Saturday, April 11: I haven’t participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge in a long time, but today I’m feeling inspired by the theme of “afloat.” I recently spent several weeks in Myanmar’s Inle Lake and in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen, both of which I found to be wonderfully photogenic. Here are a few glimpses of what I saw. 🙂
Monday, April 6: This morning, I’ve arranged to meet Peter, my best friend Jayne’s husband who recently moved to Hong Kong. We’re meeting for breakfast before I venture out for sightseeing my last day in Hong Kong. Jayne suggested before I left Nanning that I give Peter a call while in Hong Kong, since we’re both now living in this part of the world. I do as she asked, and the meeting is arranged.
Peter wants to take me to a Chinese restaurant, but I tell him this is my chance to have a Western breakfast, as I have Chinese food all the time in Nanning. So we settle in at a Chinese-run sort-of Western restaurant, where I’m able to get some eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. Peter proceeds to tell me I should stay in China because there are many opportunities. I tell him that for now I just want to return home to Virginia, to be with the family through the fall and over the holidays. I also tell him China isn’t really my cup of tea; I’m more drawn to the Arab cultures and as a matter of fact I just applied for jobs in Morocco and Egypt, knowing I wouldn’t get them, but thinking that if it were meant to be, it would be. He tells me I seem to always be drawn to those cultures and asks me if I’ve ever looked into past lives. “Maybe you were an Arab in one of your past lives,” he says. “You should read books by Brian Weiss about past lives.”
We talk for a long time about this subject. He says he’s met people who have told him they feel connected to him because of some connection they had in a past life. I tell him of someone I know who regularly calls a Japanese woman who helps her with her problems in light of her past lives.
Later, I look up this author and find books titled: Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, his Young Patient, and the Past Life Therapy that Changed Both Their Lives and Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past Life Memories, among others. Hmm. Interesting.
I don’t know about past lives but I do know a person sometimes feels an undeniable pull toward a particular culture or a particular place for reasons that can’t be explained.
Peter tells me he’s trying to get several ventures started and that he enjoys being able to spend time with his parents, who live in Hong Kong.
I tell Peter I must get a picture of him for Jayne, and he takes a selfie of us on the street after breakfast.
Peter originally hails from Hong Kong, but he and Jayne, who is British, met in Saudi Arabia, got married, had a long marriage and two sons, and are now separated but not divorced. I met Peter and Jayne in Oakton, where my home in Virginia is, about 10 years ago, but shortly after we met, she and Peter moved to Atlanta and then to California. Jayne now lives in Jersey, officially the Bailiwick of Jersey off the coast of Normandy; their sons live in California and Nevada, and Peter lives here in Hong Kong.
After breakfast, Peter walks with me to the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street, but I’m disappointed to find they are early in the process of setting up. If I had read my Lonely Planet China book a little more thoroughly, I would have seen the market runs daily from noon to 10:30 p.m.
We leave the market as there’s nothing to see at this hour. I keep wanting to stop in at little shops along the way and I know Peter has somewhere to be, so I tell him he should feel free to leave me on my own to wander. We give hugs, and he takes off.
Since I have to kill time before the Ladies Market opens, I wander around aimlessly until I see a fancy shopping mall with a Gap in it. I go inside and try on a few clothes, buying a shirt and a skirt. Soon though, I feel my stomach starting to rumble.
This is when the stomach troubles start. Suddenly, I need to find a bathroom and fast. And then again. And again. My stomach is cramping and doing somersaults and generally causing me a great deal of discomfort. Though I’ve already checked out of my hotel, they are holding my suitcase so I figure I can just go sit in the lobby for a while. I stop at a pharmacy and get something like Imodium, and then I go back to the hotel and sit.
For a long while, I sit in the hotel, but though I don’t have any more urgent runs to the bathroom, my stomach is now totally cramped up and miserable. I don’t know what it was I ate, but I have to say I’m suspicious about the vegetables soaked in oil I ate for lunch yesterday at the monastery. I may never know what is causing all the stomach problems I have in China, but I do know I am wary now of eating anywhere.
