Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hong Kong doesn't feel like a metropolis

From Bangkok we moved on to China. Our first stop was Hong Kong. Even if the British have "given Hong Kong back" to China, it's still very much its own entity with its own government and rules and so it's nothing like the mainland. For one, there is no censorship of any kind. So it's pretty much a different country.

We spent a few days there and were generously hosted by Fred, a friend from my early college years who moved there at the same time I moved to the US, and who I had not seen in 10 years. On top of being our host he was also our guide through a few areas of Hong Kong and a wealth of information about the way things work there. As always, it was really awesome to be able to hang out with someone who actually lives in the place we visited. You get a much more intimate look at the place.

The inside of a Chinese temple, with burning incense spirals

We were really surprised by Hong Kong. We expected a big busy expanse of huge shiny skyscrapers, but even if you get the shiny buildings along the water line, the city is very much human-sized, with a myriad of little alleys and shops everywhere, which make it a joy to walk around. It is still very densely populated with a ton of high rise apartment buildings, but the fact that the city is built on a hill and that there is a lot of green space around makes it a nice environment.

A cute little park in the heart of the city

It is very well organised and accessible by foot. There are, for example, a series of long outdoor escalators to go from the bottom of the hill to the top, so that you don't have to exert yourself in the heat. And they're a godsend!

There are also neat extras, like the fact that you can check-in to your flight in the middle of the city and leave your luggage there, before taking the 30min metro to the airport. You don't have to worry about your bags and can even hang out in the city if your flight is later in the day!

During one of our city walks, we visited the neighborhood where you can buy dried fish and other delicacies on a stick. They also sell birds nests which are added to soups and apparently are one of the most expensive animal products eaten by humans . We still don't quite know what the appeal is but hey, you can buy them here!

Care for a snack?

Not sure what those were...

While walking around on a sunday, we discovered a strange local custom. Everywhere we went downtown there were groups of women hanging out, sitting on the floor, on cardboards, talking, eating and playing games. There were a LOT of them too.

Turns out these were all Philipino women who work as live-in maids and their only day off is Sunday. This means 2 things. One, they are all off on Sunday. Two, their home is their room in the house where they work. In other words, they have no home, no place to receive and meet friends so the next best free thing is any public space that's in the shade. And they all spend their day there, every sunday.

Another really cool custom of Hong Kong is the nightly light show on the waterfront, which can best be seen from the other side of the bay in Kow Loon.  It's an unbeatable view on the skyline, especially when you get a beautiful clear night like this one.

Despite the heat (2.5 months above 30C and counting) we set out one afternoon to reach the local peak and viewpoint by foot (actually we set out by foot in search for the funicular that brings people to the top but took a wrong turn and were already on our way up when we realized we were far off the mark, so why not keep going?) We sweat a lot but gradually reached a beautiful view of the city.

We found the funicular eventually...

Once at the top, there is a viewing rooftop that is pretty heavily advertised. As we guessed you had to pay to access it. We were ready to do so until we saw that:

The whole building offers fantastic views of the city but the company who charges for rooftop viewing put those giant stickers up, ruining all the good photo spots. That's when the french in me (us?) took over... No, we didn't go on strike, but we set out to find an alternate free way to enjoy the view... and we were rewarded with the building next door and its free unadvertised viewing terrace.

The last highlight of our visit of Hong Kong was the giant bronze Buddha that sits at the top of a hill outside of the city. It is the tallest of its kind in the world and with its unique location must be a pretty awesome sight from an helicopter.

Given that the main access route was closed and we had to take the long way there, we'd say that it was pretty cool but not a must see for us. However, it was a good way to see how nature takes over just minutes from the city. That's another reason why Hong Kong feels less like a metropolis than we expected, the great outdoors are always nearby.

You can find the rest of the photos there (map)

View China - Hong Kong in a larger map

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