Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Breakfast Club

If you want eggs Benedict to feed your hangover (this isn't Swansea anymore, it's Hong Kong daaaarling - no more Upland's Diner Specials) then there's only one place to go. Well, in actual fact two: The Breakfast Club on Peel Street in Soho or The Breakfast and Supper Club on Leighton Road in Causeway Bay. Same breakfast menu.

The food is worth the money. I think it's about $70HKD for that culinary delight but you'll spend more on a fresh smoothie, so thick they give you an extra wide straw. You'll spend $100HKD (£8).

The venue in Soho is a small, bright, light cafe with some outdoor seating at the back and a ceiling high shelf spread with magazines. It is generally quite busy and mostly occupied by French expats. The other outlet is on the first floor, has dark wooden flooring and furniture and feels more like somewhere you'd want to have your dinner (or supper). Both feel really European inside, from the decor and the menu.

We've eaten out there more than anywhere (except Paisano's pizzeria). I rate it. Best breakfast in HK for sure. And if anyone from either of these two delicious eateries is reading this and want to thank me for the endorsement I'll take the payment in eggs please. Mmmm goi.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Tai Long (walk) Wan

The 1st of July is a public holiday in Hong Kong. It's the day they celebrate their independence from the UK, and 2012 was the 15th anniversary. The 1st of July is also James's birthday. He gets a gigantic government funded fireworks display over Victoria Harbour just for him - king of hong kong. Thanks Hong Kong!

To see in his 26th year, the two of us plus Ed and Anthony caught the two buses to Sai Kung. And that was more complicated than it sounds. Thankfully smart phones and their maps apps are pretty handy (apple I'm talking to you, if you want to send me a new iPhone that would be grand). Also, another Hong Kong navigational device we are occasionally able to benefit from is Ant as he speaks Cantonese (or at least he claims to, I have my suspicions as his enquiries never generally get us very far, but instead tend to anger locals. My theory is his accent is shit and they can smell that he was raised in the UK a mile away, therefor hold him in contempt for betraying his roots and being all Western and hanging around a bunch of lost looking round eyed tourists).

When we got to Sai Kung we had to catch another bus to Sai Kung Country Park but this bus hardly operates and being that it was already the afternoon we decided we should catch a taxi as far as it's possible for any vehicle to take you. By this time we were time wasting. It's difficult to walk past a McDonalds with these boys without one of them deciding they need a snack or second breakfast, and after already stocking up on Starbucks iced refreshments (both outlets never more than a stones throw away from one another in HK, or from anything in living soul will go without coffee or questionable burgers in this city EVER - and I say coffee, but it seemed these hideous looking iced green tea lattes were the 2012 Summer beverage of choice) we were running somewhat later than originally planned. It wasn't a short journey to our rural destination by any means and we hadn't even reached the end of the transportation changes yet.

We were headed for Tai Long Wan, otherwise known as Big Wave Bay. From where the taxi dropped us off we had about a forty minute downhill walk. It is the most beautiful place I've seen in Hong Kong by a million miles. On the walk, you look down the hillside at massive natural reservoirs filled with bright turquoise, untainted pure water. They're encased by gigantic, sloped, desert brown rock topped with a thicket of green so dense you get lost just staring at it. It is stunning.

The dirt path soon turns to steep tarmac lined with occasional street lights as the gradient increases towards the end of the trail, which feels most bizarre given the natural surrounding and remoteness of the area. You won't find a 7/11 or Circle K or Starbucks or McDonald's down there...yet - it's only a matter of time.

Out of nowhere I was surprised to see a few houses and even a street sign that read 'Sai Wan Village' (the Cantonese version will be so far removed it doesn't bare thinking about). A woman was sat in her garden near a plastic table which was by the path. On the table was a selection of drinks. Seeing as we hadn't hardly seen a sole the entire journey it did beg the question as to wether it was big business? Hight of summer, public holiday and sunny but not a biter in sight. Maybe it wouldn't be worth opening Maccy D's or Starbeezees down here after all?

