Andrea: The next day we had to relocate hostels (another by-product of the Qantas strike). Our new hostel was actually on Hong Kong Island in a neighborhood called Causeway Bay. So now we were on the side where all the action was happening, but the views of the harbor weren't as spectacular.
We wanted to try dim sum for breakfast since we read it was very typical in HK. We stood in the middle of the sidewalk gazing upwards like tourists hoping a good restaurant would just make itself known until a nice man asked if he could help us. We asked him if he knew a good place for dim sum. He asked what the budget was. We answered small. His answer will go down in history as one of the most helpful and efficient answers a local could give a tourist. "Winham Building. Floors 5, 9 and 14," he said with military-like precision. He offered to walk us there, but we knew the building so went ourselves.
We started at the top and worked our way down. Under each of the names of the restaurants in the elevator it said "wedding banquet" but we couldn't figure out what that meant. Floor 14 wasn't open yet. Floor 9 was the winner. The place was rammed wall to wall with people eating little dumplings and drinking individual pots of tea. The door was closed but we peered inside and spied thousands of crystal icicle-like ornaments hanging from the ceiling, two names written in huge letters with multi-colored lights behind them and a tiered wedding cake. We immediately turned to leave as there was obviously a wedding taking place. The manager, complete with earpiece, however flagged us down and handed us a menu. We couldn't possibly pass this place up so we let her show us to a table. She took us around the back behind a removable wall to another indentically decorated room, also full of patrons. We really felt like we were at the wedding of a Chinese couple, who were named "Liza and Clarence." Liza and Clarence's names changed color throughout the meal from purple to green to blue to orange and back to purple. There was a five tiered wedding cake with "Precious Moments" bride and groom figurines adorning the top. The table-cloths were off-white, with white roses, and matched the chair covers. Chair covers! It was so funny to be the only whities crashing Liza and Clarence's big day. No one else seemed fazed by the decor. We, on the other hand, sat there for a good five minutes, taking it all in, before we could even be bothered to look at the menu. We ordered five delicious dishes and a pot of tea. In addition to the tea they brought us a pot of boiling water and a plastic bucket, with which we had no idea what to do. After ten minutes they realized this and took the bucket back. We struggled to pick up all the tiny treats with chopsticks and I spilled both tea and soy sauce on the pretty white tablecloth. I stared at the hanging crystals a lot. It really was a beautiful effect, albeit a slightly tacky venue. Vern and I discussed it at length and I just couldn't get my head around what this place was! "Maybe it's just a wedding themed restaurant," I thought out loud, to which Vern responded with a shake of the head. They definitely had weddings at this place. OK, but WHY is there a cake out? Unless there's a wedding happening right now there is no reason to have a cake out, or Liza and Clarence's names on the wall. On our way out we looked at the prominently displayed brochures at the front and it was indeed rented out for weddings. We wondered if Liza and Clarence where just an example or if their wedding was later and everything was ready for them. And their cake would sit out for hours. There was no way of knowing.
We felt great after our matrimonial brunch experience so we walked around the island in search of more sights. And if we accidentally attended another wedding...bonus! We walked the central part of the island in search of Man Mo Temple. To help us in the journey we jumped on the world's longest outdoor covered escalator. The escalator was built to help alleviate traffic by convincing people to walk instead of drive. And since there are a lot of hills in the area, the escalator would help you through it. In the end the project was grossly over budget and hasn't helped with traffic issues at all so they've tried to make it a tourist attraction. We let the travelator take us a few streets up to say we'd ridden it, and then hoofed it the old fashioned way to the temple. Man Mo temple was on a crowded road and we almost passed right by it. It was again an ornately designed red and gold building and featured very intricate gold designs on red doors. Even standing outside we were choked by the smell of incense. We walked in and there was free incense to burn for prayer, with a few people praying in front of a Buddha statue. There were large coils hanging from the ceiling, varying in size and width, that were actually coils of burning incense (which explained why the smell of incense was so much stronger in this temple than in others). Apparently, the bigger coils can take up to ten days to burn!
