Below are some stories that I have collected from people or experienced myself here in Hong Kong. If you want to add to them, please email me at info@exHongKong.com
Toffee-Banana - Etiquette
Cobblers - Hong Kong's multi-talented chef
Lost in China? - A newcomer's moment of panic.
Sheet! - One of those nights....(photo here)
Handover - As experienced by a boat-load of revellers
In the Soup - Pauline Moynihan discovers Hong Kong's favourite Winter soup.
Rugby Sevens - The best way to see the Tournament
Custard Tarts and Lamma Island - Two travelling tales from 11 year-old Robert of Cairns, Australia
We've all heard that story of a friend of a friend who drank the finger-bowl water/tea thinking it was a beverage in view of the whole restaurant. Well this is a warning for new visitors to Sechuan style Chinese restaurants. It is customary for a complimentary dessert to be served at the end of the meal. Some are not so pleasing to the Western appetite as others (hey, I learned the hard way, you can too!). My favourite is toffee-banana a delicious, calorific sweet of fried banana pieces dipped in clear, hard-setting toffee and brought to the table piping hot, ready to be plunged in a large bowl of iced water to seal and seperate the banana pieces and harden the toffee. Yes, you've guessed it, our visiting dinner guest plunged her hands into the large bowl of iced water and washed them, just as the flummoxed waiter appeared, not knowing where to put his now congealed lump of rock-hard candy banana.
Boat trips around Hong Kong's outlying islands are a good way to escape the city after a long week's work. On inhabited islands small restaurants with waterfront views serve delicious Chinese food and local seafood. One restaurant on Lamma Island became a favourite and the staff were always pleased to look after us each time we visited. On one occasion the 2 inch rubber heel came off my shoe whilst walking to the restaurant. I asked the waitress if by chance there was any super-glue on the premises. "Just a minute missy", came the reply and she headed off towards the kitchen. She returned with a Putonghua speaking 'chef' in the usual Hong Kong chef's regalia of old vest and boxer shorts, sporting a beaming grin. The waitress translated for me to give the chef my shoe. He then asked for the other one. I dutifully handed both over. He disappeared into the kitchen, then came back with an even more beaming grin. Instead of carefully glueing back on the broken heel as I'd anticipated, he had hacked off the other heel with his sharp Chef's knife,and passed me back two heel-less, soon never to be worn again, yet perfectly balanced sandals, ready for the trek back to civilisation without a limp. Who said that lateral thinking is not alive and well in Hong Kong?
Bonus chef story: What is it about me and chefs? One night many years ago in the L.A. Cafe, HK, a long night out was underway with friends and colleagues in the bar. I made my way to the Ladies Restroom to do what ladies do there and found myself unable to unzip my trousers. Before you visualise the scene, I need to tell you that the zip was at the back, and to my embarassment I had to emerge from the stall and ask for assistance. A few helpful girls yanked and pulled at the zip but it was only getting more and more jammed. Then a waitress appeared, took stock of the situation and said "Wait here" - well I wasn't leaving before I'd done what I'd gone in to do. By this time I was also hopping around. Within a minute a chef appeared wielding a 6 inch bladed knife. After gaining permission, "Yes, ok, I don't care what you do, just get these trousers off me!", he sliced through the zip. Relief. Then the next problem. I had no safety pin to hold them up and I was determined to get on with the rest of the evening and put this humiliating episode behind me. The shout went up in the bar, but the only item available was a large bulldog clip. And it served me well all evening. I just had to remember it was there when I sat down.
Lost in China?
