Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amazing Asia * Hong Kong Off The Beaten Path (April 2011)

Having been to Hong Kong so many times over the last 40 years, I realized there's still so much more to explore in Hong Kong aside from the usual city visits, food and shopping.  On this trip to Hong Kong, I wanted to explore the path less traveled by tourists.  At one time or another, I've visited off the beaten path places like Repulse Bay, Shatin, Stanley and nearby Macau, but all of these have also become common places to visit.  So this time, I made it a point to plan a different itinerary, something that I've never visited or experience before and where few people have gone.

First of all, I made sure I stayed in a hotel in Lantau Island, away from the city, and a convenient take off point to the islands.  So weekend came, and I'm all set to explore a new path.

Saturday, I started on a slow and relaxing road trip around Lantau via bus.  I planned for a stop in Ngong Ping where the Giant Buddha is, then head further down to Tai O where the fishing village with stilt houses and pink dolphins are.  I decided to skip Mui Wo, which is just a landing point for folks coming from the city via ferry.

I've been to Ngong Ping once before, so I planned a slightly different itinerary for this place.  I took the bus, similar to the last time.  I was tempted to take the cable car, but given that the track record was not good (an accident happened before where a cable car fell), I wasn't keen on it.  Besides, I've ridden cable cars in the past and even if this offered a scenic view, I'm more comfortable on land anyway.  The bus trip from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping was about 50 minutes and the path up was a winding road.  A lot of people call this a hairy ride, and indeed it is.  So now, I ask myself, is this safer than the cable car ride? Hahaha.  Imagine the bus running along a highway, this is how fast it felt like, except that it was doing this in a winding road along the mountain.  At one point, the mountain was actually just inches from the bus' window.  But the views were marvelous.  You see endless mountains with dark green lush trees and bushes.  The road is built on the edge of the mountains and thus, you can see the views falling down on the side of the road.  That was part of the reason why the bus ride felt like a roller coaster ride.  But I salute the driver, excellent driving all the way.

Photo Gallery * Amazing Asia * Off The Beaten Path of Hong Kong

Having gone to Hong Kong so many times over the last 40 years, this is the first time I've really explored the many nice islands outside of the Hong Kong city proper which offer a more relaxed and pristine place to visit.

Both islands are easily accessible. I took the bus from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping (45 minutes) to see the Giant Buddha, Wisdom Path and explore the trailhead that leads back to Tung Chung. I then took the bus again (20 minutes) to Tai O to see the fishing village and pink dolphins. Lamma Island, on the other hand, is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Central.

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Amazing Asia * Hong Kong - Bits of Business with Pleasure (April 2011)

My primary purpose for this trip was really to attend the China Sourcing Expo, to look for ideas and business opportunities, a new life chapter that I've decided to thread upon.  I've never been into small business in the past that deals with sales, and therefore every process is new to me.  This time, I'll be exposed to the process of purchasing and dealing with suppliers. So all in all, this trip was going to be a learning experience nevertheless.

I planned my trip in such a way that I could attend both the Electronics and Gifts and Premiums Expo in one trip.  They were scheduled a week apart.  So in between these Expo days, I would spend these days to catch up with friends and family but most importantly, to explore the outer islands of Hong Kong.  Like in my past business trips, I like to squeeze into an opportunity for exploring the place.  I admit I have a bit more time now, but it is never wise to lose an opportunity to experience the place, whether you're there for business or pleasure.  So, here's how I combined bits of business with pleasure.

I decided to stay in Lantau island, which was close to the Expo and also give me an opportunity to visit the islands away from the city.  The hotel recommended to me was just above the Citygate outlet malls so it was really convenient, not much for its shopping but more for its proximity to a supermarket, coffee shop and food establishments.  Shops do close late at night so I'm able to just go down to do some shopping in the evenings if I feel like it, without having to go out of the building. Additionally, complimentary shuttle to airport and the Expo also make it a choice of location to be in.  Most important I would say, is that it's also a take off station for the buses going out to the islands, which I plan to do on the weekend.  It's a completely different environment compared to the city as you are surrounded by mountains, water, parks, etc.  Not much crowds and definitely much cleaner and the air fresher.  It is refreshing to have this view when you look out your room after a busy day.

