in Hong Kong and in Penang. The cats are most seen in market type areas because they are important for controlling the rodent population. I’d much rather see cats than rats in the city that’s for sure. Stray dogs are mostly seen on Lantau Island and are referred  to as ‘Village Dogs’ or ‘tong gau’. The dogs are usually very placid, when you see them they are usually napping in the shade and don’t bother passing people at all. The only exception to this was on one hike to Mui Wo when at medium sized black dog with red eyes came up and started barking at us. We all ran up the stairs on the trail quick quick and were happy it didn’t follow us.

The village dogs are such a stark contrast to many of the fancy breed dogs that are also seen here. Bulldogs, hilariously trimmed poodles and little yappy lap dogs seem so sissy next to the local dogs.

The good news for the stray dogs on Lantau is that there is an organization that looks out for them and gets them veterinary help and adopts them out. The dogs up for adoption are all so cute.

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IMG_8213 cats and dogs (6)

Public Health

On this trip I have been keeping my eyes peeled for different signs and things in the city related to public health. Here is what I’ve seen:

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Random Pictures

I have collected quite a few random pictures from this trip, ranging from mildly amusing to downright bizarre. Enjoy!

At almost all bakeries and 7-Elevens here in Hong Kong you can find pastries with hot dogs in them. Tuna fish buns are also common.

Hot Dog Pastries

 

This lady was on a Sunday outing with her mother and her daughter. And decided to pull this sweater on for the occasion.

 

F&#$ you

 

I guess Brian was dragged onto the hiking trail against his will.

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Carved into a rockface along the hiking trail to Mui Wo

 

In West Kowloon right before the road goes under the harbour to the Hong Kong-side. So many lanes of traffic! I think I counted over 20.

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So many lanes!

 

Bananananananana tree!

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Camouflaged bananas

 

Scrawled onto the seat back of one of the seats on the Lamma Island Ferry. I really don’t think the author knew the real definition of cockblock.

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One phone that won’t be ringing off the hook

 

The tiny alleyway shoe store where I got my disco shoes.

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Feet hurt in HK? No problem, there will likely be a shoe store conveniently placed in an alley nearby.

 

This sign made me giggle.

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And cherish I did.

 

Bamboo scaffolding is still extremely common here. Note the barbed wire wrapped around the first rung to keep people from climbing it for fun.

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Bamboo Scaffolding

 

Such a smart way to reuse an old water jug!

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Reduce, reuse, recycle!

 

Butterflies. I have a feeling they weren’t just keeping each other warm . . .

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Butterflies

 

Island Hopping

Lantau Island, Peng Chau, Cheing Chau and Hong Kong Island all located in bottom right to bottom middle of map

Lantau Island, Peng Chau, Cheung Chau and Hong Kong Island all located in bottom right to bottom middle of map

Today Mom and I went island hopping around Hong Kong. We started off on Lantau island where we live and hopped on a little ferry over to Peng Chau.

Kai-to to Peng Chau Ferry

Kai-to to Peng Chau Ferry

It is a really cute and peaceful little island. No cars are allowed on it so it has a real laid back feel. It so small that we walked around half the island in less than an hour. Our walk took us along the northwestern shore and then back to town along a path through huge stands of bamboo. The bamboo makes weird sounds in the wind, we kept thinking there was animals above our heads but it was just the trees making noise. Here are some of the sights we saw:

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Beach on the Northern point of Peng Chau

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Where boats retire

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Gardens and inner island village

 

Pagoda

Pagoda

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Beach

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Housing in the village. No buildings are taller than 3 stories on the whole island

After our walk around Peng Chau we hopped on another ferry to Cheung Chau. I was thinking that Cheung Chau would be similar to Peng Chau but it was extremely different. Even though there are no cars on this island either it was positively bustling. There were people everywhere along the waterfront, both walking and biking. Unlike Peng Chau that had few shops or restaurants, the whole waterfront of Cheung Chau was filled with them.

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Waffle stand. The fish ones are filled with red bean paste. I got the egg waffle, the one that loks like lots of little balls stuck together.

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Houses on Cheung Chau

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Fishing Boats in Cheung Chau Harbour

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Dried seafood is a really popular sight in fishing villages around HK. This is a rack of shrimp, drying on a bicycle.

 

We had a funny experience in Cheung Chau. While walking by a fish market we stopped to look around. We heard sirens and then looked to the road and saw the fire brigade go by, in minivans and ATVs! The roads here are too small for full sized fire trucks so these pint sized ones are used instead. It was hilarious to see a fully kitted out fireman zipping down the road on an ATV. A Chinese woman beside us thought it was interesting too, so she started taking a video on her camera, and then when the trucks had gone by, Mom and I became the stars of her video. At first we didn’t realize she was taping us because we were remarking about the fire trucks, but them we turned and noticed and the lady then turned and pretend that she was taking a video of the fish. It was kind of funny but we didn’t think much of it. Then 10 minutes later we were further down the street when we turned and the lady was taking a video of us again! I’m not sure why she kept sneaking videos of us, its not like white people are a rarity in Hong Kong. It was certainly strange, but we just laughed it off and continued our tour.

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Firefighter on an ATV. Note the little fire extinguisher. Lets hope it wasn’t a big blaze!

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Cheung Chau fire engine

 

After Cheung Chau we hopped on the ferry to Central on Hong Kong Island and hung around the IFC mall for a bit before taking our ferry back home to Lantau Island. It was a great day of island hopping, 4 islands and 4 ferry rides.

