Saturday, April 07, 2018

Things I've Learned about Japan

Later than I anticipated, but here it is. Another country, another list. I worry that my time spent in Korea and other nearby Asian countries confounds some of the characteristics that are still unique apart from my childhood and adolescence in Ontario... If you need an intro, see my two previous posts on Osaka or The Geisha.
Early Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
1. Convenience Store Power-up
Similar to what I saw last year when I visited Taiwan, I found that the convenience store is on a whole other level than the convenience stores in Korea or back home in Canada. You can get train or bus tickets; tickets to some museums; scan, print or photo copy documents; use a free toilet and wifi (in some locations); and get small grocery items or bento boxes. While we did visit the grocery store a couple of times for a bit more variety in selection of bento boxes, many 7-elevens, Family Marts or Lawsons provided us with what we were looking for. AKA: lots of mochi.
Noodle Sandwich anyone?
2. Picnic Like a Pro
Inokashira Park, Tokyo
We arrived in Tokyo for the peak of cherry blossom season and found the parks packed with tourists and locals alike every day. Why weren't they at work? I wondered. My friends told me that because it is cherry blossom season, big companies host picnics together. Interns are tasked with claiming a spot early in the day, laying down the mats, and then waiting patiently until the others later arrive bringing catered sandwiches, pizza, chicken and booze.
Taking a selfie next to a pro-box picnic group. (Ueno Park, Tokyo)
Some parks had signs saying no tables or tents, but the really creative people got around this through the use of boxes. I wish my company would throw a cherry blossom picnic!
Picnics for days! (Yoyogi Park, Tokyo)
3. The Garbage Can?
I remember reading a couple abstracts/summaries from psychological human interest websites that have implied that visible garbage cans make people produce more litter and trash and I can see the logic. I suppose that's one of the reasons Japan is known to be super clean: Public garbage cans don't exist. Some subway stations might have a recycling can or two, but many don't. If you get a coffee or drink to-go, you might come to regret it later.

While this can be a positive in deterring people from producing trash, it also has a fallback on what is thrown out or recycled: I never knew where or how. And there are a lot of tourists. I can't imagine that everything is being thrown out in the most recyclable manner if there are other people like me who can't read or find the instructions and thus just toss garbage in any bin that they find. For the cherry blossom parks, some had huge bins available labelled with different categories, in English even, but if I didn't live in Korea, I wouldn't have known what Vinyl was. What was the difference between non-combustible and some of the plastics/recyclables? Walking further down the lane you could see the huge dump sites where they gathered trash at the end of the day. Did they bother to sort it again?

Pros and Cons, I suppose.

4. The heated Toilet
My bottom has officially been spoiled. All I want forever is to perch upon a warm throne as I'm taking care of business.

One of our hostels part way through did not have the heated seat, and I felt a moment of loss. When it's a bit chilly out, that brief warmth as you find relief does much to soothe the soul.

5. Wait in the Queue
Everywhere we went, we would see queues outside restaurants, cafes and other establishments. Sometimes they were only a couple people long, but other times, they were massive with at least an hour wait, maybe more. Certain ramen shops, for instance, have people lining up at all hours of the day, even for breakfast (source: Personal Interview with our Japanese friend).

Were the restaurants and attractions really worth the wait? Or were they waiting because others were waiting first? The Jury's still out on this one...
Fuji Mountain across Lake Kawaguchiko
6. The Incredible Fujisan
A part of my heart belongs to the mountains, I know this already from living on Jeju island with Hallasan in my backyard. Of everything we did in Japan, our day trip to Fujisan is in the top three. We had lovely weather, if a little hazy, and easily saw Mt. Fuji from the distance as our bus wove through post card-perfect valleys. I wish we had had the time to do more day trips away from the big cities!

