Aug 30 - First Day in Hong Kong

The first thing I thought when I got off the plane was that the air smelled like some fried noodle dish. I remember this smell well from my previous trips to Hong Kong.

I was pretty wiped when I got to my hotel--it's a long trip. I took the connecting flight through Vancouver, so it was about 25 hours from door to door. And it's so hard to keep on my planned sleep schedule on the flight when the airline controls all the lights. I still can't tell which time zone Air Canada works their lighting for? Anyways, I ended up sleeping when I was supposed to be staying awake because it was so damn dark in the cabin.

I did go for a quick bite to eat in the Langham Place mall next door. Everyone looked super young there. And they are all sporting mullets, highlights, and swoopy hair a la Zac Efron. My hair has been doing the Dragonball look lately--so I am probably out of style here. I ate a bowl of rice and some curry...mmmm.

But so far it seems like another business trip to Asia. I think the fact that I'm gone for a year from Canada will hit me maybe after the first month or so.


Aug 31 - Apartment Hunting in Hong Kong

There are tons of apartments in HK. Unfortunately, if you can't read Chinese, it leaves you the gwei-lo options. I was checking online for apartments, but it became a bit overwhelming. Here's a couple of the sites:

AsiaXpat service apartment listing
Go Home

I just decided to focus on a few key choices, stick to the serviced apartments, and not worry about the price so much. I didn't want to waste a few days looking at a million places.

I picked Shama Fortress Hill - 420 sq ft, $20000. One bedroom. It initially wasn't even on my radar, but I decided to check it out after seeing the Shama in Causeway Bay. It's just outside the gwei lo area--that makes it cheaper and you also feel much more like you're in Hong Kong. Plus it has a decent size living area and kitchenette. The kitchenette is actually quite useful because I'll be able to eat healthier for breakfast and snacks. There's also an attached gym and billiard room. I'm very excited! Here's the other places I checked out:

Charterhouse Hotel S Floor - I sometimes stay at the hotel when I'm in HK. These rooms are their long-stay boutique rooms. 350 sq ft, $22000, the lighting in the room is a bit yellow--kinda creepy and unnatural. I don't know if I would be happy working and living in that room a lot. Had a few extra perks like $2000 food allowance and free breakfast, but no kitchenette.

Shama Causeway Bay - 350 sq ft, $21000 with promotion. Small studio. Tiny kitchenette. Let's just say everything was a very efficient use of space. Smack dab in the middle of everything in the heart of Causeway Bay across from Times Square. Don't expect to have an oasis of peace with this place!

238 Apartments - It's across from the Charterhouse, so I just popped in. It's about 300sq ft and much cheaper at $11000. This is probably more in the range of a regular apartment. It was actually fine. Clean and functional. It wasn't very homey though--and seemed a bit small.

As an aside, I later met a friend who started renting a year-long rental--nice apartment in Sheung Wan for about 11000 HKD a month. So they obviously got you by the balls when you're renting short term.





I really liked living in Shama Fortress Hill. It was a super convenient location directly beside the Fortress Hill MTR and the Wellcome supermarket. But it's not a super congested area like Causeway Bay or Central.

On Electric Road right behind Shama there is lots of options for cheap and tasty Chinese food. I had many "sui gao mein" shrimp dumpling noodles during my stay. But it was also great to have the option to cook my own meals in the kichenette. Sometimes it does get tiring trying to figure out the chinese menus!

The front desk staff were very friendly and helpful. If you read my blog, you'll see that I tore my knee up and had an operation so I spent a lot of time in my apartment. The front desk staff showed their concern and offered to help however they could, which was nice to know. The free movies were a boon during my days recovering--I think I worked my way through all the movies. Watch The Notebook--total chick flick...I was crying like a baby at the end.

The inhouse gym actually turned out to be quite useful when I hurt my knee. I could hobble down to the stationary bike and do a quick half hour. I also joined the Fitness First club a block away--a nicely equipped, yet kinda boring gym full of retirees. I preferred to schlep to the Sheung Wan location where there was more energy (and more hotties!).

The maid service was great--they cleaned up without messing around too much with my stuff and I felt pretty comfortable leaving all my valuables lying around. Overall it was a great place to better be for 20000 HKD a month!

Coming back from a 5 week trip in Asia, I called about the room they were supposed to hold for me and they said that it wasn't available (I do question this a bit, but anyways...). They offered me a luxury single for HKD23000. Bigger apartment #18A with a separate living area. The layout is awful in this pad. Everything is in the most inconvenient place. I much prefer #9A which has an extremely functional layout.

Sep 1 - Gym Hunting in Hong Kong

After getting my apartment settled, I came to answer the age-old question. What gym should I join? I found a slightly dated article online that gave a low-down of the choices. It ended up being pretty accurate.

I ended up choosing Fitness First because it offered a global membership that includes lots of the places I'll be going. It's expensive compared to Canada, but I'll definitely be making use of it--the North Point location is about a block away from my apartment. Yay!

