With a camera in one hand and a book (or a coffee) in the other, I always find enticing byways—such as Luang Prabang.
A City of Many Faces
Hong Kong is a city of many faces. Indeed, most visitors remember the "Fragrant Harbour" as a city, when in fact the island remains mostly forest. Despite this, Mongkok is the most densely populated area on earth; throughout Hong Kong and Kowloon, sky-scrappers jostle with the past as the mecca of the free market economy thrives despite communist rule. Somehow, old religions and traditions thrive in this juxtaposition of beliefs and lifestyles.
Hong Kong as I First Knew Her
This is one of my favourite photos of Hong Kong, taken some fifty years ago. I find it remarkable, really, that I still have it. At the age of 10, on my first adventure overseas, I fell in love with street streets, which were actually steps. The steps are then covered with stalls, which in turn half-hide the side entrances to shops.
The photograph shows the junction of Queen's Road (now Queen's Road Central) and Pottinger Street. Queen's Road once ran along the foreshore; Hong Kong is an island which rises sheer from the sea. So much of where the tourists now walk is reclaimed land—Hong Kong Airport is the classic example, built on the reclaimed island of Chep Lap Kok.
Where Past and Future Nestle Together
In Hong Kong, the old and the new not just juxtaposed, but living comfortably side by side. This beautiful sandstone building is in Central on Hong Kong Island, where some colonial architecture remains, albeit largely swallowed by the ever-encroaching office blocks.
Unfortunately, memories of the past are being replaced as Hong Kong continues to expand and space remains at a premium. Much of the past is disappearing; each time I visit something else has vanished, from a building to entire streets.
Walking in Hong Kong
Interestingly, Hong Kong is also a place for walking. I love catching the Peak Tram and wandering at will along the paths through the forest up here (plus, there are the occasional markets, and more than a few places to rest and have something to eat).
Another option is to head to the hiking trails on the far side of Hong Kong Island. With the island being mainly forest, there are plenty of places to escape the crowds (and the views over the outer islands are spectacular, once I got my breath back. These walks can be very steep!)
The Old Tong Lau of Hong Kong
A few tong lau, or 'walk-up' tenement buildings, remain hidden in the backstreets of Central, up near the Man Mo Temple. (When up here, don't miss the nearby Cat Street Markets.) Typically four or five stories in height, the tong lau were designed for the ground floor to be used as a retail area, with accommodation on the upper floors. Renovated ones are still to be seen in Hong Kong, but often now with shops on the upper floors.
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I took the above photo shortly before this building was demolished. Many Tong Lau became notorious as squatter workshops, with neither running water nor electricity. In the overcrowding they became the source of disease outbreaks, including typhus and the plague.
Food and Hong Kong
Did I mention the food? To go to Hong Kong and not eat well is to simply not try. Even should you tire of the many types of Chinese food on offer, every specialty from all over the world is on offer. From the safety of a hotel restaurant to the varieties of street food, to Michelin-starred dim sum to places so good you have to queue and wait as they don't take bookings, or the little stalls and shops just off the wet markets: there is a myriad of tastes waiting to tempt you.
The Umbrella Revolution
I chanced to be in Hong Kong during the "umbrella revolution" in 2014. It was truly an amazing time; the sit-in street protest was incredibly peaceful and organised. Among all the sleeping tents were larger ones offering places for the students to study. Others served as medical tents and food tents. I saw no violence, simply people peacefully protesting.
Hong Kong's Markets
Markets abound in Hong Kong. Many are famous, but I found many more smaller ones on unmarked corners. I simply took a tram a few stops beyond where I would normally go, wander, and I would find a market.
There are markets for clothes, for electronics, for gadgets; flower markets, bird markets, cloth markets, toy markets. The wet markets were what opened my eyes when I first went at the age of 10. Every part of the animal is displayed, Nothing is refrigerated as everything is sold by the end of the day—food is bought and eaten fresh. I always visit them whenever I'm in Hong Kong.
Now filled with tourists and locals alike escaping the crowds on the other side of the island, Repulse Bay was a busy place during WWII. First, the British surrendered to the Japanese, who set up a concentration camp here, only to in turn surrender Hong Kong back to the British. (Unfortunately the elegant Repulse Bay Hotel, where these surrenders took place, has long since vanished.) Now, Repulse Bay has fantastic markets, and a broad walk lines with great restaurants overlooking the beach.
Some architect thought these apartments were a good idea. Apparently not, though; once completed, a hole had to be cut into the middle of the building, to allow the "spirit dragons" free access to the sea.
Junks in Hong Kong
And so for the classic image of Hong Kong. Aside from those belonging to the Tourist Association, few junks are now seen in the main harbour, though they can be occasionally spotted in the smaller bays. Others are for hire, to sail the harbour at dusk and enjoy the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong, and remember why the name translates as "Fragrant Harbour."
© 2019 Anne Harrison