My dad and my mom are complete opposites. My dad is very left-brained; we suspect he’s OC. My mom is very right-brained; I suspect she’s the reason my siblings and I “hobby” way too much.
I am a lot like my mom. But my dad, while he would never approach life in the same way as I do, understands a whole lot better what it’s like to have bigger dreams than you should. When I said, “Okay, I think I’m gonna jump”, my mom said, “Okay, but not too high”. My dad said, “Okay, how much is it going to cost me?”
(I love my parents)
Hong Kong was hot (June) and crowded (any time of the year). There were always too many things happening at every single time. There were always too many shops, too many tourists, too many stuff. This was my second visit to HK in 5 years.
I think Hongkong triggered a lot of my anxiety (coupled with the usual demons we try to keep at bay). For at least a few hours every day, I wanted to curl up in a ball and not exist (This is nothing new, of course. Introverts close in on themselves. I’ve had 20 years of practice in managing myself, so I don’t think anyone really noticed). Everything was just too loud and the noise was drowning out my brain functions (Anxiety attacks always seem like you’re being bombarded with too much emotion. The truth is, it’s an inability to control your thoughts, your imagination). Once upon a time I thought it was wonderful to be an over-thinker; I’m 25 going on 60, and I realize now that there’s nothing more overrated.
But this is how traveling is. You’ve got to deal with the bad days and power through. I wasn’t raised to be a quitter (Typical unica hija raised by a throng of men and an even tougher mother). Naturally, I can say these things now in a chirpy, matter-of-fact tone, with the comfort of hindsight. Forget [the fact that] that, at the time, I was furiously texting SOS messages to the three friends I allow myself to be vulnerable with because I could barely deal.
Lesson: don’t let anything/one get in your way, least of all that worst version of yourself.
It was Day 2 when we found ourselves in a traditional Chinese (or was it Cantonese) restaurant: Lin Heung Tea House in Sheung Wan (From the Sheung Wan MTR Station, make your way to Wellington Street. It’s roughly a 10-15 minute walk, depending on how many times you get lost). As we made our way up the stairs onto the restaurant’s main platform, I could already hear a buzzing: more people.
It was so cool!
(Okay, here’s the problem with me. I can’t really hate anything or anyone, because it takes me roughly 10 seconds to “assess” things or people and decide whether I want to focus on what I don’t like or what I do like. What I mean to say is, it’s always my choice. If I let my natural disposition win over, I’d be very alone as I am perpetually moody. I am a sucker to be proven wrong* and I find that most people or things just need a little poking before they surprise you by being varying degrees of interesting)
* I barely am; it’s a trait I inherited from your wife. Hahaha!
Everyone was speaking to us in Cantonese. My two Fil-Chinese friends could only speak Mandarin (This is me being generous. I’m almost sure we have the same level of understanding: nothing at all). So, child-like instincts kicked in: monkey see, monkey do.
You have to chase after old ladies with dimsum carts to eat. There are maybe 3-5 ladies on the floor at any given time, pushing their carts with stacks of bamboo steamers. Sometimes there is a lull/gap in between batches so you have time to competitively size up fellow guests as they position themselves for the “kill”. You have to elbow said fellow guests to get a plate. The usual plates of siomai and dumplings sell out fast, so you have to be aggressive. Sounds like a task for women then!
They give you a piece of paper, which the old ladies place stamps on, depending on how many plates you (manage to) get. Pro tip (or not): shove the piece of paper in the lady’s immediate line of vision so she grabs it first. Stamps equal dimsum.
That same day, my friends and I decided to split up to cover more ground. I had no intention to shop (What they don’t tell you about “pursuing your passion” and quitting your 9 to overtime job is that you become “destitute”. I’m overreacting, of course, but these days I do well to foster relationships that offer me free food. Hehe). Yeni, my friend Joyce’s sister, had invited me to go to the beach with them. I’ve mentioned Yeni to you before, right, Dad? She has been based in Hongkong for six years as a writer/journalist and should be able to get her HK permanency soon!
