After a pretty gruelling trip through Russia, I was very happy to be back in Asia. I was especially happy, because my next stop after Beijing was Hong Kong – one of my favourite cities in the world.
Hong Kong is a really interesting and exciting place to visit – it is something inbetween China and Singapore. Grittier and more lively than Singapore, but much more modern and ‘Westernised’ than China. There are acres of airconditioned shopping malls, high rise office towers and glitzy restaurants, but you are never more than a 5 minute walk from a grimy alleyway with stalls selling boiled cow lungs, tripe and stinky tofu.
I arrived at at around midnight on the airport from Beijing and decided to sleep in a private room in terminal 1. The next morning I was feeling refreshed and, after a shower and breakfast in the lounge, I headed towards Hong Kong island to start adventuring. One of the first things that hit me was how pleasant the weather felt (especially in comparison to what we had experienced in September). The temperature was hovering around the 28 celcius mark, humidity was relatively low and the sky was blue. It was hard to wipe the smile from my face!
I rented a room in a flat on Hong Kong island that belonged to a Chinese lawyer from Bejing, who recently moved to Hong Kong. The plan was to explore the island and then drop my bags off at the flat towards the end of the afternoon.
The streets around Hong Kong station were absolutely packed with ladies (who looked like they were from Vietnam or the Philippines), sitting on cardboard boxes and eating lunch. Initially I assumed this was part of the student protests, but my friend later informed me that it was a normal Sunday ritual for the local Filipino women who work in Hong Kong as maids (apparently most middle-class households in Hong Kong have live-in Filipino maids). These women get Sundays off and choose to hang out together on the pavements in Central. Pretty strange stuff.
That evening, after reacquainting myself with the island (where I spent a week in 2009), I decided to head to Admiralty MTR station to have a look at the student protests, which were constantly in the news.
I didn’t exactly expect a Ukrainian-style riot, but I was pretty blown away by the calm and friendly atmosphere in the streets. People were chatting, playing games on their phones, doing maths homework, and sleeping. Some were even singing Christian gospel songs in mini choirs. At one point I wanted to climb over a concrete barrier and I was instantly helped by about 3 people taking my camera and offering to give me a lift up. When I got down one girl asked me if I wanted some water. These were certainly the politest protesters I had ever come across (well, in fact they were also the first protesters I had come across).
After a very comfortable night in bed, I arose mid-morning with a stomach in urgent need of breakfast. I already knew what to expect and the prospect of a Hong Kong sweet breakfast sent my taste buds into overdrive. Now, let me just say that I only had this meal once whilst I was there, and you will see why if you look at the photo. A soft white Portuguese bun, toasted and smothered with a generous helping of peanut butter and then covered in a couple of spoonfuls of sweet condensed milk and a sprinkling of sugar…and then also topped off with two thick slabs of pure butter. Health nuts look away now. The perfect partner for this diet-busting breakfast is an ice cold, strong, milky tea. I am actually tearing up just thinking about it now. Anne, if you are reading this, I can only apologise for my crimes against the Paleo paradigm.
After breakfast I took the Star Ferry to the other side of Victoria Harbour, Kowloon. These ferries have so much character and definitely beat the socks off taking the MTR!
The ferry arrives in Tsim Sha Tsui, which can be though of as the main tourist drag. Though it still contains some of the glitziest malls and hotels in Hong Kong, Kowloon is grittier than Hong Kong island. If you travel further up Nathan Road, towards Jordan, Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po, the tourists thin out and the streets become grittier. This was once the most densely populated strip on the entire planet (now it is in third place, behind Macao and Monaco).
There are lots of interesting things to see in Kowloon, such as wet markets, crowded street stalls, local people pushing around carts stacked sky-high with odd things, fishmongers and street butchers. And if the heat gets too much, or your feet start hurting, there are plenty of malls to relax in. I even walked into a mall with one of the largest ice rinks in Asia, where I had some lunch.
An interesting (for me) fact about Hong Kong money is that it is branded. Instead of being issued by a reserve bank, it looks like Hong Kong’s money is printed and issued by the local banks, Standard Chartered, Hang Seng, Bank of China and HSBC. I know there is a Monetary Authority which controls monetary policy and the money supply, but I think this is more like a board, to which these banks belong. I haven’t yet researched it properly, but I found it super interesting, particularly because the HKD is pegged to the US Dollar and the Monetary Authority therefore needs to pay close attention to the money supply at all times. I wonder how this works when each bank can print its own money. I also wonder who the ‘lender of last resort’ is in this system where each bank “promises to pay the bearer on demand at its office…”. Anyway, maybe if someone knows how this works, they can let me know!
I met a university friend for dinner that evening. She is a Hong Kong resident and was also born there, so we had some very interesting conversations about living and working in this awesome city that never seems to sleep. We had an absolutely superb meal, which included sweet and sour pork. The only difference here was that the pieces were served in a huge bowl of ice! She explained to me that this was to ensure that the outside layer was extra crispy. It was extremely tasty and was still hot on the inside.
Afterwards, we went to very cool liquid nitrogen ice cream bar, where they make your ice cream on demand. Fresh. They start with the cream and flavouring and then put the mixture into a mixer with some liquid nitrogen. Two minutes later you get a freshly made ice cream. The rapid freezing and mixing process apparently means that the ice crystals are much smaller, which yields a super smooth and creamy desert.
We walked through the streets and looked at the awesome neon lighting, for which Hong Kong is famous. I can’t really get over how cool the place looks at night. Its such an awesome place to walk around! There is a real buzz in the streets and you never really feel unsafe either.
Sadly, my stay in Hong Kong was short. It’s probably best that way, though, because it’s not a cheap place. I would say that it is cheaper than Singapore, but I am looking forward to my next stop – Bankok. Apparently it is a city filled with eyewateringly good food at rock bottom prices. Can’t wait!