Hong kong: More than a just a city (pt.2)

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June 13th 2015
Published: July 25th 2015
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One thing that immediately caught our attention in Hong Kong was where we were staying. We mentioned that we were staying in a budget hotel (with that ignorant man) but this hotel was actually located on the 16th floor in the 2nd block of the building. There were 5 blocks altogether. The place we refer to is the notorious Chungking Mansions.

When reading reviews on the place we had booked, we stumbled across a comment that said the whole building was overrun by Indians and Africans and was "unsafe". We thought such comment was judgemental in the "over-run" bit but also unquantified by the "unsafe" part as they failed to justify this. One thing they were right about was the mix of races and nationalities here and it had us fascinated. Its true there were many people from Africa and India but also Pakistan and the Middle East. Barely a white or Chinese person seen apart from a few workers and the tourists staying in one of the many budget hotels here.

The place must have been cheap to stay for a local as it was clearly run down. For our block there were 2 lifts one serving odd
Hong Kong by dayHong Kong by dayHong Kong by day

Taken outside of Chunking Mansions
numbers and the other even numbered floors. When we first arrived, the lift we needed was not working and so we had to catch the other lift up to 15th floor then climb the set of stairs. The stairways were a shamble; falling apart with what looked like food and drinks splattered all over the walls and floors. I say brown food but who knows what it was.

When you wanted a lift they were often full and you were always in a queue waiting a while before your turn came around. Lets just say you never wanted to forget something from your room. It wasn't worth the time it took to go up and back to the ground floor.

However we never felt unsafe at all. The first and second floors were littered with mobile phone accessories and local food eateries. We loved the Indian and Punjabi vegetarian food places that we often visited and often chose to eat here more than elsewhere (cheapest place to eat in HK is actually McDonalds!!). One thing we were surprised by was the distinct lack of african food eateries considering the growing community here.

We took it upon ourselves to do a little bit of research on Chungking mansions during our stay and came across something mentioning that many mobiles phones in Nigeria actually originate from Chungking mansions. This may explain some of the african population here. We also read that although the Chinese government were initially un-accepting of the other nationalities here at first but now also see it as a part of their growing identity and are very happy to promote this. Plus it is understood that most people in Chungking mansions are there for the same reason, that is, for opportunities for themselves and their families and to make ends meet. Because of this we read there is very little trouble here and it is generally known as a peaceful place. The only arguments that occur is sometimes due to cultural differences for example when people burn incense or leave their prayer mats in the corridor. Apart from it being a dump of a building, we actuality thought it was a fascinating place with the mixed make up of nationalities here.

3rd day: The following afternoon we set out to visit what we had attempted to the previous evening. The Avenue of the Stars. It was remarkably quieter than the evening and so Chris posed alongside HK idols hand prints and started a picture trend when he posed with the Bruce Lee statue.

Next on the agenda was Hong Kong's National History Museum. As we had timed our visit well we only had to wait 20 minutes for a tour around the museum. Unlucky for us and some other people, a school group of kids ranging from the ages of 5-15 also joined the tour group. They were constantly running round us, knocking right into us and generally had little manners.

Apart from being knocked around by these kids, the tour was very enjoyable and kept our attention. P found Hong Kong's British Colonial history the most interesting during the tour. Our guide explained how Britain had nothing that interested China to trade with in return for tea, pottery and herbs. Britain subsequently started trading the highly addictive opium, obtained from their Indian colony.

What was interesting to learn, was that during that period, there was a distinct lack of men working in the country. Where were they? Well, while the women were all in the fields tending agriculture the men were sat around together smoking opium. Apparently most men at the time succumbed to it - from professionals like doctors and ministry men to everyday labourers. The government noticing the detrimental affect, attempted to put a stop to it by confiscating the opium and dissolving it.

Britain of course were very unhappy with this, which in turn led to the start of the Opium War. China, having no leg to stand on with all of the men broken from opium withdrawal, were of course useless in such a fight. Being at a disadvantage China gave Hong Kong island away to Britain.

It shocked us to think about how Britain had disabled China from the very beginning with such a cunning trade. Embarrassing really, standing there as Brits.

Following another victory in the 2nd opium war, Britain gained Kowloon peninsular as well. This is how Hong Kong became 3 separate areas: Hong Kong island, New Territories and Kowloon Peninsular.

As most people know Hong Kong island was on a 99year lease but Kowloon were actually owned by Britain. To save Britain the hassle of purchasing water from mainland China, they returned Kowloon and Hong Kong back to China
View from the cable carView from the cable carView from the cable car

Buddha in the distance
too. Interesting hey? Something we knew vaguely of but now something a lot more clearer to us.

Our guide also touched on China's part in WWII. An ally to GB and the US (something rarely mentioned in western history books), China kept many of Japans troops busy, taking their focus away from Europe & America. Chris's favourite part of the tour was one of the thoughts the tour guide shared us with. She commented that as Japan had its eyes on many territories across South East Asia and with Nazi Germany's backing - if America didn't disable Japan following Hiroshima & Nagasaki then most of China and Hong Kong could have been Japanese speaking territories. Interesting too!

