A Hong Kong Holiday

I say, life would be boring if we deny ourselves of new experiences.

Mong Kok, Kennedy Town, and Everywhere In-between

First things first — climate extremes are personally intolerable.

When it gets too hot I just don’t want anyone touching me; when it gets too cold I get too uncomfortable and might have to punch someone. (Yes, I know, first world problems. Kinda.) Hong Kong in mid-December averages at around 17-23° Celsius; not that huge of a discomfort, and just enough cold to experience if you’re used to living in a tropical country. As a bonus, the chances of the sun coming out even during winter are 2 days out of 5 — not bad in case you’re planning to go to theme parks.

Months back, Chase and I decided to welcome the holidays with a little trip to Hong Kong during their winter season. I usually write to express and provide information that may be helpful for others, but here I would also like to share my thoughts of what it’s like traveling with your partner for the first time.

We landed in Hong Kong International Airport at around 7-ish in the evening of December 20. As expected, airports were busy as people have been flying nonstop for the holidays. The temperature was around 20°C that evening, and as how flying goes, the exhaustion was real.

There’s a saying that your true personality comes out in times of stress. At around 9 in the evening, Chase and I were on our way to a hostel in Mong Kok. For those who have been to Mong Kok, it’s comparable to Quiapo — in a constant state of busy and noisy. And just like a Korean drama, we somewhat got lost in the midst of being peak tired, and ended up walking for a solid 30+ minutes trying to find the place we were supposed to stay in. We did find it, eventually, and needless to say it was the highlight of the day that we finally were able to have some decent rest.

Lesson #1 for traveling couples: be patient.

With one another, with yourself, with your surroundings. During times of high stress, understand that you both are going through it, hence the need to be kind and gentle are required of each of you more than ever. Stressing over things and pointing fingers will not make the problems go away, nor will you be able to solve them quicker. Thankfully, Chase has 10x the patience I possess, so these heights of stress aren’t always easy but they are definitely workable if there is listening and understanding involved.

The next day, we had breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s.

Contrary to what I usually post on Instagram, Chase and I eat a lot of cheap fast food whenever we can. So to save time and money, McDonald’s was the best choice to get going on our first day in the country.

A much wider selection of pastries and sandwiches compared to what Manila has. You can tell a lot about the culture of a place based on their food alone.

Breakfast: Hazelnut latte, hot Americano, mushroom soup, sausage McMuffin.

Automated system in McDonald’s, Mong Kok. They have machines that operate like ATMs where you can just tap on the photo/s of your order then wait for the counter to flash your order number. Good design thinking and tourist-friendly.

A kind lady serving the place offered to take our photo because she saw us taking selfies, lol.

You can never go wrong being with friends.

Just as we flew to Hong Kong for the holidays, one of our officemates also happened to be there during the time of our stay. We took the MTR to Kennedy Town to meet Christian (whom we are used to calling, ‘Coin’ because of his last name, haha), who invited us to their home for a delicious lunch. Classic Filipino culture of inviting people to their homes and eat!

Kennedy Town is a suburban area filled with life and color. It’s less busy than most, and offers a sort of vibrancy that makes the town feel so alive. There are many interesting places we passed by (like a vegan-friendly BBQ/sukiyaki/drinks place!) that might be of interest to tourists who want their Hong Kong trip to be on the more adventurous side. Sadly, we only stayed for a short while but a longer visit is very likely to come up again in the future.

Waiting for Coin’s dad in Kennedy Town.

Nothing like a Filipino meal on foreign land!

Traveling is much better when there’s leisure walking involved.

Aimless meandering is the loveliest form of getting lost abroad. Sure, it gets painful for the toes after a while but it’s also such a raw and untainted way to experience the land as it is — literally! We got a chance to look over the town, going around Kennedy, Aberdeen and finally to Hong Kong University’s grounds.

Hong Kong is one of the refreshing places, in my opinion. On one side you have a thriving economic jewel, technologically advanced cities, automated systems, and the latest gadgets. Yet at the same time there’s a vast amount of mountains; nature is literally in your backyard, and I think that is such an amazing combination of urban and rural living.

