Last August, I boarded a plane to Hong Kong. I was accompanying my husband on a business trip, and like on so many of our travels, this was to be a few days of him going to meetings and me wandering around the city.
I tried to sleep through the flight, but my eyes were constantly drawn to the window and, even though we were miles above it, the parts of the Australian landscape I’ve not yet experienced. Watching the earth from above, the lines of rivers and land forms always start me thinking of how I might be able to recreate those lines with needle and thread.
Eventually, the view turned to blue water and clouds. Now I was looking at tiny boats, wondering, if a whale breached could I see it? and checking the screen on the seat in front of me to chart our route and note which islands we were flying over. There’s Papua New Guinea. Those green mounds over there must be the Philippines. Finally, nine hours later, another green mass rose before us. My first glimpse of Hong Kong, emerald green mountains, and behind them a mass of skyscrapers crowded into a strip of land along the coast.
Once again on land, we traveled from Lantau Island where the airport is, over the bridge and through Hong Kong City, and over another bridge to arrive on Hong Kong Island, where we were staying at Lanson Place, a small boutique hotel.
After unpacking and freshening up in our beautiful, light and airy room, equipped with complimentary smart phone for our use, our stomachs led us back out. We stopped to ask the concierge for restaurant suggestions. Instead of just telling us, he went out of his way to walk us to the dim sum restaurant.
Hong Kong, for me, was a good introduction to Asia. It was foreign and exotic in its sounds, sights, smells, and tastes, and yet in its city-ness it was familiar enough not to be overwhelming. The subway was super clean and easy to navigate. I had heard stories about being crammed into crowded train cars, but they were no more crowded than Sydney trains at rush hour.
Although, I typically have an aversion to heat and humidity, as I walked along the Hong Kong sidewalks, all of my senses alight with the bright colors, questionable odors, and the hum of Cantonese punctuated by the sound of clanging metal, machinery and honking cars, I was happy to have the heat searing the experience into my skin.
Usually when I travel, I like to familiarize myself with the area before I arrive, and have some idea of sites I’d like to visit, but keeping just shy of having an actual itinerary; I want the freedom to just sit in cafes and watch the locals, or to wander and see what happens. This time though, there were so many places I wanted to go and only two and half days to do it, so a detailed itinerary is what happened, with lots of walking between locations in order to soak it all in. My itinerary did not include any giant Buddhas or climbing to high places so I could look down. I have no interest in huge statues that were constructed only 25 years ago, and I think my view of the city from the plane was pretty good.
On our first morning, after a buffet breakfast in the luxurious hotel lounge, I traveled north to Hong Kong City, where I visited the fashion district in Sham Shui Po, on a search for fabric and embellishments that I’ll write about more in a later post.
After my fabric search, I headed south and east to Flower Market Road. I found this orchid shop, and next to it a shop selling assorted tropical houseplants. Many were varieties I’ve never seen, which caused me to have brief fantasies of trying to sneak them through quarantine back in Sydney. But I know better.
My next stop was the bird market. Teetering stacks of small rattan, wooden, and plastic cages teeming with songbirds lined the walk, while little old men sat smoking and conversing with their friends. I found the place fascinating, but I did have to put aside all of my ideas about birds in cages and a strong desire to run through the market opening said cages.
I was surprised by the variety of birds that one might expect to have as a pet. Some were familiar faces from Australia, like the Noisy Miner Bird, but most were birds I’ve never seen. It made me think about culture and what we think of as normal. Of course, the parakeets and canaries that I’m familiar with in the pet stores at home have family members living in the wild, too, but somehow we think a canary is a proper pet and a blue jay isn’t.
Day two’s itinerary began with a bus ride to Stanley Market at the south end of the island. I was happy to escape the crowds of the city! I found a completely different atmosphere down there, quiet, fewer people, and much cleaner air.
The Stanley market sells just about everything you can think of. You can find pearls and jade, tea sets, handbags (be careful of knockoffs), and assorted souvenir type items. There are clothes, but you’re not going to find much in the way of American sizes. One fun thing is to have a name seal, or chop, carved while you shop.
The Boathouse was a good place for a seafood lunch, on a verandah looking out over the water. If you are tired of dim sum, you’ll find variety here.
Many small temples dot the Hong Kong countryside and towns. On my way to visit the Tin Hau temple in Stanley, I passed the Tai Wong Temple.
Tin Hau is the Goddess of the sea. She was originally a mortal girl named Lin Moniang who lived during the Song Dynasty. She was said to be able to predict storms at sea. When her brother and father’s boat sank, she lost her life trying to save them. Because of her great sacrifice, she rose to heaven to become a goddess. She later was named Tin Hau, Empress of Heaven. Sailors pay respect to her, praying for her protection.
The original temple was built in 1767; the current site is a rectangular brick and mortar block building. Inside I found a man selling joss (incense) sticks to place in front of the deities. He sold me a large handful, then proceeded to show and tell me what to do – in Chinese of course. Tin Hau’s image is center stage, flanked by a multitude of other gods and goddesses. The joss seller lit my sticks – he wouldn’t let me do it as I might have lit myself or the temple on fire. He showed me where to start, on the end, giving each deity up three sticks. Tin Hau must have more, though.
That’s enough of my rambling. Later in the week, I’ll be back with some stories of my search for silk and of a lesson we received in eating etiquette, along with some random things to know about visiting Hong Kong.