Our remaining days in Hong Kong were spent on school and socializing. It was a pleasant shift from the pell-mell touristing and travelling of the previous few months. Our little apartment on the eighth floor of a low-rise (for Hong Kong) waterfront building had begun to feel like home.
Among our friends, we were living in one of the more luxurious apartments — its spacious 550 square feet somehow managed to fit two separate bedrooms and a “dry” bathroom (i.e. a bathroom where the shower is separated from the toilet and sink by a glass enclosure). We paid handsomely for this privilege — our monthly rent was HK$22,500, which (at the time) was roughly CA$3,000.
I imagine that you are anxious to behold the luxury of our accommodations. Well, here you go:
Snarking at the cramped quarters and ludicrous cost aside, we had grown to be quite fond of our little apartment — far more than our initial impressions might have suggested. Our friends’ stories of gecko infestations and slum lords crashing on their couches certainly helped us appreciate our own tidy and well-managed building.
Our building also came with a rooftop patio, complete with barbecue. We didn’t have many chances to use this while jetting around Asia, but a few weeks back at home base gave us time to experiment. We invited a friend from school, Dominik Swierad, over for delicious cooked meats.
Our hunger for assorted meats did not end with the rooftop barbecue, though. We had heard tales of Sammy’s Kitchen, a Western steakhouse nestled in the heart of Hong Kong. It was a real hit with foreign students yearning for a taste of home, and we were determined to give it a try for ourselves.
Although it was a narrow race, I think that Sammy might have won over the hearts (and stomachs) of my compatriots, notwithstanding my mad BBQ skillz.
Of course, we did not spend our entire time in Hong Kong eating assorted meats. We also got some schoolwork done. One memorable project involved Kat and me giving a joint presentation to our PRC Intellectual Property Law class at Hong Kong University.
We planned a pretty typical classroom presentation, which would include throwing questions out into the audience. We had brought candies to entice students to answer, but we had also brought a metaphorical stick — we warned the students that, if no one volunteered, we would be selecting someone to answer. (Yes, in this metaphor, the candies are a carrot, which is a little confusing. Stay with me.)
It turns out that this did not go over well. Not only could we not get anyone to volunteer, it dawned on us that we had not witnessed any local student speak in class. Not just on that day or in that class, but ever. HKU students were a silent bunch. Undeterred, I picked a student and repeated the question.
The student, unfortunately, had not been paying the close attention that our meticulously-planned presentation deserved. He had no idea he was being spoken to, which was not helped by the fact that I did not know his name and identified him only as “striped shirt”. Eventually, his seat mates clued him in, and (after looking behind him to ensure that I was not actually calling out for the student behind him) wordlessly pantomimed that he had no idea what the answer and/or question were. The instructor leapt in to save our mortified subject and suggested we move on.
Defeated, we returned to the non-participatory portion of the presentation. In a show of good faith, I called out one last time — “OK, thanks for playing”, I said, as I tossed a candy towards ol’ stripy. The student, meanwhile, had already returned to his internal reverie, and did not notice the candy sail by his head. He had to scramble on hands and knees to the seats behind him to collect his reward, at which point I heard the only words he uttered in class, almost at a whisper: “thank you.”
I had not come to this class to crush the spirits and bend the bodies of local students, but this appears to be what I had inadvertently done. Kat still ribs me about my callous reduction of this poor student to a broken shell of a person. It was not my finest moment.
Not every school project at HKU involved object lessons in colonial power dynamics. I am pleased to report that I successfully wrote several papers without subjugating any local individuals.
While I was writing one of my papers, Amelia and Kat took a day off to go have tea and do some Christmas shopping. The British and the Chinese are both well-known for their love of tea, so it should be no surprise that Hong Kong is something of a nexus for tea aficionados.
I’m not partial to tea, myself, but Amelia and Kat count themselves among the rank of the steeping-obsessed. Hong Kong presented a whole universe of new and unfamiliar teas, and my traveling companions were excited to chart them out. They stopped in for high tea at TWG (“The World’s Greatest Tea”), which stocked a truly dizzying number of teas.