Fitness First:

Type Sign-up Fee Monthly Fee

Global Membership, 6 months *


* Most of the sign-up fee waived because of an 8-year anniversary special
Other locations: Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, UK, Spain, France

Pure Fitness:

Type Sign-up Fee Monthly Fee

Global Membership (includes Singapore & Taiwan), 6 months

All Access Hong Kong, 6 months
IFC only, 6 months
Langham Place only, 6 months
5 month contract, LP only
4 month contract, LP only


So Fitness First has been a good gym. It's pricey, but I guess that's too be expected considering how much real estate they need. The clubs are well equipped--I was able to do my P90X workouts just fine here. And the free movie rentals were a boon when I was stuck at home with a knee injury for a month.

I've been going more often to the Sheung Wan location in the Cosco building. The North Point location, although super close to my apartment, is pretty low energy and always full of retirees it seems. The Sheung Wan has a much better looking crowd--and let's face it, that's motivation. And there's more energy there. Definitely more crowded than North Point, but not to the point where I am inconvenienced during my workout.

I actually never made use of the "global" part of my membership. Because of my knee injury, I was pretty low-key when I did my trip around Asia. So I didn't get to visit any of the other locations. It was much easier to limp down to the hotel gym.

Um...okay, so cancelling the membership created a bit more hassle than starting one. So if you join, they bill every 1st of the month. This also means that your contract period doesn't begin until the 1st of next month. In other words, a 6 month contract is really a 7 month contract. So be careful. I was totally broadsided by this and had to pay an extra month penalty. On the good side, is that the manager at the club graciously gave me credit for two months when I return in July.

Sep 11 - At Home with Mujigae

So I had my first night in my new apartment last night. I was bagged from my long training and travel day in Manila. So I actually slept until 7:30am--so far, I've been waking up at 3 and 4am every morning. This is more surprising in that there is a constant hum of cars outside my window--a lot noisier than I'm used to.

Tropical cyclone Mujigae is off the coast of Hong Kong so it's a dark and wet day today. I love the names of their cyclones. Our hurricanes have boring names like Bill and Wanda. "Mujigae" sounds cool--I'm scared by just hearing that name!!

Sep 14 - UPDATE Mujigae's Big Brother, Koppu

Well, I get to experience a class 8 typhoon Koppu (the Japanese word for "cup"). It's raining sheets out there right now and there are some pretty major gusts of wind. A part of me wants to go out and run around in the rain and wind, but I'm too afraid of getting hit by a rampant chunk of bamboo.

But the amazing thing is that once the warning level goes to level 8. Much of Hong Kong shuts down. I was surprised it reached level 8. My clients told me it was at level 3 and all of a sudden a few hours later, it jumped up to level 8 and everyone had to go home. I checked it afterwards, and the level goes 1, 3, 8, 9, 10. But once it gets to 8, it's a major deal.

My clients closed their offices. The streets were eerily quiet. And my Cantonese class was cancelled (and they don't refund your money or make up the weird is that?!).


Sep 15 - Everyone Is In My Space

I think one of the first things I notice when I come to Hong Kong is that I really have no "personal space". In Canada, when you walk around you're aware of everyone within 10 to 20 feet of you. You can see the old lady with her cane walking slowing in front of you and figure out a passing route. You can feel that the kid with the wheelies will cross your path in a matter of seconds, and automatically slow your pace to avoid the collision. And you think about holding the door open a bit longer to help the guy behind you in a business suit walking up fast and talking on his cell. We're not just aware of where we're going, but within our "personal space" we're aware of where everyone else is going as well.

In Hong Kong you have about 1 foot of personal space. It's pretty much a free-for-all. I think the idea of worrying about other people would be overwhelming and you just end up just worrying about yourself and where you are going.

What keeps it sane is that most people are going the same way at the same speed--so there's a natural flow. In Canada, I'm always skeptical about the follow-the-crowd concept because a "crowd" just takes a few people--but in Hong Kong, the throng is probably really going where you want to go.


NUMBERS 09.09.15
population, Hong Kong: 7M
- 6348 people / sq km
population, Toronto: 2.5M
- 2650 people / sq km

Sep 19 - The Food of Hong Kong

I'm going to use this entry to mention a few of the notables restaurants I've nibbled at in Hong Kong over my time here. But I must say that when I get back to Toronto, I am going to gorge on mouth-watering steaks, poutine, cheap sushi, and healthy shwarmas. Damn I miss all that.

Law Fu Kee Noodle: This noodle house is located at 140 Des Voeux Road and there's always a line up at lunch time. The won ton / shui gow noodle is delicious, and reasonably priced. Much better than the tiny expensive bowls you get at the Mak's Noodle on Wellington which seems to get more of the expat votes--I'm totally baffled by this.

Xiao Nan Guo: My coworker took me to this tasty Shanghainese restaurant. It's called Xiao Nan Guo located on the 3rd floor of the Man Yee building in Central. I couldn't stop gorging myself on many of the dishes.