Many visitors from Western countries, prior to the Handover of Hong Kong back to the 'Motherland' in 1997, were confused about exactly where on the map Hong Kong finished and China began. A newcomer to Hong Kong several years ago, who we'll call Debbi, was invited to a fancy dress party, somewhere out of the normal 'tourist area' of HK island. The theme of the party was 'Arabian Nights'and Debbi went to great lengths to look authentic in a belly dancer's outfit, harem pants, bejeweled and tassled bra top, complete with sultry veil. After a raucous evening she decided to spend the night at her friend's apartment, and awoke the next morning to find everyone had gone to work. In a hungover state, she realised she had no clothes to change into and her friend's wardrobe consisted only of a few items of male attire. Realising she would have to step out in her 'Middle Eastern' finery, she left the apartment (with no key to return if she needed to), and strolled up the main street in this particularly 'local' area of Hong Kong. Unwittingly, she was walking the wrong way up the street and was miles from town. She started to panic when the taxis wouldn't stop for her (despite the allure of her outfit glinting in the sunlight) and the thought struck that maybe she had wandered over the border into China. A passing, yet bemused policeman was able to put her mind at rest and send her on her way in a taxi. Naturally, this is not a story she ever dined out on when she lived here (although I do all the time). To see exactly where that heavily guarded border is (where no-one dressed in anything less than a PLA uniform can cross without a visa), take a look at the Hong Kong map on the links page.
Another theme party, this time a Toga party was held at our apartment in an old building in Tin Hau on HK Island some years ago. The HK police did not bat an eyelid when they arrived on the doorstep to remind us to keep the noise down. On the second arrival of HK's finest, this time demanding HKID cards, we decided to move the party to a more suitable venue and departed for Wanchai in a procession of taxis. The togas consisted of a variety of sheets either recently stripped from the wearer's bed or purchased at the local China Products department store. On arrival at a certain nightclub, then famous for its strict (and frankly ridiculous) dress-rule, our party was fully expecting to be turned away at the door. But, to our surprise, the "Bouncer" welcomed us in, much to the very apparent amazement of the present punters. We settled in to some dancing and general idiocy. A week or so later we discovered that another toga party had been held that night, in a much more up-market area of Hong Kong (imported sheets) and that the owner of the nightclub had left instructions to let in this party of VIP's dressed in togas. They never showed up.
At about 4am those of us still standing with togas intact went for a 'traditional' breakfast at the Old China Hand (pub). One of our party, a large Australian gentleman who was dressed in a Mickey and Minnie Mouse colourful toga/sheet which barely covered all extremeties, awoke at dawn from his egg and bacon brekkie to find his friends had decided to call it a night, gone home and left him in the pub. He stepped outside into the Wanchai street, then buzzing with the early morning crowd, and had the embarrassing task of finding a taxi driver to take him home, wrapped in his Mickey Mouse sheet. He's never forgiven us for that desertion and is currently residing in Beijing, living a far more sheltered life. (Identity crisis here)
The Handover - Not CNN's Perspective
Written 1 July 1997: Well, here we are in China which moved its boundaries last night. It is probably suffice to say that we are starting our day as we mean to go on, by having a Daquirie breakfast at The Mandarin Hotel at 8.00am, on our way home, after being evicted from the California Club when the DJ couldn't take any more of our hideous 'dancing'. The staff at the Mandarin seemed amused by my request for the 'set Daiquiri breakfast' which apparently did not exist prior to this auspicious day, and they promptly brought me the cocktail list. Mango daiquiris with strawberry pancakes were a fitting end to our last night of UK-Governed debauchery in Hong Kong. Well I suppose I'd better fill you in with all the gory details before I forget them. At great expense (HK$16,000 for 6 hours), we hired a junk for the evening which was supposed to be licensed to a capacity of 45 people. Although we had limited our party to 35, on the many occasions when it bucketed down with rain and we were confined below deck, it was reminiscent of a refugee boat, packed to the gunwhales. Our party conisisted of local Hong Kong, BBCss, ABCs, Brits, Americans, Australians et al. The food supplied by Landau's was the saving Grace of the evening; it was fantastic, and took the edge off the fact that the boat and weather were both crap. We managed to get hold of two huge Union Jacks and also painted our faces with Union Jacks. I could not bring myself to disfigure the other cheek with the Chinese National Flag (the truth is, the stars were too fiddly to draw). We watched the spectacular fireworks and then set off round the harbour a few times, waiting for Britannia (the Royal Yacht) to leave. We went close to TST (Kowloon Peninsula) waterfront which was alive with thousands of people - perfect for some crowd-baiting - waving Union Jacks and generally being obnoxious. By that time (around 1am) all the other junks had gone in, so we were the only boat to follow the flotilla of British navy ships and the regal tub, all the way out of Hong Kong harbour. My arms are aching from maniacally waving a large Union Jack and one of those glow in the dark green-liquid lights. We were saluted all the way by the Navy boys and it was just the most incredible boat trip I have ever done. There was not much media coverage of Britannia's departure, so regrettably we were not filmed by the TV companies, which is a shame, as it was a very emotive sight. One of our party took a video (if you're reading this - how can I get a copy?) and informs me that our background cries of "Camilla show us your tits" must definitely have been heard by 'all who sailed on her (Briattania)'. Of course, it was just an ugly rumour that Prince Charles' lady-friend may have been on board.