After sampling a tremendous variety of beverages, Amelia and Kat spent the evening in a street market, hunting for Christmas gifts. By this point it was mid-December, and we were preparing to return home.
When we flew into Hong Kong, we had purchased one-way tickets, as we didn’t know whether we’d want to spend Christmas in Hong Kong (for the sake of novelty) or Canada (for the sake of tradition). With the end of the semester now approaching, the answer was clear: we were very keen on heading home.
Before we headed home, however, there were a few boxes we wanted to check off. The first was going to dim sum — although our culinary adventures were varied during our trip, somehow we had managed to live in Hong Kong for four months without once getting dim sum. Amelia and I rectified this late one night (or, really, early one morning — it was around 4am) shortly before we left. We went to a 24-hour dim sum spot just around the corner from our apartment, where we got seated with strangers and ordered more-or-less at random off a Chinese menu. It was a delightful meal.
The other thing that we wanted to do harkened all the way back to our first day in Hong Kong: eating at Jumbo, the floating restaurant in Aberdeen. This was a somewhat ritzier affair than the 24-hour dim sum spot.
The restaurant is split into different wings and rooms, with different areas sporting different styles. We were seated in the Dragon Court, a Ming-inspired room with lots of pottery and stonework.
Our route to the room was lined with impressive dragon statues, thrones, and other artifacts, which we took a few moments to gawk at. Our host waited patiently; I think he was used to dealing with tourists.
The food itself was delightful. I have discovered over the course of our travels that my palate is not precisely calibrated to appreciate the virtues of many varieties of Chinese cuisine, but the stuff they were serving up at Jumbo really hit the spot.
It helped that a cook rolled out a stovetop and cooked our scallops to order.
The night out at Jumbo was our last hurrah. We spent the next day packing, cleaning up, and generally preparing to head back home — our flight home would be the following morning.
In this case, “our” refers to Amelia and me. Kat would fly home a few days later.
We got up early in the morning and, before long, found ourselves waiting for our flight at Hong Kong International Airport.
I’d like to say that we spent that time contemplating our time traveling through Asia, but we had woken up way too early for that. Instead, we sat, bleary-eyed, waiting for our plane and considering the relative merits of napping in the terminal vs. napping on the plane.
As it happens, we did not actually fall to sleep. There were two extraordinarily loud men seated behind us having a boisterous conversation in a foreign language (Farsi, maybe?). This meant that, due to the magic of the international date line, our experience of December 19th was 40 hours long, and we napped for nary a wink of it.
We were sanguine about the situation, though — we figured that being sleep-deprived would help us adjust to the time difference. By the time we landed in Vancouver, where we had a 12-hour layover before our flight up to Prince George for Christmas with our families, we had resigned ourselves to sleeplessness.
We had not resigned ourselves to foodlessness, however. We had only one goal during our layover: getting a proper burger and fries at Steamworks, a regular haunt among our friends. A few hours after we landed, we did just that, meeting up with a group of friends from Amelia’s MA cohort for a quick homecoming celebration.
After feasting on familiar, artery-clogging fare, we returned to Vancouver International Airport. After four months, dozens of flights, a dozen cities, and over a hundred hours spent in transit, we were just a 55-minute flight away from home.
There has never been a longer 55 minutes. But it passed, and soon we were home in the wintry North. At last.
It was a tremendous journey, and it has been a pleasure (if a delayed one) to chronicle our travels. We have visited Xi’an, Shanghai, Beijing, Macau, Singapore, Osaka, Hiroshima, Koyasan, Kyoto (several times), Tokyo (twice), Kansai, Manila, Cebu, and various parts of Hong Kong. We left with tens of thousands of photographs, and even more memories.
We had planned to visit still other places — Delhi was next on the list — but at some point our desire to see new places was outpaced by our desire to see old ones.
We may return some day to continue our exploration. But not this day. This day we were back to snowy mountains and spangled trees.
There is nothing like travel to make you appreciate home.