Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hong Kong

Some photos from our recent trip to Hong Kong...

We arrived the Thursday of Dragon Boat Festival (a long weekend with an unfair makeup day the next week for Taiwanese, an equally unfair Thursday off but working Friday for Hong Kong residents), thus missing any of the actual races. That's OK - we've seen them for the past few years.

We arrived in the late afternoon and immediately set out to exploring, heading from our hotel in Wan Chai (not too far from the hotel quarantined for Swine Flu) to Kowloon, via Central. Central was a mess of cloudy skies, awash in construction and a glut of Southeast Asian amahs and domestic helpers enjoying a day off.

In Kowloon, we hung out until the sun went down, and it started to rain briefly. Being damp and uncomfortable, we got coffee with whiskey at a tiny, unkempt bar not too far from Hung Hom. After that, we wandered the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade and walked up Nathan Road to the night market, where we ate tons of delicious seafood with San Miguel. Despite the rain, it was a fantastic afternoon.

One thing I like about Hong Kong, that makes me less annoyed about visiting the (evil) People's Republic of China, is that they do enjoy some basic level of free speech. Falun Gong protesters were out in force despite the weather.

Delicious seafood, almost grinning.

On the way to the Promenade, we passed the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, interesting mostly because brand names, mounted high on Central skyscrapers, shown across the harbor like hypnotic, transgalactic space-advertising.

Kowloon is one of my favorite parts of Hong Kong - it provides cheap shopping, good food (seafood, local or Indian, take your pick), fun with just the tiniest hint of sketchiness to keep things interesting, crazy traffic, good deals and topped off with amazing views of Central that area 100% free. Lots of shouting, lots of bargaining, none of the cool indifference and high-end satchels of Hong Kong Island.

We headed back for the night and the next day, explored the northern part of Hong Kong Island before meeting up with some friends for Indian food and a few drinks. We had dim sum in Causeway Bay, then took the MTR to Sheung Wan, which reminded me of Chinatowns across the USA, with lots of market areas selling all sorts of interesting things, trucks unloading more interesting things, and general lack of organization. We walked from there to Central via Hollywood Road and Cat Street, enjoying the kitschy market along the way.

It was a lovely day, despite our original plans to go hiking on Lamma being scuppered due to rain.

People keep tiny shrines outside their doors, even more so than in Taiwan (where even the most modest apartment is often adorned with a huge, red-lit shrine that takes up half the living room).

Lion puppets in the market just south of Central, up the hill a bit.

The fruit-sellers cat.

Incense coils are different from the regular sticks used in Taiwan, and can burn for days at a time. These are in Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, not far from the alleged spot where the British took possession of Hong Kong Island.

A medicine shop in Sheung Wan, above, and flayed dried lizards below. Ah, Sheung Wan.

Cat Street Market tchotchkes. Can be fun shopping if you bargain hard.

Causeway Bay - a mess of people even on a work day.

The next day was brighter - but not sunny. The sky dawned a vaguely reticent white, and stayed just white enough to give us sunburn and squinty-eye but not white enough to count as clear. We headed to Lantau and took the cable car up the remarkable mountains, many devoid of trees, to the Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery, which also seems to be a Buddhist-themed amusement park.

We enjoyed the splendid mountain, sea and airport views and wandered around the Buddha, amazing mostly for how big it is, ate South Indian food and took a bus and ferry to tiny, narrow-laned Cheung Chau island, with its bustling harbor and friendly old folks.

Temple carvings on a Cheung Chau temple.

Cheung Chau temple lion

Cheung Chau's tiny harbor was in direct contrast to Victoria Harbour, famous as one of the greatest urban views in the world. Cheung Chau is quieter, more rustic, dirtier, and doesn't seem like it's in Hong Kong at all. It reminded me more of a small coastal town in southern Taiwan than a part of one of the world's great international metropolises.

We took an evening boat back, enjoying the city views over the water while local passengers slept.

The next day we headed to Macau, but returned to Hong Kong in time to have a beer on the Promenade - which is so free that you have to actively search for places to get a drink - and enjoy the weather.

Next post: Macau

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