Hong Kong

DavidHarris1985

a short trip to Hong Kong

Hong Kong



Hong I went to Hong Kong to visit Tina and Matt who are here on

holiday for a week, so I planned to drop in for Tina's Show at The

Peninsula Hotel. The flight from Phuket to Hong Kong is only 2

hours. Hong Kong International Airport replaced the old one at

Kai Tak, which was once ranked the 6th most dangerous airport

in the world because of the surrounding skyscrapers and

mountains. Tina once described looking down on aeroplanes

landing from an apartment above the runway, which stretched

into Victoria Harbour.

The new airport at Lantau is built on a large artificial island

formed by levelling Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau islands and

reclaiming 10km² of the adjacent seabed. After the long queue for

immigration, I do not need a visa as a UK citizen, so I head for the

new Airport train. It's fast and clean and after 45 minutes I was at

Hong Kong Central. The line has only a few stops and connects

Lantau island with Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The train

terminal is spotlessly clean and very quiet at late evening.From

here I take a long walk across a subterranean mall to the Central

tube.


It's only two stops to Wanchai on the tube. My hotel is not far from

the tube station, so I can make it on foot.After Phuket it feels

noticeably colder; it is almost December. Of course, it's a big city,

high rise buildings, lots of traffic, neon signs, bill boards. I walk

around Wanchai sports ground, which is bathed in light and still

busy, people playing football and basketball. It's almost 10pm. I

stop to buy fruit and juice at a street grocery stall before I reach the

hotel.

The Wanchai Regal iClub is on Johnston Road. Its clean and

modern and the rooms look like space age pods. Down below, the

old trams trundle along Johnston Road. They seem an

anachronism after the futuristic airport, trains and hotel.



Victoria Peak


After a comfortable night's

sleep, I shower and make my

way to breakfast, downstairs on

the 5th floor. Its a small room

with only a handful of tables not

designed to encourage guests to

loiter. It's a self service buffet of

coffee, juice, cereals and

croissants. I sip my coffee by the

window and gaze out over the

lines of roof top laundry

blowing in the breeze on the

older, lower tenements.

Pack ready, I set off on foot

along Johnston Road towards

the Peak tram station.

Apart from the backdrop of

vaulting skyscrapers, at street

level this feels like London, with

bits of Shaftsbury Avenue, Soho

and, er, China town.


I walk along Hennessy Road and Queensway then turn into

Cotton Tree Drive. As I pass Hong Kong Park, I am approached by

a monk and I forget everything I've learned about Indian tailors.

He waves ID and a pamphlet at me and tells me he is building a

temple and he needs funds. Disappointed that he is not offering

me a blessing, I decide to pay him off with $50HK so I can leg

it. This has the opposite effect because he now starts slapping my

chest demanding more, like I was a Cheap Charlie. At this point I

should have told him to feck off, monk or not. But now I am

getting alarmed at his aggression and I recall David Carradine in

the 70s TV show Kung Phu, arms flailing and neck choppin.So I

cave in and offer another 50 dollars. My mind is still calculating

pounds, Thai Baht and now HK dollars and I'm not exactly sure

how much I've been done for.100 dollars is about 8 quid. I

think. Sodding monks. Worse than Jesuits.

Smarting from my first encounter with Hong Kong and not feeling

at all warm about sponsoring religion in a communist country, I

park the experience and look forward to Victoria Peak. I reach the

Peak Tram Station and buy a Bigbus tour ticket which includes the

peak tram fare.Its fairly busy and we wait on the platform to board

the next tram.




The route from Central to Victoria Peak is about 1.4 kilometres and

climbs almost 1200 feet up to the Peak. The line was opened in

1888 powered by a steam engine to power the cable, which was

replaced with an electric motor in 1926. The tram cars were

replaced in 1956 with lighter metal bodied cars and again in 1989

when the whole track was replaced.

Apparently, the first row of seats were originally reserved for the

Governor of Hong Kong, in case he happened to jump on

unannounced. Today the tram carries 2 million people every year.


The Tram snakes it's way up, around the colonial facades and the

skyscrapers, under the concrete stilts bearing the downtown roads.

