Hong Kong (or Xiānggǎng in Cantonese) was the name of a small fishing village and the island that it was located on. In 1860 it expanded to include the Kowloon Peninsula and then in 1898 it expanded again to include the “New Territories”. This leads to a situation where, like New York, you can be in Hong Kong without being in Hong Kong. Also like New York, not being in the city is much cheaper, so our hostel was just across the water from Hong Kong island in Kowloon. More specifically we were on Temple Street, famous for its night market where you can buy just about anything from street food to souvenirs and electronics. Turn down one of the side streets and you can visit a fortune teller or buy one of an intimidating array of sex toys.
Our first day was pretty much consumed trying to find a doctor to certify us as healthy for our cargo ship. The shipping company needed a piece of paper to be signed by a physician to say that we were in tip-top condition, and that in their professional opinion we could cope with anything the ocean could throw at us. The first doctor we visited took a look at the form and said that there was no way he could sign it. He would need our medical history and to do a full physical examination that would be very costly. He tried to send us to a private physiotherapist, but we don’t have that kind of money so we thanked him and left. He was one of the more helpful physicians we found, as the morning unfolded we became accustomed to entering a doctor’s surgery, showing the form to the receptionists and being told “your regular doctor has to sign this”. Rosanna’s GP would not sign it without seeing us in person (difficult given they are located in Sheffield), my private sector travel doctor didn’t even respond to my attempts to contact him (seriously, if you live in Sheffield, don’t use the Regent Street Clinic, if I had been solely reliant on them I’d have been stuck in China). In a state of despair we walked into a doctor’s office around the corner from our hotel that we’d seen the night before. They took the form into a back room and then returned a couple of minutes later saying “$250HKD, each” (~₤25). We returned the following day when the doctor had time to see us and he made small talk whilst ticking all the boxes on the sheet, saying we had no history of mental illness, no allergies, no lasting injuries etc, etc… At one point he looked at us and said “you don’t have any of these I take it?” but that was as invasive as the physical got. We left the surgery officially healthy and relieved to have cleared the last bureaucratic hurdle between us and our voyage.
With what remained of the day we managed to see the Hong Kong Museum of History. This is a really excellent museum covering the history of Hong Kong from when it was formed billions of years ago to the return to China in 1997. Hong Kong has incredibly varied geology, especially in the New Territories, which we wouldn’t have time to explore so it was nice to at least see pictures and explanations of much of it. The sections on the two opium wars were detailed and extensive, although some of it made for uncomfortable reading as a British person. It was interesting to read that Hong Kong had minimal significance before it was ceded (the British commander at the end of the first Opium War was fired shortly after for only securing Hong Kong in the negotiations), Macau was the main trading port in the region. These two regions, Hong Kong and Macau, are now called Special Administrative Regions in China, governed under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.
I am not the first of my family members to visit Hong Kong. My great grandparents, John and Ruth Temple, lived in nearby Guangzhou for some time and my grandfather David was born in the city during that time. They returned to the UK eventually but John Temple returned periodically as part of his job with the bible society and on one of those trips he passed away. His grave is in the Colonial Cemetery in Happy Valley (Happy Valley is most famous for its racecourse and influential jockey club). Several family members have visited it over the years and put together a helpful collection of photographs and documents on how to find it. Its simple crucifix shape, inscribed with his name and a homophone of it in traditional chinese, seemed very appropriate. The cemetery is a reminder of the variety of nationalities and cultures that have called Hong Kong home over the past 150 years, and sits next to Catholic and Muslim cemeteries that are just as diverse.
Rising above the sky scrapers of Hong Kong is Victoria Peak. Our first attempt at reaching the top came on our second day. To reach the top most people take the Peak Tram, but you can also get about half the way up, for free, using the Central Mid Levels Escalator. This is a series of escalators and travelators that winds between the high rise buildings up the side of the hill – an unusual tourist attraction but an enjoyable one. From the top of the escalators you can continue to walk to the peak but we chose to walk east, through the botanical gardens, to the bottom station for the peak tram. Unfortunately it was a Saturday afternoon and the queue was huge. The entrance to Hong Kong Park was right next to us with no arduous wait so we decided to leave Victoria Peak for another day. The park was tranquil, with the tall trees obscuring all but the tallest buildings. It included a large aviary, formed by putting a roof between two spurs protruding from the hillside. A broad wooden walkway curves through the treetops inside allowing the cornucopia of garish tropical birds to swoop around you. At the end of the walkway one of the park attendants was stroking an albatross as it lay in his lap. I did not know you could pet an albatross but it looked blissful.
On our last full day we mounted our second expedition to Victoria Peak. Getting up early on a weekday (well 8am, early for us at the time) proved to be a good option and we were in the queue for the first tram of the day. It was too packed though so we opted to wait for the second tram and got a window seat. It really is an impressive ride, worth the effort, with high rise office buildings looming over you and such a steep incline that you are pressed back into your seat. It drops you in the base of the building housing the observation deck and you can pay an additional fee to go out on the deck and enjoy the view. We opted instead to go to Pacific Coffee which still had huge floor to ceiling windows looking out over central Hong Kong and no entrance fee. You lose a few stories but from the top of a 554m peak what’s 10 meters? After coffee and a tasty pastry or two we headed off along Lugard Road, a small lane which circumnavigates the very top of Victoria Peak and offers expansive views to the north, west and south as you work your way around. On the advice of a friend from Hong Kong who we’d met in Ulan Ude we then walked from the peak to Aberdeen on the south side of the island. Aberdeen is located on the site of the original Hong Kong village – it was renamed because boats kept mooring there rather than the main port which is on the other side of the island. Our friend had also given us the name of a British style pub in nearby Stanley called Smuggler’s Inn so that’s where we ended the day. Aside from the fact that they only sold lager (and one tap with an American IPA) it felt very familiar; suitably dingy and filled with scarred wooden tables and benches.
I had possibly the best tasting food of my life in Hong Kong, at a restaurant called Dim Dim Sum. Dim sum is a style of food similar to tapas, with lots of small and varied dishes packed with the most amazing flavours. Every mouth-full was perfectly balanced and unique, especially the mushroom and vegetable dumplings that used a transparent casing I’d never seen before. People had told me how good dim sum is before, but I’m glad I waited until I was in Hong Kong before trying it.
Complete photos from our time in Hong Kong can be seen here: