Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring is Springing!

Although it's still cold, it's been less cold than the horrors of November - February and there are signs of one of Korea's two good seasons - spring. I even went without my coat one day last week! Amazing. School is back in full force which has meant feeling super tired/lazy in the evenings and weekends in. I ventured out last weekend and bought myself an assortment of weird planters from my favourite shop - Daiso.

Asparagus, blueberries, basil, tomatoes, strawberries. 
 Each kit costs about 1,000 won ($1.10 NZ, man the exchange rate isn't doing good things for me at the moment.) Inside you'll find everything you need to get planting.

Left - right - seed baggie, earth, pot.
 The basil and asparagus came with a bag of loose soil, but the blueberries, tomatoes and strawberries came with little dried pucks of compacted earth, quite a bit like those coin-sized flannels/face towels you sometimes get, somewhere. I emptied the pucks into the pot, topped them up with water and after a few minutes I was greeted with what looked like a fresh turd of earth in each cup.

There's about three seeds per planter, so I followed the instructions and I'm waiting patiently for them to sprout. I've also rejuvenated our herb garden from last year - the sage, thyme and oregano survived the winter, I'm on crop 2 of basil and coriander.

It's not quite gorgeous cherry blossom season yet, but there's dots of colour poking through the grey and brown landscape. Korea isn't pretty in winter so I'm glad for the change. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Some Hong Kong Random

One of the streets seen from the Mid-Levels escalator.

I think this was practice for a cultural day, or something. There was a large-ish group of women, dressed up and dancing. Nearby there was another group practicing a hip-hop routine.

Herb-heavy jelly at Yum Cha.

The local TAB/Bookies on Lamma Island. Everyone was huddled under a tiny, smoky canopy watching horse racing on a TV which is locked into a metal cabinet when not in use.

I've always wanted to see a Geoduck, because they're so weird.  I think I'd forgotten that they're huge too - these are around 40cm long, including the.. uh... protrusion.

In the lead up to Chinese New Year, many of the stores were guarded by mandarin trees laden with perfect fruit. I thought they were fake until I saw one which had been harvested by a passerby.

Bright lights in the back seat.

Tons of super cheap vending machine knick-knacks. I bought several and I've posted them home to the lucky few.

My last meal - airport BBQ pork buns, bubble tea and custard tarts. I really need to find some dim sum in Korea.

Hazy Hong Kong as I fly out.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A little more Hong Kong

Sorry for the sporadic blogging, school has started again and I've gone from doing nothing to being zonked from teaching. Hong Kong seems like it was forever ago unfortunately, and looking through these pictures makes me miss it.

On my last full day in Honkers (it's a real nickname for HK, I swear), Sandy and I took the subway to Lantau Island to see the Tian Tan Buddha. Lantau is almost on the end of one of the subway lines, and close to Hong Kong Disneyland so the train was full of tourists for both places. Although the area outside of the station wasn't crowded, and it was a weekday, the line to get to the Buddha was ridiculously long, we waited for over an hour (fortunately there was wi-fi, thanks Hong Kong!).  

Allllll of the tourists.
There's multiple ways to get to the Buddha but I think the gondola we took is the most popular. It offers some sweet views over Hong Kong's hilly terrain, and is ideal if you've got a thing for airports. Hong Kong can be pretty smoggy but the day we went was clear and fine and cloudless. Plus we shared the gondola with someone who was taking pictures with an iPad, something I find endlessly hilarious.

Buddha in the distance.
We disembarked from the gondola after a brief but beautiful journey, and made our way to the Buddha. As I said above, it was a spectacular day and all I could see of the statue was an outline while we climbed. 

When we got to the top, Sandy and I posed for some customary Steph facing and then had a look around.

Statues making offerings to the Buddha. Every flat surface on these statues (especially the lotus blossoms they're kneeling on) was covered in coins.

The view from behind the Buddha - a bit hazy, but still gorgeous.

Blue skies and brass.
After basking in the sunshine for a while we headed back down. The area at the base of the Buddha is super touristy, there's a ton of restaurants and souvenir shops lining one street. This is where I indulged in some weird candy purchases, postcards and some snacks. Specifically these babies:

On the left is a totally crap Mango flavoured 'Drumstick,' or 'Trumpet' as they are more sensibly called in New Zealand. It was a hot day and I was excited about nomming on something cold and refreshing, I ended up binning this one (rare, for me. Something has to be truly gross before I stop eating it.) I looked around for a replacement and was elated to find the objects on the right - frozen, sugar coated Hawthorn Berries. I ate a ton of these when we were in Beijing, and I've looked for them fruitlessly (har har) since. I even thought I'd found some in Taiwan and was crestfallen when what I'd bought was pickled sour plums. The frozen version of the berries isn't as good, but it was close enough for me. 

We hopped the gondola and then the subway back to Hong Kong central, and attempted to get the Peak Tram for a sweet sunset view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The line was, again, atrocious so we hopped in a cab and saved ourselves a few dollars and a lot of time.

Crowded taxi and tram queues.
We reached the summit as the sun was setting, bought ourselves a glass of wine and watched the light show. The view was astounding, and my camera is (still) really crap at night pictures so this is what I'll offer. Just go to Hong Kong, it's rad.

After a coffee and some time to write postcards, we went out for an incredible Mexican meal and my time in Hong Kong was pretty much done, save some frantic shopping for goodies the morning before my flight. I had such an awesome time, I'm really looking forward to when I can return. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lazy Touristing

After Sunday's badass tour of Hong Kong, we opted for a lazy Monday and what better way to lazily tourist than hop on a double decker bus and take pictures from it. Sandy and I headed down to the waterfront and got a Rickshaw bus ticket each (50 HDK = $7.85 NZD) and some seats up top. We spent a couple of hours winding through the city listening to commentary from tinny speakers and enjoying a cool breeze and sunshine. Here's some pictures:

Tram/Bus altercation.

Temple we didn't visit #2.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Boxes, Beaches, Beers, Bitter Tea and Bright Lights

My second day in Hong Kong was a Sunday, and one of the first things I saw when we left Sandy's apartment was a bunch of what can only be described as cardboard box villages. Hundreds of forts had been constructed and they lined the walkways and overpasses as we headed towards the waterfront. Sandy explained that Sunday is the one day per week that Hong Kong's domestic workers have off. As these women aren't paid much, the common thing to do is meet friends with plates of food and packs of cards and spend the day in box forts chatting and eating and enjoying each other's company. 

I gawped unattractively into as many of the forts as possible. Some of them were seriously impressive, although Sandy told me that the best are outside one of the buildings in the downtown area - we didn't make it there, so I'll have to visit Hong Kong another time for the full effect.

Our first proper stop was for Yum Cha. Oh my god, I love Yum Cha, especially since I've started eating meat (sorry, people who still think it's weird). I haven't found a Yum Cha/Dim Sum place in Korea, and Korean Chinese food is nothing like what I've had in New Zealand. 

The restaurant we visited was super popular and we had to wait a bit over an hour for a table, crouching on the stairs outside the restaurant and waiting for our number to be called. At one point a full bridal party came in to eat, still in their wedding regalia. It was hilarious watching the bride hitch up her voluminous skirt and maneuver her way through the tables and around the carts. Having Yum-Cha-ed several times in Wellington I know that a long wait means damn good food and I wasn't disappointed.

Tastiest item - soup dumplings on the right.

We stuffed ourselves silly (as is appropriate for Yum Cha) and hopped on a ferry to Lamma Island. Lamma's a bit of a Hong Kong hippie enclave, it was a change of pace from Hong Kong island in the most literal sense. There's few or no motorised vehicles on the island, and most people travel by bike or on foot. The ferry pier was stacked with hundreds of bicycles waiting for commuters to return home and collect them.

Sandy decided we'd walk to the beach which is about 15 minutes from the main town centre. First, we picked up some supplies:

Sandy is about half as excited as I was.

We got lost on the way to the beach (an incredible accomplishment, the island is tiny) and found a small temple. Sandy negotiated a decent price for an offering and then we both forgot to go back and donate when we had appropriate change. Oops. 

Lamma Aquarium

Despite getting lost on the first try, once we found the right path the route was pretty straightforward and we ended up on a small, pretty beach ringed by seafood restaurants and hikeable hills. We sat down, drank a NZ beer and watched the people go by. 

I got hungry on my walk back to the ferry and bought a Hong Kong style egg waffle.  I think I prefer the frosting-laden, sickly-sweet Korean version and I ended up attempting to feed most of it to Sandy and Lamma's stray/random dog population. The dogs weren't keen on it so maybe I got a bad one.

After Lamma we took the subway to Kowloon and visited Langham Place (a mall) purely to ride the Longest Escalator I've Ever Seen. We actually had to ride a few short escalators to get there, and each time I kinda rolled my eyes and thought 'this escalator is tiny,' but when we finally arrived I was too scared to be snarky. There's two, and together they span eight floors and go up 76 metres. There's some pretty long escalators in Seoul too, but they're usually hidden away in odd subway stations, not crammed full of shoppers like this one. We got to the top and then went right back down.

After the escalator, Sandy took me to a little hole in the wall store for my first of two bitter teas. It's apparently good for your health, but it tastes awful and I wasn't allowed to leave until I'd choked it down. After looking around the shop for a bit I realised that I think it contained turtle. Turtle!

 We went for a bit of a shop but I'm not much of a market fiend so I didn't buy anything and I took a series of terrible blurry pictures of lights and signs. After a long day of walking and not eating, we stopped at a fast food place and got bitter tea #2 and a pineapple bun.

This version is a super strong, milky black tea, not a turtle infused herb concoction like earlier. When Tom still drank tea he'd say 'there is no strong tea - only weak men.' I'm here to say there is strong tea, damnit.

We took the ferry back to Hong Kong Island and checked out the lights before making our way back to Sandy's to drink some soju and head to bed. Not a bad day.