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01 December 2012

China, part 1: Hong Kong

I probably should have written about China a couple of months ago, when it was all fresh in my mind. I think that's the way it's supposed to be done. Oh well.

We started off in Hong Kong for a few days, and we also stayed one night there on the way home. At the start, being in Hong Kong was pretty much like traveling anywhere else. Yes, there were a lot of Chinese people, signs in Chinese, etc. But English is everywhere, reflecting the British colonial past, so as an English speaker you have no problem getting around. And getting around is easy on the fabulous, frequent, air-conditioned metro system; then, if you have to go farther than it does, there are buses and cool old double decker trams, or ferries if your destination is the mainland or one of the other islands. 

Harbor and business district, with Kowloon in the distance, from  the Peak
Hong Kong is built around the periphery of a mountainous island, as well as into the side of the mountain. On the north side, at and within a couple hundred meters of the shoreline, is the commercial district with office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, and some giant apartment blocks. Here there are mobs of people going everywhere all the time. This is what most people probably think of when they think of Hong Kong. 

Night market in Kowloon
Away from this strip is where people live and some people work: shops, street markets, restaurants, and dwellings of various sizes. 

Phil and Nick on Dragon's Back track
But there are also large swaths of greenery where nothing has been built, and you can walk on a hiking track for a couple of hours in a park and hardly see anyone except for the people you're hiking with.

photo credit: Wing Luk

Much of yuppie Hong Kong lives in an area called the Mid-levels, a neighbourhood just above the central business district, partway up the mountain. Between the steep angle of the walkways that lead up to the Mid-levels and the heat and humidity much of the year, getting home after work would be quite a chore, driving being a nightmare. The brilliant solution is the Mid-levels Escalator, the world's longest covered outdoor escalator according to Wikipedia. In the morning, until about 10, the escalator   moves people down from the heights to the business district, accommodating the direction of rush hour. Then it switches over to move people uphill for the rest of the day and into the evening. There are covered stairs for when you're going the opposite direction of the escalator, as seen on the right of the photo.

Sok Kwu Wan village fishing fleet, from the track
We passed through lively fishing villages offering all kinds of fish that you wouldn't necessarily want to eat, especially considering the apparent lack of refrigeration. This one was at the start of a couple hours' walk from one side of Lamma island to the other.

Our days were full of walking and our nights included dinner, more walking, and visiting the Ben and Jerry's scoop shops. Our hotel in the early part of the trip was clean, quiet, and convenient, but hardly luxurious; the room had just enough room for a queen bed, a very tight desk and closet area, and a small bathroom. On our last night, returning home the next day to Oz, we splurged on THIS room. My phone camera doesn't do it justice, but this is the bed as seen from the lounge area (note the complimentary fruit bowl), with the glass-enclosed bathroom (separate shower and tub!) off to the left of the photo. Also not shown is the rooftop pool and the VIP breakfast/tea lounge just down the hall. This is where I want to stay next time.

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