Cable Car Station at Tung Chung leading to Ngong Ping

My first stop was the Taste supermarket downstairs to get some drinks, snacks and something for breakfast.  Some of you may think it's weird, but this habit is obviously inherited from my dad whose first stop is always a grocery or convenience store during a trip.  I guess having an empty stomach is not fun, and we just refuse to rely on the food and drinks available in the hotel.  Not only are they expensive, they're really not good either, just like airplane food, hahaha.  Anyway, my usual choice of items are a bottle or two of ice tea or coke zero, some strawberries and pomelo (or other fruits if unavailable), some sushi (my favorite being salmon flower or just plain salmon sashimi), and some mini crispy sausages and chocolate milk for breakfast.  Yakult is also a common item I get where possible to ease possible gastric problems associated with eating out or eating too much, haha.  Somehow, this choice of food started as a "let's try the local produce" or "this is easy to eat even in a hotel room", then it just evolved to being a my usual survival kit :-)

Korean Strawberries (has a sweet but flowery smell)

Salmon Flower (how come they don't do this back home?)

HK Soy Chicken just tastes better :-)
They say it's because of the HK Yellow Chicken
Being that I just arrived, I took the day afternoon slowly, surveyed what I wanted to see in the outlet mall in the next few days and places to eat as well.  Unfortunately, my favorite Thai restaurant serving Green Curry Chicken isn't around anymore, what a disappointment :-(  Anyway, I did find some hot cooked food in the supermarket which is simply delicious.  They have ready to serve hot dishes like BBQ pork, soy and white chicken, roast duck, etc.   No need to find a Cafe de Coral (my favorite place to get these).  There's also a food court serving Hainanese Chicken Rice and of course, the ever ready McDonald's just in case.  Anyway, these are what I would consider my "comfort food" haha.  And I need to have them at one point or another during my trip, to balance off, haha.

Authentic Garlic and Leek Sauce for the Soy Chicken
In the evening, I took the subway to the city to go have dinner with my friend.  She was leaving for a trip the next day and I was glad I was able to catch her before she left.  We had dinner at Simply Life in IFC, a fusion restaurant that had a great ambiance and good food.  I had the prawns with red curry with rice.  My friend had black cod which was also delicious.  Partnered with a glass of Pinot Grigio, we enjoyed our dinner and chat.  It would have been great though if we had more time, but I was thankful we were able to see each other despite the tight schedules.

The next day was Expo day, time to do some work!  I hopped on the hotel shuttle in the morning which brought us there in 5 minutes, passing by the back roads of Cathay City which is pretty much where you see the employees go to work to keep the airline running.  Registration at the Expo was quick as I already pre-registered online, got my badge and a buyer's kit and headed to the halls.  The place was huge, I think much bigger than SMX back home.  At this point, I was already worrying about the tiresome day ahead of me.  But the products being featured took my attention and it was really nice to see the many different products, some of which aren't even familiar to me.  I began to feed my idea bubbles, hoping that I can turn some of these opportunities into reality.  At around 1pm, I was really tired, so I took some time to sit and have lunch.  I had some pork siomai and steamed minced beef patty with rice.  I was happy to see the minced beef patty, a dish that my mom used to make although this tasted slightly different.  My mom makes these with salted eggs.  This one tasted a bit more like the dimsum beef balls with some crunchy water chestnuts inside.  It was yummy nevertheless.  Then I stopped by Pacific Coffee for some caffeine and took my afternoon rest on a nice couch.  It was a nice quiet moment to reflect on the morning's finds and also a chance to people watch.

The suppliers I met were quite helpful, most of them really friendly except probably for 1 or 2 that I found aloof.  But most were knowledgeable about their products compared to the Expo's I've attended back home.  I was pretty happy with it, although I was not able to find the printing machines that I wanted to see.  I guess I just need to connect with them via email.  Speaking about email, I found it amazing how modern things are now, and how these Chinese suppliers have caught on to the new medium of communication.  Everything is via email nowadays, and products are featured online.  Fruitful day so far and I finished faster than I expected.

