Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Bangkok (Bookspotting: Week 48)

This week's bookspotting post is very late because I spent part of the Christmas holiday in Bangkok, Thailand. I noticed quite a lot of readers on the skytrain and even sitting on benches reading in the sunlight. It looked like Thailand's reading culture was alive and well this weekend. The book stall in this picture seemed to cater to backpackers and featured prominently in the market near where we were staying. I didn't spot any titles in the hands of actual readers that I could decipher, but I did notice a lot of beautiful Thai script covering the books. So in lieu of my typical bookspotting report, here are some pictures of Bangkok:

We spent a few hours exploring the huge weekend market.

There were all sorts of things for sale: clothes, bags, food, home decor, and even pets.

The city had a lot of traffic.

We saw many pictures of the beloved king of Thailand.

One of my favorite things was a museum with traditional Thai houses in the middle of urban Bangkok.

They even had an old royal barge.

We took our own boat ride on the Bangkok Canal.

We saw temples and palaces from the water...

...and plenty of modern buildings too.

Of course, the Temple of the Dawn was the best one.

But this one had hundreds of pigeons hanging out on the roof.

We also saw river houses along the banks, many of which had been damaged in the recent flooding.

A few of them were still occupied though.

We fed some very scary fish...

...and watched the other long boats go by.

After our boat ride we took a tuk tuk... see the Golden Buddha.

I liked the other images better than the statue itself.

I had a lovely, non-traditional Christmas in Bangkok. Now that I'm back in Hong Kong I have some catching up to do. I'll be starting the new year with more book reviews, bookspottings, and Hong Kong walking tours. I'll also be adding videos to my blog in the new year, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Walking Tour: Christmas Grottos

For today's walking tour I'm going to show you something festive: the highly elaborate Christmas grottos that fill the open spaces and shopping malls across Hong Kong. Unlike in the US, where there are often debates about where you can put Christmas decorations and whether you should call it "Christmas break" or "winter break," Hong Kong unabashedly celebrates Christmas, albeit in its most commercial form. The holidays are just getting started, but the decorations have been out in full force for over a month. 

A few of these pictures are from last year, but you might recognize some landmarks in the background.

The decorations are far more opulent than the ones I typically see adorning US shopping malls.

Sometimes there are small accents...

...but every mall has at least one massive home for Santa.

This is the train that chugged around Pacific Place last year.

The Landmark in Central is always beautiful...

...and last year it was romantic too.

Some of the decorations are puzzling...

...some are basic...

...and some are four stories tall. This one's in Festival Walk, Kowloon Tong.

I particularly like this year's IFC decor.

And this year The Landmark is using the same tree...

...but the baubles are new...

...and this year they have a train too!

Lots of people gather to see it.

In Times Square, Causeway Bay I found some fairly normal decorations...

...and one enormous Barbie grotto.

I'd never seen anything like this before.

It was like a shrine to all things Barbie.

I don't think this was particularly Christmasy.

Everything was approximately the same shade of pink.

There was one aluminum Christmas tree outside the grotto.

When I took the escalator out of Times Square mall there were more Barbies on display...

...and we found a Barbie Christmas village outside.

Just another bizarre, but effective, marketing strategy around Hong Kong.

If you feel inspired and want to pick up some Christmas decorations of your own, head to Pottinger Street in Central for some festive accessories.

Do you have any pictures of Hong Kong Christmas grottos? How about the holiday decorations from your own town? Email them to me at by Saturday and I'll add them to this post!

I hope you enjoy your holidays wherever you are in the world. Sing daan faai lohk!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bookspotting: Week 47

It has finally started to get cold in Hong Kong, making it perfect coffee shop weather. I met with my writers' group at Holly Brown in Central this week, where I spotted a woman studying from the same Cantonese book that I used when I took a Canto class last year. I returned to the same coffee shop this weekend and spotted a book with a mostly white cover, a book with a red cover, and a book with a blue cover, but I couldn't read any of the titles. I saw a man and his son carrying a thick book called Rumble Jungle. I saw one tourist carrying the Luxe guide to Hong Kong, and another tourist carrying a guidebook that definitely was not in English. I spotted 8 Chinese books this week, which is much better than average.

What are you reading this holiday season? What are the people around you reading?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Walking Tour: Bowen Road

Welcome back to my weekly walking tours of the many sides of Hong Kong. This week I'll be taking you along on a classic walk: Bowen Road on Hong Kong Island. 

The tour begins in Mid-levels.

Bowen Road is lined with apartment buildings...

...and a few older houses. I think this one's a school.

Start to walk along Bowen Road.

You'll find beautiful living spaces...

...and a surprising amount of greenery.

You could take a scooter, but lots of people like to jog along the next section of the road.

Unfortunately someone's been setting out dog poison, so look out for anything suspicious.

Join the families enjoying their Sunday afternoon walk.

You're walking along prime real estate here.

Bowen Road has some of the most expensive apartments on Hong Kong Island.

Some of them have space for terraces...

...and some seem very livable.

Keep walking past more apartments.

The pockets of greenery will become more common.

And sometimes you won't feel like you're in a busy metropolis at all.

Just look to the left whenever you miss the skyscrapers.

And keep following the road.

You'll see more nice houses on the right...

...and more high-rises on the left.

The views will start to be obscured by the trees...

...but fortunately you've reached the viewing platform.

You'll have a perfect view from here.

This panorama is unusual because you're right at the level of the buildings.

Luckily we're here on a blue sky day.

This a view you can't get from the top of The Peak.

You can even see Kowloon side from here.

Return to the road and keep walking.

You'll reach a quiet park where children are playing and people are picnicing.

If you like, you can even take a break in the shade.

Or keep following Bowen Road.

Make sure you take the right branch.

There are still houses to your right...

...and city views to your left.

Sometimes there will be houses to your left too.

Eventually the path becomes quieter.

Wanchai, a very busy section of the city, looks peaceful from here.

You can see some of the works-in-progress crossing the barrier between the slope and the city.

You can see right into the rooftop terraces from here.

Keep following the path.

It will curve around Happy Valley, and you can see the terraced hillside from this angle.

You'll reach a sign and a sitting-out area.

Take the branch of the road that passes the little garden.

As you continue along the path, you'll see a few shrines.

And you'll see more angles of the city.

You'll pass some public works areas protected by barbed wire.

Just past that, you'll find a sign directing you to Lover's Rock.

You'll see more shrines...

...and Lover's Rock will emerge through the trees.

Pass the rock and keep walking.

A block of apartments will rise like a curtain, obscuring your view of the city.

When you pass them you'll be able to see glimpses of the Happy Valley Racecourse.

Sometimes you'll want to look closer and the vegetation around you...

...but if you're like me, your eyes will be drawn back to the city.

The trees will give way to more works-in-progress

and some secret gardens.

You've reached the old boundary of the city of Victoria.

But the buildings don't end here anymore.

Keep following the path, you're almost there...

You'll see a Bowen Road sign and another street will join it for the first time in a while.

You've arrived at Stubbs Road and you can take a bus home from here.

Thanks for joining me on another walk through Hong Kong. Is there a side of Hong Kong that you would like to see through one of my walking tours? What special areas have I missed so far? I have a cool, Christmasy plan for next week, but I'd love some ideas for the new year!
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