HK – some words and thoughts

Sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight to the Philippines leaving HK yet again. I’ve lost times of how many times I’ve been through this airport. Being born here and growing up abroad has always been a bit of a somewhat conflicting experience. There are two very strong cultures at play but I’m proud to have both within who I am.

I’ve always viewed Hong Kong, as with many places with a tempestuous past, as having many different facets. You have the colonial part of HK island, there is the modern super rich side and the what I experience the most, a slightly more modest life led by the indigenous residents. There are many things I’ve missed out on having never really lived there. But I did see something that really troubled me yesterday. There is a smaller quite popular island called Lamma island. You can get there by a 20 minute ferry from Central and it offers a bit more of a slower paced rural escape from the city. In the past when I visited as a girl and teenager, it was some residential flats and buildings in the middle of wilderness. On this visit, it has changed so much and not necessarily for the better in my opinion. There were a lot more tourists, western as well as Asian. So much so that the narrow walkways were a nightmare to walk on. There were also quite a few new additions to the high streets and catering establishments that shocked me. Western bar/restaurants that serve brunches and have a mostly western clientele, an Irish pub, a pizza restaurant, an incredibly posh hotel that wouldn’t look out of place on the French marina. There was even a building that hosted a cafe and a co-working space. Some of the local shops now sold sea salt flavoured cookies and baked goods, there was even a bloody churros stand!! The traditional stands selling douhua (a sweet dessert thing made with tofu) and some of the more traditional restaurants still remain, but it leaves me wondering if they’ll last. I’m all for diversification but like a lot of places in Thailand that sold avocado on toast and Belgian beers, it leaves you wondering whether the loss of cultures through tourism and migration is a good thing.

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Photo Debrief: HK Feb 2016

Hi all, sorry for the quiet period after getting back from HK. It took me a while to get over my jet lag and by then the full force of reality had hit me and I was back to my endless cycle of working, seeing my boyfriend and climbing with my friends.

Today I’ve got a little bit of time to myself so I’ve taken this opportunity to post up the highlights of my little HK tour. Sorry this post is a little low on the word count but I hope that the HD photos will make up for it.

Enjoy!

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Talking about TripAdvisor’s #4 of 717 things to do in Hong Kong

Yesterday was spent resting from the previous night’s late antics and seeing family and eating. So much eating.

So today will just be a fairly quick one discussing the tourist attraction that is currently TripAdvisor’s #4 thing to do in HK, out of a listed 717. That is the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin monastery.

Standing at 34m tall, the Tian Tan Buddha was finished at the end of 1993. It is quite iconic of HK, and usually one of the main things I get asked by people in the UK “have you been to see the big Buddha?”.

I can’t say I’ve ever understood what the fuss is about. Yes I have been as a little girl, and yes it’s a big statue of Buddha, what’s the big deal? G, of a mainly western background, wanted to see it so I thought it’d be good to go seeing as my years of living was probably in the single digits last time I went.

A good tip is, if you’re looking to go via cable car from Tung Chung, I strongly recommend booking in advance. If not, then you should definitely turn up early (we got there at 8.45 and there was already a thirty people strong queue waiting for tickets). Getting there early is definitely worth it as it is the quietest in the morning.

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For those with a fear of heights, there are buses available and also a walkway along the bottom of the cable car route for those looking for a gruelling start to the day.

The views from the cable car are stunning and absolutely breathtaking on a nice day.

As soon as you hit Ngong Ping, things get a little strange. They’ve now constructed a new “village” at the base where the cable car terminal is which houses eateries and gift shops – all of which is, of course, extortionately priced.
The entire construct is like a theme park and it’s run by Hello Kitty. This character that has no mouth but the seeming ability to charm the world appears in multiple scenarios ranging from the glass bottomed cable cars, to a large figurine of her in the centre of Ngong Ping village. There is even a wishing tree that is made partly from plastic. It’s super tacky and encompasses everything I dislike about tourism (and no I think tourism is a good thing in general).

