Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back from Holidays in Hong Kong

How time flies. After 6 wonderful days in Hong Kong, I'm now back home in Christchurch again (and have been for the past few days - sorting through my significant stash of photos and unpacking).
Sunrise from my hotel room :)

Once again this year, I'll be endeavoring to make a bit of a writeup about my adventures in Hong Kong, though unlike last year, these notes will probably not be in chronological order and/or probably less detailed (to keep it easier to manage).

Accommodation and Travel
We stayed at the Harbour Grand Kowloon hotel this time. I'll have some detailed write ups about this, but suffice to say, I can't wait to stay there again :)

Flights this time were on Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific (via Auckland). As usual, I've got a few words to say on these (some good, but also some bad).

During this trip, it seems that I've been on practically all major forms of transport available (bar a few - like the "Ding Ding" trams and/or helicopters). These have included: taxis, buses (single and double decker), minibuses (public transport and free shuttle services), aerial cable cars, cable car/tram, MTR trains (seated and standing, at various times of the day), ferries, and dozens of escalators (both long and short!).

Highlights - Destinations/Activities
Day 1
  • Jumbo Kingdom (Floating Restaurant) - Quite a unique experience in itself
  • Ocean Park - Wow! This place is awesome. More on this later.
  • Dinner - Tonkichi Tonkatsu Restaurant (Deep fried pork cutlets, Japanese style), followed up with a Godiva Chocolate Ice Cream Cone for desert
Day 2 
  • Sunrise!
  • Lunch at Din Tai Fung
  • Star Ferry 
  • Visiting Relatives
  • Taking the 970 bus back from Cyberport - and nearly getting lost (in some rather rough+quiet+seedy industrial areas), after missing our stop
Day 3
  • Sunrise - TBH though, I only woke up about half-way through this one.
  • Lunch at Sweetheart Garden Restaurant - "Chinese-style Western dining"
  • Architecture in Central district
  • Wing Lok Yuen hotdogs - Yum!
  • Central-Mid Levels Escalator
  • Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens - They have quite a range of animals up there, including many different aviaries!
  • Tsim Sha Tsui streets at night 
Day 4
  • Pizza lunch at the Waterfront
  • Nice afternoon stroll along the Hung Hom promenade
  • Peak Tram and Hong Kong nightscape from the Peak - On past trips, I've always heading up during the day (and in low cloud/misty/raining conditions last time!).

Day 5
  • Sunrise!
  • Big Buddha - Phew! It's quite a lot of walking (and quite far out), but it's an interesting experience
  • Nightime photos + stroll along Victoria Harbour - Including buildings on Kowloon side such as 1881 Heritage, Harbour City Christmas displays at night
  • Dinner at Pearl Garden

Day 6
  • Lunch with Grandpa
  • Walkabout - We even ran into a mass (silent) protest outside the Park Avenue shops along Nathan Road (NB the police were out filming them, along with other bystanders, and since they ended up walking in the same direction, it probably looked like we were leading the protests XD)
  • Cream puffs at Beard Papa in Miramol
  • Watching the boats, sea, and sunrise from our hotel room in the mornings and evenings. Very entertaining and relaxing. 
  • Travelling on the MTR. The efficiency of the network, it's wide coverage, the related architecture, and of course, the Octopus payment system are all major selling points.

The weather this time was really nice and comfortable. For the week that we were there, it was sunny (without being too strong/intense, except for a few minutes mid afternoon), "cool" and "dry" (i.e. within the 15-20 deg C range, with barely any humidity problems to speak of). In other words, perfectly normal and comfortable Christchurch weather, especially in November/December :)

According to the news reports, the weather that week was supposed to be of the "raw cold" and "dry and agitating" variety due to a massive low pressure system bearing down from China. Honestly though, apart from a slight wind-chill in the evenings, there was really nothing nasty to this weather at all! As an item on "Scoop" (TVB Jade), discussing this weather said, many foreigners (like us) were practically perfectly happy in short sleeves, etc. while many of the locals were tottering around in big puffy jackets!

Highlights - Favourite Food
Pineapple and Cocktail buns from Saint Honore Cake Shop Ltd (Hung Hom store near the hotel is pictured above).

Cocktail buns are generally one of my favourites, since they have a nice and sweet coconut filling. Sadly, it's getting increasingly hard to find these in many restaurants/bakeries locally these days (though they used to have these a few years back).

In general, I'm not that fond of Pineapple buns, since most bakeries end up making them quite large and dry - that is, apart from a somewhat pitiful crust at the top (that's usually quite dry and without much flavour), they're very dry, plain, and boring. However, the pineapple buns from Saint Honore Cake Shop are awesome! In this case, their size is an asset, as only then can you really appreciate the moist and meaty texture of the bun, coupled with the perfectly crispy and tasty crust. As is usual for this type of bun, the crust sometimes falls off, but with these ones, enough stays on the bun that it never gets boring!

Egg Tarts - 'nuff said.

At the Airport
Without a doubt, the honours here must go to my beloved Char Leong - a dish that is surprisingly hard to come by these days. Fortunately, the "Tasty Congee and Wonton Soup" outlet inside the secure area of Hong Kong International Airport is one of the few places that serves it. Hence, it's kind of ironic that one of my most anticipated things to do in Hong Kong can only happen just before I'm about to leave!

Char Leong - My precious

As if that's not enough, this time, I managed to find a seat at a table right below my absolute favourite spot in the terminal - right under the central "spine" of the building! The parallax and strong lines flowing overhead there are awesome.

Photo Stats
Overall, I clocked in at 2002 shots (with 3 shots remaining on card). That could've been 2005 had I not been forced to hastily stow my camera on landing in to Christchurch, and then been unable to sneakily power it up again minutes later (despite there being stunning views outside that afternoon - albeit it was a northerly approach once again) as I'd somehow managed to bump open the card door. Drat!

I ended up charging the battery some 3 times during this trip:
  • Nov 29 (i.e. after day 2): after 590-600 shots, with 39% charge remaining
  • 1 Dec (i.e. day 4): after 764 shots (with 787 remaining), with 18% charge remaining
  • 4 Dec (i.e. day 6/7): after 864/865 shots, with 14% charge remaining

As for transferring all these images to my hard drives, it ended up taking 3 attempts (and a trip back to Windows) to get them all transferred :/

Unfortunately on Linux, all the various photo downloading/importing methods I've tried ended up being far too slow to be useful. Things like digikam and gtkam were each taking about 30 seconds per photo, accessing the camera only sporadically but using 100% CPU power (on one core), and all without finishing the job!
  • digikam managed to download about 500 shots over 2 sessions (draining 14% and 42% of battery on both occasions), with failure in the second instance occurring because the computer went onto standby before everything had been downloaded (or perhaps because the camera went to sleep first!). Anyways, the process couldn't be restarted after that. All in all, this took some 6-7 hours.
  • gtkam was even worse! It wouldn't even start downloading, but just sat on the preparing to download dialog, gaining 100mb memory usage every few seconds.
  • Fed up with this (and getting nervous that the slightly buggy gphoto engine would eventually accidentally corrupt the card), I gave up and downloaded everything using Windows. Booting up into Win8 for the first time in 2 months, I had the camera software installed in 3-5 minutes, and the photos downloaded another 17 minutes later. Only 3% battery power was drained to do that. All in all, given the current state of affairs, I'm beginning to wonder whether I made a mistake migrating my photo workflow to Linux (even if the newer Windows versions are a bit of a pain)

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