Really dead tired this am.I arrived in the rain last night and took a bus from the airport right to the Shangri La Guesthouse in Chunking Mansions. In wandering the busy streets in a chilly drizzle, I realized that I had badly miscalculated the weather so I sprung for an orange down jacket that had me looking like a lollipop. Only $38!
Mansions! Such a funny joke; the rooms are miniscule and the guesthouse is one of dozens in a 16-story highrise. Although tiny, the room was immaculate and cleverly designed to include hanging space, private facilities, TV, air-con and a kettle with coffee and tea packets.
The ground floor is crammed with south-Asian food stalls, electronics stalls, cheap clothes and sundry stuff. It was a busy scene but definitely safe. What I didn’t like was the lengthy wait for the elevator and the smoke that wafted into the room each morning when the ventilation system carried it from other floors where people had their morning cig.
I finally dragged myself out of bed to take care of arrival business, grateful for the central location. First stop was down to the tourist office to get a local SIM card. I also arranged for my ticket to the Cantonese opera on Sunday. Walked around in drizzle and mist. In northern Kowloon the streets are animated with lots of little shops. It’s a foodie’s paradise! I finally settled on an animated local restaurant on, I believe, Temple street. Lunch was a wonderful spicy soup with veggies, fried fish and tofu and “oily” noodles.
After lunch I headed to phoenix travel to arrange the flight to Taiwan. Nearby was the Hong Kong History Museum housed in an ugly building with a complex entrance. There was a lot of time spent on the geology and Neanderthal era but most interesting was the folk art and rituals from boat dwellers, Hakka and Punti peoples.There was also an interesting section on Cantonese opera, good preparation for the Sunday show.
Back to Shangrila guesthouse to rest.
Evening was the night market on Temple which was fairly touristy but less so on the northern end around the Ladies Market with the fortune tellers and incredible variety of stalls selling everything from lingerie to kitchen supplies.
The food stalls were the best part. I settled on one in the middle, downing a big plate of vegetables and boiled chicken in sauce. Filling! I realized I should eat little meals so I could taste more.
Loved wandering the streets. Despite the generally hideous buildings Hong Kong is definitely more soulful than Singapore and Shanghai with a wonderful creative energy cooked up by the plethora of small shops.
This was kind of a blah day, mostly dominated by changing from Chungking Mansions to “Sonia’s Place”, an AirBnB rental in the Hung Hom neighborhood. In the morning, I took the famous Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, one of Lonely Planet’s infernal “must see” and “don’t miss” sights that they pound on relentlessly in their listicle-ridden and useless guidebook. The mist lent the skyline a mysterious quality but it was a short trip.
Although I landed at the Wan Chai harbour, the confusing nest of overhead walkways connecting skyscrapers made it hard for me to find the smaller streets I was looking for.
Then, lunchtime! I wandered into the Red Seasons restaurant which vaguely resembled a dim sum place I remember from Chinatown. But the dim sum was so light and savory: shrimp dumplings, red and green pepper slices topped with a chopped shrimp mixture, sweet turnip cakes. It was unbelievable. It turns out this was a Michelin-recommended restaurant which doesn’t surprise me in the least.The staff seemed amused by my enthusiasm and tried to explain the menu as best they could. The pictures helped!
Unfortunately, Sonia was not able to meet me until 3 which broke up the day. Her apartment was small, especially considering that she was sharing it with her young daughter but the high rise was sleek and modern and I loved the view from my room.
Sonia was a sweet-faced woman in her thirties of Indian descent who worked as an interpreter. She was welcoming and professional, quickly drawing me a map of the surrounding area with the vital bus stops. It proved to be inconvenient that the MTR station was rather distant as the Hong Kong bus system is complicated. Taking a bus to someplace was easy as Sonia gave clear instructions. Coming back was another matter.
It was 4 by the time I left her apartment, intending to see the 200-foot Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island and the monastery. It was not to be. By the time I got there with another 30-minute tram ride to go, I was informed that the monastery closes at 5.30 (not 6 as LP informed me) and it was clearly way too foggy to see the Buddha from a distance. Another “must see” remained unseen. The long bus ride back took me past vast construction sites along the harbour as Hong Kong expands ever outward.
Sonia’s Bailey Street location was known as the place where Japanese clustered. Across the street was an alley with what appeared to be a number of Japanese restaurants but was in fact all one sprawling place. I finished the day with a plate of cold green tea noodles and a tofu dish that was expensive but tasty.
With the morning to kill before my 2pm appointment to see Cantonese opera, I decided to head out to Tai Po, known for its street market.
