Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hong Kong 2010 - A Philippino Street Festival

Hong Kong has a large Philippino population made up of mostly domestic housemaids. Some are very highly educated, but are willing to work in Hong Kong as domestic helpers for the higher pay and better lifestyle. According to Wikipedia, there are as many as 140,000 Philippinos in Hong Kong, and this is most evident on Sundays – their official day off, when they will congregate at their favourite gathering places such as World-Wide House, HSBC Bank and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

While walking around Hong Kong Island on a Sunday, we bumped into this Philippino Street Festival. While they are far away from home, the sharing of their community spirit and culture will no doubt help to sooth some of their homesickness. It was a really colourful, noisy and joyous celebration of Philippino culture.

The joy and festivity was really infectious.

A little bit of the Philippines right on the streets of Hong Kong.

(The recent tragic tourist bus hijack incident in Manila in August 2010 – where a number of Chinese and Hong Kong tourists were killed, and the bungled handling of the hostage incident by Philippino police - have soured relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines. Hopefully this will not have too much adverse effect on the Philippino community in Hong Kong as it was the crazy act of a deranged man. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hong Kong 2010 - A Taoist Festival

Behind the modern no-nonsense façade of Hong Kong is a society steeped in tradition. Many Hong Kongites are deeply religious and superstitious. Fung Shui is taken very seriously here and is believed to make or break entire business empires. Even famous foreign architects who may never have heard of "Fung Shui" in their life would need to take heed of its requirements when working here. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are the major religions, and you don’t need to go far to find a temple as there are more then 600 in the small territory.

After our dim sum lunch at Maxim’s, we bumped into this Taoist festival right in front of the Old Town Hall. The bright red attire of the Taoist priests was a shock to the mostly grey and monotone Hong Kong skyline.

I don't know what these were - they look like mini-temples, probably offerings to the gods. Their intricate designs and bright colours attracted a lot of attention.

There was a ceremony at another corner - presided over by a priestess in a bright pink and blue robe.

This was an unexpected treat which added some colours to our trip.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hong Kong 2010 - Dim Sum at Maxim's City Hall

Hong Kong is famous for its dim sum, and Maxim’s at City Hall is undoubtedly one of the most famous venues to sample this popular Cantonese delicacy. The restaurant is located in the City Hall complex, just opposite the old Hong Kong City Hall building. If you go there, be prepared for a long wait. The queue is notoriously bad - typically 45 min to over 1 hour. Still people are willing to stand around waiting for their table - including us.

When you arrive at the restaurant, a waitress checks the number of people in the group and put you on a queue. When your number is called, make sure you are there or they will give the table to the next in line.

The opulent dining hall.

Maxim’s still have the old dim sum trolleys which they push from table to table and you can order what you want right off the trolleys. This is probably the main reason why it is so popular. Most other dim sum places in Hong Kong have done away with this tradition and instead use order chits, which takes away some of that traditional dim sum experience.

Maxim’s definitely takes the crown as far as variety of dim sums is concerned. However in terms of taste and quality, there are better places in town. It is also not cheap, our bill came up to over HKD 600 ! And that was for only 2 adults and 2 children. (We did order a huge amount of dim sums !)

Steamed Prawn Balls and Tofu.

The famous Polo Buns with Char Siew Filling. I honestly can't understand why these are so popular. There's too much skin for my taste.

Char Siew Puffs. The filling was a bit too sweet.

Red Bean Baos.

Kailan with Oyster Sauce. These were really good - cooked just right with a crunchy texture.

Har Cheong - Prawn Rolls. These were good - very fresh and sweet prawns inside, and good skin texture.

Crispy Springrolls.

Har Kau. The skin was a bit thick, but the prawn filling was really delicious.

Siew Mai. There's more prawn then pork in the filling. Yummy !

Yam Puffs with a creamy chicken filling.

Lo Pak Kou - Pan Fried Raddish Cakes - one of my favourites. These were not too bad.

Mango Pudding - very good. Rich fresh mango taste.

Everything was good, but not great. For the price you would expect a mind-blowing dim sum experience, but you'll have to look elsewhere. And I can’t understand how some of the diners can sit and read their newspapers, taking their sweet time – when they know there is a long line waiting outside. I guess when you live in Hong Kong, you get used to it. In some of the dim sum places, you literally have to stand next to the table to wait for your turn, or somebody else will grab it !

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hong Kong 2010 - Nathan Hotel

Being one of the busiest financial centres in the World, accommodation in Hong Kong is not cheap. The average 5 star hotel would cost upwards of RM 1,000 a night, and the better ones even more. For tourists on a budget, the choice is usually down to 4 or 3 star hotels. After a fair bit of searching on the Net, I found a hotel which is reasonably priced (by Hong Kong standards), very well located and comes with good recommendations on Trip Advisor. It's a 4 star (more like 3 1/2) hotel on Nathan Road - called simply Nathan Hotel.

During our visit, the hotel was undergoing some renovations and part of the lobby was cordoned off. The lobby is quite small but well appointed. The room was a surprise - nicely decorated and very spacious. It was more then we had hoped for and great for 2 adults and 2 kids.

The best thing about the hotel is the location which is right in the centre of action in Kowloon. All the shopping areas, night markets, dai pai tongs are nearby. In fact Temple Street is just across the road.

The hotel exterior is nothing to shout about.

Entrance is quite nice, just off Nathan Road.

Small but cosy lobby.

And the room - spacious and quite nicely decorated.

Our stay at Nathan Hotel was very pleasant. It is good value at a great location.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hong Kong 2010 - Temple Street Dai Pai Tongs

Most Hong Kongites would tell you that the best places to eat in Hong Kong are not the 3-star restaurants but actually the Dai Pai Tongs - small roadside establishments that have been a hallmark of HK dining since time immemorial. The authorities are always trying to clean up these popular eating places as they deem these unhygienic and incompatible with the modern image of HK, but many have stubbornly held on to their turf and more importantly - they are as popular as ever with locals as well as the expats and visitors.

One of the most popular Dai Pai Tong areas is at Temple Street in Kowloon. Here you find tons of outlets running from sizable shops to tiny holes in the wall, with the dining tables spilling onto the streets at night. Amid the smell, activities and chaos of the Temple Street Night Market, having a meal here is one of the best ways to sample the “real” Hong Kong. As Hong Kong is an island and in fertile fishing ground, the emphasis here is on seafood. You can get anything from crabs, prawns, oysters and squids to sea cucumbers and abalone. The variety is endless as long as you are willing to pay. Go with a local or you may be slaughtered.

The choice is endless. How to make up your mind ?

Enticing "Lou Wei" - cooked meat and sausages and tripe usually served cold.

After you have had your fill on the "Main Courses", there are also lots of desserts to try.