Mt. Fuji and Cherry Blossoms!
Bicycle rental stores were very close to Lake Kawaguchiko's bus/train station, although more expensive than anywhere else that we went (1500 JPY for a day! Some other places were 500 JPY. Also side note: If you are tall, try the bike out a bit before you commit, they are mainly designed for Japanese people and as such, not all shops carry bigger bikes). The day was warm and it was a beautiful ride around the lake. There are different attractions and things to do, but we opted for a carefree circuit and attempted picnic along the lakeside trail (Next time we would choose our food more wisely).

There are five lakes around Mount Fuji that draw in tourists. They say the best time to see the reflection of the mountain is either early morning or in the evening and unfortunately, by the time we arrived, there was a constant ripple across the surface. Still, the mountain was stunning and we snapped more pictures than we needed. Our only regret was perhaps our limited time. We had trouble booking tickets online and ended up buying more last minute. The earliest bus out and the latest bus back only gave us 4.5 hours there. Shayna and I agreed that spending a night if you can would be so worth it.

I definitely want to go back during another season to see how the lake-side scenery changes. Who knows, maybe I'll even try to climb the mountain one summer during open season?

But for now,

Love & Hugs

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Geisha: Nothing but Questions

Lantern Lights; Gion, Kyoto.
What do I know about Japan? A smattering here or there from my avid interest, but I'm far from a learned scholar or dedicated historian.

So far, this trip has spurned more and more questions. With each new experience and realization, I'm struck by another burst of unknown. As we travel between different sites and streets, the lack of English translations leaves me hungry for clarity and understanding

Some of the largest (and also mundane) questions revolve around the enigmatic Geisha. I have a fragmented image of how this entertainer fits into Japan's history and wonder how this profession has been shaped and altered by modern society. What has remained a constant amid the multiple changes that technology and the structure of relationships has wrought?

My sister is more the expert on Geisha. For the grade 12 English ISU (Individual Study Unit) at our high school, students had to pick a fictional novel that focused on a social issue/structure. During her year, Shayna picked Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. Through reading the novel and supplemental research, she learned a lot about the profession (I on the other hand, read Schindler's List and studied the delightful topic of genocide). With this background in place, Kyoto became one of the highlights of our trip.

It was only natural that upon arriving in Kyoto, one of our first tasks was to walk the streets of the famous Geisha quarter: Gion.
Early Morning Streets on our way to "become" Maiko.
If you are looking for a chance to dress up in kimono, Kyoto is the place. If I had 100 JPY for every kimono rental shop that we saw, I could afford an extra week of travelling around Japan, easy. That being said, while there are a lot of kimono rental shops, there are not as many that advertise full Geisha/Maiko attire. As this was high on our list of to-dos, I researched ahead of time and decided on this experience after comparing plans and prices. Shayna and I really wanted to walk through the streets in costume. Many makeup plans were limited to a dress-up and a mini-photo shoot only which wasn't really our style.

The makeup artists were experts at their craft. After stripping and donning the kimono underwear, they quickly painted our faces down to our collar bones and around the back white, added colour to our lips and eyes, and then moved us off to the wig station. We decided to try the "half" wig as it's supposed to make it look more natural. Really this should be called the 80-90% wig; most of our hair was kept back with only the first inch around the forehead and temples pulled free and dyed to weave back into the wig. 

The wigs were heavy. The questions come charging in: How much hair did a Geisha have to create the hairstyles sans wig? Could they have done their makeup alone? Or did they have partial assistance with the white? How long did they have to maintain the hair and makeup? Memoirs of a Geisha talks about needing to sleep carefully in order to keep their hair from going flat, but is that really true? Nowadays?

With hair and makeup done, I didn't recognize myself as we moved on to select kimonos. Shayna and I were going for the Maiko style which is more Geisha in training. Maiko are known to wear more patterns compared to the full-fledged Geisha who is more mature and... "subdued" maybe? We each stood in turn as these small Japanese ladies directed our arms like planes landing on a runway. I lost count of how many pieces of fabric they arranged on our bodies with ties.
Ready to stroll the streets!
Who first designed the kimono? How did they decide to use so many parts? Why?

