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First impression: Hong Kong

Growing up, I’ve seen enough TVB dramas to have an idea of what Hong Kong is like. In fact, it was thanks to these series that I learned Cantonese; daily lesson, every weekday evening, seated next to my greatgrandparents and glued to the latest riveting tales of love and rivalry. The actors and actresses were pretty much the same from one drama to another, so even a child could pointed out right from the first episode that who was likely to be the nice guy and who the bad one. ;)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Still, it is very different to experience Hong Kong in person. Somehow, in my head, it is geographically a single main island surrounded by a handful small ones. Imagine my surprise to find Hong Kong island actually constitutes of a small part of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) and a large part of it attached to the mainland China. It is also a lot bigger than I had envisaged. I was in Hong Kong for six days and I barely covered the grounds around Central, Kowloon and Lantau Island. I’d love some time to go out to Yuen Long, or to Sai Kung, or even trek the Dragon’s Back trail.

Central over on Hong Kong island seems crazy busy no matter what time of the day it is. The density of foreigners is high, as not only this is an area of choice among the expats but visitors too. F didn’t travel with me this time but I’m sure he’d find this overwhelming. Even I did. And the amount of skyscrapers scattered along the Victoria Harbour is just incredible! The constructions are still not done, if the number of cranes and bamboo-scaffolded buildings are indicators.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

What I find as a piece of very clever urban planning is the Central Mid-Levels Escalator (CMLE), the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system. The further south you go in Central, the higher the elevation. It could get rather tiring walking up, up, up. The CMLE comes to the rescue as it transports pedestrians uphill throughout the day, except for a few hours in the morning when many are heading downhill, so the direction of CMLE follow suit. Not only that, the CMLE also keeps most people on higher ground, leaving the traffic at the street level to flow more freely. The only time I grumbled about the CMLE was when I found myself heading uphill at 9.30am one morning and had to walk all the way up…

A short Star Ferry ride away across the harbour, we get to Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon and Mong Kok. Here, the further north you go, the less non-Asians you’ll see. The buildings also start to diminish in size. Restaurants with menu in both English and Chinese reduces drastically, but they couple to lower prices and/or more generous portions by comparison to Central. It’s a shame I didn’t have much time around here to explore as many of the food options as I did in Central.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Public transports are a bargain. Even the taxis are most affordable and coming from Europe with insane hire rates, it felt decadent to just hop onto a taxi instead of waiting for a bus or a MTR to come along. Curious as I was, I checked out all the different modes of transport possible: ferry, taxi, bus, MTR, tram (locally known as “ding ding”), and even the minibus! With the exception of taxi (distance dependent), MTR (distance dependent) and minibus (it’s like a shared taxi on a fixed route), none of the rides cost more than €0.50. Grab an Octopus card if you don’t want to fumble about for change to pay the fares.

Food-wise, where do I even begin? Needless to say, I ate very well in the few days I played tourist. There were many dim sum sessions, of course, and a few other meals in different eateries. Post-meals, there are many dessert options within minutes of walk away, it would be futile to resist going in and order a bowl of soy milk custard, tapioca soup (i.e. “sai mai lo”) or glutinous rice balls (“tong yuen”). No thanks to my cold, I also tasted all kinds of (bitter) herbal tea in the hope to soothe my throat and to cure the cold itself. Oh, nearly 1/3 of my luggage coming back was filled with food!

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Something I had a bit of a hard time swallowing was the looming presence of French bakeries/pâtisseries. In just one shopping mall – Harbour City, I’m looking at you – prior to dinner date with an ex-colleague I worked with in Ireland, I walked around a little because I had arrived earlier than the agreed time. There, I spotted Eric Kayser, Dalloyau (with a full fine dining space!), Café de Joël Robuchon, Jean-Paul Hevin, Fauchon, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. I began to wonder if I had left Paris at all!

One thing I do not want to get over is the wealth of green and natural space outside of the developed central and populous areas. A simple observation at The Peak would revealed the less developed stretches to the south, and a ride through Lantau Island on the cable car exposes the different paths that one could trek to get to the Giant Buddha. According to SL, there are many places for outdoor activities including trekking, kayaking and mountaineering, none of which are activities that I would readily associate with Hong Kong in the first place. This really hits home, for me, the message on the importance of travel in order to dispel misconceptions and biased ideas.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Of course, I also cannot talk about Hong Kong now without touching on student protests that are currently taking place in multiple locations in the SAR. While I did not deliberately seek out the protest sites and go on a voyeuristic “Occupy tourism”, it was also easy to run into them given the high-profile locations they’re currently taking over, in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Admiralty. The opinions over the Occupy Movement are divided among the locals, and it seems everyone’s just waiting for the day when the government will strong arm their way and clear all these sites overnight.

As a first time visitor, it is tricky for me to grasp all the nuances of Hong Kong, its mix of the traditional and the modern, the melting pot of the East and the West, its unconventional society that embraces both technological advancement (if only you’ve seen the daily queue at the Apple store) and custom-based believes (if only you’ve seen the number of fortune tellers and readers at the Wong Tai Sin and near the Jade Market). Personally, this has been a very interesting voyage of discovery of the Pearl of the Orient.

All posts in this series:
Hong Kong: What can I do in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong: First impression: Hong Kong
Hong Kong: More dim sum, please
Hong Kong: Postcards: The (Victoria) Peak
Hong Kong: Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
Hong Kong: Wong Tai Sin Temple
Hong Kong: Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha
Hong Kong: Tai O fishing village
Hong Kong: Postcards: Stanley
Hong Kong: Chinese desserts galore
Hong Kong: Occupy Central with Love and Peace
Hong Kong: Hong Kong by night
Hong Kong: So many markets
Hong Kong: How to gain a few kilos in a week
Hong Kong: Once upon a clear sky in Hong Kong



Category: Asia, Hong Kong, Travel

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2 scribbles & notes

  1. med says:

    Good observation indeed lil ;) hahaha, btw, i am still following TVB series especially the less ‘drama’ ones kekeke. Comedy is the best!

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