The tall buildings seem to lean forwards as we climb up the hill. We

clear the buildings and climb through the woodland on the peak,

getting a fabulous view of the harbour. I get that thrilling feeling of

being somewhere new and exciting.

The tram is mainly for tourism nowadays and we make no stops at

stations en route like Barker Road.


The tram slowly pulls into the Skypeak terminus, which the

Peak Tramways Company website describes immodestly and

perversely as "one of the most stylish architectural icons...with an

avant-garde design representing the epitome of modern architecture".

The design may have pleased the Commissars of Beijing but it

was designed by a British architect Terry Farrell and completed

in 1997.


I climb up 6 escalator flights past Madame Tussauds and

Burger King, to reach the rooftop viewing platform. There is

another turnstile before the stairs leading up to the roof and I

wave my tramcar ticket at the sensor. An impatient Chinese lady

in uniform barks "pay for ticket 30 dollar, you moron" (my

supplement). We all look side ways at each other and raise

eyebrows skyward in that collective expression of patient

frustration. We queue to buy another ticket. The turnstile guard

bars the way with her left hand and demands the ticket which she

then pushes thru the machine and, with a satisfied flourish, hands

it back and waves me through.I climb up to the sky deck.

The day is sunny and warm, with little breeze.The view is

stunning.We stand high above looking north down onto the

residential towers. The northern view stretches from Kowloon and

the New territories to the eastern harbour and the old airport at

Kai Tak.

The city towers seem hemmed in by the peak. The jungle

slopes crowd round the high rise apartments in a tight soft canopy

like broccoli and the buildings seem to grow out of the jungle

jostling for breathing space at the foot of the Peak.







It is a breathtaking landscape like Rio and Sydney Harbour.

Turn around to look south and you can see the towers of Aberdeen

'peaking' over the distant hills and further beyond the 3 smoke

stacks of the Lamma island power station, hidden out of sight

behind a small ridge on Yung Sheu Bay. To the east, all along the

line of peaks, towers rise where Nature never intended.

To the west, Mount Austin stands above the sky deck. Although

low rise, a mere 5 or 6 levels, it crowns the hill top like a citadel. I

walk up the hill to Mt Austin.

The familiar British road signs still hint of the former regime and

the Mt Austin park is neatly trimmed with a lawn overlooked by a

bandstand, Silent now, no brass bands, no deck chairs, only the old

streetlights, converted from gas to electricity, remain lining the

path.I can almost hear the tinny sound of gramophones and

boiling kettles whistling the approach of afternoon tea.

I walk back down to the Skypeak building which now seems out

of place after the old fashioned architecture of Mt Austin.





The Peak Tower is 1300 feet above sea level but the early afternoon

is hot where the hills are exposed to the sun. The Old Peak Road

is deserted as the crowds descend by tram. I decide to walk down

the hill. The descent is a comfortable angle and in the shade of the

mountain and it promises a cooler walk down through the

suburban woodland. The path follows the contours of the hillside

in and out of the wooded slopes and winds down past suburban

houses once the homes of British officials, who enjoyed the

spectacular view across to Kowloon and the New territories. The

road is concreted and I guess was wide enough to drag grocery

carts up to the former governing colonials.

Sometimes the view is obscured as the road twists around a small

saddle between peaks, then a sharp turn brings a glimpse of the

skyscrapers below, momentarily hidden from view. I pass an

apartment block of 6 levels clad in pink, quiet and peaceful above

the distant bustle.

I leave the old road to follow Barker road which winds down,

servicing the various apartments which appear at every turn,

including a peak top tennis court. I follow the Chatham trail

down, crossing to Clovelly and Brewins trail, until I emerge at a

busy road crossing the old peak tram line.





As I descend, the towers rise

higher, past vaulting cliffs of

endless apartments.I guess you

learn to compromise living on

top of each other with them

stunning views, if they are not

blocked by another later

construction. The line of towers

give the appearance of glass

fronted canyons.

At the foot of the hills overcast

by skyscrapers hide large

stuccoed villas more like a

Clifton cul de sac.