Yun Fu: We found a hidden gem of a restaurant called Yun Fu. Coincidentally, I found out later that it is part of the same chain of restaurants as Hutong, a high-flying restaurant where we were originally trying to get reservations. Going into the Yun Fu itself was cool--it was like we were entering the Hong Kong mafia's hideout. After passing the tiny buddha shrines and the funky circular bar at the entrance, we walked through a dramatic hallway bathed in red light with Chinese screens and lanterns on each side. I imagined the people peeking out of the private rooms as prostitutes and their johns taking a rest between sessions. And the wisps of dry-ice fog floating through the air as an intoxicating opium haze. The food was delicious and each dish became a temporary work of art under the spotlight at the centre of our table.

Toppings: Mmm...poutine... and right beside is Aborigine Vietnames Subs If you like the taste of coriander, these subs are tasty and cheap. And you can even get a black bun

Maxim MX: This is like the Chinese McDonalds, but the food is really good and cheap! The steaks here reminded me of my mom's steaks. And the hainanese chicken rice was the best I've had outside Singapore and Malaysia...not that I routinely eat chicken rice everywhere I go!

Under Bridge Spicy Crab: Imagine a crab just smothered in peppers and that's the under bridge spicy crab. It's awesome with a bit of rice to keep it real. There are 4 locations of this restaurant just under the bridge in Wan Chai and they all seem to be in the same building. Now I think they play around with the price a bit since the crabs are at "market price". One time I went, they charged HKD750 for the crab alone! If you're worried about this, you might check out the outdoor seafood restaurants that open at night inside the Wan Chai wet market.

Ba Yi: After all the fantastic Uyghur / Xinjiang food I had in Beijing, I wanted to find something in Hong Kong. My colleague found this restaurant hidden off the MTR lines. While we were there, two tables had full roasted lambs brought to their table to take pictures before it was cut up and served. It was pretty cool. The food wasn't near as tasty as it was in Beijing, but at least I got my Xinjiang food fix. Actually, near the end of my time in Hong Kong, I found another Uyghur restaurant called Al Pasha located on the 4th floor of the K11 mall in TST. Now their kebabs are EXACTLY what I love about Uyghur food. Amazing!


wonton noodle + greens:
- Mak An Kee Noodle: $30
- Mak's Noodle: $55
dinner for 3 at Good Luck Thai: $600
dinner for 3 at Yun Fu: $1250
lunch for 2 at Xiao Nan Guo: $450
dinner for 3 at Xiao Nan Guo: $580
dinner for 3 at Under Bridge Crab: $850
dinner for 2 at Ba Yi: $500
dinner & shisha for 3 at Al Pasha: $600
meal at McDonalds: $38
6" sub + drink & chips at Subway: $29
vietnamese sub, Aborigine: $35
curry bun, Maxim's Bakery: $6
steak dinner, Maxim MX: $49
shwarma, Ebeneezers: $52
dim sum for 1, Choi Fook: $70
japanese curry, Bee: $95
3 dragonfruit: $10
3 rose apples: $18
burger & poutine, Toppings: $60
laksa & barley, Katong Laksa: $59

Open Rice: Hong Kong foodie site Comparison of food prices across Hong Kong

Sep 30 - Learning Cantonese Part 1 of 3

I've now been taking my Cantonese classes at the Hong Kong Language Learning Centre for a month. My impression of the school is pretty good so far. The location is smack dab in the middle of Wan Chai--it's a bit difficult to find because the address is Hennessey, but it's really on Johnson Road. The rooms are a bit tight, but so is everywhere else in Hong Kong. And the people there are friendly and professional.

People from all over the world take the classes and it's always interesting to trade stories about what brought us all to Hong Kong. Mandarin seems more popular at the school with several levels of classes going at once. The Cantonese classes are fewer and surprisingly small--for the number of expats that live in Hong Kong, you'd think they would try to learn the local language a bit better! I jumped into the Beginner 4 class and joined with a Thai Brit lady trying to keep up with her kids and another banana from the US trying to build a connection back to his roots.

So yes, I'm a banana. I actually spoke Cantonese as my first language. Probably until my brother and sister started going to school. And then English became the language at home. So when I'm learning Cantonese, it's very strange because I can understand a lot of words and simple sentences, but then I get tripped up on some very common of words and sentence structures.

Speaking Chinese until I was 4 or 5--here's what I know: A lot of verbs. A lot of nouns that have to do with daily objects. A few adjectives to describe people and things. No adverbs. No conjunctions. Nothing about the future, only a little bit about the past. No words dealing with abstracts. Only "'who", "what", and "when"--not "how" or "why". No adult topics like politics, travel, sex, work, feelings, relationships.

In a way, my Chinese is like a time capsule. It covers everything that happened to me for those brief few years. Words about playing outside, the dinners my mom cooked, wearing winter clothes. And now I'm breaking open that time capsule--during the classes, I am constantly struck by revelations and lost memories about why I know certain words, and why others are missing from my vocabulary.

But I am getting used to hearing and speaking the tones. My childhood words are naturally the correct tone, but any new words I have been learning have been a bit of a battle. Luckily, the school uses the Yale System of Romanization so it makes it easier to remember both the word and the tone if I can remember how the word is spelled. Having tone indicators is quite a cool spin on spelling words.




see itinerary