All Over the Place: Hong Kong, Revisited
Issue 25: The Return of "Gurt Ideas"
Five years ago this month, I boarded an airplane for the first time and flew to Hong Kong to start my first true international adventure. (I had previously spent a few days in western Canada, but that doesn’t really count.) While I was there, I shared some of my adventures with folks back home through a pseudonymously written blog titled “Gurt Ideas.”
That blog is no longer online, so I’ve decided to reshare some of those articles through All Over the Place, along with adding some updated commentary, which I will write in italics. Since my time in Hong Kong, I’ve been to many more places, and Hong Kong has changed a lot.
What am I doing? (originally published January 18, 2019)
Hello everyone! My name is (not actually) Gurt, and I am currently in Hong Kong, where I will be studying abroad until May 2019. If I know you personally, long time no see, and if I donʼt know you, welcome!
In part, I have this blog to keep in contact with people halfway around the world without using social media. I thought about keeping people updated with an Instagram or something similar, but I soon realized that I wouldnʼt be able to provide the level of detail that I (and hopefully you) would like to read.
What will I be writing about? For the most part, studying abroad, but not necessarily in the way that some might. While there will be pretty pictures of skyscrapers and mountains floating in the mist and tales of trying a plethora of unusual foods, I also hope to add a little more context than others might. Whether Iʼm wearing my paleontologist, sociologist, history buff, or writerʼs hat, Iʼm interested in learning how the world works (and, naturally, sharing it with others in quirky bite-size portions). Iʼve been trying to keep up with local news, and most of my courses this semester have to do with Hong Kong, so Iʼm looking forward to seeing this city in a fuller and deeper context.
Aaaaand weʼll see how well that goes.
But Iʼm also looking forward to exploring and having fun! And generally having fun in ways that I can openly share with others. I could have stayed in Wisconsin if all I wanted to do was drink.
Am I just studying abroad to study abroad? Yeah, pretty much. But I counter with if not now, when? When else will I have the opportunity to reside in a foreign land without children to take care of or a job to hold?
Iʼm treating studying abroad a bit like how I treat Wyoming. I have spent the last two summers as an intern at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, and those two summers have been fantastic. Part of it is the job, which involves digging dinosaurs and talking about them with visitors interested in dinosaurs, but part of it is the exploring and adventuring involved. On my days off Iʼve interviewed residents of towns with populations in the double digits, used a unicorn piñata as BB gun target practice in a ghost town, and headed miles down long and dusty Bureau of Land Management roads to collect fossils, all things that you wonʼt find on a typical touristʼs itinerary.
Likewise, I hope to seek out similar “off the beaten path” experiences, while still enjoying the more common ones. I still went to Yellowstone and the Tetons in Wyoming just like how Iʼll still go to the Tian Tan Buddha and the Temple Street Night Market here. Iʼll just also go to, well, I donʼt exactly know just yet, but keep reading and youʼll find out with me. You can bet that paleontology and improv comedy will come up at some point, though.
And feel free to comment away with suggestions, reactions, or questions. Iʼll try to answer them directly or in depth in a future post. So to quote Bill Wattersonʼs masterpiece, Calvin and Hobbes, “Itʼs a magical world...letʼs go exploring!”
It’s very reassuring to see that my reasons for exploring then still appeal to me today and that I was able to accomplish my goals for my time in Hong Kong.
Cheap Michelin dining and free entertainment (originally published January 28, 2019)
While on a trip to Sham Shui Po District and its markets in Kowloon, I realized that I was only a few blocks away from Tim Ho Wan.
Tim Ho Wan is a dim sum restaurant somewhat well known in culinary circles as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world. My order of siu mai, egg cake, BBQ pork buns, and tea came to a modest total of $69 HKD ($8.80 USD).
Service was quick, too. After being given a ticket and a seat at a table that may or may not have other people already sitting at it, you simply mark the items you want and give to the waitstaff. Ten minutes later and my first two...courses(?) arrived: the siu mai and the egg cake. Food was brought out in little bowls that stack nicely, so the next menu item is kept hot while you eat the other.
Siu mai is a common type of steamed pork and shrimp dumpling with a nice savory flavor, and Tim Ho Wanʼs was good and comparable to the other siu mai that Iʼve had here so far. The egg cake tasted like a warm angel food cake, but with the texture and appearance of carrot cake, just without the little bits of carrot.
Other reviews of Tim Ho Wan seem to focus on the BBQ pork buns as being the main reason why the restaurant has a Michelin star, so I naturally had to try them. They smell like a bakery, have a nice flaky crust that I would gladly eat on its own, and a sweet pork filling.
While Iʼm certainly not cultured enough to determine why this place deserves a Michelin star and not others, I can say that I enjoyed it. I can also now say that Iʼve eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant (laughs snootily, twirls mustache).
After finishing my meal, I took a relaxing walk back to the MTR station when I stumbled upon the Maple Street Playground. (Even in Hong Kong, thereʼs a Maple Street.) A soccer field was its main draw, and when I arrived two teams were in the middle of a match. I donʼt know which team won, but the score was at least 2-2 when it ended.
I hung around for a while, taking pictures and people watching. Besides the soccer game, there was a pair of seniors kicking around a soccer ball, a mother teaching her child badminton, the usual groups of men smoking and playing board games, and all sorts of people just shooting the breeze.
Eventually I realized that it was a Saturday, and I was in the park, and so I began to hum. While there may have been “a man selling ice cream,” I seriously doubt he was “singing Italian songs.” And it definitely was not the Fourth of July. But “Can you dig it?”
“Yes I can.”
I ended up visiting several Michelin starred restaurants in Hong Kong, and I learned that Tim Ho Wan is just one of many cheap Michelin starred restaurants in the city. In my opinion, the best by far was Ho To Tai, a noodle shop in Yuen Long near where I studied abroad. If I ever visit Hong Kong again, Ho To Tai is definitely one of the places I would visit, and I would order their egg noodles with oyster sauce. All of the Michelin starred restaurants I’ve eaten at have been decent, but Ho To Tai is the only one that really stands out as something special.