Lesson #2 for traveling couples: stay fueled!

This might sound ridiculous and a bit of a given, but seriously, stay fueled. Whether you need coffee or heaps of food, do what you need to do to keep yourself well-fed and hydrated.

I think this is such an underrated prerequisite when traveling. Walking a long way around Kennedy Town made me realize that being thirsty and hungry are the first step to being grumpy, and being grumpy can lead to a lot more problems that should not even be a problem when on vacation, i.e. accidentally disrespect your partner.

That being said, we stopped by the nearest Starbucks in HKU Station, where we waited for another friend of mine from high school, Nikole.

I will never get tired of seeing familiar faces when away from home.

Let me tell you a story about destiny.

A Korean noodle brand called Honey & Cheese has long been out of stock in Manila. While passing by a random 7-11, boom, the magical bowl of instant noodles was looking at me! It’s right up there with my Disneyland visits as the most magical moment in Hong Kong.

Here are some photos to show proof of such a serendipitous moment:

We ended the day eating in a Chinese restaurant — they are, as you might expect, abound in the city. Needless to say, their food tasted much better than Chinese fast food back home. Either way I love eating the cuisine, so it’s not really that much of an issue!

A trip to Hong Kong will not be complete without visiting a theme park.

Considering the weather, we actually almost gave up on the sun shining during our stay and were ready to make a detour in our itinerary; but on the second day, we were blessed enough by the sun and made the tough choice of choosing which one to go to!

Never Not Going to Theme Parks

In the end, we headed to Disneyland. One very particular reason: Chase has motion-sickness.

In addition to boycotting zoos and parks that display animals in cages, the other reason that compelled me to not visit Ocean Park was because I found out how bad my partner’s motion sickness is. He even gets dizzy when the camera movements in video games are at high sensitivity, so I eventually learned to be careful and help out when I can. I enjoyed my first trip to Ocean Park years ago, considering I love the adrenaline rush that comes with floorless rollercoasters and 200-ft drop rides. I would always go back to riding their rides. But not this time around.

Lesson #3 for traveling couples: Be willing to compromise.

Being alone during travel means you can be spontaneous and do whatever you want. Being with friends means there’s a consensus of schedule and chances are 1 person out of the group will not be happy, but it doesn’t mean the decision will not push through.

Traveling as a couple is a lot more different, I learned. There is no consensus; there is only compromise. Compromise in terms of not necessarily giving up what one wants but more of meeting halfway where the two will be equally given parts of the pie. There is no room for selfishness; there is no room for sulking. You both have to be happy at the end of the day.

In our case, I really wanted to go to a theme park; Chase had motion sickness. I gave up the extreme rides in Ocean Park and he agreed to go to a more child-friendly place, Disneyland.

Look at all that merchandise! I never really saw the gloves until I wrote about the trip.

It was a win-win situation in the end. I got to go to a theme park, Chase’s motion sickness didn’t have to suffer, and we both created a brand new memory for the trip. Although we shall not speak in details about how dizzy he was after we rode the fast Star Wars ride, Hyperspace Mountain. Oopsies.

Speaking of Star Wars, we watched a Jedi Training program for kids in the afternoon. Kids! In Jedi robes! Thankfully, there was no turned Anakin in sight, otherwise the entire park would’ve been devastated.

The howls and cheers at Darth Vader’s appearance was thunderous! Even I was excited to see a costumed Darth Vader in person; being in Disneyland makes it a bit more legit than conventions.

Darth Vader having a go at it with one of the kids.

She’s supposedly the Asian version of Rey in Hong Kong Disneyland. Look at her dueling Kylo Ren!

Star Wars souvenirs from the shop. Theme parks have figured out the perfect marketing plan when it comes to character memorabilia — they make sure you see everything right after you offload the ride and before you exit the attraction. You’ll never miss any of the merchandise.

