Hong Kong has it all: Weird, Free, and Stunning

Tuesday October 23 Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong late, but the electric pace of the city syncs with you immediately, so we ventured out from our tiny, chic, and very feng Shui Hotel “V” on Thomson and Johnston Streets (Hong Kong Island) to find some nachos at a Mexican bar called Coyote – yes, Mexican!

By the way, I fell in love with country immediately upon instantly accessing WordPress from my iPad and publishing the blog entries wrote in China. This country works!

Wednesday October 24 Hong Kong

The next day, after John went to “work,” (sometimes I just can’t say that without the quotes, because his job is so different from a guy with a lunchbox), I got a Big Bus ticket, an on-and-off type bus that had an English headphone commentary. Perfect way to see the heart of Hong Kong Island. I got off at the Convention Center and took the Star Ferry across the bay to Kowloon for $2.50 Hong Kong dollars – about $.30 US. I walked along the Avenue of Stars, where Asian movie stars are revered with stars and handprints in the pavement. Had lunch at a Starbucks and chatted with a gentleman who was born in Honk Kong but has lived in London for 50 years, cooking Chinese food at the London airport. His daughters went to Cambridge and both have married Westerners. He will move back home to Hong Kong now that he has retired. He said he is a happy man.

This country is one big WOW! It has it all. The architecture is soaring, with glistening, sky scrapers bursting like giant blades from the island’s steep hills and expansive shorelines. The buildings are graceful, thin, and tall, unlike the monstrosities of some residential complexes in Shanghai. On top of that, this country has mountains surrounding the city areas, access to green spaces and picnic sites within minutes from the city. And if that isn’t enough, the people are open, welcoming and free. You feel at home immediately in the mix of cultures on the streets, and you can actually have conversations with Hong Kong people about their opinions on topics like Mao, immigration, communism, the return of Hong Kong to China, and really whatever you want to know.

Conversation on Mao and communists with a man ( who shall remain unnamed just in case) I met in Hong Kong.

Martha: We are still trying to understand why the Chinese people seem to revere Chairman Mao – after all the devastation his policies wrought on the Chinese people and on the Chinese culture during the cultural revolution.

Hong Kong citizen: (A deep breath.) Well, you have to understand that most of the Chinese people were peasants, for many generations. And China was at war for most of its history. Now the Chinese have lived over 60 years in peace and country enjoys unprecedented prosperity. In the minds of the people, Mao is credited with this progress. Of course, the Chinese history books don’t cover the truth about those years during the cultural revolution. And now the younger generation doesn’t really care; it is ancient history for them. They are happy to be entertained, to enjoy life. Why don’t the young hear the stories from their grandparents, who lived through the terror of that time? The older ones don’t talk. They remember the consequences of speaking out. Yes, the young don’t care, and the old don’t talk.

That night we had dinner with Chiman and ChiHong, two guys from the Kohler office, at a Japanese restaurant, Sushi Uogashi (up an elevator on the third floor in a shopping mall, a typical venue in a vertical city). The sushi was beautiful; I’m now just popping in the raw stuff and actually liking it. It was funny – after dinner, we took photos with the server, and she asked John, “How’s your stomach?” Then she asked me if I needed a toilet. Makes you kind of nervous.

We had so much fun with Chiman and ChiHong. These Hong Kong people are a different breed – free thinkers and westernized through 150 years as a British colony. They are very quick to identify themselves as NOT Chinese – different money, different culture, different tax system, different school system, and more freedom. They actually have a huge demonstration at the harbor in Hong Kong every year on the anniversary of the Tianaman Square student uprising. (This wouldn’t be tolerated in Chia.) Hong Kong is watching China with anxious eyes.

Thursday October 25th, Hong Kong

I set off at 8 a.m. to the City Hall at Victoria Harbor to meet my “The Land Between” Gray Line bus tour group to the New Territories, and chatted with a lovely couple, David and Diana, who were from Vermont and England (they lived in England long enough to have British accents).

The new territories are the lands north of Hong Kong, between Hong Kong and China. According to the brochure, It’s an “enormously diverse suburban area full of contrasts to the cosmopolitan city center.” The mountainous areavwas occupied by several different clans, the indigeness people.

