Asia Day 7-21: Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong is really, really dense. This is a fact that my dad likes to constantly point out whether we’re on a bus going through Kowloon or in a car driving across Sheppard back home. I thought Singapore was dense, but Kowloon and the shore of Hong Kong Island blow it out of the water. Everything is packed, even all the older areas. I’m not sure how to characterize it except that there are towers and tons of people pretty much everywhere you turn.
  • I spent my time in Hong Kong with my family, which meant that I didn’t really do anything in the way of planning, I just let them handle it. This turned out to be a really good idea because my extended family basically gave us a pile of delicious places to check out and brought us to more non-touristy places and a lot of these places would have been troublesome to navigate without literacy in the Chinese language.
  • Speaking of literacy, this really stretched the limits of my Cantonese skills. Unlike SG and KL, HK is pretty ethnically homogenous, so everything’s in Chinese and Cantonese by default. Of course, being a British colony for about a century means that basically everyone knows English fairly well. On the other hand, social interactions felt a lot more natural here, as long as conversations didn’t get too complex. A common occurrence was starting a conversation in Cantonese and have it fall apart about a minute or two in, revealing my true identity as a stealth Westerner.
  • This was a very helpful video. I’m still not entirely sure which aunt/uncle is supposed to be which, there were a lot of them.
  • Beer is really cheap. Obviously, fancier stuff costs about the same, but your typical dinner drinking fare is something like 15-20 HKD (2-3 CAD) for a litre. Also, I was really fascinated by the beer bowls at some of the more Chinesey places.
  • UNIQLO. Oh my God, Uniqlo. I think I went to about ten different Uniqlo stores and bought something from almost each one and they didn’t even have any Gundam t-shirts. I am profoundly saddened that there isn’t a Uniqlo in Canada. List of Uniqlos I went to: apm, Telford Plaza, Festival Walk, Cityplaza, Miramar, Olympian City, Harbour City, PopCorn, New Town Plaza, and the Lee Theatre flagship store.
  • I hadn’t appreciated using cards for arcades like at Bugis until the arcades here forced me to stuff six 1 HKD coins into the machines within thirty seconds. Similarly, trading in a 20 HKD bill and carrying 20 coins around is also annoying.
  • Most of the transfers on the MTR are very well designed. On most lines, they make sure there are two transfer stations right after the other and which station you transfer at depends on which direction you want to go in on the new line. This lets the station be designed such that every transfer is done by walking across the platform and you never have two streams of people moving against each other. Compare this to the Bloor-Yonge or St. George transfers, where people are forced to move between levels and everyone is moving against each other.
  • Speaking of the MTR, somehow my parents arranged for us to stay at one of the few areas that doesn’t have walking access to the MTR, To Kwa Wan. The closest MTR station was Mong Kok, which is about a half hour walk. The result of this is that I got really well acquainted with the geography of the city through buses, all of which are double-deckers. But I was told not to worry, To Kwa Wan would be getting an MTR station there once the Central-Shatin link was done in 2020.

