Leaving Hong Kong

Some final images of Hong Kong – a place that mixes & celebrates its British trading roots with its historic Chinese character. A place where modern business & banking & commerce look over the street life from their lofty abodes. The buses have advertising on their rooves as the whole world looks down from their apartment blocks. Eagles & kites soar through the highrisers playing the thermals between floors, balconies & windows. Views of the harbour show the wakes of countless vessels with their own specialist trade. In amongst it the locals carry on unaware of the thousands of eyes that might be watching20141218053700_IMG_7620 20141218053510_IMG_7612 20141218044854_IMG_7544 20141218032642_IMG_7494 20141218041138_IMG_7517 20141215075440_IMG_6327 20141217061641_IMG_7430 20141215102030_IMG_6458 20141217055228_IMG_7368 20141216075922_IMG_7024 20141217033627_IMG_7156 20141216075139_IMG_7011 20141216053631_IMG_6762 20141215052851_IMG_6193 20141218115503_IMG_7723.

80% of Hong Kong is forested & wild. Beautiful empty beaches can be found on a bus route within 30 minutes of the centre. Monasteries & temples share the spiritual space of these wild areas. The surrounding seas are fished in the traditional way & working families have to graft to make a living. I have so enjoyed my short time here & seen so much.

Now I must move on to warmer climes. Vietnam & Thailand beckon. Till the next time.

Stanley for my last dinner

From pier 5 I get a taxi & head over to the south of Hong Kong Island and to Stanley. The dual carriageway goes straight under the central mountains before curving around the coast through the well heeled districts of Discovery Bay. This is where the big shiney cars are. The expats, the rich & famous, the businessmen & the bankers live here. At the end of the road is Stanley.

Stanley feels like an oriental Bournemouth with a wide esplanade to wander along, a harbour to gaze at, lights to set the mood & a Pizza Hut to dine at.

 

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This very English feeling place still has some contrasting images.20141218090946_IMG_7682 20141218090343_IMG_7679 20141218092308_IMG_7696 20141218091122_IMG_7688 20141218095616_IMG_7707

 

 

The high speed ferry to Cheung Chau Isuland

This morning I take the high speed ferry to Cheung Chau Island, a small island off the western shore. The ferry gently eases back into the harbour, sets its sights around the west edge of Hong Kong Island, growls to the world & attacks the waves. Up it goes on its triplanes, tonnes of vessel leaning as it charges through the harbour traffic like a motor cyclist on the Isle of Man moto GP course.

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The harbour is a mess of fishing vessels of all shapes & sizes from large trawlers to small squid boats to junks to coracles to palettes, yes wooden palettes to go between shore & ship. A real working fishing island. The quayside is noisey & crowded with locals, school children, fishermen & sellers. The best purchase is the fresh custard tarts – absolutely gobsmackingly gorgeous.

The busy working shore is a facade to a maze of small narrow streets where normal life takes place on a micro scale. Streets are a few metres across so any deliveries are by cart, builders’ vehicles & rubbish cards are on a mini scale as is the local ambulance – just like micro cart city.

 

Late lunch on the beach on Lantau Island

Leaving Tai O I get back on the bus & drop down across the island. On the other side I get off & wander down a track to an empty beach with a marvellous Art Deco life savers’ station. Its golden sands are absolutely empty. I share the shade with a handful of lazing dogs. I have a choice of three restaurants. I choose the Thai & opt for the curried prawns. Wonderful.

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Back to the bus stop & on my return journey to Kennedy Town on Hong Kong Island. This leg I go by the plodding ferry to Pier 5 & then take a taxi home.

This whole day just emphasises the many different sides of this fascinating place – deserted beaches alongside towering forested peaks, spiritual calmness beside historic fishing villages beside modern building projects, highrisers & bridges. Cable cars, fishing vessels, ultra modern transport systems mixed in with carts, buggies & human backs. I love it

Oh yes. Happy new year everyone. I hope it’s a good one for all of you.