I’m so upset to be stuck in the hotel. I would go out but I’m afraid to go out on the streets with my unpredictable stomach. I had so many more places I wanted to go today: the Mid-Level Escalators and Man Mo Temple in Central, for example. I wanted to wander around in Central and see if I could identify all the famous buildings and possibly take the Big Bus around Kowloon. A one hour boat cruise in the harbor was also included on my Big Bus ticket. Instead, I now have to be stuck in my hotel, sitting in the lobby where I can’t even lie down. I have to wait all day until I can take another bus to Shenzhen, stand in long lines to cross the border, and then take a bus back to airport.
After a long while of sitting with numerous no-result bathroom runs, I decide, out of pure boredom and frustration, that I’ll go ahead and walk back to the Ladies Market to see if they’re set up.
It suddenly has become very busy, but I don’t see anything I’m interested in buying.
After a while, I return to the hotel, grab my suitcase and hail a taxi to the bus station to Shenzhen.
There, I take the bus back to the mainland, seeing these odd raft-like pallets dotting the harbor.
I have to wait in line at the border for about 45 minutes, then I take the bus to the airport. Shenzhen Airport is a futuristic looking airport with an iridescent butterfly-like sculpture and honeycomb ceilings.
I make it back home late at night and I have to be ready to go back to work on Tuesday. My stomach still feels miserable, but this is it, my life in China.
Sunday, April 5: I did so much walking today that my inclination when I get back to my hotel is simply to settle in and relax. However, that’s not easy for me to do when I know there are places to go and things to see. I can relax at home in Nanning quite easily as, literally, there is NOTHING to do. Here in Hong Kong there is a lot, so I rest for maybe half an hour, then I’m back out the door again. It doesn’t hurt that the hotel staff tells me the night market is just a couple of blocks away from the hotel. I don’t even have to get on the metro. So off I go to see what this market is all about. At first sight, it looks like the market is simply a pedestrian-only alley offering fruits and vegetables for sale.
I run across some durians for sale. Durians are sold quite extensively throughout China, but I have yet to taste one because of the off-putting smell. I think I will have to try one before I leave here.
There are a number of lively outdoor restaurants in the night market. As I already ate my Turkish dinner, I’m not hungry. I am however on the lookout for a cute place where I can sit down for a beer, as the Turkish place didn’t serve alcohol.
Too bad I am too full to try the dim sum. I love dim sum, and have been disappointed not to find any dim sum places in Nanning. Now, here is one, but I’m too full to try it.
I like this sign for the Wing Sing Hotel.
I find one vendor selling various games and game pieces. This looks like a Chinese chess set.
Below are Mahjong tiles.
I’m not sure what this game is, but if any of my readers knows, I’d sure love you to tell me.
Here are some pretty fans and jade statues, including pagodas, elephants and rabbits.
I love these richly colored and intricately detailed fans.
And I also find some calligraphy brushes.
The Mao pictures tell of a bygone era.
And then there are the funny Chinese license plates: “My Favourite Wife” and “I’m not in the mood to-day don’t disturb.”
I’m very well-behaved tonight as I don’t buy anything. I do, however, stop at a convenience store on my way back and buy a beer and a mango juice. What a combination!
As you see, I’ve done a lot today. I went from Ya Mau Tei to Hong Kong Central to Lantau Island, where I visited Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha and rode the Ngong Ping Cable Car to Tung Chung. I took the metro back to Hong Kong Central, then the tram to the Peak and then I hiked down Victoria Peak back to Central, where I took metro to Ya Mau Tei. Finally, I strolled around the Night Market. I’m a wee bit tired after all that. 🙂 My flight doesn’t leave Hong Kong till 8:40 p.m. on Monday, so I have plenty of time to explore tomorrow as well. At least I think I do. Sometimes our best-laid plans don’t work out as we’d like. 😦
Sunday, April 5: After I get off the metro in Hong Kong Central, I head directly to the Peak Tram terminal. Luckily the skies are a perfect blue for a climb to Victoria Peak, known simply as The Peak. I crane my neck to admire the skyscrapers looming over me.
I pass by St. John’s Cathedral, officially The Cathedral Church of St. John the Evangelist, quite an anomaly in the midst of these modern skyscrapers. The Anglican church is the oldest surviving Western ecclesiastical building in Hong Kong, and the oldest Anglican church in the Far East; it had its first service on March 11, 1849 and was declared a Hong Kong monument in 1996.