Slightly further ahead from what I thought was the business tycoon of the village was a cafe on the beach front, which I wasn't expecting but was surprisingly pleased by. I wasn't hungry but it's always good to know there's food around. I get grumpy when I'm hungry. Also, a cafe normally has toilet facilities (which is more handy if you're a girl for the obvious physical anatomical reason that boys can pretty much pee anywhere without any bother and girls can struggle to be a discreet outdoor pee-er and retain any dignity - if caught). We didn't stop at the cafe but marched on to find the gold at the end of the rainbow...and it was looking as though we may well encounter a rainbow as the skies turned suddenly to grey as we continued on past the cafe.

Typical. After an entire morning of glorious uninterrupted sunshine, once we had eventually come within a matter of minutes from our ultimate destination, someone's rain dance has been answered. We were just a few minutes past the cafe when we felt the first few slight droplets begin to fall. Whilst we discussed the possibility of returning to cafe until it passed over, what can only be described as a torrential downpour opened above us, so heavy there wasn't even time to run back to the now glorious looking shack behind us. It was painful to be in it, every stinging drop felt cold and needle-like on my warm (probably some what sunburnt knowing me) skin. We dived under the nearest big tree and huddled like confused baby penguins wondering why our ice (in our case sun) has turned to water?

Not surprisingly, being that we weren't in the UK anymore, this rain miraculously stopped after a few minutes and the wondrous sunshine was restored to all its former glory. I believe this phenomenon of short blasts of heavy rain, appearing to wash out all colour of your surroundings, mixing a brown blur before your eyes, that is moments later replaced by clear dry blue skies and a refreshed healthy landscape, is something that probably only stumps British people. When it rains in Wales, it rains for a week, at least, if not a month, to be honest it's pretty much consistent rain all year round. Forever.

Drenched to the bone we traipsed on like wet rats. The bay itself is large and wraps around the sea in front of it, hugging minute ripples - so much for Big Wave. A river meanders to the ocean shore from a rocky valley on the north side of the beach and if you follow this river upstream, up and over everything in your path you will be greatly rewarded. However, the combination of wet rocks, wet flip flops and wet feet and wet hands does not make for adequate climbing equipment but we got there in the end. Finally we had made it to the long awaited WATERFALL we had all been dreaming of all day long. And it was more impressive than I had come to expect. A tall wall of brown black staggered rock and touches of green algae, more than 5 meters high, encroached on the lower flowing river. Two channels of water cascaded from above, the stronger dispersing into many more as it hit its shorter protruding solid chunks and diverted it in down below in all directions. The crashing water made a loud uninterrupted static noise, and you found yourself talking louder to compensate. But it was such a welcome change to the noise of the city. The biggest bonus of all, bearing in mind it was a public holiday in Hong Kong - a day you normally cant move for the number of people - it's chaos, there was only one other group of people there! It felt like a victory, especially after the rain, we had made this colossal epic journey and we were rewarded with only having to share our prize with a select few - a rare delight.

Now I'm not one for jumping off things into water, I don't know's irrational, I discovered I was a great big scaredy cat rock jumping in Croatia. And in Croatia the water was clearest I've known and I could see every inch of pristine coral and each individual little fish below me and I felt that this was a huge comfort as I detest swimming in dark water. To this day I think a sea monster (they don't even have to be real life aquatic beasts, some of them I just create in my head with huge jaws and teeth and tentacles, the kind Attenborough has never seen the likes of) is going to grab me and drag me to the depths below where before I drown he will slowly kill me and eat me - misogynistic bastard. Needless to say then, the water in the pool below the waterfall was black, full of imaginary demons and to top it off a thick slime squelched between your toes as you stood on the rocks below the water's surface. I attempted a measly flailing swim before my fear got the better of me and I clambered out defeated.

Not only did the boys swim in it but they climbed up the waterfall and jumped off the top like the big balls they are. And no amount of bullying or teasing got me anywhere near it. Instead I watched as their testosterone fuelled attempts to better one another's jumps descended into children's poolside balls games and it became easy to forget James was now 26 not 6. Upon remembering it was actually his birthday and we had a huge waterfront fireworks show to get back for we commenced the even longer journey home. But it had in fairness been totally worth it, or so I thought until started off back UP the trail.

