Hong Kong

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It hits you like a brick wall, the humidity engulfing your senses with a mixture of street spices and cold hard cash. The London red double decker buses fly through the twisting streets, paved a century before. Beneath your feet, the MTR snakes through the dirt like an octopus reaches for it’s prey. The sinister connotations that go hand in hand with an international business empire are not lost on Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, you can only rent a plot of land for 50 years before the bid comes up and you can lose your home, your business headquarters. The Urban Renewal Authority are forever changing the social dynamics of the city ensure that where there was once poverty, there are now the wealthiest 1%. They say they’re helping Hong Kong but all they do is move the problem five subway stops in the wrong direction. It is a city poised on the brink of revolution and unlike the rest of China, they will fight for it.

As the protests started, I watched from my bedroom window what felt like a hundred storeys above. My peers, my colleagues, my fellow human beings asked for the same rights as I. Let us vote, let us make decisions, let us be human. In the streets that evening there was a deadly hum, not dissimilar to the same sickening silence a decade before where SARS ravaged the cities of the main land. Then too, I listened as the most populous country in the world was silenced by an outside predator.

Hong Kong inspires me. Shanghai, Beijing, Xian now swim in an ocean of smog, pollution and dirt. The Bund is no longer recognisable to me, the near-constant make overs ensuring it keeps up to the standards set by it’s cousins New York and London. Hong Kong, though in a state of flux, continues to grip it’s history.

On reclaimed land now lies the Star Ferry port, the buiding once erected by my forefathers. Sitting by the window is the only escape from the summertime heat, the breeze drying the sweat to your pores and yet somehow not clogging them. The same can be said for the old airport, it’s once-terrifying location now moved to a man-made island, ensuring the devastation of the pink dolphin. I caught a glimpse this past year of a candy-pink fin, before the creature escaped back into the deeply polluted waters. I know that my future children will not see him.

Hong Kong inspires me because unlike every other major city, they acknowledge that their system works. It is the youth that demand political change, whereas the everyday persons, exploited by the capitalist regime that ensures stability, lives by their own rules. Smile at strangers. Make jokes with guests. Get the job done and do it well.

The Hong Kongese are a new people, their name not yet reaching western shores. They work on Hong Kong Island in the banks that fund the triads, the cartels and the mafia but also ensure that this tiny island paradise is a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. Nothing will ever inspire me like Hong Kong. For all of it’s faults, it works. Just like the adolescent I once was, Hong Kong is unruly, impractical in it’s social architecture and yet it continues to win. One day I will be like Hong Kong, I will be exactly what I want to be and I will be okay with it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

When I first moved to Hong Kong in 1990, there was a part of the city that was off bounds. It was an ungoverned slum called the Kowloon Walled City, with layer after layer of tenement buildings so close to one another that daylight sometimes never reached the minuscule alleyways. In the center of the slum was an ancient Chinese yamen, or government building. Although Hong Kong had been a British colony for about 140 years by then, the Kowloon Walled City was officially still a part of China. But it was largely run by organized crime.

KWCP model outside
Model of the Kowloon Walled City. Photo by Tom Kason
Model of the yamen. Photo by Tom Kason
Model of the yamen. Photo by Tom Kason

I left Hong Kong in 1991, only to return a few years later in 1994. By then, the Walled City had been demolished and a traditional Chinese park was under construction on the very space where the slum once stood. I often passed the general area of the Walled City–after it was demolished–on bus rides to and from my friend Janice’s apartment. I write a little about Janice’s place in my memoir, Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong, but was so involved in my own drama back then that I didn’t give the old Walled City or the new park (when it opened in 1995) much thought.

Kowloon Walled City Park sign

Years have passed since I left Hong Kong eight months after the Handover in 1997. But I’ve often thought of the Kowloon Walled City and a missed opportunity to 1) see the old tenement buildings, 2) watch the demolition, and 3) visit the new park.

So when my husband Tom and I visited Hong Kong last month, I put a visit to the Kowloon Walled City Park at the top of our list. We traveled out to the Lok Fu MTR station and took a cab to the park. On the short ride, the driver told me in Cantonese that we should have just walked to the park. It was that close. But I didn’t want to waste time looking for it and Tom wanted a break from the sweltering temperatures. Once we arrived at the park, it was difficult for me to imagine the former Walled City in its place. The park was one of the most peaceful places I’ve found in Hong Kong.

