Whilst in the planning stages of this trip there were many choices to be made as to what destinations I should pick before my arrival in Australia. Hong Kong was chosen, mainly through people’s recommendation, but also because it is generally a good place to get flights to Australia from.
At this point in time I am sat in the departure lounge of Kuala Lumpur Airport, writing this as a text document before starting my 3 hours free WiFi allowance. I have a total of 5 hours here before my final flight to Melbourne. As I did in Rome, I’ve decided that this would be a good time to tell you about Hong Kong.
I am not particularly fond of Hong Kong.
To start with, after landing at the airport, and walking a good few hundred meters past, and back to the immigration desks (I sheepishly followed the mass of Hong Kong residents to their desks, instead of adhering to the ‘visitors’ desks, my mistake) I was greeted by a very grumpy sounding immigration officer thrusting small pieces of paper at me, shouting “FORM, FORM”, and pointing to seemingly empty spaces. Apparently I had to fill out a small immigration form, including details of my permanent residency, plans for my time in Hong Kong, and the location I was staying. I’d had to fill one of these out for entry into Japan, but the kind people of Alitalia handed out the necessary forms on the plane and all went smoothly. Hong Kong Express didn’t do this, and my wander through the airport gave no hints that I would need to complete forms either.
Anyway, once I'd filled the form in and had been ushered briskly through immigration by an officer with particularly dead eyes and seemingly blackened heart, to baggage reclaim I stood and waited for over half an hour for my bag to appear. Looking back, it somehow took nearly an hour from my bag to make it from the plane to my hand what with my faffing at immigration. It got to the point that, because I had spent so much time at immigration, I started worrying that my bag had already been offloaded, round the carousel, and into some sort of lost baggage hole, never to be seen again. Thankfully this wasn’t the case (pun not intended), and my rucksack did eventually appear meaning I could start my search for a temporary sim card, and a tourist MTR pass. Both of these were secured with relative ease, but still, I was hot, sweaty, and grumpy, 2 hours after I had landed. Not off to a great start.
I was incredibly pleased to discover that Hong Kong’s metro service (MTR) is, albeit smaller in scale, on par with the efficiency and ease of use as Japan’s. Getting to Sham Shui Po station was pretty much a breeze, even with a rucksack and two train changes. And then I exited the station.
The first thing to hit me was the smell, it got to me as I was walking up the stairs out of the station. It was that luscious smell of a Chinese restaurant, and that got me very excited. Then, as I reached the top of the staircase, everything became a little overwhelming. The humidity hit hard, the noise was disorientating, and the sheer number of people was mind boggling. Bear in mind that this is somewhere between 7 and 8 in the evening and it was somewhat akin to Oxford Street on a summery Saturday afternoon. But busier, and more chaotic.
I haven’t got a picture of the exact moment I walked out from the gates at the top of a staircase into the heart of Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s shopping districts, but in my experience, the majority of streets in the city are the same, so here’s a picture of one of them in the same district.
With the help of my trusty Nexus 4 and Google Maps, I managed to navigate through the throng of people, up to the hostel. And after paying the balance of my booking, plus a deposit, and being told that I should have booked “with the name Thomas like it is on passport” by the guy at reception (none of the other hostels have minded, even the airline I booked with as “Tom” were happy to make an adjustment free of charge), I found my way to the room I would call home for 3 nights.
That’s when I typed away the last blog I posted. After that, a couple of the other residents (from Mainland China) introduced themselves to me. Well, they asked where I was from, and we struck up some form of conversation, mostly consisting of me asking them to repeat things again and trying to understand the broken English. I’m not particularly good at conversation in English, let alone with people who don’t speak very good English, and I have a fear of language barriers.
It transpired that the girl, whose Chinese name I can barely remember let alone spell (her English name is CoCo, so I’ll use that from now on), was staying roughly the same amount of time as myself but her friends were heading off the following day. I decided to put my fears aside and agreed that we’d go to Ocean Park (that’s what it turned out to be anyway, I didn’t have a clue what I was signing up for at the time), and then she’d show me some of the good places to go in Hong Kong. Sounded like a good situation really, we both get some company, Coco got to practice her English, and I had access to someone who could speak Chinese and order food!
So, bright and early I awoke (managed it this time!) and accompanied CoCo to breakfast (I opted for the “safer” Western option) at the hostel’s cafe before setting off past Pak Tin street (look, I’m easily amused by things that I can make a pun out of!)
And past some bamboo scaffolding.
Before taking the MTR, and then a bus service to Ocean Park. As mentioned, I didn’t know what I was signing up for until I got there, so when I arrived at a theme park I was slightly taken aback, it wouldn’t have been my destination of choice but hey, an adventure’s an adventure. We spent the first half of the day at the park, wandering through the sea life centre area, marvelling at the seals, searching for, and finally riding the cable car, and then heading back to the city for some food.
We found a tiny little place in amongst the shops in Mong Kok that ordinarily I would not have dared go near, but CoCo’s tactic of follow-the-massive-line-of-people-becasue-they’re-probably-on-to-something paid off nicely. We both had a very tasty bowl of (quoting CoCo’s phone’s translation ability) “Noodles Sirloin Fish Balls”, in all honesty a relatively accurate translation that only falls down with the phrasing. Described in a more English manner the dish was noodle soup with chunks of beef and some ball shaped things that I assume were made of fish.
After satiating our hunger, we began a wander around the streets of Mong Kok. This ended up having me follow CoCo around while she went into various shoe, and cosmetic stores to peruse. At one point she spent an exorbitant amount of time in The Body Shop (she was very apologetic), time that I used to try my hand at some more street photography.
