Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Layover: Anthony Bourdain Returns To Hong Kong

Thanks to some very nice people at The Travel Channel, I was able to see the Hong Kong episode of Anthony Bourdain's new show "The Layover" in advance.

I've actually had this episode on DVD for more than a month but I wanted to wait to post about it closer to the actual air date. This episode of Anthony Bourdain's "The Layover" premieres at 9:00 PM EST, Monday, December 19, 2011.

That's only a week away so let's dive in.

I'm happy to say that the Hong Kong episode of "The Layover" is much better than the "No Reservations" episode set in the same city. I just think that this episode gives a viewer a better idea of what Hong Kong is like than that episode of his other series did.

As I'm about to move to the city after 5 visits there since 2009, the episode worked -- for me, at least -- as a sort of reminder of some of the things I like about the place.

The gimmick of the show -- Bourdain has just 48 hours in each city he visits during the series -- is a good one as it forces him to focus as he ambles around. Frankly, there seemed to be more information on Hong Kong food in this episode than in the "No Reservations" Hong Kong one.

Rather than dissect every scene, I'm just going to highlight the bits I particularly enjoyed. To see the full episode, be sure to tune in at 9:00 PM EST on Monday, December 19, 2011 for "The Layover: Hong Kong" on The Travel Channel.

A visit to Tim Ho Wan managed to highlight a must eat when in Hong Kong item -- dim sum -- as well as illustrate a larger point: Hong Kong has some of the best food in the world and it's easy to find it at a reasonable price.

I'm glad that Tony found his way to Hui Lau Shan as I make sure to hit this place on each trip. I should add that the shops are small and never as empty -- certainly not in summer! -- as it looked when Bourdain visited.

A few sessions with Matt Walsh are quite good. This is the sort of stuff Bourdain should have included on the Hong Kong episode of "No Reservations" back in 2007. Tony seems a bit more subdued in these scenes and Matt provides some needed background on Hong Kong and Chinese culture.

I think these bits provide a nice contrast to the usual hustle-and-bustle shots we see of Hong Kong. Yes, it's an incredibly crowded city in some spots but there are places where one can unwind and appreciate the spectacular vista of the city skyline.

There's also a too quick visit to Mido Cafe on Temple Street. Bourdain doesn't mention any of the history of the place. If you want to learn that stuff, check out these links on Phil's site. I made a brief visit to Mido Cafe back in June and the place has certainly got the kind of ambiance that a lot of tourists would enjoy. And the food was good and cheap too.

An obligatory visit to Lan Kwai Fong at night -- I guess Wan Chai after dark was too much for Tony? -- is made a bit more palatable by a stop at Racks M.D.B. and some games of pool with owner Simon Yin. The sequence is laid-back and enjoyable and it manages to highlight an obvious draw for the young and beautiful (Lan Kwai Fong), but also show a less glitzy side of Hong Kong nightlife.

I met Simon Yin briefly back in June during my first visit to the Happy Valley Race Track. And while he might not remember me, I do recall that he was more or less like the guy you see in this episode. Frankly, I think The Travel Channel should consider hooking up Simon with a show; the Hong Kong adventures of an Asian-American dude who grew up in Georgia sounds like a winner to me!

Here's a picture I took back in June. Left to right in the front: That's photographer extraordinaire Derrick Fong, Simon Yin, musician Ryan Hui, and Scott Hui (brother of Ryan; their dad is Sam Hui and one of their uncles is Michael Hui and another was the late, great Ricky Hui). The tall guy in the back is esteemed film scholar, professor, and Jason and the Scorchers associate, Sean Tierney...

I was thrilled that Bourdain ended this episode of "The Layover" with a visit to Lamma Island -- complete with the obligatory nap on the ferry. Sometimes it seems as if people only highlight the hectic, neon-lit side of HK, but it's nice to remember that a quick, 30-minute ferry ride can take you to this car-less, dog-overrun little place.

And the food's great there too!

I've been there a few times, and I've blogged about it in the past, so it was pretty cool to see Bourdain, Simon Yin, and the rest of their crew sitting at a restaurant table I had actually sat at before. They ordered all the good stuff too: razor clams, prawns, and so on.

This sequence is one of the best in the episode. It provides the obligatory final wrap-up section of an episode where Tony has a family meal, or the equivalent of one, and it highlights a less obvious part of Hong Kong.

I think with this episode of "The Layover" that Anthony Bourdain has really given viewers a feel of the place. It seems like I've mentioned a lot about this one, but I've barely covered the pleasures of this episode of "The Layover" with Anthony Bourdain.

For those of you who like my blog posts from Hong Kong, and for those of you who want to know why I love the place so much that I'm willing to quit my job here and move there, please watch the Hong Kong episode of "The Layover" on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 9:00 PM EST on The Travel Channel.

Check your local TV or cable listings!