 

 

No 21 bus to Tai O fishing village

Back through Buddhaland to the bus terminal & the number 21 to Tai O – a working village where families live in stilt houses & fish the waters around the shore & up the estuaries.

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In amongst the narrow streets & walkways & bridges a living is made. Wafer thin dried fish are sold from every second shop & on every street corner. Waffles are the main fast food & the favourite of school kids, tourists & locals alike. The old men gather in smokey rooms to play chequers, mahjong & a game using hundreds of thin cards with unrecognisable Chinese characters printed on.

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Squeezed in amongst the houses are small cafes & bars, little shops & crowded restaurants serving, you guessed it – fish in one form or another. Little temples & small squares provide spaces for worship or contemplation.

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I take a short trip on the water to explore the shallow estuary & then out beyond the harbour wall. No sign of the pink dolphins, sadly. Amazingly, the fisherman points out in the distance the snaking limbs of a bridge under construction. This will connect Hong Kong to Macau, a pimple on the chin of main land China, originally settled by Portuguese traders in the late 1500s and which is over 40 miles away across open ocean – a truely amazing feat of construction.

Po Lin Monastery

Big Buddha is guarded by the monks who live in Po Lin Monastery just yards from the bottom of the steps that lead up to the big man himself. The monastery attracts families & priests to its grounds & temple high up in the hills of Landau Island. Offerings & incense are made throughout this peaceful enclave where people wander & find peace with the spirituality around them.

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Up close the temple is glorious. Mosaics & richly coloured tiles cascade over & down roof lines, hiding  exquisitely sculptured birds & animals  amongst their lines & outlines.

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You can buy a ticket to eat with the monks if you wish.

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Yes, this is as much part of Hong Kong as is Kennedy Town or Central or Kowloon. Hard to believe that such spiritual calmness can be found next door to all that crowdiness activity & that peaks & mountains & forests & islands are as much part of the place as are the highrisers.

 

 

Big Buddha beckons

Today it is bus to the MTR & a rapid journey under the sea to Landau Island. We could have travelled by ferry or over the long bridge that spans the harbour to the island which lies to the south west of Hong Kong Island. At Tung Chung it’s off the tube & onto the cable car up & over the mountain to Ngong Ping where Big Buddha awaits.

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At the cable car terminal a Disney Buddha Park of tacky Buddha gifts, T shirts, hats & Starbucks & fast food outlets channels visitors to the bottom of the 250 or so steps that lead up to the great man.

As I climb & leave the material tackiness below, I can feel my spirit rise with every step I take until I am exposed to the heavens as it flies to another plane.

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Others worship by placing coins on the figures, chanting together as they process around the base platform at his feet, kneel in private meditation, bring bouquets to leave as offerings or light joss sticks to surround him with wonderful aromas.

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Then it’s down the steps & over to the monastery next door. Next time.

 

The Bird Market in Yuen Po Street Gardens

Just around the corner from the flower shops I climb some steps to the tranquility of the Bird Market. Here enthusiasts, all men, bring their singing birds to show off to each other & anyone passing. Captured in beautiful lacquered cages these minute bejewelled creatures sing out to the world under the gaze of their proud owners.

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Some come to buy a new addition to their choral menagerie. So many factors need to be taken into account that any decision seems to take an age.

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Some are here to buy cages or perches or cage hoods or feed – large plastic bags which hold egg cartons & hundreds of large juicy crickets.

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My favourite place so far.

A merry Hong Kong Christmas

Am breaking off from the events of the blog to share some Yuletide images from Hong Kong. I hope you all have a wonderful festive day with whoever you are with. Thank you for following me & I look forward to sharing more of my travels with you in 2015.