Pretending to look pensive. Did it work?
Fully dressed, we heading out to the streets.

I struggled hardcore walking. The shoes have a thong like flip-flips but also have a reverse heel so that your toes are a couple inches above the ground. If you put too much pressure over your toes, you teeter forward. I tried so hard to be graceful and then ended up doing the awkward don't-fall-catch-your-balance-hand-wave more than a couple times as we wandered around the neighbourhood. Since people were staring, that was a little embarrassing. Some strangers asked us for photos, too.

Today, I wonder, do Geisha walk around fully-dolled up? Or do they travel more covertly? 

When at last we returned for the take down it was both sad and a relief. But this presented another obstacle. All that makeup did not come off easily. I think it took me almost 30 minutes of hard scrubbing using the provided oil and cleansing soap. Plus since part of our hair was dyed and waxed into place around the wig, that was another 10-15 minutes of soap-rinse-&repeat. A whole lot of work to take off some makeup. Does it get faster with practice? How long does a Geisha spend taking off their makeup? Would they be doing that every single day, then? Nearly an hour before they can retire to bed, only to wake to do it all over again?

I itch to dig deeper but currently lack the proper tools and time. The Geisha experience is one I won't soon forget. While it was fun to play dress up, I choose to remember the undertones and the questions, hoping to one day find the answers.

Where has the past Geisha come from? Where is she going now in the future?

Love & Hugs

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thoughts from Osaka: Cosplay, Sumos & Universal Studios

Dear Osaka,

Thank you for the last three days. You were great. What a wonderful intro to an incredible country. Your city streets were alive with excitement and eye-candy. Of all that we did and saw, three things stand out. One was planned, the others spontaneous.

First: Universal Studios, Japan
The Harry Potter fans that we are, how could we resist visiting Japanese Hogwarts?

Spot-on view of Hogwarts across the Lake.
Shayna finding her wand. Photo-op only.
From the reviews and blogs I saw online, I was a little worried that we were throwing money down the proverbial toilet when we decided to head to USJ. With Hogsmead our main motivation, we decided against the Express Pass (an extra 200 USD) and planned to get their early in order to beat the crowds. Everywhere said that even if you arrived at the park an hour before opening, it might take you a couple hours to get into the Harry Potter section. The park's general opening times are listed online, but vary from day today.

Somehow we got lucky.

We arrived at USJ around 7 on a Monday morning and joined the throngs of people standing at the gates. Around 720/730, the express pass guests were released into the park. We could see them running through the bars toward their desired rides. Then, at 745, they let us in, too.

New Hello Kitty Crown?
Shayna and I booked it to Harry Potter World, expecting to get a timed ticket at Central Park first (as said online), and yet we were ushered right in. We waited maybe 40 minutes for one ride and then explored all the shops, ending our time in Hogsmead by 930. It seemed almost too easy.

We continued our exploration of the park, stopping here and there as we walked through different sections and laughing at some of the items sold in the shops and booths. A lot of people were wearing different head gear (hats, headbands, crowns). It was definitely a fun atmosphere, although Shayna and I found that the actual number of rides was a little discouraging. Two or three per-section and yet five or six shops to bleed you dry…

Still, no regrets.

Second: the Cosplay
Who are these people? No idea. Ha.
During our first day in Osaka, we found out (by accident) that there was going to be an Anime/Cosplay Festival on the morrow. We couldn’t believe our luck. Apparently one of the biggest—if not the biggest—Cosplay event in Japan was happening the following day with full sections of Osaka’s streets blocked off. 콜! And off we went.
This was part of the main street that held a parade, but a number of side streets were also full of characters and spectators. 
A couple of characters posing for cameras.
Identities unknown.
We had no idea what we were walking into (and I have too many photos to add to this post! Ugh!). The hostel worker shrugged it off as a festival, yes, but it was not like the other festivals I've attended. If there was order, it was not translated. There were a few moments where I turned around, momentarily panicked because I thought I had lost Shayna in the fray.

