Hong Kong: Temple, Toes, and Tacos

Wow, where does the time go? I am officially back from hiatus. One thing after another seems to have caught up with me, some great things (vacation to Bali!) and some not so great (some housing issues and catching a cold, in July?!).

Maybe I owe you an update on ‘regular’ life. Murray has had a really tough time adjusting to apartment life. Between that and some new regulations about pets on the compound, we’ve really been challenged with Korean perceptions and attitudes about pets, dogs in particular. Before you go there, no, it’s not common to go and buy dog meat and eat it, but a dog meat market does still exist here in Korea. That said, our problems are more that Koreans are terrified of dogs larger than 5 pounds and they lack any common sense when it comes to interacting with dogs and treating them properly.

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Recently, we had a situation where we were blamed for urine that was found in our building’s elevator. This was based on some awful logic – cameras in the hallway without a view of the elevator showed us near the scene of the crime one out of four times it happened. Two occurrences were while we were on vacation. Anyway, it was clearly an unfounded accusation solely based on our owning dogs. What we’ve been through really makes me wonder how our friends at Shindogs Kennel deal with this kind of stuff every single day. On top of their own struggles, Leo and Jin have supported us throughout our problems, and with their help and the support of J-Mar’s company, we were able to work things through. Unfortunately, it will continue to be an uphill battle no matter how you look at it. But, those little faces above are truly worth it. (Our friend Austin came to play the other day!)

In any case, it’s time for the last installment on Hong Kong! For our final day of adventuring, we set out to find a park called Nan Lian Gardens, a recommendation from our tour guide Joe. It was a bit set away from the main tourist areas of Hong Kong, but still smack dab in the urban jungle, nonetheless. We got a little lost on the way from the Diamond Hill subway station, but a kind local was able to point us in the right direction. We had heard about the amazing “sound proofing” of this park from Joe, but it is so hard to fathom this that you’d have to step inside to believe it.

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The park is 3.5 hectares of beautiful gardens that are an extension of the Chi Lin nunnery, a Buddhist nunnery and temple. You really have no idea what you’re getting into as you enter underneath two major highway ramps with cars whizzing by and the hum of urban transportation all around you. The moment you step through the doors is something out of Alice in Wonderland, because all the noise just completely disappears. We did one of those double takes, stepping in and out of the gates to the gardens, just to hear the difference in noise. It seems they have large concrete barriers surrounding the gardens for noise protection, which have been covered in plant life to make them part of the gardens.

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From the gates, you can then explore the solace and beauty of the gardens. Joe (find him here) recommended a visit even if it was raining for the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” mystic feel. He wasn’t kidding either. We chose a perfectly misty and overcast day, and it was still purely beautiful.

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The gardens and temple are modeled from Tang Dynasty-era architecture. The Chinese Tang Dynasty was a period of time from 618-907 AD, and is generally considered the “golden age” of cosmopolitan Chinese culture. Although Hong Kong is still resistant to complete association with China, you can really feel the beauty of its history within the walls of the gardens here.

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The temple and nunnery were founded in 1934 but rebuilt in 1990s, the gardens being built shortly after to surround the nunnery, opening to the public only in 2006. This may be a fairly recent development in Hong Kong’s landscape, but it is surely one you don’t want to miss, even if an umbrella is necessary.

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Take a moment to enjoy the serenity and the sacredness of this space, even in the midst of all those high rise buildings. Enjoy beautiful statues of Buddhist gods that accept prayers from local people. If you are lucky, you might witness a religious procession like we did, but be careful to put your camera away in specific areas that are devoted to religious worship only.

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Our last adventure before boarding our red-eye flight was something so obvious we had ignored it up until this point. What were we thinking?! Just as common as all the jewelry stores in Hong Kong, massage (particularly foot massage and reflexology) parlors are all around! I kept urging J-Mar to get a quick foot massage, but he was totally resistant because he would “rather have an hour long body massage”. Plus, a lot of the places looked a bit… sketchy for lack of a better word. The neon lights and locations in dark corners and upper floors weren’t exactly comforting.

Well, think again, Mr. J-Mar. Once I finally convinced him we had nothing better to do before getting on that plane, I think I changed his mind. At least a little. We randomly stumbled into Zen Spa in Kowloon for a truly transformative experience for our little piggies. Much needed after a weekend of walking.

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My feet were clearly in need of some help, with nail polish missing from my second toes. Thanks, rain.

We sat down for our $10 half-hour foot massages, which were fantastic despite being punched in the legs. Literally. J-Mar and I were getting the exact same massage series, but he was about 90 seconds ahead of me. So, when I saw the guy start pounding as hard as he could on J-Mar’s calves, my eyes started to get really wide, knowing my therapist’s fists were coming for me next. I was a little terrified, but it actually felt great! At one point during the massage, we looked at each other and wondered what the heck we’d been doing the entire time here in the pouring rain when we could have been getting hour long massages for less than $30! Lesson learned. (I even hugged my therapist afterward to thank her. Weird, I know.)

Before I go, I wanted to mention a fantastic restaurant we found (thanks again, Lonely Planet pocket guide!) called Brickhouse. This restaurant may have made my entire trip to Hong Kong. For those of you from Houston, if I say Torchy’s, that might ring a bell for you, and this place was right up there with it! Maybe I’ve just been away from good Mexican food for too long and my tastebuds have shifted, but oh my heavens was this place a find!

It was totally worth the half an hour we spent walking in circles around the place because we couldn’t find it. Yep, we ended up hangry and arguing about where the heck we were going to eat instead because we just. wanted. to. GIVE. UP! Well, not to worry, the restaurant DOES exist, you just have to head down that creepy looking alley that looks like it leads to nowhere but murder, when in fact, it is a street. For those of you that want to attempt to find this place, I tried to take a couple pictures of landmarks outside D’Aguilar Street so you know where to turn. There’s a local vendor selling hats that sits just outside the alley and this “Italy Station” billboard sticks out just over top of it.

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Believe me when I say you want to hunt this place down. Even if you also walk in circles for 30 minutes. The tacos are incredible. And holy, holy, divine guacamole!!

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Get to Brickhouse a little early, otherwise you may have to wait a while for a seat. They only had bar seating available when we arrived at 6pm, and we were told we had a 90 minute limit before we had to leave. That’s how popular this place is. Oh, and do yourself a favor and get a cocktail; I might recommend the Diabla. My two favorite fruits, raspberry and pomegranate, combined with jalapeno vodka – the ultimate combination of sweet and spicy that Hong Kong is known for. Best cocktail I’ve ever had. Hands down.

And there you have it: Hong Kong. Now I’m off to take what will hopefully be my last dose of DayQuil for the season. Yes, I see the irony that A-Mar, MPH has caught a virus in the summertime. I’ll also need to finish stocking supplies for a typhoon that is supposed to land tomorrow here in Ulsan. Always thought I’d be doing this for a hurricane in Houston. At least the stores still have bread and water; no real panic is ensuing here just yet. Wish us luck!

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