re: Kyo-two

Final day in Kyoto.

Our itinerary to round up Kyoto began with a visit to Kinkaku-Ji. Waiting for Wesley to arrive, my breakfast was the amazingly traditional choice of green tea sundae. (It had cornflakes at the bottom, so it counts right?) Kinkaku-Ji was 500 yen to enter and very crowded. It’s a beautiful attraction to visit, but I’m not sure it was worth the price of going in since you were only allowed to view the temple from outside. We also purchased some charms here, but later found the same ones 300 yen cheaper at Kiyomizu-dera! I was naïve in thinking that they were special to that particular location and not some mass produced tourist souvenir. Disappointing!

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I would advise finding a location to eat before heading to Kiyomizu-dera. The food around the area is a little overpriced compared to other locations, but I guess it’s natural with the amount of tourists it attracts. Out of all the sights I’ve visited in Japan, the immediate area of Kiyomizu-dera is definitely the prime location to dress in yukatas! There’s so many people in traditional Japanese dress, you probably stick out more by being in normal clothes.

Attracted by the small cluster of tourists coming out of an unassuming temple, we were intrigued and paid the 100-yen entrance fee to go inside. The idea is that you enter the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu, become a new born again and spinning the stone at the end grants you a wish. It was the weirdest thing stepping inside as it’s totally pitch black. Sometimes in the dark, you can make out faint shapes, but here it was impossible. It’s quite an unsettling feeling, but made amusing by the sounds of other people bumping into one another (there’s a rope to guide you round the inside).

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Feeling a little disorientated as we stepped back out into the light, we headed towards Jishu Shrine, a place for the romantics amongst you. There’s two love stones here that come with a special challenge. Upon touching the first one, you close your eyes and attempt to make your way to the other. Doing this successfully means finding true love! It was sweet to see a group of school children helping out a classmate by shouting out hints and a group of girls also helped a stranger find her way to the other stone. Unfortunately, Wesley failed at this task and was condemned to never finding his true love.

Not to be overlooked, Kiyomizu-dera itself provides a lovely viewpoint to see Kyoto in the daytime. Seeing photographs on Google tells me it would be an even more spectacular sight during cherry blossom season. Not to mention autumn. Or winter. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to return seasonally and observe the changes?

re: China pt. 1

The Great Tour of China begins!

Another reading week and another excuse to travel! This time my friends and I ventured off to spend 9 days travelling around China, starting from Beijing and working our way back down to Hong Kong via train. Having heard stories from friends about being pick-pocketed and warnings of abduction via an overdramatic dad and grandma, unsurprisingly I was very apprehensive about the trip. Not knowing much of the language was also very unsettling for me, which is strange considering that I was pretty nonplussed about travelling to Japan knowing zero Japanese. I think living in Hong Kong can make it hard to ignore the anti-Mainland China sentiments, whether it’s against the Chinese government or the influx of Mainland nationals. Certainly, this did bias my view of China and despite how excited I was to visit its sights and experience its culture, I couldn’t ignore the vulnerability I felt as a foreigner. Where Japanese culture is held in high regard as being polite and hospitable, Chinese culture seems seemed to me a little cold and exploitive. But travelling China and being able to interact with the locals, I have discovered the complete opposite! The people I encountered were so friendly, helpful and generous, it has changed how I view the country and its people, putting me much more at ease with visiting again in the future.
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Beijing