The streets were packed and the costumes impressive. Professional photographers crowded around some of the more impressive costumes and the cosplayers themselves posed with mini-signs asking for twitter followers or Instagram or something (the signs were mostly in Japanese but that’s what it looked like). While we didn’t know all of what was going on: What was the general layout of everything? Was there a central hub? Were there theme areas? Was there a costume contest somewhere? Despite these and other questions, it was still a wicked experience, especially as cosplayers ranged in ages, genres and nationalities. It was cool seeing how people put time and effort into assembling different costumes.
The Spider Crew.
Deadpool.
We only wish we knew more of the costume characters. There were some western characters and the timeless classics (Marvel, Harry Potter, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon...), but there were so many that we didn't know. Both of us are a little rusty when it comes to the current trends in anime and manga.
Another unknown, but a wicked costume.
Third: Sumo Spectating
When Shayna was in Korea back in February, she mentioned in passing that it would be cool to go to a Sumo Match. She did a bit of research and learned that (a) there is this tournament happening during the entire month of March in Osaka and (b) it was really hard to get reserved seat tickets (especially as a foreigner), but that General Admission tickets could be bought for same day admission first thing in the morning.
Waiting in the rain for tickets to go on sale! No idea what the banners actually say...
Fast forward to arriving in Japan. After learning that most Japanese people have Sunday off (and thus the line gets more competitive on Sunday mornings, we joined the ticket line Tuesday morning at 7am, already behind a good number of people. We stood in the spitting rain and cold until the tickets went on sale at 745am, procured a ticket (2100 yen), and then waited until 815 for admission. The bouts started at 845 and continued all day with the better, more advanced matches scheduled for mid-afternoon to late afternoon. Many people, once they have their ticket, head out to do other things, returning later. As we were leaving Osaka in the afternoon, we wanted to watch as many matches as we could.
We got tickets! General Admission is only in the four corners of the area (dark purple seats).
The area was fairly empty when we came but slowly started to fill-up as we watched. It was like watching a sleeping dragon slowly awaken as more and more energy arrived with each guest. While we couldn’t stay, we wondered what it would have been like at the peak during the Intermediate and Senior level bouts.
Around 830 when things were still being set up. Really, nowhere had a "bad" view. Just a "bad photo" view.
Each bout was brief. One referee-like person sang an opening and then the two opponents stepped into the dohyo. Then, the second referee-like person presided over the match. On each side of the dohyo sat judges. The north, east, and west sides had one judge each while the south side had two judges and the “next” ref. On either side of the east and west judges sat the contenders for the next two bouts. Upon entering the ring, the sumo wrestlers would face SE/SW (respectively) and perform a couple stretching/squat configurations before returning to the center to face each other. Some bouts lasted mere seconds, others lasted a good minute. At times, the two wrestlers seemed evenly matched and would be locked in what looked like a strange hug, neither moving. And then wham! One would go flying out of the ring.
Watching a bout.
I don’t think I’ve spent so much time watching half-naked men before in my life. I’m also positive I left with more questions than when I entered. Why do the "refs" change so frequently? Why are they always in different robes? What do the strings represent for the sumo wrestlers? Are matches by weight or experience? And those are just the tip.

It was a really cool experience and I would consider going again, hopefully with someone who could help explain the finer points of the sport. That, or after I do more research.

All in all, Shayna and I are stoked for the next phase of our trip. Onward to Nara and Kyoto!

Thanks again, Osaka. For the crowds, the costumes, and the half-naked men.

Love and Hugs

Friday, March 16, 2018

Japan, At Last

During the spring when I was seven years old, a magical event happened at my school. Teachers transformed their classrooms from the mundane desk/work centers to far off places. They hung up photos of breathtaking scenery, wore strange clothing, brought in interesting food, and taught weird games. In essence, they brought us the world.

