I did it, I finally got to visit Hong Kong! Granted it was a short one, only one weekend from 12th-14th October, but it was a weekend packed with culture and new experiences. One of my big location goals was the Kowloon region. Anyone who read about my visit to the soon-to-be-closing Anata no Warehouse arcade in Tokyo will remember the walled settlement within Kowloon that inspired this arcade. While the walled city may be gone, the Kowloon region still holds that cluttered chaotic character that I fell in love with in the Tokyo simulation.
The overall plan of the trip was to explore the Kowloon area after arriving in Hong Kong on the first day and then to explore Hong Kong Island on day 2! Leading up to the trip I’ll admit I was most excited for Kowloon, it’s a region that’s intrigued me for some time now and it felt pretty surreal to be finally getting to visit.
The main reason for my visit was to catch up with my friends who live there, Matt from Liverpool and his girlfriend Ling, from Hong Kong. We’d been trying to find a date for a while, I was so happy when we found one that worked! Matt and Ling were amazing during the trip, letting me stay with them at their place on Hong Kong Island, showing me around the city and just generally being awesome company. I also loved hearing their stories and experiences about the region, it was so interesting!
One factor that I considered about Hong Kong was the protests. Anyone who’s caught up with the news is likely to be aware of these protests which are currently taking place. The reasons for and short summary of the protests are discussed in this BBC article. I travelled to HK aware of these demonstrations and very interested to see how these demonstrations and the state’s response to them would effect everyday life. How close would the reality be to the presentation we receive on the news?
The plane from Kagoshima to HK took around 3 hours and it was a busy one. Arriving into Hong Kong, we flew through a cloud of smog, which would linger in the city until it either passed a few hours later or I just got used to seeing it. I stepped off the plane and stumbled around the giant airport, following the hoard of passengers who seemed to have a clue where they were going. This method worked until I got off the train (yes, the airport has a train) at the main terminal. Eventually I found immigration and lined up, forgot to fill in the form much to the officer’s pan-faced dismay, went back, filled it in and returned it to the same man, his face remaining pannish.
Finally stepping out of the Arrivals doors into the open terminal my hungry stomach growled its way straight to the nearby Pret a Manger. I ate a chocolate muffin, able to order it in English and oh my god it was so good, possibly the best thing I’ve eaten since returning to Japan. It was real chocolate, rich, full of flavour and I grumbled like a happy honey badger as I smeared it all over my face.
My friends met me at the airport and we got the bus to Sham Shui Po, one of the oldest areas in Hong Kong. We were on the bus for quite some time until we were advised to step off the bus due to protests in Sham Shui Po. The walk was only about 20 minutes from the bus and I got a little more time to adjust to the city environment. When we got there the only immediate sign of protests was built-up traffic.
The area was dense, with tall, faded apartments offering partition living stretching high above. Laundry hung out of almost every sepia-tinted window and the plus 30 degree heat gave everything a hue of warmth. After a little nosey around the stalls and having only eaten a chocolate muffin all day, I was ready to eat.
We stepped into the “Lemon Café”. The seats were yellow and box-upon-box of Lipton Lemon Tea decorated the back wall. The menu came in English and I went with the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Spaghetti. I absolutely love the fact that my first time to try truffles was in a local café in Hong Kong.
The food was delicious; the portion was generous for the price and it was so full of flavour! While I love Japan, one the biggest set-backs of living here as a veggie is that there are usually limits to what I can eat. More often than I like, it means settling with pretty bland food or choosing something because it’s veggie, not because it’s something I particularly wanted to eat. My weekend in Hong Kong was a culinary liberation. I could eat basically anywhere, and wherever I ate, the food was full of flavour.
When we were finished in the café it was getting dark and the market stalls were coming alive. It was like the Dolby Digital intro, the ZZCCCHHHUUMMMM of the warm lights rising up from the stalls, which were very different to the pristine, tidy stalls of Japan. The haze and smog in the city only added to its intimate atmosphere. In the haze everything blurred and merged. Light flooded into night creating a hybrid any-hour, building and sky blended into a window-speckled backdrop and people waded together like the waves of the ocean that surrounded the islands.
Next stop was a giant electrical centre, which was laid out in a similar busy structure of the stalls outside. The Arcade was FULL of gadgets, games and any other form of tech you could imagine. I bought a power bank, cheaper than displayed thanks to Ling and wandered around in awe of this electrical paradise. I noticed that almost every stall in the centre tried to lure you in with a retro gaming set on the front counter. I walked past so many Street Fighter arcade games and to be honest, it was a pretty effective strategy.