Finally, I get to the Peak Tram terminal. The entrance seems to be on the right side of the road, but I’m told to go across the street and get in line there; I join a Disneyland-esque type queue that snakes around and around and seems to be moving at a turtle’s pace. I get into the queue. I wait. And wait. And wait. For about 40 minutes I creep forward in the line and I’m still only about halfway through.
At one point, when I reach the side of the queue nearest the street, a Hispanic-looking woman says to me, “Come with me! You!!” I look around. Who’s she talking to? She looks familiar. She points directly at me. “Yes, you! Come with me!”
I happily go under the rope and follow her as she escorts me across the street into the line on the other side, bypassing the other half of the queue I was originally in. “Don’t you recognize me?” she asks me. “I sold you the Big Bus ticket yesterday. You don’t have to stand in that queue if you have a Big Bus ticket! How long have you been standing in that line?”
Sheepishly, I say, “About 40 minutes.”
“You should already be at the top of the Peak!”
That’s what I get for half-listening to her when she explained yesterday morning the benefits of the Big Bus Ticket, which cost me a small fortune.
So, magically, I’m in the queue across the street, which seems to be nearly as interminable as the original queue. However, in this queue, at least I know the end is in sight. I can even spot a glimpse of the tram over all the heads.
Little by little, I move to the front of the line. It looks like I’ll make it after all. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of giving up and leaving while standing in that line. Finally, I see the tram leave, and then I’m at the front.
Everyone pushes and shoves onto the tram, all of us impatient from the long wait. We crowd inside and the doors close and we’re off. Voila!
Out the window of the tram, which is actually a funicular railway, we can see our first views of Hong Kong from above. The tram track is incredibly steep, climbing 386 vertical meters in about 8 minutes. The tram is not that big, so that’s why the long wait. Each time, it must go up and come down, as there is only one track and one tram.
We reach the top, where I snap a picture of these colorful wheels, and then I’m carried along with the crowd out into the sunshine.
And finally, we have a view. There, spread out beneath us, is Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Central, Kowloon, the green peaks of the New Territories, and who knows what else.
On the Hong Kong side, I can see the second highest building, the 416.8-meter high Two International Finance Centre, the second tallest building in Hong Kong, and across the harbour in Kowloon, International Commerce Centre, as of 2010, the tallest building at 118 stories and 484 meters.
I’m so lucky that it happens to be a gorgeous day with clear views. I’ve heard many people say they’ve visited Hong Kong when the visibility has been almost nil.
I’m also glad that I came here in the late afternoon, as the light is like warm honey poured over the skyscrapers.
Looking to the west, I can see the harbour on the Kowloon side, with its multitudes of boats.
You can actually walk through the forest on this path atop The Peak. I take a stroll, but I’m most interested in eventually finding the walkway down, and this isn’t it.
From this angle, I can see the crowds on a pretty pavilion jutting out over the Peak, and above it, people standing atop the Peak Tower.
The views are stunning, and it was definitely worth waiting in that long line to get up here.
Eventually, I decide to stop at the Starbucks for an iced coffee and to use the wi-fi to put some of my pictures on Instagram. Across from the Starbucks, I see the Peak Tower, with its unusual cross-sectional wok shape. Looking like an alien spaceship from the outside, it’s actually topped with a viewing platform and filled with a shopping mall and coffee shops.
After I take my rest, I take numerous escalators to the viewing platform at the top of the Peak Tower, and this is what I see.
I can see the sun is getting low in the sky, and after seeing the lines to go back down on the tram, I determine I am going to walk down the Peak. It takes me awhile to find the pathway down, the Old Peak Road, along the far side of the Peak Tower. I take a last look at the Peak Tower before I begin my descent.
I pass some joggers and walkers going both up and down the Old Peak Road and I don’t know how on earth they are actually running up this steep walkway. I’m almost running headlong, it’s so steep.
Finally, after about 40 minutes, I make it to the bottom. My goal is to reach the Mid-Levels Escalator, but instead I pass by the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, closing up for the day. People I meet along the way tell me the Mid-Levels Escalator is quite a long walk, and by now, after having been to Lantau Island and the Peak, my legs are exhausted. Instead I head toward Central and the metro.
I’m starving and tired by this point, and I just happen to see a little Turkish place as I stand on a street corner trying to determine what direction to go. It’s called Tava, and there I order some lentil soup and a fried halloumi cheese salad. I sit in the window and watch the iconic Hong Kong taxis zipping by on the street. It’s the perfect ending to a fantastic day.