For seven-year-old me who only knew the names of a handful of countries at the time (probably mainly Canada, the US, France, England, Australia, New Zealand and of course Africa. Because to a seven-year-old in NA, Africa is a country, sorry. ) it was as if the sun had broken through clouds of grey. My spectrum of colour had grown exponentially and I was seeing new shades between shades.

Of all the rooms I visited on our international day, the only one I really remember was that of my to-be grade two teacher, Mlle. M. She came wearing an authentic kimono from her own time in Japan and had pictures of Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms and fireworks by the Tokyo Tower displayed around the room. I wish I could regale you with her stories of traveling around the country and experiences in Japan, but honestly those are the clearest details that I remember. I do remember, however, being so enamored by this country so different from my own that I promised myself that I would someday get to Japan.

Funny how one day, one short activity from my school day in grade 1 could leave such a lasting impression, eh?

Growing up, my favourite TV programs and movies were related to the Japanese style of animation--the best ones coming translated from the original Japanese. I'd watch certain shows over and over again. I'm pretty sure I could act out Kiki's Delivery Service. My sister and I watched the VHS so much it at last broke. In school, when possible I did projects related to Japanese culture including a study of Ancient Japan in grade 5 focusing on Japanese mythology, weapons, and the samurai and then later an essay regarding the Nanjing/Nanking Massacre in University.

In a lot of ways, Japan was always somewhere in my thoughts, even if not directly in my path. Someday, I would get there, I thought.

At last, here I am. Sitting in the Jeju airport. My flight leaves for Osaka in about 40 minutes, boarding in 20. I've heard nothing but good things from friends who've gone, but I still can't help being nervous. Have I been staring at this country through rose-coloured glasses? Will my vision shatter to pieces around my feet as I set step into this country that I've wanted to visit for the last 19 years?

I suppose it's time to find out; on my way from the land of morning calm to the land of the rising sun. 

Love and Hugs

Monday, February 19, 2018

Thoughts from Pyeongchang 2018

Where to begin? 

When I first moved to Korea 2 and a half years ago, the Pyeongchang Olympics were a distant star on the horizon. Yeah I wanted to go, but I had no idea if it would actually happen. At the time, I didn't know if I would still be living in Korea! Et maintenant? Well.

Pyeonchang was amazing. Crazy. Unforgettable. Unbelievable. 
Outside Gangneung Train Station, raring to go.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Would I do it the same? Probably not.

I was a noob. I was busy with work and didn't bother to research some things ahead of time. Now I know, and now here are a number of things I learned (for next time!).

Our 1st event:CAN vs USA women's hockey
1. Stay close to transit.
If you can't stay near the central areas, at least stay close to readily accessed transit. I know each venue is different in how they organize themselves and their transit, but Pyeongchang was pretty spread out. It makes sense when you have that many events and that many people--it would be foolish and suicide to have everything in the same area! Shayna and I lucked out with an Airbnb situated a short 5 minute walk from the Kwangdong Hockey Center. With shuttle buses running frequently throughout the day, it was easy to get back to the train station and other shuttle points. If you stayed further out, there were parking lots located with frequent shuttles as well. The only downside is that shuttle buses don't always take the most direct root and it can be a long trek between locations.

2. Consider location when you plan your events.
Building off the end of (1), even with the convenience of shuttles between venues, consider the spread of the land. We had to forego one of our scheduled events (where Canada ended up with a medal!) because it was impossible to get there after our previous event. We were with friends at the SWE vs NOR hockey game at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The Luge was out in the mountains at the Olympic Sliding Centre. Transportation time? 2+ hours on the shuttle. With security and lines, they recommend you arrive 1-2 hours ahead of time. Between events we only had about 2 hours. If our event had also been in the Gangneung Olympic Park, it would have been feasible, but... When I first booked the tickets last spring, I never really thought about location which was our downfall. 
Waiting with the crowd for the Skeleton races.
3. Event Selection?
We had a good spread: Ice Hockey, Skeleton, (our would-a-been-but-missed) Luge, Long Track Speed Skating, and Slopestyle Skiing. We went to 5 different venues and got to see a fair bit of the spread. While not all of our events were the most spectator friendly (*cough*Skeleton*couch*), Shayna and I agreed that we would go again if given the chance. For the events requiring a longer track, the television really does offer you the best view, but watching the Skeleton whizz past faster than you can blink and waiting for the skier to leap above the ridge... That anticipation and hope for success sticks with you. Not to mention the camaraderie you feel with the others present. If I ever get to go again, I want to try something new, too!
The Gangneung Oval lit up at night.
Inside the ring!