On the bus I fell into conversation with an exuberant, outgoing woman who turned out to be of Hong Kong descent but a resident of New Jersey. Irene and I quickly hit it off and she invited me to a village festival near Tai Po later in the day “if I wasn’t doing anything”. Sure! We exchanged numbers in Tai Po and went our separate ways.
As a “New Town” in the “New Territories”, I found that Tai Po had a much more relaxed vibe than Kowloon, and certainly was much more old school than Hong Kong island.
Naturally, I had to eat so I sampled my first tofu soup, a quivering mass of tofu with a sweet sauce served either hot or cold. I chose hot. Then, of course I had to have dim sum which I nibbled on a bench looking at the street action.
Then on to the Cantonese Opera, “Lovers’ Tears” which was part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. It was being staged in Shatin, also part of the “New Territories”. The Town Hall was a modern building surrounded by a spacious plaza and a shopping mall. But once the opera started I was transported back to, well, some other time and place. I hardly knew what to expect except that Chinese opera is nothing like Western opera.
From the first moments, I was fascinated. The performers had such an unusual way of moving and gesturing that was at once graceful and theatrical. What surprised me was how much character and emotion was expressed in such a highly stylized form. The story was gripping and I could follow most of it with the aid of the supertitles on the screen which translated the musical numbers if not the dialogue. Of course there was also acrobatics, a little bit of martial arts, sumptuous costumes and gleaming sets. Musically, it was odd to Western ears but I got used to the nasal singing and unpredictable percussion. It was a very human story of love, loyalty and honor that I found strangely moving. It was easy to see that the performers were first-rate and they got a huge ovation at the end.
After the opera, I caught a train and cab to the local festival in a village near Tai Po which was just gearing up. Irene and her friends welcomed me warmly and installed me at the table around a huge pot of food that included stewed vegetables, tofu and shrimp as well as meat.
The festival reminded me of similar village festivals in Breil-sur-Roya except the food was better, the wine was better, there were five or six musical acts instead of one and every so often someone drifted by in a Chanel outfit. Oh, and the festival was not paid for by taxpayers but by a private family that basically owned the village. Except for that it was just the same!
The music was mostly Hong Kong hits plus the inevitable “Gangnam Style”
What an evening. What a day.
I got an early start intending to make the most of the improved weather and visit Macao. Sonia clued me in to a little local place that served divine dim sum but only up to 9am. What else but food could get me out of the house so early? I woofed down several shrimp dumplings and a Chinese bun on a little stool outside the shop. Oh, to start every day so well.
Getting an early start is rarely a good idea for me though. I got to Macau ferry terminal and realized that, in my early morning haze, I forgot my passport. Whoops!
Since the skies were clearing rapidly I decided to visit Victoria Peak, another “must see”. Unfortunately my feet were killing me by that point. I was ready for some better sport shoes with thick cushioning but the prices were shocking. 50% more than New York prices and they’re made about 50 miles away in Schengen? Sneaker stores were everywhere. I got the impression people were flocking from around the world to sell sneakers in Hong Kong and make their fortune on the stupefying markup.
So, I staggered onwards.
Again I boarded the Star Ferry to Central then a bus and a tram to the Peak. As a major tourist attraction, there was no shortage of shopping opportunities in the mini-mall that surrounded the tram exit. More sneaker stores!
First I walked around Findlay street which was quiet and had harbour views.Then I strolled the more travelled “morning walk” with its lush foliage alive with birdsong.
Back down from the hill I was most confused about getting to Soho and Man Mo temple. The thorniest problem was getting from the tram exit to the MRT. First I took a bus but in the wrong direction. It took me a good two hours to make my way there (stopping for lunch of course).
I was most pleased with temple, smokey with incense and very busy.
The great thing about Hong Kong is the neigbourhoods, each unique with its own energy.I particularly liked the streets around the Man Mo temple which were very laid back and bohemian. Flights of stairs lead to hidden parks and playgrounds.
The further you climb out of the commercial district the more relaxed the vibe with gentle cafes and modest boutiques.
Descending once again to the Soho area and Hollywood street found more westerners browsing the antique shops and cocktail bars.
I decided to spare my feet by taking a long tram ride to more outlying neighborhoods but it wasn’t as interesting as the street was heavily commercial. Getting back to Kowloon was a nightmare as I ran smack into rush hour. Unpleasant. It was hard to find a taxi and then the first one I found couldn’t comprehend the name of the street. Eventually I got back, ate excellent suchi across the street and headed up to bed.