I finished my first full week in Hong Kong by snagging a camera and heading to Lantau Island, the largest of the 200+ islands that make up Hong Kong. It turned out to be a great way to cap off my free time before classes started.
On Saturday, the only excursion worth noting was a trip to Festival Walk, which is yet another mall in Hong Kong. This was my first time venturing off-campus by myself, and I had plenty of time to explore the mall, which took a few hours. My main goal was to pick up a camera that was on sale at a tech store in the mall, but I figured I’d make the most of my time and do some other shopping as well.
The walk there was pleasant, as the temperature felt like it was just hitting the 70s for the first time. Once I made it to the mall, I was a bit overwhelmed by its size, just like with everything else here. Unsurprisingly, I got a little lost while trying to find the store I was looking for. Long story short, I was trying to find a store on the subway level, but I went to the wrong part of the subway and had to loop back. Oh well.
Festival Walk has seven floors and is again filled with nearly every high-end brand you can imagine: Swarovski, Calvin Klein, Coach, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Rolex, and the list goes on. The mall even has a children’s clothing store by Ferrari; yes, the Ferrari. On the ground floor, salespeople were busy showing off the latest models of Land Rovers and Jaguars to prospective buyers. A couple floors above, there’s an ice skating rink and a movie theater. On top of it all, the entire mall was spotless. All the floors and chrome accents were perfectly clean; even the bathroom looked brand new. I’m continually impressed by this place.
Other more typical stores like Hollister and Toys “R” Us filled the rest of the mall, alongside other worldwide brands I was unfamiliar with. Aside from buying my camera at the tech chain Fortress, I ended up grabbing a Star Wars shirt from Uniqlo and a chicken sandwich from McDonald’s. But it wasn’t just any chicken sandwich; it was one of the best fast food sandwiches I’ve sunk my teeth into. It was a fried chicken patty topped with grilled onions, a thick, juicy pineapple ring, jalapenos, and tomato jalapeno relish. It was the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, with both a nice crunch from the chicken and juiciness from the pineapple. It was incredible, and the combo with fries and a drink was only $5.50 USD.
While at McDonald’s, I learned something new about Hong Kong: it’s expected that if you see an open seat, you take it, even if it means sitting next to one or more strangers. I wandered around for several minutes trying to find a seat until one of the workers basically told me to sit down at a two-seater table with another patron. It felt a little awkward, since it goes completely against what I’m used to, but I’ll get used to it.
Also, I haven’t mentioned this yet, but you don’t take your tray to the trash at fast food restaurants here: there’s usually a worker whose job is to keep the eating area clean, including disposing of your food and cleaning off the tray when you’re done eating. Getting up and leaving my tray sets off about a thousand flashing red alarms in my head, especially as a former fast food worker who despised that very action. But it’s just the norm here.
After lunch, I took the MTR back to Lok Fu where I did some grocery shopping and got a haircut. At home, I have a simple haircut: I tell the barber to use a 3-guard cutter all over, and there is never any confusion. It only occurred to me as I sat in the chair that things probably don’t work the same way in Hong Kong. I was right; they don’t use the same system for haircuts as we do, and Sam later told me that the barber might not understand American English haircut terms like “buzzcut” or “flattop.” I ended up just gesturing with my fingers that I wanted it about *that short.* It turned out that way on the sides, but on top, the barber simply thinned out my hair with scissors, so now the hair is thicker on top than on the sides. Maybe that’s a typical style here? But with my thick, wavy hair, I know it’ll need cut again in just a couple weeks, so I need to figure out how to ask for what I want next time. Sam says showing a picture might help.
On Sunday, Sam, Michael and I went to Lantau Island for the day. The MTR took us all the way to a sort of outlet mall on the island, where we then had to catch a bus to our first destination: the Tian Tan Buddha at Ngong Ping. The Buddha is also referred to as “Big Buddha,” and it truly is massive. Perched above a 268-step incline, the giant bronze Buddha statue looks down at the plaza below and looks quite regal. The view of the scenery from atop the Buddha’s platform is incredible; to the Buddha’s right side is Lantau Peak, the largest mountain on the island and second largest in Hong Kong. In the distance to the Peak’s left side is Po Lin Monastery, which we were able to visit as well.
There were some worshipers offering incense at the monastery, but not nearly as many as at Wong Tai Sin Temple a few days earlier. This experience was much more peaceful and in many ways, more beautiful. Because the scene was not so chaotic, the three of us could better take in the intricacies of the interior and exterior design. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the monastery, but it was even more ornate and colorful than the outside.
While here, Sam told us that the worshipers offer incense to the gods because they believe the smoke feeds them. I never knew that before, so I was definitely glad to learn it. Also, we found that bulls roam the plaza near the Buddha, which was surprising but shouldn’t have been, given their religious connotations.
From the monastery complex, we took another bus to Tai O village, which is an odd mixture of tourist attraction and poverty. Oddly, it doesn’t seem that many of the locals benefit from the tourism, and I’m not quite sure why people visit the area to begin with. Nonetheless, it was so jarring to see such poverty just a couple hours outside of Hong Kong’s metro area. Many of the villagers lived in shacks and caught and dried fish to survive. It was sad to see, and the place smelled exactly how you would expect.
A short hiking trail wound out of the village, up a hill, then back down into the village. Again, the hilltop offered an incredible view. Looking down the side that we climbed up, we could see the village nestled in the hills and alongside a bay. On the other side was ocean, with Hong Kong’s metro area far in the distance. From there, I saw the air pollution surrounding the city for the first time. Sam often tells me about how bad the air quality is in Hong Kong, but I hadn’t been able to really tell for myself until that moment. Looking at the city, there was a thick layer of dark smog, which puts into perspective why Hong Kongers care so much about conservancy, from charging more for plastic bags to eliminating straws.
Sam says that what we saw was considered a good day for air quality; during the spring and when the winds blow south from mainland China, it drops even more. I’m not going to get on my high horse here about how everyone is awful and wasteful, because I know I fail to be a model of conservation. But on Sunday, I saw firsthand exactly how we’re negatively affecting our environment, and it sucked. If you’ve never seen a layer of smog over a city before, maybe it doesn’t click for you, just as it didn’t click for me until now. I’m going to make it a goal to conserve more wherever I can.
After sufficiently taking in both beautiful scenery and awful pollution, we made our descent back into the village and to the bus. From there, we caught the MTR back to Lok Fu, where Michael and I had Pizza Hut for dinner. For the first time, I was underwhelmed with my meal; the pizza was no more than a small in the U.S. and cost nearly $20 USD. Sure, it tasted good, but it was highly overpriced. The menu was wild though; diners could order everything from deli sandwiches to waffles to seafood pizzas.
After dinner, we headed back to the dorms and crashed for the night. Since then, classes have begun, and I’ve been getting back into scholar mode. I probably won’t be doing as much exploring over the coming weeks, so the blogs might be a bit more sporadic, since I don’t think there’s much excitement in me telling you about my classes. Thanks for reading!