After the gate, things start to feel less sparkly and plastic and a bit more authentic.

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We stop off at the temple first to pay our respects and to explore the beautifully crafted building. And it is an absolutely beautiful no-expenses-spared compound.

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I quite enjoy visiting religious buildings; I love seeing the detail and effort people go to in order to build something for a cause they’re passionate about. I’m not religious but I do understand passion and the motivation it provides. The moment that the visit to Po Lin temple really turned it off for me was when I saw the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas:

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Yes it is impressive, yes it is magnificent but something about it feels perversely garish to me. The tiles on the walls above and below the gold line of buddhas, each tile is a Buddha donated by someone who has their name on there. Personally all of it just feels wrong to me. If you like spectacles of grandeur though, this is definitely one.
Po Lin monastery does have some good food. All of which is vegetarian. We didn’t have lunch there but stopped for some mid morning sweet treats:

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At $25 for the lot on the photo, it is definitely worth a taste.

After that we visited the Buddha which is a steep climb of 268 steps (I looked it up, I didn’t count as I was too busy complaining 😂), so it really isn’t suitable for anyone with mobility problems.
The view from the top is totally worth it though, and I’m not talking about the statue.

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Lantau island is itself an amazing natural setting, if I were to go back, it would be for a hike up the peak of the island.

If you don’t mind it being overly touristy, then I would recommend going. If you, like me, prefer going to places less obviously geared towards tourism, Wong Tai Sin or Man Mo temple are probably the best way to experience the religious traditions in Hong Kong.

恭喜發財! It’s the year of the monkey!

Happy New Year!

It’s been a busy two days here in Hong Kong! On Tuesday, we did tai chi in the morning, yum cha with my grandma and exploring the market streets in Mong Kok like Goldfish Street.

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It’s an interesting place to see but probably one to avoid if you’re a big animal lover. I don’t know what their conditions are like during their tenancy at this shops but seeing a puppy or kitten in a small glass cage is pretty cruel. There are plenty of other market streets around here that are suitable for exploration and lots that have quirky souvenir ideas.

Today, started off with dragging G along with me (sorry G) to the Just Climb bouldering wall near Diamond Hill. I normally climb three to four times a week so was definitely needing a session having not been since last Monday. It was a small but good bouldering centre which makes the most of its space by having a lot of challenging routes mainly on vertical or overhang walls. I did find the routes a tad confusing though as each hold in a route was marked by a tag near the hold and not by the colour of the hold itself which is the more helpful practice – it’s hard to see the tags when you’re on the wall. It was also a lot more expensive in comparison to climbing in the UK. In London, the average place has free registration and shoe rental plus entry is ~£13. Here it was $158 for entry, $100 for registration and $40 for shoe rental if you need it which works out about ~£26. Although having looked at another climbing wall in HK, it seems like this might be to do with the local market.

After climbing we visited Wong Tai Sin Temple on the way back. It’s a beautiful old temple which sits in the midst of lots of high rise residential blocks of flats. Like most landscapes in central HK, it is a pleasant clash of nature, traditional culture and modern day city.

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If you fancy visiting this large, beautiful place of worship but hate lager crowds, any time before midnight on CNY is recommended. Chaos breaks out at the stroke of midnight as people try and be the first to offer incense to the Gods as thanks for looking after them in the previous year and for any wishes that were made and granted. Getting the incense down as early into the year as possible shows a high level of sincerity to the gods so all temples for at least the first week after CNY tend to be full of hustle and bustle. Wong Tai Sin is one of the most popular for people trying to lay the incense down first.

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Last night we went round my mum’s family for a traditional reunion dinner. This happens on the last day of the lunar year and traditionally is the main day of the year families would make the effort to all eat together (usually they would eat at different times according to needs on the farms). We had a Chinese Hotpot (although not sure if it’s called hotpot) which had all the ingredients cooked in the same pot – the traditional meal ate on this day.