KWC old building
photo by Tom Kason
Yamen
yamen
KWCP stone formation
photo by Tom Kason

We walked around the grounds and found a garden with statues of the Chinese zodiac.

KWCP zodiac statues
photo by Tom Kason
KWCP dragon
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

There was a nice pavilion surrounded by water. A woman sat under the pavilion reading a book. I wondered if she was taking a break from work or chose to spend her day off at the park. I also noticed the modern apartment buildings in the background, many of which probably weren’t around when I first lived in Hong Kong.

KWCP pavilion

We also found remains of the old south gate and an old rickshaw, one of the few left in Hong Kong. Even the tourist ones aren’t so numerous anymore.

KWCP ruins

KWCP rickshaw

We also came across a few walls with calligraphy and this old vessel.

photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

Tom and I were both happy we’d taken time to visit the Kowloon Walled City Park. He learned about a dark period of Hong Kong’s history and I was able to visit a place I’d thought about all these years. For first time visitors, there are docents who walk throughout the park, offering free information about the history of the buildings and artifacts in the park. We lucked out and met a lovely older Cantonese man who spoke to us in English and another group in Mandarin.

photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

We hope you enjoyed this article from Susan Blumberg-Kason. Learn more about her adventures in her book:

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

One of my favorite things about living in Hong Kong was traveling an hour south from my home to see the trams glide up and down the northern part of Hong Kong Island. So when I returned to Hong Kong two years ago for the first time in fourteen years, I made sure my husband Tom and I saw the trams.

DSC_0055
photo by Tom Kason

Traveling by tram isn’t always the quickest mode of transportation in Hong Kong, but it’s a reliable one. Only the trams run on the tram lines, so there’s no competing with double-decker buses, red taxis, cars, or trucks. On our last day of that trip two years ago, we spent the morning riding a couple of trams lines and saw different neighborhoods, including Wanchai and Causeway Bay.

photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

So when we decided to return to Hong Kong this fall for another quick trip to promote my memoir, Good Chinese Wife, I had the brilliant idea of staying in the area where Happy Valley, Causeway Bay, and Wanchai intersect. My plan was this: we would travel by tram to and from our hotel (shown in the photo above just to the right of the greenery). It would be relaxing to hop on a tram and sit back while it sauntered along the track to a subway station or a destination we could reach on the tram line.

But then Occupy started a couple weeks before our arrival date. Thousands of students took to the streets to protest the lack of democratic representation. Although they didn’t set up their tents that close to our hotel, the barricaded roads affected many modes of transportation on Hong Kong Island. Trams included.

Occupy tents

In fact, on the night we arrived in Hong Kong, I asked the concierge at our hotel if we could take the tram out front to a subway station. He didn’t go into any details, but simply said that the trams weren’t running because of the ‘events’ in Central.

“But aren’t the trams running around in this area?” I asked, half panicking that my grand plans were about to be squashed.

“No, sorry. No trams.”

I thanked him and turned back toward Tom. We went to our room, activated our free wifi, and found out from a friend that the trams around Happy Valley, where we were staying, had started running again.

So we would get in a tram ride on this trip, I sighed in relief. But it still wasn’t what I’d envisioned when I booked the Cosmopolitan Hotel (which, for history buffs or people who enjoy quirky facts, used to house the de facto consulate of the People’s Republic of China back during the days when Hong Kong was a British colony).

racetrack at night
View from the Cosmopolitan Hotel

The next morning we figured out how to get to other parts of Hong Kong without riding the trams. I was still sad we couldn’t just hop a tram in front of our hotel. But I’d soon learn a lesson about what it means to live in Hong Kong these days.

Happy Valley tram terminus

trams in Happy Valley

Traffic was congested, especially during rush hour. We had to leave our hotel an hour before we needed to be somewhere that usually took only fifteen minutes to reach. I was amazed by how calm and accommodating people in Hong Kong were when it came to these changes in transportation. After all, they’re used to living in one of the most convenient and efficient cities in the world. If Hong Kong people can handle it, I certainly could. And we would do our best to ride the trams when we could.