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Flower shops on Flowermarket Street

It’s just what it says on the map – a block of 3/4 streets that house, side by side, flower shops of every size, type & description. Shops overflow with crates & pots, with cut flowers & potted plants. The clusters of pink & red & white roses compete with the tall elegance of purple orchids & 20141216071638_IMG_6888 20141216071819_IMG_6895 20141216071054_IMG_6870 20141216071333_IMG_6880 20141216071854_IMG_6897 20141216072254_IMG_6906

with a thousand bright red poinsettia ready for Christmas displayed within & outside a fair number. Some offer bouquets already assembled & displayed whilst others house sellers cutting & arranging floral tributes for every occasion. Each shop specialises not only in the type of plant but in a certain colour of the spectrum & artists’ palette.

The customers search through the hundreds of seemingly similar plants or bunches or bouquets to find that one perfect bloom or arrangement for that special person or that special place in their home or that special festival or occasion. Their faces reflect the concentration they bring to their quest.

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The fish shops of Tung Choi Street

I head up Nathan Road, take a right then a left & walk up Tung Choice Street, home to 40 or so shops that sell all the paraphanalia required to keep tropical fish. It seems this is a popular past-time for ordinary Hong Kong folk. Some solely stock aquarium (or is it aquaria) & equipment of all descriptions; some just sell pond weed of every type but all oxyginating to keep waters clear; and then the ones that sell the livestock of all shapes & sizes & colours but basically blends of orange. Gurgling tanks hold swaying goldfish of assorted sizes. Then from metal grids hang loads & rows of small plastic bags with a couple of small feathery delicate fish, so fragile they might hurt themselves on their invisible walls. An occasional tank holds a big bruiser of a carp or some weird turtle.

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I suppose once they get a home they are cared for in a nice clear, controlled environment. Keeping fish is big business in Hong Kong, almost as big as catching & eating it – all those whole fish, groupers & snappers & swordfish & catfish, and the prawns & clams & squid that feature as the basis of delicious street food, a family’s home meal or on every restaurant menu.

At the top of Tung Choi Street I rest in a small park in the shadow of the overpass along with other residents of Kowloon.

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Having recharged my batteries I cross under the overpass, cross over a number of roads to find Flower Market Road. I wonder what is sold there? Find out next time.

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Across to the high life & markets of Kowloon

With an early start I get the tram to Central & walk down to pier 7.

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Once across the water I head up Canton Road where the rich & famous, well, not famous to me, are seen to do their labelled shopping. It seems bankers & property owners are particularly keen. All the big names are there & provide a wonderful backdrop for some interesting images. Can you guess these –

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Up past the glitter & the golden reflections real Kowloon emerges with ordinary people living & working ordinary lives.

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More to follow as I go deeper into the delights of busy Kowloon.

 

 

A Christmassy Hong Kong at night

Victoria Harbour comes alive at night. As offices & shops close down & the locals rush for trams & buses & taxis, the neon comes alive, gradually at first. Then suddenly you look up and the place is ablaze on both sides of the water. Floor after floor of offices & apartments in the highrisers are lit up staring out over the water hiding all sorts of treasures behind their night lights. For a clear view I take the Star Ferry across to Kowloon. Lit up like a spotlight on a stage set we sit exposed to the world by the orange glow of naked lights on board & watch the land leave & go as the ferry crosses through the darkness. Other boats match our path & guard our sides as we plod on to safety.

Once there a short walk up to the terrace, a glass of Shiraz and an opportunity to gaze over the lights of Hong Kong.

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Impressed? Up close you can see Christmas themes on some of the buildings – dancing Santa’s, neon snowflakes landing on Christmas trees, pink presents, everything is pink or neon gold, pink presents, the ubiquitous panda highlighted in glorious red & regal purple. The vessels, lit up with their own lights scurry between the shores. Can you see the dowh, its sails lit up in red?

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After all it is Christmas and celebrated in every country on the planet, it seems. Here piles of enormous red baubles compete with huge teddies   towering amongst giant presents in lobbies & entrances to malls, hotels & offices. Tinny musical box renditions of carols & Christmas favourites tinkle in the background everywhere. All workers in fast foodplaces have the must fashion accessory – a red Santa hat. Occasionally the real thing can be found.

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I finish the evening off with a Korean bar-b-q.