By the time I reach the Peak

Tram lower terminus my legs

are wobbling with fatigue. I

make it back to the hotel on foot

by about 4pm and take a well

earned rest, to prepare for the

coming evening





Peninsula Hotel


At about 6pm , I take a taxi to the Harbour Grand hotel where Tina

an d Matt are staying. I venture out onto Johnston Road and try to

hail a cab. It's getting busy and I have to wait a little. We are due to

arrive at the Peninsula Hotel about 7:30, so I'm anxious not to be

late and, anyway, I have no idea where it is. Eventually, I catch a

cab and we drive through the rush hour traffic. The taxi drops me

at the main entrance to the Harbour Grand hotel where the doors

are guarded by a giant Sikh in full regalia. He holds open the door

for me without condescension. The foyer is enormous, a little

intimidating but I march up to the 50 feet long marble reception

desk and ask to see Mr Pluchino. The attentive trainee is observed

by a senior who gives an instruction in Chinese.

I am to take the lift to the Club Lounge on the 41st floor. I walk

past the smiling uniformed attendants , one of whom kindly

pushes the call button. The lift has a thick carpet and looks like a

royal carriage with gilded mirrors and ornate lights. The lift stops

on 36 and Matt walks in. Fancy meeting you in a lift in HK.

We shake hands and briefly swap our travellers tales then Matt

leads me into the club lounge.

Uniformed and neatly coiffured staff circulate taking orders and

we order some cocktails. Matt steers me to the bar and buffet of



canapes. We start with a beer, then order some cocktails. I stare at

the unfamiliar list of spirits and mixers and opt for a Manhattan.

Matt has a Mohito.

While we wait for them to arrive I rob another bottle of beer from

the cabinet and a steward comes forward to remove the bottle top,

without challenging me. Not being a resident or a club member, I

cannot buy any drinks. We wait at the table for Tina to arrive and

Matt continues his story. The night time view from the Harbour

Grand looks across HK , the harbour and the towers of Kowloon.

Lit up, and from the 41st floor the harbourside freeway snakes

along the water front teeming with motors and buses. It's almost

dizzying. This is definitely the way to travel.

Tina arrives dressed for her performance at the Peninsula hotel

tonight. She has had a sore throat at home but is ready to sing

tonight.We raid the side table for more samosas and finger food.

Then it's time to head down to street level to Fortress Hill subway

station, and onto Kowloon Tsui Sha Tsim.

Like all world cities the crowds are teeming at 7pm and we crush

on to the carriage talking excitedly. As I am not team navigator, I



don't pay attention to the street names and corners, as we sprint

across the traffic.

We arrive at the Peninsula hotel, and take a side door, down a long

corridor to the basement bar, where the show is being held. At

$120 HK a beer, about £11, it's going to be an expensive night. We

take a table in the corner and continue to catch up. Matt and

Tinas' friends arrive and I meet Andy and Felix. The show starts

and the Compere introduces the first act. There is some stiff

competition form the other singers but I am optimistic. The 2nd

guy delivers Billie Jean, when he should have done Bat out of Hell,

a-la-Meatloaf, judging by his appearance. Tina sings' What's going

on' and 'Change the world' by Eric, songs we have done many

times at home in Bristol. The mic level is a little low in front of the

house band but Tina delivers a great performance. The winners of

each group are determined by the clapometer, so we all chant

TINA! TINA! TINA! which catches on like a Mexican wave.

The night carries on into a disco. By now we are all very well oiled

on beer, mohitos, and Matt buys Champagne to celebrate the

occasion.





As Tina's friends head off, Matt

decides we must see the

penthouse bar of The Peninsula.

Another stunning top floor

cityscape and several more

rounds of eye wateringly

expensive cocktails. Matt insists,

needlessly, that I must inspect the

loos which turn out to be granite

urinals with another stunning

view of Kowloon . It was the

most stunning leak I ever had,

although my vision was playing

tricks with me.We taxi back to

HK under the tunnel and I am

dropped off outside my hotel.

