at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Tag: Hong Kong (Page 1 of 2)

#GetAtHome in China 8: A Profitable Gamble, Hiking Lion Rock Trail, Hong Kong

My plan in going to Hong Kong had been to seek out the route, more or less along Maclehose Trail, that the Fjällräven Classic’s expansion to Hong Kong will take.

I couldn’t even find out the exact route, though. So, I had already planned to only go on a part of Maclehose Trail, and to detour onto the Lion Rock trail.

Now, there was just one more day left until our flight back to Austria. Forecast for that day: Clearing skies.

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Hong Kong's Temple Road in the Rain

#GetAtHome in China 7 – Hong Kong 1: 3 Days of Rain

Hong Kong is a pleasure, but also a pain.

The urban mass of humanity, the heat and humidity make it not exactly comfortable.
The mixture of East and West, the extremely urbanized city in proximity to nature make it fascinating to see.

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Lung King Heen (view from entrance)

Lung King Heen: 3-Star Chinese Family Eating

Foodies are still made fun of, but food is one of the great pleasures (and mere necessities) of life.

This alone would make it something to consider – and try – in any attempt to learn to be at home in this world, and at home in distinct places.

But then, there’s even more when an “Other” and the different ecology of a different place – as also reflected in the local markets – come into play.

When power dynamics and psychology make something both strange and simple, less-than-fancy… or luxurious…

Street Food, Sensory Overload

Street food, and the whole culture surrounding it, may easily be one of those things that make East Asia so particularly fascinating.

It is diverse, it makes for quite an assault on the senses (sometimes even just from the lights), it is oh-so-different.

Sure, sometimes you’ll catch a bug or outright food poisoning, some of the conditions in which the food is prepared – and some of the foods themselves – may not be so particularly appealing, but that just makes it all the more interesting.

We focus so much on those exotic things and potential problems, though.

If one picks well, however, chances are that street food will be safer than quite a lot of restaurant food; at least you can see for yourself how it is prepared.

Trends and Value

Street food has also become a (foodie / hipster) trend in ‘the West’, as well.
And in East Asia, some street food even gets good enough to warrant a Michelin star…

Still, we tend to focus on the strange, exotic, and potentially dangerous, just to – knowingly or unknowingly – keep in line with the view that sees Chinese food as cheap, lower-class fare.

Japanese food may be easy to find and comparatively cheap nowadays; you may still find some people who declare raw fish nothing but appalling, but Japanese has established itself as great and worthy of high prices.

Saying “French” will not even let you think of mere food, but of cuisine.

Chinese, though?

Chinese is greasy take-out, sketchy street food, Cantonese will eat anything.

As Krishnendu Ray points out in “The Ethnic Restaurateur,” China has not yet seen enough of a rise (in power and status) to change the perception of its food/cuisine.

Lung King Heen (view from entrance)

Lung King Heen (view from entrance)

Lung King Heen

And then, there’s something else entirely.

Lung King Heen, the world’s first Cantonese restaurant to be awarded 3 Michelin Stars (which is the best rating there is), one of the world’s very best restaurants

Unsurprisingly, the experience here is very different; elegant, calm, and unobtrusively cared-for. Luxurious, in other words.

Reservation

I tried to visit for lunch, when they have Dim Sum on the menu.

However, when I tried to reserve a table, only one in the middle of the week (on our very first day in Hong Kong) and for dinner was available for online reservation.

It was some two months in advance…

(They might well have had tables, anyways, but I just didn’t want to short-term try this.)

So, reserve well in advance, if you can.

Changing to come in a party of three rather than two people, and back again because our #3 couldn’t come, after all, would not have been any issue, though. And they make sure to send reminders and ask if everything will work out as planned.

Location

Hong Kong’s ifc mall is well-known and popular – and fancy – enough to be part of a visit to the city, and you can get right into the Four Season’s Hotel through that mall.

Lung King Heen is one of the restaurants in this hotel, officially at 8 Finance St. (but best reached going to Hong Kong or Central stations and walking the covered walkways into the mall, then following the signs to the hotel adjacent to it – or basically, in there).

The view offered is very nice, out away from Victoria Harbor, towards the west; the décor is elegant as one would expect, without overdoing it towards the kitschy or the cold.

The Food

The main theme of a restaurant, of course, should better be what you get to eat.

Presentation has become the name of the game in many 3-Star restaurants, to the detriment of actual food. Sure, the experience and the taste sensations are what is meant to count; if you just want to stuff yourself, you can go to any fast-food place.

Here, Lung King Heen was able to shine.

We ordered the (smaller) Chef’s Choice Appetizer Selection, including jellyfish which was quite tasty (and something to mention on the theme of trying things),

Lung King Heen Chef's Appetizer Selection

grilled eel (quite sweet from the sauce, but nice; very different from the Hunan home-style eel we’ve eaten quite often),

Lung King Heen Grilled Eel

lobster and sea urchin rolls (which were fine to my wife but too rich for me, in the sea food / fat / sea -way of the urchin),

Lung King Heen Lobster and Sea Urchin Rolls

which were brought out as first course.

