Because travel opportunities are limited, we often ask ourselves – return to where we’ve loved or head somewhere new? Traveling has only made us realize just how big and diverse the world really is, how many more places we want to explore. Even so, we long to return to Paris sans backpacks and a two-day time limit, with our Youth Eurail Passes luring us on trains to other yet-to-be-explored wonders. But we haven’t been anywhere in South America. Hike Machu Picchu or return to the City of Love with more than a budget of 100 Euros a day?
The pro/con of Tom’s stint on the aircraft carrier is that the ship’s schedule decides our travels for us. Last fall I met him in Singapore and Hong Kong, both of which I’d never imagine us visiting on our own, both of which we thoroughly enjoyed, both of which were on Tom’s schedule again this summer, for his final tour.
At first I wondered if I should meet him. With a baby on the way, shouldn’t we be saving our money rather than sending me off to places I’ve already been? Besides, I have a busy teaching schedule now and limited time in Japan, not to mention a hefty list of writing goals unchecked with my two years to try and fail at a freelance career quickly coming to an end.
But our friends with kids encouraged us to travel while we can with just the two of us. So, easily convinced, I booked a hotel for us in Hong Kong near our favorite area, SoHo. Not surprising, as the neighborhood sharing the same nickname is also one of our favorites to leisurely roam in NYC. Not just the area — South of Hollywood Road – but the actual road itself is what beckoned me back to Hong Kong.
Last year, Tom left with the ship a day earlier than planned. On my own, I did most of the recommended musts: visit the Tian Tan Big Buddha, haggle (or my version of haggling = smile and pay the amount they ask, maybe knock it down a few if I’m feeling gutsy) at the markets (I went to the Ladies Market, Flower Market, and Bird Market, though there are MANY more), breathe in the incense burning on massive coils hanging from the ceilings of Man Mo Temple, admire the glowing city skyline from the ferry at night and also from the Peak. While Tom was in town, we’d hiked the Dragon Back Trail and embarrassingly over-ordered dim sum. Wanting to try more local food, but not knowing how to read the menus or where the best eats were, we even went on a HK Foodie Tour. But most of our time we spent on Hollywood Road.
My favorite places are those that seamlessly blend the old and new. From Wyndham Street to the Man Mo Temple, antique stores line both sides of Hollywood Road (For HR antique shopping tips, read this handy article). Last year, I slowly strolled peeping into windows at the ornate vases and intricately carved furniture and finally entered a shop with a colorful bird statue up front.
A talking myna, a black bird with a golden beak, greeted me from a cage when I reached the second floor. I wandered through the maze of woodwork – armoires, vanities, chairs and even a dark wood canopy bed – and hand painted porcelain, wondering just how old everything was and where in Asia it was made and what some strangely shaped oddities could be used for. The shop felt more like a mini-museum where the artifacts were not protected behind glass but stacked together in beautiful disarray. The shopkeeper joined my perusing, and staid with me even after I apologized for not being able to afford his treasures.
Leaving the antiques behind after Man Mo Temple, you’ll stroll past countless boutiques, cafes, and galleries. Patrons stand at high tables sipping wine in open front, quasi-al fresco eateries and bars or relaxing with a cup of coffee. Alleyways often lined with stalls selling bright produce or trinkets lure you to step off the main road to take the steep stairs to other wonders above and below. It’s the kind of place you could visit every day for a year and still notice something new each time.
After being converted to the glories of the old fashioned at a speak-easy in Singapore last summer, Tom has been on a quest to find the best mixology bars wherever we go. This year, we returned to Lily & Bloom, for their creative cocktails and the ambiance, truly what feels like sitting inside a dreamy room in a candle-lit Restoration Hardware catalogue.
We also tried out the gastro-pub Common Room, where my grapefruit mocktini was a bit too tart to finish, but Tom enjoyed his rye old fashioned, after explaining to the bartender just what it was he wanted (a scary sign at a place whose price tags suggest mixolo-genius). But what Tom was most excited to return to was the Blue Butcher, a bone-in wagu rib eye that had been calling his name since last November (for me it was the beet, feta, and pistachio salad. Divine.).
How about we go on Wednesday, Tom said when I asked for what night to make our reservation.
Great idea! I said, For our Anniversary, right?
I smiled as he realized, but didn’t give him a hard time.
I have to admit that I don’t remember much about our meal the previous year. When I think back, I feel again the struggle to keep from laughing too loudly and strain to see Tom’s smile in the dark room, filled with the loud hum of conversation and clanking of glasses. Our table was late, so they’d given us complimentary drinks, after we’d already had drinks at the bar downstairs (worth a visit in its own right). All I really need is a sip to be giggly in the first place, especially on an empty stomach. We both woke up relishing the night as one of our fondest memories together.
On our anniversary, we didn’t giggle as much, though I did steal a few sips of the complimentary bubbly the waitress brought to our table. (Luckily, I haven’t missed wine – my other love besides chocolate, coffee, and Tom — as much as I’d feared, but that night I was in the mood for fizzy celebration). Instead, sitting in the candlelight in high backed wooden chairs reminiscent of thrones, we spent more time marveling at the occasion. Nine years?! Had it been that long? In some ways it felt longer. I can hardly remember my life without Tom in it. Yet, we’re both such different people than when we first swapped smiles twelve years ago.
Staring at him across the table in the flickering light, I wondered just how much more we’ll change, and in what ways, as we enter the next chapter of our lives together as parents. At times the mystery that lies ahead for us, as individuals and as partners, terrifies us both. But at that table, in that dimly lit room, who I saw in front of me was both the 19-year-old lip-ringed rebellious boy I fell for and the 32-year-old Navy lawyer that will soon be the father of my child. At once, old and new. What I do love most.
If you go… (and you should! )
* Most of my top recommendations have helpful links tagged above. I would recommend staying on Hong Kong Island (we stayed at the Ovolo on Queens Rd, small chic rooms with complimentary breakfast at their quirky cafe), but definitely roam the markets in Kowloon, where the cheapest Michelin star dim sum restaurant in HK, Tim Ho Wan, lives. (Here’s a helpful guide to dim sum, along with other HK restaurant recommendations.)
* Here’s a link to my Hong Kong Wanderlist at AFAR.com (which I always use to find hidden gems wherever we travel).