Fabulous Hong Kong

Scenic: The iconic Hong Kong skyline at night across Victoria Harbour.

Hong Kong is one of those fabulous cities that I could never live in. It is great for work, business, shopping and definitely food! But it is so busy, so crowded, so packed and hectic that I can’t breathe there and so it will never be my choice for home.

This time, I spent three nights here and 60% of my time went towards work while the remaining 40% was on catching up with friends to makan (eat), and to do a little shopping.

I managed to pack in five meals a day between all my meetings, and even then it didn’t seem to measure up to how often people in Hong Kong eat. Portions are big, yet they remain so slim – how magical! It must be because of the amount of walking they do. My two colleagues and I were lucky to be in Hong Kong during Fall, when the weather was cool. It’s a melting pot for many, and I have designer friends and old friends from Malaysia and other countries here.

This time, Tecky the fashion designer, Benny and my old schoolmate Nicole took us shopping and eating. My friends brought us to the best restaurants for local food, most of which were not fancy, yet infinitely better than any five-star hotel or posh dining outlet. Although X’mas is still some time away, there was already a festive feeling in the air. The whole city was lit in beautiful lights and decked in bright décor, which made it especially hard to work. So no matter how busy we were, we still tried to go out.

This was my first trip back after five years, and I’m not sure why it took me so long to return. Top on the list of things to do was having some of the steamed egg custard at Yee Shun Milk Company and the famous milk pudding (even though I don’t take milk products). After delivering my materials to my supplier, I took my colleagues to the nearest Yee Shun where I introduced them to it and had a yummy, hot egg custard and pasta soup. Simple comfort food like this just makes my day.

After a day of meetings, Tecky took us for high tea, which is very popular. Their high tea is like dim sum. We went to the Tim Ho Wan Restaurant, famous for its baked barbecued pork bun (unfortunately I don’t eat pork!) .

For dinner, Nicole invited us to Elements mall, which is based on the five elements. The mall reminded me of the So Hotel in Bangkok, also designed according to the elements. We dined at the Xia Mian Guan Shanghainese Restaurant.

It felt so good to catch up with my old friends with a humble, heart-warming meal. After dinner, I craved for sweet tong shui, a sweet dessert soup like bubur kacang, something I have always loved in Hong Kong. Although it is hard to find good tong shui in KL, there are so many good places for it in Hong Kong that every night we managed to try a different place.

These restaurants serve a whole range of sweets from Honeymoon Dessert (“Moon Kee” in Chinese) – a mango pomelo soup with durian pancake; to Kai Kai – sesame glutinous balls in a super strong ginger sweet potato soup and ice kacang. For me, this was paradise as I could live on tong shui as my main course forever, which apparently is what many girls in Hong Kong do.

As the soup is very thick and creamy, with no added corn starch, it is filling and very good for the complexion! I simply must mention the ‘Ju Jiang’ Restaurant at 138 Lai Chi Kok Road, Prince Edward. It is an old-school Guanddong style eatery – a simple, casual, small restaurant that needs advance reservation, with interesting dishes and lots of alcohol choices. Because it is so popular, you may have to share a table with someone else.

We ordered two signature dishes to start with, fried oysters in batter and cold shell fish. The oysters were very light – perfect paired with beer. The cold shell fish, meanwhile, comprised clams pickled in a chopped chili, raw garlic, black vinegar and coriander mix. We loved it so much, we had two plates. The extensive range of dishes offered is impressive considering there is only one main chef.

On my last night, we went on a 15-minute boat ride from Hong Kong to Kowloon, which gave us a lovely view of the harbour. Hong Kong is brilliant like that – so small yet so amazingly developed. Even though I would not want to live in Hong Kong, I do think Malaysians could learn a lesson or two from the people there.

For a start, we could try to appreciate the land we have, the way they do. We could also pick up some cues in etiquette. In the past, people here could be loud and obnoxious, but today all that’s gone. Even before you step into a store, you can hear warm greetings. They invite you to try on things and ask if you need any help. Before you leave, they will apologise for any inconvenience caused, or for not having anything you like.

I couldn’t believe how much customer service had improved. It certainly made me think, especially when I landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Our KLIA lifts are pretty huge and can fit at least three trolleys plus several people at one go. Yet when I tried to get into a lift with only three people, a KLIA employee in uniform who had parked his trolley right in the middle.

When I asked if I could share the lift, he shook his head arrogantly before closing the doors. Honestly, with that kind of behaviour we can forget attracting foreigners for Visit Malaysia Year 2014. I love my country, but these small things annoy me big time.

When we say Malaysia Boleh, we should show it. That means making room for others in our lifts, our lives and our hearts. Malaysia, wake up, please. We have so much to give; let’s do so willingly and with the warmth and hospitality that we were once known for.

Mel’s Place is a fortnightly column by Melinda Looi for The Star newspaper.

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