After dinner, I feel rested, so I make my way back to the metro and take it directly back to the Yau Ma Tei stop, not far from my hotel. After resting a bit there, I intend to go out to explore the Night Market, just a couple of blocks from my hotel.
Sunday, April 5: After leaving Po Lin Monastery, I walk through the tacky and noisy Ngong Ping Village, “a culturally themed village designed and landscaped to reflect the local customs, as well as to express the cultural and spiritual integrity of the Ngong Ping area” (from a brochure: 360 Lantau Culture & Heritage Tour). Personally, this kind of place is not my thing; it’s like a super-commercialized Busch Gardens or Disneyland. I walk quickly through and get on the Ngong Ping Cable Car, “Asia’s longest bi-cable ropeway” over Lantau Island. This cable car ride is really impressive, as we can see the Big Buddha, the rooftops of the monastery, the sea, Hong Kong Airport, and the area of Tung Chung, where I will catch the metro back into Hong Kong.
We can see the Big Buddha with his hand raised in peaceful gesture on Ngong Ping Plateau.
Some parts of the cable ride are a little scary, especially as the land drops away from us into a deep valley and we’re really high up.
We can see the Hong Kong Airport off to the left. I didn’t come in to this airport, as I flew into Shenzhen and crossed the border on foot. Next time, because of the convenient metro at the airport, I think I’d fly directly into Hong Kong.
It looks like some kind of controlled burn is happening in the hills near Tung Chung.
I love the green boats lined up neatly along the shore in the harbor.
When I got off the cable car in Tung Chung to head to the metro, I see there is HUGE line to get on the cable car from this end. Luckily, from the Ngong Ping end, I had no line at all. There must be several hundred people in this line! I get on the metro and it’s quite a long ride back to Hong Kong Island, but it’s a lot faster than the ferry would have been! Next up, Victoria Peak. 🙂
Sunday, April 5: This morning, my plan is to head straightaway to Lantau Island by ferry. Since I have to fly back to Nanning on Monday, I’m afraid I won’t have time to go on Monday, so I must do it today. I have all day, and my hope is to go to Lantau and possibly the fishing village of Tai O, and then to make it to the Peak on Hong Kong Island in the late afternoon. Of course, it’s the Qing Ming holiday in Hong Kong as it is throughout all of China, so the crowds are in force. I take the metro to the Admiralty station on Hong Kong Island, and head straight for the Outlying Islands Ferry Terminal at Pier 6, walking past the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and Two International Finance Center toward Victoria Harbour.
At Pier 6, which is right next to the Star Ferry Pier, I stand in line to get on the ferry to Peng Chau on Lantau Island. Sadly, the next ferry is already full, so I have to stand in line another 30 minutes to get on the following ferry. It’s so frustrating, always having to fight the crowds on these Chinese holidays.
It takes nearly an hour to get to Lantau Island. Once we disembark, we head directly for the bus to Po Lin Monastery, where again we have to wait in a queue until the bus allows us to begin boarding. That takes a while. Finally, we’re on our way, about a 40 minute drive to the Monastery. We get dropped in front of this gate.
The first thing I can see is the famous bronze Tian Tan Buddha, better known as the Big Buddha, a 34-meter-high sculpture erected in 1993 that shows the Sakyamuni Buddha sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower and facing north to look over the Chinese people. He sits prominently on a hill on Ngong Ping Plateau. According to Discover Hong Kong: The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery: “The eyes, lips, incline of the head and right hand, which is raised to deliver a blessing to all, combine to bring a humbling depth of character and dignity to the massive Buddha, which took 12 years to complete.” I climb up the steps to the Big Buddha along with the crowds of tourists.
Sadly, the sun is behind the Big Buddha so it’s difficult to get a good picture of his serene face.
According to Wikipedia, the statue is named Tian Tan Buddha because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It sits on a lotus, a symbol of purity in Buddhism, on top of a three-platform altar. Six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” are posed around it, offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These symbolize the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment (Wikipedia: Tian Tan Buddha).
I love the statues of the Six Devas, which are quite striking.
From the back side of the Buddha, I have sweeping views of the island, the Zhujiang River Estuary, and the South China Sea.