So I headed back to the hotel and passed by the shops to get myself 2 sets of casual pants and tops at at the Esprit outlet, as well as passed by Manning's to get some Japanese muscle pain relieving meds that I would usually stock up for.  I also went back to the supermarket to get myself some soy chicken for dinner and went up to the room to rest.  After dinner, I decided to head out to Kowloon's Elements Mall to walk around for an hour or two.  I was able to go see H&M, Zara and Mac but wasn't able to get anything.  Those were my usual stops when I visit HK, where I would survey for new items.  I like to buy my clothes abroad more because I don't want to end up wearing something that's really common.  I went to the supermarket there to see if there are some things I can buy to bring home and found myself some Japanese snacks :-)

Now, finally, it's the weekend.  And it's time for me to go explore the islands.  Visit my blog entry __________________________ to learn of my adventure!

Anyway, after two days of the islands, I moved into the city.  I rented a room through AirBNB.  This is a new concept similar to couchsurfing, but a paid version.  You get to find places to stay, mostly personal homes, which would make you feel at home.  Some people rent out the whole place and some just a room.  The owner was an American lady who lived and worked in HK for the last 3 years.  She did a great job with her apartment, I felt like I was living in one of those rooms in Ikea, haha.  It was so clean and organized.  And I loved the modern style.  Actually, my initial reaction when the taxi dropped me off and I went into a small doorway and couldn't find the locked door mentioned in my host's instructions, was a bit of panic, haha.  But I knew I got the right address.  So I walked in a bit, saw the tailor shop, which was closed because it was a Sunday, then turned around to see if there was anything else that resembled a main entrance.  I soon saw a locked gate half a floor up the steps.  Ok, it was hidden, haha. Relieved! Then as expected, here was the challenge to bring up my luggage 4 floors up without an elevator.  The steps were the usual tiled floorings found in most Chinese buildings (my uncle used to live in one) and the steps were very narrow.  Anyway, I got through the challenge after a while, haha.  Then just like a treasure hunt, I had to find the keys which was supposed to be placed on the ledge above the metal gate outside her apartment.  As I stood in front of her apartment, I realized that the ledge was really high up and was wondering how the hell was I going to reach it?  I looked around, and there were some stuff left outside by the neighbor but none of them looked sturdy enough.  I suddenly realized that I had luggage and why not step on my luggage.  And so I did and stretched my hands on top of the ledge to find an envelope with my name on it.  Ok, here we go!  Next step, haha.  I turned the keys to open the locks, managed to open the metal gate, then the main door.  And here I was, in a totally different environment.  The apartment was so modern and it was really nice, so different from the exterior.  I immediately felt at home.  So I went in, and figured out one of the rooms with less stuff would be mine.  I found a 3-page guide from my host explaining the use of the water heaters, light switches, airconditioner switch, kitchen, etc.  I left my luggage and stuff in the room and surveyed the place.  I realized that it wasn't much bigger than my niece's apartment before, but she did a great job making it look and feel really airy and not stuffy.  So far, so good.  I fixed my stuff a bit, prepared my cameras and got ready for my day out.  I even had some time to rest before I headed out to meet my friend.

Monday and Tuesday was scheduled for a bit of shopping in the city and in the evenings, meeting my cousin and niece's friend.  Oh and a visit to the museum to see the Pixar 25 Years of Animation exhibit.  In fact, I think this was the first time I visited a museum in HK, hahaha.