Lantau Island is a 30-minute ferry ride from HK Central pier (Don’t take the slow craft else you’re looking at 45 minutes’ to an hour’s worth of travel time; we unfortunately did). It is the biggest island of the country. They should advertise this more about HK— that there is plenty of nature activities to be done: hiking/trekking, surfing (Royce and I need to add this to our bucket list) and other water sports, etc. Hongkong just became a lot more attractive!
Yeni had made me an elaborate 5-day itinerary for this trip, which I unfortunately wasn’t able to do. But linking it to all the folks reading this letter. If you guys want an authentic HK experience, you should definitely follow this to a tee. Take her word for it; she’s a local.
MONGKOK / TSIM SHA TSUI
Mongkok in Kowloon district has a less metropolitan feel and characterizes the China you would expect. Beyond the cheap finds and the multitude of people, I hope to come back and see more of the authentic flavor in this area.
For now, I can tell you that everyone flocks to Mongkok for the shopping. Here you can find the likes of Sneaker Street (Fa Yuen Street) where Nike and Adidas pairs go as low as 390 HKD / 2,500 PHP. I am so sad I don’t have money to spend. Then again, I am so glad I don’t have money to waste. That’s funemployment for you.
The flats in HK are expensive and tiny (No surprises there as Hongkong ranks the second most expensive city this year, and has been consistently topping the charts over the past decade). In an effort to save on money, we got to book this really bang-for-your-buck guesthouse (8.9/10 rating) in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) via Booking.com. It’s nothing fancy but it does the job (clean, fast WiFi, with air-conditioning, and with hot shower). Jerry, one of the owners, was very accommodating.
TST is a pretty good location as it is accessible to both Central and Mongkok. But seriously, if money’s not an issue, Central is the way to go.
CENTRAL / SOHO
Central, aptly named, is Hongkong’s main business district. It’s probably also the most posh and hip area in Hongkong. Navigating the streets and stumbling upon gem after gem is an experience in itself. Here’s a visual diary—
LAN KWAI FONG in central
No visit to HK is complete without stopping by the infamous Lan Kwai Fong. It’s basically party central of the city, flocked by locals but mostly tourists. However, what I really want to highlight is that we went salsa dancing, in Hongkong of all places!
Yeni has been getting into salsa for years. So much so that a year ago, upon her influence, Joyce and I with a couple of college friends found ourselves in a salsa night at Chihuahua in Manila.
All those years of being fat and dancing ballet finally paid off, I think (or at least I can say with confidence that I was not the worst one on that dance floor despite being such a rookie)! The event we went to involved three dances: salsa, bachata, and kizomba. Not much of a fan of the latter for, aside from being slow, forgoes all concepts of personal space (I try so hard not to be introverted but it just seeps out. Do I get this from you or mom?). Bachata may be my personal favorite.
On our last night in Hongkong before taking the ferry out to Macau (the next letter!) the next day, we raced our way (It was late, and they seat people up until 8:30 pm only; takeout orders until 9:30 pm depending on supply) to a Michelin-star restaurant in Wan Chai, Kam’s Roast Goose. Best 150 HKD / 950 PHP I spent all week. The 20-minute wait was worth it.
Dad, Hongkong is a mecca. Not of shopping, but of possibility. I’m starting to understand more and more the magnet that draws the entire world in. Sebastian, for example, moved all the way from Argentina to build his travel start-up.
It’s not that Hongkong is going to take you in with open arms. In fact, it’s cutthroat; only the best make it out alive. Yeni was even saying, should I ever think of working there, I take what I can get, whichever limb gets me through the door. Anyone who’s lived long enough in these gritty streets can attest to that. But Hongkong feels like the biggest gamble of anyone’s life. Make it, and you win for life. How interesting!
Anyway, I know you’re not a fan of rambling. I just wanted to say thanks for being supportive, Dad. I know you have always dreamed I’d end up in some swanky corporate job. I swear everything I’m doing is still more or less logical. I just need to put in (a lot) more work until they fly.
Love from your fourth son and/or your crazy little girl,
P.S. Don’t get mad; I’m flying out again in a few days.
I’m not even sure my dad reads my blog. Good thing I’m sending him a letter then.
Any Hongkies out there who have more stories to share of the big city?
In the meantime, I’m already working on the next letter: Macau! Stay tuned.