Reacquainting myself with Hong Kong

I landed in Hong Kong at 5 am. I was sleepy and Hong Kong was asleep. Everywhere in the airport, shutters were down, save for a food court, MacDonald’s and 7-11. The first Airport Express train to the city departs at 6 am, giving one hour to experience a slumbering HKIA. This feels rather odd to me because each time I transit at HKIA, I always find the airport bustling with activity and full of life. That said, I guess at 5 am, not many people want any activity besides napping. As such, at the waiting areas are quite many people taking power naps as they wait for this city to come to life.

Even though I have not stepped into the city for so long, as the airport express shuttle bus turns into Kowloon, memories came back as I saw the neon signboards and familiar street names. Kowloon felt like a place trapped in time. As I embark on my explorations, I can feel the change in Hong Kong from my last visit in 2000, yet Kowloon feels strangely ~ the same. However, we do know that ‘first impressions’ are not always accurate, and I do have a couple more days to find out.

By the time I arrived in the city and deposited my luggage, it was still early. At the rather ungodly hour of 7 am, there was nothing else to do except to have breakfast. I am in debt to friends for their recommendations for left on my own, I would be at a loss. Every breakfast place in the vicinity looks rundown and intimidating at the same time! I had my breakfast at Tsui Wah Restaurant right next to the entrance of Yau Ma Tei MTR station. As I sat there looking at the menu, I had a hard time deciding what to order (in part due to small font size). I kept hearing “Set A” being ordered from various tables, I decided to follow suit. Truth be told, the food didn’t look pretty at all but they were surprising yummy and comforting. It felt like a homey start to the day.

Breakfast at Tsui Wah Restaurant
Breakfast at Tsui Wah Restaurant

As it was unlikely that I would ever be awake this early for the rest of my trip, I decided to head to Northpoint (北角) and check out the famous egg rolls by Duck Shing Ho (德成号). After trooping all the way there braving the rush hour crowd and walking through an awakening wet market, I was greeted with a sign that said something to the effect of “walk-in sales ceased from Christmas till after Chinese New Year.” You can imagine my disappointment! Well, I can sulk and ruin my own vacation or I can be a little more positive about it. Since I have never been to this neighbourhood, I might as well do a bit of exploration and see how the locals live their lives.

Exploring 北角
Exploring 北角

1. Marble Road Market

And this is how I ended up at the Marble Road Market. It is primarily a granny’s hangout with some grandpas having breakfast with their peers as the grannies chat and do their marketing. It has been so long since I last saw a real wet market that I cannot help but be nostalgia about it. Unlike the city area, the pace of life here seems slower, people were in less of a hurry and generally it was a pleasant walk around the neighbourhood. If there is anything negative about this place from the tourist’s perspective, it would be that the buildings look rather run-down and somewhat (structurally?) unsafe.

It's been a long while since I last saw vegetables stacked this way ~
Not the usual supermarket set-up ~

2. Hong Kong University

HKU was really not on my itinerary. It did cross my mind maybe I should visit it but I guess I was just too laid back these days to plan anything seriously. So, it was like since I am two stops away, let’s just head over and see what it is like. Interestingly, the main campus reminded me of what NUS used to be like when I was in college, bringing back fond memories of my youth. It felt like a walk down memory lane. As I crossed over to the centennial campus, I could see yet another resemblance to NUS – the transition from traditional red brick and mortar buildings to modern greyish buildings. NUS was like that too… Parts of it traditional and parts of it modern… and then I remembered, so is Stanford. These observations and recollections made me wonder if universities are also somewhat caught in their own identity crisis. Well, this is a topic for some one else to write about.

While I was in HKU, I saw a scene that brought a smile to my face. I do not follow HK politics so this is really not a commentary on politics. The banner hanging from one of the buildings resonated passion and youthful energy that we find so much in universities all over the world, and yet so untapped. As I looked at the banner, I felt like a tired old lady next to these energetic and exuberant youths.

Hong Kong University
Hong Kong University

3. Dried Seafood Street

My last stop this morning was the Dried Seafood Street, hoping to bring back some dried seafood for Chinese New Year. It was really an eye-opener for me to see all that dried seafood that I usually see on television when I watched TVB dramas. To see all of that right before my eye… I was at a loss what to really buy and so I came back empty handed. Well, I am not about to give up it. I shall consult friends and perhaps return for another visit during the next couple of days.

How long did the visit to the 3 places take? Well, I was essentially hoping on and off the MTR and walking around a lot. By the time I took the MTR to return to the hotel, it was approximately 11 am. I could possibly walk a bit more at each place but the cold and the crowd discouraged that.

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