It is just after 5 p.m. Hong Kong time. Dario and I are taking a little break in our mercifully-air-conditioned AirBnb on the 16th floor of the Fook Moon building in Sai Ying Pun.
It’s 32 degrees outside and humid.
Down on Third Street and out the front entrance of our building, the thick air wraps itself around you before the door to the air conditioned lobby has even had a chance to slide shut. It blankets the pig haunches suspended on hooks in the shops on Second and even the local woman who sat one table down from us at lunch tisked and said “too hot” as she slid by us to pay her bill.
We left Vancouver at about 1:20 a.m. on Friday morning and flew through what seemed like continuous night for 13 hours before touching down in Xiamen at about 5:00 a.m.
Even after clearing Chinese customs we were too early to check in to our 10:00 a.m. connecting flight, so we ordered a couple of Tsingtaos in an airport café and tried to carry a sleep-deprived conversation in the sparse Xiamen airport. It was a little surreal in the way only travel can be surreal.
Our flight to Hong Kong was brief. We didn’t have seats together but the whole row behind me was empty so I moved back and stretching out beside the window (I tried to tell Dario to come join me but he was in such a deep sleep that he didn’t even stir when the stranger beside him tried tapping his shoulder to wake him up for me.)
I nibbled our in-flight chicken bun and peered out the window as clouds gave way to the South China Sea and we descended over an incredibly lush network of mountainous islands.
We sprung to take the (fast, cool and quiet) express train into the city and then the subway to Sai Ying Pun Metro Station.
We couldn’t check in to our AirBnB until 3:00 p.m. so we lugged our bags up a couple blocks’ worth of stairs to find our building, then back down to Queen’s Road to find lunch.
Our neighbourhood is a very lively mix of little grocery stores, butchers, dessert cafés boasting coffee and toast blocks, pet stores (selling products for animals, not animals themselves), and multicultural restaurants packed with locals and ex pats alike.
A street up from our AirBnb, High Street, has a restaurant called “Granville Island Hong Kong” and a craft beer bar, as well as “real” Italian and “real” Indian joints. Across the street from our building is a takeout place for French-style rotisserie chicken and right downstairs is “Noodies” — a thankfully G-rated noodle restaurant.
Yesterday, however, we ended up at a more old-school spot on Queen’s Road called Mak Ming noodles. On the recommendation of the older man who beckoned us in off the street, we ordered one of the set menu combos: a bowl of plump wonton in piping hot broth, beef brisket and sweet and sour pork, both served over springy egg noodles, and some limp steamed lettuce with a dollop of salty oyster sauce.
We inhaled the food and a couple cups of tea each, even though we’d been fed on our flights.
We still had some time to kill after the meal so we stopped at a bakery for a cold drink and some coffee before making our way back uphill to our building.
Exhaustion took hold almost immediately after we figured out how to turn on the A/C and I cooled down with an almost-cold shower (even with only the cold knob turned on, the water doesn’t ever really come out cold). Even though I’d told myself I wouldn’t nap, I lay down and fell fast asleep while Dario went out to explore and find some shampoo and toothpaste.
He returned an hour later, buzzing from the feeling you get when you explore somewhere totally foreign to you on your own, and I dragged myself out of bed and we went out for an evening walk.
The air was significantly cooler without the direct sunlight but it was still sticky and thick. We walked up High Street and around a big park where men played soccer on a paved pitch, painted green.
We cut down towards the water and wandered a little further East, along a stretch that Dario said had been lined with dried seafood vendors earlier in the day. By evening it was surprisingly quiet though, especially for a Saturday night, so we doubled back in search of a clay pot rice restaurant that we’d seen recommended online and that our friend Iris had also mentioned is a must-try in the area.
Kwan Kwee is a small place just off of Second with your typical Chinese-restaurant-fluorescent-lighting and tables spilling onto the street. A woman in bedazzled Minnie mouse jean shorts directed us to a round table in the corner where two couples were already sitting, then brought us a menu and a plastic bowl containing chopsticks, spoons and smaller bowls for eating out of.
We ordered clams in black bean sauce and clay pot rice with Chinese sausage and watched the couple to our left dig into a pile of deep fried squid while the couple to our right (literally) attacked their bowl of chicken clay pot rice. The man kept pulling bones out from between his teeth and adding them to a growing pile directly on the table in front of him.
Our clams came, swimming in sauce and studded with green pepper and whole garlic cloves, and then our rice arrived, so hot that the bowl sizzled when I poured sauce over it. The Chinese sausage was juicy and somehow more pungent than the T&T variety at home.
It was all incredibly delicious.
We stopped in a bakery en route home for some neon-yellow egg tarts for dessert and coconut buns to save for breakfast, then to a 711 for beer and Mango Fanta. Once back to the Airbnb, we watched a little John Mulaney on Netflix before finally calling it a night at about 9:30 p.m.