I have not eaten all night apart

from the very nice samosas, I

cross the road to the brightly lit

Yeung Cheu restaurant which is

still catering at 2:30 pm. I eat

something with rice before the

owner shoos me away so he can

close up.


Hong Kong Bus Ride


The alarm wakes me at 9. I

forgot to switch it off. My

head throbs as I lift it from the

pillow too fast. My legs ache

from my mountain descent

yesterday and my hangover

trumpets the climax of the

1812 finale with canons inside

my skull. I sleep on till 2 then

fall out of bed, shower, dress

in slow motion and walk to

Hennessy to catch the big bus

for my city tour.I wait at a

tube station in a trance,

staring at a giant billboard for

the The Long Academy

International Learning Centre

on Hennessey Road. The day

is a blur of people from all

walks of life, students,

tourists, Chinese travellers.

The China Travel Agency

offers buses to mainland




China and my eyes scan the

Kaleidoscope of Chinese

models, bottles and buses on

billboards and sign boards.

The Bus comes and I board,

buy my ticket and climb

upstairs onto the open deck.

Today it is overcast and cold.

On the open bus the winds are

f r e e z i n g . I a c c e p t t h e

inevitable and put on my

sweater, first time this trip.

We s e t o f f w e s t a l o n g

Hennessy Road and follow the

standard route along Queens

road, past Man Mo temple,

Hollywood , the IFC - the

tallest phallic symbol in the

world (from the top of which

leapt both Batman and Lara

croft in separate movies), past


the Pier Conference Centre

and the Cenotaph. We drive

along Lung Wui Road past the

old British Army barracks now

home to the the PLA . It is

popularly known as 'the

(upside-down) Gin bottle due

to its shape, which is

supposedly designed to make

it difficult to climb or attack.I

was in no mood to assault the

People's Liberation Army

today and, anyway, its getting

cold and darker and I am glad

to complete the tour. I spot my

stop and go downstairs but

the driver will not let me off

until we stop at the designated

tour stop. Bugger, the bus

tears off in the opposite

direction. Finally, I alight and

fight my way through the

teeming crowds back to my

hotel. My head still hurts.


Dim Sum and Felix's birthday


Tina has invited me to join them for lunch with Jill, one of her

friends from her Hong Kong days. I take the tube to the Harbour

Grand and find their room. Matt recounts his return trip to the

hotel from the previous evening. The hotel staff were polite,

patient and understanding. But he won't be staying there again.

The morning is fresh and bright and the views from Matt and

Tina's room are fabulous. We take the tube to a Dim Sum

restaurant at City Hall. We walk up to the first floor and enter the

restaurant. It's quite early only 12 but the room is rapidly filling

with diners.

Dim sum started in the old tea houses as snacks but has become a

staple of Chinese dining culture, especially in Hong Kong.

Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such

as cha siu baau, dumplings, and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun),

which contain a range of beef, chicken, pork, prawns and

vegetarian options. Dessert dim sum is also available and many

places offer the customary egg tart.

The room looks quite old fashioned. It is a huge room with marble

columns, and maybe a hundred tables dressed in neatly starched

table cloths and laid for six places with old fashioned hotel cutlery

( aka Knives and Forks ). The diners are entirely Chinese, smartly



but casually dressed, families, well to do grandmothers, business

associates, friends. Uniformed waitresses wearily push trollies

heavily laden with various Dim Sum laid out on 3 levels inside

glass shelves. They look around warily searching for any takers.

One elderly waitress, apparently relieved from pushing the

weighty trolly, stops at a nearby table and leans forward, tongs in

hand waiting for the order for the bite size food.

Jill is Tina's one time boss when she worked here on The Tatler. Jill

chats about business and I am curious to ask about life here after

the handover in 97. It seems that life has not changed dramatically

since Beijing took control. In fact, the Hong Kong Government,


(SAR the Special Administrative Region ) is financially

independent and enjoys a high degree of autonomy, albeit

endorsed by Beijing. Business carries on much the same.

We say goodbye to Jill and walk down to pier 4 where I will catch

the Star ferry to Kowloon. Tina and Matt have to fly home tonight

but we arrange to meet up this evening for Felix's birthday.

