Monday, December 7, 2015

Weekends in Hong Kong

One of the exciting things about moving to Shenzhen was the close proximity to Hong Kong.  Once we started to consider this move we kept hearing amazing things about HK from everyone we talked to.  All one has to do is spend a little time online reading about HK to learn that it is truly one of the world's great cities.   We were very excited about having HK as our next door neighbor and seizing the opportunity to explore this amazing place regularly and extensively.  Once Joe was invited to play rugby with HK Valley RFC, we knew we would spend a lot of our weekends across the border and it has turned out to be one of our favorite things about our time here in Shenzhen.

To be perfectly candid, we don't really enjoy our new city much.  There are a lot of challenges in daily life here in Shenzhen and there isn't really anything to do for fun in the city.  Most of our coworkers do extra tutoring so we are only ever able to hang out with our work friends occasionally, at best.  Joe has rugby training sessions twice a week on the other side of the city, but other than that we spend our weekday evenings at home relaxing.  It is a frustrating and boring place to live, but we have the great benefit of regular escapes to Hong Kong to keep our sanity!  Hong Kong is awesome and wonderful and so much that Shenzhen isn't!

It takes us about a half hour to get to the border from our home, then a half hour to cross through both customs checkpoints before entering Hong Kong, where we take an hour-long bus ride into the Wan Chai district on Hong Kong Island, the center of all the madness and fun!  Joe plays for Valley, based in Happy Valley which is next to Causeway Bay, the shopping epicenter of HK.  We love staying in this area and have gotten pretty familiar with the place.

Practically everything in HK is better than Shenzhen; the way people act, treat one another, dress, and generally behave is much more civilized and what we consider to be friendly and courteous.  Don't get us wrong, the city is huge and one of the most populated places on earth, but there is a very real difference in the attitude and behavior between Kongers and mainland Chinese.  Hong Kong is one of the world's great places for shopping and the city is so diverse that just walking around is awe-inspiring and makes for amazing people watching.

Another big advantage HK has over Shenzhen is unrestricted internet access.  Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter are all blocked by the Great Firewall of China and this makes life tough on us expats.  You can access them through a VPN, if you have a decent internet connection, but this isn't ideal and really makes for very limited connection to our friends, family, and life back home and in our other former homes around the world.  Hong Kong has no such restrictions, so it is great to be able to catch up with friends and family through social media while we're there.  Joe lived in Turkey before social media took off and we can tell you that life is much easier as an expat with the ability to keep up with your loved ones back home.  For all the bad publicity social media gets at times, it is a huge blessing to travelers like us!
We found this yummy place called Texas Burger and it didn't disappoint.
Here is a shot of their Texas BBQ Cheeseburger that Joe crushed!

Hong Kong is also a great city for foodies.  Shenzhen has very little to offer in this regard, as even our Chinese coworkers complain about the lack of decent food here.  No such issue in HK, as every time we go over we discover new and amazing places to enjoy lunch and dinner.  In addition to the restaurants, HK is a great place to pick up some of our favorite imported food items that aren't available in Shenzhen.

This is the home field for HK Valley Rugby Club 

Joe loves playing with Valley because he carries the ball a lot and gets to run over people!

While watching one of Joe's games, Lindsay walked across the complex and found some Americans playing baseball!

Joe is a front lifter for lineouts (#2) and they toss their teammates pretty high in the air!

Preparing to scrum!

Look closely and you'll see a nice little shiner above Joe's right eye.

The HK metro system is great.

HK street food

Dragons everywhere in HK!

HK likes their luxury cars almost as much as Kuwait! 

HK loves Legos and Star Wars lately!!

Valley RFC's biggest rivals.


We loved our time in Beijing, but we were advised by many people to get out of there before the entirety of China had days off for Chinese National Day, so we decided when we booked our trip to spend the last few days of our break to visit Seoul, South Korea.  If you know us well, you know that Joe is half-Korean so it was exciting to visit this place he has wondered about for so long.  We arrived in Korea and checked into our hotel in Gangnam and then headed straight to a Korean professional baseball game to watch the NC Dinos against one of the local teams.  Joe decided to support the Dinos, for some reason, and it ended up being a great choice because they went out and destroyed the Bears.

Some of the food choices for the baseball game -
we stuck with fried chicken!

The baseball stadium was right next to the old Olympic Stadium

Joe would have you know that, if you are a baseball fan, you must catch a game in Korea if you are ever there.  The atmosphere is unlike anything we could have expected. Outside the stadium was a carnival-like atmosphere and inside was even more fun.  Both teams have a, for lack of better word, yell leader and dance team that lead their fans in cheers, songs, and grand revelry while their team is up to bat.  The Dinos hit, hit, and hit some more and won the game 17-3, so the yell leader and his dancers got a great three hour workout in and Lindsay loved watching him do his thing.  Joe loved the baseball and it was an amazing experience!

The next day, we toured all the best neighborhoods around Seoul and enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Korean War Memorial, which was very informative and interesting.  We also found the place to get the best street food in the city and enjoyed ourselves as we tasted the delicious delights that Korea has to offer.  The street food here was TOTALLY different from that in was delicious!!  We also enjoyed some delicious Korean barbecue at traditional restaurants and loved seeing this amazing city.

At the Korean War Memorial/Museum

This sign was posted at the War Memorial, but was HIGHLY ineffective!
7-Eleven happens to be EVERYWHERE in this part of the world!!
Some DELICIOUS Korean BBQ.  Beef Bulgogi is our favorite!

You cook the food right on your own table.
One of the coolest things about our visit is the fact that we were able to connect with one of Joe's former students from Baytown Christian, Monica.  She was a foreign exchange student at BCA and Joe was there for her senior year.  He was a strong influence on her in that time as her Bible teacher and Chaplain.  She graduated from BCA and then went on to the University of Texas and graduated early.  She is now home in Seoul with her family and working in PR and doing great.  We met her when she got off of work one evening and she took us for some delicious dinner and then for some of the coolest and tastiest ice cream we have ever tried.  She showed us the Seoul Tower and then walked us around Gangnam.  It was awesome to catch up with her!

A piece of Baytown in Seoul!

This ice cream was seriously yummy!

Some scrumptious grilled pork!

Our final day in Korea we caught another baseball game, this time watching Korean powerhouse the Samsung Lions play in Seoul against the hometown Nexen Heroes.  It was an exciting game between two good teams but nowhere near as fun as the first game we watched that was filled with Dino-mite offense!

Seoul is an amazing city, one of our favorites that we have ever visited.  The people are friendly and helpful and the city is so clean and well laid out.  The metro system is great and things in the city run efficiently and with common sense, so this was a huge blessing after the last two-plus years in Kuwait and China.  We are hoping to make it back there in the spring, if only for a weekend, and we highly recommend Seoul to anyone thinking of visiting!

The entrance to one of the many palaces in the city

Some girls wearing the traditional dress.

Churros were (strangely) everywhere.  It was honestly a highlight!