More tram lines opened toward the end of our four-day trip.

tram in Western

And on our last night, we were finally able to take a tram from Central back to our hotel.

Looking back on this recent trip to Hong Kong, I’m so glad we were able to see Occupy and experience what people in Hong Kong now have to deal with on a daily basis. So we didn’t get to take the trams as much as I had envisioned, but we got our fill and had wonderful trip nonetheless.

I still remember my first impressions of Hong Kong. Racing through Kowloon in the back seat of a red taxi at midnight in 1990, I saw the neon. Bright and colorful, flashing and still, the neon signs peered at me through the side streets as my taxi made its way to the quiet of the New Territories, Hong Kong’s countryside.

I wouldn’t live among the neon that year or the other four years I spent in Hong Kong that decade, but it didn’t take me long to journey to the densely-populated areas where neon signs defined both major avenues and smaller side streets. I loved Hong Kong’s neon signs so much that I even discussed them in the opening chapter of my memoir, Good Chinese Wife.

Before I made a recent trip back there with my husband, I had read about the dying art of neon signs there. The old neon signs are being replaced by newer LED lights. And the artists who work with neon are retiring and there just isn’t the interest among the newer generations.

So I set out to take a look for myself last week in Hong Kong.

What I found was troubling. Streets either looked like this, with LED lights and no neon in sight.

signs in western

Or like this, with one neon sign per street.

More neon in western

As I looked around Hong Kong Island, I continued to see very little neon.

Sammy's

Pawn shop

Yung Kee neon sign

And even in Kowloon, it was difficult to find a lot of neon.

Neon at Luk Fu

Neon signs have been a part of Hong Kong from before my mother first traveled there in 1962. In Good Chinese Wife, I write about walking around Hong Kong and imaging my mom and her family there thirty years earlier.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9: Honeymoon in Hong Kong:

As man and wife, Cai and I headed for an abbreviated honeymoon in Tsim Sha Tsui, the district that sits at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. We were staying at the Miramar Hotel on Nathan Road, only a mile up from the waterfront promenade that overlooks what I consider to be the most breathtaking skyline in the world. My mom and her family usually stayed in the same area. The Miramar was a popular hotel back then, but I had never heard any of my family members speak of it. Still, I pictured them walking down this street thirty years earlier, dressed in suits and shift dresses, and poking their heads into the tailors and jewelry shops that lined the road. 

Among the traffic congestion and crowds of students, pajama-clad grannies, and tough teenage boys with blond-tipped hair, Cai and I slowly inched our way from the Jordan train station south toward the hotel. I felt graceful and special holding Cai’s hand. We had not spent much time in this area together, although it was one of my favorite spots in Hong Kong. 

While I didn’t write about neon lights in this excerpt, they were everywhere in the district I describe above. At night, the Tsim Sha Tsui area came alive because of the colorful neon signs on Nathan Road–the main street–as well as the side streets that twisted around this densely-populated area.

Back then it was a given that this and other urban areas were adorned by neon signs. That’s not the case now. I now wonder how much neon will be left the next time I visit Hong Kong.

Please enjoy this excerpt from

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

 by Susan Blumberg-Kason

Susan's inlaws' hometown in ChinaThe Chinese University of Hong Kong sits atop a mountain, north of Hong Kong Island and twenty minutes south of the mainland China border. When I arrived on campus in 1990 for a college exchange year, I had imagined Hong Kong would be a city of skyscrapers and neon. But the only lights around the campus came from the occasional barge or leisure boat in otherwise quiet Tolo Harbour. On the weekends, the campus was almost deserted. Local students returned home to their families, and the few overseas students studying abroad left for the bustling expat areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

Upon my return for graduate school years later, new residential skyscrapers had popped up across the harbor. The campus was beginning to look like what I’d first imagined. But the most significant change on campus was that the mainland Chinese population had blossomed from a handful of people to about two hundred graduate students. I was fascinated by these newcomers and their alluringly mysterious culture, so utterly different from my own.