What was a pleasant amble downhill earlier that day was reversed into an intense uphill hike, and this time there was no waterfall at the end of it...just a long long 3 bus journeys home. We emerged from the path sweaty, out of breath and greeted by a big bus queue. The deserted spot our taxi had dropped us off at was now engulfed with hoards of day trippers. Knowing these busses are so infrequent we did something I do not condone: almost as soon as we clasped eyes on the situation a solitary bus crawled up the hill towards us and as everyone was deeply involved in their conversation we discreetly (in my mind at least) jumped the queue and boarded the bus first. An unnerving realisation overcame us as it dawned that if this remote bus stop was busy, a world of chaotic queuing hell awaited us at Sai Kung bus depot.

And we weren't wrong. We queued and queued and queued for a bus, even changing our route home in the hope of cutting our journey. We opted for the bus to the closest MTR station but even once we boarded we sat in bottled necked traffic jams for so long that Ed taught me how to count from one to ten in Cantonese. In doing, so we all realised that when Ed attempts to speak Cantonese he jerks his head with every syllable he utters, like a a chicken nodding as it walks. Yat! Yee! Sam! Say! Mmm! Luk! Chat! Bat! Gao! Sap!

Eventually we caught the MTR. James and I got off as close to Hung Hom as the line went and rather than changing for the line home we jumped in a taxi - the birthday boys favourite mode of transportation. Time was against us now and we both needed to shower and get ready and be at the water front in 30 minutes - I take at least that just to get ready. Ant and Ed still needed to get island side, an even further journey. Shockingly, despite our best efforts, we left our flat 2 minutes after they had started - however, I consider the speed and efficient precision I got ready with was a personal best and I took it as a triumph, regardless of the clear annoyance James experienced at my tardiness. Running, we could hear huge roaring bangs, and the large paranoid part of my brain worried that Hong Kong was under attack and some terrorist group had waited for every inhabitant to line the harbour side before detonating explosives. I was of course wrong. It was the gigantic fireworks booming just behind the building between us and the ocean. They made gigantic echoes that bounced off the towering blocks and rushed down the streets.

We were there within 5 minutes and the show lasted non stop for half an hour. Without a doubt the biggest and best fireworks I've ever witnessed. If anything, and I never thought I'd say this, I was almost kind of over fireworks by the end...but I wouldn't have left before they finished. They illuminated the silhouettes of big rigs and docked ships in the foreground whilst lighting up the backdrop of skyscrapers and dense city behind. We were worried we would have a shitty view this far East but in actual fact, there were hardly any people (in comparison) where we were stood and the view was great, even with the added nautical floating features...I wouldn't have wanted to have been anywhere else, crammed in between millions of people and outsized buildings, being bustled and jostled. We had space to breath where we were. There was a dad holding his baby standing in front of me, and the baby was cute, it wouldn't stop staring at me even though everything else going on behind it was a lot more interesting. The dad turned around, saw me and laughingly started saying to the baby "Gwailo!" which I believe translates into something along the lines of ghost face. It's not used as an insult anymore, it's just what westerners get called there now, but it still amused me. I smiled and waved, I took it as a great compliment that this kid thought I was a more appealing to stare at than the hundreds of beautiful bright bangs in the sky. Either that or I had something on my face.

Ed never made it in time. Ant watched them on the roof his flat - you can't see the sea from up there and the photos he took makes it look as though the roof tops of the buildings in front of him are ablaze with the flaming explosions. Hong Kong is burning.

We went to meet the boys after for drinks, wound up in Senses where me and Ant found an accordion lying around and serenaded James with a duo rendition of 'Pop Goes The Weasel' - me on the keys (a tune I taught myself from a cartoon learn piano book featuring a frog named Chester) and Ant...pumping the air? Both self taught accordionists, it was beautiful.

Monday, 11 March 2013


I like Stanley. I like it a lot less on a public holiday but any other day of the year it's quite charming. A mix of modern European-esque new designs amongst a few old throw backs to the early British colonial days. And I'll be honest, I like feeling like I'm not in Hong Kong sometimes - probably more than I care to admit.

