Pulsating Hong Kong

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A super fit gentleman jogging uphill Aberdeen Street where I found it difficult just walking up against the 30 degrees gradient.

Welcome to Hong Kong Island and to the steep, hilly terrain that dominates it. Here I am standing along Aberdeen Street which is a border street dividing Sheung Wan and Choong Wan (Central). It ascends all the way from Queen’s Road Central to Caine Road in the Mid-levels. This challenging terrain warrants for unusual methods of transport up and down the slopes, thus on 15 Oct 1993 the escalator system has since been opened to transport people around rapidly and also to ease congestion.

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“Stick No Bills ” – a disused shop front plastered with adverts

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Tall, slender blocks reaching for the skies – Aberdeen Street

Hong Kong is a densely populated city with about 7 million people living on 1,108sq.km of land. Public housing is now a major component of housing in Hong Kong with about half the residents living in one purchased or rented. In land scarce Hong Kong, owning a home in the city centre is exorbitant and even the private apartments in the outskirts do not come cheap. That explains why their flats are mostly shoe box sized and rather claustrophobic by most standards.

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This graffiti resonates with me

Ziner : One who publishes or contributes to a zine. Zine is a small magazine that is written by people who are not professional writers with stories about a particular subject.

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Going down hill on Peel Street, Central Hong Kong

Peel Street was built during the Colonial days circa 1840 and was named after the British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Initially inhibited by Westerners, the Chinese took over the area in the 1870’s and the expatriates gravitated towards Conduit Road and the Mid-levels.

The proprietress was chatting with a friend before we arrived and bought a glutinous rice dumpling from her. Anita my travelling companion and I were deliberating if it would be ‘Hor Jiak’: a Hokkien dialect that means ‘yummy or literally good to eat’. She quickly assured us that it was ‘Hor Jiak!’

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An interesting array of Preserved foodstuff like plums, shallots, ginger, bamboo shoots, black beans, fermented bean curd, fermented soya, shrimp paste, sesame oil, chilli sauce, chilli oil, vinegar and a variety of Chinese biscuits so neatly stacked

In our friendly exchange, she mentioned that she was originally from Fujian province China and that her dialect group is Hokkien which explains why she understood us. Told her that we were from Singapore but my paternal grandparents were from Anxi County, Fujian province before migrating to South East Asia. I instantly felt a certain affinity with this proprietress as we shared common roots and I was thankful that I could converse in both dialects and ‘connect’ as my Dad is Hokkien and Mom, Cantonese.

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The markets at Gage & Graham Street & the ubiquitous signage that dot the streets

This end of Gage Street is really a bustling market street; butchers, poultry sellers, provision shops, Chinese medical halls, fruit and vegetable stalls are still open for business even at 7pm. Some retailers and small shops in Hong Kong close at 12 midnight and that really gives you a good reason to shop till you drop.

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A sign that says it all

Central is not an immensely large area but it is full of life and places to see, eat and play. PMQ Hollywood (Former Police Married Quarters) has been transformed into a design and creative hub officially opening in end Jun 2014. More than 100 tenants in categories like fashion, household products, furniture, jewellery, watches and design galleries will be showcasing Hong Kong’s young design talents.

Man Mo Temple was built in 1847 and is now preserved as a historic monument. The worship of the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo) was how the name of the temple was derived. Both these gods were worshipped by ambitious students who wanted to succeed in the civil examinations of Imperial China. An interesting view is the giant incense coils that hang in the temple.

If your “thing” is antiques and interesting memorabilia then you should be heading off to Lascar Row also known as Cat Street on your hunt.

SoHo (South of Hollywood Road) is the place to go for fine dining, upmarket bars, exotic cuisines and swanky nightlife. In the daytime, fashion boutiques, art galleries and antique shops will keep you entertained.

Up and coming is Lan Kwai Fong, a small square of streets which was full of hawkers before WWII but has since morphed in the 1980’s into an expatriate haunt for drinking, clubbing and dining.

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Walking west along Wellington Street & passing Yung Kee Restaurant famous for their Roast Goose and continuing down D’Aguilar Street

Wellington Street was named after Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington and it is today a juxtaposition of old and new buildings with many different trades plied here. No where in the world are neon signage and billboards ever so present and in such large numbers that creates a visual riot in the streetscape. This makes it uniquely Hong Kong!