All these time, I have a fascination for animation.  I am just so amazed at how they do it.  And moreso, when they have turned digital from the traditional drawings that they did.  So I had to go and see this exhibit.  I headed to Shatin, 3 stops from the Mong Kok East station which was on another line, one I haven't been on yet.  It seemed to be an older MTR line, but it was convenient from where I was.  I had to struggle the many steps though leading to the station, due to my recent ankle sprain, but it was great exercise, haha.  There's a new mall in Shatin called New Town Plaza, which had everything I wanted to see: Muji, Ikea, Geox, Bossini, etc.  It even had a Snoopy Land there, which was more of a great photo opportunity.  So I decided to come back after my visit to the museum.  But first things first, I had to get to the museum first which I had no idea how to get there.  I figured the Customer Service Desk would be a good place to ask.  They were really helpful.  They even gave me a map and gave me precise instructions (unlike in Italy where straight may not mean straight, haha).  After passing several sections of the mall and a bridge and underground walkway, I finally got to the museum.  Bought myself a ticket and headed upstairs to the exhibit.  It was nice cause the exhibit showed us the entire animation process from end to end.  I remember attending an Animation Workshop in Disney years back, so this was a great refresher.  They talked about storyboards, colouring, 3D models, rendering, scripts, music, etc.  There was also another room which showed a video clip of different animation pieces including some of the short films they created.  I was expecting for more, given the exposure to high technology by this company, but the exhibit medium was a common one: mostly printed materials and some video clips.  It was still a nice exhibit.  Oh, actually, there was one exhibit where they showed a round table filled with characters all around at different positions.  When they strobed a light on it, while the round table spinned from slow to fast, we actually see an animation clip, ex. Woody spinning his rope.  That was amazing!  I had to watch it over and over again to really figure out the effect.

I then headed up another floor to see what else they've got in the museum.  Some of the exhibit featured some Chinese paintings and fashion.  One of the interesting ones I saw though was a series of dolls, which looked like the Kewpie dolls, that were designed and/or dressed by different personalities, some fashion consultants, some painters, some interior designers, etc.  It was a unique exhibit.  From the third floor, you can also see down the middle of the building a Pixar drawing on the steps of the main staircase of the museum.  It was cool.  Outside the museum, you can of course see giant statues of Toy Story characters, one of Pixar's greatest creations.

After the Pixar exhibit, I headed back to the mall to walk around a bit.  I saw Popular Bookstore, which is a local bookstore in HK, much like our National Bookstore back home.  I went in more to look at their supplies and gift items, which I love so much.  I got myself a smiley figurine for my table :-)  Soon, it was time for me to go back to the apartment to rest up a bit before I headed out to Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui to meet my cousin.  I took the bus this time, thanks to my host's recommendation and ended up in Tsim Sha Tsui.  Some of landmarks have changed due to new stores, but I managed to get myself there, haha.  I headed to Page One bookstore to renew my niece's card and get myself some books and journals, then walked over to Ocean Terminal to meet my cousin and her kids in Toys R Us.  As I got there, I bumped into a family friend who was also visiting, what a surprise, haha!  Then finally, I meet my cousin and her two little cuties.  They've done some shopping for the Easter hunt they will be having the next day.  I was amazed that my cousin was able to bring these two kids out by herself, more than a handful indeed :-)  We then went to her home, it was my first time there.  I had a great time with the kids, although they needed some time to warm up.  I had some time to play with them, then it was time to have their bath, piano practice then dinner.  The kids bought a new toy, a gas station which we help them build and play.  I definitely had a great time and I was glad I had this opportunity compared to past visits which were always so hectic.  At around 7:30pm, my cousins and I headed to Red, a restaurant in IFC, for dinner.  The ambiance was great, and the food was good.  It was nice to spend a bit of time with them and do some catching up.  I also got to ride in Terry's Audi sportscar, cool!

On Tuesday, I decided to go back to Shatin, this time to see Ikea.  Ikea was in a whole different building outside New Town Plaza, but it was a whole building of Home products.  I recently developed an interest for this as I started to renovate my home.  So, this was great timing. I went to Ikea and got a few things, but mostly enjoyed looking around for ideas.  I wish I could get all these things for my home, hahaha.  But I prefer to make use of existing stuff and just changing its look, so getting ideas on how I can refresh my home is my key purpose here.  I then had lunch over there as I loved their Swedish meatballs.  I would have wanted to have a Hotdog sandwich too, but it was too much.  This branch had an actual restaurant so I was able to sit and have a relaxing lunch.  I also got to buy the sauce and mix as well so that I can prepare some meatballs of my own at home. After lunch, I headed down to see the other shops and chanced by this shop, called Homeless, which sold specialty stuff for the house.  Most items were similar in nature to those sold in Quirks back home, but of course, a lot of them were unique.  Definitely cool and interesting stuff :-)  Got myself some magnetic key holders and mini hanger for photos.  I was glad I chanced upon this place.