You can catch a bus here from Causeway Bay - between the overhead highway and Happy Valley, next to the underpass. And here you can opt for either a crazy green mini bus or a slightly sturdier double decker - personal preference is advised.

Once you pass the highly favoured drop off points along route of Deepwater Bay and Repulse (yes that is REPULSE, would you believe?) Bay you eventually reach Stanley.

The first stop is above the village at a shopping mall. It's worth getting off here to take in the view of Blake Pier and the old - very British looking - police station which was, until just prior to our visit in 2012, the Maritime Museum (now to be found at Central Pier). This realisation wasn't as much of a disappointment to me as you might think.

There's not a lot of interest in the shopping mall, although it's an interesting modern structure with escalators that allow you to take in the sights that await below, finally depositing you on a large open plaza semi surrounded by continental cafes and bistros.

Plaza. That's a great world, I don't know if that's a personal mental association I make with that world that reminds me of Spanish holidays as a kid but I hope that everyone gets as much satisfaction out of reading the word plaza as I do writing the word plaza and saying the world plaza in my head. Plaza.

You would be forgiven for thinking the mechanical stairs had deceivingly led you out somewhere in Spain or France or Italy or another European country, but the UK because it's too warm for that and people look happy. But there are certainly enough Western faces around for you to at least believe you're no longer on a foreign continent. This is further mind boggling, yet hauntingly familiar, when you spot the typical sea fronted British style pubs amongst the more European seeming restaurants...surely there's not a holiday resort town in the mediterranean that (sadly) doesn't have it's token British pub or five? I vaguely recall it was named The Pelican or some other thing along an ornithological line.

However, there are still a few tiny traces of Hong Kong in Stanley. At the base of the shopping mall, in the opposite direction of everything else, you will find a traditional Tin Hau that has stood there from an earlier time, long before all else that surrounds it. I think it's the oldest in Hong Kong, when the British invaded Hong Kong Stanley was the only populated area on the Island. I read somewhere - so don't mistake this for fact as I have a rather bad habit of taking information I believe to true from something and preaching it to others only to later find out I was wrong - that people worship(ed) a water goddess at a Tin Hau, they are usually near or facing water, and she would protect you or those you prayed for at sea. I went inside this particular temple (they're not uncommon and there's only so many you can see before you've seen them all) and I'm pretty sure there was a huge tiger skin in there from when a big stripy feline had been prowling old Stanley back in the day, go caught and skinned and now hangs on show alongside giant gold slathered Chinese God(desse)s.

Beside the Tin Hau is a cute 'Butterfly Garden' but it must have been off season because I didn't see one. Not a sniff. Not that butterflies are particularly Chinese but the quaint little gardens are, and I suppose the flora and fauna they contain almost certainly is. Also, if you walk along the walled sea front in an arc, past the football pitch there is a small raised area from where elongated triangular red flags billow in the breeze. If you follow the short steps leading up here you shall find another tiny place of worship, a red tiled cubbyhole full of smouldering incense at the feet of small images of idols.

Another Hong Kong style treat at Stanley is it's Market. They love their markets, they've got markets coming out of their ears. Full of tourists, but in my experience far less busy than the Ladies Night Market in Mong Kok. There are some real bargains amongst the hordes of crappy souvenirs, Angry Birds memorabilia, phone cases and slogan t-shirys. James even found himself a GENUINE pair of Hurley Phantom board shorts for $100, less than £10 (value of more than £50 in shops, if not more)! And I do love a bargain, when I blow the dust off my wallet and release the moths, nothing pleases me more than spending less than I should be.

Around the corner from the entrance to the Market you can find Stanley not head here on a weekend unless you enjoy being sat almost on top of, hearing a melting pot of languages being shouted and having sand kicked in your eyes by hyperactive kids. I sunbathed with my hands over my ears and eyes tightly shut for all of ten minutes before grumpily giving up. Having said that, there's an area of beach to the West where the shark net isn't present in the water...even on the busiest day this small section is practically deserted - as though out of fear for sharks learning to breath and walk on land, devouring all mankind in their path. But that suits me just fine and that's where you'll find me, hugging a beached shark, sipping on a Tsing Tao.