Chris Patten's goodbye at Government House earlier in the day was emotional.. I was unexpectedly moved to tears and seriously jeopardised my newly painted cheek flag. It was pouring with rain and he stood on a little podium on the lawn with rain (and tears?) running down his face while the band played a few tunes and all his staff and family looked on. His daughters were also very obviously upset.
When we finally left the junk, we caught a cab to the Foreign Correspondents Club. At 3am the place was buzzing. We had our first breakfast of the day there, at around 6am. Those reporters still standing were coming in in dribs and drabs, sporting a rather motley collection of "Handover" costumes made from flags and feathers and more than one Old Governor impresario in full uniform was seen staggering around the buffet. Reporters, from Europe to Brazil, too drunk to report anymore, waffled on and on in a variety of languages. While the tanks were rolling in, we rolled down the hill to Lan Kwai Fong to find the only bar still open at 7.30am - California. Using the last spark of energy we shuffled around the dance floor like those pink bunnies who had the wrong long-lasting battery which they advertise. What a sad sight. Then we made our way to the Mandarin Hotel, which you already know about. So that was it. The Historic Handover is now the Historic Hangover.
In the Soup By Pauline Crowley, now of www.Brittany-cottages.co.uk
When I first moved to HK I lived in a tower block in a luxury apartment overlooking Wanchai, with a fantastic view of Happy Valley. On the 36th floor, some of my visitors could not take the floor to ceiling windows and actually crawled across my lounge! One guest woke me up in the middle of the night and I found him leaning out of the window up to his (lower) waist (!) whilst sleepwalking. With no balcony or bars this was quite a shock and I managed to get him back to bed.
In my first week I went for a walk down Wanchai Gap from my building in search of the market that I could see from my eyrie in the sky. Within 200 yards the environment had changed from marble and glass skyscrapers to 3-storey old Chinese buildings built at the beginning of the century, with balconies on the first floors reclaimed into additional rooms and steel structures stuck precariously onto the sides and roofs, housing more tenants. It was here that I discovered for the first time the quaint Wanchai Post Office which became my beacon for contact with home (pre-email! - Ed.). I walked down Spring Lane towards the market looking inside every shop at the panel beating and printing presses. In the adjacent street I espied a huge urn waist high with steam coming out of it. As I crossed the street to investigate the contents, I caught sight of the café inside with plastic tables and old men sitting, eating and drinking. The other window had a display full of the restaurant's wares which I could not make out from this side of the shop. As I stepped nearer and peered into the gloom, a slow horror crept up my body as I realised that the display was of writhing snakes rather too close to my nose pressed to the window! At that instant, a man, who I took later to be the chef, came out of the shop carrying a snake – he then whipped it onto the pavement holding its tail and killed the snake in the process, then slitting its side to retrieve an organ full of liquid. At this point I had slipped off the kerb in a trance-like state and the resulting jolt closed my gaping mouth and nudged me back to reality. In order to avoid appearing like a gawking tourist, but mostly to avert the heaving sensation in my stomach, I rushed off in the direction of the market. In doing so I nudged into the bubbling, hot, steaming urn. Glancing down I was surprised to see all the little geckos taking the waters - doing backstroke!
The Rugby Sevens is an annual event in March which attracts rugby supporters from all over the world. The crowd is predominantly from overseas - from every country represented in the Tournament. Many people bring their whole families and return every year without fail. It is a fun, full-on weekend of rugby, good-spirits and beer. It has been said that more business meetings are arranged in Hong Kong during the week before the competition than at any other time of the year. Part of the fun was trying to obtain tickets, as locals were allocated a small number compared to those sold overseas. The options were, queueing overnight when those tickets were released, or finding someone with a corporate box who had authority to invite you. A Sunday Final ticket was like gold dust.