On one of those still-­quiet Saturday nights, a month after I started graduate school, I locked myself out of my dorm room. I was on my way to call a friend, using the hall phone around the corner, and as soon as I closed my door, I knew I had left my key on my desk. My roommate, Na Wei, hailed from Harbin in northeast China, but she slept in her boyfriend’s single room most nights and only returned to our room during the day when she needed a change of clothes or a short nap. So no luck there.

Then it hit me. The guard downstairs kept spare keys. I could borrow one from him.

My stomach fell when the elevator opened on the ground floor. The lobby was empty. I inched over to the guard’s desk to read a tattered white sign perched upon it. Although I couldn’t speak the local Cantonese dialect, I had studied Mandarin, the official language in mainland China. With five years of Mandarin behind me, I could almost make out the meaning of the Chinese characters on the sign: if, need, something, and return. But one character came up as a blank. If you need something, I will return blank.

Susan pregnant in Hong Kong (photo by Annie Galpin)
Susan pregnant in Hong Kong (photo by Annie Galpin)

If only I could read the one character describing when the guard would return. I usually got around Hong Kong without having to resort to my little, red Chinese-­English dictionary. Now, the one time I needed it, it was locked away in my room, not far from my coveted key.

I decided to take a seat on a vinyl bench near the front door in case someone came by who could translate that mysterious character. Worst case, I would have to stay up all night until the daytime guard arrived.

And that would indeed be the worst case for me. Other than on long international flights, I had never pulled an all-­nighter. I was the type of college student who worked ahead to avoid cramming all night before exams or writing a paper the night before its deadline. Thinking about the daunting prospect of a lobby all-­nighter, I looked up, startled, as two men and a woman suddenly entered the building.

Cai immediately caught my attention. Like a movie star, he stood six feet tall with confident eyes and an infectious smile. His hair was cut in the popular Hong Kong men’s wedge of the early 1990s—­longish on top, tapering down to almost a crew cut a few inches above the neck. He carried himself with the self-­assurance of someone used to drawing admiring glances. He looked striking in his stylish brown corduroy pants, short-­sleeved shirt, and hunting vest, but I couldn’t place his nationality. Based on his more sophisticated appearance, I figured he was from Taiwan, or maybe an overseas Chinese from Japan or another developed country.

His friends, however, weren’t so hard to identify. The shorter man wore an olive business suit with the white label still stitched to the cuff, and the woman was dressed in a long, striped polyester skirt and a mismatched floral blouse. Definitely mainland Chinese.

On my first trip to China in 1988 with a group from high school, I had noticed this eclectic fashion trend. Up until the late 1970s, fashion in China consisted of simple “peasant pajamas” or “Mao suits.” In the years after the Chairman’s death, people started to experiment with colors and patterns, including bright stripes and flowers. So this distinct mainlander fashion was easy to recognize in stylish Hong Kong.

Once Cai’s friends turned toward the elevator, I knew I had to act quickly before he left the lobby and I had to face my all-­nighter again.  “Excuse me, can you read this sign?” I hurried after Cai, speaking in English. No answer. Oh God, what if he only knows Cantonese? I thought. But I was determined not to sit on that bench all night, so I repeated my question in Mandarin as I felt a pearl of sweat trickle down my neck.

Cai glanced at the sign and said nonchalantly in Mandarin, “Tā jiù mashàng huílái.” He will be back soon. His Mandarin was clear and articulate, without the slurring of the northern Chinese accents.

“Oh, thank goodness! I locked myself out and need a key,” I explained to this attractive, well-­spoken stranger, stumbling in choppy Mandarin. The relief I felt, knowing that I wouldn’t have to camp out in the dorm lobby all night, seemed insignificant compared with my sudden desire to know everything about him. I needed to find a way to prolong our conversation.

Méi wèntí.” Don’t worry. He nodded slightly, as if locking oneself out happened all the time.  “Actually, I need to buy a phone card from the guard.” He went to sit on the bench I had just occupied. I couldn’t believe my luck.

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

 by Susan Blumberg-Kason

The Party in Hong Kong

Beep beep beep beep beep! The MTR gates shut behind me; my inhibitions waving goodbye from the window of the zooming train. I make my way through the blur of multicolored faces, escalator after escalator, in a concrete underground maze. When I finally reached ground level, the familiar sight of red walls greet me, along with the notorious sign that reads Exit D2. As people zigzag their way into each other, the Chinese characters from the print ads in the subway become a constant reminder of how different this place is from what I am used to.