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Central Pier – Hong Kong’s beating heart

On Hong Kong Island locals get about their business amongst the myriad of deep streets using trams, buses, vans & taxis. Only a very few possess & use cars. A series of tunnels & bridges link Hong Kong Island to the mainland & to Lantau Island. Hong Kong also relies on two other integrated transport systems to keep its composite elements connected – the underground Mass Transit Railway & the tentacles of ferry lines that spread to islands of all sizes from the seven piers of Central. The Octopus Card can be used to pay for journeys on all these different transport systems.

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The original green vessels of Star Ferries operate from Pier 7 & chunter backwards & forwards across Victoria Harbour linking Kowloon & Hong Kong Island on their 10 minute voyage. These are the original vessels that have plied the short route for over 100 years. A journey is a matter of pence with locals using the lower decks at an even cheaper rate whilst tourists tend to hurry to the upper deck with their cameras.

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Arriving from Kowloon.

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Leaving Hong Kog behind & crossing Victoria HarbourHarbour.

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Heading over to Kowloon.

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& arrival on the mainland with crew waiting to hang on to flying ropes to tie us up.

 

Piers 1 to 6 are home to other lines linking the islands.

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Around the harbour speed ferries race around high up on their three skies, vehicle ferries plough steadily about, old two deck passenger ferries steadily cover their distance, huge tankers lie at anchor & dredgers scoop out their debris.

 

 

Descending into Central

It is a bit like that. From my viewpoint on floor 16 in Kennedy Town, Victoria Road & others skirt the highrisers & then seem to change direction & head straight in between the highrisers & disappear into the depths of Central Hong Kong with their traffic of trams & buses & taxis & delivery lorries.

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Once inside space shrinks, the sky gets smaller up, up there in the distance and the buildings impinge on the pavements as if on huge gantries of gigantic rollers. Millions of windows stare down at us from the heights of layers of stacked eggboxes – minute creatures rushing about on the streets like busy ants going about our business. Central is sustained by arteries of streets & thoroughfares. The larger ones carry the human lifeblood of the city in their trams & buses & cars & taxis. The smaller arteries are a narrow hustle bustle, jingle jangle of parked cars, jammed vehicles, rushing pedestrians, each overhung with a mosaic of signs & shapes & colour.

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In amongst this huge nest of streets & buildings, people go about their business.

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People are so resilient. Amongst all this pace & energy & endless hurry they are able to find a small space for peace & tranquility & spiritual sustenance whether it be an oasis of a green park in the desert of cement & steel & glass & tarmac or the spiritual haven of a Buddhist temple nestled under the protective stares of a thousand guardian warriors.

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Some are just out for a chilling lunch to restore energy levels & raise their spirits.

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Arrival in Hong Kong

I am not sure how I’m gonna do this one. Since arriving at the airport my senses have been bombarded with sounds & smells & colour & noise & touch & bumps & smiles & grins & frowns & stares & peace & harmony & turmoil & crowds & queues & calmness & rush & traffic & cars & buses & people & parks & stillness.

Hong Kong is a wonderful muddle of cultures & lifestyles & religions, all huddled together & mixed up on this pimple of rocks & islands on the side of China. It is made up of the New Territories which is part of the mainland with Kowloon on the southern tip. Imagine the top of a monk’s head. The high rises edge the coast in a thick hectic mass of cement, steel & glass leaving a rocky, mountainy bald pate of a centre with trees, monasteries, tranquility & peace.

Off the coast but connected to each other & the mainland by a spaghetti tangle of tunnels & bridges & ferries lie the many islands of different sizes, Hong Kong Island being the largest one.

I think I will start with a collection of images of everyday life for Hong Kong people starting with the apartment that is my home during my stay – the view inside & out. I stood facing opposite directions to take these.

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Images of Kennedy Town, the local neighbourhood now follow with views across Victoria Harbour & images of the community. The original tram system still operates linking Kennedy Town to Happy Valley across the top of the island.

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Right, more will follow as I move out from this base.

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