Crikey intern Chris Lau writes: I was born and raised in a city sparkly with neon-lights and packed with incredibly tall skyscrapers. It is a city that takes pride in being an international city and in a previous life was a British colony.
And nope, it’s not Sydney.
Hong Kong is my birthplace, a city where I spent 17 years of my life living as a local.
I went to a local school. I spoke another language. I ate Asian meals prepared by my mum and grandma.
That is, until one day when my mum decided she loved me so much that she would sacrifice everything, kick me out of my home, pay my university approximately AUD$20,000 a year to take me in and then suddenly… Hello, Melbourne!
Having a life as such may sound melodramatic, but it gives me an advantage to become a two-faced vulture culture. When I’m in Melbourne, I go down to pubs, crack-open a bottle of booze or two and mingle with people. When I go back to Hong Kong, I go yum cha with my parents every weekend. I feel privileged to able to switch between two different cultures. And I never hold back — because embracing culture is the best part of life.
Last December, I made a trip back to Hong Kong to escape Melbourne’s scorching summer. I caught up with some friends for a drink, Melbourne-style. We taxied down to Lan Kwai Fong, the SOHO central area in Hong Kong where there are only pubs and expats.
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After being beer-fed by my beloved friends, I had a tipsy conversation with an Aussie tourist, and the generic where-have-you-been-to-in-Hong-Kong question slipped out of my mouth. She name-dropped a few clubs and pubs which she’d been to the past few nights and I was not impressed.
The problem is that if you are pursuing a vibrant dance-your-butt-off night club scene, you don’t spend a thousand dollars on a flight and crash the dance floor at a place where partying isn’t even part of its culture.
If you want to rock ‘n’ roll like a true Hong Konger, just sit back and listen. And when a Hong Konger talks about Hong Kong, food comes first.
Everyone sees Hong Kong as a Chinese-English cultural melting pot. But there is one thing that outsiders never realised — Hong Kong is massively influenced by the Japanese.
Kids in Hong Kong grew up watching Japanese cartoons (Pokemon, Digimon and Ultraman, to name a few). You rarely spot Hong Kong hipsters kicking around on street with an American Apparel top and a pair of Cheap Monday skin-tight jeans. Instead, they are decked out in Japanese brands Uni-qlo and Bathing Ape.
But if you haven’t had Japanese food in Hong Kong, you have never been there. Finding a decent Japanese restaurant is not hard, but it depends on the price you’re willing to pay. If you just spent half of your budget shopping in H&M and Zara — which many people do — you may not feel comfortable slashing your pocket even more for dinner.
Photo: Sushi Restaurant in Mong Kok
Sushi chains such as Sushi One, Itatmae Sushi and Genki Sushi, can easily fulfil your affordable sushi fantasy. And to triple the exoticness of the experience, don’t forget to ask for the sushi train seats. Before you sit down, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a massive moving track, long and winding, snaking around the sushi store like it never ends. This constantly moving track will deliver sushi to you, plate by plate. Salmon, eel, tuna and all other sorts of sushi would be up for grabs in an arm distance.
One sushi dish that you can’t afford to miss is the sushi nigri — not only because of its taste but also the experience. You get see how the sushi master skilfully burn the delicate salmon piece with a little fire gun. And as you gently lift the chunk up to your mouth, the very first bite, the mayo-crunchy skin with its inner raw chewy texture, grilled salmon sushi gives you the reason to visit Hong Kong.
I know it’s such an embedded ritual for Aussies to grab a cup of cuppa and a piece of cake and then spend time chit-chatting at a cafe. But since your body and soul are already in Hong Kong, why not as well substitute the cuppa and cake with some local dessert?
Hong Kong is known for its humidity. The higher the humidity is, the more you sweat. Juicy fruits, no doubt, form local desserts. Hui Lau Shan Healthy Dessert is the mother of all fruity dessert stores. Your choices vary from freshly cut mango to kiwi to watermelon. To cool down the heat during summer, how about an extra addition of coconut milk and aloe vera, the two best natural body coolants on earth?
Photo: Hui Lau Shan Healthy Dessert
If you have time to chill, sit back and enjoy a bowl of mango sago with coconut milk and chat. If your schedule will be packed, multiple combinations of fruity sago drinks are available in take-away cups. Hui Lau Shan is situated in every corner of each hectic area such as Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. It’s as accessible as Starbucks in Hong Kong, you simply have no excuse not to go local.
Embracing a culture starts with the food. If you want to know more about Hong Kong, there is an entire Hong Kong food culture out there, unknown, waiting for you to discover. Try the Japanese and the local dessert first. Let’s talk about shopping next time, shall we?
Photos by Alex Choi