The second day of Chinese New Year was just as wonderful, if not even better than the first one. Miranda (HK/Singapore/US) had invited Jessica (Lebanon/Slovakia), Jane (Armenia), Miren (Spain) and me for dinner and a sleepover at her house, where we were greeted with warm smiles and the friendly bark of her dog “bear”.
Our home-cooked dinner was delicious and we shared lots of laughter on the table, talking about the differences between “home” and Hong Kong, Chinese culture and religious traditions. Our dinner-table conversations were very interesting and engaging and once again I realized the beauty of being a UWC student: cultural exchange on every level of life! Oh, and we had 14 languages on the table! English, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Slovak, Norwegian, Nepalese, Basque.
After our yummy meal, we left quickly to be on time for the big New Year’s fireworks. Thousands of people had already lined up on both sides of iconic Victoria Harbour by the time we arrived there. The fireworks were an awe-inspiring spectacle: some looked like flowers, some like the lucky number eights, the Chinese character for fortune, and lucky horseshoes, ringing in the Year of the Horse. The sky turned from one color to another. As I found out later, about 6,000kg of fireworks lit up Victoria Harbour that night and they were transported in by boat, as the government did not allow them to be brought in by land due to safety reasons.
After the beautiful fireworks and lots of new year’s hugs, we decided to treat ourselves with dessert. Miranda took us to SoHo, Hong Kong’s alternative neighborhood, with historic and narrow streets that are chic to the extreme, featuring attractive fashion boutiques, art galleries and antiques shops. We passed by many restaurant offering almost any cuisine in the world until one restaurant struck my eye in particular: Turkish Kebab House. I got a mini-heart attack and for a few second was so excited to have found a Turkish restaurant, that I could not believe my eyes. When I found out that the owner was not Turkish I must have made such a sad face, that a young man walked up to me and asked me whether I was fine. I explained the situation briefly and the young man started to smile and then speak in Turkish to me. I was surprised, asking him where he is from in Turkey, when he replied in English that he does not speak Turkish, but knows a few words because he has many Turkish friends in Germany. What a coincidence! Just a few seconds after we started a conversation about our home one of his friends came running towards us, behind him a girl who turned out to be from Turkey!! I will surely go back to SoHo for Kebab! We also found a Lebanese place!
The night passed quickly and after our time in the city we returned to Miranda’s home where we had a cozy sleepover with wonderful late night conversations about the philosophy of life. The next day was just as marvelous. Breakfast started with quite a spectacle! Right when I was about to try the delicious sticky rice rice cake and raddish cake (traditional CNY food), the sound of drums called us to the balcony. Lion dancers had assembled at the bottom of the apartment, getting ready for a small performance. The drummers were amazing and it was incredibly fascinating to watch the professionals perform on the streets and do stunts in the costumes that we could not have even imagined. After the lovely breakfast Miranda took us to Cheung Chau.
It was a one hour ferry ride to the a small island 10 km southwest of Hong Kong Island, nicknamed as the ‘dumbbell island’ for its shape. Being back on the water was wonderful and the sun was shining all day. All of us fell in love with Cheung Chau that radiated summer feeling: fishing were still plying the harbour – if in while the waterfront Praya bustled to family run grocery shops, clicking mahjong tiles and – in a nod to tourism – waiters running around with plates to serve the hungry tourists on plastic chairs. What I liked the most is that the tiny island of Cheung Chau has no motorised traffic, making it a welcome getaway for strollers and cyclists.
We went to Pak Tai Temple, one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. The temple was built in 1783. It was demolished and completely rebuilt in 1989. In front of the temple, there are 4 pairs of guarding lions. Before the altar are statues of two generals, Thousand Miles Eye and Favourable Wind Ear, who together are traditionally said to be able to hear and see anything. The architecture and fine details of the temple were mesmerizing. Inside many people had gathered, lighting incense and candles, which are believed to bring good luck and fortune, and praying silently at the same time.
After the temple visit, we followed Sai Tai Road, which heads southwest from the pier and took us past pleasant coastal scenery and a great selection of popular eateries. As with much of Hong Kong’s island dining scene seafood rightly dominated the island and while it is hard to recommend a particular restaurant you’re unlikely to have a bad meal and prices are generally cheap. We followed the best – and unoriginal – advice to look for a restaurant busy with locals, because the contrast was huge. There were restaurants filled to the brim, while others did not have a single costumer and lonely tables stared at the water. Seated in a place close to the water, we all ordered and shared various types of fried rice – it was absolutely delicious.
On our way back we were so tired that almost all of us fell asleep on the ferry, enjoying the fresh ocean breeze. Once arrived at the harbor in TST, we rushed back to Miranda’s house to grab our things, as we were invited for dinner at Keith’s house (India/Hong Kong). I never thought running from one MTR station could be this much fun and Jessica and me arrived at the very far away Hung Hom station, where we were supposed to meet Keith, 15 minutes late. I think I have mentioned the size of Hong Kong MTR stations in comparison to German ones and it is not an understatement when I say they resemble airports.
Desperate to find our group and lost without a cellphone or any other mean of communication we toured around the entire Hung Hom MTR station, passing by hundreds of shops and restaurants. After several failed attempts to find Keith, Jessica and me got a – quite unusual – idea: we went to the customer service center and begged one of the employees to make an announcement. At first the employee declined our wish, but after we told him that we had come all the way from Germany and now could not find our friend, but were in desperate need to do so, he said yes. Just a few minutes later a robotic voice echoed through the MTR station “Passenger Keith Anto LPC, please come to the customer center. Passenger Keith Anto LPC, please come to the customer center.” The entire announcement was repeated four times and Jessica and me were laughing in awe about our situation. A little later Keith found us and I felt like being part of an FBI movie: he called several people on the phone who had been stationed at different exits of the station to find us. Dinner at Keith’s house was lovely. His parents were incredibly sweet and had put an incredible amount of effort into preparing various delicious Indian dishes for us. My favorite part of the dinner was probably the chili challenge: Keith’s father gave me spicy chilis and while at first everyone was surprised that I did not start to sweat nor ask for water, I continued to eat quite a few chilis with the rest of my meal. Yummy. It was a wonderful evening that concluded with a walk across TST harbor and a great view on the skyline and traditional Chinese junks ploughing through the black waters. I could not be more thankful for such an unforgettable Chinese New Year: Miranda’s and Keith’s family gave us a home away from home.