It was now beginning to move into the evening and I was getting quite tired so, after inviting CoCo to accompany me the next day, I opted to head back to the hostel to plan the following day’s activities while CoCo stayed out for a bit more shopping. Upon CoCo’s return to the hostel I showed her where I planned to visit; The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, and Kowloon Walled City Park, neither of which she was keen on so we agreed that we would do separate things on the Wednesday. She did however point out that there was another temple worth visiting in Wong Tai Sin, so I thanked her and added it to my list of places to go and headed off to bed.
Rising the next morning at a nicely average time, I got dressed and braved the “Hong Kong style" breakfast which consisted of toast, a cup of tea, and a bowl of macaroni, sweetcorn, and slices of ham cooked in a sort of soup. I say "sort of soup" because the menu described it as corn syrup!
My first destination was the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, where I am ashamed to have become “that foolish tourist I can take money from”. At the base of the 460 odd stairs up to the temple was a monk, or at least someone dressed as a monk, who proceeded to (I guess) bless me in some way by flicking beads on my forehead, and tapping my head. He then placed the beads on my wrist, and a passed a necklace over my head before withdrawing from his bag, a small brass dish with some money in it. I became flustered, I should have learned from the example of the tourists ahead of me whom I witnessed brushing off the man's blessing with very little attempt at grace. But no! Me being myself, I succumbed to the pressures of this sly Chinese man, and pulled out a note that matched the one on the top in his little brass bow, 100 Hong Kong Dollars, to which the man shook two fingers at me and said “two, two”. Oh OK, I mumbled, pulling out a second 100 dollar note and proffering it to his thanks. On the way up towards the temple I did the math on my phone, I’d been duped out of approximately £17.50 for a plastic Buddha necklace, and a beaded bracelet. Ah well, shit happens.
Anyway, the monastery is so called because the stairs leading up to, and the temple grounds themselves are lined with more than ten thousand statues of Buddha. I wasn’t expecting them to be quite as big as they were, but there certainly are a lot of them, and every one has a different pose. In the main hall, three of the four walls are stacked, top to bottom, left to right, with smaller Buddha statues, it’s quite a sight, but one that you shall have to witness for yourselves because there is no photography allowed inside any of the buildings. The whole place is emblazoned gold and red, and struck me as gaudy and over the top.
On my descent from the temple I took a different route. It surprises me that the gate leading away from the temple is made accessible to tourists because the path is a fairly grotty affair that goes past the backs of people houses. And an area of squatters huts, labelled as such by a sign warning that there is a danger of land slip. I did see a monkey though, which made me smile. My camera has a fixed focal length so you’ll have to search to spot the little critter.
Next on my destination list was the temple Sik Sik Yuen in Wong Tai Sin. The temple itself was incredibly busy, and another very gaudy place, but the gardens it hides behind it are less populated and a slightly more serene place to be. I couldn’t help comparing the two Chinese temples I had seen to the ones I visited in Japan and conjured up a distinct difference.
In my opinion, the Japanese temples and shrines are built over time with great care, every aspect is planned to create a peaceful environment in which to reflect. The Chinese temples appear to have been built with as much expense as possible in order to impress. This is of course entirely my opinion, formed based on the appearance of these places, and with little to no detailed research into the matter. No matter whether this is an appropriate way to think or not, they are the thoughts that I have, and I am more approving of Japanese temples because of my beliefs.
Finally on the main portion of my sightseeing tour of Hong Kong was Kowloon Walled City Park. It’s a pleasant place to wander round but I didn’t take many photos. there’s a lot of history to the place but I’m not too good at the history side of things. From what I read, the area was once one of the poorest areas of the city due to conflicting views of what to do with it. Finally an agreement was made to clear the area and build a public park. This is what they did, and it is a nice place to be.
After spending an hour or so in the park I headed back to Lok Fu station and made my way to Causeway Bay. Using the advice of Digital Rev TV on YouTube I spent the remaining afternoon visiting the four places mentioned in their video "Photographing Hong Kong in a 4 hours". I also took inspiration from both presenter’s (Kai, and Lok) photographic styles and tried my hand at street photography again. Most came out pretty crap, but I got some shots that I liked.
Well this has turned out to be a rather long post, hopefully you’ve persevered this far, and if you have are still relatively sane. For the sake of many things I shall wrap the post up now.
As I stated at the beginning of this post I am not fond of Hong Kong, but that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed my time here. The city itself is grim, very overbearing and claustrophobic. There is so much going on, in such a chaotic manner and I can’t cope with it, it just doesn’t sit with how my brain works. Of course, there are areas of the city that aren’t all stalls and markets, wandering round Causeway Bay there are designer clothes shops, and Lamborghini’s parked in the street, or if you head to Central there are glass skyscrapers and fancy looking cafes. These areas seem to be populated by the pretentious, and the arrogant business people too absorbed in their work to appreciate anything else. I will sing the praises of the MTR however; it is modern, clean, and runs very well, a stark contrast to the city you are greeted with upon exiting any stations.
I have heard many good things about Hong Kong, and the place is not limited to the city itself. I am sure that there are wondrous places that I should have visited but did not have time, but sadly my impressions of the place are not good and I do not intend to return for any length of time. Perhaps, if I am treated to a long layover, or forced to visit for some sort of work I shall be able to make a better go of it. Nevertheless, I am glad to have had the experience.
At time of writing, I have two hours until my flight takes off. I shall leave you with a panorama of Victoria Harbour, and will see you Down Under.