Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shenzhen to Hong Kong

Despite being kept awake by the rowdy students in the international dorm, I woke up early Friday morning so I decided to explore the campus a bit. As I mentioned in my previous post, the lake in the center of the caampus — less than a block from our dorm — is surprisingly scenic. It would seem downright bucolic if it weren't for the skyscrapers in the background.

With such an attractive view of the lake, I'd assumed this building was faculty housing; but it turned out to be a student dormitory.

As I circled the lake I saw, and heard, maybe 20 students standing at water's edge, reading aloud from their English textbooks — and this was before 7 a.m.!

I'm going to suggest this technique in my classes; such solo declamation exercises seems to be a good way to gain the confidence to speak loudly, something my shy, insecure students have a problem with.

Before we left for Hong Kong, Gao took us to a nearby dim sum restaurant. He was surprised when I told him how popular dim sum was back home, and I expressed my vast happiness at his taking me here — otherwise I would have missed out on the chance to have dim sum in the region where it originated.

As you'd expect, the dim sum here beat just about any that I've had in the States (although one memorable meal I had at Harbor Village in Monterey Park matched it for variety and perhaps even quality). Two more rounds of dishes followed these, including the best chicken feet I've ever had.

This concoction of sweetened liquid taro under a taro crust is the best taro dish I've ever had; come to think of it, it's probably the only taro dish I've ever liked at all.

Getting to Hong Kong from Shenzhen is a breeze: Take the city's new subway (it opened in 2004) to the border, go through immigration (the process was a bit speedier than it had been when enetering Macau), then hop on a train that leaves every five minutes or so for Kowloon. The train passes through the New Territories, a vast rural area that serves as a weekend getaway for urbanites; from what I've read (and saw from the train), the region is urbanizing rapidly.

In Kowloon we transferred to the subway to Hong Kong Island, where we'd take the tram to the top of Victoria Peak — one of the two things I'd insisted we do in our brief day in Hong Kong. Now that we were somewhere where English is spoken widely (and C***o and R****i's Mandarin wasn't always understood), I was taking over as guide — as well as host, since I had plenty of HK currency left from my trip to Macau, as well as an ATM card that I could use to obtain more.

There's a Madame Tussaud's in the galleria on the peak; this figure of Hong Kong's biggest star greeted the crowds lined up for the tram.

The tram hauling passengers to the peak — the highest point in the territory — has been running since 1888.

The view from the peak was stunning. It was amazing to be able to gaze down on the tops of the tall skyscrapers we'd seen from the street below.

Expensive houses line the peak, even near the summit (in Hong Kong movies, this is where the wealthy mob bosses and drug lords always seem to live).

Descending to the street, we took a cab to the pier for the Star Ferry to Kowloon — the other must-do in Hong Kong.

The view looking back at Hong Kong Island is iconic.

Disembarking in Kowloon, we wandered down Salisbury Road (going past the famous Peninsula Hotel), turning north on Nathan Road, the area's main north-south drag. By this time, C***o and R****i's energy was flagging — they hadn't been as enthusiastic about seeing Hong Kong in the first place as I had — so we veered in the direction of the terminal for the ferry that would take us back to Zhuhai. I had hoped to get to the markets further north, which I remembered fondly from my initial trip to Hong Kong ten years ago (Ling and I were here shortly before the handover in 1997); but I didn't particularly mind heading back early, because by that time I knew I'd be coming back for a solo return visit — this one overnight — before I left China.

By the end of the 70-minute ferry ride to Zhuhai, I was ready to head back to campus. But C***o and R****i wanted to spend a few hours shopping in Gongbei (prices in Hong Kong are prohibatively high for mainlanders, which was one reason they were less eager to hit the markets there than I was). As it turned out, I was glad we stayed in Zhuhai, because it gave me a chance to see how lively Gongbei is at night. Since C***o and R****i hadn't been there before, I continued to serve as guide, showing them the shopping areas I'd previously frequented by day (including the underground Port Plaza mall).

There's a bar street in Gongbei that was pretty dead in the daytime, but I knew would be a raucous scene after dark. A couple of dozen stalls like this offer outdoor imbibing year-round.

A side street jutting off from the one with the bars . . .

. . . had six or eight restaurants that all had outdoor and indoor dining.

C***o and R****i picked a Szechuan place . . .

. . . that served a nice, spicy boiled fish. It's a treat to still be dining outdoors in November.

On the bus back to campus a bunch of students recognized me from my lectures — I'm easy to recognize — and we had a nice chat (as an English instructor I'm never off-duty). As much as I enjoy exploring China, after all the traveling I've done this week I'll be quite quite contant to stick close to campus this weekend.

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