In the afternoon, I headed to Causeway Bay to check out Times Square, Sogo and Windsor, my favorite places to visit in that area.  Then I met up with my niece's friend to have dinner.  She brought me to Delicious Kitchen, a small cafe that served excellent pork chop rice.  We also had the fried wanton and a bowl of beef noodle soup plus tao mew veggies (this is hard to find back home).  After dinner, we walked to World Trade Centre which was newly renovated, went another round to see Muji :-)  Then before heading back, we had to have dessert.  I had the mango and pomelo on ice, yummy!

After four days of play, I needed to go back to work.  It was time for the second Expo day.  This time, I was coming from the city, so my trip to the Expo was a little bit different.  By the way, when I travel, I would make it a point to try out different transport options just to experience them and so that I can have a different view of the places each day :-)  So I hopped on the minibus this time, as recommended by my host, to get to the Kowloon station where I would hop on the Airport Express train that will bring me to the Expo in just half an hour.  The Expo offered free train transport, so it was logical to take advantage of that.  The process was seamless, they had a booth at the station where you can redeem your free tickets plus they would issue the badge right there and then.  So when you arrive at the Expo, you're all set to go.  This time, I got off the opposite side of the Expo center so I was able to do my rounds of the exhibits in reverse order from the last time.

Upon arriving, I approached one of the moving carts for a buyer's guide plus a lanyard for my badge.  Then off I go to the Expo.  This Expo was more interesting as it had a wider set of products being featured.  A lot of them would be nice to look at, but the feasibility of turning them into a business opportunity wasn't so promising as these products have become more common, and thus market may no longer be interested.  I was out to find new products, specialty products, which will be pretty much new to the market.  I did find a couple which actually puts me off track from my downselected business plans but thinking like an entrepreneur should, I didn't close my doors to those products.  So, I proceeded to discuss those with the suppliers and obtained their contact details for later follow up.  I was happy with the Expo, although same with the last Expo, I also didn't manage to find too many suppliers for my materials.  I figured that these are more common and that I'll just have to rely on the buyer's guide for some recommendations.  Overall, I was happy with the Expo.  If not for closing deals, I was able to learn from it at the very least.  I attended a seminar session for New Buyers and those new to sourcing from China.  I didn't really find much new major content, but it was an affirmation that I was aware of the considerations of working with these Chinese suppliers, and it reminded me of the things I need to think about.  That to me, was a good sign.  Hearing the lessons learned from the experts makes the theoretical concepts I have come to life.

On the side, while attending the seminar, I couldn't dismiss the fact that I miss working, or least working in such a professional environment.  That's something that I know I will not have much exposure to having left the corporate world, and now working in the small business environment.  On the other hand, I was glad that I had the previous exposure.  It armed me to be ready and prepared when dealing with these suppliers.  A simple gesture as having a business card, for example, was key in portraying me as a serious buyer rather than someone out there just fishing for ideas, which I was doing anyway, at least for this trip, hahaha.  Honestly, it's an adjustment to be on a totally different business environment, but I'm enjoying the ride so far.

This time, I had a hot sandwich for lunch.  I saw a Subway stall on my way up from the train, and was glad that I was able to find that.  Not that I didn't like the local food, but I kinda miss Subway sandwiches too :-)  It was located on the second floor so less people were there compared to the food establishments on the main floor which was usually packed.  I was happy to get a bit of peace and quiet on my lunch break.  It also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the morning run, and how I should position myself for the afternoon.  Then I sat there wondering how these other buyers' day to day activities were, or basically how other field workers like them spend their down time while waiting for the next meeting or client call.  I always had an office to go back to, a comfortable airconditioned office, but these folks were pretty much loitering around.  Finding a quiet place like I did this time, wasn't really always possible.  I wonder how they would concentrate on their work.