Yes, we managed to overdo it there, already.

For a refresher in between, we had a hot-and-sour soup…

Lung King Heen Hot-and-Sour Soup

… which had a pretty strong flavor, but with nuance as well. Good choice, I think, for something quite typically Cantonese and in-between other courses.

Main course was decided to be Sichuan-style pork, which was too chewy for my taste (even if my wife says it’s as it should be), but very nicely aromatized in a distinctly Sichuan-style way that is, for once, not overdoing it with the typical spices, but elegant.

Lung King Heen Sichuan-Style Pork

Second main course-dish were wok-fried spicy prawns, with the perfect kind of spice and wok-flavor.

Lung King Heen Spicy Wok-Fried Prawns

These were quite a revelation to me; I enjoyed them immensely and am still waiting for more chile pepper use in more of the great restaurants, of which they were a fantastic example.

But, by this point, we couldn’t really eat anything anymore.

It was all simply but elegantly presented, and it was all not so little. Not like in some avantgarde restaurants, where the amount of food seems to correlate inversely with the price to be paid…

Our waiter only told us at the finish, and that sums up the approach there pretty well, that “We consider ourselves a fine family dining restaurant.

Indeed, there was a family eating at the next table; and we wished we’d had our friend (who hadn’t been able to come) accompany us and help finish off all the food. (Although for three people, we might have ordered even more.)

Taking out left-overs, as it turned out, is acceptable even here. Part of the family thing ;)

The Service

Perhaps the most noticeable difference to any other, cheaper and simpler, place to eat was with the way the guests are treated.

Of course.

As we’d also experience on the last leg of our flight home, happening to get upgraded to business class, unobtrusive pampering is the luxury you get if you have the money.

Tim Ho Wan’s 1-star may be alright for the food; I’d have no problem comparing my mother-in-law’s cooking to that even of Lung King Heen (Hey, I like it!), but the atmosphere and the service do set it all apart. A lot.

The waiters give their recommendations when and if appropriate, explain what it is they brought, are there should you look like you need them, but are unobtrusive otherwise.

Hardly do you even notice when the tea pot or your glass is refilled, but you won’t ever have to wait long for that – and the jasmine tea we had was one of the best we ever tasted, by the way.

The Price

Of course, there’s the question of expense.

3-star eating doesn’t come cheap, and all I want to say is that we’d ordinarily live off the money we left there for one to two months of buying groceries.

Here, though, I do find that “you should spend your money on experiences, not things” does work out (which I do not think does as unequivocally as often presented), as it was a memorable experience, and something quite different from our experiences so far.

Hot on the heels of finally having celebrated our wedding in China, it was more than just worth it (and in that context, it was also nice that it was just my wife and me).

Their website: http://www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/

The Hub that is Hong Kong

Hong Kong is shopping, Hong Kong is skyscrapers, Hong Kong is the crush of people in … well, most places.

It is also, however, lush mountains on the other side of the skyline, spirituality at the curbside, green and wet markets not unlike those in rural China – and it is, with Kwai Tsing Container Terminals, one of the busiest ports in the world, giving an impression of the shipping that makes the contemporary economy buzz and lives overconsumptive, comfortable and cheap…

Spirituality at the Curb

China needs a moral core, and it needs religion to gain that, some people argue.

I am not convinced, but rather into exploring how people – be they others or us – do or do not make themselves at home, aiming to find how to really live in this world.

Religion and spirituality certainly are a part of this world, including in China. The ancestors need remembering (and goods), New Year’s Day requires a call to help from above… and in Hong Kong, there are not only temples of interest, even the curbside can see spiritual places.

One just has to look rather than miss, distracted by other things or immersed in one’s very own aural cocoon, what’s right at one’s feet:

 

Hong Kong Market Street Toyland

As an avid explorer of chilli and cuisines, the ChiliCult-ist, I love discovering markets. (There is a whole series on that over on ChiliCult.)

This time, around Hong Kong’s North Point, I took the chance not just to document a bit of what’s on offer here (stories as that tells on the relationship of people and food, and therefore people and the places they are at home in – or not), but also to play with the peculiar photographic trick that is tilt-shift.

On the Hong Kong Trail (Dragon's Back)

The Other Side of Hong Kong Island

Visit a new place, and everything seems new and exciting, and therefore, at least there is engagement with where you now are.

Just as the only-too-well-known where we feel we are at home is not really seen anymore because of its familiarity (even as there would be a lot more to discover), however, so the novel is not truly seen because it’s the eye-catching and must-see that gains too much attention.

In Hong Kong, and with Hong Kong Island in particular, the view of the skylines across the harbor and the crush of people among the canyons constructed by all the high-rise buildings are just too attention-grabbing. One could almost miss that there are peaks above these towers, some of them with yet more apartments rising along their flanks, but some also green.