As my friends and I make our way above ground and take the last step to exit the subway, the humid evening air embrace us as if expecting company. “We have arrived,” my friend said, the twinkle in her hazel eyes unmistakable. We parade into the street, welcomed by the symphony of lights that emanate from buildings, malls and bars just like stars – much like how we feel. Instead of a blare of trumpets, we are greeted by the strangely appealing discordant harmonies of bass drops, car horns, drunken laughter and alien accents. A short uphill trek take us to the heart of the place – a 711 store that both causes and nurses hangovers and broken hearts. And with a few drinks that comprise of a surprisingly pleasant selection of world beers, tropical vodka mixes, mini-wine bottles and the occasional accompaniment of noodle bowls or pork balls, I’m ready for the rest of the night – hopping from one rooftop bar to another, one club to another, one flight of stairs to another, one group of strangers to another, one set or arms to another, one side of myself to another.

Whenever I am here, I forget who I am, or who I am supposed to be. I forget about the things I worry about. I forget about what people expect me to do or how people expect me to behave. I forget the things that hold me back from experiencing life to the fullest. Like my ancestors before me, I just surrender to the rhythm of the night and forget everything but the beating of my own heart.

When you forget everything, all that is left is you. Without the influence of the past or future – it’s just you and the present seeing eye-to-eye. You freely raise your hands up in the air, dance the way you want to, befriend a random stranger, pretend you are royalty, just do what you want to do and feel what you want to feel, even for just a night – spilling over to the next, and the next and the next until life becomes just one grand party you take part of and celebrate.

To feel most alive – that is what freedom means to me. To submit to the senses and silence the mind. To have so much energy to last until sunrise. To be open to all possibilities and not say “I can’t” or “I won’t” because in this place, both do not exist. All that exists is YOU, and that is what matters most in the world.

I found freedom in the rugged rawness that reeks from the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, because this is where, for the first time in my life, I stopped thinking and started being.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

coffee1

The coffee is from the Taiwanese bubble tea stall. Served in a super size plastic cup, pushed forwards by the smiliest server before he retreats back into the throng of waving receipts. Twenty-four Hong Kong dollars- almost the same price as my shrimp noodle lunch. Half luxury, half necessity- I am too tired to indulge caffeine guilt. In this city, marching to this pace and cramming onto these trams and trains and towers, I take my coffee strong and iced.

The paper Hello Kitty cup announces that it is a Happy 2009! I notice as I sup the thimbleful of Nestle instant, the tiny folded handle giving me a paper-cut. It is, in fact, Easter 2012 and rainy season in Yangshuo, China. My rented bicycle stands lonely underneath its tarpaulin tent, the handlebars dripping rainwater like a runny nose. Even the noodles taste like rain, sopping in dirty puddles of soy sauce and chilli flakes and soaking through the polystyrene plate. Mist clings to Moon Hill and my heart strings crack with remembering English Novembers, minus the Mandarin.

Hannah Thompson yates india“Didi, didi, where you go?” Bimala pulls at my elbow, looping her tiny arm through the crook and trying to swing. She has spotted me leaving. In three to five seconds the others will emerge from the bedroom, the same melting chocolate eyes blinking in confusion. It is week three and I still have no idea what to say. How do I explain that I am going for a walk and a coffee instead of playing with thirteen attention hungry children? I can just about cope with unhooking her clammy fingers, firing my other arm out of reach so she can’t reattach. I squint out at the Nepali sun, then back into the dimming corridor of the orphanage. There is nowhere for them to go.

‘Chai, chai, coffee, coffee, chai, chai, coffee, coffee…’ The boy sings out on the Chennai train, his voice carrying through the steamy carriages and stirring the dozing men. Heads wobble that Indian wobble. Most mean no, some, somehow, indicate yes. Soon the samosa, samosi boy will come and the newspaper triangles will be handed out, hot in the hands of hungry travellers. Green chillies and ginger and cinammon and masala and all the smells and savours of wonderful, wonderful India and its ever tightening grip on the senses. I barely even remember the coffee here. Just the lemon infused hours of Kerala evenings and coconut breakfasts and street side Agra dhosas. Camels and tuktuks and motorbikes and Khan and Afsal and dolphins and mosquitos and the rose terracotta of Jaipiur’s sunset; a rolling reel of moments that were cut too short and too soon.

