Malacca City: My Friend’s Home City

Back in February I had a chance to visit a few places on a quick escape from Korea. One of those destinations was Malaysia, which I went to after my week in Hong Kong. It was my first time in Southeast Asia and I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I didn’t really plan too much for the Malaysian part of my trip actually. I normally like planning things in advance when I go on vacation, but this one was a bit special because I was going with friends, one of which actually lives there. We all met in Korea, and so we’re from different countries and it just so happened that our Malaysian friend decided to go home for Chinese New Year and invited a bunch of us to go visit him while he was there.

It seemed like a good opportunity because not only was a lot of people interested in going on this trip, he could also show us around too. So we had like, what, 10 people? Or so, and we all met up in Malaysia. Our first stop, was Malacca City, where my friend actually lives in.

The street market in Jonker Walk.
The street market in Jonker Walk.

Since there were so many of us, I didn’t stay at his house, but I did go there to check it out. It was kinda cool because there’s a show in Korea called “내 친구의 집은 어디인가” which translates into “Where is My Friend’s Home”. It’s a spin-off of another show, “비정상회담”, where a bunch of non-Koreans living in Korea discuss things and share their perspectives and experiences.

Since that original show was so successful, they decided to create a travel show where a bunch of the members would go and visit another member’s home country. I used to watch it a lot but then I started getting pretty busy and stopped watching. But regardless, this entire trip had that feel.

It was kind of the same deal too because all of my friends that were on that trip were from different countries too. It just so happened that we met up in Korea and ended up going to Malaysia because this random dude invited us. So it had a cool dynamic to the trip.

See, the church says Melaka but Wikipedia says Malacca so I don't even know anymore.
See, the church says Melaka but Wikipedia says Malacca so I don’t even know anymore.

Malacca is alright. It’s kinda like the cultural and historical city of Malaysia and they have a lot of historical buildings and remnants of a different time. It’s kinda neat to look at, but the city itself is quite small. After about a day and a half we ran out of stuff to look at.

Which is kind of a shame because I thought there would be more to do so I ended up staying an extra day which ended up being kind of a waste of time. I should’ve just went to Singapore one day earlier, but whatever, live and learn I guess.

Not many tall buildings.
Not many tall buildings.

It was kinda a neat intro to the country though. It was definately very different from any other place that I’ve been to so far. It was February but it was still 30 something degrees, which is straight up ridiculous to me. But, since it’s always summer that also means there’s an abundance of lizards.

Now, those who know me know that I had lizards. I have like, a distinct phobia when it comes to these disgusting animals. It was pretty bad when I was in Malacca because since it wasn’t like, a big city, there were lizards everywhere. It made life quite difficult for me since I’m honestly incapable of doing anything if I know a lizard is nearby.

During the day it was a bit better, but once the sun went down the lizards start coming out in full force and I couldn’t bring myself to be near any walls while outside since they’re literally everywhere. Even the thought makes my skin tingle.

Malacca has an interesting mix of cultural and historical sights.
Malacca has an interesting mix of cultural and historical sights.

Overall Malacca was ok. I don’t think I’d ever go back though. Doesn’t really seem like the place that you would go back to if you were just going to sightsee. And if you were going to go sightsee, just a day or two would be enough. Think of it like a brief stop on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. If you think of it like that it’s totally worth it.

Hong Kong: The New Year in an Old City

So winter is upon us yet again. The temperatures are going down and despite kinda looking forward to escaping the heat, we’re now back to waiting for the heat to be upon us again. You know how it is.

Speaking of escaping the cold, earlier this year in February I had a chance to do a small trip to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. It was the first time I really ever had a trip where I left a winter environment and went to a hot environment so it was a pretty interesting trip. I figure that in an effort to have more content on this blog, it would be good to write about the experiences of my trip.

So let’s start with the first leg of my trip, Hong Kong.

"I like how we're lost on a mountain but we look to the right and see this giant metropolis."
“I like how we’re lost on a mountain but we look to the right and see this giant metropolis.”

I’m definitely not a stranger to Hong Kong. Despite not being born there, my family is from there and so I’ve been there a lot. According to my passports my trip in February was my tenth trip. Considering how I don’t really even live that close to Hong Kong, that’s a pretty incredible number.

