Travel Journal

Visit to Hong Kong

(Friday 11 December 2009) by Brennan-adventures
Hello folks,
Well here we are again gallivanting off to the far flung… Hong Kong to be precise.
Mike had been in Korea before arriving in Hong Kong, and I flew from London to meet him in H.K. The journey was ok for me, 11 hours and a numb bum….. H.K. new airport is huge but very organised, immigration was a 5 min wait, there were at least 20 desks open; when I got to luggage reclaim my bag was waiting. A total time of 15mins !!!

The transfer was the worst part; a 30min wait then a 2hour journey to the hotel, it was about 6-30pm and the middle of rush-hour traffic, so the usual hard foot on the gas then heavy brake. :-(
The view from the bus was confusing, lots of new tall high rise buildings and nothing looking familiar. It was only when nearly at the waterfront in Kowloon did I start recognising things. It felt like coming home to see an old friend.
The hotel is very swish, and lots of attentive staff.
I got to the room first; then I went down to eat…well 22hours of just nibbling, I was hungry. Did the usual ask for no garlic thing and chose fried rice… well 5 min later I realised GARLIC !! The cost for this awful meal…£12.00!
I gave up on eating anything else and bed called me, next thing I knew was Mike appearing in 3 hours later, scaring the hell out of me standing at the side of the bed!!!
Next morning and down for breakfast… what a feast and huge choice, I am surprised just how western H. K. still is. After breakfast out into the mêlée, Our Hotel in Kowloon is near the Hung Hom ferry, so this was our mode of transport to the Island… Victoria Island that is.
On the ferry time was spent trying to spot familiar buildings we had seen 27yrs ago; as you can imagine there were very few. The old naval base Mike worked in (Tamar) was now having land reclaimed in front of it. The new buildings in and around the waterfront are very tall on both side of the river with lots of the buildings are covered with coloured glass. Once off the ferry, we found lots of new high walkways taking pedestrians away from the sides of the busy faster roads and hovering them above the action. We walked to Hennessey Rd to ride a tram to Happy Valley, the area of H.K. we had lived in. We knew the building had been demolished, but had no idea what had replaced it.
Well what a nice area it turned up to be. There was a huge glam building which housed a large garage and a club house, next to this was a public garden. The area of the cliff which had been behind the original buildings was now where the new 7 huge blocks of apartments were; they were connected by a private walkway to the garage area. The apartment blocks will get great views over the racecourse and down to central district, but I could imagine a bit of a mission to get to the buildings. We saw a property agent shop and I went to ask the price of one of the new apartments…. a 2 bedroom apartment was about £4,000 per month to rent.
For the old China hands amongst the readers, there is an older apartment block called Rose court, it’s on Wong Nai Chung rd overlooking the racecourse. The building has been there for over 30yrs and does look a little jaded. These apartments have balconies and have 3 bedrooms, the price to rent per month….about £7,000 per month !!! We then visited some of the old haunts dredging up very old memories. The old pubs and clubs we used to frequent are now respectable hotels and shops…gosh how things change. The areas of street markets and alleyways around Wanchai still looked chaotic and vibrant.
In the evening there was fireworks in the bay… must know we are in town…. Only joking it is the opening ceremony for Asian athletics. We found the area along the waterfront blocked off and we were funnelled to an area near the waterfront. The opening ceremony lasted 1½ hours…. We decided not to stand around for the fireworks and instead got the MTR…metro to Temple street market, this huge market is open every night. The stalls have clothes, toys, torches, music… I think a lot of the goods are counterfeits. There are loads of outside stalls that sell food, lots of fish and shellfish with rice, also nice boiled offal dishes!! :-^
Next morning after another huge breakfast we set off for central district and the Peak. We forgot that Sunday was the day off for all the Filipina maids in Hong Kong; it was so chaotic and noisy, with groups sitting on the ground in every available covered area. The women in the groups were playing cards, having manicures, eating and some even sleeping. They looked like upmarket street people!!!! There were also areas where the women were sending parcels back to the Philippines; these were huge boxes and bags of stuff…clothes, toys and shoes. I suppose most of them will be Xmas presents. I am not sure how these parcels will be taken to the Philippines but it looked like a post office on the street!!! We waded through the thousands of maids heading towards the Peak….. then found a huge queue snaking around the building; I think we would have been queuing for over a hour so we decided to come back another day.
Back again to the river, struggling through the maids again… we tried to get to the walkway alongside the old Tamar building heading towards the Star ferry. Well what a shock, in Tamar the swimming pool was in the process of being filled in. The only sign of the Chinese troops based there was uniforms drying.
In front of Tamar there used to be direct access to the Harbour…. Now the land was being reclaimed and already there was at least 1/2km before you reached the river.
The Star ferry had been moved forward, although the terminal building looked the same; the ferry terminal was now huge with 8 different piers and the boats travelling across the river to different destinations.
That is the one thing I do admire about the Chinese here; nothing is impossible. Buildings are constructed on mountainous areas that look impossible to conquer. Once there is no land left… reclaim some more from the sea. Metro stations are built under the river and areas with buildings above ….nothing seems to stop the improvements and modernisation.
Next morning Mike away to the Uni , me??? well walking the streets of course....
On the harbour there were lots of people in boats and sampans most of them were fishing, the river has been cleaned up and it is now possible to see shoals of fish around the piers. I am still not sure I would eat anything caught though!!

Well the metro escalators are vicious, they suck you very quickly onto them, them whiz you up and spit you off the end… got to be on the ball or you would end up a snotty heap on the floor!!!
I took myself to Wanchai, still the most old fashioned and ethnic area left. The markets have been cleaned up and are not so smelly now; you could still choose your chicken or toad, have it butchered freshly to take home… all be it in the back of the shop now instead of right in your face, it is still a little too raw for my taste!!! 8-O 8-O .
On one of the fish stalls, which had lots of fish gasping in basins of water there were also conch and turtles available to buy, all alive and kicking, not sure if it was your job to kill or whether they did it.
The shops had gone a little up market, now there was lots of interior designers and up market nick-nacks. I walked and walked all day, getting lost and then finding areas I recognised. It was great but exhausting. I kept getting asked did I need help when I was looking at the map, I couldn’t get over how much kinder and considerate the H.K. Chinese were now compared to 10yrs ago.
When H.K. was given back to China I think for a few years there was tension and the local people really did not know what to expect. Now what feeling you get is a city that is confident and proud to have a western outlook. In one HUGE shopping centre there was EVERY one of the designer label you could name… Not anyone buying that I could see but it was amazing to see fashions and shoes from designers that I had only ever seen in magazines. I do believe New York and London are the poor relation.
We were invited out to dinner with one of the members of staff at the University, a posh Hotel whose restaurant was on the 39th floor with great views across the Harbour. He was H.K. Chinese then his family emigrated to Canada in 1997. He also had lived in the U.K. It was funny hearing him speak about the mainland Chinese in such a derogatory way; H.K. locals think mainlanders are peasants and boorish with no class and no skills speaking English; H.K.’ers believe they are in a class above and really enjoy the status H.K. has in the world.
I must admit the changes we saw from the last time we visited in 1999 were all positive.
The weather although cool was not as sunny as we thought it would be, infact 3 days were rainy and misty. We noticed the peak was looking clear, so a mad dash to the top while we had a chance. It was there Mike and I disagreed, I thought the Harbour was now a piddly river whereas Mike said the width has not changed much…. I can see the old photos coming out to resolve this!!!
Well I think that’s all I have to tell you, hope you all have a great Christmas and 2010 brings peace and happiness to every one of you.
Laur xx

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