Hannah Thompson Yates IndiaWe like to joke that we are turning into teachers already, brewing our coffee mugs in the staffroom before 9am and clipping back up the stairs for briefing. Gone are the bikini strings and elephant pants, though braids are still pulling hair back from shiny faces and a few bamboo tattoos peek out from underneath waistbands and flip flop straps. Everyone tries to understand the future perfect tense and how to teach idioms, filing away game ideas and making mental notes to never, ever plan a lesson about religion or attempt to pat a Thai student’s head. Then a mosquito lands on an arm and you become distracted, thinking about a Koh Phi Phi weekend or a pad thai special. Coffee is the answer to rum bucket hangovers and sunburn sting.

Home. Home. Hoooome. My favourite mug, warm inside tanned hands with silver rings and unkept nails. Hot against chapped lips and steaming in the over-freckled face of one just returned.

Hannah Thompson-Yates

jumboNights In? Not in Hong Kong!

I have never been a massive fan of the ‘nice night in’. Like many things, I think the idea of an evening on the sofa with the TV on is a lot nicer than the actual reality of it. Sure, when you’re exhausted or stressed or fed up of the rubbish weather, a Friday night snuggled up in your onesie might sound appealing. I get that. But by the time it gets to 9pm you’ve remembered just how bad TV really is, you’re stuffed from all the comfort food you’ve treated yourself to and you’re probably perving on all the fun things everyone else on Facebook is doing. I would much rather power through, celebrate the end of the working week and start the weekend with a bit of fire in my belly (or a few too many gins).

The problem is I am not a massive fan of extortionate taxi fares either. Or of the three buses I have to catch to my best friend’s flat. I hate the ‘to drink or drive’ debate. Neither am I particularly fond of almost everyone I know being half of a romantic couple and wanting ‘quality time’ together instead of great craic with everyone, single people included, in the pub. And then, without me even realising it at the time, moving to Hong Kong in 2011 was the answer to all of these problems.

coffeeSuddenly, the notion of ‘staying in’ was taken clean off the table. Just like that, answering the obligatory ‘what are you up to this weekend?’ question became a case of sifting through options, trying to piece all the choices together without missing something, or someone, important out. Hong Kong’s energy, like its fried rice, is addictive. People live and breathe the ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra and, regardless of how tired you are or how busy your week has been, your down time is always exciting. Picking which rooftop bar to visit on a Saturday night, which happy hour to make the most of, which beach to recover on the next day … these become the burning dilemmas of the weekend. And, best of all, getting anywhere and everywhere is simple, fast and all part of the HK experience.

I lived six stops and less than twenty minutes away from Central Hong Kong on the MTR. The station was approximately four minutes from my apartment and the journey cost me next to nothing. Even better, the trains were fully air conditioned and clean- my hair would stay looking straight at least until I got to the first bar. That’s one option. Another would be to just hail a very cheap taxi from right outside my front door. Squeezed against the thighs of my friends, laughing and singing to the Canto pop on the radio, pre-empting the drama of the night to come; we would curve past stunning Victoria Harbour and rip-roar into the centre, coming head on into the throng of Chinese, English, Irish, American, expats, locals, all of them. Our friends would be among them somewhere, clinking glasses in one of the bars on Lang Kwai Fong.

We’d worked all week, taught lesson after lesson, caught train after train, ran to make spinning classes and gym sessions and yoga clubs. We’d skyped far away family and emailed long lost friends. Now it was Saturday, the week was behind us and our Sunday stretched ahead like miles and miles of untouched beach, waiting to be dug up in our weekend footprints. The price we all paid, of course, was having only one full day off a week. Yet, somehow, this one blissful day seemed to last forever. Rather than vegging out on the sofa, hungover and dreading going back to work the next day as I would do at home, Sundays were spent hiking in the country parks, cycling in Sha Tin, catching a ferry to one of the outlying islands or simply sleeping on a sunny beach. Hong Kong’s transport system means all of these are quick, easy, cheap and hassle-free options. Spending your precious Sunday in your shoe-box sized flat, however many cocktails you’ve sunk the night before, is out of the question.

