Arrived safely in Hong Kong four days ago, it’s very hot and the air is hazy. The Rosedale Hotel is lovely, from our room on the 23rd floor I can see tiny people far below getting on with their day in Kowloon, and above me I can see part finished high rises. Between the tall buildings I catch glimpses of water that separates Kowloon from Hong Kong City and the mountains that are the back drop to the city.
Exploration has begun in earnest. Navigating the city via the tube and boats is surprisingly easy; either I’m an expert traveller, immediately at one with my new surroundings, or I’m immensely flooky and have just happened to get on the right train, at the right time, heading in the right direction. No mean feat! In reality it’s probably more to do with everything having an English translation available; no doubt my true navigational abilities will be put to the test later in my travels in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
So far we have visited Discovery Bay; a short ferry trip to a collection of restaurants and a beautiful beach; pleasant but not exactly the cultural experience I was after. Not to be sniffed at though if a relaxing afternoon by the seaside is what you’re looking for, it was certainly a relaxing way to spend a rather jet lagged day one.
The journey to Ngong Ping however, to wonder at the giant Bhudda high up in the mountains, was definitely more up my street. This was by far a more spiritual and worthwhile jaunt. The promised cable car ride over the mountains was unfortunately closed for maintenance and the bus service that was running in its stead was an adventure in itself. True to form the fella had a youngster sitting next to him, who, as the bus twisted and turned its way up the mountains slowly changed from her beautiful pale coffee colour to something close to dirty chalk. Her hair clung to her peaky forehead in sweaty curls, she didn’t make a peep, just looked forlornly at us both. There was nothing we could offer to ease her symptoms, we just hoped she’d make it to the top in one piece. She successfully presented us with her lunch about two minutes later, and a minute after that we arrived at our destination. Note to self; pack a sick bag, wet wipes and polo’s for future bus trips. We later saw her running around in the fountains at Tung Chung shopping outlet, she gave us a cheery wave of recognition, traumas of the afternoon’s bus ride long forgotten.
The Giant Bhudda, the Twelve Generals and the Monastery at Ngong Ping were simply amazing to visit. The perfect start to my Eastern portfolio of experiences. Burning incense sticks, giant gold coloured gods and sculptures of warriors all explored with an immense Bhudda looking down on us. A wonderful afternoon.
Wandering around Kowloon, its maze of shops and stalls, workshops and garages, markets and outlets all on top of one another has been the blast of cultural challenge I was hoping for. An assault on the senses; sights, sounds and smells that I wasn’t expecting so early in my trip but certainly glad to be exposed to. Whilst walking around Mong Kok market this morning my mind and stomach boggled at some of the food on offer. A small bird, plucked and cooked with its head lolling appeared to be a local favourite as people jostled for position to get their preferred specimen. Fruit and spices were also on display that looked almost alien to me; some almost recognisable, some definitely not.
When it has come to meal times we have bravely shunned the larger high street restaurants and the ever-present Golden Arches in favour of the smaller, back street, Chinese people filled eateries. The ones that have plastic chairs and no white faces peering out through a highly polished window with a knife and fork clutched in their hands. We have enjoyed some delicious meals so far, all by chance as choices have mainly been based on pointing and guesswork. We have successfully transferred rice, noodles, meat (hopefully beef) and chicken (I think) into our bellies with a variety of chopstick techniques, all washed down with Chinese tea, hot water and Tsingtao. Yesterday I enjoyed watching a man making dumplings using chopsticks to scoop a plump filling of crab and prawns into a pocket of dough he then expertly shaped into a mouth sized morsel of loveliness.
To my western eye, Hong Kong seems to me a place of stark contrast. Immaculate, respectful and attentive staff serve you with perfect hospitality whilst members of the public not two feet away are hawking and spitting to clear their nose and throat. Obviously there is an ever-present western influence, with English being spoken by nearly everyone we have encountered, signs and advertisements offer an English translation and walking around Hong Kong City is like ambling around any business district I have encountered in the west. However, the sheer volume of people who populate this small patch of land have required buildings and businesses to be piled on top of one another, reaching up rather than out in the quest to claim space. Apartment blocks are clearly identifiable as everyone hangs washing out of the window, regardless of how many floors up, and the small air conditioning units drip water not only over their clothes but on passers-by wandering the streets below. Bags of rubbish pile in every nook and cranny and the smell that wafts around the city is in stark contrast to London. For such a developed and westernised city I have already had my eyes opened wide by the significant differences to my normal life. I wonder what Vietnam will bring? Tomorrow we fly to Hanoi where the next leg of our adventures begins. Malaria tablets have been commenced. A few Dong have been purchased. I can’t wait, let’s do this!