Chase using two plastic gloves on one hand because I refused to use one during lunch. Look at that goofy smile on his sly face as we were about to dig in some fish and chips.

Looks familiar? My featured header for the website was taken in Disneyland. This is one of my favorite photographs in the history of my amateur photography. There’s just something about nature and its amazing colors that never fail to draw me in.

Toy Story Land is probably one of my favorite places in Hong Kong Disneyland. It’s fun, colorful and brings so many good childhood memories about the film. That being said, I’m not the only one who loves this part of the park; lines are almost always a blockbuster hit for the limited number of attractions.

Slinky! This one is right in front of the RC Racer, where riders are jutted at an almost 90° angle at its most extreme. Probably one of the best rides in the entire park, in my opinion. And yes, Chase survived it!

Lesson #4 for traveling couples: Follow each other more than your schedule.

People who know me in college know that I’m almost always late for class. In reality however, I’m quite neurotic about time. I remember one of my best friends running to a date we scheduled beforehand and the first thing she told me when we met was about how much I hated waiting for people. Partially true, but not all the time. I think this was developed because of the client and event management jobs I had, where time was a sensitive topic.

But I digress.

There was a time during this trip that I almost had a panic attack because we weren’t on schedule. Yes, I can get neurotic like that. It bothers me when I should be doing something but am not doing it. Most especially, I don’t like wasting time when I paid for a trip. It always feels like I’m racing against time — or maybe I’m just really crazy like that.

Schedules during vacation are important because your time is limited, but understand that your relationship is more important than anything. Missing one bus won’t be the end of the world but unnecessarily egging on your partner could spell disaster in a snap. Always learn how to compromise and meet halfway your preferences, and things should work out fine while staying respectful towards one another. Letting 20 minutes pass because you missed the tram is relatively better than wasting 20 minutes arguing or pointing fingers. Enjoy spontaneity and enjoy each other’s company, regardless of whether or not you are meticulously following a schedule.

Here, strollers are parked instead of cars. Colorful contrasts everywhere.

We visited during Christmas season so the decoration was a bit more festive than usual. Trees were laced with lights and the nighttime parade was a lot more colorful than I last remember seeing it. They even had fake snow in the form of soap foam.

The best part about an Asian theme park? Authentic Asian food. This was probably the best HK$~200 we spent on food during the trip.

Lesson #5 for traveling couples: Make your memories count.

Whether you are cynical or affectionate, I think it’s important you document significant memories you make together. Actually, even insignificant memories are fun to document; it’s always a good source of laugh and unexpectedly insightful talks.

When you’re a little too old for theme parks, you are the champion of benches. Seats are your favorite things next to water fountains and washrooms.

Chase and I get teased that we love to take selfies. But we don’t really mind. At the end of the day, we have something to look back to, and that’s a significant factor of how we can always have something better to look forward to.

Finally, the last batch of photos from this trip after x months! This is probably the most colorful day we’ve had, originally having plans but not really having an exact plan — which led to a pretty interesting day overall.

Of Long Walks and Near-Death By Michelin Ramen

Getting lost in a foreign country is one of those rare times facing the unknown gets actually exciting.


Lesson #6 for traveling couples: Explore.

This lesson goes to everyone who travels, actually. I have heard stories of people who go to different countries but only opt to explore the glamorous parts, not opting to go for a little stretch. Walk — like, really walk — and take your time to explore places, try local delicacies. What good is the time you spent flying if only to see clean and internationally branded places? At the pace that globalization is at, store brands can easily make their way to your hometown’s mall in a year or two. So don’t be afraid to get something from the local stalls by a sketchy alleyway somewhere. At least if you’re with your partner, there’s an interesting travel memory you both can look back to after a couple of years’ time.

After having McDonald’s as our first line of breakfast in Hong Kong, Chase and I decided we had to eat at a hole-in-the-wall before our trip ended. So we took off in a direction that Google Maps recommended and headed somewhere. Least to say, we got quite lost after a while. Being hungry and trying to figure out directions make quite an interesting adventure.