Now, I don’t want this to be an alcohol friendly argument. It is quite possible to live in Hong Kong without indulging in its crazy nightlife and free-drinks-for-girls ethos. In fact, I have a friend who became completely tea-total and still wouldn’t live anywhere else. My point is, in Hong Kong, there is always something amazing to do. And, rather than have to plan it for months in advance and struggle to afford the expensive train-tickets, people actually do it. Every day. Long hours at work are sandwiched between junk boat parties, going out for dim sum, having coffees on the Avenue of Stars and getting the tram to the Peak when you want some fresher air. Even my yoga classes were exhilarating. There is nothing like being in the downward dog position and seeing that incredible skyline to make you feel alive!

When you do succumb to that ‘nice night in’ it is because you genuinely miss your sofa. You look forward to cooking in your kitchen for once, and you enjoy every second of doing nothing after having such a packed schedule. It is not because you can’t brave the miserable weather or summon up the energy to meet your friends on the other side of town. Hong Kongers live life in the fast lane…full throttle and with an incredible view.

HK

 

Hannah Thompson-Yates

HK Island - Central jpgHi, my name is Jennifer and I am an addict. I am confident my addiction is unlikely to destroy my health or leave me without a roof over my head. My addiction is Hong Kong.

How do I know this?

Well, I love to travel and nothing stirs the butterflies in my stomach more than knowing I am about to visit a new country, or an undiscovered place in my own country. For the last five years I have undertaken an annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong and each year the familiar feeling of anticipatory excitement stirs within me. I will never tire of this crowded, intoxicatingly busy, thriving metropolis. I am hooked.

So why Hong Kong and why do I never tire of spending time there?

With a population of seven million contained within 1,100sq km (425 sq miles) Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. No surprises then, visitors from smaller cities (like me) may feel when in Hong Kong, an overwhelming sense of people closing in on you. But despite the constant flow of people wherever you go in Hong Kong, peaceful and green places are in abundance if you feel the need to escape. This contrast is at the heart of my attraction to Hong Kong. The busy hustle, bustle of congested traffic, exhaust fumes and people all seemingly moving at once, is counter-balanced by the choices of serene places, that provide a sense of solitude and a sanctuary of calm in this world city.

I love the profusion of people in Hong Kong. I am from Brisbane with a population of just over two million. But there are times when Hong Kong’s pace feels too much. A 45 minute ferry ride transports you to Lantau Island, where life is considerably slower and there are fewer people.

I also enjoy Hong Kong’s sense of order and the feeling of safety. They have one of the best (and easiest to use) transport systems in the world. This creates an efficient flow to move all those people and is an easy means of getting around.

On my first morning in Hong Kong, I was staying in mid levels (Central District on Hong Kong Island). Waking early, I could not wait for my friend to join me. Being a resident, I knew he wouldn’t share the same first time excitement. I set out on my own to begin investigating the city. I walked the narrow, winding streets in mid levels and stumbled upon the Man Mo Temple, on Hollywood Road. I had no map, just a sense of smell and an insatiable curiosity. The incense burning in giant cones suspended from the ceiling drew me in. This 18th Century Temple is an example of one of the many serene pockets hiding in this fascinating city.

My visits to Hong Kong are enhanced by friends who live there. A couple of ex-pats whose circle of friends I now call my own, allows me to immerse myself deeper in the everyday life and culture that is Hong Kong. I have also visited as a Tourist, staying in Hotels with companions from Australia. From these frequent visits, I have gained a familiarity with the place, even learning their mini bus system, hailing them like a local pro.

One close friend is a Cantonese local, born in Hong Kong. Thanks to her fabulous ability to translate, I have indulged in and learnt the real meaning behind some incredible experiences – many of them food orientated.

Hong Kong has culinary credentials. No matter what time of the day or night you can find somewhere offering a fabulous dining treat. An Australian friend and I had a few extremely late-night shopping expeditions. Unlike Australian retailers, the Chinese are keen sales people and the market places and department stores are usually open after 10pm. Despite it being almost 11pm the shops and streets were crowded with people. I am convinced the ocals don’t wish to return to their small apartments, (new Hong Kong flats average 11sqm (120 sq feet) in floor space,) so they stay out until it is time to sleep.