4.  House Day, eh?
My sister will forever say, "I told you so," because she did mention this to me back during my Christmas Break, but I didn't really understand, nor did I really do the research ahead of time. Although she didn't really come with research either so... she shouldn't have left it all to me to plan! Country (and sponsor) houses can be a huge part of your trip. Some are free and some are not. Some only welcome athletes while others are open to the public. Some have events, some give away free things, some have cultural foods. The Canada House had a giant screen broadcasting events. Definitely cool to watch altogether even if the event was happening less than a kilometer away! 

If I did it over again, I would plan to visit more of the houses. They were scattered throughout the venues, so like events, it would be best to create a navigation plan. I would even consider going to the Olympics and visiting houses only. Potentially cheaper and yet you'd still be in the midst of that atmosphere.  
Inside Canada House
5. Talk to everyone.
There are people from all over the world--most decked out in country swag. Strike up a conversation and meet people! My sister and I met a lot of Canadians (you know, we're sort of drawn together when we have matching gloves and hats!), but also people from a number of other countries. Living on Jeju island, I mainly meet Koreans and my co-workers. I loved being in an environment where I could hear other languages. It was fun just grabbing food, maybe a drink and just hanging out.

6. Dress for the ball. All the SWAG.
We did not bring enough Canada things. I should have brought face paint. I should have worn a jump suit, a onesie and a red wig. I would feel totally outlandish being so up-in-your-face, but it was also really cool seeing others go all out for their countries. Plus, you can win prizes or at least appear on camera which would be equally cool. Ha. Still searching for our 15 minutes of fame!
At the end of our last event before heading back to Seoul (Pheonix Park).
Love and Hugs

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hallasan Musings

Halla from the Eorimok Trail
I am forever spoiled by Halla Mountain. Throughout the year, I am awe-struck and inspired again and again by this thumbtack-like mountain.

Some days, her royal Majesty refuses to deign us with her presence, rising above the low-hanging clouds that hug the ground. And on others, her magnetic force pulls in the few clouds, caching her face beneath a veil. How shy she seems.
A group of hikers resting off the trail on the top of snow. You can see the field dropping off and the clouds hanging on par beyond.
Feeling above the clouds up on Halla's Yeongshil Trail.
And yet, then come those days where she bursts forth, crown and scepter for all to see, as though her timidity was only a passing phase. A brief memory to be forgotten. On those days, that first glimpse of Halla is always like an arrow to my chest; it stops me in my tracks, my breath hitching in my throat. I wonder if my eyes grow the longer I stare. Pulling them away from her peak is hard and I guess it's not only clouds that feel her magnetic pull. And on those days, I seek constantly for that next glimpse--for that better vantage point. How can others go about their mundane tasks so calmly? How can they not stop and stare?

"Have you seen her?" I want to ask. "Have you looked at Halla today?" I want to shout.


Maybe I'm crazy for feeling such elation from the sight of a mountain, but is it so wrong to find joy in nature?
Someone else's snowman, chilling beside Halla's crown.
With that glimpse in the distance, I'm done. If there's a hiker's anonymous, sign me up now... I'm sure I'll be in good company. It's like a hum in my bones or a poem in my soul. I can hear Maria singing, "climb every mountain" and I long to be off and away. 

"The mountains are calling and I must go." You'll find me somewhere out there.

