The Whiny Expat Bloggers Meet-Up has been an annual treat for us, through which we’ve met fantastic people and explored areas (sometimes new, sometimes familiar) through a local’s eyes. In the last few years, we’ve taken on an organizational role, helping the hosts execute the event, lending guidance and fomenting discussion. However, this feels like the right time for us to step back.
We’re open to attending future meetups, but WEBMU needs a new driver if it is to continue. We’d be happy to hand over the existing resources (blog, FB and forums) to anyone who wants to carry on. Or maybe WEBMU will continue under someone else’s auspices, but in a different form. If you’d like to try giving WEBMU a facelift, go for it. Contact either of us via any of the methods listed here. And if there’s no interest, we’ll eventually shut down the meetup’s online presence.
It’s been a good run, and lots of fun, and we still have and value friends we made through WEBMU. Thanks to everyone who has participated and made it so special!
In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to catch up.
Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise. Produce, seafood, meat (including meat that is still clucking and quacking), electronics, knock-offs, fancy boutique stuff, touristy trinkets, you name it, and someone will be willing to haggle with you for it.
Wan Chai Wet Markets
Wikipedia informs us that a wet market is a traditional market for produce, meat and fish in which the emphasis is on freshness. Therefore, a lot of water is used to keep products fresh, and ostensibly clean. Despite having a guidebook and the quite substantial size of the market area in Wan Chai, we had a hard time finding this place, and were about to give up and head back to our hotel when we stumbled upon it. Lots of meats and produce to peruse here.
Shopping in Causeway Bay
We started out looking for “Island Beverly”, but gave up (even though it’s supposed to be easy to find). Instead we found “Windsor House.” This was a different take on a shopping mall — it was 16 stories high, but maybe a sixteenth of the horizontal surface we’d normally associate with a mall. This seems fairly representative of Hong Kong, given that they’ve essentially crammed the Boston metro area’s population into an area with a tenth of the surface area. In Windsor House there are two floors (currently one of them is under construction and off-limits) dedicated to electronics. There were some big brand names and/or product lines well-represented there:
Photography gear bags & tripods
… and lots more. There are plenty of shops outside of Windsor House as well. I was on a mission to buy a new portable external hard drive, and I had certain specs in mind: 1TB capacity, USB 3.0, 2.5″ form factor. Prices didn’t vary wildly, but they did some, so I gave the friendliest shopkeeper the chance to undercut the cheapest shop — which he gladly took. I found the pricing to be cheaper than at amazon.de, but not drastically so, and that makes me wonder if I should have haggled more, or come prepared for buying more stuff to leverage my total price down. I used the same approach with some photo gear in a couple of camera shops just outside the Causeway Bay MTR stop: give them a chance to compete against each other and then go with the best combination of cheap and friendly.
Temple Street Night Market
We had fun perusing here, but were very, very careful not to show any interest whatsoever in the obvious knock-off clothing and accessories, knowing that those would quite well get us into trouble upon return to the E.U. The browsing itself was the best part. This night market must be well-known among tourists (indeed, our Frommer’s guide pointed us there) because there were quite a lot of our lot out for a stroll among the hawkers. A small stand offering laser pointers attracted me, and I was ready to plunk down for a green one (c’mon, everyone and their cousin has a red one already) when my expert haggler wife stepped and dropped the price by 30% just by asking for it. And man, that thing is powerful. Can’t wait to show it off in my next meeting.
There was also plenty of street food available, and locals enjoying it. That might have been a bit beyond our adventurous eating threshold, but we enjoyed observing it nonetheless.
The vast majority of what was available in most department stores were high-end international brands, i.e. Burberry, Gucci, Prada, et cetera. But we did find a couple of special and unusual places. Chinese Arts & Crafts is chiefly art, traditional garments (padded jackets, cheongsams and the like) and collectibles, but with the guarantee that they are made in China with traditional methods. A nice place for careful souvenir shopping. Unfortunately, we were exhausted and carrying backpacks, killing time until we could go to the airport, so upscale shopping wasn’t a good fit.
Shanghai Tang is a small department store selling men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, jewelry, handbags, accessories, fabric and home decor. Also somewhat upscale, the offerings in this store were entirely unique and the staff very friendly and helpful. It’s a decidedly chic, boutique type of department store and you stand a good chance of coming away with something modern yet deeply Chinese in style.
Maybe every trendy English-language destination needs to have a district called “Soho” or some variation thereof. Hong Kong’s SoHo seems to be the yuppy hang-out, with much more diversity of bars and restaurants than elsewhere. We found little boutiquey shops, vegan(-friendly) lunch counters, and coffee bars as we rode the escalators from Central up the side of the mountain.
The higher up you go, the less Chinese you’ll find, until the last escalator, at which point you’re in luxury apartment land. About half way up, there’s a mosque and some enthusiastic greeters outside it, really trying hard to entice the tourists to come in for a look around. And just past the mosque greeters, a guy representing a Christian church (honestly I’ve forgotten which variety) was also handing out leaflets and trying his luck.
