Days of Dim Sum

A lot of bicycling requires a lot of calories, and eating is really the highlight of a trip to Hong Kong.

Although I've been to dozens of dim sum restaurants in the 'States I had heard it was "of course" better in Hong Kong itself. My Lonely Planet Guidebook gave a few suggestions and one in particular seemed particularly charming. was based in the Central/Admiralty District, about a subway stop from Wan Chai. And it had decor of the early 20th century, e.g. stained glass, elaborate woodwork, mirrors, etc. Servers (all male) wore white frocks and all were quite old, for servers anyway. I think Hitomi would like it for the old man waiters, ala Ristorante Paradiso.

Eating alone is tough, but with a big appetite I was able to eat a lot. I felt the best part of my meal were the steamed cakes, though everything else was pretty much perfect. What you expect from a good dim sum restaurant are items freshly prepared. Dim sum cart items eventually become overcooked. The rice paper wrappings of shrimp balls go from chewy, to gluey, to gelatinous. Meats get chewy and hard.

Opening up my guide book, I found a few places nearby to check out. I went to the Sun Yat-Sen museum and saw the current exhibit on the building of his mausoleum. He's a hero to many Chinese, though I wonder how the Mainland Chinese communists tried (and try) to reinterpret his teachings to fit their approach to governance. For example, one of Sun Yat-Sen's principles is (Western) democracy, which Mainland China doesn't exactly agree with.

The museum's housed in a beautiful building, which is well worth seeing just for the architecture.

Nearby is another museum in a historical building. Their focus is on the medical history of Hong Kong and a few exhibits talk a bit about Chinese and Western medicine practice. With such a dense population, Hong Kong is susceptible to public heath crisis. The Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague entered Hong Kong in 1894 and spread quickly. Foreign doctors were brought in and eventually a vaccine was developed once the plague bacteria was isolated from dead rats. Entire neighborhoods were bulldozed and public health measures were put into place.

Presently in Hong Kong, you see signs everywhere explaining just how frequently buttons, handles, and escalator handrails are sanitized, e.g. "Door handles are sanitized every hour." (This came about post-SARS, I hear.) I doubt stainless steel or plastic surfaces would harbor much, but I think it makes people more comfortable.

I walked through the antique shop district, which I believe is called Hollywood. Most places were closing down, but I noticed a tea shop still open. It wasn't too busy and had chairs open for tea tasting. I was definitely in the market for tea but I insist on trying before buying.

It was family run and one customer was from the neighborhood, and though she grew up in Hong Kong, she had very good English. She was buying one of those pur-erh tea pancake things, which I haven't gotten into.

Available were some nice oolong from China, no lung-ching like I expected to see, that the family bought direct from the plantation it seemed. I got some tea ware as well, and almost bought a pot and set of cups. Chinese ceramic teapots (the real deal) are actually pretty small, unlike the ones in the U.S., so though I liked the designs, it just wasn't practical.

After I headed back to the hotel and dropped off my loot, I took the subway under the bay to the night market, on Temple Street, and ate at the aptly named Temple Street Crab restaurant. I already ate freshwater crab, which is a pain, so instead I ordered some very spiny giant shrimp things. Two ladies, on the table beside me, shared a few words and jokes, and I tasted some deep fried oysters and other things they offered. Your best antidote for eating alone is to somehow find people to eat with you, I guess.

Beer was cheap and I was a little tipsy. I wandered the market, which was mostly cheap junk or bootlegs or weird craft goods and actually spent a bit of money. I got a little pouch for my cell phone, and some empty journals for Ariel. Probably got ripped off, but it wasn't a lot of money to begin with.

I was a bit sore from all the bicycling, and luckily there's quite a few late night foot massage places open. It's about $88 for 30 minutes or so for foot massage, as the signs say. Having done this in Taiwan and other places, I thought why not? First place I chose was up the stairs a bit, and it was a bit dark and all. I was asked to lay down on a massage table-like bed and I took off my clothing. The TV's on and the lady is busily working my feet and thighs. And then my crotch, and then it seems she wanted to offer me additional services…

I was trying to convey, in English: Okay…since you did such a fine job, I'll pay you a little more for the "full" body massage but hands off the crotch, please. Me no want sex. And I did get a little more massage, but I suppose (for her) would be a lot less work for glandular therapy, which she was hinting at. Massage is a lot of work, I guess.

I didn't really get my 90 minutes, more like 45, and I pay and start to head out. I mention I'm unsatisfied, and they bring out a much younger (and prettier) girl, which offers an oil massage. And after being quite insistent–and being super naive–I thought I'd now get a legitimate massage but really she's just a sex worker as well. I said I didn't come here for sex, "I'm married and in love," and I apologize and leave.

The way the business was run was all quite illegal. If you work alone prostitution is legal, but in this case they were operating a brothel. And then there were quite a lot of these places operating quite openly around Kowloon.

Feeling simultaneously molested, weird, uncomfortable, and a bit sick after seeing that young girl, I head off for tofu dessert. It was only the equivalent of $35 for my misadventure, including tip. And just to finish the night, I get an unscheduled call from my work at around 11:30PM discussing Huawei and testing issues.

The next day I thought I might get some riding in but after almost missing the last train and showering, etc., I was not going to get up at 6AM. Why not go for another round of dim sum?

Again, I head back to Kowloon. My guidebook has a recommendation of a place and after wandering around for about an hour (hungry) I find out, it's no longer in business. (There's about three or so malls built together, so I was never too sure if I was in the right mall to find this place.) At the Marco Polo Hotel, I ask directions to a good dim sum place, in yet another mall.

The place I find is my favorite restaurant from Taipei, Din Tai Fung, which is my most favorite dim sum place ever, and one my most favorite restaurants, in fact. And I feel a bit ashamed that it is a chain but why shouldn't a successful restaurant be replicated?

Unlike most restaurants I've been to in Hong Kong, the wait staff usually isn't very nice. But here, there's a lot of friendly, beautiful waitresses everywhere and they really hustle. They are even wired to some sort of internal radio with headphones.

When the steamed dumplings came, I felt such a relief biting into one, that I became teary eyed. From the experience of the previous night, there was something about the warm, delicious food melting in my mouth.

I chat up one girl who's originally from Taiwan and interestingly enough, speaks pretty good Japanese. She says she's going back to Taipei in about a year and a half, and says to visit her at their branch.

In addition to dumplings, I got about 4 or so different dishes. My second favorite was an interesting blanched cherry tomato salad, with plum sauce, I'd like to try. Hitomi really likes tomatoes but I don't know what to do with them except either serve them raw or with salad dressing.

Invigorated, I made my way out to the waterfront boardwalk. There's a museum and performance hall. It was getting late, so I just did Hong Kong Cinema's "Walk of the Stars", analogous to the Hollywood stars. I'm most familiar with the movies of the 80's and on, but film history has gone back many more years than this. Since the late 90's, the prevalence of piracy, and the increased importation Foreign (including Western) films has supposedly put a end to the incredible output of domestic studios. Domestic studios now only introduce only a handful, rather than a few dozen, movies a year.

Jackie Chan has his own line of merchandise, apparently, as there was a kiosk selling goods with "J C" stamped on them. Hitomi made a demand of me to buy souvenirs, to give as gifts, so I bought a stack of Jackie Chan towels and whatnot.

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About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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