From one of the tiers of the Buddha, I can also see Po Lin Monastery nestled in the folds of the hills.
Finally, at this angle, I can get a slight view of the Buddha’s face.
After awhile, I climb down from the Big Buddha to the Po Lin Monastery, where incense is burning in large stone and metal sand-filled containers and people are praying to the Buddha holding and prostrating with burning incense sticks.
Before I explore further, I go to a vegetarian restaurant at the monastery where I’ve bought a ticket for lunch. It’s packed with mostly Chinese tourists. I’m seated at a table with a small family of four, a solo Chinese woman traveler, and two Chinese men who seem to be friends. I guess this is the straggler table. I’m served up a bunch of Chinese vegetables which are cooked in tons of oil. I can feel my stomach rumbling as I eat it. From then on, my day is ruined by stomach cramps. I feel miserable the rest of the day. I felt exactly this way in Kunming when Alex and I ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in a monastery. Will I never learn? According to Lantau Online: Po Lin Monastery: The Po Lin Monastery can trace its history back to 1904 when three monks built a retreat on the site and named it Da Maopeng (“The Big Hut”). Da Maopeng was renamed Po Lin in 1924 and it has grown in status with halls, gardens, and monuments. The site also hosts a tea garden and two vegetarian restaurants.
The staircase leading up to the main temple, Da Xiong Bao Dian, has an ascending island of yellow flowers and a large incense burner partway up.
Inside are beautiful lotus-shaped chandeliers, extravagantly painted ceilings, and huge rectangular and cylindrical-shaped banners hanging from the ceilings.
Three bronze Buddhas, Sakyamuni, Dipamkarara and Maitreya, are enshrined in this main temple. They represent Buddha’s past, present and future lives. The temple also houses many Buddhist scriptures.
The interior is lavishly but tastefully done. It’s simply stunning.
The outside of the temple is no less impressive, with its colorful painted and intricately carved eaves.
Another temple sits behind the main hall. It holds five seated figures and boasts a gorgeous ceiling.
Again, the outsides of the temples are fabulous.
Finally, I head out of the complex, where I’ve now decided, instead of going to the fishing village of Tai O, I’m going to take the famous Ngong Ping 360 cable-car to the Tung Chung metro line, where I can go directly back into Hong Kong Central, bypassing the ferry completely.
Saturday, April 4: After getting off the Big Bus *Hong Kong*, I take the Star Ferry back across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon.
Back on the Kowloon side, I hope to catch the blue line of the Big Bus for an early evening tour through Kowloon, but at the dock, I can’t find any sign of the Big Bus. A later studying of the map shows me I needed to catch it at the back side of the Peninsula Hotel, but I don’t check the map until I am able to sit down for dinner.
As I’m taking a few pictures of the beautiful light over Victoria Harbour, suddenly I get the message that my camera card is full. I have a 32 GB camera card, but I guess it’s filled with the nearly 6,000 pictures I took in Myanmar. As I’m not ready to erase them yet, I go in search of a new camera card and I finally find one in this shop near the ferry.
Now, set up with a new card, I continue to the promenade than runs for about 500 meters east from the Clock Tower. The Clock Tower is the only remnant of the Kowloon Railway Station, where intrepid travelers were once able to take a train via Russia and Mongolia to Europe. It sits in front of the drab Hong Kong Cultural Center with its skate park roofline.
As I continue east on the promenade, I can see boats zipping about in Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline glowing under dramatic clouds and blue sky.
A junk pushes out into the harbor from a dock off the promenade. It just sits out in the harbour for quite a while, and I wonder if it’s just there for photo ops for tourists. The junk is picturesque in front of the city skyscape, the perfect icon for Hong Kong.
At the east end of the promenade, I come upon the Avenue of Stars. I had planned to visit this area, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to get here. I’m pleasantly surprised that I’ve found it quite by accident.
A bright red stage is set up along the Avenue of Stars for different performers to serenade the tourists.
The Avenue of Stars is a tribute to Hong Kong’s film industry, third in the world behind Hollywood and Bollywood.
I find a statue of this actress, but I don’t catch her name.
