Hong Kong is a ridiculously busy city. It is packed with people. Despite having a population of only ~1/4 Tokyo, it has a mere fraction of the usable space. It’s a city built on mountains ringed by seas and as a result, there are people everywhere:
I’m guessing that the population of Hong Kong has exploded over the past few decades because nobody seems to know how to live effectively in a big city.
It’s a terrible city to grow old in. We watched a teenager bowl over an old lady and then not even apologize; he just didn’t care.
Similarly, if you wanted to create a perfect random number generator (not an easy thing to do), you could do so by trying to guess which way a person on the street will turn as you approach them. Sometimes it’s left; sometimes right. They also walk on all sides of the sidewalk so there’s no cultural norm you can learn to figure out which way they’re going to go.
You do not relax in public in urban Hong Kong.
It’s also a city where nobody talks but everybody yells. People here are loud and don’t so much talk as shout. Especially the older women; they yell at talk to their husbands who silently walk ahead of them, head bowed.
But don’t get me wrong – Hong Kong’s a great place. And you can relax, you just need to get out of downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon.
One great place to go is Tai O (ferry from Central to Lantau; bus to Tai O), where descendants of the Tanka people fish and live in houses on stilts.
I was last here in 2006 and tourism has now arrived. There are now signs that guide you around the village – although they’re a bit hit and miss.
One path takes you to a lookout where you can purportedly watch dolphins. Except that someone took down or never installed the sign to the actual lookout; the path instead takes you to a water filtration plant.
Similarly, one of the sights is “the old police station”, except that it’s not marked and under restoration. When you get there, there’s no sign, but there is a trail.
As you follow it you get quite confused. The trail is new and looks like every other trail on the island. But there’s also a sign saying that you’re about to trespass onto a military base. However, you’re still looking for that police station – and maybe it’s on that military base and there are no soldiers around. And hey, now a really scary looking dog is barking and running towards you. Time to shuffle backwards and get ready to run because that dog is getting closer and it looks hungry. I guess the police station isn’t here after all.
The other very relaxing thing to do in Hong Kong is to hike. The islands are mostly forest and are criss-crossed with trails. We actually spent half of our time hiking.
One day was spent going up the peak, around it and then dropping down to Aberdeen via Lok Fu Ko (check). It’s a great hike as you pass through jungle on one side of the mountain, more temperate forest on the other and then suddenly the city appears again:
Similarly, after going to Tai O we hiked along the coast to Tung Chung (where you can catch the train back to Kowloon/Hong Kong). It was interesting as what is marked as a ‘road’ on the map is actually a concrete path at tops a meter wide. You pass through villages that contain only a few houses and not a single service. It’s a reminder of what Hong Kong was and how far it has come.
There were also a few more entertaining examples of how they’re attempting to improve tourism. In one nameless village there was a sign to the ‘beach’. We walked down and found ourselves on a tiny little strip of sand that overlooked the takeoff runway for the airport.
One more comment on hiking in Hong Kong. Along the way you are going to pass hundreds of Golden Orb Weaver spiders. If you are scared of spiders that can easily span six inches, don’t hike here:
One of the most unique experiences we had was at the aviary. The birds are great…
…but much more interesting was running into hordes of rural Chinese school kids visiting the city. We’re pretty sure that many of them had never seen white people before because they kept staring at Wendy’s blue eyes.
A bunch of them actually wanted their photo taken with us. We felt like the strangest pop stars of all time, being mobbed by this crowd of Chinese tweens. We probably could have stayed for ages taking photos with every single one, but we had to let them go after a few minutes.
The food in Hong Kong is great. Yes, there is every type of western food if you want it (and we gave in at times), but the real joy is the dim sum and noodles.
We had dim sum at a random place on Tung Choi road in Kowloon. It was great – except for the soup dumplings which were lacking. The rice noodle dishes were perfectly cooked and almost fell apart between our chopsticks; the lamb and pork inside were delicious. We also enjoyed that the char siu rolls came with a light dusting of sugar on the outside.
There are also great noodle dishes to be had – and in Kowloon they’re cheap; this one only cost about $3:
There’s nothing like a great dish of egg noodles topped with a couple of pork slices.
Another amazing culinary aspect of Hong Kong is their love affair with baked goods. There are bakeries everywhere. In the subway. On the streets. Right next to one another.
Every morning we would purchase something from this place right around the corner from our hotel:
They had a great mix of western favourites like croissants and all sorts of sweet Chinese buns. You can get buns topped with baked pineapple or minced pork, stuffed with custard, red bean paste (an asian favourite), cherries or roast pork.
And we never saw the place empty; there was always at least one person in the store.
I mentioned earlier how Hong Kong is packed with people and has little space. This means that they’re building up and the apartments are small.
This was hammered home to me when we got to our hotel room. It was only 6’ 3” wide. It just so happens that I am also 6’ 3” tall.
I know you’re doing the math in your head and wondering how I slept. The answer is: “snuggly”.
Our room was at most 10 feet long, meaning that we actually had less room than we would have in a prison (cells are 8’ x 8’). However, it was cheap and clean and we’re on a budget.
In case you weren’t sure whether China is out to dominate the world, the government propaganda television commercials will remind you that they are. There’s a lovely one that starts with a few kids farming only to have the landscape evolve into a modern town with fancy factories, wind power and lots of smiling, orderly, servile people. Pan to a battleship cutting through the sea (racing towards Taiwan?) and then a solitary climber bagging a peak. Subtle it is not.
Despite their self-held inexorable rise to global dominance, the locals are not without their moments of self-doubt. On the way to the airport there’s a massive billboard that reminds us all that “even a confident man sometimes needs reassurance”. In the context of status-obsessed Hong Kong it’s quite entertaining.