Conquering questionable manners, overpriced Guinness and creepy island villages.
Not for the first time as I stood on the MTR train one morning travelling from Kwai Fong to Wan Chai, the Brit in me wanted to passively aggressively tut at many of my fellow commuters.
Having used and familiarized myself with Hong Kong’s underground on a daily basis, I found the general etiquette observed had left much to be desired. Maybe it was a clash of culture for I was accustomed to the unspoken rules of TFL (Transport for London) so standing on the right side of an escalator, making space in a carriage, giving up seats, taking off backpacks and simply queuing seemed pretty logical and polite to me. All of these were almost non-existent on board Hong Kong’s MTR. Nevertheless despite the lack of manners in my eyes, Hong Kong’s transport infrastructure was still a well-oiled piece of machinery that ran very efficiently. I did not experience a single delayed journey during my trip, unlike a typical Northern Line commute.
Questionable manners were not only seen underground. Above ground, rarely anyone held the door opened for the person behind and concepts such as personal space and standing aside were not in Hong Kong public’s lexicon. It was every man, woman and child for themselves. One incident which annoyed me greatly came in the form of waiting for an elevator with my aunt and grandmother. A restaurant we planned to visit was situated on the top floor of a nearby shopping mall and seeing my grandmother uses a wheelchair on outings, we needed to use the lift. After waiting for the next lift a dozen time, we eventually found one free enough to fit her wheelchair for no one was willing to make or give us space. It was rather unbelievable. The shopping mall only had 4 floors so I could not understand why people had to hog the lift and not let it be used by someone who genuinely needs it.
I lost some respect towards my motherland that day but my aunt just told me to forget about it, it’s Hong Kong.
And to be fair, who was I, a foreigner and tourist, to question this. I also observed Thank you and Please were spoken less frequently in public compared to the UK. The locals must have found it a bit weird to witness what was probably me overusing “mgoi” everywhere; courtesy costs nothing remember. I wasn’t sure what to make of this distinct difference in culture, I guess this abrasive and blunt behaviour simply reflects on the hectic pace and efficiency of Hong Kong life. I admit I was initially very put off by it but now, having thought about more, it occurred to me the statement my aunt made after the above elevator incident was apt. This was just Hong Kong, a part of her identity.
To return to my narrative, I was travelling to Wan Chai to witness the daily 8am flag raising ceremony taking place in the Golden Bauhinia Square, the same square in which the 1997 handover ceremony to China occurred and therefore effectively signalling the end of the British Empire. I underestimated my journey time and completely missed it. Nevertheless I explored the surrounding area and admired the views from the harbour on a rather grey and cloudy day. My itinerary for the rest of morning was to visit the metropolitan shopping mecca of Causeway Bay.
It was there I discovered the weird and wonderful world of the food hall in SOGO. SOGO in Causeway Bay is one of Hong Kong’s largest and most well known department store, akin to London’s Harrods or Selfridges. It boasts 20 floors of shopping paradise but I wasn’t particularly interested this fact for it was all about the said food hall. I could literally spend hours exploring the many aisles stocked with exotic and unique foodstuff. I saw giant Japanese strawberries, Hello Kitty shaped pasta and Carlsberg Special Brew shelved in the upmarket alcohol section. Bar buying some overpriced but delicious Hokkaido Cheese Tarts for my relatives, a decision purely instigated by my curiosity regarding the massive queue leading up to the stall, I made a mental note to return one day to buy goods to bring back home.
That afternoon I planned to visit the seaside town of Stanley, located in the southern peninsula of Hong Kong Island. It was one of the few locations I could recall from my 2002 trip, I still vaguely remembered the long bus and its vast street market. The said bus journey was very picturesque to say the least, the route consisting of meandering mountain and coastal roads. I decided to first hit the market and see what souvenirs I could get my hands on and Stanley’s market did not disappoint. I managed to find what was probably my favourite souvenirs from my trip, a pack of playing cards mounted with fake old school Chinese propaganda posters and badly translated communist sayings. Additionally I briefly became friend with another lone Australian traveller and we went on a mini quest around the market to find more hilarious items.
