The Gateway to the East is a harbor town that glitters with the lights of international business. But to really understand Hong Kong, you have to meet it halfway.
DAY THREE You begin your third day with a cup of coffee from the trendy, kitschy Full Cup Cafe (1) in Mong Kok. You’ll need the energy to catch your morning ferry to Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong’s 236 islands. While suits hustle from train to office in Tsim Sha Tsui and Central, flshermen in Cheung Chau Harbour (2) make a living much the same way their ancestors have for hundreds of years: pulling grouper, crabs and sea snails from the Pacific. The island’s harbor is dotted with their boats, often traditional Chinese junks in vibrant teals and reds, so you snap a few pictures on your way in.
Once ashore, you realize something else about the island: It’s car free. You need only avoid bikes as you cross to the golden beaches on the other side to explore the sandy paths and secret stairways to pagodas and lookout points. You break for some spring rolls and an iced milk with black beans from Cheung Chao Windsurfing Centre (3), which has a bar overlooking Kwun Yam Wan beach.
When you return to the ferry terminal in Central, the driver you booked from the Peninsula is waiting with one of the hotel’s famous forest green Rolls-Royce Phantoms. Tell the driver to make for Causeway Bay. You have one last shopping stop to hit. G.O.D. (4), an acronym for Goods of Demand in English, also sounds like Ghe Hau Te, which means “better living” in Cantonese. Like a blend of Urban Outfitters and IKEA, it stocks sleek housewares and clothing adorned with witty slogans. You wander around for a while, but fearing that you might overshop your suitcase, call it quits and head to dinner.
No visit to Hong Kong is complete without real Chinese food, so your last night in town you visit Yan Toh Heen (5), whose Michelin-starred chef, Lau Yiu Fai, prepares modern versions of traditional Chinese delicacies. Carefully disassembling a baked hairy crab, a seasonal delicacy found only in deep, cold waters around Hong Kong, you watch the ballet of servers removing the skin from Peking ducks for large tables of celebrating locals. Dazed by the phalanx of sauce dishes in front of you, you realize that for all the familiarities the British pressed upon Hong Kong over the years, it remains at its heart a city with an ancient past—one rich enough to reflect its international population, and still offer a good culture shock or two.
Brooklyn-based associate editor JACQUELINE DETWILER is convinced there are hairy crabs in the East River, but she probably wouldn’t eat one.
EAT YOUR WORDS
DURING CHINESE NEW YEAR (FEBRUARY 3), CELEBRANTS COURT LUCK AND WEALTH BY EATING FOODS WHOSE NAMES ARE HOMOPHONES FOR GOOD THINGS IN CANTONESE.
CHINESE NAME: KAM SOUNDS LIKE: “GOLD”
CHINESE NAME: YU SOUNDS LIKE: “ABUNDANCE”
CHINESE NAME: LIN NGAU SOUNDS LIKE: “ABUNDANCE YEAR AFTER YEAR”
CHINESE NAME: FAT CHOY SOUNDS LIKE: “PROSPERITY.” THE ALGAE CAN ALSO BE SERVED WITH OYSTERS, IN WHICH CASE THE NAME (HO SEE FAT CHOY) SOUNDS LIKE “WEALTH AND PROSPERITY.”
RICE PUDDING CAKE
CHINESE NAME: NIAN GAO SOUNDS LIKE: “HIGHER YEAR”