 

 

Penang: Bits and Pieces

We went to Batu Ferringhi today, which is further down the coast of Pulau Pinang (the island of Penang) from where we were staying. We had dinner and then watched the sun set at a beach. That sunset was a really unique moment in time because we were listening to my cousin’s radio show in Canada using the Tune In Radio app on my Dad’s phone. At the same time we could hear the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. The scene in front of us was a beach sunset, with two people para-sailing, and women in full burquas zipping around on seadoos. And we knew that as we watched that scene, Boston was in full lock-down on the hunt for the 2nd bomber. It really was a scene I will never again experience.

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After the sunset we walked along Batu Ferringhi’s famous night market. It is set up along a sidewalk down a major road in the town. Stalls at the market sell mostly purses, watches, jewellery, hairbands and clothing. It was neat, cheaper and different items than the night markets in Hong Kong. Thankfully, even though it was set up along a sidewalk, there were no open sewers like other places in Penang. That would have been quite the hazard.

Night market along the sidewalk

Night market along the sidewalk

One of the funny things that I noticed in Penang was that Mr. Bean teddy bears are EVERYWHERE! They sell them in all kinds of shops and market stall around town, which makes me wonder if Malaysians are big Mr. Bean fans or whether a store accidentally ordered 5000 instead of 50 and then offloaded them to the markets around town.

Mr. Bean Teddy Bears

Mr. Bean Teddy Bears

Some other interesting things about Penang:

  • When you arrive on an international flight, right before you land the flight attendants are required to spray aerosolized insecticide through the whole cabin in order to kill any bugs onboard. I get the whole public health aspect of it, but it was really unpleasant.
  • Traffic, so much traffic. With little public transit and a lower density city with sprawl, it can be very slow to get from point A to point B.
  • On the day we left, there was political nominations, which was apparently going to bring several thousand police into the city for the day. Plus there was a Busta Rhymes and Ludacris concert going on so we were lucky that our flight was early in the morning because if it had been later in the day the traffic would have been a nightmare.
  • They still have pedicabs. The guys who drive them all look over 50 and weather-beaten. Very much how I picture the old rickshaw coolies of Hong Kong.
Pedicab of Penang

Pedicab of Penang

It was a fun trip, nice to feel some real heat and sun after the long Canadian winter. What I like most about going new places is exploring them on foot, however in Penang, this was hard to do because there is little public transportation, it is not very pedestrian friendly, and things are very spaced out. Because of these barriers and my short stay, I know I didn’t see and do all that Penang has to offer. One of the political parties up for nomination is promising a monorail for the city, so maybe next time I go, I’ll zip around on that.

Strait of Malacca

Strait of Malacca

Penang: First Impressions

Penang is a weird and wonderful place. I’m not sure how to do an overall description so here are some musings on topics of everyday life.

Weather: It is hot hot hot. I’m closer to the equator than I have ever been. It is hot in the day and hot at night, but there is a great breeze off the water here most of the time so it is actually quite nice. Better than the stagnant humid heat of Hong Kong summers.

People: Penang really is a blend of cultures, mostly ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian. The Chinese and Indian influences are so strong here that I’m still unsure what Malay culture is. Malaysia is the first predominantly Muslim place that I have ever visited. I heard a real call to prayer for the first time last night which was really neat. The only downside to being in a Muslim country is that there is no bacon at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. lol

Food: My favourite so far are the street vendor samosas, so delicious. And at 17 cents Canadian, its a hard price to beat. Other Indian food is really good here too.

Toilets: My first thought upon entering the washroom at the airport in Penang : “I’m not in Hong Kong anymore”. Most are a 50/50 split of toilets and squats. And all washrooms here have a hose to wash oneself instead of using TP, and a drain in the floor for the water to go. But sometimes this can make the bathrooms floors wet, so it is best to have thick soled sandals or shoes. Also, many washrooms are BYOTP. I learned that lesson pretty fast.

Haven't been brave enough to try this method yet

Shopping: The shop attendants aren’t pushy, but many will follow you around the store the whole time you are there, which can feel a little strange. I was in the hugest mall that I’ve ever been in. 7 floors! Sure beats Bayshore!

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Crossing the street: Many places don’t have cross walks, so you just have to find a break in traffic, which is easier said than done on 4 lane roads. Today we figured out the trick, you cross one lane at a time, because there is never a break in all 4 lanes at the same time.  It is pretty scary at first to be standing in the middle of the road with traffic zooming by on both sides. Or when cars decide to take up to lanes, when you are standing right in their path.

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Cross this without a cross walk!

Sidewalks: Come and go. Not very consistent at all, there can be a nice new sidewalk, that then transitions into uneven cement, that then turns into no sidewalk at all so you have to walk down the side of the street. Also they have open sewers here that sometimes are uncovered and run along the outside of the sidewalk. They are pretty deep too, you wouldn’t want to walk and text here for fear of tripping into one. On the other hand, many street crossings have tactile strips so that blind people can cross safely. So they can cross safely, they just have to be extra careful not to fall into the sewer when they get to the other side.

Random gap in the sidewalk

Random gap in the sidewalk

Where the sidewalk ends, an open sewer begins

Where the sidewalk ends, an open sewer begins

A good 1.5 feet deep open sewer right beside the sidewalk, and an in front of a kindergarten

A good 1.5 feet deep open sewer right beside the sidewalk, and an in front of a kindergarten

 

 

Safe crossing for the visually impaired

Safe crossing for the visually impaired

Courthouse at night.

Courthouse at night.