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HONG KONG: Hong Kong Island
January 27 - February 2, 2006

Skyline from Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong Island was beautiful.  The north side of the island was packed with skyscrapers, but it still managed to have plenty of trees in addition to a botanical and zoological park right in the middle.  The city was impeccably clean, the streets were not congested, and the shopping was decidedly upscale.  As far as city life goes, I don’t think it gets much better than Hong Kong Island. 

Hong Kong skyline Hong Kong skyline

the Star Ferry
Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong skyline Hong Kong convention center
Hong Kong Convention Center


golden Bauhinia statue

There is nothing very special about the convention center other than it looks really cool and it hosted the ceremony where Hong Kong was transferred from British rule to Chinese rule.  Outside the convention center there is a pillar (erected in 1999) commemorating the peaceful return of Hong Kong, and a large golden Bauhinia statue, the flower symbol of Hong Kong.  I found it interesting that in Hong Kong itself there was only a pillar to honor the return, while in Dalian where the handover had little to no actual effect, they built the giant Xinghai Square.  One might draw the conclusion that mainland China was much happier about the return than Hong Kong.

Victoria Peak

We took the historic Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak.  In 1888 the tramway replaced sedan chairs as the most common way to reach the peak.  We wanted to ride the Peak Tram because it resembled a really slow roller coaster by reaching a gradient of 27 degrees with stunning views of the city on the way up.  The tram was crowded, but the ride was steep and the views were immaculate, so we were not disappointed. At Victoria Peak we had a spectacular aerial view of Hong Kong Island.  At times I felt I was looking over some futuristic city because there were so many tall buildings packed so closely together.  We took a walk around the peak, which provided incredible views of the Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbour, and Kowloon.  I was impressed with the way Hong Kong had developed so rapidly without completely destroying the natural environment.  All the hilly areas on the island are lushly vegetated and quite jungle-ish. 
Peak Tram
the Peak Tram
Indian Rubber Tree on the Victoria Peak Trail

Around Town


smoking monk

We  went to the Mid-levels Escalator, which is the world’s longest covered escalator.  It’s essentially a series of connecting escalators serving as a moving uphill sidewalk.  We hopped on it and road up to Hollywood Avenue where we visited Man Mo Temple—a Buddhist temple clouded with incense smoke and housing plenty of altars to various gods.  Honk Kong religion can be described as an eclectic mix of local beliefs, basically Buddhist but including plenty of traditional deities and superstition.  Throughout the city, there are many door shrines with little gods and fruit offerings, plus the obligatory incense sticks.  The whole city smells quite meditative, which provides a wonderful contrast to the city’s business-oriented atmosphere.


incense coils

door shrines

Mid-levels Escalator

Mid-levels Escalator

Mid-levels Escalator

Let's prevent avian flu

fish market

bamboo scaffolding

Victoria Park
There was one strange thing: the city was full of Filipino women, camped out on newspapers or cardboard with their friends, playing cards.  Later, we found out that most of them work as domestic maids and live in a small room in their employer’s house.  On Sunday, their day off, or in the case of the Lunar New Year holiday 3 days off, they meet their friends in the city, and spend the day sitting on the pavement playing cards.

Night

We were lucky to be in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year because on Monday night there were fireworks over Victoria harbour.  We got to the Walk of Stars on the Kowloon side around 6:30 to ensure a good view.  We joined the diverse crowd of tourists, immigrants, and locals who were also waiting until the fireworks started at 8:00pm.  It was quite uncomfortable to sit on the pavement for an hour and a half, and that was barely a taste of the three whole days the Filipino women spent sitting on the ground playing cards.  It turned out to be worth the wait for the good view because the fireworks were incredible, with coordinated explosions from three different launching points and an accompanying soundtrack.  We were in a very international crowd, where everyone spoke a different mother tongue, but “oohs” and “aahs” seemed to be universal.

fireworks over Victoria Harbour
Walk of Stars
Walk of Stars

Hong Kong skyline

Buildings

Stanley

We spent an afternoon in the town of Stanley, on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. It seemed like a quaint little shopping town compared to the central district of Hong Kong Island.  We walked to the beach there, then looked around the shops, and ended up at a bakery that sold really wonderful bread.  We ate our non-bean-pasted bread and sat outside the Murray House, a historic building from 1844 that was dismantled brick-by-brick and moved from downtown Hong Kong to Stanley.  We took a little walk to a nearby temple, then took a riveting bus ride back to central Hong Kong.
Stanley Market Hong Kong Island Stanley Market Hong Kong Island
Murray House Hong Kong Island
Murray House (1844)

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