Andrea: We jumped off the bus from the airport in Mong Kok and were greeted by a wall of neon. Everywhere. And people. The rest of the night is a blur (of advertisements). Apparently Mong Kok is one of the most densly populated places on the planet and I am not going to argue with that! We had very detailed directions to the hostel until it said it was 'between the two mobile phone shops.' We got to where the building should have been and looked to the left. Mobile phone shop. Then looked right. Another phone shop. Then looked down the road; an entire road of mobile phone shops with nothing in between. We wandered around a mall that only sold phones or phone accessories for a few minutes and knocked people over with our backpacks until we wandered out, shielding our eyes from the neon, and found the hostel round the corner! We dumped our stuff in our tiny room (but it was all ours!) and went exploring. The Ladies' Market was right by us; it was a land where a lady could find all the cheap knock off goods she could ever dream of! We walked up and down, but the markets are much less fun when you have no intention of buying anything. But, next time I want a Playboy iPhone cover or an Angry Birds anything, I know where to go. Having eaten all day courtesy of Qantas, we weren't hungry so we settled on a snack of what looked like a waffle that had been puffed out the wrong way and had big bubbles on it instead of little sqaures. Delicious. Every street we walked was full of stimuli to hold our attention just long enough for us to walk right into another person. (Did I mention the neon?) We bumped down our local roads for a few hours, including a whole street full of pet stores with turtles, puppies and any kind of reptile you could imagine, and made it back home again. Weary from a long day of traveling, we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the incredibly thin pillows on the rock hard bed.
The following day we showered avoiding the stocked shampoo "Treatment for Loss Hair" and suspiciously used the hot water machine to make coffee, realizing the button to get the hot water was labeled "Poup out." Coffee tasted fine, though. We visited our local market at a much more reasonable time, when there were not many people out and the sky was lit up naturally. We bought a few tiny bananas for breakfast and then found a bakery to ensure it wasn't only healthy fruit for breakfast. A helpful, English-speaking patron walked us through the choices and we settled on un-cooked pancakes filled with a red bean paste. Yes, we settled on this after it was explained to us what it was. The red bean paste was sweetened and they were actually delicious, albeit filling, little treats! We threw the rest in the bag for snacks and set out for our day of sightseeing. First on the list was the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. We walked up many many stairs lined on both sides with golden Buddhas, all in different poses. Some were smiling, some were sad, some were ebullient, some looked like they had gas. It felt like the 10,000 Steps Monastery, but the statues made it a very interesting walk. We did eventually make it to the top and we were greeted by a fabulous red and gold temple and the tangy smell of incense. The ornate carvings on the outside of the building were mirrored on the inside, along with colorful statues of Buddhas painted with rich hues of blue, green, yellow and red. There were many buildings at the monastery, and each one had what looked like hundreds, or thousands of tiny picture frames on the walls. Upon closer inspection, we learned that these were little doors, hinged to the wall, which opened to reveal an engraved name or photo of someone who had passed away. Sometimes there would be an empty space, presumably for ashes later. It was a beautiful place to rest for eternity, and it was a great way to make all those family members that were mean to you pay by making them climb all those stairs every time they want to visit! We walked around the large complex, peeking in each building (many solely for the resting places) and studying all of the statues painted in some of the most impressive colors I've ever seen. I particularly liked the royal blue tiger with a dragon-like face. We ran down the ramp next to the stairs, avoiding the people panting on their way up, and made it down in a flash. A walk through Sha Tin Park brought us to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. It was a museum full of rotating temporary exhibits with a few permanent ones. There were two whole exhibitions on Cantonese opera. The singing is the opposite of that in Italian opera; in Cantonese opera it sounds like they sing through their noses whereas in Italian opera it sounds like they sing with the back of their throats. But the costumes were phenomenal and there was an interactive display where you could get the opera-singer makeup overlaid onto a picture of yourself. We spent another hour checking out the other interesting exhibits in the museum and left to find another temple in the area.
Che King Temple wasn't as grand as the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, but it was nice because there were a lot of people there praying, which also means a lot of incense! There was a giant gold Buddha statue inside the temple and it was again designed with red and gold elements throughout. It was nice and authentic and it was good to see it being put to good use. On our way to the next temple we found a mall and had lunch at the Food Republic section in a food court. You were able to pick any type of food from the wide variety in the court. We opted the obvious choice, Hong Kong cuisine. Vern had sweet and spicy beef with delicious peppered green beans and I had a tofu stir fry with steamed bok choy. A pretty good meal overall and what we couldn't grab with the chopsticks we picked up with our soup spoons so it worked out! With full bellies like a laughing Buddha we went to Chi Lin Nunnery but it had just closed five minutes earlier so we couldn't go inside. The outside, however, was a beautiful wooden building with the sloped roofs, typical in Asian architecture. Vern was amazed that the entire structure was made of wood, but with no nails. I was impressed with the large lotus ponds out front full of lily pads. It was an incredibly peaceful place right in the middle of this concrete jungle. We walked around the building for a few minutes and then out to the sprawling Nan Lian Gardens. The gardens were blocked off in strange places and guarded by security so we were forced to take a very scenic and tranquil route through the gardens, by order of security guards. The pagodas, koi ponds with overfed fish and waterfalls were just some of the highlights in these magnificent gardens. This place was truly a world away from the busy and bright streets of Mong Kok, and a welcomed change. By the time we made it back to the hostel it was almost twilight and the neon had already been turned on. I wondered if people from Hong Kong just thought the rest of the world was really dark. "Yeah I've been to Times Square. I didn't see what all the fuss is about." "I don't get why Paris is called the 'City of Light'." We also imagined if there were people unlucky enough to be epileptic in this city then they would have to live like vampires, or the monsters from the movie "I Am Legend." As soon as they see the sun starting to go down they would have to run for cover and shut all the windows for fear if a seizure-inducing Foot Reflexology sign.
After a quick rest and shower it was off to the Avenue if the Stars to see the "Symphony of Lights," the laser light show on the harbor. Instead of the common laser light show set to Pink Floyd or another rock band, the Syphony of Lights in HK was set to what sounded like tinny cell phone music. It was a great view of the skyscraper-lined island with most if the buildings featuring different displays of colored lights flashing in time with the music. The show was less about the few lasers that shot from the tops of buildings and more about the heavily branded buildings putting on their own shows. It was spectacular and although I don't remember many specifics of the show, I know that Samsung is the greatest electronics company of all time and I must go out and buy a phone, TV and camera from them. We walked the Avenue of Stars after the show. It's like the one in Hollywood, but with less recognizeable people. We cheered when we recognized one we knew, of which there were four: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yung Fat and Jet Li. We needed to relax after all that excitement so we walked home via the posh shopping roads and a few more knock-off markets. For dinner we had a stick with some fish balls on it and a strange tea. They put balls of tapioca at the bottom of the iced tea cup and then fill it with delicious milky tea. I inevitably choked on the first sip as the ball of tapioca rocketed into the back of my throat. I coughed and choked and then went back for more. As strange as it was, we really enjoyed the mix of drink and snack and diligently sucked up each last brown ball in the cup.