Stanley exhibited an atmosphere I couldn’t quite place my fingers on. The town was able to maintain aspects of its traditional village and community roots yet it felt very tourism oriented and commercial. The main promenade was littered with Western restaurants and bars, including surreally a Pizza Express. I took the liberty to visit one of the said bars for a drink, only to be greeted with a pint of Guinness that costed the equivalent of £8. Ouch. The nearby modern shopping plaza with its large signs indicating Maccy D and Starbucks added to this environment. Yet in the midst of all this lies one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong built in 1767. It is dedicated to Tin Hau, a patron goddess who is said to protect sailors and fishermen for Stanley has strong seafaring roots. Speaking of the sea, I obviously had to sample the local seafood whilst I was in town, albeit this came in the form of a plate of Bouillabaisse.
I spoke briefly in my last article about my plan to go hiking in my motherland. One opportunity came in the form of me visiting Lamma Island, the third largest island in Hong Kong. Situated south west of Hong Kong Island and also the birthplace of my hero, Chow Yun Fat. There are a number of ferry services to and from the island but I planned a route which enabled me to hike from one end of Lamma Island to another. After a pleasant morning ferry ride from Central Pier, I got off at Sok Kwun Wan and aimed to follow the Family Hiking Trail south to Yung Shue Wan. It was fairly early in the morning so Sok Kwun Wan was a ghost town, otherwise it would have been a beehive of activity for a large number of seafood restaurant are located here.
I followed the trail for a couple of kilometres, passing another beautiful Tin Hau temple and an old WW2-era Japanese foxhole along the way. My phone map showed a place of interest which was slightly off the main trail. Taking the said path, it led me through a village which I initially paid no real attention to but it slowly dawned on me that every building was decrepit and empty. OK, that’s a little disturbing I thought, but I soldiered on. I eventually found myself in the middle of the village where there was a well. On it was a lamented A4 paper with Chinese and English writing, it read “Danger: This village is very old and unsafe to enter. Written by a villager.”. Before contemplating whether it was a ploy to deter tourists like myself or a serious threat, I performed a quick about-turn and power walked straight back to the main trail. I had no times for creepy abandoned Silent Hill-esque island villages.
The Family Hiking Trail was very monotonous and flat, it was more suited for cycling than walking. Hence I decided to trust my phone map once more in spite of the creepy village incident and followed what was a well disguised off the beaten track footpath to Yung Shue Wan. I did not see a single soul in my remaining hike bar one lady walking her dog on the ridges of the many hills I had to ascend and descend. This route was definitely more physically taxing than than official path but that was the small price I paid for the majestic views and isolated tranquility. Reaching Yung Shue Wan I found the local seafood more expensive than I had anticipated so I opted for dim sum in an alternative seaside eatery and happily munched on steamed duck feet for the first time. They were really moreish despite being primarily just collagen, skin and bones.
From Yung Shue Wan I took a ferry to Aberdeen, an unique area in the south-west region of Hong Kong Island. It is home to the famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant, which as the name suggests, is literally a massive floating restaurant, and Aberdeen’s floating villages which stem from the Hong Kong boat people from the 1960s and 1970s. The contrasting towering skyscrapers blended beautifully and seamlessly with the traditional floating village community. Despite the semi-commercialization of Aberdeen and the nearby Ap Lei Chau, I could still sense the area has not forgot about its traditional fishing roots and lifestyle. In a way, it represents what I wanted to achieve and explore in my motherland.
My final aim of the day was to find somewhere which showed live cricket for it was the opening game of the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup and of all the potential match ups, the opening game was to be Hong Kong versus Zimbabwe. A sports bar situated in Kennedy Town ran by some very friendly Nepalis answered my cry for terrestrial cricket (more about cricket here). Unfortunately the well known cricketing nation of Hong Kong lost by 14 runs in the end.
I’ve been in Hong Kong for almost a week now but I knew I barely scratched the surface of my motherland for there was still plenty more to explore, see and experience. Such as sampling Michelin-starred xiao long baos and honing my Cantonese haggling skills in the wretched hive of scum of villainy known as the Temple Street Night Markets.