Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hong Kong Connections & Hair Cut Horrors

Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I discovered that a high school friend of mine, whom I hadn't seen since college, was living and working in Hong Kong.  As I boarded my flight from Bangkok, Sue sent me instructions for catching the Airport Express (seriously the most convenient thing ever) into the city, and I met her at a busy Starbucks in the center of town before she whisked me back to her apartment in a high rise above Hollywood Boulevard. After freshening up, we headed straight out for a welcome dinner with friends just across the harbor from Hong Kong Island.  We took a short ferry to the other side, enjoying the clear view of the lit up skyline - a pretty incredible first glimpse of the city - before walking to Din Tai Fung, a Michelin star awarded dumpling house!  We ordered a family-style feast of assorted soup-filled dumplings, steamed buns, noodles, seaweed, and even tiny buns filled with sesame paste for dessert.  It was a perfect introduction to Hong Kong, and this new section of Asia I was set to explore. 

I woke the next morning with Sue as she got ready to go to work, and set out to find a good breakfast spot.  I wound up stumbling upon a convenient place a couple of blocks away that would become one of my favorite places to work and enjoy delicious coffee, called the Mixing Bowl.  Their primary business was actually in providing group baking classes, and while I was never able to take one, the small cafe downstairs served some incredible pastries and breakfast sandwiches, not to mention excellent coffee.  I got to know the owners well enough over the next few days that they would often let me try new roasts that they were testing out as well.  

I had also emailed a few CrossFit gyms about schedules and prices (I hadn't visited one since Chiang Mai!), and I had heard back from one a short walk away that would also become a favorite stop in the city - CrossFit Typhoon.  I had plenty of time to get there after breakfast, so I wandered slowly, taking photos, checking out shops, and finding hidden pieces of street art among the alleyways.  I wound up being the only person in the noon class, so I essentially had a personal training session with Steve, the owner, an expat and former engineer from Scotland.  I struggled through some strict presses and "Nancy", then joined Steve for lunch where we talked travel and CrossFit, before returning to the apartment.  

I wound up going back to the Mixing Bowl to write, drink more coffee, and eat tasty scones, but a light rain turned into a heavy downpour, keeping me in there the rest of the afternoon.  Sue and I waited as long as we could before meeting for dinner, finally making a run for it and meeting up at a spot called Tsui Wah on Wellington, a famous Hong Kong diner.  Waterlogged, we ordered a few dishes to share - pork in a curry sauce, fish and vegetables in a light tasty broth, a beef and noodle soup, and a fish ball soup.  I tried the typical milk tea, but I wasn't much of a fan - it either needed to have no milk or have a lot of sugar added!  For dessert, we had a set of incredible thick toasts covered in butter and condensed milk, the flavor reminding me of my breakfast toasts in Portugal.

The following day, it continued downpouring for the entire day, so I only ventured as far as Mixing Bowl, armed with my laptop.  It was still raining when Sue got off work, so we decided to meet at nearby Dim Sum Square for dinner.  We ordered a huge variety of small plates to share - turnip squares, crispy sweet barbecue pork buns, a steamed beef and rice dish, another with beef, rice, and egg, a crispy spring roll wrapped in a slippery smooth wrap, and a few other things I couldn't even remember or wasn't sure of at the time!  That night, I hung out with Sue as she began packing up her apartment to move, sipping wine as we chatted about life, work, living abroad, international cities, and how world history is taught in the US, among other topics.  While she and I hadn't kept in touch much since college, it was incredibly refreshing to get to spend time with someone who felt so familiar, who had made the transition all the way from Alabama to Hong Kong, who understood and shared this view of the world.

The following day, we finally had some nicer weather, so I returned to CrossFit Typhoon for the noon class, thanking them for their hospitality and meeting the most adorable King Charles Spaniel puppy (okay, six year old dog) named Bruno.  I rushed back to the apartment to get cleaned up and go to a haircut appointment I had booked that morning - it had been a solid six months since I had last gotten a trim, and while I was really enjoying how incredibly long it was, it had simply gotten heavy!  I needed to get it trimmed a bit to make it lighter, knowing the next chance I would have to get my hair cut by someone I knew and trusted would be another four months.  I also figured since there were so many expats around, I could find someone who could speak English and, to be frank, had experience cutting a white person's hair.

It seemed to start off well.  We talked about a one inch trim and bringing up my layers a bit.  Then she started cutting… and cutting… and cutting… she didn't seem to know how to do layers at all, cutting huge chunks out of the front and bringing the length up by roughly FIVE inches.  At some point I just told her to stop cutting.  Noticing I was visibly upset, she only charged me for the wash and blow dry rather than the cut, and I actually felt bad that I had potentially upset her.  Until I walked around with it some more... I just became more and more sad and furious.  I went back later, and one of the more senior stylists was able to fix the actual cut a bit so it would grow out a bit better, but I had still lost an enormous amount of hair.  (Note:  five months later, I've only had a small trim to fix the styling, and it's still nowhere near as long as it was then.)  I decided I needed a drink!

Left - Before. Happy!  Middle - After the first lady. WTF?!  Right - After the stylist "fixed" it. :-\

Sue had already had a drink at the office, so we met up at Pizza Express for a late meal, joined by one of her coworkers and Steve from the gym for some beers and a couple of big gourmet pizzas - one with Peking Duck, another with goat cheese and arugula - as well as some salad and bruschetta.    After closing down the pizza place, we ventured out to a nearby bar area a friend had not only recommended to me, but given me specific suggestions of drinks and places to try, so we decided to make a mini scavenger hunt out of it.  Jello shots at Al's Diner were a success, but his other recommendation was closed for renovations, so we grabbed a beer at a random bar with a live band, and finished up the night with a Scotch at a small bar, after discovering that both Sue and I were fans of the whisky.

Slightly happier with the hair horror after drinks.

The next morning, I slept in before heading out for some breakfast, spotting a store opening ceremony complete with enormous gifted bouquets of flowers - a fascinating cultural scene.  I then caught a taxi up to the Peak, hoping to get a nice view of the city and the harbor before I needed to leave.  The cab ride was much longer than I expected, but I got very lucky with the weather - blue skies and whispy clouds, and no rain or smog.  The view from the observation tower (which was basically a shopping mall with an observation patio on top) was gorgeous, and there was a free audio guide providing information on the buildings in the skyline below.  I learned that the triangular shaped building with diamonds outlined along the side was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect who designed the pyramid at the Louvre.  I didn't have much time to listen to all the information available, nor did I have time to battle the groups of schoolchildren and ride the tram down, so I found another taxi to return to the center of town.

I met Sue for a final lunch at Dim Sum Square, where we shared a few plates of our favorite dishes from the other night.  Given my very limited timeframe for visiting mainland China, how many places I wanted to visit, and simply how large the country was, my time in Hong Kong was cut quite short.  I hated to leave so soon, especially since I had lost nearly two days to rain and spent an entire afternoon having a traumatic haircut experience!  Somehow though, I had a feeling I would be back.  I thanked Sue for her incredible hospitality, and I returned to her apartment to get ready to leave, completely unaware of the bizarre travel days ahead of me, and how I would eventually return to spend a bit more time in this eclectic island city.

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