2 days before our arrival in Hong Kong, Rachel (our old friend from Prague and gracious hostess) warned of us an impending monsoon, Chanchu. We weren’t sure exactly what we were in for; the day of our flight we checked the news/schedules several times….. was going to pass Hong Kong and hit southern China. Our flight was to Shenzhen, a town just near the border with Hong Kong. When we arrived around 8 in the evening, the weather was clear and cool. First we had to catch a bus to the central train station. Then we had to pass through a maze of immigration and controls to enter the SAR or special administrative region of Hong Kong; one hour of administration to enter the same country. Then, per Rachel’s instructions,
we caught a train and the metro to get to her apartment, conveniently located near “Central” on the island of Hong Kong. When we emerged from the metro station a little after 11pm, we were greeted with a feast of colored lights, decorating the thousands of high-rise buildings that made up the city. We decided to make the 20 minute trip to Rachel’s place on foot, not realizing that part of what makes Hong Kong so attractive are the many hills giving shape to the city. We finally found her place, on the 18th floor of a bright purple building.
The monsoon hit southern China and left Hong Kong with cooler temperatures and two days of exquisitely beautiful weather. Thursday morning we did a small walking tour in the quarter where Rachel lives. The contrast of modern and traditional life is at its fullest here. We began the tour with a visit to the Western Market, an old fruit and vegetable market now a small shopping center with boutique shops. Just in front you can watch the double-decker trolleys pass carrying tourists and businessman alike. Nearby in the Western District, we visited numerous shops selling traditional Chinese medicines, including ginseng and bird’s nest (I still don’t know what that is) as well as all types of dried seafood and mushrooms. We continued down Hollywood Boulevard with its antique shops selling oriental treasures and the markets of the side streets selling everything from chopsticks and ceramic bowls to old Mao/ communist regalia. We decided to catch the Star Ferry over to Kowloon, the part of Hong Kong on the mainland. From the ferry terminal we walked along the waterfront by the enormous, modern Cultural Center, the hotel Peninsula, the Space Museum, the Fine Arts Museum and the Avenue of Stars, a mini Hollywood Blvd, sporting the hand prints of Hong Kong film stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. From there we walked down Nathan Road, a enormous shopping Blvd sporting everything from Indian tailors to Gucci and Rolex. Fabien and I stopped at every other electronics shops checking out the price of the latest iPod. We ate dinner on the patio of a an upscale Chinese restaurant, delicious but probably the most expensive Chinese meal we ever ate.
Friday morning, we woke up to beautiful sunny weather. Rachel recommended we take the tram up to Victoria Peak. (It’s famous for being cloudy, but we might have a chance for some excellent views.) We started with a walk to Hong Kong Park, where we visited the Flagstaff house, a British colonial house now a museum on Chinese tea. Then we caught the tram to make the 557m/1500ft climb up to the peak. From the top, we did have some spectacular views of Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island. Below us a sea of skyscrapers surrounded by blue ocean. We followed the path down the hill, a nature/ fitness walk with signposts describing the natural surroundings as well as giving fitness advice. We navigated our way back through the city to Rachel’s place where we took a short break. Then we met up with Rachel to watch the sound and light show from the Harbour front. Every night there is a show lights on selected skyscrapers on the opposite side of the river. From there we went back to Soho, the cozy little restaurant district, to eat at a Malaysian/Thai/Indian fusion restaurant. Friday night, and it was packed…Hong Kongers like to eat out.
On Saturday, Rachel was sworn in as a Hong Kong lawyer. We went with her to the Supreme Court to see the ceremony. Each lawyer was presented by a colleague who gave a short speech and some of them were quite elaborate and funny. We were also amused by the wigs that some of them still sported. After the ceremony, we caught a bus across town to Stanley Village. Here we met up with a bunch of Rachel’s colleagues who were training for the Dragon Boat Races. The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated every year in June or July in Southern China. (It’s also celebrated in Laos.) Each boat consists of about 20 rowers, a coxswain and a drummer. The bow is decorated with the head of a dragon. In addition to the local races, Hong Kong companies have their own competition, and Rachel’s company will compete. We got to join in a practice, one hour of race scrimmaging in rough, windy conditions. By the end, we were soaking wet and exhausted. Luckily, her company also owns a 40ft powerboat; we spent the afternoon eating (BBQ) and relaxing on the boat. The only thing that was missing was the sun. Our beautiful weather had disappeared and the clouds and rain had returned. Before heading home, we stopped at the Stanley Market, where Fab and I picked up a few last minute souvenirs, including kimonos and a beautiful little Chinese style dress for my niece.
On Sunday, we decided to take the ferry over to Macau, the former Portugese territory which is now an SAR (special administrative region) of China like Hong Kong. This entailed passing through customs and immigration again. Macau is famous for two things, one its Portugese architecture and village-like feel, and two, the casinos. Luck was not on our side, and we spent most of the day visiting the island in the pouring rain. It reminded me a little bit of Goa, the Portugese area of India, with its pretty cathedrals.
Our last day in Hong Kong, also the last day of our trip and the day before a long flight back to Europe. The weather was still pretty rainy, but we managed to get back to Kowloon where we visited the market area: the bird market, the flower market, the goldfish market, the ladies markets, etc. We ate a big bowl of hot noodle soup for lunch then we got haircuts (so we could return to France looking decent, not too mention it was ¼ the price.) This kind of day is always difficult, the end to something so amazing that we worked a long time to be able to do. At the same time, so many good and exciting things await us at home and we will always of the memories (not to mention the 8,000 photos and the souvenirs.) In fact, it’s not the end of the grand adventure, it’s just the beginning.
Tags: BIG TRIP 2005-2006, China, In English 2005-2006