HONG KONG – a welcome stopover

14th OCTOBER 2019  

Our Rugby World Cup trip to Japan ended – not quite the way we expected with travel plans disrupted because of typhoon and floods – but we were still able to get to Hong Kong and connect with our final flight back to Australia.  This meant an unexpected night in a city I love and one in which I grew up and consider more as my “childhood home” than the UK.

The unrest from earlier in the year continued and although we witnessed a riot in September, this time all was quiet. It is interesting to get the perspective from local Chinese residents as well as expats.  Everyone has a different opinion but suffice to say, I am saddened by what has happened and am thankful for the many memories I have.

We had a day to wander around and this we did in Kowloon as we were staying at the Prince Hotel near the harbour.  There is a lovely walk along the harbour called Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade and even on the hottest day there is a breeze.  Shizuoka-08

This is the old clock tower which was at the old Kowloon/Canton railway station – now long gone.  I am glad the clock tower was saved as it is an icon from the early colonial days and I have many memories of getting off the Star Ferry and walking to the station amidst crowds of people and lots of rickshaws!  Now there is a memorial pool and fountain and it is quiet place to contemplate.

This area is also close to the Art Gallery and Theatre – the gallery was closed for renovations but we did see a lovely exhibition of Russian folk art in the foyer.

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The harbour is not as busy as in the past – cargo ships unload at the docks, cruise ships go to the terminal, the ferry still goes back and forth but the vehicular ferry has gone, replaced by tunnels under the harbour.  However, lovely old junks still cruise up the channel

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There are statues and even an Avenue of Stars path commemorating film stars past and present. New buildings, shops and restaurants along the Promenade make the walk interesting – each time we come here, there is something new.Shizuoka-07

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We came to the incredible new K11 Musea – Hong Kong’s new Art Gallery inspired Mall with luxury shops alongside a public art space. The architecture is amazing and the concept is to merge art and culture with commerce.

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This was opened in August 2019 and promises to be a “must” on every visitor’s list.

The Harbour Light Show is world famous and just keeps getting better.  We found a little outdoor bar at the Ocean Terminal with a fabulous view so we sat with a glass of wine and watched this incredible show synchronised to music downloaded on our phones.

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Our final lunch was with local friends at a Dim Sum restaurant – renewing old friendships and savouring the taste of Hong Kong.

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Until the next visit…….

 

HONG KONG – AND A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Hong Kong isn’t just all about shopping and crowds.  It is easy to get away from all of that and find some relatively quiet places whether by the beach or in the hills. This trip I wanted to do just that and revisit places I knew well as a child.  Things have changed, of course, but some things remain the same and then the memories come flooding back.

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Far from the madding crowd and mayhem in the city below is a beautiful walk around the top of the Peak.  This is where we lived and today it is exactly as it was – quiet, peaceful and leafy.  It is much cooler than in the city and the views are stunning – but different to our day as the construction of multi storey buildings has filled the landscape below and the vista to the islands beyond is now hazy due to pollution.

 

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A view from above

The Star Ferry has been crossing the harbour for decades and is, to my mind, the best way to go from one side to the other.  The trip takes no more than ten minutes and is a pleasant way to travel.  We did this so often as children – there were no cross harbour tunnels or MTR trains in those days.  A vehicular ferry was available to take cars and passengers and on weekends we would often “drive” to Castle Peak or the New Territories and part of the excitement of the day was taking the car ferry!

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Kowloon today is so different from the island – it is a mixture of crowds, smells, hustle and bustle, jewellers, hawkers selling copy watches or handbags, tourists galore and shop after shop.  In spite of all this it was lovely to see a couple of colonial buildings preserved and now used as hotels or for retail.

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The Peninsula Hotel was another favourite and although the decor has changed, the lobby is still magnificent and the staircase – which featured in every Ball or formal event – is the same.

Towering skyscrapers dominate the waterfront and reclaimed land is making the harbour even smaller – however, I could still find the old Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club which seems to be dwarfed these days.

A bus ride to Stanley is always a great outing.   This little village was a quiet residential area with a small beach and good swimming.  There was also a market where we bought Christmas gifts and local wares. Today it is a really pleasant place to stroll along the waterfront, visit one of a number of cafes or restaurants and, of course, wander through the market.  There is a lot of history here as a Prisoner of War Camp was located in the village during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during the Second World War.

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Blake’s Pier, which used to be in the city and where we met to go out on launch picnics, has been relocated here and is used by many pleasure boats each weekend.