There were numerous other interesting points that gave us pause for thought i.e the introduction of native tongue rule in the 90's, the growth of the high rises and the family homes becoming small production workhouses, but we wont ruin it for you if you may be interested in finding out yourselves.

After the museum we made our way back to the Avenue of the Stars to catch the star ferry across from Kowloon to Central Pier. This is a must while in Hong Kong with great sights of the skyscrapers and the surrounding tall hills.

From central we caught the 15C bus up to Victoria Peak (taking 1 hr) and reluctantly paid the entrance fee to enter the 360 degree platform at the top. The views over Hong Kong from here were incredible and as we arrived at around 6 we got to witness such views during both day and night skies. We particularly liked the night skyline with the illuminated bright lights making the skyscrapers sparkle.

Day 4. For our final day we decided to visit Lantau island; a popular tourist attraction for visitors to HK. There are various ways to get here; we chose to catch the MRT to Tung Chang station, then from there an amazing but expensive cable car ride to the top of the mountain. The ride was very scenic - crossing fishermen in the sea, planes taking off from the airport, hikers walking along a challenging trail and all the while being surrounding by the lush green beautiful mountains.

We were able to enjoy the views at a relaxed pace as the journey took around 45 minutes. Not sure if its the longest but its definitely one of the longest cable car rides in the world.

At the top we arrived at the touristy Ngong Ping village. A street selling tourist tat and offering many Buddha themed attractions. We walked straight through this area to the Po Lin Monastery and had a quick look round but didn't stay long. The once spiritual atmosphere that you can associate with these type of places has long disappeared due to the high levels of tourism here.

We stopped for some interesting tofu and vermicelli noodles at the monastery's vegetarian restaurant and after we had our fill we headed over to the enormous bronze Buddha statue. It's actually meant to be the largest & highest sitting bronze Buddha in the world. Although saying that we have seen many of the "largest buddha" sites on this trip just with a different label, such as the largest reclining Buddha, the largest standing Buddha, largest collection of.. etc.

To get the best view of this Buddha we had to climb around 200 stairs. This place just felt too touristy with many shops and large tour groups right underneath the statue, so again we didn't stick around.

We guess it is quite hypocritical of us as we say this, because after all we are nothing but tourists ourselves! With tourism we see cultures and traditions slowly being wiped out. Although we'd like to think we travel in a friendly way wanting to experience real local travel, accommodation and food (so having no fancy expectations) Inevitably we still contribute to this process. We just can't win.

We took a stroll to the Wisdom path, a 15 minute walk away from the outdoor bronze Buddha and the monastery but surprisingly not frequented by many tourists at all. A hidden gem! This sight consists of 38 wooden columns etched with the Heart Sutra, a well known Buddhist prayer written across the columns in Chinese calligraphy.

Not being exactly sure what the translations were; we enjoyed the aesthetics of the posts that were grounded in an 8 like figure and generally the peace and tranquility of the place.
As it was only late afternoon we caught a bus from Ngong Ping to our final stop, the sleeping fishing village of Tai O. From here we walked around it, which reminded us of the fishing villages we had seen in Lamma island apart from the fact that many of the structures here were built on stilts. We took a small $20hkd speedboat tour out into the open sea hoping to spot some rare pink dolphins but unfortunately they never made an appearance. Back in the Tai O village we caught a bus to Tung Chang Station and an MRT back to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Although we had visited the promenade during the night, we were yet to see the light show that many people speak of so made our way back to see the show. P really wanted a black and white picture of the junk boats that sail these waters with the sails retaining their prominent red colour. After many attempts on a previous night this was her lucky day.

The night show was made up of a show of lights that covered a select number of buildings and danced in rhythm to the music that was being played. If we had never seen anything like this before maybe we would have been impressed. However after witnessing such magic in Singapore at the Gardens by the Bay, our hearts had already been taken and this did not come close. Sorry Hong Kong.

We ended the night by visiting a pizza place not too far from where we were staying. One that we had read about in someone else's travel blog. This place was called Paisanos Pizzeria. And it was a steal. For the price of $25-45 hkd you could get a humongous slice of pizza which we covered with tabasco sauce, parmesan and dried chilli flakes. It was so good we returned the following day before we made our way to mainland China.

Overall, although very different from Singapore we love some of the things they had in common that made it a great city to visit for us and what we can imagine as a great place to live for its residents.

Due to our imminent trip to China, over the last month we have spent all our travel time, spare mornings and evenings tirelessly getting our heads around the different tonal patterns within Mandarin. Learning and understand numbers, phrases to introduce yourself; asking for directions/understanding responses, buying things, food etc. Now it was time to get away from the comforts we enjoy from the widely spoken language of our mother tongue 'Mancunian' English and emerge ourselves in Mandarin Chinese. Or our version of it lol.

China here we come!!!

Additional photos below
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25th July 2015

Love Hong Kong
I really loved Hong Kong as well. It is a remarkable city and there is so much to see there, far more than I expected before going there. =)
25th July 2015

Re: Love Hong Kong
Us too. We never knew much else about it and just thought it was just a popular city but there was tons of stuff to see and do there. Its one of those cities that feels alive day and night.

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