Crowded Planet’s Guide to Hong Kong

The most pervasive philosophical message that has hounded me all of last month has been this

Your flight has been delayed due to late arrival of incoming aircraft

Yes. I’ve been traveling more than my DVT affected blood vessels can take and eating more microwaved-to-oblivion aircraft meals than my digestive system can tolerate. But between all of the nastiness of the travel itself, I’ve enjoyed visiting these places. This post is about my trip to Hong Kong. I had this devious idea that I would insert a “Click here to read more” link but devilishly redirect y’all to the Indibloggies voting page where you can exercise your franchise in my favour, but I decided against it, so please vote for my ability to resist cheap political tricks.

Anyway, It was precisely 5 minutes before my Boeing 767 touched down in HKIA that I got the traditional Indo-Chinese itch. It is the insufferable and unavoidable itch that every Indian has when suddenly encountering a large number of Chinese people – to ask them if they eat snakes. My curiosity had to wait, like a poor online retailer in Google’s secondary index, till the next day to satisfy itself with a restaurant menu that I realized is potentially every naughty young boy’s dream way to make his young female relatives throw up. Two items particularly caught my eye, but my stomach, that spent over two decades eating Paruppu Usili, resisted my brain’s temptation to boldly eat what I’ve never eaten before

  • Fried Snake Balls (the balls are made from dough in case you thought otherwise)
  • Snake soup

I then asked my office colleague Oliver (yeah yeah, I’ve seen Russell Peters so I did ask him what his real Chinese name was. His response was a 2 second ad jingle whose sound I remember but not the words) what snake tastes like. He told me that it was the tastiest kind of meat in Hong Kong and was standard fare for kids who were under the weather. Chinese penicillin, if you will. I also noticed a suspicious lack of Gujratis at the Jade Garden restaurant, but I realized that when Mr Patel walks into this place and orders tea and snakes, he will be in for a bit of a literal surprise.

The other thing I noticed was this wonderful habit of placing several aquarium tanks outside of restaurants.

Ah, I thought, perhaps they wish to put the visiting guest at peace by getting them to gaze at Turtles, Crabs and assorted crustaceans. It was a bit like The Sims game, where one gets “happiness” points for staring at fish. Of course, when I saw the steamed turtle menu item (they had a picture, I can’t read Chinese) I realized that the Chinese variation of the popular maxim that goes “Eat food to live, not the other way around” must read “Confucius says Eat food that’s been living just a moment ago, and not stale stuff from the fishmonger

After finishing my first real Chinese meal, and Sottai, no, they did not have Gobi manchurian and Hong Kong Noodles, I took a walk down the insanely crowded streets of Wan Chai and saw this


It’s simple really. Some creative entrepreneur might have seen the idiomatic expression “foot in the mouth” and imagined that these decadent westerners like to eat the leggy parts of livestock, so literally “foot in the mouth”, and what better foot than a really large foot in the mouth eh? So “Giant Foot Restaurant”.

I was also Shaquille O’Neal as far as Hong Kong was concerned. Never before has 5 feet 9 felt this tall. So, now that I’ve exhausted all my cheap desi shots at the Chinese, let’s get to the actual travelogue.

I was actually brimming with excitement over being able to use Mandarin for the first time with regular people and I had one of those FFFFUUUUUU moments when I first heard Cantonese being spoken. I felt like a student who had just learnt Vara Veena walking into a class where Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi was being taught. Oliver told me Cantonese has 9 tones to Mandarin’s 4. If Mandarin was Mohanam, Cantonese was Thodi. Thodi mushkil, I mean.

There’s also bit of British Raj hangover that HK suffers from. If China was about “Nee Hao”, HK is about “Nee Hao are you old chap?”. Everybody dresses impeccably in perfectly tailored business suits. Garment stores in HK have it rather easy. All they need to do is locate medium sized kids clothing in Texas and pass it off as XXXL in HK. In most places, the largest size available is the size I wear, a respectable M in most continents (In Texas OTOH, my clothing size will fit an armadillo on a diet).

If you are  tourist spending a couple of days, the best advice I can give you is to buy the MTR tourist day pass, that will let you use the subway like a horny sailor who’s just returned after a year at sea to um..Amsterdam. You can get from any point in HK to another in about 30 minutes and it will save you a packet of money along the way.

