If Families Were Sheep

Shepherding four people with varying temperaments through four action-packed days in Hong Kong sounds pretty stressful, but it was a pleasant chore given this is my family we’re talking about. (I love and tolerate them by default.)

Before I narrate our travails, let me just say I am so grateful for this city’s excellent public transport, for which our plans would have never been possible: from the Airport Express that allowed me to meet them with time to spare 20 minutes after I rolled out of bed, to the navigable MTR and public buses, down to the slightly queasy Star Ferry to Kowloon.

At The Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island (1,800 feet).

Immediately upon their arrival and settling in respective accommodations, I treated them to what would be the most authentically Cantonese experience they could get: loud, bitchy and slightly traumatic. Thank god there’s an overworked, mean-spirited waitress at Dumpling Yuan on Wellington Street (which made it to the Lonely Planet condensed guide, by the way).

While the pork and leek dumplings and spicy dork (theoretically the bastard offspring of duck and pig) were passably good, my littlest brother had to hide under his Adidas sweater because the waitress yelled at us to sit in specific tables with strangers, threw our bowls on the table and also berated my mother when she was informed she had failed to take down one order. Haha.

The upshot is that we all felt more amenable to an expensive meal at Bubba Gump Shrimp at Victoria Peak later in the evening. We reached the chilly summit by taking the open-top, double-decker Bus No. 15C to the Peak Tram station along Garden Road, and the rickety, century-old tram up to the Victoria shopping complex.

My lady parts froze because I was wearing a dress.

You have to climb up several floors to get to the viewing deck, which promises a 360-degree view of the entire Hong Kong Island, passing by plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants and the odd candy store. We even swung by Miniche, a capitalist-appropriated socialist enterprise featuring a variety of hoodies and sweaters with cartoon Che Guevaras on the front, where I bought everyone merchandise as an early Christmas present. But for the moment, we were enjoying a hearty meal at Forrest Gump’s dream come true. Though I doubt he imagined the Hong Kong skyline.

Bucket O’ Shrimp
Shrimp Caesar Salad
Creamy Seafood Baked Rice
Pudding a la Mode

It was probably about 10 degrees up there, so we had to recuperate from mild frostbite. Fortunately, the next day promised to be sunnier and sweatier with a planned trip to a theme park. We opted for Ocean Park instead of Disneyland since it was closer to Central and had a lot more interesting attractions (pandas!). I’d also read and heard poor reviews of Disneyland, which is smaller than its American original and tends to be packed with annoyingly testy mainlanders, Chinese society’s noveau riche.

Riding the cable car to the two-island Ocean Park complex.

We particularly enjoyed the lovely aquarium, which was quite more well-maintained than the ocean park in Manila. Bigger Brother made it a point to visit some sturgeon (the gangsters of the sea and billed as living fossils, since they have not changed for millenia) while we all marveled at the manta rays that were even larger than my shag carpet. The giant octopus also looked delicious — if only they were battered and deep-fried!

Manta ray testicles?

The Panda enclosure was a little depressing, though, because the animals seemed so lonely and showed signs of mental illness (pacing back and forth in a particular pattern, over and over). To ease the sadness, we sampled some rides, which were surprisingly fun, and I must confess I even got queasy on the simple Flying Swing. It was good, then, that we’d eaten early at The Terrace Cafe, which offered scenic views of Repulse Bay and some Outlying Islands. Sufficiently digesting simple Western fare, saved some innocent Chinese children getting splattered with our vomit on one of the roller-coaster loops.

Osso Bucco, which means “bone with a hole” but really is just veal shank.
Terrace Burger
Iced Latte, as I was fast running out of energy.
Wiped out on the bus ride to Causeway Bay, where I abandoned them for the day so I could work.

I learned later that they had sneaked in some dinner at Causeway’s Din Tai Fung, a famous cooking oil company turned dumpling specialty house that is one of a handful of Hong Kong’s 10,000 plus restaurants that has a Michelin Star. The family of course had to stage a repeat of the meal for my benefit when we went to Kowloon the next day, where Din Tai Fung’s original branch is located.

There are long lines to get a table at this Shanghainese restaurant, but it is worth the almost orgasmic pleasure of biting into their savory soupy dumplings (xiao long bao), particularly their most expensive dumpling dish, Black Truffle Xiao Long Bao, which explodes in your mouth with heavenly juices. It’s HK$168 (US$22) for six pieces; I highly recommend it. (There was a Din Tai Fung in Jakarta, but I don’t recall it being as good as this one.) The satisfaction of having a good meal gave them enough energy to shop for bargains at Granville Road, where a lot of fellow Filipinos congregate to buy pasalubong.
As orgasmic as dumplings can be.
With a little black vinegar (a Chinese specialty) and ginger.
My mother swooning.
Spring rolls
Fried rice with scallops
Garlic spinach
My xiao long bao supports Aids awareness.

Day Four, the final day, saw me and my brother oversleep after getting tipsy on Tsingtaos and exessively spicy noodles at my favorite dai pai dong along Queen’s Road Central, effectively canceling any plans to go to Stanley Market. Unwashed, bleary-eyed me ended up just settling the hotel bill (and finding out after the fact that the hotel had a restaurant with two Michelin stars) and then hauling them instead to Stanley Street, home of ramen and vintage camera shops, where Dad and Brother had a brief argument about where to eat.

Gourmet Burger Union, which has several branches around Central, has zippy, perhaps mildly racist, names for their sandwiches (G.B.U. Kick Ass, Jimmy the Greek, Southern Swine) and allows diners to “build their own burger.” It also claims its beef is ground from the remains of a cow that had lived a happy life, fed with grass, roaming the fields freely and reared naturally.

Double truffle burger with Gruyere cheese
Angry Mofo
Very spicy Chili
Onion rings
Chicken Caesar Salad

This isn’t a tourist attraction, but I did let them catch Maids’ Day Out, a very poignant day for domestic workers here. They all congregate on walkways, sidewalks or under bridges where they gossip, play cards, catch up or enjoy home-cooked Filipino/Indonesian meals on their one day of freedom for the week. It might annoy some of the posher crowds who like their pavements untainted by the masses, but I think it’s a nice reminder that there are people toiling away for their families back home.

Anyone who’s had family come visit knows the pressure of herding people around town and the effort it takes to show them a good time (it’s a plus if they’re cooperative, like my family). But after all the craziness, the sneaking naps in the bathrooms at work from sheer exhaustion, the foot blisters — just five words from my dad and a pat on the back made it all worth it. “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

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