Asia Day 4-7: Kuala Lumpur

  • A new mistake to start off the new leg of the journey: not getting RM when I was in Singapore. I didn’t know that we’d stop along the way to KL and when we did, there was all of this stuff I could’ve bought (coffee, prepaid card) but couldn’t because I thought I’d just get my money changed when I was in KL so I wouldn’t have to do the CAD to SGD to RM dance. Very unfortunate.
  • My very first impression of the city was that it was way more chaotic than the orderliness I’d gotten used to in Singapore. Car traffic isn’t really bad so much as there’s a ton of it and traffic signal coordination is not very good. You can get long stretches without the signal changing, which leads to the problem of a ton of people jaywalking. And of course, if people are jaywalking across six lanes of traffic, there’s really no need to change signal timings, right? And then in addition to all of this, you have motorbikes weaving in between lanes and up sidewalks and it was all very stressful to someone who likes obeying traffic signals.
  • My earlier mistake came back to ruin me. See, I was staying near Masjid Jamek and it turned out none of the money changers nearby were open that Sunday. And when I tried to take some from the ATM at the nearby HSBC, my card got blocked. So I ended up walking all the way to KLCC to get money and food. Other than being super tiring and causing some minor panic, in the end, this just forced KLCC to the front of my plans and I spent the evening wandering around the mall and the surrounding plaza, stretching my neck to get a decent shot of the Petronas towers.
  • It’s here where I started to realize one great thing about Singapore’s hawker centres: all you need to do is find one and then you can wander around to discover what’s good. It’s a lot harder to check out goodies when they’re all over the place like in the rest of the world (such as in KL).
  • A very bad time to look for traditional Malay food in a traditional Malay area like Kampung Baru is during Ramadan. I took a day and stopped by there twice to discover that things weren’t open before realizing that it was Ramadan and it’d make sense no one was selling food during daylight hours. Whoops.
  • Somehow, I think my favourite coffee shop in the world might be located here. So the hostel that I stayed at also runs this neat Western-style (by which I mean they do espressos and that sort of thing as opposed to kopi) coffee shop called LOKL. I mean, it’d fit right in at Kensington Market. They make really good breakfast and a damn good espresso. Things that I would love to bring over: fried bread instead of toast and espresso shots with a shot of condensed milk.
  • I had my suspicions that the RapidKL LRT was not actually light rail. I noticed a Bombardier logo on one of the trains which prompted me to take a look at Wikipedia and that proved my suspicions correct. The Kelana Jaya LRT is actually a second generation ICTS system like Vancouver’s SkyTrain, which means it’s actually a descendant of the same technology that’s used by the Scarborough RT in Toronto. The more you know.
  • The KLIA Ekspres is a really nice train ride. Rail links to airports are just a great idea in general.

Asia Day 1-4: Singapore

  • The unfortunate thing about arriving after midnight is that a lot of things you need are closed. My only regret was getting a SingTel prepaid card at the airport, since they only came in 50 SGD denominations. Now I know better. And unfortunately. The MRT was closed too, which meant paying many monies for taxi service, which also threw a wrench in things when it turned out that the taxi company had stopped accepting Visa literally 24 hours before. And so I started off minus a significant chunk of change.
  • Luckily, food in Singapore is good and cheap, even in mall food courts, where it’s slightly more expensive (but still a ridiculously good deal compared to home). A list of things I ate in Singapore: kaya toast with soft boiled eggs, lor mee, chicken rice, laksa, duck rice, murtabak, mee pok, claypot chicken rice, bah kut teh, carrot cake, chicken rice.
  • Because it is important to set priorities, one of the first things I did was locate the Jubeat machines and acquire an eAMUSEMENT pass. I played a game before realising that I had to go and buy the pass too. Once got it, the girl who had been there for a while noticed I was a noob and offered to play a local match with me to give me some songs. Arcade Jubeat is a lot more tiring than tablet Jubeat because you need to actually move your hands and press down with a bit more force. Some patterns took a bit of work to translate from the small screen. The hardest thing to do was figuring out how to hit patterns that occur on the top and bottom row, because that distance couldn’t be covered by stretching my hands anymore.
  • After tiring myself out, I went to get an EZ-Link card for the MRT. Doing the thing where you place your entire wallet on the card reader is fun. Not having to deal with tokens is fun. The stations themselves aren’t design wonders or art installations and I don’t think they need to be. I’m okay with stations that look the same, as long as they’re nice. An interesting thing about suicide barriers is that they serve a few more purposes than preventing suicides. They close off the station to the tunnels, so the stations can be climate controlled more effectively. They also prevent stuff from flying onto the tracks and getting set on fire. They provide more space for signage. And they also make the station nice and quiet when trains come rushing in and shield the station from the accompanying gust of wind.
  • Inside the trains themselves, the one thing that’d really help in Toronto is the indicator for which side the doors are opening on. Yes, the TR1s already have the LED sign point it out when the trains arrive, but the MRT trains have a little section next to the LED route map which either lights up the THIS SIDE panel or the OTHER SIDE panel while the train is headed to the next station.
  • After having wandered around the malls at Orchard and being very tired, I noticed that a deficiency of Singaporean malls is the lack of seating. I think I could only ever find one bench per floor, at most. I would later discover that this is a deficiency in most Asian malls.