Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Exit Stage Left: Predatory Dim Sum

As you may have noticed, there was a somewhat abrupt end to my entries regarding Hong Kong. There is a very logical explanation for this, and that is that I did not want to think about dim sum. It began innocently enough: Max and I went for dim sum at our favourite spot Friday morning, just a few days before leaving. We didn’t think anything of it, really. It wasn’t a Friday night, or a weekend, so we thought this’d be just another run-of-the-mill, everyday dim sum with all the dumplings we could hope and dream of.

Lin Heung, which I would still recommend for anyone wanting dim sum in HK.
Our lack of cultural awareness got us good on that one. Maybe Friday is a special dim sum morning? Maybe it was a public holiday? We still don’t know, and I can’t find anything on the Internet to shed more light on that. Either way, the place was packed, and the dishes going around were definitely not full of the dumplings we had our hearts so set on. Everything was new, and most of it was unrecognisable. (Except the tea. Good old tea haha! Hasn’t failed me yet.) Instead of waiting for the carts to make their way around to each table for diners to choose from, carts full of food were descended upon by predatory dim sum veterans as they left the kitchen. You know how birds descend on seed when it’s thrown out in public squares? This was like that. Only with more people who were much shorter and more elderly than me, and way more elbows.

Max braved fetching us the first two dishes. I don’t really remember what it was, but he came back to the table with two little wooden steamer baskets that had food we could guess at. It was alright? (I vaguely suspect it was fish, because I remember Max actually not minding it.) I don’t really remember much about those dishes, except that we were still hungry when we’d finished, and it was my turn to try getting us food. I picked my cart target, and moved in. By the time I’d made it through the crowd to the cart itself, there were exactly two baskets left. I decisively asked for both baskets from the cart man. To his great credit, he looked at me like I might be stupid, and shook his head. The message was pretty clearly ‘white girl, despite what you think, you do not want these baskets’.

I should’ve trusted the cart man.

In the future, I swear I will trust the cart man.

Foolishly, I thought ‘whatever is in there, it cannot be that bad’. So, I smiled and persisted. The cart man relented. He stamped my little receipt card, handed me the baskets, and took his now empty cart back to the kitchen.

Max, pre-pig knuckles.
The first dish was pig knuckles. Turns out those are mostly just skin and tendons, which Max was very not comfortable with. (I did only slightly better, there’s just not much to skin though. If I’m going to work that hard, I want to be getting more out of my food.) The second dish was an unidentified soup, which we initially thought had assorted fish-things in it. As I went through the soup finding bits to eat, I came across what I thought was a shellfish, without the shell. It was grey, and firm, and had these strange straight lines in it. Also what I can only describe as a cord connecting it all together along the back. Most of the time I like shellfish, so I didn’t think too much of it and popped the whole thing in my mouth.

Kenna, post-poor life choices. 
It was greasy, very chewy, and did not seem to actually break down no matter how much I chewed. It just sort of became a paste. Max and I speculated after I’d swallowed, because I was feeling fairly queasy. We tried not to speculate too closely, and I suspect this is because we knew. We paid and left. For the rest of the day we drank smoothies, and went to a light high tea where we recognised everything on our plates. Our stomachs weren’t up for much else, and our adventurous food-sampling days were over. Friends who are infinitely more familiar with dim sum than I have now confirmed that I very likely ate brain. I’m still not really over that, guys. I still make faces when I think about it. (Just realised I’m sitting at my computer making a face, so definitely not really over it.) Everything else I ate in Hong Kong? Worth it, and I’m glad I at least tried it. Brain is the new boundary though.

Truly, in the future I swear I will trust the cart man.

After that, I basically ate rice, sushi, and dumplings for two days until my flight home. Looking back now, it’s really more comic than alarming. The experience also strongly shifted my travel plans from ‘looking for interesting new food to try’ to ‘looking for pretty things with history’.  For brevity, that’s really best summarised through the photos below.

Remember in an earlier post where I was talking about a section of the city looking 'more Chinese'?
This is what that means.

On my way to the 10, 000 Buddhas, I crossed this (very long) bridge and stopped under the tent on the other side. This photo really does not do justice to how intense the sun was that day, I couldn't believe it. This is important for context given the next photo.

While I died a little and drank water (because this girl does not do heat well), I realized I'd walked right into a huge collection of elderly dancers! They were taking turns up on stage doing the cha-cha, tango, even some west coast swing and salsa. This gentleman in particular was very keen that I stop expiring and get up on the stage to dance. They were very excited, and thought I was hilarious. So I am now on at least a dozen camera phone photo reals of very exuberant elderly Hong Kongers. It was a riot.

Made it to the temple of 10, 000 Buddhas, and it was incredibly lush and beautiful.  Each one of the statues you see here is totally unique from each of the others on the mountain, and they line literally every walkway. It's really something. 

Also, there were monkeys on the hike up. We kind of giggle at Asian tour busses full of people with cameras chasing squirrels in North America, but I shamelessly stalked monkeys the entire time I was in Hong Kong. I think this parallel is amazing, and is a great indicator of how little thought we put into why people act differently than 'us', whoever that 'us' is. 

I also had the chance to visit the bird market, fish market, and flower market. The flower market smelled amazing, but I think the bird market was my favourite. Apparently it's very common to collect song birds in Hong Kong, and in the afternoons, little elderly men take their birds out for a walk in the fresh air. 

This is just way cool engineering-wise. On my way to Shek-O beach (which is beautiful, and which I highly recommend for a gorgeous, relatively trash-free beach experience) these cement retaining walls were everywhere. Most of HK is steep and mountainous, so these retaining walls are made to allow trees to actually grow through them, and help to anchor the wall. Bonus, Hong Kong is much greener than it would be otherwise.

Last but not least; I did remember to make time to get up to the top of Victoria Peak. The trolly goes up at an insane angle (near 60 degrees, if not more), and once you get to the top there is (yet another) mall, and huge open observation decks to look out across the city. So up I went, and watched the sun as it set. The buildings of HK are also lit up at night, and that bright white one far to the left actually fades through a full rainbow spectrum.

That's it guys, that was Hong Kong. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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