Previous Location

Hong Kong Hong Kong

Hong Kong Again

As you’ll remember from my previous blog, the first two weeks of February this year marked the Vietnamese Tet holiday, when I had time off from running my language centre (among other things). During Tet Trang and I went to Hong Kong for three days.

You may also remember that I’ve been to Hong Kong before. I was there for my 30th birthday, and as such this blog has already written at some length about the city and its surrounds.

Last time I went, it was late September. This time it was early February – in the middle of Chinese new year. Thus we were forced to do something that we weren’t entirely prepared to do: queue.

A misty late-night view down from the Victoria Peak.
A misty late-night view down from the Victoria Peak.
Hong Kong's night time streets.
Hong Kong’s night time streets.
A long, long queue.
A long, long queue.
Misty buddha.
Misty buddha.

We queued for almost two hours to get to the Victoria Peak. We queued for half an hour to get down again. We queued for an hour and a half to go and see the big Buddha, and another hour to return to sea level. In said queues, my poor girlfriend Trang was reduced to listening to me singing, waffling on about a vast range of mind numbing things, and showing her videos of cute Corgi puppies doing adorable things (she complained less about that last one, if not indeed positive encouraged it).

This is my first piece of advice about going to Hong Kong during a time which is in any way ‘peak’: be prepared to stand patiently in a line.

Also, be prepared to push and shove with ruthless abandon. Because while you’re prepared to stand patiently in a line, you’ll quickly discover that the locals draw upon their Chinese heritage when it comes to queueing, approaching it from a more Darwinian perspective. Foe example, I witnessed one child being forcibly elbowed out of the way by a large man whilst trying to board the peak tram. I found the whole thing quite distasteful.

Alas, despite the queues and the crowds, Trang and I still had a thoroughly lovely time. We were particularly taken by the free-to-enter Nan Lian gardens, a remarkable oasis of tranquility in this most humming of cities. Trang honed her photography skills whilst I perfected my waiting-for-Trang-to-hone-her-photography-skills.

The big Buddha, another day trip out of the centre of Hong Kong, was pleasant enough if not shrouded in mist upon our arrival. The associated temples were much more impressive, and the cable car trip to the summit providing a dramatic view down across the airport was something I found unsettlingly fascinating.

Another thing: they shop until midnight, Seriously. The day we went to the big Buddha, Trang wanted to go to Forever 21, since there is no F21 in Hanoi. By the time we finished eating it was almost 10pm. We stopped by the store in the hope they might still be open. We found ourselves in a street that, even close to midnight on a Saturday, was still heaving with shoppers weighed down with bags. A quite remarkable thing, that.

Trang took the opportunity to shop for a solid hour. I sat on a step and played Football Manager on my phone. I’m well trained, if nothing else.

As for the city of Hong Kong itself, well it hasn’t really changed since the last time I was there. It had it’s dazzling high end shops, it’s throbbing bars and restaurants, and it’s seedy underbelly of Indian blokes trying to sell you watches, weed and women. We ate a lot of dim sum, which surely has to be close to the top of your to-do list.

The Nan Lian gardens.
The Nan Lian gardens.

…one thing though. A strange thought occurred to me while I was in Hong Kong. It’s a smashing city. The shops are great, the scenery spectacular, the cosmopolitan city always beating away and the pace of life is thrilling. But I couldn’t live there. I wouldn’t live there. The more I go away from Hanoi, the more I find myself really quite glad I chose Hanoi as a place to settle. It was the same in Japan – it’s a really quite wonderful place. But coming back to Hanoi, back to Vietnam, I felt like I was returning somewhere I am growing to like a great deal.

Previous Location

Hanoi Vietnam

A Very Happy Tetmas

In England, from whence I hail, people often take weekends away. Someone from Liverpool, like myself, might choose to go to the Lake District or Llandudno. The more adventurous might decide France or even Spain are worth a weekend jaunt.

In Hanoi – when not running a language centre or dicing with death on a motorbike – we take weekends away in places like Hong Kong. I’ll tell you more about that shortly.

We went during Tet, and before I tell you about our weekend in Hong Kong, I want to tell you about Tet. Because despite the fact it was now over a month ago, I realise I still haven’t written about it. And I really should, because it is a remarkable time of year.

Tet is also known as Chinese New Year, the same festival you’ll have seen news about on the telly back home. Given Vietnam’s continuing quiet enmity with China there are obvious reasons they don’t like calling it Chinese New Year. Instead, they call it Tet. You might remember the Tet offensive from the Vietnam war – so called because it happened during Tet.

Tet is new year as calculated using the lunar calendar, as opposed to our own Gregorian calendar which thinks New Year happens a month earlier. Tet and the holiday around it can last for anything up to two weeks, during which time it is virtually impossible to get a Vietnamese person to do anything productive whatsoever.

Some would say this is no different to any other time of the year.

Alas, for Western people Tet is something of a boon, since coming less than a month after our own lengthy New Year break, we have barely worked off our Christmas pud than we find ourselves presented with another fortnight off work. As you’ll imagine, very few expats in Vietnam find cause to grumble.

Tet in Vietnam is often compared to Christmas in England. There are some similarities. There is a palpable sense of occasion in the weeks leading up to the big day, people decorate their homes with trees, and fatal drink driving incidents soar.

A Tet tree.
A Tet tree.
A cumquat tree on a motorbike.
A cumquat tree on a motorbike.

The Tet tree itself, it has to be said, is slightly different to a Christmas tree as you or I would recognize it. Intended, I assume, to signal the blooming of a new spring, they appear little more than bare branches with a few plumes of pink foliage. Some people opt for entirely bushier cumquat trees, which are transported around Hanoi on the back of motorbikes in the weeks leading up to Tet. Indeed, seeing a tree on a motorbike is a sign that the big festival is beckoning.

On Tet day people visit the houses of their families, where they’ll eat a traditional stodgy sticky rice cake named ‘chung cake’ (best served fried), drink large amounts of rice flavoured vodka (best served chilled), and sometimes even eat bowls of thick jelly-like pig’s blood soup (best not served at all).

Thus it was for me that I spent this Tet day being welcomed into the various homes of my girlfriend’s various family members. I did my best to talk through broken Vietnamese, but alas, it was just lovely to part of what is a quite pleasant family occasion.

The next day, Trang and I flew to Hong Kong. About which my next entry shall be…