There are handprints in the concrete, much like the prints of famous actors and actresses in Hollywood. The one shown below is by Yeoh Choo Kheng, known as Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng, a Malaysian actress based in Hong Kong. She’s known for performing her own stunts in Hong Kong action films of the 1990s. She’s best known in the Western world for her roles in the Chinese martial arts film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and for her role as Wai Lin in the 1997 James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies.
Of course, the Avenue of Stars wouldn’t be complete without Bruce Lee, widely considered to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time and a pop culture icon of the 20th century. He died in 1973 at the young age of 32.
Near the end of the promenade I’m captivated by the light shining through the clouds on some skyscrapers in the distance.
After leaving the promenade, I pass by the famous Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, and one of the oldest in Asia, having opened in December of 1928. Under a partnership with Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts, Richard Wilson RA has created a replica of the vintage Harrington Legionnaire coach featured in the 1969 British heist caper, The Italian Job, which he’s precariously balanced on the edge of the hotel’s 7th floor Sun Terrace, playfully juxtaposed against the building’s iconic façade (Peninsula Hotel: A Partnership of Artistic Derring-do).
By this time, I’m pretty exhausted from my morning of travel, my Big Bus *Hong Kong* tour, my Star Ferry harbour crossings and the long walk down the promenade, so I head north toward my hotel.
I find a Vietnamese restaurant, where I order an appetizer tray for two. I figure it will be a good meal for one. It’s pretty good, but not great, as some of the meat is a little chewy. I top it off with a Tiger beer.
I have it in my mind to go to Lantau Island tomorrow, so I’ll try to get an early start so I can squeeze everything in. 🙂
Saturday, April 4: Included in my Big Bus *Hong Kong* tour is a sampan ride in Aberdeen Harbour. A sampan is a relatively flat-bottomed Chinese boat which sometimes includes a small shelter on board. On inland waters, sampans are sometimes used as permanent dwellings. They’re usually used for transport in coastal areas or rivers, and are also often used as traditional fishing boats. Sampans cannot survive rough waters, so they generally stay close to shore.
A bunch of us tourists pile out of the Big Bus only to be shuffled straight away into a colorful sampan by a lady at the dock. Within minutes, we’re underway.
The ceiling inside the sampan is quite colorful and decorated with lanterns, paper fans and paper flowers.
As we boost off from shore, we can see skyscrapers hugging the shores of the Aberdeen Harbour and fancy yachts anchored in the water.
Aberdeen is the largest separate town on the south side of Hong Kong Island, with a population of around 80,000 (2011). It’s one of nine harbours in Hong Kong and is famous not only to tourists, but also to Hong Kong locals, for its floating village and floating seafood restaurants.
We head under the bridge and make a big circle around the Jumbo Floating Restaurant.
The area is a thriving fishing port; its fleet of family-run trawlers provide about a third of Hong Kong’s fish and prawn catch. Dozens of ethnic Tanka people, boat people who are generally associated with the fishing industry and often live on junks in China, live here on boats in the harbour.
On the sampan ride, we see, in addition to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, other sampans, yachts, houseboats hung with laundry and outfitted with outdoor kitchens, commercial boats and fishing trawlers.
There are a lot of colorful and characterful vessels on the harbor. It’s a perfect breezy day for being out on a boat.
Our little boat ride doesn’t last long, only about a half hour, and then we’re deposited back on the shore to wait for the Big Bus to snatch us off our wobbly sea legs.
Saturday, April 4: As soon as I disembark from the Star Ferry onto Hong Kong Island, I see a Big Bus *Hong Kong* siting right in front of me. I’ve always been a fan of hop-on hop-off bus rides in cities all over the world, and whenever a city offers one, I’m happy to jump on! In this case, a Hispanic woman sells me the ticket. She’s talking a mile a minute, and I have to say I don’t understand half of what she says, but she’s stapling all kinds of tickets into a pamphlet and telling me I can get a one hour Harbour Tour, a free ride up the Peak Tram, a Sampan ride in Aberdeen, a night tour, plus numerous harbour crossings on the Star Ferry. All within 48 hours! In addition, I can take the green route (Aberdeen & Stanley Tour), the red route (Hong Kong Island Tour), or the blue route (Kowloon Tour). All for the exorbitant price of 550 HK$, or $71 (USD). Ouch. I buy the ticket without fully thinking it through, and it turns out I’m ripped off royally because I don’t have time to get my money’s worth out of it.