As a result, I know the city pretty well. Not only have I been there a lot, but back in 2012 I spent a few months living there doing an internship. That trip definitely gave me a brand new appreciation for the city. It’s one thing going to a place for vacation with your family, but when you’re actually living there and having your own life, you see different facets of it that you come to appreciate.

My February trip was especially special to me because it was the first time I was in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. It was also the first time (that I remember) that I visited in the winter, so it was essentially a new spin on the whole experience.

The entire city was bustling with festivities.
The entire city was bustling with festivities.

For one, coming from Canada and only really ever visiting Hong Kong in the summer, I just assumed that I wouldn’t consider it cold when I visit in the wintertime. I was wrong.

My parents always said that the cold in Hong Kong is different. Obviously, I could never comprehend that so I was always just like “pfft yea whatevs”. But actually being there made me realize what they meant. The temperature wasn’t actually that low, and in fact they were in the 20s in the afternoon. But since there was zero heating indoors, it really sucked when you got out of the shower. There you are, wet and cold. And you would never really get warmer from that point on.

So that was definitely a new experience for me. That feeling happens in Korea too, but at least Korea has passable heating so that chill fades over time.

Aside from the weather though, the fact that I was in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year was really nice. There were a bunch of festivities going on around the city and there was a bit of a holiday cheer in the air too. Some of the highlights of the trip was facing the crowds in Victoria Park and hiking up to the Peak to face more crowds and check out the fireworks.

It wouldn't be a true Hong Kong experience without dealing with large crowds.
It wouldn’t be a true Hong Kong experience without dealing with large crowds.

But just having a chance to hang around Hong Kong was really nice. It’s always a nice city to visit. It’s so dense that you can do so much in a short amount of time and there’s always something to do or check out.

Plus the food is so good. I love Hong Kong and Cantonese styled food. After eating Korean food for so long having the food of my people was a great breath of fresh air. Whether you’re grabbing dim sum at a restaurant, dessert at a Honeymoon Dessert, or even just enjoying some drinks at Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong really has it all.

It’s a city that just has so much character too. To this day it’s still so fascinating for me to just walk around the city. It’s amazing how you can be in a super-modern downtown financial city one moment and a short ten minute walk later you’re in what feels like a completely different city. One with a ton of older buildings with countless air conditioners mounted on the outside dripping water down onto unsuspecting people below.

Chungking Mansions, probably the most random (and unnecessary) place in Hong Kong that I've been to.
Chungking Mansions, probably the most random (and unnecessary) place in Hong Kong that I’ve been to.

I just love how Hong Kong has kept so much of its unique culture and history. This is a city with so many faces and it’s just super cool to explore.

The people are also very interesting too. Obviously, most of the people are ethnically Chinese, but there’s also a large population of South Asians and South-East Asians. There’s also a lot of Westerners as well, and unlike Korea where everyone is either an English teacher, student, or army dude, there’s a lot of foreign expats actually living and working in Hong Kong. All in all, it’s surprisingly diverse all things considered.

Actually one cool thing I noticed when I was there that time was that I saw some South Asian dudes around my age that were speaking fluent Cantonese. At first I was really thrown off by it because like, it’s a random Indian dude speaking Cantonese. But then I gave it some thought and thought it was really neat. These are the guys that have lived, and probably grew up, in Hong Kong and speak Cantonese as their native language. It’s like me with English, except this is not as common I guess. But still, it’s really cool how this generation of immigrants has integrated into society.

One of the newest additions to the Hong Kong skyline.
One of the newest additions to the Hong Kong skyline.

But, Hong Kong has its own issues. It’s kind of paradoxical because the city changes constantly. But at the same time, it hasn’t really developed more. In a way the city kind of feels like its stagnating a bit, and I think that is reflected in the people’s opinions too.

There’s been increasing levels of frustration and discontent in the city lately, especially with the young people. In a way the whole place kind of feels like it’s in limbo as the future of the city is kind of uncertain. A lot of people are unhappy with the direction Hong Kong is heading in right now and as such there has been a lot of protests and riots. The Umbrella Revolution in 2014 was a big one in recent memory, but there were even scuffles in Mong Kok during the time I was there as well.

Regardless, I think Hong Kong is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only because the place has so much sentimental value to me, but because the city honestly just has so much character. There’s always something to do and there’s so many great hang out spots. I really recommend people to visit this place. Especially if you’re interested in urban exploration and seeing a mix of cultures co-existing in a ridiculously dense city.