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Looking down at Central Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

The clouds are swirling by and it feels a lot cooler and less humid up at the Peak. There was a super long queue when we got to the Peak Tram Lower Terminus on Garden Road at about 7:45pm. It took almost an hour all in to get the Peak Tram Sky Pass (HK$80 which included return tram tickets and entrance to The Sky Terrace 428) and to experience the steep funicular ride up to Victoria Peak. The most prestigious and exclusive neighbourhood since Colonial times the Peak has spectacular views that the rich and famous cannot get enough of.

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A breathtaking view of Victoria Harbour from the Peak. The tallest building the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon sporting the smiley emoticon & the 2nd tallest, Tower 2 of the International Finance Centre in Central district, Hong Kong

The anvil shaped Victoria Harbour is really a fantastic vista by day but nothing can quite prepare you for the transformation when all the dazzling lights come on at night. It is said that the night views of Naples, Hong Kong and Hakodate in Japan are amongst the best in the world. You have to see them for yourself to be a judge of that.

We were greeted by showers whilst in the queue waiting to descend the Peak. Chatted with a young Chinese family of four from Xiamen and three German youth from Frankfurt who have just completed their 6 months study exchange programme in Thailand. Gretchen asked me to translate a fortune script printed in Chinese writing. I attempted, much to her delight even though my Chinese was ‘half baked’ but it helped make sense to the chart that measured Prosperity, Longevity, Health, Wealth and Happiness indexes. Though the downpour was a dampener and we were not singing in the rain, we still had a great time and crossed back over to Mong Kok just after midnight.

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Rain clouds looming over Central’s International Finance Centre Tower 2, which is the 2nd tallest building in Hong Kong

The International Finance Centre which is a prominent landmark in Hong Kong’s Central district was completed in Sept 2008. The whole complex consists of the IFC Mall, 55-storey Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong and Tower 2.

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Star Ferry Pier at Central, Hong Kong

The Star Ferry boats have been in operation since 1888 and has been transporting passengers to and fro Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It is a reliable mode of transport and it is a charming ride that offers incredible views of Victoria Harbour like no other. Infrastructure is now modernized and much more connected with rail (MTR) and road tunnels making the crossing much easier and faster. Whilst crossing the 1.86km Harbour Tunnel opened in 1972 may cost a cabby a mere HK$10 in toll charges, they often charge a flat fee of between HK$250-280 to take passengers across. We passed that way once and saw that the traffic flow there was virtually at a standstill.

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Handprints of Hong Kong’s famous son, Jackie Chan on Avenue of the Stars

I watched ‘New Police Story’ released in 2004 starring Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse, Daniel Wu, Charlene Choi & Charlie Young on my flight to Hong Kong. Jackie Chan has been my favourite action star since the passing of Bruce Lee and I admire him for doing all the stunts himself. Couple of times we read of his accidents in failed stunts and that really makes me wince. His acrobatic fighting style, innovative stunts and comic timing is what I enjoy most in watching his movies. He has worn many hats and is notably an actor, a film director, producer, screenwriter, action choreographer, stunt director and performer and a philanthropist. To top the list, Jackie Chan is also a trained Chinese opera vocalist.

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An icon of Kungfu, Bruce Lee is still revered by many as one of the greatest action star ever

I grew up catching Bruce Lee’s movies because my parents were movie buffs. It is a fascinating experience to watch all the fighting action that is ‘real’ and not digitally manipulated. The killer moves and slick action that packs the entire movie right from beginning never fails to thrill and when the show is finally over; it leaves me wondering when I will next get such an adrenaline rush. Though Bruce Lee’s portfolio of movies are not as prolific as many other martial artists, he is legendary and known throughout the world. The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon and Game of Death spanning from 1971-1973 propelled him to stardom and international acclaim. His sudden demise on 20 July 1973 at the young age of 32, left all his fans and followers devastated.

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People are gathering around the Avenue of the Stars just outside the Intercontinental Hotel at Tsim Sha Tsui in anticipation.

We found a bench along Avenue of the Stars to watch people, rest a bit and wait for ‘A Symphony of Lights’ a synchronised light, laser and music multimedia display featuring 45 buildings on both sides of Victoria harbour which starts nightly at 8pm.