As soon as I leave her, I hop on the first bus I see, and as the bus gets underway, I find I’m on the green route (Aberdeen and Stanley Tour). This route goes to the south of Hong Kong Island, not through Central, where I mistakenly assumed we were going. As per my usual way of traveling, I don’t bother to look at the pamphlet and think things through BEFORE I get on the bus! Oh well, I’m on my way, and the bus is off, so this is the tour I’m in for. It’s a two-hour ride, the automated voice at the end of my earphones tells me, so there goes a chunk of my day. I shrug it off. Whatever I see, I see. Lately this is my attitude about travel. I can’t see everything, so whatever I see is good. First we pass by the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and some fairgrounds, where crowds of people are congregating.
We drive up into Central, where I can see the Bank of China (where I do my banking) in the crisscrossed building.
In the midst of all these skyscrapers is a modest, more traditional building, that occupies some of the most prime real estate on the planet.
This interesting Lego-looking building is the LIPPO Center, a twin-tower skyscraper complex (the second is behind the one showing), completed in 1988. It is nicknamed the “Koala Tree Tower” because it suggests koalas clutching a tree. The buildings were designed by American architect Paul Rudolph who designed clusters of obtruding windows to avoid the traditional severity of the skyscraper.
Some of the name brands are ones I recognize, such as Panasonic and Epson, others I don’t.
After passing through a tunnel, we make a stop at Ocean Park, a giant theme and adventure park, which I have no interest in visiting. It covers an entire peninsula east of Aberdeen, on the south coast of Hong Kong.
Then we head to Repulse Bay, highly popular because it has a number of shops and restaurants. The bay is bordered by the monstrous tower centered around the Repulse Bay Hotel, a restaurant and shopping complex.
I am sitting on the left side of the open air bus, and I realize as soon as we reach the south coast that I should be on the right. I can’t stand up because of low hanging tree branches, and so I can’t get any good pictures of the beautiful beaches and bays. A couple of times I almost stand up to take pictures, out of pure excitement, If I had done so, I wouldn’t be here today to tell the story!
Continuing on, we pass smaller bays and beaches, eventually arriving at Stanley, a residential town whose claim to fame is a bustling tourist market, selling souvenirs including clothes, embroideries and trinkets, and Hong Kong’s largest Dragon Boat Races. Many people get off the bus here, but I am waiting to get off at Aberdeen, where I can take a “free” (included in my ticket price) sampan ride.
Here at Stanley, the bus turns around and heads back past Repulse Bay and Ocean Park toward Aberdeen.
At Aberdeen, I get off the bus with a bunch of people, and we go on a Sampan ride. I’ll show you that in another post. After our sampan ride, I get back on the bus, and we head back past the fringes of Repulse Bay and then back through the tunnel toward Central.
Across Victoria Harbor in Kowloon, I can see the tallest building in Hong Kong, the International Commerce Center (ICC).
Finally, back to where we started, I get off the Big Bus *Hong Kong*, where I get back on the Star Ferry and head back to Kowloon across Victoria Harbor.
Saturday, April 4: Today is the first day of a three-day weekend for Qing Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English. Literally, it means “Pure Brightness Festival.” The holiday is mostly important for its connection with Chinese ancestral worship and the tending of family graves. It also happens to be Easter weekend in the Western world, but it doesn’t feel like Easter here in China.
I’ve decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend to go to Hong Kong. I’ve booked a flight for this morning at 8:40 a.m. from Nanning to Shenzhen, which is the city on mainland China closest to Hong Kong. I’ve been told it’s easy to walk across the border from Shenzhen, and since Shenzhen is considered a domestic flight, while Hong Kong is an international flight, it’s quite a bit cheaper.
My first challenge is getting a taxi to the airport in Nanning at 6 a.m. It’s still dark at this hour and there aren’t many people out and about. I’m standing on the road for quite a while, searching in vain for a taxi. A guy on a motorbike asks me where I’m going and I say “the airport” and put my arms out like the wings of an airplane. The airport is much too far to ride on the back of a motorbike, so he cannot help me. He sits on his motorbike watching me as I wait for a taxi to appear. I’m getting worried as I need to be at the airport by 7:00 for check-in and the time is ticking by.
