It was an interesting few hours making my way across from Coromandel town back to Auckland, thinking about what i had in store for me for the next leg of my journey into the unknown. I wasnt able to check my bag in anywhere as I decided not to book accommodation due to a flight time of 6am meaning I had to be at the airport for 3am! I went straight to the airport with many hours to kill (8pm until 4am) with nowhere to sleep but a McDonald’s table and a plastic chair. I watched a film but want really able to get any sleep until I was able to check in at 4am. I found a comfortable sofa and got about 1 hours sleep before my 3.5 hr flight to Brisbane. No sleep on that flight due to constant food interruptions and then onto my 9 hour flight to HK. A few hours sleep (maybe) but not enough! I arrived in HK airport and managed to get the bus to the hostel. I met a Brazilian guy who had been in mainland China so we chatted and comforted each other on where to get off the bus.
I knew it was going to be a culture shock but nothing really prepared me for the masses of people coming into HK for Chinese New Year. HK was cold and wet and frantic with the beeping of horns and flashing lights of a massively over populated city where prices are high and space is at a absolute premium. The hostel was in a highrise block with no lift so trekking up the stairs was exhausting to say the least. One thing that quickly became apparent is that there are no cooking facilities in most of the hostels in HK so eating out was going to have to be the way forwards. For the first time whilst travelling I felt like a stranger,on my own, totally disoriented and incredibly tired. I managed to find a noodle place to eat near the hostel, ate and went to bed. The food was incredibly salty and I am sure packed full of MSG based on the dreams and sweats I had. Lets hope I get used to this as I think there is going to be more to come!
The following day the weather looked like it was to improve so I took myself off around the city, taking in some of the local sites and familiarising myself with the metro system and getting my Octopus card (like an oyster card). The Octopus card is great as you can use it in 7/11 and many restaurants so it makes it really easy to pay for things. I even had Chinese fast food breakfast of fried fish, toast and tea. I manged to get around Hong Kong Park, the botanical gardens and the surrounding area of Soho, Hollywood road (famous for antiques) and the mid level escalators that I think are the longest escalators in the world. The park was incredible, set in the middle of the city and is more like a zoo with aviaries and money enclosures along with lakes with turtles and Carp. Later in the afternoon I met up with Claire who I used to work with. We took the bus up to Victoria peak and caught up whilst walking around park of the HK trail with great views across HK island looking out to the surrounding islands of Lamma and Lantau. Sunday was peeing down with rain but I decided to get up and go and pay a visit to Chi Lin Nunnery. This is a Buddhist complex built entirely of wood surrounded by lotus ponds and bonsai trees. There was also a vegetarian restaurant under and waterfall which was beautiful where I had the 4 seasons blessing menu consisting of braised black jelly fungus with chestnut and gluten, deep fried black termite mushrooms, sweet and sour what gluten with pineapple, seasonal greens topped with Cordyceps and a soup ( I don’t know what this was). It was actually really delicious and just what I needed after struggling to know what to eat.
Monday was going to be an interesting day as this was Visa day. Logistics were going to be a theme of HK as I had 5 days to apply for a chinese visa for mainland which would take 5 days to process and the application centre would close on the Friday due to New Year. Not stressful at all! I manage to find the travel service where I was to apply only after having walked 40 minutes down the wrong road. 1 hours later I was at the CTS and was able to ask my increasingly burning questions such as when does the visa start as this would dictate when I was able to leave HK. To cut a long story short the visa is valid for 3 months but only allowed 30 days in mainland china meaning I can not leave HK until at leat Sunday as I have a flight booked out of Beijing on the 6th March. At least I know what I am working towards now and can relax a bit in the city. I still need to get out of HK though when Monday -Wednesday is full swing New Year. After much debate and searching on the internet I decided to go for the flight option to Kunming and take the west trail of China. Hold on though Ive just found out this is Malaria area so here is hoping that the weather is cold enough to prevent them from invading and that mosquito spray will do its job for a few days. Having enquired about getting some tablets it would require a prescription from a doctor and guess what……everything is closed!
The rest of the week was spent explroing HK, wandering around temples (Man Mo was great) and markets (temple night market was….interesting!).
I don’t know if HK is a fusion or just confusion. I’ve never seen so many high end shopping malls followed by traditional fruit, meat, veg markets and tat where you can buy pretty much anything, some of which I swear is illegal. It’s always interesting seeing a chicken being picked slaughtered and plucked infront of you when there is a KFC just on the corner. Hummmm! As the lady was on the phone I wondered if she was taking orders. Buildings are also held up with Bamboo scaffolding in some areas where in the city there are multi billion dollar skyscrapers. Can’t cross the road? Just look up as there is probably a big foot bridge zig zagging its way through to some mall on the other side of the street. Apparently HK is the only place in the world where they are still allowed to use bamboo for skyscrapers scaffolding!
