Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Real Hong Kong (Part 1 of 2)

While only going to this special administrative region (SAR) of China for three days, I could probably write as much if not more than I did for Thailand on this blog. For those who do not remember or never got the chance to read about that trip, it was a week long adventure that prompted me to write three lengthy posts about the subject. However, I will contain myself in this instance and give to you the information and details I find necessary and interesting to make for a complete story. Now I give you the story of my three day journey throughout Hong Kong.

I mentioned in my last post that I was tentatively scheduled to go to Hong Kong at some point over the next two weeks. Right after making that statement, I realized that it may not be possible due to a number of things including class, lab sessions, workload, and a basketball tournament. But having heard how amazing of a place the city of Hong Kong is, I sent some e-mails out, talked with the parental unit, and did some research about things to do in Hong Kong to come up with three days out of the rest of my semester to pull off a quick visit to this city.

My initial plan was to leave early Sunday morning and see much of the outskirts of Hong Kong. I was then either going to meet up with a friend from back in the States who is studying abroad there or with a buddy at NUS who was touring the city with his mom. Instead, one of my friends at NUS who also attends UConn with me made a last second decision to come along (by last second I mean booking flights to and from Hong Kong eight hours before we left). So the two of us ventured out of Singapore on a 6:40 A.M. flight on Sunday and immediately hit the ground running once we landed. We took a very scenic bus ride from Hong Kong International Airport to one of the urban areas of Hong Kong called Kowloon. From there, we explored the streets of Tsum Sha Tsui, the part of Kowloon closest to the central district of Hong Kong. Then we had to take care of searching for accommodation. Looking for a hostel/guesthouse to stay in was much more difficult than in previous countries I had been to since every place stopped at, the people spoke no English, whatsoever. As a result, we would say something to the person at the counter of the hostel and they would respond in Cantonese as if we were fluent in the language. Progress was made in these conversations through the usage of many hand motions and devices like a calculator or cellphone that could display numbers in order to negotiate a price.

Once we found a relatively cheap place to stay, we decided to head a few stops down the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to Mong Kok, the most populated area by density in the world. At first, we didn't really see that many people, making us question the validity of such a fact that many people live in this one part of town. However, it wasn't long till after walking a few blocks over from the MTR station that we became bombarded by swarms of people in every direction. Locals, tourists, businessmen, you name it. In the middle of all the chaos we did navigate some street markets containing cheap goods ranging from belts to graphic art to Chinese ornaments. It was then time to leave the crowded streets of Mong Kok, so we walked back down Nathan Road (aka The Golden Mile) to Tsum Sha Tsui to get a feel for the rest of Kowloon.

Later that night, we headed for the Avenue of Stars, the Chinese equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to see the monuments of stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. In addition, we got a great view from this tourist attraction of the daily light show that takes place across Hong Kong's skyline. I must say that this city really does boast one of the, if not the, coolest skyline I have ever seen; it consisted of many uniquely designed skyscrapers with extravagant lights covering many of them while many different LED advertisements casted even more light onto Victoria Harbour. Following the light show, the two of us walked down the entire Avenue of Stars and then checked out one of the biggest night street markets in Hong Kong, Temple Street Night Market. After going through the market, we did some more walking through Kowloon, which is enjoyable at night as huge neon store signs illuminate the streets, reminiscent of Las Vegas during the 60's. It was then time to call it a day and get a fair amount of sleep knowing we had much to accomplish on Monday.

Monday started off with us waking up 8:00 A.M. and heading north of where we were staying in Kowloon to see the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple. Before I go forward with this story, I will mention here that this city was very easy to navigate as a tourist. We came to Hong Kong only knowing what to do and roughly where things were. But this temple was one example where once you get off the MTR, you are literally right next to or very close by the tourist attraction. Now this temple was pretty secluded from the city, making it not as full of tourists like in many other places I have been in southeast Asia. It made for an intriguing experience as the two of us stood there taking pictures and looking at the beauty of the many structures when at the same time many Chinese people were praying to these shrines.

Soon thereafter, we took the MTR back through Kowloon and across Victoria Harbour to the main part of the city, Hong Kong Island. We briefly walked around the central business district before catching a bus to Stanley Village, located at the southern portion of the island. Similar to the bus ride from the airport to the city, this ride offered many postcard-esque views of bright blue waters accompanied by small beaches and an abundance of mountains. Forty five minutes later, we reached this tiny and remote village to see another street market as well as more outstanding views of the ocean and the beachfront property nearby. After going through the market and grabbing lunch, we headed to Repulse Bay, which was ten minutes back in the direction we came from. During this bus ride, the driver cutoff a motorist who then followed the bus to the stop we got off at and started a quarrel with the driver. I stood there and watched as the driver pulled over, examined from the bus that he did no damage to the moped, then drove off as the motorist kicked the side of the bus. We quickly ran off after this as the man kicking the bus noticed we had been watching him the whole time from the sidewalk. We then walked down to the huge beach with uniquely designed hotels as a backdrop that make up Repulse Bay. This really made it clear to me that Hong Kong is much more than an urban environment as we sat down and took in the natural beauty of the area. I always knew Hong Kong was a giant financial hub and that has a number of things for the city dweller to prey upon. Never did I expect to be relaxing on a beach staring out over clear waters to see mountainous islands off in the distance. An hour passed by on the beach before catching the bus back to the central part of Hong Kong.

It was only then that for the first time all trip we found ourselves lost in the city. I was very impressed that we had gone so long without little to any issue not using any taxis, relying solely on public transportation and walking (we didn't take one taxi the entire three days in Hong Kong as supposedly taxi drivers there no very little English if any). Anyway, we ended up in some corridor of the city that wasted a good thirty minutes of our time before getting back on the beaten path. This was critical as we were trying to meet up with our Belgian friend at the top of Victoria Peak for its great view overlooking the city skyline. We eventually made it to the top of this mountain, but about forty five minutes later than we planned between getting lost and a temporary malfunction with the tram that takes you to the top. At approximately 7:00 P.M., we had reached Victoria Peak to get an unbelievable view of the skyline. In this shot, one can see the fourth tallest building in the world on Kowloon across the harbor as well as the eleventh tallest in the middle of the picture in the heart of Hong Kong Island. The two of us, who had now failed to meet up with our friend, then proceeded to have a light dinner before coming back to the top of Victoria Peak to watch the same light show as last night but from this different vantage point.

When the show finished up, we headed down a couple floors of the building that stood atop Victoria's Peak and went through the Madame Tussaud's wax museum since my friend had never been to one before. It may not have been as impressive as the one I had been to in New York City, but it still made for a good time taking pictures with many celebrity look-alikes we both knew and had never heard of before. Around 9:30 P.M., we took the tram back down the mountain and began to make ways towards the supposed Clarke Quay of Hong Kong, Lan Kwai Fong.

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