There’s just something about traveling by yourself–equal parts utter terror and sheer exhilaration, with a lot of unfamiliar food thrown in for good measure. Taking off to a new place makes me feel alive like nothing else (going to the post office at home seems like an errand, while figuring out the post office in a foreign country counts as a major accomplishment), and Hong Kong clocks in at the farthest place I’ve landed yet. I had a blast!
My general strategy for traveling goes like this: walk a lot. Find some good museums. Walk more. Eat some things you’ve never seen before. Keep walking. Repeat. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that my favorite days of the trip were two hikes I did, one on the nearby island of Lantau and the other just north of the main city of Hong Kong. The Lantau hike started off with gently rolling hills and views of the harbor, and then, having lulled me into complacency, it turned off the road and became a stone stairway straight up a mountain. Brutal. I suppose the panoramic views of ocean and islands and tiny little ferries redeemed the searing pain in my legs, but I hadn’t accounted for the fact that the top of the mountain lay in the clouds. The view from the summit? About 10 feet of grassland and then just… white.
One of my favorite stranger interactions of the trip happened as I clambered down the very steep stone stairway on the other side of this mountain. Every step was a reach, but I got to one that just looked impossible and jumped it. Then I heard cheering. An older Chinese couple heading up the trail had seen my awkward scramble and were yelling encouragement up to me. I’ve never been so roundly applauded on a hike–good thing I stuck the landing!
On my birthday, I joined a food tour that explored a small suburb north of the city and took us to a string of small, locally-owned restaurants, most of which had been around for longer than I’ve been alive. We got to meet the owners and try their specialties, which flung me outside my comfort zone–snake soup, anyone? But having a local explain the history of a place and sound so excited about every single dish emboldened me, and I loved all of it. The first place invited us into the kitchen to watch them make our rice rolls, a perfect birthday present for a cook like me. The rice batter was ladled onto a cloth in a steam tray, left to cook, and then peeled right off the towel for a perfectly thin, slippery wrapper. You guys, I think I need one in my kitchen. Is that allowed? That was obviously the highlight, but crab and crab ROE on rice and strange but delicious nut soups for dessert also made me very happy.
The food tour also pushed me to stay out in the strange-but-delicious territory that I found that afternoon. Our guide mentioned clay pot rice (exactly what it sounds like–hot clay bowl, crispy rice bits, assorted toppings) and I really wanted to find it before I left. Wandering an out-of-the-way street the next day, starving and looking for lunch, I spotted a picture of the dish on one of the restaurant windows. Score! I walked in and ordered the rice, but this was a tiny place with no English to be found. So I went back outside, pointed at the picture, and thoroughly enjoyed that clay pot rice with unidentified toppings. One of them was definitely an egg, and another one was green?
More stories to come, including an epic saga of dim sum and a wholly fascinating and confusing visit to Macau, a cross between Portugal and Las Vegas in China. Stay tuned.