Love and Hugs
Size is relative.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Thoughts from Hong Kong

I have spent the majority of my time over the last couple of days inside of a room staring at my computer screen while my 8 delegates participated in Harvard Model Congress Asia at Hong Kong University. The 3 day conference consisted of long days and committees where my girls, generally used to a mono-cultural environment, were thrown into multicultural settings with students from all over Asia. Talk about overload. Coming in nervous and more than probably unprepared, the first day was definitely a shock to the system as they were forced to confront what it means to be a global citizen and why it is important to be a language learner in our increasingly interdependent world.
HKU (buildings on Right) in its humble habitat

As we concluded the conference today, I could see a light in their eyes. They showed us pictures with their new friends from other schools, laughed triumphantly about finding them on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and spoke earnestly about coming again next year now that they know what it's all about.

Conclusion? I'm so glad we came. If only we had had a bit more time to explore this fascinating city.

Still, as per custom, here are some initial thoughts about Hong Kong:

1. The Vertical City
Hong Kong's many buildings tower above the streets, probably in a means to conserve space. We searched in vain for the sky between the peaks.

If you've seen the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets that came out this past year (I know it received mixed reviews, but bear with me), you might be familiar with the scene near the start of the movie where Valerian is falling through the different levels of Big Market. In some ways, Hong Kong and especially the HKU area reminded me of this sense of things hidden beneath the surface. We were on Hong Kong island for the majority of our stay and as we went between our hotel and the university, I found it confusing and mesmerizing. Each time you would "pop" out of a building or road, you would be at a different elevation and because there are so many buildings, you were constantly finding a different perspective in such a short period of time. I couldn't help but stare out at the city every chance I got. The university was confusing at first, too, because so much of the structure is vertical more than horizontal like I'm used to, but I also kind of liked it.
HKU and the surrounding buildings climb up the mountain...
2. The price to eat: Local Cuisine?
A lot of people complain that Hong Kong is expensive and I don't disagree, but I think it also depends on what you are hoping to eat. If you are looking for western staples like burgers, pasta, sandwiches, steak and the like, well duh, that's generally more expensive anywhere that I've been in Asia. However, if you're willing to eat more local cuisine or at local stands, you can totally find cheaper, satisfying and delicious food. Unfortunately for this trip, we didn't have the time nor the local for finding as many local places. I would have liked to have gone for a more in depth walk through the city. Next time!
Then some Dim Sum
3. Where does the food come from?

4. Ocean Park for a Cable Car
In Line for the Cable Car!
One of the first things we did in HK was head to Ocean Park as per suggestion by one of my coworkers. We were too early to check into our hotel and the conference registration hadn't quite started yet either. With hours to kill, why not?

It was definitely a fun place to visit, but also fairly empty. We gathered that January is generally not peak season for this water-rich attraction filled park. Despite the cooler weather, we still found it was a beautifully constructed park with a cable car attraction that yielded stunning views of the island and the sea. Worth it for the park's admission fee. Plus our students enjoyed the rides and the chance to shake off some nerves before diving into the conference.
View from the Cable Car as we went over the mountain
5. Language Barriers
I thought I would throw this in because one of my students expressed her frustration and difficulty when we were out and about at restaurants or stores. While you can find a lot of places where people speak some English, there are a lot of places where they don't. For my student who has mainly travelled in English proficient countries (or has generally travelled with parents to work through language situations), this was a bit of a shock. She couldn't understand why more people couldn't speak English in such an international city. It was interesting to alert her to the fact that in many places in Korea it's the same and because she speaks Korean she's never noticed. Definitely an eye opening experience all around.

That being said, if you can mime or are willing to point randomly at menus, you'll be fine.

In all honesty, these impressions are based on the smallest glimpse of Hong Kong since, aforementioned, I spent most of my time in a university classroom. I wish I could speak more to the hiking, transportation around the city, and food adventures. Alas, I'll just have to visit again I suppose...

Love & Hugs