25.07.2014 - 28.07.2014 31 °C
After finding myself yet again staying on Castle Peak Road, this time at its very beginning, I thought it was high time I did some research about this road. It turns out it is the longest in Hong Kong, starting in Kowloon and running all the way up the West coast(ish) through the New Territories - it sort of knocks on the door to Shenzhen and then curls around and comes back down the East a bit. I was staying in the main HK-YHA hostel, Mei Ho House. Back in the 1950's, there was a huge fire which destroyed a large area of squatter huts or shanties - the British Administration built a number of blocks (29, actually) of public housing, a first for Hong Kong, in which to settle those who had become homeless (58,000!). All but one of those blocks has gone, to be replaced with higher density housing. The last has been retained to commemorate the past events here but has been completely refurbished in order to be Mei Ho House. I spent three nights in it and walking around it, I could not believe it was not a completely new building but looking at pictures of it prior to its restoration, I can see that it really is not. Apparently there is still a room or two kept the way it was for people to see, and they run tours every so often through the building but I missed out, although I did visit the museum set up on the ground floor.
The hostel is in the Sham Shui Po area of Kowloon: it seemed a good idea at the time to walk to it from my previous hotel, because it was only 2 kilometres. But the combination of the heat and carrying my bags meant that by the time I arrived, I looked like I'd spent the time fully clothed in a sauna turned to high. My room mate looked a wee bit dismayed when I turned up, but I eventually felt human again. The hostel itself is well set up - a very popular onsite restaurant, a wee kitchen (which hardly anyone used) a big outdoor sitting area and a room full of security guards - I looked in this small window as I walked into the hostel, and had two of the guards peering back at me.
Sham Shui Po itself is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, but locals flock here for two reasons - the fashion market and the flea market,
although it is a very specialised flea market as it focusses on electronic bits and bobs, so there were stalls selling just remote controls for air conditioners, or power boxes for laptops. One was selling old cameras - made me feel quite sad that such fine equipment is no longer needed. This market goes with the fact that Apliu Street is quite specialised - lots of shops selling lighting, others selling surveillance equipment and several selling quite decent hifi stuff - if I was here on my way home, I'd be tempted, although not by the stereos just piled high and looking sad. There are also a couple of malls selling computer gear.
Apart from the massive fire, this area has another sad history - it was used by the Japanese as a POW camp during the war.
On the Saturday, I decided it was time to just completely take the day off and go out to a seaside town on the south coast called Stanley. I'd actually tried to find a hotel there, but it isn't that kind of place. As it happens, a day trip was fine. I took the MRT down to Admiralty and then a bus, another of the great urban bus trips, as it wound its way up the side of Happy Valley and then twisted down the other side past Repulse Bay - I finally got to see some greenery and plenty of glimpses of the coast.
Stanley had a wee mall, the Stanley Plaza, a pier, a Victorian barracks moved across the island about a decade ago to house posh restaurants, a tiny main street, a rather larger market selling tat and a line of terrace houses.
I was entertained by a wee dog for quite a while as he frolicked and made friends with every other dog which came past - still don't know why he had a McDonalds bag tied to him. It was then time for lunch, which I enjoyed in a restaurant in the mall, called Chungs Quisine - which not only made great dimsum but provided me with a menu I could understand.
After lingering for a while, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, I caught the bus back up to the top of the hill and walked down the other side, about a 6 k walk. I'd seen several things on the way up I wanted a better look at - unfortunately, being on foot, I didn't have quite as good a view as from the top of a double decker bus, so didn't get the cemetary quite as I wanted it (it was packed incredibly tightly) or the racecourse. The green roofed octagonal building is the Happey Valley Club.
Finally, I was back on the flat, in the Wan Chai district, which has a long-standing and apparently famous market, and has a nice transition from the old to the new in its buildings. Then I went to a market of a different sort, a very flash supermarket where I finally found the particular tea I'd been looking for and a reminder of home.