I was recently blessed with a rather spontaneous opportunity to spend the Qing Ming (清明) or Tomb Sweeping holiday in Hong Kong. Chad Cobb, a friend from Grove City who is on business for a month in Taiwan, and I stayed with the Cliffs, the family of another Grove City friend, who have been expats in the city for the past four years. Not only did they offer us wonderful hospitality, but they also toured us around the city the whole time we were there!
I was surprised how unlike Mainland China Hong Kong was. Having been on loan to the British for almost 100 years, I suppose I should have expected it. The handover from British ownership to Chinese happened in 1997, and there was a lot of fear about what would happen to Hong Kong when it resumed it’s Chinese ownership. Apparently little has changed in the past 19 years, and China has signed an agreement that it won’t interfere until 2047. That is still thirty years away, but young people are worried about what that might mean for their future.
With such a history, Hong Kong has truly become a melting pot of cultures. Some of its food, people, and traditions are Chinese, while others are distinctly western. Parts of Hong Kong made me feel like I was in London or NYC, while others brought back the clogged, open markets of Qingdao.
Living in Qingdao, I often forget how convenient life outside the Mainland is. I found myself marveling at things like shower curtains (you mean your whole bathroom doesn’t get wet when you shower?!) and carpet (I LOVE CARPET) and just how GREEN everything was. Hong Kongers drive on the left hand side of the road, the toilets were very rarely squatties, and people were not hacking up loogies, or expelling bodily fluids in public areas. People actually queue for the bus in long orderly lines (due to a good British upbringing), rather than the pushing, kicking, shoving, and biting involved in getting on a bus in Mainland. It was like coming up for air (literally), when I hadn’t realized I hadn’t been breathing.
Our first full day was spent wandering the city, exploring Hong Kong’s gardens, a small zoo with monkeys and lemurs, as well as a huge aviary with around 600 exotic birds.
Afterwards, we toured old church buildings, tried Hong Kong street food (fish balls and squid!), and explored the winding alleyways of Hong Kong’s markets, complete with a flower street, shoe street, and bird street.
We also discovered that Hong Kong is 90% huge, upscale malls that are very difficult to get out of once you enter. We got trapped in more than one for way too long. But, the architecture and span of some of the malls was truly impressive. It’s why so many of my Mainland friends just want to go to Hong Kong to shop.
That evening we visited an extensive night market, much like in Qingdao and Beijing. But, apparently Hong Kong is known for waffles, so of course we had to sample some.
We also made our second attempt of the day to get a clear view of the famous Hong Kong skyline, but it was a bit too foggy to get a good picture.
One thing I really appreciated about Hong Kong was that you could walk ten minutes and be in the jungle. China is only just starting to catch onto the whole idea of parks, so having such amazing natural hikes immediately available seemed like some kind of fairytale to me. On Saturday, Mike, Chad, Lee, and I hiked from the Cliff’s house, over a nearby mountain, and dropped into the sleepy, somewhat touristy fishing village of Sai Kung.
We met up with Trisha and Gina in Sai Kung for a delicious meal of Indian food, before exploring the village. There was a waterside fish market, where fisherman sell their latest catch directly from their boats. Fish doesn’t get more fresh than that.
That evening, Chad and I ventured out to explore Soho, which is known for its vibrant restaurant and shopping scene as well as its escalator–the longest in the world–, which rises up the steep sloping streets of the city for 800 meters, taking about twenty minutes to ride the entire thing. Its quite convenient considering how long and steep the hill in that area of the city is.
If you know me well, you will know of my obsession with swing dancing, so I made sure we found a place to go, as I haven’t been able to in almost two years!
Sunday morning we attended the Cliff’s church. As Hong Kong is still not quite under China’s thumb, religion is much more free. Churches are out in the open, do not have to be government approved, and can teach the entire Gospel, not something watered down by the party to forward party sentiment.
In the afternoon we boarded the Aqualuna, a junk/dragon boat that toured us along Hong Kong’s shore to Stanley, one of the oldest villages in Hong Kong. We got to lounge on couches on deck, sip wine, and marvel at the beauty of the shoreline.
Stanley was a little more upscale than Sai Kung, boasting markets and eateries along the water. We all shared one of the biggest pizzas I’ve ever seen in my life for lunch.
Sunday evening, Chad and I took the bus up to the famous Victoria Peak that overlooks Hong Kong. We made sure to go at night so we could witness the supposed “light show” that you couldn’t really see from the Peak after all. Nevertheless, Victoria Peak absolutely lived up to the hype. The view was breathtaking, with the lights of the skyline spread out below.
We decided to head down around 9pm, and ran into the longest line I’ve ever seen for a bus.
Before two weeks ago I never thought I would come to Hong Kong. It was not high on my list of places to visit, but I am so thankful that this trip worked out the way it did. Hong Kong is a vibrant city with a fascinating blend of cultures, people, and things to see and do. I truly hope I can return one day and see what other things this city has to offer.