After Man Mo Temple we walked the streets of the city looking for Central Market. We had read a few articles and really wanted to see a market where the vendors sell live animals (including frogs, turtles, chickens and eels) that they will slaughter in front of you. Maybe 'really wanted to see' isn't quite accurate and I should just say we were intrigued. We didn't find anything like that, but did find a large fruit and fish market where we bought some fresh produce. It started to get late so we caught the bus up to the Peak, a lookout point for Victoria Harbor. The Peak is the highest 'mountain' on HK island, measuring at 552 meters. The bus was a very scenic way to appreciate the island as we hugged curves up the mountain. We passed high rise after high rise of apartments and came to the realization that people in Hong Kong don't live in houses. We saw a few, but it's safe to say those were mansions. As we approached The Peak, also known as Mount Austin or Victoria Peak, the sun was just starting to set. We gazed out at the surrounding islands to the west as we watched the sun set spectacularly and the clouds turn orange and pink. It was a wonderful sight. As the colors receded, we went to the east side of the peak for the other view, Victoria Harbour. The lights on the skyscrapers were just coming to life; the man-made scene was a beautiful contrast to the stunning natural sunset we'd just witnessed. Hong Kong is a different city at night, and we were watching the metamorphosis. We watched the city light up fully and rode the bus all the way back down.
The streets on the island were just as busy as the streets of Mong Kok and we pushed our way through crowds the whole way. We spotted a restaurant full of locals and had, much to Vern's dismay, noodle soup for dinner. On the way back home we passed about a hundred jewelry stores, all of which prominently displayed watches. Some were Rolexes. Some had Angry Birds on them. Even the window display at Tiffany's was full of watches (much to MY dismay...where were all the shiny diamonds?!?!)! When we switched on the TV in the room, all the program sponsors were watch companies. Two things were abundantly clear: a watch is definitely a status symbol in HK. And my $3 'Sinka' watch, which I bought in Bolivia, was destined for ridicule.
Our last day was the day to see the most popular tourist attraction in HK: the Big Buddha statue. The biggest seated bronze Buddha in the world... until 2007 (what kind of record is that?!). We caught the ferry to Lantau Island and then the bus to Po Lin Monastery where the Tian Tan Buddha, or Big Buddha, statue is located. It's our experience so far that Buddhists are gluttons for punishment because we had to climb another few flights of monster stairs (240 to be exact) to get to the ex-record-holding bronze statue. We sailed past the huffing and puffing grannies (and a few probably sailed past us too!) and made it to the top. Its size was definitely impressive, and yet it looked so serene. It is 34 meters tall and weighs 250 metric tons. It is surrounded by 6 smaller statues making offerings. Although the scene is quite peaceful, the crowds were not, so we appreciated the grandiose of it all from every angle, snapped some photos and walked 240 stairs down.
After the statue, we walked the grounds of the monastery. There were some major building works going on so we couldn't visit it all. We followed signs for a 'wisdom trail' that took us through a small forest into a clearing with great mountain views and a circle of giant
wooden plinths that were full of insight. The main issue was the wisdom was in Cantonese so we can't claim to have gained much knowledge. It was, however, a beautiful view and we also got to see a cow just roaming on its own so worth it! We walked through the temple and the gardens that had an adorable turtle statue and some other animal statues that weren't trying too hard to steal Tian Tan's thunder. The bus back to the ferry took only exact change so on our way out we had to frantically search the most touristy area in HK for something cheap in order to break a $10. After a thorough search of every cart and shop the only thing under a tenner was a box of warm chocolate soy milk. Malt soy on hand, we ran for the bus and made it back down without overpaying, and enjoying our milk on the way.
By the time we got back to the island it was time for dinner so we naturally tried our dim sum wedding banquet place again. We tried all 3 suggested floors. Well, it was a Saturday night. You guessed it: they all had weddings on! So they were being used for weddings! We didn't get a chance to peek our heads in, to tell Liza and Clarence that their cake had been out for more than 24 hours and that it was probably stale or salmonella-laden. We tried, but were bounced. Instead we found a great local BBQ place that was packed. It was an eat-and-go kind of place. The lady miraculously spoke a few words of English and we ordered one BBQ crispy pork and one duck and some rice and vegetables. Both dishes were amazing and so cheap! We had to sit at the table with a guy that looked a little serial killer-esque, but that BBQ sauce was to die for! (ha ha ha....ha).