[Picture: as mentioned in a blog post way back in May/June, I collect things. All things. So, this is my mini collection of tickets and cards etc. from the past couple of days. Don’t they look pretty!!!]
How lucky am I? Shamefully, it’s only hit me today just how fortunate I really am. On Monday 3rd, I decided I wanted to go to Hong Kong to see Candice, Julie, Richard and Katie. Wednesday 5th, 11am, I was on the ferry at Shunde Dock on my way. How many people can say that within 5 days they can decide to go to HK, get tickets, get a ferry, be there for 2 nights, and be back home in their pj’s by Friday? Not too many (apart from the billions of Chinese people who do it every year…)
Country Garden School broke up for the holiday on Friday 30th September; a lot of the teachers had pre booked tickets to escape the crazy mad rush of holiday tourism over the Chinese break. Myself and my friends however, (Danielle, Kim, Kyle, Collin, Becky, Gabby and Cassie) had not done this at all. Each of us had our own reason for not planning a trip away; whether it be lack of money (yes us Worlda employees are STILL waiting for our first pay check, only 13 days to go…), lack of passport (visa changes etc…), or simply the fact they wanted to relax or explore the area we had all found ourselves dumped in. I spent Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mainly with Danielle hopping on busses, going to markets, ending up in various shopping malls, and just generally wandering around (somewhat aimlessly) working out the surrounding area. We headed to Guangzhou on Saturday and Tuesday, Saturday with 2 other Kindergarten guys, and Tuesday with Kim and her Dad who left pretty soon after we arrived. We ate some great food; hotpot, Muslim rice, Italian, questionable Chinese food and much more. Friday night we had a nice chilled evening at Kims watching the first half of the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring (I forgot just how bloody long those films were) with some pizza that arrived an hour late. Sometime over the weekend Kyle treated me to a proper cup of Yorkshire tea, we watched an episode of The Peep Show and got our British on for a bit, blocking out any China noise. I even tried my first piece of Sushi, which I’m not sure I’ll try again…
But yes, back to my Hong Kong trip. It has been exactly a year since me and Shelb headed to HK to transfer out visa’s to a residency permit. A whole year since I met Katie and Jenny for the first time. A whole year since me and Shelb, a Canadian, an Australian, a Chinese and a Russian hit up the infamous Lan Kwai Fong for the first time. That trip was beyond memorable, and I must admit, I was a bit nervous to head back to HK in case it didn’t live up to those memories… It was a very different trip, but it’s safe to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
So Wednesday I woke early and headed to West Gate and waited for my free shuttle bus to Shunde Ferry Port. 9am I was on my way, just me and a fellow GCS employee taking up the bus. The ferry terminal was super easy to navigate, there was literally no way that you could go wrong, unless you forgot to fill in a China Departure card (yep, that’s me – but luckily my friend had a spare so I quickly filled it out and went through inspection.). Onto the ferry we went and we were shown to our pre designated seats. I had been told the ferry takes somewhere between 1 hour to 3 hours… It was bang in the middle, 2 hours later we were docking up at Hong Kong… crazy!! I had such a rush of excitement and pride when I wandered out onto the streets of HK in search of a metro after getting off the ferry. I decided to do this, I decided that I would just nip over to HK, I booked the hostel, I bought my ferry tickets and organised it all by myself. Now, I know I sound like a child, “Oh my god I did something all on my own!!”, but, despite being 23, it felt crazy. I was, and am, in total control of my own life, I decide where I go, what I do, and it just so happens to be that I get to make all those decisions while living in Southern China with the rest of Asia just at the end of my fingertips.
I got into Austin metro station, purchased 2 day tickets, and started my journey to Check Inn Hostel. I remembered from the 5 days me and Shelb had spent jumping on and off metros last year how inconvenient it was to have to keep buying tickets and ensuing we had exact change each time, so purchasing the day tickets was at the top of my list. 3 line changes later I was on Hong Kong Island and leaving Wan Chai metro station via exit B2. A short walk later I’d checking in, been taken up to the 14th floor, and assigned a bed. Thankfully, it was the middle bunk of a 3 levelled bed, the bottom “bed” being simply a “mattress” on the floor. No time to stop and rest, I had just over an hour to meet Candice, Julie and Richard at “the closest restaurant to the Giant Buddha” all the way at the end of Tung Chung metro line on the mainland. This did not happen. We’d given it a window of between 2-2.30pm to meet at the said location. By the time I’d got off the metro, bought a ticket for the cable car, and taken the very very long ride up to the mountain, it was 3pm. I decided to just head up to the Buddha and explore for myself, I could always find them again later at the hostel. They had spent the morning hiking up to the Buddha from quite far away, so I didn’t expect them to hang around and wait for me to arrive!
