Guest post by Xavier Walker
In 2018 I decided to head off to Hong Kong (HK) to visit my friend, Zoe. We met a few years earlier at university, but I hadn’t seen her since 2015 – it was about time we reunited to make new memories together. It was my first time in HK, which I coincided with Chinese New Year. It was a great opportunity to spend time with Zoe, learn about her culture, and meet the important people in her life (such as her boyfriend, Jeremy).
If HK is on your radar for places to visit, my 5 tips below can help you make the most of your stay.
1. Staying with a local
Although this was my first time flying solo, I was fortunate enough to have a friend to stay with. As can also be common in Western cultures, it’s customary to avoid arriving empty handed to a Cantonese host. Sweets/chocolate or alcohol are common gifts. You may want to bring something from overseas that they don’t get in HK (like Curly Wurlys). If you can, give your host gifts in sets of 3, 6 or 8, which are auspicious; each number, in Cantonese, sounds like a positive concept. Also, be sure to take your shoes off when you enter their home.
3 – life/to live 6 – good fortune 8 – to prosper
As I don’t speak the language, having a native Cantonese speaker on hand was a major advantage. For instance, some places use Cantonese signage and/or menus. I’d have had a tough time ordering at the eatery we dined at on the first night, if it hadn’t been for Zoe and Jeremy’s expertise!
Side note: many Cantonese people do speak English at varying competencies, and there are plenty of English signs/menus about, but don’t go out expecting all locals to know English.
2. Learning the lingo
As I mentioned above, you shouldn’t expect all locals to know English. If you’re not a Cantonese speaker, it’s beneficial to learn some basic phrases, and locals will appreciate your efforts.
Here are a handful of helpful phrases:
|Good morning||Jo san||Joe sun|
|Hello (answering the phone)||Wei||Why|
|Please / thank you / excuse me||Mm goi||Mm goy|
It’s up to you how broad you want to expend your vocabulary, but just remember that Chinese words should be pronounced with the correct accent on each vowel sound. Be careful to learn the correct intonation for each word or phrase, as you could accidentally say something completely different to what you intend……as I did in the middle of a restaurant!
3. Don’t be afraid of crowds
You may already know that Hong Kong is a densely populated region. On the day that I arrived, Zoe warned me that the town centres would be crowded, and that it’d be normal for others to bump into me. In my opinion, the crowds of London’s Oxford Street would have been more traumatic than I’d experienced on this trip!
The streets weren’t much busier than I’m used to on a Saturday in Birmingham city centre, but the two busiest hot spots I saw were at the Victoria Park Flower Market and the queue for the train to The Peak. However, both were overly busy due to the extra tourism into the city for Chinese New Year. Sadly, I don’t have a photo capturing the sheer volume of people waiting to board the train, but let’s just say it was an estimated 3-hour wait when we’d arrived. In case you’re wondering, we got a taxi to The Peak. 😊
4. Bring your appetite!
The best part of my trip – aside from reuniting with my wonderful host of a friend – was sampling tasty new foods. One of my favourites was fish balls, a type of street food that I tried on the small island of Cheng Chau. They’re pretty much like meatballs made of fish – plain and simple, yet very appetising!
Zoe and Jeremy kept me going with lots of their favourite snacks. Some of the noteworthy mentions are the mango moshi and Thai ice cream rolls from Cheng Chau. In addition, the award-winning pineapple buns from a Sai Kung bakery are well worth waiting for, in a queue that stretches out into the footpath. These fluffy buns of sweet, golden goodness don’t taste of pineapple; it’s actually the rough crust that gives it the name.
When dining out, I also learned about Cantonese dining etiquette. On the first night, I tried eel for the first time. Surprisingly, it had lots of tiny bones, which are totally normal to spit out and leave on the table. As is common practice when dining with friends, we shared the dishes amongst the group.
Zoe took me to a hotpot restaurant one evening, which is a traditional Chinese soup. We each submerged raw ingredients in simmering broths, and watched them cook at our table. Before we began, Zoe explained that I should use one set of chopsticks to handle the raw food, and the other to eat the cooked food. We used the same practice at lunch with Zoe’s family for the first day of Chinese New Year, as one set of chopsticks are used to share communal foods on the lazy Susan, and the other to eat from your personal plate.
If you want to improve your chopstick skills, try going on a fork ban, like I did (enforced by Zoe). I struggled a fair amount at first, but my perseverance paid off!
5. Be ready to take plenty of vibrant photos
Whilst out with another friend from university, we talked about how Hong Kong shopping centres are much brighter and richer in colour than Birmingham’s Bullring. It would’ve been difficult not to compare.
Indeed, I took tonnes of vivid photos during my stay. We roamed high streets and shopping centres that are home to many designer label shops, such as Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior; the visual aesthetics were definitely top notch. Causeway Bay felt pretty Times Square-esque, and even has a shopping centre bearing the name.
The city at night is particularly breathtaking. I first caught a glimpse at the striking colours whilst dining out one night. The city lights shimmering on the water, in such bold and contrasting colours, was something I’d not witnessed first-hand. You should take a trip to The Peak – the highest point of HK – for a night-time view to remember.
I’m pleased to have had such a great week in Hong Kong, picking up where I left off with Zoe. Whether or not you have a link with a Cantonese local, you can make the most of this vibrant city and indulge in Chinese culture.
What do you think? Could Hong Kong be your next adventure?