Food places are open all hours. Locals and tourists are eating late at night. In central we found cute bars and restaurants along Gough Street and ended up stopping in Soho for a delicious Chinese dim sum meal. Lan Kwai Fong (LKF to the locals), adjacent to Central, is the place to go and have an after dinner drink. It was close to midnight and the place was buzzing.

Hong Kong provides new discoveries with each visit. There is never a feeling of repetition or sameness. It is an addiction I will openly admit to, happily share and continue feeding.

After all, life should be full of no regrets.

About the author: Jennifer Johnston juggles pursuing her passion for writing with working part-time outside of the writing world. Favourite writing topics include travel, health and well being and fitness. She spends her week-ends (trying) to keep her three rowdy boys in line and finding time to search out new writing material.

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Thinking about Lamma Island
Photo Courtesy of Flickr.com

A little bit of the country side in the city. That is how you can describe Lamma Island best. It’s one of the many islands of surrounding Hong Kong. It’s small and cozy. You can only reach it by a ferry from the Central Pier.
When I took that thirty minute ferry ride, almost two years ago now, I arrived at a wonderful place: white sand, picture perfect beaches, palm trees, and an abundance of bright green plants and tree leaves surrounding me everywhere I went. But most of all, there was something about the relaxed, hippie-like atmosphere of Lamma Island that inspired me.

You see, atmosphere is something you can find everywhere you go. Every place has its own atmosphere and it is always different. Hong Kong’s atmosphere, its flavour, its air, the feeling of the city, is one of business and endless possibilities. The skyscrapers looming large against the backdrop of Kowloon seem to say “the sky’s the limit”. The cacophony of neon signs and street sounds overpower your senses at times. The walkways and different levels of the city confuse the average pedestrian’s mind and sense of direction. After a few days of Hong Kong, I absorbed its atmosphere and started to feel a little rushed by all the hustle and bustle going on around me in the city’s streets.

How different it was when me and my friend stepped out of the ferry and set foot on Lamma Island. I had read two enthusiastic lines in my guidebook about the island. Then, a friend of mine who had lived in Hong Kong for a while told me to definitely go to Lamma Island. Whenever you get the same tip twice, there is just one thing to do: go.

Lamma Island is an oasis of green lying in the bright blue and glittering sea surrounding Hong Kong. It is so tiny that there are practically no roads for cars – which are also not allowed on the island. There are two tiny villages, one on each side of the island: Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan. A trail crossing the hill connects the villages. While me and my friend made the hike to the other side of the island, I remember thinking to myself: why don’t I take a walk more often?
We passed a beach, with white sands, trees for shade, and a cool blue sea with (strangely enough) a power plant in the background. Some people were swimming to cool off in the hot summer weather. Others were chilling in the shade of a tree or a parasol. Inevitably, I thought: if I would live in Hong Kong, I would come here every weekend. But then the realistic-slash-pessimistic side of my brain kicks in and says: hah, as if! I probably wouldn’t go to this perfect beach every weekend. I would feel like it’s a waste of time – even though it isn’t.

My parents’ even live a ten-minute walk from the beach. Granted, it’s in the Netherlands and most of the time it’s cold and windy (sometimes even in the middle of summer!), but there is a beach nonetheless. Yet somehow I always feel like it’s a waste of my time!

Thinking about Lamma Island and its atmosphere, then, makes me think about all the things I should be doing right now and how to make a better use of my time. How I should walk more (like I did on the island) and go to the beach more often.

This is one of the reasons you should travel. To have great memories like this that you can dig up from the archives in your brain. To think about a sunny, green, palmtree-populated, white-sands-beaches island far away in Hong Kong. Even when the temperature’s close to zero and I hear the wind beating against my windows, I can think of Lamma Island and I’m inspired.

About the Author:  Corianne Oosterbaan hails from the Netherlands and is almost graduated from a degree in business administration She loves to travel and see the world. She also loves to write – fiction, essays, and travel writing. Find her on Twitter and on her blog curating interesting stuff from the online world.

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