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The beautiful little temple of Tin Hau, the Goddess of the Sea, features very much in the lives of local residents here.  On entering the temple the smell of joss sticks and the smoke wallowing all around is almost overwhelming.  There is a row of gods and goddesses on each side of Tin Hau and they seem to be watching you. To see the locals pay their respects and bow and pray is humbling and it is obvious that their beliefs are very strong.

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And finally there is the food – a plethora of choices, any number of cuisines but always present are noodles – oodles of noodles and it is fascinating to watch them being made!

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HONG KONG REMEMBERED

We were in Hong Kong for a trip down “Memory lane” – unfortunately there is little today to remind one of Colonial days.  Beautiful old buildings have been torn down and replaced with monstrosities and the whole feeling of the city as changed.  It is frenetic, very crowded and quite soulless.  I am so sad and very disappointed – they say it is progress but I totally disagree.

To recap, we spent four days in Singapore first.  I remember this place as a stopping off point en route to and from England during our leave.  We had friends we stayed with and we have visited several times since.  Although the city has been modernised, the beautiful old colonial buildings have been restored and put to good use – for example the old Post Office which is now the Fullerton Hotel.  There is a sense of history and heritage everywhere and I find it charming and a relief.  Everyone is friendly, English is widely spoken and public transport is clean, efficient and very frequent.

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Museum of Singapore – a colonial building which is charming
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Singapore River and many restaurants

Raffles Hotel is a prime example of heritage and we made our obligatory visit for curry tiffin and a Singapore Sling!

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Then we arrived in Hong Kong.  To say the place has changed since 1997 is an understatement and few places are recognisable now.  For old time’s sake we decided to go up the Peak where we lived for several years.  The Peak Tram was the favourite form of transport then – now it is just a tourist operation and I was appalled to see the queue for the tram was 2 1/2 hours long!  Obviously we weren’t going to wait that long, so we took a taxi to the top and walked around Lugard Road – where one of our homes used to be.  I remember the view was stunning.  A myriad of fairy lights at night, boats criss crossing the harbour, lights twinkling in Kowloon and during the day the hills of Kowloon Peak and the sprawling area of Kowloon and the New Territories shimmered in the sunlight.

The view is still stunning, although much of it is marred by jungle growth these days (a good thing one would think looking at the urban jungle below).

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View today
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View in the late 1950’s

There had been so much reclamation lately that soon the harbour will scarcely exist! Where once we took a vehicular ferry, a sampan or a ‘walla walla’ to cross to the other side, now there are tunnels and the Star Ferry – thankfully it hasn’t changed – takes half the time!

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The Star Ferry

Public transport is excellent.  The MTR rail is clean, efficient, modern and very frequent – just try avoiding the rush hours!  We made that mistake and were literally pushed into the train on one occasion.  The trams and buses are also excellent and the taxis plentiful and cheap.  One problem with taxis – it seems many drivers do not speak English, so if you go take a translation of where you want to go and where you have to return to.

A visit to Stanley Village was on the cards.  This was a favourite weekend destination and it seems it still is.  Now somewhat touristy, the markets are still there and there are heaps of waterfront restaurants now.  Blake’s Pier, which used to be in Central and from where we would catch launches for picnics, has been relocated to Stanley to make way for more construction in Central.  It looks somewhat lonely in the bay but I am glad it has not lost its character.

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Something we never did in the past was go into China for the day.  Now it is possible to go to Shenzhen for a shopping day and it is easy on the MTR.  Visas are issued on arrival and the you are free to explore the Mall and the myriad of shops around the square.  There is so much on offer that I became quite overwhelmed and came away with very little except experience!

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Shenzhen railway station

We walked around a small part of the town, came across the station and wondered how one found one’s way without knowledge of Chinese characters.

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The shopping mall is clean and bright and the shop keepers all tout for business.  The day we were there was quiet – weekends and holidays are manic apparently.  Nevertheless it was a tiring day both mentally and visually.

Finally the birthday treat – a wonderful high tea at the Peninsula Hotel – again unspoilt and very like the past.  Fantastic service, beautiful presentation and an altogether fabulous afternoon.

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I doubt we will visit Hong Kong again as I want to remember the place as it was – unhurried, fascinating, historical and beautiful.  Happy, smiling people and a blend of all nations.  These last two photos are a reminder of the past which will never be recovered.

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In the New Territories, no longer farms but a concrete jungle
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The calm of junks in a bay on one of the many islands around Hong Kong – a favourite weekend retreat for us.