We honestly do not remember where we were when we had this. All we know was we just picked a random eatery by a little neighborhood and decided to eat.

The noodle soup we ordered were the most local-tasting ones I’ve had. It tastes as fatty as it looks. I don’t remember much else apart from that but that one little exploration really makes for a good memory to look back on.

Coffee is always a good idea right after a meal, especially if it’s a stuffy one like the bowls of noodles we had. Chase’s family recommended a shop in Sheung Wan called Cupping Room. The place is pretty popular as it was jam-packed when we ordered; we had to wait outside for our coffee, which was freshly roasted, to say the least.

Moving forward! A friend from an old work once told me to visit a place called PMQ in Hong Kong. It was only in December I actually got to visit said place. And it was not what I expected it to be — in the best way possible.

PMQ is one of those tourist spots that you need to literally go through questionable routes in order to enjoy the rewards of. We walked a ton of roads and climbed flights of stairs to get to the gem of a place, although I’m pretty sure there are shorter ways to get there. Thankfully, Chase and I don’t mind walking so it was sort of a sightseeing trip while we were on our way to the place.

The road to PMQ was a journey of its own. And it was a journey worth taking because PMQ ended up being an artistic haven – a place that celebrates creativity regardless of the medium of expression.

Interestingly, at one of the shops I was roared at by a sales clerk, whose words were Chinese, so I wasn’t quite sure if she was angry during that time or was just explaining to me that the items they sold cannot be photographed. As an aspiring artist, I understand this protective nature towards design; some people don’t seem to respect the intellectual property that comes along with an artist’s work, and the respect that needs to come with every creation. This is a friendly reminder from someone who understands how devastating it feels for people to “steal” creative work, and I’m saying this on behalf of all the hardworking artists out there who constantly create original projects.

During the time of our visit, we came across a paper exhibition entitled Here is Zine Hong Kong. It was an exhibition of creativity that celebrates paper. We were encouraged to try our hand at creating something as well.

Since it was our last afternoon freely roaming around Hong Kong, we walked back to one of the alleys that had an abundance of restaurants. Initially, Chase was pretty sold on getting curry but was saddened by the fact that the establishment was closed for the day!

And so we walked and walked, until something caught our eyes – Shugetsu Ramen.

You can read more about our experience in Shugetsu Ramen here.

Lesson #7 for traveling couples: Stay friendly.

There is a common fluttering feeling for couples, especially during their honeymoon period, where the world seems to shrink and revolve around just the 2 of them. It seems to be completely normal, but here’s the catch: you can stay in touch with your friends even while you’re together! I’ve heard of accounts of people who seem to have felt isolated by a friend who got themselves a relationship, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. You can always enjoy the best of both worlds.

As nighttime fell, we were once again reunited with our friend, Coin, who was eager to check out the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok. The place being Mong Kok, lights and crowds were expected despite the chilly weather.

We went window shopping here and there for the majority of the night. And of course, took some photos to commemorate our last night in Hong Kong for the year.

The next day was the day of our flight. Chase and I decided to just have a chill morning until our flight in the evening. Little did we know that ‘chill’ would result pretty literally.

The place where we stayed was only a few walks away from Langham Place. While on our way to the iconic mall, the wind started blowing like crazy! According to our phones, it was 19°C that day but boy did the windy weather made it feel much colder. (Chase seems to be partially immune to the cold so he was like, nah, this isn’t cold.) It was then and there that I have discovered how much I do not like winter, much like how I physically cannot stand too much heat. Talk about a first world problem by a third world citizen.

Nevertheless, we had some tasty gelato from Holly Brown. No amount of cold can ever discourage the real champions from eating frozen sugar!

Coffee once more after lunch. This time from iCremeria in Langham.

Overall, it was a memorable experience for Chase and I. As we were only 3 months together when we went on this trip, it was a good learning experience for us to get used to each other’s quirks, and know how the other really is 24/7. It was a growing experience as it was a wonderful Christmas vacation.

 

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