At the end of the Summer, the famous Dragon Boat Festival (yes that means a day off work, god bless the Chinese calendar) hold their annual Dragon Boat Race here...if you think weekends are busy, you should see it on this day but that's another story.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


On the top ten list of FREE things to do in Hong Kong (a list of which I googled because the Internet is never wrong and never lies) is a visit to The Peak.

However, this is only free is you live walking distance and have a healthy appetite for hiking (perhaps an exaggeration - let's call it strenuous uphill walking) or have the ability of flight. Otherwise, if you're like me and are unwilling to queue for hours only to pay an extortionate fee in order to ride the traditional old time tram experience to the top, there is a perfectly adequate public bus from just outside the Star Ferry terminal in central (Pier 6) that cost less than 80p ($10 HKD).

So, being that we lived Kowloon side we also combined our hilltop outing to the roof of Hong Kong with yet another top ten (so cheap it's almost) free experience and embarked upon the 20p Star Ferry journey (a personal pleasure and a more pleasing bargain - perhaps I was a stingy sailor or miserly fish in another life) to Central where we aligned for the bus service to The Peak. En route we sipped at Skol's finest tin cans, taking in the ever increasing lofty view from the top deck, roaming along the twisty hillside road -although not a short journey still a good bet that it's quicker than queuing for the tram and allows you the much needed time you need to elevate to the next level on whatever new game you've become unceasingly obsessed with. And in technological Hong Kong you are never alone in this socially acceptable antisocial act. Fact.

Anyway, so far, that's a grand total of less than £1 spent (except for the beers but shhh) and about as free as stuff gets in Hong Kong. The views from both are certainly worth the splurge if it's a clear day, and if it's not such a fine afternoon buy more beers.

The ferry ride is short but sweet, but don't expect it to be as impressive in the opposite direction, it's not. But if you like boats, or want to travel cross harbour on top of the water rather than under it then it's not a bad bet. Swimming is not advised...unless someone bets you a handsome sum of money, then I'd say it's worth a go but don't expect to ever be the same colour ever again.

Getting from A to B by boat, in a city, has to be up there on the (top ten) list of pros for living in Hong Kong. Albeit there aren't many B's but I suppose another pro (also top ten) is that the vast majority of the few B's are islands that don't feel anything like the city and there's nothing quite like hopping on a ferry for half an hour to a quiet village to make you forget that 30 minutes ago you were in one of the busiest places in the world. Even typing it sends shivers of suffocating claustrophobia down my unnerved spine and I'm shuddering at the traumatic flashbacks of the height of humid hustling Summer...sweaty smelly strangers. I do like alliteration.

Sadly, you cant catch a boat all the way to the top of The Peak, that would be something special they should look into. I might even queue and pay top dollar for that sort of service - maybe.

Once at the summit, forget heading to the overcrowded main viewing platform. Instead, plan ahead, avoid spending money on overpriced dining and buy enough cans from the kiosk at the Star Ferry port (that way not only do you have a nice cold beverage for the bus journey but some warm ones for the too too). Inside the shopping complex - where chumps pay and queue (apparently I dislike this scenario more than I previously realised) for the FREE view - head out through a more discreet side door to a small deserted viewing terrace. Hardly anyone seems to chose this latter option, opting not to think for themselves but abidingly follow the signs directing them to the paid entrance. This is not a pleasant experience, you will spend an age trying to jostle your way through mainland tourists who enjoy having a full blown photo shoot against the infamous Hong Kong skyline backdrop. There is nothing to be gained from the extra escalator's elevation apart from mild irritation and frustrating annoyance. I know this because we were those chumps who thought there might be something special up there...but we were also the champs who discovered the until now undisclosed secret balcony.

If timed correctly, you can while away some time watching the city descend into evening as the lights of all the sky scrapers begin to illuminate the darkening dense metropolis below you. Witnessing the view in both it's day and night time glory is really getting your monies worth. Apparently this is becoming an important factor in almost all I do - do not take me to an all you can eat buffet, I may never leave out of principle.