My first destination was Victoria Peak, a place from where most martial arts movies opening scenes are shot, a sweeping panorama of the famous Hong Kong skyline (which usually then cuts to a Mercedez Benz opening to let out a white silk suited villian who shoots an innocent man in the face to set in motion a chain of events involving a whole lot of Kung Fu and funny English subtitles). A small note of warning to tourists. The Peak Tram that takes you up has two kinds of tickets. One that only takes you to the top and the other that gives you access to the terrace from where you can get a view of Hong Kong from the top. You had better cough up the extra 10 HKD for the terrace view because if you dont, the very same ticket costs double once you reach the top.
After that I crossed the bay to the Kowloon peninsula to see the 10,000 Buddhas monastery at Shi Tin, and I am not Shi Tin you, there are 12,800 statues of Buddha at that place, but they all look a bit Chinese and dont conform to our traditional mental image of the Buddha as a chap with closed eyes and evil designs on Singur.

I also noticed that despite globalization and the ruthless spread of western culture, we Asians have still not forgotten our ancient traditions, in this case, the noble art of graffiti


On the way back from the monastery, I stopped at Mongkok (which is not, as many of you might think, a french possessive reference to one’s virility) to do some shopping. It’ the HK equivalent of Ranganathan street. I attempted to put all my newly learnt Mandarin skillz to use and tried bargaining using numbers in Mandarin. One elderly woman at the market gave me a look that suggested that despite her age, she could defy the laws of gravity and land one deft kung fu blow to my mouth to stop me from massacring her (second) language, so I stopped right away. We then resorted to the traditional bargaining channels that vendors there use with tourists. The calculator. She typed 200 HKD. I hit the C button and typed 100. She put on a pained expression and suggested 150 as the absolute final price. I then unleashed my “walk away” move. She beckoned me back and at 120 HKD, I bought 7 Calvin Klein designer watches. Of course CK “designed” those watches but the nice folks back in Shenzhen simply found them too easy to copy and manufacture at a price point where one can buy a coca cola in the US.

Mongkok also has a jawdropping computer/electronics market if one is a gadget/gizmo lover. I saw a perfectly designed Macbook air ripoff running Windows 7 and also a “High” Phone, I kid you not.

But at the end of my trip, I realized that it wasn’t the skyline, or the food or the Chinese made Rolex ripoffs that will define Hong Kong for me. For my generation, it will always be this man.


I grew up bang in the middle of the Karate craze in India. Every Tom Yum, Kick and Cha Lee was teaching Karate in those days. I had friends in Vidya Mandir who referred to the Maths teacher as “Miss” and their Karate teacher as “Sensei”. Skinny, malnourished kids wearing Orange belts broke pre-broken blocks of wood and learnt to count in Japanese. For this crowd, Bruce Lee was god, and Hong Kong was Mount Kailash, from where he flexed muscles that I never knew existed and demonstrated basic geometry by showing us obtuse angles and reflex angles between his legs. My schoolmates often claimed to have secret knowledge of unknown sequels such as  Return of the Entrance of the Second exit after the first right entry of the Dragon where they claimed that Bruce Lee unleashed new and secret karate styles like the Cobra style or Duck-billed Platypus style. Yeah, it was the good old days before Wikipedia and IMDB when kids could make shit up without being caught out.

So as a finale to my Hong Kong trip, as a tribute to Hong Kong martial arts movies*, I present to you, scenes from Sholay, subtitled by those good folks who wrote them for Bruce Lee movies

PS: Hong Kong movies were martial arts movies. Yash Chopra on the other hand makes marital arts movies

PS 1: My wife’s GTalk status message read “King Kong has gone to Hong Kong” for the duration of my trip

60 Comments

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  1. Next time you go there, you should order a combo dead chicken, freshly killed lobster, snake balls and uhmmm … live beetles. And … some Squid soup.

    Enjoy your meal with a Bollywood movie with Chinese cum Chinglish subtitles 😀

  2. The least they could have done is given you a snakesneak-preview with Snakes on a Plane. Well there’s always potential revenge in serving thepla when they order snakes on their visit…”oh we wanted to fly and selve you light too!” 😐

    g

    (Duck-billed platypus style??! Really?)
    Ashok: What do they call that thing you get when you plot 1/x to x? And then replace the last letter with an “e”

      1. Actually, I wouldn’t characterize this has hyperbloge, because it was more a figure of speech, like saying “Damn, I have a billion unread emails!”. Cobra style of Kung Fu does exist, so the Duck-billed platypus simply served as a comic exaggeration that extended the animal theme a bit.