The walk down wasn’t as easy as we’d thought, despite being fully paved and populated — it’s quite steep, and I would not have liked to do that in the rain. We broke up the knee-flexing stomp down the hill with shopping intervals and lunch at Café O and enjoyed their free WiFi.
This was a fun diversion. The Mong Kok Flower Market is a district of 3-4 blocks of nothing but flower shops. The incredible abundance of flowers and diversity of arrangements led to some sensory overload. Of course, we were there the day before Valentine’s Day, so the stock and displays might have been kicked into high gear.
The ifc (I hate that it appears to have branded itself with lower-case letters) is a huge part of Hong Kong’s Central district. It’s got pedestrian bridges to the Central Piers. It’s got direct access to the Central MTR station (and the Airport Express stop). Not to mention its skyscrapers and Four Seasons hotel. And then there’s the Mall. I didn’t recognize most of the nameplates we saw there, but Sarah did: very upscale international brands. My favorite aspect: the bathrooms were nice (and convenient). If you’re into the high-class browsing scene, this is your place.
I much prefer the street-level shopping to the fancy mall boutiquey stuff. Every day on our way into the city, we rode along some portion of Des Voeux Rd, proudly and officially nicknamed “Dried Seafood St.” Shop upon shop with large, transparent, cylindrical storage containers filled to the top with…you guessed it: dried seafood products. Sarah even spotted a sign for Fish Lip Jerky.
Personalized Chopsticks Guy in the mall at the Peak
On Victoria Peak, while killing some time, waiting for the sun to come and give us a brilliant view of the harbor area between Hong Kong and Kowloon, we ducked into a mall. We found a little shop with a wide selection of chopsticks, and smiling older gentlemen who personalizes them for you in Western and Chinese characters. It was a great souvenir idea — inexpensive but very personalized.
Sarah: O HAI
me: I am not the man you married anymore…wait, let me amend that.
Sarah: Um. Please.
me: I am not the man you chatted up on ISCA. That was an ENTP. I am now an ENTJ.
Sarah: Oooooh, who are YOU, then, Stranger? What’s the J?
me: “Judging.” As opposed to perceiving.
Sarah: I coulda told you that and saved 60 pieces of paper.
me: thanks dear.
Sarah: You a judgy %$&#.
me: I’m still an extroverted intuitive thinker…Who judges now, instead of perceiving.
Sarah: That’s ok, then. I keep you.
me: thanks. can I put this into a blog post?
Sarah: Sure, that sounds like a good one.
Heading further South and East from Burg Hohenzollern towards, we stopped in Ulm for the night at Hotel Restaurant Löwen. Sarah found it through booking.com. Our expectations were rather low, since we just wanted a place to sleep, and initially didn’t plan on eating there or exploring Ulm (native Franks and Bavarians had warned us that Ulm is not worth exploring), but I guess we were just lucky because this place was super. The price, at 112€ a night for a double with breakfast the next morning, was a little more than we like to spend, but just having cheaped out at Hôtel Aux Trois Roses, we could afford it. And it seemed like it was worth more than 112€ anyway.
Our room was very modern in design — lots of ultra-euro shapes and angles and surfaces, including a solid glass sliding door for entry into the bathroom, a fixed glass sprayguard half enclosing the shower cabin. When we asked about the WiFi network, the reception clerk apologetically handed us an ethernet cable (haven’t seen one of those in awhile!), because the signal wasn’t strong enough in our room. I thought that was a nice touch; usually you just get “well, it works in our Lobby…”
We ended up eating there that night and were very impressed with the atmosphere and attitude of the staff and quality and value of the food. This was my favorite breakfast spread of the road trip; a waitress came around to ask if we were sure we wouldn’t like some individually prepared eggs. And when I said “yes, thanks, one over-medium for me please,” she whispered in a mock-conspiratorial tone “Two is customary…are you sure you wouldn’t you like two?”
The location of this hotel is pretty great – right across one of the myriad bridges leading into the heart of the old town. The gentleman at reception was very patient with our questions and even let us check in early, as our rooms were already prepared. I find in French city hotels, the rooms tend to be very small, and Trois Roses lived up to my expectation. Our double room was dominated by the double bed. Affixed the wall at the foot of the bed was a set of two large shelves – one high for the TV and one low for a small suitcase. Given the tightness of the room, the suitcase shelf was an absolute necessity. My brother’s single room down the hall was similarly cramped. When I walked in, he said “It feels like an airplane.” He wasn’t wrong. Here’s the kicker – the bathrooms were of normal size!
The stay was comfortable enough and the breakfast and parking were NOT included in the room rate (69€ for the double, 51€ for the single). Which was fine – what fun is it to stay in France and not go croissant hunting? I would consider staying there again if we go back to Strasbourg due to the price – but a little more elbow room might be worth a little more cash.