After blowing my weekly food budget on the wrong horse at Happy Valley, my Saturday nights were spent drowning sorrows at Lan Kwai Fong. Fueled by several giant novelty syringe shots, I always went to find somewhere to dance. But in Hong Kong, the street corners are the real dance floors and there is no room for wallflowers. Beyoncé blared out, and I danced with the local kids — my own version of an aerobics class. Vodka jelly and traveller’s inhibition allowed me to learn the moves quickly, and make my new friends for the night. The local gym class could never compare.
As far as skylines go, some say Manhattan, others London, but for me Hong Kong wins hands down. When I stood on Kowloon, I felt like I was appreciating a painting in a gallery — eyes illuminated by flashing lights and lasers that could make an American theme park green with envy. I would sip red wine at the Ozone bar in the ICC with its vertigo-inducing view over the harbour. I’d go to Bubba Gumps’ for cocktails, so I could look back toward the CBD from the Peak.
I remember hanging, perched precariously in midair over the churning waves below. All the garish thrills of Ocean Park behind me and an endless stretch of water ahead. With my focus on the horizon, I took in the stunning sea vistas and felt a world away from the city. No other mode of transportation has ever been as thrilling.
When I had a raging headache, I used to pop an ibuprofen. But then I passed through a maze of local Hong Kong chemists and gazed in the window at shelves stacked high with alternatives — wheels of dried lizards, jars of assorted herbs, and the bustle of seemingly happy customers inside.
I’ll miss that sound of china cups on saucers, happy chatter, and soft music. The traditional ceremony of each fresh pot and the multitude of accessories that accompanies it made something so simple into an adventure all of its own — with not a tea bag in sight. I brought some home to combat the withdrawals.
The first time I watched someone order and consume a dish named gooch, I discovered that some Hong Kong cuisine is not for the faint-hearted. But still, I queued for meat sticks at Mongkok, I chowed down at the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant, and I pulled apart Mantis Shrimp at the Temple Street night market. I knew I’d miss it all when I went home.
In Hong Kong, I never stared at the walls on a Wednesday night. Without fail, I could be found at Happy Valley for the world famous races. Surrounded by an exciting mix of locals, expats, and travellers, jugs of beer flowed and my pockets rapidly emptied as I backed the wrong horses.
Cheap, fast, efficient, and air conditioned — the London Underground of my home could learn a few things.
In Hong Kong, the incredible contrasts of the city are all within a quick reach of each other. From the bright neon lights of downtown or Kowloon to the beaches of Stanley. From the hustle and bustle of Temple street market to the serenity of the Po Lin or Chi Lin sanctuaries. From the crowds of Ocean Park to the rambling hills of Lamma Island. Each day was so remarkably different.
New gadgets, some stylish crockery, interesting chopsticks, a thousand and one jade charms — my bag was always heavy, my house kitted out, and my good luck sorted for life.
I never expected to have nostalgia for rooms where I could literally touch one wall with my fingers and the opposite with my toes, where I could find a stranger’s flip flop under my bed or electrocute myself in the shower. However, once you’ve negotiated your way through a maze of food stalls, money exchanges, and questionable traders that is Chung King Mansions, going to sleep anywhere else seems a tad dull.
The grinning fishmonger in Mongkok, the guy who shared his betting tips with me in Happy Valley, the lady who asked me to pose for selfies in Stanley — the warm welcome and interest I received from the people of Hong Kong will always stay with me.