        True Hyperbloge would involve me inventing the entire situtation, like saying, for instance that I was once doing LSD with a bunch of Tambram hippies in Seattle and we ended up composing a hard rock version of Endaro Mahanubhavu that we played on the streets near the Sci-fi museum in Seattle downtown and Steve Ballmer happened to see us and offered us a million bucks to make the this song the new Windows 7 bootup theme. But Christian evangelists threatened to move the entire bible belt from Windows to Ubuntu if such pagan music was used, so the marketing guys eventually relented. But Steve promised to use this as the ringtone for his mobile phone.

        1. Are you suggesting that it didn’t really happen? What was that I read in the local papers the other day, then?! :O (But correct, point made – and there’s a potential future post right there 😉 ).

  3. Simply too good aa…
    kartee loves meena, hehe. Such a disgrace.
    I haven’t seen anyone writing ‘ kartee loves meena AND reena ‘ variants though 🙂

    yes, Bruce lee was God.
    Spawned a whole generation of nunchuk bearing hee-haws.
    Too much chinese bashing, what are you, some ‘texan_cowboy_123?’
    Ashok: Actually Texan Cowboys tend to have online handles like american_warrior_123 or semper_fi_67

  4. asoku, good braiding (pinnita). And I want to see this sho lei, where do you get it?
    Ashok: To see Sho Lei, you have to wait a bit for me to subtitle all the dialogues 🙂

  5. Ausum!

    P.S: I hold you responsible for my soon-to-be-ruined notebook! Should’ve started off with a disclaimer abt ‘not drinking fluids while reading’……that ‘Tea and Snakes’ bit had me spitting a mouthful of frooti onto the unsuspecting gadget.

    P.P.S: Didn’t get the sholay-subtitle part…whats that gotta do with HK?
    Ashok: Then Im thinking you havent watched HK based martial movies from the 70s and 80s. With English subtitles. Just google for funny chinese english subtitles and you will see where I got the ideas for these

  6. Haha, this post made me laugh so much. I was in China this summer and being a traveling vegetarian in China is NOT an easy thing. I had to practically make sure that I asked for “green” things (= lettuce, cabbage and spinach). The restaurant staff looked at me like I was terminally ill.

    I’ve not been to Hong Kong, but I strongly suggest that you travel to Mainland China. It’s an … interesting experience.

    Didn’t you get a Chinese foot massage?
    Ashok: Nope. Net time perhaps

  7. Did you heard things like “Be a Man!!!” or “Nigaaa Nigaaa”, (via Russell Peters)?
    Loved the Sholay subtitles.
    Ashok: I didnt hear any of the Russel Peters stuff. But Im assuming he is parodying Mandarin, not Cantonese

    1. dunno bout canto, but nega/naka/naga is common in mandarin.. it actually means “that one” ad is similar in terms of usage to “adhu”..

  8. Hahaha! Enjoyed this post!

    “Hong Kong movies were martial arts movies. Yash Chopra on the other hand makes marital arts movies” is one of my simple truths revealed moments of the day.

    One of the more plausible theories I have heard about the snake eating is this.
    We know that all knowledge was taken from India to China. This included recipes for dishes that said things like “Add grated Copra” or “Chunks of Copra, lightly roasted, may be added”. And the Chinese dyslexics in charge of translating them…. Ah well, we’ll never know.
    Ashok: That is the most plausible theory Ive heard so far. If Dhyana can become Zen, Im sure Copra can become Snake soup

  9. Hehe … You did a Machiavelli ( or his favorite writer/author ) when you inserted that voting link ….
    Ashok: You mean Chanakya of course. Im sure you know that this Macchiavelli chap is a plagiarist, like Anu Malik

  10. HI Ashok,
    been reading your posts regularly, just dont comment. Your oh-so-gentle-touch with the Thodi was purely classic. Of course I voted for you 🙂
    Ashok: Thank you 🙂 One of things that continue to motivate me to write is the ability to leave small, hidden references to things that I dont expect people to get, but they still end up getting them, and that makes me happy 🙂

  11. Love the subtitles. Have you seen “What’s up, Tiger Lily?”? I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it.

