Exploring Hong Kong: more Joon, Victoria Peak, Symphony of Lights, and a last walk through Tsim Sha Tsui

According to the itinerary I made before we left, Day 4 was supposed to be all about Central: walking through the central business district, seeing the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and seeing Hong Kong Park before going up The Peak after lunch. But since the previous day’s messed up itinerary resulted in much less Joon time than Aids would have liked (it’s true! :P), we went back to Tung Chung instead and hung out with Joon until after lunch before going to Victoria Peak.

Joon’s place is Aids’ dream bachelor pad. I wish I had a photo of Aids drooling over Joon’s music setup and squealing in delight at the Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” vinyl. Yes Aids, you squealed 😛 Even though both Joon and Chi are primarily Aids’ friends, I loved talking to them about their experiences living in Hong Kong. As a frequent commuter within Metro Manila, I know how messed up our mass transit systems are. The MRT 3 handles 500,000 passengers a day, way more than the 350,000 it was designed for. Buses stop anywhere and everywhere. Traffic “rules” are mere suggestions. My four days in Hong Kong were a commuter’s dream come true – a unified payment system, a reloadable smart card, fast and frequent trains, and clean buses that come on time and follow traffic rules. I could finally understand why Joon loved living in Hong Kong and why he had no intentions of returning to Manila for good anytime soon. Chi also had lots of praise for Hong Kong, having lived there for seven years and raising three kids. It got to the point that I had to specifically ask them to say some bad things about Hong Kong. The things Chi said were primarily political, such as only a select few getting to vote for who becomes the next prime minister and that whoever’s in charge inevitably becomes Beijing’s puppet. Also, Hong Kong is all about the money. This sentiment isn’t something unique to Hong Kong but definitely something that is very, very obvious. We left Joon’s apartment with his old keyboard (a gift to Aids), Jovan’s bags, and Paul’s hard drive (the latter two stuff to bring home for friends).

We got to the Peak Tram Terminus in Central at 3:30 pm and braced ourselves for another long line. We waited for about an hour before finally boarding the Peak Tram. You go through a very interesting gallery detailing the history of the Tram but don’t get to appreciate it. This is because people board the Tram in waves so the crowd sweeps you past the displays. In between waves, the same crush of people prevents you from walking ahead to see the displays. When boarding the Tram, try to get a seat on the right side for the best view. The ride up Victoria Peak is pretty awesome. You sweep past houses and buildings on several levels. There are intermediate stops along the route for the regular folks who use the Tram to commute. And here I thought the Tram was only used by tourists!

The long wait to go in

We paid extra to get up to the Sky Terrace, the highest publicly accessible observation point that gives you a 360 degree view of Hong Kong. We timed it so that we’d get views during the afternoon, at sunset, and the evening 😀 It was freaking cold up there so yes, bring a jacket. The Peak’s official photographers have claimed the best spot for having your photo taken in the evening so unless you want to pay (HK$100 I think), you’d have to settle for the spots to the left and right of them.

Hong Kong in the afternoon
Hong Kong at night

You never know what the night will bring. Aids and I met a nice American lady during our hour and a half on the Peak. We were trying to take a decent photo of ourselves and the city using the traditional camwhore method – holding the camera in one hand and extending your arm as far as it’ll go, all the while Hail Mary-ing that you get the view behind you too – when she volunteered to take the photo for us. She took the photo, we said thank you, and we thought that was it. Some 45 minutes later when night fell, I noticed that she was beside me! LOL. She started talking and I tried my best to answer her questions – she was only on a stopover and was leaving tomorrow afternoon so what places could she visit, places to eat, etc. She also started talking about herself – she lived in Saipan and was on her way to visit her sick mother in Canada. It felt a bit strange at first, listening to a stranger talk about things that would normally be none of our business but we sensed that she just needed to talk and release all of the tension inside her. We left without saying a proper goodbye (totally my fault) but we shouldn’t have worried as we ran into her again while we were in line for the Tram going down. And guess what? We ran into her a fourth time during our ferry ride from Central to Kowloon. I forgot that I recommended that she head over to the Kowloon side to better see the Symphony of Lights at 8 pm. We just started laughing when I realized who it was just a few steps away from me, also leaning out the ferry’s window, trying to get a better view as the show started.

Our last night in Hong Kong was the night we finally got to watch the Symphony of Lights – a dazzling laser, lights, and music show where the lights of the buildings on both sides of the harbor dance in time with the music. The show’s free and happens every 8 pm. According to my guidebook, the best view to be had is along the Avenue of Stars but the view from beside the Star Ferry pier wasn’t bad at all. We had our last dinner in Hong Kong right after the show – burgers from McDonalds 😛 HAHAHA! We wanted to get more authentic fare but were too tired to go looking for it.

The Symphony of Lights as seen from the Star Ferry pier

We made our way back to the apartment and finally took our shoes off. Ah bliss. Some 15 minutes later, my friend Eric calls to say that he’s in Causeway Bay and can get to Tsim Sha Tsui in 10 minutes (the beauty of the MTR!) to meet up with me before I leave tomorrow. Aids was too tired to move so it was just me who walked down again to meet him. I met Eric during the IOC/WESTPAC conference I attended in Sanya, China last June (he’s with Chinese University of Hong Kong). Eric and I explored the food stalls along Haiphong Road, something Aids and I didn’t get to do because we were either 1) busy rushing to someplace else, or 2) too tired to notice by the time we got back. He treated me to egg cupcakes, a Hong Kong specialty. One batch of egg cupcakes looks like a sheet of bubble wrap but with extra-extra-extra large bubbles 😀 They tasted like waffles and were good enough for me (even though they were cold), but Eric apologized because there were better egg cupcakes to be had in Hong Kong and they’re best eaten hot. Some shops even sell them with chocolate filling. Chocolate filling!!! 😀 We also passed by a stall selling drinks. They had the usual fruit drinks but in combinations I hadn’t encountered before, like mango + aloe and melon + aloe. There was a drink with an ingredient in Chinese so I asked Eric about it.

Me: “What’s that?” (points at the menu board)

Eric: “Toad ovaries.”

Me: (blinks) “Come again?”

Yes, he really said toad ovaries. Apparently, Chinese women mix toad ovaries in their fruit drinks (Eric says it tastes horrible) because they’re supposedly good for your health. Uhm, thank you but no thank you. I’m Filipino so I’ve eaten my share of food most Westerners would find weird – pig intestines, face, and ears, chicken intestines and blood, and cow tongue – but I draw the line at reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

We walked and talked some more until we ended up at the Star Ferry pier (again!). I also asked him to say some bad thing about Hong Kong. This native Hong Kong-er had plenty to say, mostly about the environment. First, the lousy state of Victoria Harbor. Sure it’s pretty at night but the water still stinks. There’s also the congestion in Kowloon and Central, something he avoids by living in the suburbs of Hong Kong Island. And finally, the diving isn’t so good. The diving in the Philippines (he’s been to Cebu and Bohol for field work) is much better by far. Ha! Told him he’s welcome to visit Palawan any time. I led the way back to the apartment because after four days of walking, I knew the ins and outs of Tsim Sha Tsui better than he did 😛

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