After you're over staring at the concrete jungle you can end the now slightly tipsy excursion with an evening descent on foot through the surrounding dense greenery, along the path leading down to Central. You emerge just around the corner from Wyndham Street and Lan Kwai Fong, nicely located for a well deserved couple of drinks during happy hour. This final reward is sadly not for free...but when you've had such a cheap day, why not end it on a different kind of high? Highly priced beer.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Massage Message

In reference to other amusing posters seen the night of our first trip to the 'American Pool Hall' arcade, on the walk home we spotted this beauty outside a massage parlour:

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


The overly expensive flat we chose to move into was on Wu Hu Street (but just to confuse every round eyes who mat ever need to catch a taxi here you pronounce that Mo Wu Guy in Cantonese - very thoughtful of them to make catching a taxi that bit more easy) in Hung Hom. Close to work for me and conveniently located just 5 minutes from the MTR, bus depot and the Cross Harbour Tunnel - this isn't an up sell or me bragging...I'm still trying to justify to myself it was worth the $14,500 per month for a 1 bed room flat that wasn't even island side.

Near our house was a gaming arcade which was misleading named American Pool Hall, needless to say we initially went there with full intention to play some pool. Anyway, once we'd gone in, been oggled in bemusement by every local in there and had a good snoop around in search of a pool table, we decided we might as well play something.

We watched as kids smashed their way through impossible levels on guitar hero and witnessed a guy destroying the drum solo on band hero - no sweat. Then there were a bunch of games we'd never seen the like of and couldn't make head nor tail of, but these guys were playing them at rapid speed - it was almost a blur. I feel their skills were being wasted away in that building.

Towards the back of the dark, dingey, cigarette smoke filled room (perhaps I should at this point point out that you had to be 16 to enter this vortex) there were a couple of low down digitalised screen topped tables that displayed weird fluorescent fish and sea creatures swimming around...and I couldn't decide if the guy "playing" this table top game was feeding or shooting them in their trippy aquatic wonderland, it looked like something that either a toddler or psychotropic drug user would be into playing. The man sat at this virtual water world was neither, but appearances can be deceiving.

To the right of that menagerie were a few old men, in suits, drinking beers and smoking packs of cigarettes as they sat around a plastic mechanical horse racing game...the kind you make 2p bets on in the UK. Clearly the high rollers table.

Of course there were all your generic shoot 'em up and rallying games amongst the madness too. We almost gave up and surrendered to Time Crisis when we saw a large machine at the end of the row with 3 empty stools in front of it. Under closer inspection we discovered a bizarre Japanese game called Bishi-Bashi - a 1-3 player game which involved hitting your big bright buttons (one red, one blue and one green next to one another, plus a separately higher placed yellow one which is only struck when you complete your level) as fast as possible. Seeing as neither of us could speak let alone read Japanese we could only get a general grasp of the task at hand through a short techno-coloured demo prior to each level. These levels ranged from tickling a sleeping cats nose with a feather in order to wake it up, paparazzi photographing sexy manga girls, skewering flying food with a kebab stick or even ascending a mountain by jumping onto open and closed toilets. It is quite possibly the best game ever created. Needless to say, time and money was indeed spent on this incredible arcade gem.

Oh, and next to this wondrous machine was a over sized poster entitled 'Stop Taking Drugs' - my favourite thing about that is it says "stop" as if it's already quite apparent, a stated fact even, if you are in the environment of this poster you MUST already be taking drugs.

Mmmmmmmeal for One

Park n Shop is one of many supermarkets in Hong Kong and I generally would do my food shopping either there - or Wellcome (but if I had my way and a big enough bank account and lived close enough I'd want to do all my shopping at the Great Food Hall in Pacific Place - it's a food palace).

On one of my first trips to the store in the shopping mall where I worked in Home World of Whampoa Gardens (there are no gardens - it's a lie), Hung Hom, I was perusing the meat aisle when I came across the Hong Kong version of a pre-packed meal for one. There were a few options: diced pork with vegetables, fish head and veg or chicken feet and veg...mmmmmmm yummy. "Where's the cereal? I've seen enough."