Around Mong Kok (one of the most densely populated areas of HK) you can find streets just full of flower sellers another full of animals for sale including dogs in windows and 100s of live fish wrapped up in bags ready for the next punter looking for a gold fish as a pet. Hop along to Yuen Po street market and you have old men feeding locusts and worms to their birds in cages…all for sale of course. Apparently this is a very popular pet in HK, I’m guessing due to lack of space in apartments.
I took a trip to Aberdeen (not THE Aberdeen) where the sampans of HK boat dwelling fisherfolk used to moor. Not a particularly pretty area but interesting to learn of the history of where HK started. The fish market and boat repair area proved really interesting. There was also a really nice walk in Aberdeen park to the reservoir where there were loads of black kites and was actually and historically important place in terms of building constructions for water works in HK and surrounding islands. The parks go someway to show how diverse HK really is. With so many islands and green areas it doesn’t take long to get out to see the beaches and more natural side of the city. A stark contrast to the symphony of lights show every 8pm which highlights the famous skyscraper city skyscape from the Kowloon side of the city. A great ferry trip for 29p across the harbour on the Star ferry.
Two fantastic walks that I did were the Devils peak and the Dragon back. The Devils peak is where the British army or local pirates to control the passage of Lei Yue Mun which remains an important nautical passage in south China. The remain of the redoubt and batteries are still on the peak and made for an interesting visit followed by a walk to the quarry and local fish markets. The Dragons back has beautiful coast scenery which goes along the ridge of Sheck o peak to Wan Cham Shan. A real treat as the weather has taken a turn for the better and moved from 3 C to more like 22 C (crazy).
I had actually moved hostels and whilst it was a slight down grade it is super friendly and organised trips like the ones above. I actually feel like I am getting used to HK and its mad mix of western and chinese culture and have even experimented a bit with the food. Ive had some great dim sum at places such as Dimdimsum Dimsum and also the world famous Michelin star restaurant Tim Ho Wan. I even ate meat in the form of a BBQ pork bun which I have to say was really nice. I will still be avoiding meat however whenever possible. The smell is one of the things that really stands out for me in HK. it isn’t unpleasant but it smells just like China town I’ve been to anywhere in the world. I can’t really describe it but you will know what I mean if you’ve been to London. A sweet, meaty, floral kindda deal with a touch of star anise. I met some great people in the hostel and we went out for clay pots which was delicious and consisted of rice in a pot with a meat or fish of your choice on top. You could have a deep fried pigeon if you wanted or chicken feet but we opted for prawns and the more adventurous eel. This was later washed down with some beer from the 7/11 bar crawl around Lan Kwai Fong. It is quite popular to buy beer in the corner shops and drink on the street as the bars are so expensive. We are talking 1.50GBP ine the 7/11 or 8GBP in the bars. HK aint cheap and to be honest I will be slightly glad to be moving to cheaper climates in the next few days. Saying that eating out is relatively cheap compared to the UK or NZ.
Other activities have included going to see the Giant Buddha at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau island and a trip to the fishing port of Tai O where historical Tanka boat people still live in their stilt houses and make shrimp paste and dried fish on straw mats. An entertaining trip involved going to Sha Tin temple of 10,000 Buddha (actually 12,800- not that I counted!). It was built in 1950s and has steep steps lined with Buddha galore all with very interesting/funny expressions. I do wonder what some of them were thinking. There are also several temples and pavilions split over two levels as well as a 9 storey pagoda. Happy valley race course also made for an interesting night out.
New year is hotting up and the market in Victoria park (HK largest outdoor space) was rammed on Sunday. It took us over an hour to walk just one lane of the market and we were shoulder to shoulder. It is quite nice though being taller than most of th chinese so you can see above the crowds, get some good shots and pick your next strategic move in the never ending pushing crowds.
Monday was parade night and we had already seen the rehearsal for the ending. An interesting experience that I am not sure I want to repeat (4 hours of standing and pushing) but the highlight being the dragon and lion dance which people went crazy over. A fight broke out after a chinese lady and guy pushed to the front nearly knocking over a child which was an interesting experience as it demonstrated how much people in HK really do not tolerate of like people from mainland china. The guy from HK apologised and stated he was HongKongeese and not Chinese. An interesting observation and one that I fear spells trouble for the future of China and HK relations.
Tonight is fireworks which are built up to be spectacular. We will meet as a hostel at 6.45pm for a 8pm display. This will be my last evening in HK before I head off on a 9am flight to Kunming to star my journey into wild china. I have my VPN set up and my translation apps downloaded so wish me luck. The rough route for the next 4 weeks looks like this (I think)
Hong Kong-Kunming-Dali-Lijiang-dequing-Chongqing-Xiab-luoyang-Beijing-HK to Deli (6th March).
If you don’t hear from me it is probably that WordPress doesn’t work in mainland or the VPN has failed.