Our first stop was the Yuen Yuen Institute, a collection of temples, which serve three religions: Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Different days are allotted to the different groups for worship. We got to see a group of people reciting Confucian texts to the beat of a drum. I asked our tour guide and he said we could photograph and take video, and I did, although it felt intrusive. It was fascinating and sort of mesmerizing, the voices following the rhythmic beat of the drum, all worshipers reading from their handbooks, turning the pages “backward.”

We also saw a Taoist temple and learned that Hannah was born in the year of the Dragon – the very best sign of all. Dragons are strong and powerful. Many women are pregnant now in Asia, because they want dragon babies! In fact, China is expecting there will be so many kids entering school at the same time due to the dragon baby boom, that these kids will face extreme competition! Here’s our little Dragon baby. She’s so strong she is going home this Saturday!

At the Temple, people buy care packages for their deceased relatives – including, of all things, beer, cigarettes, and snacks. They pay the price, and then receive a paper picture of the products (in a beautiful gift bag). Then they take the gift bag loaded with the paper effigy to a guy who burns it in a big fire pit. How’s that for a retail model?

we enjoyed the lookout at Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain, with a view of Victoria Harbour and the industrial town of Tsuen Wan.

Our next stop was probably the most interesting single experience of the trip. We visited a walled village (our tour guide kept saying Willage) called Fanling Wai where the Pang family clan of original inhabitants of the area has lived for centuries and still live today. They are one of the five great clans of the New Territories. All the people in this village are related to each other. The Pang Clan arrived in Hong Kong late in the Song Dynasty (the dynasty ended in the late 1200’s).The wai (walled village) was constructed in the Wanli (1572–1620 AD) reign of the Ming Dynasty. Up until 1970, men were allowed to have more than one wife (a handy way to grow their clans). The Hong Kong government has granted rights to these people; for example, when a son is born, he automatically gets a piece of property. When a girl marries, she moves to a neighboring village.

We went through a 300-year-old-gate and through the thick wall that completely encloses (and, in times of war, protected) a labyrinth of shockingly small, dismal row houses. This inside village was a surprise, unexpected from outside the wall, a sort of a dark secret jungle of living quarters. Most of the narrow houses had two or three stories. The winding pathways between row after row of houses were so narrow, it was a squeeze for one passing villager to navigate with a bike. While the picture below shows some light filtering in, most passageways were dark and dank and utterly stifling, and all the window openings were closed or shuttered. Perhaps people live here because these houses are their heritage – the people pay utilities, but the land was free; it was granted to them as sons of the clan. But the thought of trudging down these passageways to my home is a nightmare. Give me a tent with the open sky. (But then agin, what about the pirates? There are holes for canons in the village walls, and bullet holes attest to the horrible menace of pirates.

Here’s a scene from Antique Street off of Hollywood in Hong Kong. You can’t tell here, but the road has a crazy steep decline. The city has wildly steep, narrow streets, kind of like San Francisco, filled with shops high in the weird factor. At a butcher shop, a lady stuffed hopping bullfrogs into a bag. They all slithered and bulged together. In another shop window, an antique shop, I saw the tiny, embroidered satin shoes into which a lady once stuffed her bound feet.

Here we are with George, Joey, Cora, and Jeff from the Kohler office on our last night in Hong Kong. We had a fantastic Chinese dinner at a fancy restaurant at the Peak Galleria, where our semi-private dining room overlooked the stunning city from one of the highest hill on Hong Kong Island. After dinner, we had an ice cream cone and walked to the outside observation area to drink in the view of Hong Kong. As John pointed out, instead of looking at a city, you feel as though you are in and over it, like the vertigo you feel snorkeling over a huge outcropping of pointed coral mountains in a coral reef.

A tram takes people up and down, and the place is hopping with life.

Here we are at the Peak in Hong Kong. It was the best night of the trip in the best city, according to Martha, who, like her daughter Lizzy, is prone to hyperbole when she’s really happy. Thanks for a great trip, John!

Location:Hong Kong


2 thoughts on “Hong Kong has it all: Weird, Free, and Stunning

  1. Martha—I absolutely loved your trip report–everyday I would wake up and hope to have another update. I felt like I was with you on your trip. Thank you so much—-I will certainly miss your views of the far east. The Hong Kong one I am saving as Larry and I will be there on Feb 1 for a few days.
    Anyway—I can’t say enough good things about your blog!!!!

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