Hong Kong is a sensational city. All those high-rise buildings, all those people, the frantic pace of life, the food. It is truly one of those cities that belongs to the world: secure in its unique urban heritage, it has a brashness that reminds me of London. This is not a self-conscious city. If you don’t get it, they don’t give a shit.
We spent a hectic four days in Hong Kong over Cup Weekend. Most people, when I mentioned our destination, assumed we were going for the shopping. Honestly, it never entered my mind. Why would you spend a holiday in an air-conditioned shopping mall when there is so much more to see?
We walked our feet off: the first day, through the Central district, up amongst the antique shops and steeply sloping food markets, stopping off near the pedestrian escalator to drink espresso martinis and people-watch. That night, back in Causeway Bay near our hotel, the Lonely Planet let us down by sending us to an exorbitantly-priced restaurant called Red Pepper, apparently famous for its hot and spicy food. The food was OK, nothing special, but the bill was enormous. Almost as much as the very posh and very expensive high tea at the Peninsula. They even got us to sign the itemised bill as well as the credit card receipt – no doubt they have plenty of people trying to query the card charge afterwards. HK$56 for tea? Even with a HK$6.5 to AUS$1 exchange rate, that is nearly $9 for two pots of Chinese tea. They charge more in Starbucks.
Second day we headed off to Stanley on the bus. Stanley Market is pretty popular amongst tourists, and I was tempted by dozens of handbags and other Chinese trinkets, but in the end I bought nothing. The little local canteen we intended to eat lunch in was closed by the time we were hungry, and we didn’t fancy eating at the Pizza Express or the Pickled Pelican English Pub on the waterfront. So I bought a smoothie and we headed back along the picturesque bus route to town.
By the time Orlando had visited his tailor for his third fitting it was time for High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel. We queued up for a few minutes and we were seated in the high-ceilinged foyer, with potted palms and ceiling fans and a strong quartet playing on the balcony above. Tea consisted of a three-tiered cake tray with cucumber sandwiches, scones and clotted cream (well sort of clotted cream) and petits fours. They also served us individual servings of tiramisu in an espresso cup. The silverware was hallmarked silver (naturally), the napkins were linen and the teapots were also silver. Unfortunately, those of you who know me will understand that cakes don’t really do it for me. I coud have done with three trays of sandwiches and no sweets at all. Orlando manfully polished off two of the scones but I simply could not manage the square inch of mandarin gateau that was left. I will never hear the end of it from Orlando: a $400 high tea and I couldn’t find it in me to eat every mouthful!
To make matters worse, we strolled up to the Temple Street Night Market later in the evening, where I trawled the stalls until I got a good deal on a fake Gucci purse and card holder. However the market cafes got the better of me, and nothing would do me but to sit down for a plate of seafood noodles only a couple of hours after my $400 high tea. I have to say, the peasant in me is not too deeply buried because my street-food noodles were tastier than the posh silver-service Peninsula experience!
Sunday saw us in gorgeous sunshine climbing to the Peak on the tram (well it is strictly a funiclar railway). The views from the top (and the prices!) were breathtaking and we spent ages up there just taking it all in. Orlando wandered into the EA Games shop and I stupidly followed him in. With all that scenery outside the window, I spent about twenty minutes on a new version of the Sims, trying to get this computer character to be happier in his life despite his millions and his mansion. Orlando had to drag me away…
Sunday afternoon in Kowloon Park sees martial arts fans flock to the Sculpture Garden for the weekly Kung Fu Corner event. Students and masters come along to demonstrate different types of martial arts. We saw two young men sword-fighting as well as an elderly man demonstrate a lengthy and complex suite of tai chi forms. My favourite was three young students, two young teenage boys and a beautiful little five or six-year-old boy who outshone them both in terms of technique and ability. The older folks from the community sat on plastic chairs under an awning and did a running commentary.
Later that evening we were headed to Aberdeen to see the famous floating restaurants. We had had a pretty busy day and it was getting towards dinner-time. My body clock can just about go eight hours without food, but once it gets closer to nine hours I turn ugly. We stopped to get some bottled water and I picked up a packet of crisps. Orlando convinced me not to snack but to wait for dinner. I was happy enough with that until we walked out of the shop and I spied the Magnum bar in his hand! I lost it. He tried to convince me that a Magnum bar was “not really food” but an alternative to water. I howled abuse at him (in discreet tones) whilst waiting for our bus. I was furious that he had tricked me out of food. Luckily he knows me well and did the math and realised his mistake: it had been nine hours since I last ate. He placated me quietly all the way to Aberdeen and as soon as we got off the bus he marched me straight to a bakery where I inhald two char siu buns almost before we paid for them. My blood sugar levels back to normal, I apologised for my tirade of abuse and peace reigned once more.
On our last day we headed off to Lantau Island to see the famous Tian Tan Buddha. Thirty-four metres high and weighing 250 tonnes, he sits on top of a beautiful hill in the village of Ngong Ping, and he is one of the world’s biggest outdoor buddhas. The chairlift usually used for transporting visitors from the train station to the statue was out of order, so we experienced a hair-raising but hugely enjoyable busride to get there instead. We climbed the 268 steps slowly in the heat, as he sat serenely on his lotus leaf surveying us below. What an amazing sight.
Back in Kowloon later, I spent two hours being seriously tempted to buy a new camera at a ridiculously low price (now I see why people assumed we were going for the shopping). But whilst I was being quoted great prices, nobody could actually produce the model I wanted before we flew out the next morning, so I escaped with my credit card intact. Our last meal was a simple one of pork and rice in a little local canteen place around the corner from the hotel. By 6am next morning we were on our way back to the airport, already planning the next four-day trip to what is now a favourite place for both of us.