At some point in 2015, I took myself on a trip to Hong Kong. After months in semi-rural Cambodia and its absolute antithesis, Metro Manila, Hong Kong was such a beautiful, rich revelation, with an unwasted sort of buzzing energy buoying you from beneath its streets, and vestiges of its colonial past buried in towers of new beneath old beneath new.
I'm not sure I could ever capture it in photos, but I did try. (Click pictures to view in large)
Day 1: First Impressions
I spent my first evening in Hong Kong wandering around the less touristy part (I think!) of the tourist district. The ladies' market with its neatly lined stalls of high fashion clothes and more granny panties than I knew could exist, the goldfish market with rows of plastic bags ballooned up to each hold a single fish inside, the flowers market and the songbird market, both of which I missed on this trip, and the noisy, well-oiled choreography of food vendors coursing through it all.
That first day there, I was taken by the ease with which old blended with new. All the world's best cities manifest elements of this in their own way, I suppose, but walking through central Kowloon, I got the distinct feeling of being transported through the decades, peeling a layer away at a time. The amalgam of colonial history and Asian heritage aside, the one thing that stood out to me was that -- if you go beyond the shiny harbour front high-rise corridor -- Hong Kong doesn't make excuses for itself. It doesn't try to be shinier or more glossy or plastic. Buildings are old, streets are narrow, and most businesses are still as heartwarmingly simple (fixed prices, tarpaulin roofs, contents packable onto the back of a motorised bike) as they have been for years, with great success. Shops and houses have withstood time and selling out to land developers, markets are still held in rickety buildings according to the strict plan they were initially set up with -- seafood and meats on the ground floor, vegetables on the first, and a food court ('prepared foods centre') on the second. And everyone is just getting on with their day.
Overpass, Ladies' Market, Mong Kok
Peckings, Sham Shui Po
Touristy Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po
Aviary, Kowloon Park
I also found Kowloon Park on my first day, a sanctuary in the tourist hub of the city, with public swimming pools, tennis and squash courts and an aviary, all in the same park!
My host and I spent the evening looking out over Victoria Harbour from Ozone, the highest bar in the world, over some great conversation. No pictures though, because how could one possibly capture that?
Day 2: Three quests, much soreness
Quest #1: Search for the Walled Village
Hong Kong's walled villages are remnants of a time when Hong Kong was overrun by pirates, who understandably enjoyed the shelter and element of surprise that Hong Kong's hilly, winding landscape provided (as well as its delicious cuisine, presumably). To protect themselves from possible attacks, Punti and Hakka villagers built walls around their villages, and equipped themselves with cannons and lookouts.
On my second Day in HK, I went (or rather, attempted) to visit one of these villages, Tsang Tai Uk. The pictures below are in order of escape from city centre confines.
No public transport, ladies and gentlemen. Not this far out of the way.
Tsang Tai Uk's other name is Shan Ha Wai, which translates to 'Walled Village at Mountain's Foot'. Makes sense?
When I reached, I found the village's central shrine was closed for construction, with shrubs and too many 'No Entry' signs in all its alleys even for me to ignore. For one of the city's best-maintained walled villages, it certainly wasn't going to oblige any visitors today.
Maybe because it was a hot, humid day, or because it is in fact abandoned, the entire village was also deserted. In a city known for how well it manages to pack people into small spaces, the emptiness of my entire excursion, including the trip over there, gave the whole thing a very time-travel feel.
Quest #2: Bride's Pool
While in Hong Kong, I also wanted to go hiking in the mountains. Having declared Quest #1 a partial fail, much research, many bus rides and a lot of walking brought me to Bride's Pool, where story has it that a bride fell in while being carried on a sedan during her wedding procession. Eerie, but beautiful.
The road (what I console myself by calling 'tarred hiking trail') to Bride's Pool went on for hours. No bus service, no taxis, no car pools, no bicycles. Just one foot in front of the other, mindlessly, for what seemed like foreverrr. Great hike.
I finally reached, though! Just before officially decreed closing time.
Waterfall, Bride's Pool
I lost a bag and a fair amount of peace of mind to this view, but gained a few friendly mozzie bites and bonded with a father and daughter over an orange on my way back. You win some...
Quest #3: No real quests.
Sometimes, nay, most times, it is the unplanned adventures that make the day.
On my way to Bride's Pool earlier in the day, I found myself at Tai Po's food court, eating delicious har gow (shrimp dumplings) with a hundred strangers at one of the best dumpling stalls in the city.
I also walked into the heart of old market in Tai Po, where this beautiful gem lay.
Man Mo Temple, Fu Shin Street, Tai Po
The Man Mo temple was built by the Tsat Yeuk community over a hundred years ago to mark the opening of Tai Wo Shi (Tai Wo Market Town), now Tai Po Market. The temple was built to worship the god of literature (Man) and the martial god (Mo). In the middle of a busy marketplace on a hot day, I spent a dozy few minutes just watching its coils of incense flake ash. (Though I could've spent hours.)
Days 3 and 4:
I still hadn't hiked on the wild mountainous paths I had read about, and it was the weekend, so my host and I set out with two hundred other Hong Kongers on a walk through the mountains.
The climb was gentle, but it was the view that took my breath away. Fleets of clouds rolling in and out over the buildings, rows of papercut mountains in the background, planes landing on the water, and on the other side, so. much. green.
Later that evening, we rode up the much-hyped open-air, public escalators, walked around the fashionable parts of the city that I had successfully avoided till then (much more bearable with a friend), and I went for a swim in Kowloon Park's lovely public baths.
The next day, we went to the beach!
Sand sculpting practice, Stanley Beach
Day 5: Cha, marketing, and the best scrambled eggs in the world
A good cup of tea is a great way to start the day. I had my cup of milky Hong Kong tea (Cha!) on the top floor of a Tsim Sha Tsui food court, in the rare, quiet hour between the mahjongg ladies and the early lunchers. The camera and fabric markets were just about beginning to open, but the vegetable sellers were in full swing.
After much searching, and another failed quest, this time for Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan's famous-but-affordable dim sum, I ended my last day in HK with another iconic Hong Kong meal; Australian Dairy Company's famous scrambled eggs on thick toast. Happiness.
As with all good travel, by the end of my trip, I felt completely rejuvenated.
On that note, I wish a very happy new year to you all. May much joy, love, learning and adventure find you this coming year. May you get enough rest, good food, and the very best of company to keep you healthy and in good spirits in the next few months. And if you haven't already, may you walk back in to work refreshed and rejuvenated in the next few days.
Oh, and go visit Hong Kong!