Hong Kong Island Skyline at Night

Hong Kong Island Skyline at Night

Take a detour to the Hong Kong Trail, which is measuring out the length and topography of Hong Kong Island on its South side, exactly opposite from the glitz and glimmer that otherwise seems to define it, however, and it’s a different world – with forests and shrub lands, flood channels and mountain trails, creeks and boulders, and with great views ‘back to civilization.’

It was only the day after my arrival in Hong Kong, en route to the upcoming work sojourn in Beijing, that I immediately set out. Potential jet lag be damned, it was August 8, 8-8, after all (a date that seems auspicious in the Chinese context); and it was almost exactly one year after I went out onto this trail only to promptly lose my camera

The path is typically described as starting on The Peak and ending in Big Wave Bay / Shek O, but I again took the opposite direction. So, first, it’s out to Shek O with bus #9 from Shau Kei Wan (station of the Island Line Metro, out at exit A3, the main exit among the A exits, then left to the big bus lot and pretty far back on that).

The bus at this time did not stop at Big Wave Bay, so it was a little walk back, first of all, to the parking spot for that place and the beginning of the trail.

I remain fascinated by the drive there alone, with a double-decker bus over meandering hillside roads, to a place that has all the looks of a (somewhat touristy) rural Chinese village – and a golf course. Onto the HK Trail, though, the path goes up immediately and into quite the subtropical forest – and still further up.

On the Hong Kong Trail (Dragon's Back)

On the Hong Kong Trail (Dragon’s Back)

There were no crabs out on the trail this time around, but even more of the spiders which love to build their webs right across the trail – or over the floodwater channels at its side. Meter-long webs, spiders the size of a large hand…

Hong Kong Trail Spider

Hong Kong Trail Spider

Butterflies flap about, flowers bloom, and this time, just after the Dragon’s Back walk, I also discovered a lizard lounging on a dead tree branch by the side. Li’l dragon.

Li'l Dragon whose back I didn't run on

Li’l Dragon whose back I didn’t run on

Maybe it was the jetlag, maybe I was just dumb, but for some odd reason, I’d only brought one half-liter bottle of water and another half-liter of a sports drink. No food.

How shall I say…?

One, the water coming down in creeks, often enough with a plastic pipe funneling some of it to a place where it’s easier to get to, is apparently quite drinkable. I re-filled the bottles at them quite a few times and only got in trouble with my stomach once or twice – and that may have been just the heat and the humidity. Of which there was quite enough.

Two, I have no idea what exactly I was burning for calories on this tour. It could not have been carbs/glucose…

It all did end up getting rather too much; some of the later climbs I had to rest repeatedly and found it hard enough just to slowly walk on – especially as they tended to also be pretty exposed to the sun (the forecast had been for “mainly cloudy” weather with rain showers and thunderstorms, but those never materialized).

Go on I did, though, except for a bit at the end… which may well have been a 10 km / one-fifth of the trail bit… where I did not find some turn off Peak Road and decided to just follow that up and be done with.

In the end, I was done alright, in spite of not having finished the whole thing. The path ended up, the way I was doing it, on trails that had become rather repetitive, one just too much like the others before it, still meandering back and forth almost to the point of turning back on itself yet again. And with them being in forested parkland, there weren’t any views anymore for only too long a time when I was rather struggling and could have used the distraction and motivation.

The views, when they are to be had, though!

A View from the Hong Kong Trail

A View from the Hong Kong Trail Back on the Hong Kong Trail – told you it meandered ;)

On the Dragon’s Back, close by the Big Wave Bay beginning/end of the HK Trail, doing very nearly a closed loop just to also have gone there and that distance, one can see back to small villages, on to posh country clubs, across the waters to other islands, and on to high-rises.

Other places, such as around Mount Parker, too, one finds oneself on a mountain top, the vegetation changed from the one just a bit below, different rock formations cropping out, green all around, and yet the shimmering monolithic skyline off in the distance, as well. In that case, even the one including the Bank of China building on the north shore of Hong Kong Island, in the area of Central…

The View from Hong Kong Trail

The View from Hong Kong Trail

It was, and is, an amazing experience. All a bit more adventure-y yet with the peculiar challenges I created for myself, exhausting as hell, boring in parts – and another side of Hong Kong sure to remain memorable. It is about as far from the usual impressions as one can get, but just the other side of the island.

Movescount map of (my track) on the Hong Kong Trail

Movescount map of (my track) on the Hong Kong Trail

A Hong Kong Spiritual

20 Seconds China: A Symphony of Lights

Hong Kong’s A Symphony of Lights is rather too touristy for the “at home-r,” not to mention of dubious value when seen from an environmental perspective – but it’s still a part of modern China, illustrative of the rise that is happening and desired. Kinda pretty, too.

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