The Star ferry is in fact the name of the ferry service rather than

one particular boat. There have been many boats in the 120 year

history of the service, the first Morning Star, Evening Star, Lady

Star, Golden Star and so on. Until the opening of the Harbour

tunnel in 1972, the Star Ferry was the main way to and from Hong

Kong Island to Kowloon. It remains a cheap popular way across

today and is an icon of Hong Kong itself. I buy my token for $2,

less than 20p and wait on the pier for the boat to arrive. As we

cross the harbour I can see Hong Kong island behind me and you

can see how dramatic it looks with the skyscapers dwarfed by the

mountains behind. Its a memorable sight and I'm thrilled to see it.

From the Star ferry pier I walk along Salisbury Road and turn into

Nathan Road, the oldest road in Kowloon, built in 1861. The road

starts just below Boundary Street in Mongkok and continues all

the way to Tsim Sha Tsui's waterfront. It's one of the busiest



commercial roads in Hong Kong but it reminds me of Oxford

Street. I spend the afternoon exploring then take the tube back to

Wanchai.

This evening I have been invited to join a birthday party for Felix,

who I met at Tina's show at the Peninsula. I check my map and

find the restaurant Felafel not far from Central, so I can take the

tram from just outside my hotel. The next tram arrives and its full,

really full. I wait for the next one which is also full, really full. So I

try to climb on board. You have to board at the rear which is



guarded by a turnstyle. The tram is full so I cannot get through the

turn style and I hang on half in, half out, my legs straddling one of

the bars. At each stop passengers dismount at the front and

everyone shuffles down the bus. As a bit of space opens I push

through the turnstyle and I'm on aboard and I also shuffle

forward. I stand upright and hit my head on the ceiling. The

dimensions don't seem to anticipated tall Gweilos and I have to

stoop or bend my head to fit below the ceiling. Even so, I keep

knocking the metal beams which support the roof. I expect the

colonials rarely used these trams.

The tram progresses towards Central and I check the names of

each stop displayed in English. I jump off at the right stop for

Pedder St and find my way to D'Aguilar Street. The higher section

of D'Aguilar Street, together with Lan Kwai Fong, is famous for

restaurants, bars and night life and it's a busy Friday night.

I make a right turn into the unfortunately named Rat Alley and

find the restaurant Felfela. I am early and the first one there. I am

invited to a table and by the proprietor who seems to be London

Lebanase and he is very friendly and welcoming.I order a beer

from the dusky waitress who is Chinese and Arabic, the restaurant

is Egyptian. Matt and Tina arrive and more of Felix's friends show

up. Finally, Felix himself arrives and the party can proceed.




We order food and the owner is having a great time. He dances

and claps at the punters passing along Rat Alley. I chat to my

neighbours and enquire where people live. My neighbour lives

on Lantau island and must leave at 11 to catch the last ferry.

Finally Matt and Tina must leave for the airport, to fly home.

After the farewells, hookahs are brought to the table. I decline the

offer as I don't want to smoke anything. More drinks are served

and, encouraged by the staff, Maggie does a belly dance around

the table.

A fun night




Stanley


The double decker buses are

comfortingly familiar and I

could be in Bristol or

Birmingham, except they are

much cheaper, faster and

frequent. I settle down

upstairs to watch the city and

imagine the routine of living

here. Central is densely

populated but as the bus

winds up the inland hills,

settlement becomes sparse

with isolated apartment

towers perched on steep

hillsides. Today I am heading

for Stanley and the route will

take me through the Wong Nai

Chung Gap road past the

Cricket Club. The road winds

up past skyscrapers perched

dramatically on hilltops above

the road, seeming to lean into

the wind.


We arrive in Stanley, and it feels like a Kentish seaside resort. The

roads are well tended, the buildings are smaller and there are

lawns along the pavement. I jump off and wander down to Stanley

Market. It's Saturday and the stalls are open but quiet. I can barely

imagine I am in China. But then HK is a special case.