Also, as cool as it was to visit during Chinese New Year, I don’t really recommend it if it’s your first time. Too many people and too many closed stores.

Dubai: The City in the Desert

A few months ago, I found out that one of my projects was accepted to be showcased at the Dubai Design Week. This was exciting for a couple of reasons. First of all, people like my project. Second, I would be going to Dubai, a place that I wanted to go to, but didn’t really have plans to go to anytime soon.

Being from the Western World, the view of the Middle East that we are presented with is often skewed, to say the least. Dubai is in an interesting spot though, since it’s probably the most commercialized city in the Middle East with a relatively liberal society. As a result, I had no idea what to expect going into this trip.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to a desert country.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to a desert country.

It was an interesting trip, because probably every expectation I had about the city was both true and false at the same time. It was a case where the expectation was technically true, but there were aspects about it that were completely unexpected.

The first thing people normally think about when they think about Dubai is the luxury and the grandness of the place. You know, the Burj Khalifa, the “seven star hotel”, luxury cars, gold plated everything. People think of all the money that gets poured into the development of the city, and as a result, the people as well.

I can’t say that’s not true, but it turns out that’s a pretty naive view of the city. Yes, the city is unbelievably grand. The downtown city area was built relatively recently and you can tell a lot of money was spent on designing and constructing the buildings. Normally when you go to a city, most of the buildings just look like generic buildings with a few landmarks. But not Dubai.

It's very obvious which parts of the city they focused on developing first.
It’s very obvious which parts of the city they focused on developing first.

I don’t have a good skyline picture of Dubai, but you can kinda get what I’m talking about from that picture. For one, the density in Dubai is weird. It looks like they just focused all of their major developments along those two roads that intersect on the bottom left there. And if you look at those buildings, they’re all different. There’s really no copy-paste syndrome like you might find in other cities like Seoul. You have different types of architectural styles found very close together.

But once you leave the city center, the feeling of the city changes drastically. Gone are the fancy cars and the modern buildings. In fact, gone are all the Arab people. Once you take the subway out a couple stops into the older districts, everything is different. It’s primarily populated by immigrant workers, mainly South Asian males, and the dichotomy is so real.

Abras, a cheap way to cross the Dubai Creek.
Abras, a cheap way to cross the Dubai Creek.

It’s interesting to note that according to Wikipedia, only 15% of the population in Dubai are UAE nationals. That’s a fun fact that can be clearly seen the moment you even get on the metro, since the number of people you see wearing Kandorahs or Abayas drops dramatically.

Normally, each city has different facets to it which adds to the character of the city. Dubai is no exception to this rule, but where most other cities feel like the evolved somewhat organically, Dubai feels very artificial. When you’re out of the city center, the roads sprawl out and the buildings feel like they are a part of the surroundings. But the moment you re-enter the city center, everything feels so planned and forced. Like they just cleared out a giant chunk of the city and plopped down this mega-city.

How many construction cranes can you see?
How many construction cranes can you see?

The entire downtown area is like, under construction. And we’re not even talking about road work or anything either. We’re talking bridges and canals, skyscrapers and towers, entire districts. It’s kind of amazing actually how much stuff they are concurrently building.

Like the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall are respectively the tallest building and the largest mall in the world, and they’re currently in the development of a taller building and a larger mall. That’s incredible. If you have the excess money to spend, Dubai is a fantastic place to just spend money and feel amazing about it. It felt grand to even just lay eyes on the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab, let alone eat meals or spend the night in them.

Essentially a tourist resort designed as a traditional souk.
Essentially a tourist resort designed as a traditional souk.

So in short, would I go back to Dubai? Yes. Definitely. But I don’t want to go back anytime soon. Maybe in like a decade from now or so. I feel like Dubai is a city that is constantly evolving, especially with the amount of construction going on. Ten years from now it’s going to be a completely different experience, and I think that’s really exciting. I’m very curious to see what it turns into.

If you are interested in seeing traditional culture and sights, then I might not recommend Dubai that highly. But if you are interested in seeing a city built to be luxurious that also has a lot of visible contrast, then Dubai is definitely worth visiting. Just be warned, it’ll be hot in the summer and things aren’t that cheap (in the city center at least).