Friday Flight ; Hong Kong
First the bad news: Hong Kong is FAR. Certainly from England. It’s an expensive place. It has more Starbucks than can possibly be good for any society and it is real consumerville where brand names rule.
Oh, and June is a time for typhoons! Yep, when your hotel tells you not to venture outside you’d better listen to them and not decide to take a ferry trip on a choppy South China Sea towards mainland China. Surely only the foolish would do that, huh?
Or the very brave!
Anyway, swiftly moving on (I’m still alive aren’t I) there is much more to say on the plus side about HK.
It’s a wonderful gateway to so much of Asia and Australasia. India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malasia, Australia are only a matter of hours away as, of course, is mainland China.
It’s a vibrant, exciting place where you feel anything can happen. The buzz starts at the plush, ultra modern airport and continues as you drive towards the main city areas which dazzle at night as thousands of lights from skyscraper office blocks and the neon glow of still-open shopping centres glisten above the shimmering waters of the Pearl River Delta.
Ah, shopping. HK is a shopaholic’s paradise. The modern malls are ultra chic futuristic heavens packed with top brands and the smaller side streets are stocked full of what a tourist might deem to be ‘ethnic’ trinkets.
Personally, I don’t care much for shopping. I love pretty clothes and things like any girl but neither rules my life. So, I largely give a wide berth to the depressingly uniform malls which are replacing wonderful local bazaars in every country I’ve visited recently.
More interesting is the great way the many nationalities of this place co-exist in what seems, to the outsider, to be perfect harmony. Chinese, Indians, Australians, Brits, Africans and others form what looks like a peaceful, mutually respectful cosmopolitan society.
And here’s the thing to make Westerners green with envy – I don’t think I saw a single fat Chinese person anywhere! Whether it’s the diet, the heat or plain hard work, everyone was slim, trim and perfectly preserved well into old age. And such a lovely people too.
What many people may not know is that Hong Kong is not one island. Hong Kong island and Kowloon are the most urbanized and what most people think of as HK but away from the commercial hub lie islands with tranquil villages where the culture and history of ancient China still lives and breathes. These are infinitely more interesting than the Gucci and Dior shopping malls which you can see anywhere.
Go to these villages and you can see Taoist temples dating back to the 1400’s, houses that stand precariously on stilts (albeit some of them with satellite dishes on the roof!) and local markets where you recognize practically nothing that is on sale. One particularly weird looking packet contained what may well be the secret of youth for Chinese women; fish bladders!
Sadly even many of these places have been commercialized. An ancient monastery at the foot of a giant bronze Buddha, one of the largest Buddhas in the world could have provided a wonderful spiritual experience if it hadn’t been for the Coca Cola stands and blatant money making attempts linked to ‘traditional’ practices around it.
The bronze Buddha itself is a magnificent thing to behold. He sits on a lotus leaf stretching towards the sky. You’re supposed to climb 268 steps to reach him and when you do, if you touch him with your left hand (never the right hand) and make a wish, it comes true. Here’s hoping!
Away from HK the obvious trip to make is into mainland China. Getting a visa is difficult but there are still places which you can visit without one. Beijing, Shanghai and Peking would have been wonderful but on a short trip you can make do with Macau a former Portuguese colony. It too is a happy mishmash of cultures. Ruins of Catholic churches stand easily beside temples that date back to the Ming dynasty. Then again, away from the past sits the Las Vegas part of Macau, a shiny, dazzling strip of casinos which each year make billions for the area. It’s a place which has drawn Donald Trump and that is a more scary thought for some than eating fish bladder.