25 February 2015
We left Hong Kong on Monday, and are enjoying Hanoi again, where spring has arrived and the temps are warm. SO nice after our chilly time here and then chilly time in Hong Kong. And we both agree that we need to get back to Hong Kong, because it's huge and fascinating and we didn't get to see everything. Our last two days there ended up rather rainy. Neither of us wanted to walk around sightseeing in the cold rain. And we never made it to the Peak, the top of the highest point on Hong Kong Island, because it was always too foggy or smoggy for a decent view.
I did find all kinds of interesting signs about the New Year. Many businesses had one of a series of signs or posters saying something about the dates they'd be closed for New Year celebrations. It seems as if the business would write in the dates, since there was always something handwritten. I just liked the variety of designs - dragons, fish, boats, people. And of course the goats. Or sheep.
Plus I found lovely trees with the charms and messages and envelopes. Amazing how photos taken through big picture windows can turn out so nicely!
I noticed that several buildings had small shrines built right into the structure, rather intriguing. Not every building, but every so often I'd notice one built into a special alcove. Or the small bas relief pillars and central space for a small altar.
Flower markets continued, despite the rain and cold. As did the trinket markets. A popular item seemed to be the small jade animals for all the zodiac signs, on a red silk cord with a decorative knot. I haven't seen these on orange or peach trees, so I don't know if people possibly hang them in their homes, or carry them around on their person. I'm guessing it's good luck to carry the animal of your personal zodiac sign, since we know red is lucky and protects us from the "age gods" who make your zodiac sign year unlucky for each of us.
One business, a furniture and interior design shop, had the cutest ceramic dragons guarding the door. Really, there were two little dragons inside the closed store, one on each side of the entrance. They don't look particularly fierce, but maybe they scare off demons or evil spirits or something. (I haven't seen any for sale.)
One of the traditions I read about in Hong Kong is that on the 15th day of the New Year, which would be the first full moon of the year, everyone hangs red lanterns outside their home or business. The streets are apparently full of red lanterns glowing in the night. Would love to see that, but we won't be around, we'll be back in Vietnam. Anyway, several places had their red lanterns in place and lit, ready for the 15th day. And of course there were stands in the markets selling gold and red lanterns, making beautiful displays.
We've met all kinds of interesting people while in Hong Kong - our hosts (who left for the holiday, so that we were alone in the apartment for a bit) are from Europe, but working in Hong Kong as engineers or architects; the regional supervisor for Google, newly relocated here; the lovely Italian man from Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet, and owner of Pausa, our hang out spot; and the dude from New Jersey, manager of Motorino, another good pizza spot on our street. Part of the reason we travel is that we always meet interesting people, whether travellers, expats, or people native to the place we're visiting. Everyone has a story, you know?
We had two Chinese flatmates for a few days, who like us rented the room through airBnB. They were interesting, a mother who is a teacher, and her daughter. Both spoke English quite well, so we were able to communicate. But just like we are in a new place and a new culture, often confused and not knowing how things work or what is acceptable behavior, they were a little confused. I think two things stand out: neither knew how to use a shower curtain. I know, it seems minor. But imagine reaching 40 or so years old, and being confused about a shower curtain; moving the curtain outside the shower stall, and then wondering why the floor was so soaked after a shower. (I explained that keeping the curtain inside the stall also keeps the water from pouring out all over the floor.) It seems like such a simple concept, but for someone who hasn't encountered a shower curtain, it's as confusing as we are when we first encounter, oh, maybe the subways of Tokyo. Or the grill restaurants of Seoul. I know, they aren't equivalent - a shower curtain seems self-explanatory. But we often come up against something that seems simple and equally self-explanatory to the residents of that location, and we're baffled. Or confused. So we could sort of understand the confusion of how to use a shower curtain. (Sort of. Obviously it made an impression on me. Especially since they both used smartphones, which compared to a shower curtain seem way more complex, right?)
The other funny incident with the two woman was that the mother was convinced they had a key to lock the bedroom. And at one point locked the door from the inside, then closed the door. So they were locked out of their room. With our hosts abroad. Richard and I got back and, as the pro-active and fix-it people that we are, both tried to pick the lock. Well, Richard tried to pick the lock, I just tried to jimmy it with slipping things around the door to open the latch. Richard finally found the keys in the silverware drawer and opened the door for the ladies. I just found it funny that we had such different reactions, possibly based on culture - they were trying to text the hosts, or contact the person who met them and handed over the keys; while Richard and I, maybe having larcenous tendencies, immediately jump to action. It made me laugh.
Anyway, I discovered that Passion, the restaurant I mentioned once, has fabulous "chocolat chaud," very thick rich hot chocolate. Not milky and thin hot chocolate, but the thick rich kind you eat with a spoon. Only had it once, but oh wow it was fabulous on a cold rainy night! (After the coq au vin, mais certainment!)
Last thing - there were lion dancers at the airport! They had a stage, complete with drummers, and crowds gathered to watch. And then the lions danced around the airport, up and down past the restaurants and gates - it was thrilling!!!!! We were upstairs having lunch, but could see this going on below the balconies. Couldn't get a photo with the crowds, but it was really exciting!
Okay, we're back in Hanoi, doing mundane things like laundry, re-packing, planning and booking our travel for when we leave Vietnam. Things like that. Plus we'll go off on our side trip to Ha Long Bay, which should be much nicer in warmer weather!