    And, a classmate of mine did a sociology project on ‘Martial Rape’ in college. Strangely enough, it didn’t have Bruce Lee on its cover.
    Ashok: Sounds like the Andhra chap who was getting married the next day, literally marraze rapu

  12. I liked “Kar tee loves Mee Naa” 🙂

    Nice travelogue. I always end up in HK airport in transit and never go to the city. Maybe i should sometime
    Ashok: You should. It’s one of few places in the world that still let (most) people in without visas

  13. Those Buddha’s are far too skinny. They need to go to Texas. That would be a sight: thousands of Texan style Buddhas. Where would the fit?
    Ashok: Texas would be about the only place where they could fit. I also imagine Texan Buddhas driving Pickup trucks with bumper stickers that read “Obama’s middle name is Hussein, I’m just zen” or “Meditate…with a loaded sniper rifle”

  14. Awesome!

    I wonder if Chinese restaurants have an equivalent display for beef as well, maybe in the backyard. Worth asking on your next trip, I think.

  15. @Ramsu – “I wonder if Chinese restaurants have an equivalent display for beef as well, maybe in the backyard. Worth asking on your next trip, I think.”

    -> Yeah. Huge sides of barbecued beef and pork hanging in glass display counters, if your taste runs that way instead of seafood.

    @Krishashok – Nice travelogue, and a fun read. The buddhas are at Sha Tin btw

    On your way back from the peak did you try Lan Kwai Fong? That’s the HK bar district (well, Wanchai has its fair share but LKF is well.. THE ranganathan street of bars, or rather several ranganathan streets worth of narrow lanes with bars all over the place). Amazing malaysian restaurant somewhere in there .. which had teh tarik (you know, the trick every bus stand tea kadai guy has of pouring tea from a huge mug into a tiny tumbler, from several feet high) – and an elvis clone walking around, the last time I was there.

    And if you’ve heard cantonese, try canto-pop (or hell, traditional cantonese music if you want). Sounds like a tomcat when someone accidentally steps on its tail, when you first hear it.

    ps: Hello Kitty has Bruce Lee beat in recognition over there, these days 🙂

    1. think that elvis clone is a permanent fixture (like the vgp statue men).. also saw a cross-dressing air guitarist if i remember right.. silver wig n clothes.. red lipstick.. quite a sight..

  16. Point 1: You should do an entire post on this subtitle thing. Just think of those awesome lines in Mughal-E-Azam… on a second thought, can pick up any random Mithun or Rajni movie!!

    Point 2: Mrs. Ashok has a blog somewhere? By humor-per-line statistic she wins hands down. “King Kong goes to Hong Kong”… Classic. Someone should make a film. 😀

    (I am trying to master the ppt lingo. everything you want to say, can be put into a slide or two, as my boss says!)

    1. I’ve been trying to convince the missus to blog but she reserves her humour for GTalk status messages and actual IM conversations. She’s still a little apprehensive about trolls.

  17. The snakes and gujju thing was so damn lame but it still kills me.hehe hehe And Giant Foot haha! who knows if it’s true, Chinese is crazy shit. i can’t even attempt to reverse trace because i don’t really understand the basic premise on which the language is based. Nobody has hitherto convinced me that it’s not a fake language ,that don’t just speak like that to mess with you; waiting only for you to look away before they start speaking their actual tongue.(sheepish).but maybe it was an allusion to BigFoot? The Giant yeti i mean.just thinking.i was apoplectic by the time i read the whole thing. it was not too hot; not too cold; but just blade..damn i’ll have to vote again. i’ll need another never-to-be-used place on a server for my very own (sigh), but it was worth it. it really was. 🙂

  18. Krish, Graffiti on the walls and in public places is not so much Asian as it is universal. I have seen the exact same “Karthi loves meena” kind of stuff written on walls and other tourist spots here. I’m in Houston, by the way..

  19. I suppose the Yash Chopra comment was just a general one but Sholay is a Ramesh Sippy film, isn’t it? Not that I claim to know much any day.

  20. Could relate very much to the part “Karate Craze”. I was always dreaming of my own Fatality Move (Mortal Kombat stylez) during my Karate Days.

    But my dreams came crashing down , as Social Gudiance in the form of Long Distance Gardute Uncles & Aunts and Nearby Neighbours influenced Parental guidance towards Computer Classes and away from the Karate Klasses

  21. I like your wife’s status msg. I am going to put it too, but only after I go back to India ! 🙂
    Did you get a chance to walk in their natural parks? Lantau, Lamma and the likes… if there is a next time, please do that! Its a wonder how a place this small can have such huge, beautiful parks!

  22. It was hilarious trust me I was ROLF all the time….could not ctrl…especially for those sub-titles 😀 amazing…keep rocking 🙂

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