Finally, the guy on the motorbike says, “I can help find taxi.” I say, “How much?” He says, “10 yuan.” In a moment, he’s tied my bag to the back of his motorbike and we’re off. We zip through the streets of Nanning in search of a taxi. Several times my driver stops to ask taxi drivers along the street if they can take me to the airport. No success. I have no idea in what direction we’re going, but it seems to me we’re going away from the airport. As time flies by, I become increasingly worried I am going to miss my flight.
At long last, we find a driver who’s willing to take me to the airport. I make it in enough time, and get settled in for my one hour flight to Shenzhen.
I’ve been told by a friend what to do when I get to Shenzhen. He’s given me directions to a less-crowded border crossing, but I’m stymied by the first step in the process, which is to take the metro at Shenzhen airport. I find right away that there is no metro at the airport. Apparently I have to take a bus from the airport to the metro. When I tell the woman at information what I want to do, she shakes her head. “You should take the direct bus to Hong Kong for 130 yuan,” she tells me. “It’s the fastest way to get there. The way your friend told you will take much more time.”
So, I take the half-hour bus ride to the border, where we carry our suitcases off the bus and go through the border crossing. Because it’s the Qing Ming holiday, the Chinese are traveling in force and the queue snakes back and forth like a Disneyland ride line. I wait and wait to leave mainland China through Shenzhen. Then I wait in another line to enter Hong Kong. By the time I get out of the border crossing, it’s about 11:15, nearly an hour after I got off the bus. Then I get back on the bus, another hour into Hong Kong.
I think if I go back to Hong Kong, I’ll fly directly into Hong Kong. It would be much easier, and though more expensive, worth the extra money.
Where the bus drops me in the Jordan area of Kowloon is just a couple of blocks from the Casa Hotel in Yau Ma Tai. I check in and immediately head out to the Star Ferry terminal, two metro stops from my hotel and a 10-minute walk to the terminal. At the Yau Ma Tai metro station, I buy the famous Octopus Card, which costs 150 HK$: the 100 HK$ is for the transport fares and the 50 HK$ is the cost of the card. The Octopus Card can be used on nearly every form of transportation in Hong Kong.
I immediately get on the ferry via a down ramp, and end up on the bottom level of the ferry. I figured I could climb to the upper deck from inside the ferry, but that isn’t the case. You have to go up a separate ramp, and pay more, to ride on the upper deck.
We get underway immediately. It’s only a 10-minute ride to cross Victoria Harbour, so you have to absorb all the sights quickly. I love seeing the big cruise boats and the busy harbor bordered by skyscrapers on both sides. Today, moody clouds float across a blue sky, which makes for some dramatic photos, I think.
Victoria Harbour is a natural harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The harbour’s deep, sheltered waters and strategic location on the South China Sea were instrumental in Hong Kong’s establishment as a British colony and its subsequent development as a trading center. It is home to most of Hong Kong’s port facilities, making it among the world’s busiest cities. An average of 220,000 ships visit the harbour each year, including both oceangoing vessels and river vessels, for both goods and passengers (Wikipedia: Victoria Harbour).
Hong Kong has the tallest skyline in the world with two of the twenty tallest buildings in the world all in a small area around the bay. In addition, the backdrop of Victoria Peak makes the view particularly stunning.
Hong Kong boasts over 112 buildings that stand taller than 180 metres (591 ft). Hong Kong ranks first in the world in both skyscraper and high-rise count (Wikipedia: List of Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong).
Two International Finance Center, or 2IFC, is currently the second tallest building in Hong Kong at 416.8 m (1367.52 ft.) tall. It became the tallest building in Hong Kong upon its completion in 2003 until it was surpassed by the ICC in 2009.
International Commerce Centre, or ICC, in West Kowloon, is the tallest building in Hong Kong at 484m (1,588 ft), and the seventh tallest building in the world (List of Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong).
Looking back to the Kowloon side, I can see the Clock Tower of Tsim Sha Tsui, once part of the Kowloon Railway Station. From this station you could once take a train all the way to Europe, by way of Mongolia and Russia. It sits in front of the Hong Kong Cultural Center with its skatepark-sloped roofline and windowless walls, bewildering considering its location overlooking one of the grandest views in the world.
In 10 minutes, I’m on Hong Kong Island, and there in front of me sits the hop-on hop-off Big Bus Hong Kong, beckoning me to come along for the ride of a lifetime. 🙂