First impressions? Gigantic! Everything from the roads, buildings and railway stations were bigger than I had anticipated and I could never get over how spacious the city is after being accustomed to the tight confines of Hong Kong. During our time here, we were able to visit Wangfujing Night Market, which was full of street food and where my roommate Astrid fulfilled her lifelong ambition of eating scorpions! Living to tell the tale, the next day we visited the Great Wall – Mutianyu section, which research told me was the best part to visit for great views without the competition of other tourists. Touring the wall felt so surreal! It was strange to be walking on this piece of history I’ve only seen in pictures before. Its sheer size and spread was breathtaking and the hike up its many stairs was enough to keep us warm against the cold. Passing watchtower 23, we were able to access the older part of the wall, which was the most interesting to see and also less littered with tourists. Talking about litter, it was really sad to see so many discarded bottles along the wall! Being granted such an opportunity to actually walk along this magnificent monument as opposed to viewing it from behind a barrier, it’s extraordinary disrespectful and selfish to throw your rubbish away so carelessly! I read a really great article recently about the negative impacts of tourism, which has made me more conscious of my responsibilities as a traveller and is something I hope is promoted more as it becomes increasingly easier for people to travel. (Srsly, check it out guys).

Moving on, we visited Hongqiao Pearl Market, which apart from the obviously huge offering of pearls, was pretty much like any other market selling merchandise for the tourists. After, we ate at a hotpot restaurant nearby that was astoundingly cheap (58 RMB) for how much food was given to us. Our final day in Beijing, we hoped to visit the Forbidden City, but found it was closed on Monday (what cruel fate)! Taking the subway to Tiananmen Square for a quick look, we were swept up by the one-way system and ended up at the Palace Museum. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go in, but another reason to return to Beijing at least! Instead, we met up with a friend (Alice!) for lunch and together went to the 798-art zone. Like the rest of Beijing, this place is HUGE and I could easily spend the whole day there exploring. As if people didn’t hate Monday enough, many of the art galleries were closed on this day but there was plenty open to keep us occupied nonetheless! With a train to catch, we were invited back to Alice’s house for a quick cup(s) of tea and were generously laden with snacks for the train journey as well as lift to the train station (on the way we were able to catch a glimpse of the Bird’s Nest Stadium – points for travelling efficiency!).

Arriving at the train station was overwhelming, again due to it’s sheer size and the amount of people travelling through. Major train stations in China are a world away from the ones I’ve experienced in Europe and so are its travellers! Here, you can observe a funny mix of local travellers, diverse in age, appearance and SES. Waiting rooms for trains are packed with people waiting to board, camped out in any space of floor available. They’re noisy and dirty with fruit peels and nutshells on the floor, but it all added to the colour and atmosphere of the experience! Eventually boarding the train, we were surprised by how many westerners were on board, later finding out our cabin mate for the night, a friendly Chinese man named Jean was leading the tour of 47! We had opted for the soft sleeper (4 people per cabin), pleasantly finding them to be comfortable enough for our needs and so, with a not so bad start to our trip; we were on our way to the next destination, Xi’an! Workload dependent, my next post on Xi’an should be up this time next week, stay tuned for part 2!

re: solutions

New Year? New Yeah!

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Trying to escape the rain in the UK and being greeted by this sight in HK.

It’s mid-January, but never too late to say Happy New Year! Having spent Christmas break back in the UK with family and friends, I am now back in Hong Kong and more than ready to start the new semester. Over Christmas I decided to set myself some goals for the coming year, so without further ado…

  • More photographs! Although I post quite regularly on Instagram, I want to be more active in posting photo sets on the blog, after all a picture speaks a thousand words ammirite? Also, I’m guilty of neglecting to take photos of actual people, so that’s another little thing to keep in mind.
  • More travel! Last semester I didn’t do as much travelling as I thought I would – I haven’t even been to Macau yet! So this year, I plan to take advantage of cheaper flight tickets and visit more places in Asia before I leave. In a similar vein, I’d like to explore much more of Hong Kong in terms of natural landscapes and scenic hikes. Definitely on the list is cliff diving and beaches, even though I’m not a huge fan of beaches (too much sand).
  • More language! As always, I will continue working on my Cantonese, through speaking in social situations and also learning to write! In turn, I am also able to revise and study Mandarin since I use pinyin to type traditional characters. Who knows, maybe I will aim to write a small segment of my blog posts in Chinese…

So there you go, nothing too difficult to achieve, but something to work towards this semester. Let me know of your goals/resolutions for the New Year too!

re: cutting loose

All work and no play, you say?