The walk up to the base of the Buddha was filled with people, cows and shops. I weaved my way through, a woman on a mission; to make it to the top before the heavens opened, like the dark heavy clouds above were threatening to do… Standing at the base of the steps leading up to the Giant Buddha, I had a flashback to the Batu Caves in KL. I started the assent, stopping to get a few snaps (and some more air in my pathetic lungs), and I quickly made it to the top. I’d just stopped to take some pictures and let the sheer size of the Buddha sink in when I heard; “Oh look there she is!!”. I turned to find Candice, Julie and Richard heading towards me. So surreal to bump into friends I’d not seen in over 3 months at the base of this immense piece of Buddhist history! They filled me in on their hike, pointing to a peak way above the clouds while we wandered around the base completing a complete 360. As we hit about 180` around the base, the rain started. Just a bit of spatter at first, then in true Southern Asia style, came down with vengeance. We stopped to get out our umbrellas and continued to head down the 100s of steps back to base level. It was incredible to look back up at the Buddha in the rain. On my way up I’d had to weave in and out, wait for others to move, and fight my way up the steps. Now? Due to the rain, there was only 4 people on the whole staircase.
We took sanctuary from the rain in a weird mix of a place of worship and gift shop, where, weirdly, I bumped into a couple who work in the grade below me at Country Garden School! A really sweet couple who seem to have their little life pretty well planned out. I chatted to them for a while, listening to their Hong Kong stories, and taking mental note of a few places they suggested for food and drinks. (One being Shake ‘em Buns: Burger Bar which I actually did pay a visit to!) Once the rain had calmed down we decided to head back towards the cable cars and bus terminal. Candice kindly bought a ticket and joined me on the cable car, while Richard and Julie chose the bus option. Me and Candice had a good catch up on the ride back down towards the metro and after getting a little lost heading back to the hostel (sorry Candice but maybe next time we listen to me for directions! 😉 haha ), we had a quick turnaround before heading back out to find Katie.
Katie had made a reservation for the 3 of us at a cute little place called Savoye Bistro not far from Tin Hau metro stop. We had a lovely meal of fish and chips, with a side of garlic bread, and a great catch up. We talked about Katie graduating and now on the never ending up-hill battle of trying to find that first graduate job. Her long distant relationship that’s still going strong, my new friends and work, Candice’s start of her 3rd year at Dulwich, and everything else. We were there for a few hours just chatting and enjoying each other’s company. Just gone 9 we paid the bill and Katie walked us back to the metro. She gave us both a small gift and we hugged our goodbyes. On the metro back we decided it was too early to call it a night and headed to an awesome bar just down from our hostel, The Optimist.
My love for this place is strong, and we were only there for a couple of hours. The décor was awesome; kind of greenhouse, come workshop, come ship, come fancy cocktail bar… god knows, it was just cool. All the staff were internationals, and it just gave off an awesome vibe. The menu was awesome, with little stories and illustrations. They even had an in house beer; The Optimist, which was served in a tankard. I told you… awesome. So me and Candice sat at the bar, sipping from our tankards, chatting away, catching up on everything from the past few months, getting all the gossip and stories from the new Dulwich employees and every details of our lives. It was great. I miss that girl a lot; she’s thankfully now one of those friends that we can just pick up where we left off.
The next morning we headed out for breakfast to The Coffee Academics. The others were all prepped and ready for a hike, camp and hike trip with Ringo the new PE teacher. After what was a pretty fancy breakfast, we headed our separate ways, hugged it out again, and promised to plan a weekend meet up somewhere between Suzhou and me. That started my day of just me time in the wonderful city that is Hong Kong. I’d done a little research and looking about on the internet in the morning making rough plans of where I wanted to head. My first stop was Causeway Bay, I’d found a page on the internet about a postcard café, which, I’ve missed like crazy. But, after over an hour of wandering around, checking street signs, entering and exiting different metro exits, I decided that it wasn’t going to happen. I found a cute little (and I mean little) café just off Times Square and took refuge from the midday sun and rush of people while enjoying a mango and banana smoothie. I packed up my things and headed back onto the metro (I told you, the day passes for HK metro are life savers). I headed to Central and got off ready for an afternoon of aimless wandering taking in the city and all it has to offer. At Central you can head to Soho, the art area, and the infamous Lan Kwai Fong. I must admit, the magic and excitement of the crazy drinking street is nowhere to be seen during the day and if you weren’t aware of its night time alter ego, you’d pass it thinking it was just a normal old road. I wandered around for a couple of hours, stumbling upon little street markets, pieces of art, and cool alternative shops.
I found a few places to sit, people watch, read etc. and did some serious time looking in my 3rd Lush shop of the day. I spent a bit of money (understatement) in Lush, including an awesome tote bag with serious Bill & Ted feels. I headed back onto the metro and back to Causeway Bay after a pretty dam good burger, to try one last time to find that bloody postcard shop… To no avail I thought it time to head back to the hostel and rest up for a bit. It was 6pm and it’s surprisingly tiring wandering around a city all day! I spent the rest of the evening in my bunk, reading, chatting to people, and getting my fill of non-VPN life before heading back to mainland madness in the morning.
It’d been almost 3 months since my last check in at a hostel, and that seems to be the limit of how long I can go without them. I was surprised at how natural, easy and good it felt to slip into my bunk, unpack into my locker, and sleep in a room with 8 other people. I felt completely at home, happy and content wandering around the city, exploring, and even being on my own in a city of roughly 8million people. It still surprises me the sheer amount of Westerners you see in Hong Kong, it seems so much easier to live comfortably there… if only the prices were the same as mainland I’d move there in a heartbeat!