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A privately chartered Chinese junk sailing slowly in Victoria Harbour

I recall now how my cousin Moh Keed, got married years ago in Hong Kong and held her wedding reception on board a Chinese junk such as this. Seeing this beautifully lit boat, it is not difficult to imagine what a romantic and exciting party it must have been; sailing and dining in such an amazing environment.

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Victoria Peak peeks from behind the International Finance Centre’s Tower 2 in Central district

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International Financial Centre & The Center, the 5th highest skyscraper in Hong Kong

The Center stands at 346m in height with 73 floors of commercial and retail space. It has a structure made entirely of steel and is covered with 8784 low voltage neon tubes that increase in numbers with every level. The lighting changes colour slowly and is one of the highlights in the Victoria harbour’s ‘A Symphony of Light’ show.

Locals refer to Victoria Peak as The Peak and it is also known as Mt Austin. Standing at the elevation of 552m above sea level and though not very high up it offers spectacular views of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon making it the tourist’s No. 1 must do thing when in Hong Kong.

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The Central Plaza standing tall and the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre at Golden Bauhinia Square.

Golden Bauhinia Square was where the 1997 handover ceremony by the British was held. The establishment of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was commemorated by a 6m high gilded Bauhinia flower seated on a pillar atop a pyramid like base. This is now seen as their National square and at 6am daily a flag raising ceremony is held. On the 2nd day of Chinese New Year and National Day of the People’s Republic of China, fireworks displays light up the square.

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Zig zaggy lights illuminate the Bank of China Tower, the 2nd largest commercial banking group in Hong Kong

The Bank of China Tower is the headquarters of over 300 branches maintained in Hong Kong after a merger of 12 subsidies and associates of the Bank of China group on 1st Oct 2001. Besides being one of three banks issuing bank notes of Hong Kong, it also acts as a clearing house for Renminbi transactions.(Mainland China’s currency)

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Star Cruises luxurious ocean liner the ‘Pisces’ sailing through the deep waters of Victoria Harbour.

Overnight cruises to the South China Sea departs from Kowloon’s Ocean Terminal at Tsim Sha Tsui. Star Cruises’ Pisces is a 177m by 29m wide, 12 decks ship with 590 cabins and a passenger capacity of 1009. Plagued by ‘Mal de debarquement’ cruises are not for me, as the disequilibrium I experience on board and even after I get off the ship is very disturbing and uncomfortable. Sea sick tablets do not curb or bring relieve at all.

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A private luxury yacht slicing the waters of Victoria Harbour.

Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city and has a vibrant nightlife where there are many activities to do even after sun down. Restaurants close around 2am and you can expect the clubs to close much later than that. There are lots of people walking, going about their business at all times of the day and I wonder sometimes if most of them do not have to work and have lots of leisure time to while away.

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Nightscape of Wan Chai

A 1960 movie ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ adapted from the novel written by Richard Mason propelled Wan Chai to fame. Historically Wan Chai was not only Hong Kong’s party district, but by day a pleasant neighbourhood to wander around and for shopping.
Rattan and Chinese furniture along Queen’s Road East; toys at Tai Yuen Street; garments at knockoff prices originally earmarked for export at Spring Garden Lane; and for techies head down to Wan Chai Computer Centre at Hennessy Road.
We went to Lai Chi Kok and found the wholesale market there stocking lots of fashion accessories, shoes and clothes from Korea. This is evidence of the far reaching influence and spill-over of K-Pop mania and Hallyu all over Asia.

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Outside Hong Kong Space Museum at Salisbury Road.

The egg-shaped planetarium at Tsim Sha Tsui houses an Omnimax theatre with seats installed with multi-language interactive systems, sky shows and astronomy exhibits that would get explorers and space geeks all excited.

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Across Salisbury Road from the Space Museum is the Peninsula Hotel.

The Peninsula Hotel opened since 1928 is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel. Touted the ‘Grande Dame of the Far East’, this luxurious and elegant hotel offers a blend of Eastern and Western hospitality that is unmatched and guaranteed to please all their distinguished guests. How about afternoon tea at The Verandah Café to enjoy the grandeur and ambience at the Peninsula?

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