Finally made it through the midterm period (∼celebrations all around∼) and I thought I would get down to documenting some of the places I’ve visited in Hong Kong so far. Armed only with knowledge gleaned from others, my initial ideas of Hong Kong were concerned with food, shopping and food. And whilst Hong Kong does fulfil my expectations in those arenas, there is so much more to discover!

 

~

Holding the proverb, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ to be true, my first month into the exchange period was a hectic flurry, ticking off tourist destinations, experiencing just the surface of Hong Kong. I joined a hike organised by the university during orientation week, leading to the top of Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. Taking a trail starting straight from campus (so convenient!), the hike provided amazing views of the city throughout our ascent. Jarringly enough upon reaching the top, rather than finding a quiet, tranquil area to relax and enjoy the view, you’re coolly greeted by the 21st century in the form of a little shopping area filled with fast food restaurants, big brand chains and overpriced ice-cream! (~£4 for one scoop, hurts just thinking about it)

In a similar vein, visiting the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island felt like walking through some manufactured wonderland. Skipping the hike (this time!) and opting for the lazy efficient route via cable car, spectacular views were to be enjoyed, but for those interested, I would recommend pre-booking tickets and selecting the glass floor cable car for a really exciting ride! Once there, cheery elevator music is played through speakers while you browse the shops filled with souvenirs before eventually getting to the Buddha. Although impressive, knowing that it was only built in 1993 takes a bit away from the grandeur of it all – nowadays everything seems so easy and effortless, it’s hard to appreciate the labour and workmanship (of which I’m sure was hard and many hours) that went into constructing it. Nevertheless, there’s the Po Lin monastery nearby to check both the history and sacred-ness boxes as well as an infinity pool and fishing village which I unfortunately didn’t get to see, but is definitely on my list to come back and do!

Heading over to TST, I walked the Avenue of Stars and was grateful for my Hong Kong Cinema module as otherwise I would have been pree-ty clueless about most of the famous names and handprints on the walk. Saving this topic for another post, but I’ve come to realise how underappreciated and unaccredited Hong Kong cinema is in terms of influence – especially on Western cinema (side eyeing Scorsese here). More in this area includes the Hong Kong Museum of History, wherein I saw a very informative exhibition on the Han Dynasty as well as getting to view up close an extremely intricately made jade suit, that only members of the royal family were buried in. It’s funny how unaware we are about the history of other countries, and quite overwhelmingly depressing knowing there’s so much information out there that will never be learnt or even cross your mind. In contrast, the Hong Kong Space museum isn’t anything special. While I trust the information to be perfectly valid, it’s quite drab and in need of a renovation. Especially when comparing it to TeNQ, (Tokyo’s Space Museum) which utilised exciting cinematic technology to exhibit short films as well as presenting information in an engaging and interesting way – there’s a lab with scientists from Tokyo’s universities conducting research that you can peer into (if you like that sort of thing heh).

My most recent endeavour was a scenic bike ride starting from Tai Wai, going along the river and harbour to the Tai Po area, only to regain all those calories burned with all you can eat BBQ! Luckily for me, the route consisted of mainly flat terrain, making it an easy and relaxing cycle through rural parts of Hong Kong. It was so lovely to get away from the endless high rises in the centre and experience Hong Kong like a local – surprisingly this activity doesn’t attract many tourists, but is for sure the best thing I’ve done yet!

I’m cautious about viewing Hong Kong through rose-tinted glasses, but there’s certainly more depth to the city than I initially thought. So far, it seems like there’s everything you could ever want in one place, beautiful beaches and natural landscapes to explore/relax, then bustling shopping areas and nightlife to have fun/spend your student loans away. As time goes on, I am unexpectedly finding that I’m growing to love the city more than I had anticipated, making me question whether I could uproot myself from the comfort and familiarity of the UK to embrace the scary concept of working and living abroad for a while…