Anyway, I was done by around 4pm, just after the seminar session.  So I headed back to the city and passed by Langham Place, one of the nice malls in Mongkok known for the longest escalator rides, before I headed back to the apartment.  I was able to do a bit of shopping and simply enjoyed walking around after a day of work.

Getting out of the mall, I find myself back in the busiest part of town.  I skipped the street market and headed down one of the main roads instead.  It was still busy but much better. I wondered how can so many people be out on the streets each day.  It's just chaotic at times.  Anyway, as I reached Nathan Road, I saw Cafe de Coral, my favorite fast food in Hong Kong. I happened to be contemplating what to have for dinner, and this saved me from a trip out again as I was heading to the apartment already.  Anyway, I got myself a hot sizzling beef plate, which was not my usual order, but nevertheless, enjoyed the dish.  I usually ordered the roasted BBQ plates.  As I sat and ate, a lady passed by my table looking at my food and asking me what it was called.  She said the rice looked really yummy :-)  Of course, I didn't know what it was called in Cantonese, so I just said "I don't know" in Cantonese, and she laughed.  How could I not know what I was eating?  Oh well.  It was a funny incident. I also shared a table with an old man, alone and having his dinner too.  And after a few minutes into eating, he was mumbling something then later talking to me in Cantonese.  I could barely make out what he was saying but with the little Cantonese I knew, I figured he was saying his beef was tough and that it was hard for him to bite.  And I managed to smile, say a few words in Cantonese and sympathize with him.  Later on, he talked to me again.  Some words I knew what he meant and some I didn't.  I just smiled and nodded most of the time.  Later on, he reached into his pocket and gave me a coupon with a discount of $3.  He told me that he wasn't using it anymore and that it was expiring in a few days.  Actually, it was harder for me to explain that I'm not from around here and that I won't need it, so I just said thank you and accepted it, haha.  I thought to myself it was nice of the old man to give it to me, and at that moment, I realized that I am not alone in this world, there are still people like these that are generous and good hearted.  I suddenly started to miss my dad, I don't know why, maybe because I haven't really been exposed to an old fatherly figure like that in a long time.  Upon finishing his meal, he stood up and said to me "take care", that was so nice of him.  When I finished my meal, a lady was already standing near my table and I nodded for her to sit.  I gave her the discount coupon, but she refused it, and had this distrustful look.  Ok, it's your loss!  Anyway, so much for my optimistic view about people, I guess for every nice person out there, there's a distrustful person too.  That's just life!

I was back at the apartment pretty early today, even before my host got home.  But my trip was completed and I had nothing else to do.  And those few hours of last minute packing and some rest was a treasure to have.  Normally, I would be rushing for last minute shopping still, haha.  My host left again after she dropped off her office stuff and when she got back, I was able to chat with her a bit.  We usually see each other in the evenings only just for a bit, but it was nice to catch her earlier this time so that I could give her back her keys and say thank you and goodbye as I had a very early flight the next day.  She had been a great host, very detailed and organized and gave me my privacy too.  I didn't have any problems with my stay.  She even offered me a beer that night but I just had a Yakult and that somehow wouldn't be a good idea for my stomach, haha.

The next day, I left before 6am and headed to the Airport Express station for in-town check-in.  The station was quiet as it was still early but I was glad I was there early, and my check-in process went like a breeze.  In fact, I thought the counter was still closed for the lack of people.  I then headed to the airport via the express train and soon as I checked through immigration, I learned that there was a 40-minute delay for my flight.  Oh well, at least I wasn't rushed.  I realized that I haven't had a bowl of congee or wanton noodle soup, so I went to have some for breakfast.  I still had time to walk around the shops and even checked my email.  The flight back home was smooth, and I was back home by noon.

I loved this trip.  I admit that most of the trip was pleasure but I still managed to do some fruitful work.  I could get used to this :-)