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No the picture does not deceive. It was a gigantic metal bowl full of everything. Chicken, prawns, fish balls, squid, pork belly, turnips, beancurds, dried fish, mushrooms, hair moss fungus thing, dried mussels etc. Literally everything.
For dessert we had rice balls, another traditional food for today.

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The roundness of the balls represent unity of the family and symbolise the family gathering.
After midnight and letting off some fireworks (and surviving the one that went rogue), we headed back via a flower market.
These flower markets are pop up stalls that open in local community areas like basketball courts and are open up until CNY selling goods to help celebrate the new year. The goods sold vary by market but generally it’s flowers, toys and food. Last day of the lunar year is the last day these stalls are open so from evening onwards, these vendors will greatly reduce prices in order to shift their leftover stock. By 1am when we arrived, it was havoc as they were trying to flog everything so they could go home.

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The flower stalls in particular have the best deals as obviously they deal with perishable goods. One store was offering vases for $100 and then allowing those customers to fill the vases with all the flowers they wanted. Another was (forcefully) pushing literal armfuls of flowers into the crowd for $50. “Grab all you want and just pay 50, I want to go home!” Shouted the man.

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If you like a good bargain and a bit of a chaotic environment, I would definitely recommend visiting one these markets at night at the start of CNY.

Hong Kong Exploring: day 1

5/2 Friday
10:00 Leave home
10:30 Lam tsuen
11:30 Temple tai po
12:00 lunch at tai wan, 
13:30 star ferry,
14:00 pick up at central
14:30 aberdeen, jumbo,
15:15 pick up at WCH
15:30 Repulse bay,
16:00 chung hom kok,
16:30 Stanley
18:00 Dinner buffet at CWB
20:00 peak.

That was my dad’s proposed itinerary to me over whatsapp. Bearing in mind G and I both landed in HK with a stinking cold, I thought he was being a bit ambitious. We did it though. It’s amazing how much more you can see when you get round in a car – once you get over the appalling driving in HK.

The star ferry was a good highlight as a cheap way to experience the waters that surrounds HK as one of the routes runs between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central. The journey is about 10 minutes long and costs just $2.5 (~£0.21).

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View from the Star Ferry enroute to Central

Another must see is to go up to the Victoria peak which you can get to via the vernacular but the queues for it are usually rather off-putting. Once up though you’ll be treated to stunning views from the highest point overlooking the city. This is particularly stunning at night as the skyscrapers put on amazing light displays that light up the horizons.

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HK night sights from Victoria Peak

One of the most chilled out places we went to was Repulse Bay. This is one of the more westernized areas but this means you get a lot of amazing bars and restaurants with doors that open to a beach view. It is super popular in the summer as it’s accessible by public transport (majority of HK locals don’t own cars) but in Feb-April it is a lovely break from the craziness of central HK.

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Repulse bay

Those are probably my highlights of the day. Sorry about the quality of the pictures, I’m currently writing on my phone so don’t have access to the ones on my DSLR. I promise I will post a post of the highlights from my reel when I get back to England.

Countdown to HK – T minus 12 hours

So I’m off to Hong Kong again tonight. I usually go back once every two years to visit family and this time is no exception. The differences this time with going back are:

  • I’m going back during Chinese New Year
  • My best friend G is accompanying me

Both of which makes this an outstanding trip.

You know how you can live in a city and not do any of the tourist activities because you live there and you don’t want to be seen dead within a five mile radius of a tourist attraction? Well that also happens if you go back to your motherland with a regular(ish) frequency. I have done some touristy things in past trips but definitely not since passing mid-teens. It was definitely a smart choice inviting G along with me. Her enthusiasm and thirst for historical and cultural sights is infectious and our itinerary is looking pretty fantastic.

Plus, it is always useful to know someone who lives abroad from you that can visit and inadvertently take advantage of as a tour guide/ host. In this case, that would be my parents.

Expect more posts as to what we get up to!