First posted on TVG in China, 2016. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.
You should go to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is, as I’ve said to a few friends, all the best bits of China, without all the crap of China, plus a big dashing of special Hong Kong-only charm and character.
In short, you should go.
I’m sure you have an image of this city already in your head, whether it be the endless hanging street signs of Kowloon, or the ultra-modern skyscrapers on Hong Kong island, and if one thing defines Hong Kong, it would be its diversity.
The cityscape varies from glass and steel plated architectural masterpieces to rickety fishing villages. The people come from all over the world. The food stretches from street noodle bars to some of the world’s finest dining.
Most of all, the city as alive. If you were take the buzz of the whole of China, and concentrate it all onto one tiny peninsula, you would have yourself a Hong Kong.
I arrived in Hong Kong straight from Shenzhen on the metro system. You might think given that, that a jump from Mainland China to not-mainland-China wouldn’t be a shock, but you’d be very wrong. I would go as far as saying Hong Kong really isn’t China, and that isn’t because I feel some kind of colonial hold over it as a Brit. Honest.
Stepping out of Mong Kok station, the city was exactly how I expected.
That’s never happened before.
There was an uncontrollable vibe all around; those infamous signs balanced off buildings at every angle; campaigners for (and against) Falun Gong were frantically waving things at people: this was a city with energy.
Mong Kok not only was my place to stay for my time there, but it also just happens to be the busiest location in the world. There is no spot on the entire planet where people are more densely packed than here.
Crossing the road at Mong Kok is more like following a flood of people.
My hostel was situated in one of the local tower blocks, which reminded me of the kind of building you expect to see crimelords running around in in action films set in Hong Kong: That is to say, fairly run down, graffiti strung across the walls like the washing hanging down into the dramatic drops from the side of the building.
请勿大小便-please don’t go to the toilet. Someone clearly wasn’t too happy with a visitor here. Further up the stairway was a brilliant sign on the floor reading roughly as ‘oh, sorry, this isn’t actually a bin. Could you please put your rubbish in a bin, not here. Thank you.’ Hong Kong folk have a healthy bit of sass.
Some of the wall graffiti up in the building.
Up in the top of one of these high-rise buildings a friend and I found a strange scene – someone appeared to have built a shrine (and possibly a small basic home?) into a boiler cupboard. And all just in search of a good view over the city.
Now back to the street.
Just down from my hostel were two opposing stands right next to each other – one pro Falun Gong; the other anti-Falun Gong. In the mainland this organisation is illegal, and you can get in serious trouble for even holding items related to the group. One stand was explaining apparent brutal treatment of its members in the mainland and the other was condemning the group as an evil cult.
Much less controversial and quite a bit more appetizing is Hong Kong’s famous street food. This stall was a convenient 30 seconds away from my hostel.
The most famous place to grab yourself a street snack is temple street night market.
You don’t need to worry about your food not being fresh. Much of it will be alive when you order.
The other local food is something special too. My friend took me for what she called ‘morning tea’. I have no idea what that would be in the Cantonese, but I would guess something like 早茶？（Jaucha?)
Even the trucks have personality in this city. This wasn’t the only truck mural I saw.
You might wonder how you could put up those gravity-defying hanging signs that characterise the whole of Kowloon. The answer, of course, is bamboo.
Scaffolding in Hong Kong is entirely made of bamboo; no metal to be seen. Despite the extreme modernity of this city, traditional building methods are used even on the skyscrapers.
Another very traditional part of Hong Kong is it’s medicine. No place has such a strong presence of traditional medicine shops as here. Mushrooms hang from the ceilings and stuffed jars of dubious content line the walls.
See anything you fancy?
I didn’t, but all to no avail – you sometimes end up with Chinese medicine in the food, as I found out after ordering some soup on my last night.
Down at the southernmost point of Kowloon, where it meets the harbour overlooking Hong Kong island, lies an arty part of town, complete with art gallery, theatre, and oddities surrounding them.
The screen on this megaphone encouraged visitors to sing along with a group of Indonesian migrants singing traditional songs. Most people were using the installment as a happy opportunity for a good shout across the city.
Or, as this man shows, for a chance to take part in Asia’s current favourite past time – selfies.
If you’re in a place without much grass, learn from Hong Kong and just wheel some in.
If that’s not a fabulous view, I don’t know what is.
In the early days of Hong Kong, this would have been the first building you saw, heralding your arrival. These days it’s dwarfed by the local skyscrapers, but it’s a piece of local history.
That’s the star ferry – probably the best value cruise in the world. How does 2HKD, the equivalent of 20p (40cents?) sound for views over one of the world’s most famous harbours？
Over on the other side, onto Hong Kong Island, is Victoria peak. You can see it behind the buildings in the above photos.
Unfortunately you couldn’t see it later on…roughly when I was on it.
To get to the top, you take the vernacular railway.
On a clear day you get to experience a surreal view of skyscrapers shooting off at 45 degree angles as the train leans dramatically in order to get up the mountain directly.
That day was not a clear day. Here’s the view.
You should be able to see down to the harbour. It was lovely anyway. I recommend going on a clear day however – it’s probably lovelier that way.
The park just along from the Vernacular is also a quieter gem of the city. A beautiful green gem hidden among the grey of steel and glass. It even has an aviary in the middle of it.
Plus art work
And even a solemn memorial to hero doctors who died fighting the SARS epidemic.
Down on the west coast of Hong Kong Island, the feel is very different. The shinyness of central gives way to a grittier dockland, and finally to quiet boat-strewn suburbs.
I was aiming to walk out to the far west coast beaches, but it proved to be a little too far away. I hit an end to footpaths and was forced to turn back. Back to Kowloon it was.
Kowloon at night is a different city. The neon lights characteristic of Asian cities somehow seemed more dramatic here, and the streets were filled with that Hong Kong energy.
The yellow umbrella democracy protesters are still out in Hong Kong demonstrating, if less dramatically. They still however covered the streets with their message.
“I want a real universial election”
Also out on the streets was a film crew and Hong Kong boy band.
I’m sorry to say if you’re a fan of the Hong Kong All stars, they cannot sing at all. They mumble tuneless-ly to the extreme joy of their tone-deaf fans.
But at least, even if the local singers can’t sing, the local buses are pretty cool.
And the local tower blocks are spectacular when the sun goes down.
More spectacular however is the better known view across the harbour at night.
Oh how I wished for a wide angle lens for that shot.
And let me finish with a junker boat, as they are fantastic looking boats. A great symbol of Hong Kong, a city, which I may have mentioned, you really should go to.