On my arrival in Hong Kong in the very early 1990's, I was looking for work - anything to tide me over until I found a full-time job. My attention was caught by an advertisement in the local paper asking for people to work for the local pub who serve drinks at the Rugby Sevens that year. I had vaguely heard about the event and knew that tickets would be like hen's teeth to find. I applied and a week before the competition, they called and asked if I was still available. In the interim, I had obtained a full-time job and was working in an office about as far from the 'bar scene' as you could get. However, the chance to be paid for watching the Rugby Sevens was far too tempting and I immediately said I'd be there. Old-time Hong Kongers in my office raised their eye-brows when I said I was serving drinks at the Sevens. I presumed that this was a bit of a 'snob' reaction and thought nothing more of it.
The day approached and I met with some of my co-workers at the Stadium at 7am on the Saturday morning. Some (but not all!) of my fellow bar staff, were I think, real 'bar girls' - Thais, Filipinas, local Chinese, together with the occasional backpacker. A few had worked there before and told me it was very hard work. I looked around me at the empty stadium, with seating on stepped benches high up the walls. The job would be carrying six large jugs of beer up and down the stands in the midst of thousands of demanding and over-exuberant (quickly to become 'tired and emotional') rugby fans. What was I thinking of? My sense of balance is that of a new-born foal and I had the strength to probably carry one jug of beer at a time. What to do? Run for it? Keep my Stadium pass and hide in the loo? Our Boss appeared. An English lady who ran the pub. We were all told we were on commission, so the more booze we sold, the more we earned.
My name was called out together wth a few others and we were taken aside. I was told that I was being assigned to a Corporate Box. I arrived there along with a few of the first guests. The company for whom I was serving happened to be one of the most famous hotels in Hong Kong. The first 'guests' turned out to be their waiters. They instructed me to sit at the corner of the box, welcome guests and take drink orders, give the drink orders to the waiters and they would get the drinks (and I gained commission for all orders). Attendees included a Lord, a couple of actresses, and various minor-celebs from Hong Kong. I was welcomed by the hotel management and made to feel like a guest! At mealtimes, the hotel provided gourmet lunch boxes of which there were plenty left over and given to me to do as I wished. My new Hong Kong friends sat in other parts of the stadium were more than impressed to be on the receiving end of these goodies, along with the odd jug of Vodka-Orange. I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend with a prime-view of the rugby, was paid for my time, and in the company of a great crowd of people. How lucky can you get? However, if looks could kill; I tried hard to avoid the scowls from passing bar girls doing the back-breaking work that is really involved in serving the masses at the Rugby Sevens. Don't ask me who won - remember I had to help my commission sales by imbibing as much as I could.
I am an eleven-year-old Australian boy who regularly visits Hong Kong. On one occasion we spent a day in Macau. Whilst in Macau my Dad and Tim went to the races. Mum, Helen and I spent a great afternoon exploring the old antique shops on Coloane. While we were wandering around Helen told us about the great custard tarts they have at Lord Howe's Bakery. So we bought a stack of custard tarts for the five of us. We ate all the tarts before meeting up with Dad and Tim after the races and till this day they are still complaining about missing out on the great custard tarts.
One hot and humid day Mum organised a day's hike for us at Lamma Island. We caught the ferry from Central to Yung Shue Wan. After arriving we started looking around for where the trail started for the Hike to So Kwu Wan on the other side of the island. In a recent edition of the Lonely Planet guide it said the trail was easy to find and was a short distance taking about 1 hr to walk. We had trouble finding the track going up hills down hills and back alleys, until we asked some Irish residents of Lamma Island for directions. So thanks to them we found the beginning of the track and headed off for what was said to be a 1 hr hike. After going up hills and down hills passing beaches, power stations and going up hills and down more hills for what turned out to be two and a half hours we reached our destination tired, thirsty, sunburnt, hungry and dehydrated but it really was a great hike!
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