Along the sea front you can see a pub called The Belcher, Pizza

Express, Croc Monsieur and Starbucks. It is a warm sunny

Saturday and people are out for lunch. It reminds me of Tiger Bay

in Cardiff.


Stanley is famous for Murray House which today overlooks the

bay. The building started life in 1844 as officers' quarters for the

Murray Barracks in Central. It is one of the oldest surviving public

buildings in Hong Kong from the early colonial era. It was

designed in classical style with heavy stone walls on the ground

floor while the upper floors have Doric columns for better

ventilation. In 1982, the building was dismantled and 3,000

building blocks were labelled and catalogued for future

restoration. The building was restored in 2001 in Stanley and

reopened in 2002.





Back on the bus, we drive along Repulse Bay. In the 1840s, the bay

was used by pirates preying on foreign merchant ships. The pirates

were 'repulsed' by the Royal Navy and the bay acquired its current

name.

Today Repulse Bay area is a fashionable residential area and one of

most expensive areas after The Peak. The view is fabulous and

would have reminded me of Monaco, had I ever been there.


As the bus climbs above the bay towards to the Wong Nai Chung

Gap, you catch a glimpse of Deep Water Bay. Between the

surrounding hills there is a smooth green triangle of level ground

reclaimed from the sea which houses the Hong Kong Golf club.

Looking west , you can see Ocean Park fairground the Big Dipper

perched on the hill top above Aberdeen. It looks like the most

difficult site to build a fairground, with cable cars climbing up to

the site.


As the bus rolls back down to the city, we pass into Wong Nai Chung

Valley. The British army built a military camp here in 1840 but closed

it soon after because so many soldiers died from malaria in the

valley's marshy environment. The valley became a burial ground and

was renamed as Happy Valley, apparently a common wheez amongst

colonials. In 1846, the British cleared the paddy fields and built the

Happy Valley Racecourse. Naturally.


Lamma Island


At Central pier, I take a ferry to

Lamma island. I saw the island

from the Peak on my first day

and I am curious to explore it.

You buy a token which gets you

through the turnstyle and onto

the ferry. It is busy today with

few free seats. We motor out

into HK harbour and turn west.

the view of Kowloon, the New

territories and Lantau Island is

stunning. Lamma is only 3km

south west coast of Hong Kong

Island and after only 20

minutes we dock at Yung Shue

Wan. As the ferry crowds spill

out into the seaside village, I

wonder through the town,

looking for the path to the next

village. I stop at a little cafe

sandwich bar doing good trade,

mostly Europeans having cooked

breakfast.


I walk towards Sok Kwu Wan

where I will take the return

ferry to Aberdeen.The island

is very rural with some

rugged scenery and the

granite hills reach a peak of

353 metre at Mount Stenhouse

(Shan Tei Tong) in the south.

The population of around

5,000 live mostly in the two

main villages, Yung Shue Wan

and Sok Kwu Wan but there

are tiny settlements on quiet

beaches. There are no cars,

just bicycles, motorised carts

and miniature emergency

vehicles. Lamma is the third

largest of Hong Kong's islands

but it's only 6km long and

2.5kms at its widest point.

Apart from a large power

station built in 1972 on the

western side of the island, the

island is virtually unspoiled.



It is still warm and sunny and the

path is well laid out with many

families out of the day.

The fish restaurants in Sok Kwu

Wan are full to bursting and the

shopfronts are walls of fish

tanks offering all sorts of sea life

for your dining pleasure,

including some things I don't

recognise.



As the ferry pulls out into the straights between the islands, Aberdeen

comes into view with tall apartments rising above the sea hills. We

navigate around the passing tankers and moor up in Aberdeen harbour

amongst a pile of old junks. It's getting dark now and the double

decker bus races through the Aberdeen Tunnel into Happy Valley and

back to Central.

It will soon be Christmas and the temperature is dropping but the

Lockhart Road is still crowded with Sunday shoppers and street artists.

Hong Kong is a fascinating place. There is so much more to see and do

and I am sorry to leave, but its getting cold and I am missing my

tropical beach.





© Dave Harris 2011

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