When we emerged from the clinical white lights we slipped back into the haze of the city and headed over to Ladies Street. Ladies Street consisted of row-upon-row of outdoor stores dripping with stories to tell… and water from the A/C units above. Cramped stalls were littered like rhinestone tiaras with goods to buy, with English and Cantonese conversations hurled back and forth like a Wii tennis match. Old men wandered the streets, bellies bulging shirtless in the humid city heat, necks adorned with towel to catch the moisture. I stood in awe of Ling as she haggled with the shopkeepers- “Gai Pen D!”, “Count it cheaper!”, “Discount! Discount! Discount!” She persisted like a mother grizzly, with me as her cub observing and awkwardly pawing at a rack of t-shirts until she got me what I wanted for half of the price.
After exploring the markets we headed towards the waterfront to look out across to Hong Kong Island. On the way we picked up some HK famous bubble waffles and I got to try some bamboo juice! I got the Cookies and Cream waffle and Matt got the Chocolate one; mine was nice but his, was out of this world.
Walking down to the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront, I saw the famous Chungking Mansions after passing a pretty big, beautiful mosque. The smells that poured out of hazy restaurants we walked past were hard to resist, even with a full stomach. It was a pretty long walk to the harbour but I was enjoying listening to Ling’s stories about growing up in the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Her memories and explanations added some more depth to the parts of the city’s character that I’d already interpreted.
While I hadn’t encountered the protests themselves, demonstrations continued on the graffitied walls, windows and subways, as though the thoughts and emotion of the protesters had been tattooed onto the city itself. The police covered certain messages, in certain areas of the city, with big patches of paint. You could see the protester/ police struggle in the artwork and I use art with my own understanding of the word, as a visual artefact that is born from and/ or emits an emotional and cognitive response. I would definitely say that the acts of painting and covering in this manner were definitely formed from emotion, and viewing them emitted an emotional response within me. The city was cinematic.
As we drew closer to the harbour the buildings became a lot grander, with designer stores replacing market stalls, hotels replacing partition-living apartment blocks and museums lining the waterfront. Looking out across to Hong Kong Island, I was blown away. There were so many different building styles and so many amazing lights, I was in complete moth mode. The brightness of the lights were softened by the city’s haze and the reflections in the water had me captivated.
It was here that I reflected. I’d been in HK for one day but I already knew I wanted to come back. Speaking to my friends who’ve grown up and/or lived here, I could feel their excitement, inspiration and love for the city. Even in such a short time, the culture and character of HK soaked into my skin like the smell of the city.
The city was alive. It’s eyes glisten neon and it sweats character. The people are its blood and they generate a buzz that you can feel in the air, one that I was happy to be a part of.
I found Hong Kong a lot easier to adjust to than other big cities that I’ve visited. Yes, the city was busy and full of bright lights, but it seemed calmer and a quieter than, say Tokyo. In HK you weren’t bombarded with high-pitched, high-volumed ads and the impact was pretty noticeable. Despite being busy it wasn’t hectic, there was a calmer feeling to it which I wasn’t expecting.
If you were to personify regions, despite the shortness of my visit I have a pretty strong image of Hong Kong.
How would you personify Tokyo? The Tokyo that I’ve discovered so far would be early-20s but mature and pretty deep. They’d be really inviting and fun, but maybe some friends only get to see Tokyo’s Kawaii Monster side. Contrast this with Hong Kong, a grouchy old lady, which is a demographic that I’ve grown up loving. The amount that I saw and learned about Hong Kong in just one weekend tells me that all of her sides, fair and foul are more visible than other regions. She doesn’t care what you think about her. This badass attitude means she doesn’t feel the need to apologise for everything nor smile back if she doesn’t want to. Evidence of her long life is etched into her wrinkled skin and her experience demands respect. She can be intimidating, but those that scratch the surface see her kindness, beauty and passion.
After gazing out at the water for some time, we headed along the Avenue of Stars to see the statue of Bruce Lee, classic, and to the Anita Mui statue. Anita Mui was given the title ‘Daughter of Hong Kong’, she was famous in the entertainment industry as a singer and actress but unlike Bruce Lee, she didn’t get a spotlight. After a few pictures we started to head back, taking the ferry across to Hong Kong Island, to my friends’ house. The trip cost 30/ 80p (GBP) sorry I get round numbers mixed up.
When we got back, I swooned at their cute and spatially genius apartment and then took a shower to wash off all the sweat and grime from the city. It felt amazing, I was fresh and ready for bed and as I recounted the day to my friend on the phone I was so excited for the next day. We’d be exploring the Hong Kong Island side and visiting the famous Victoria Peak. I fell asleep easily beneath the cool hum of the air conditioner.