A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong

Last Week in Hong Kong

sunny 30 °C

A while ago, I read a Magnuss Mills satire, which was an odd one given that I never quite got the point of what he was satirising, called The Maintenance of Headway. Headway is the idea that instead of public transport running to a timetable which always gets screwed up, they simply maintain a fixed period between each bus, tram, whatever - this is headway, and Mills's book was really about maintaining it. I had never actually seen any place use this notion of headway, not until I went to Hong Kong, and the plaque at the bus stop would say "Headway - 7 minutes". Oddly enough, I have another connection between my reading habits and Hong Kong: another fairly obscure book I read was called How To Sharpen Pencils (really). The essential answer was to get a particular model of pencil sharpener - one I could not find in New Zealand, except for a very expensive antique version on trademe which has been unsold for more than a year now. In my wanderings around Hong Kong stationery shops, I found lots of these wee beasts, so that (together with about 3 dozen pencils, lots of cool notebooks (made from card, paper and spiral binding not silicon and plastic) and a few pens) is my souvenir of Hong Kong.

I actually did quite a lot of blog read research before I came to Hong Kong and so had quite a long list of places I wanted to see: most I didn't see. Instead, I took a more accidental approach - stay in one part for a while, see what was local, and move on to the next place, one which was largely chosen by the fact it was relatively cheap, provided free internet and didn't look like I'd get broken into. This process led to my last week being spent in North Point, in the same hotel my mum spent on the last night of the great trip she did shortly before she passed away, the Ibis. Although I was way up on the 27th floor, unfortunately I was facing away from the harbour - my only chance to view it was when the cleaners let me into the room opposite to admire the view - I'm sure it would be fantastic at night.



It turned out to be a really good location - several decent eating places nearby, a short tram journey down to the central library and a pleasant walk back in the evening. I don't think I'll be getting the Florence Nightingale award from the library any time soon - one afternoon, I was up in the very quiet 9th floor study space, but was constantly interrupted by this incessant sniffing and coughing - I actually thought it was an elderly gent, perhaps down on his luck, coming in out of the heat. I'm not sure what I would have said if it had been, but when I discovered it was a smirking teen, I suggested he might like to either die or get out of the library. [Poetic justice payback: I've had a sniff and cough for a week now that I can't shake.]

Just the other side of the library is central Causeway Bay and here I think I found my favourite cafe of all those I have liked in Hong Kong. I'd visited and liked the Coffee Academics cafe, but then discovered there was another, the original. It had a more lived in vibe, great food and bev, great staff and just a really nice atmosphere.


By about Friday night, I really thought it was incumbent on me to do some of the touristy things - Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the major tourist destinations - as Wikipedia says, many shops and eating establishments to cater for tourists. I had a quick walk though and accidentally found myself on a ferry to Hong Kong Island, where I found myself in Central. I've already had a quick walk through here - lots of places for tourists, yes, but also for locals, and very hilly - the streets zigzag in all directions. It was nice to wander though at a relaxed pace,


at least until the thunder storm! I went into an HMV high concept store - not even sure it was open, as the staff were stocking empty shelves, but it looked like an interesting venture, with a modernised version of the HMV dog featuring strongly.



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Finally, on the Saturday, I found my way to the famed mid-level escalators - they run for nearly a kilometre, downhill from 6 - 10 and then uphill for the rest of the day (various attempts have been made to double-track the line, but it is unlikely to happen)


After a final roast duck on rice, I popped into the Maritime Museum for a look around - lots of history about Hong Kong maritime life, as to be expected, with models of various ships used in the past and then a few more modern items

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Of course, I spent a bit of time on the Star Ferry boats, whichcross between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, among other places - they're pretty utilitarian but such a landmark of the Hong Kong water scene.



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Years ago, I had a client making catamarans for use as ferries in Hong Kong - but I was not able to recall or find out which particular company is using them or even if they are still in service.

My last night in Hong Kong was actually back in Tsuen Wan, which proved to be a brilliant move. The bus to the airport, after touring several housing estates to collect passengers, soars over the western tip of Victoria Harbour and then has a straight run down the coast of Lantau Island - green bush to the left, ocean to the right. After sacrificing my umbrella to the check in guy and my waiter's friend to the X-Ray guy, I was good to go.

Posted by NZBarry 23:52 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (2)

Sham Shui Po - Stanley

sunny 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.

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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.



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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.


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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.

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Posted by NZBarry 23:19 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Hong Kong - I Went to the Library and They Cooked My Goose

sunny 30 °C

Nathan Road is probably Hong Kong's most famous - famous for big brand shopping; infamous for traders selling fakes as real and for the travellers' institution, Chungking Mansions. That is a group of 17 storey apartment blocks, but decades ago, people started converting their apartments to mini-guesthouses (a kind word for a flophouse) and hotels. According to Wikipedia, there are around 2000 rooms for rent - in amongs the restaurants ("African Bistros"!), money-changers, import-export businesses, clothing stores and many less savoury endeavours. I have been reading about this place for at least twenty years, and it has been in my imagination as a mystical place where you can live for virtually nothing and anything goes, but when it came to it, I didn't stay there - the rooms are cramped, and I really don't want to be anywhere that my stuff is unnecessarily at risk.

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My bus from the airport did actually run up Nathan Road and I was back there that night for a late dinner, but I thought that I should spend a period at least nearby, so picked a hotel in Mongkok, which is centred on Nathan Road but runs out as far as the coast. The name refers to the preponderance of ferns that used to grow in the area, which had been agricultural: now it is in the Guiness Book of Records as the most densely populated area in the world. Something of old Hong Kong has remained - it has kept up the tradition of having streets devoted to single trades or industries, but has moved with the times so there is now a photocopy street. Ladies market is not what you might think - it caters to ladies. Apparently it is also the centre of triad activity - back in the days, the British authorities would not venture in here.

The hotel I picked, the Dorsett Mongkok, was the nicest of those I stayed in - the staff opened the door for me, the room was very modern although still not very big but wonderfully set up as a workspace,


except for the flaky email. It wasn't exactly in the centre of things, about two blocks from the coast,


I had to go look - it was a pretty low key freight hauling area, where containers were loaded individually by derricks


a few blocks from Nathan Road, in its own town centre, malls, and a pretty good burger shop, Burgerman.


I spent the first couple of days trundling down to HKU in the bus so I could use their library, but then I found the public library in Mong Kok which had a dedicated study space and solid internet. Better still, it encouraged me to explore the area a bit better as I walked to and fro.


We could all use some of the latter! I found my favourite coffee place so far, where the people were incredibly fastidious, and used a variety of techniques to make coffee - although I stuck to the tried and tested.


I also found an incredible mall, Langham Place, which is 13 storeys high. I went all the way to the top in its intricate network of escalators, and found that it then spiralled down. They had lots of brand names that sounded appealing - like Chocolate, Cream, Paper - but when I got there, I found that they were all selling clothing for fashion forward young women (dare I say it, hot chicks). So when I found a shop called Hot Chicks, I was more than a little surprised to find it sold fried chicken. A couple of places I did like - there was a shop called 80MBus, which was largely based on selling models of Hong Kong public buses, and a ramen shop called Ippudo I have eaten at before, and would have again had the queues not deterred me.


One odd thing about Hong Kong is that they have their libraries in Municipal Service Buildings - where you can find a council office and so on, but also a couple of markets - the normal fruit and veg, fish and meat and then the cooked food market. It was here that I finally tried goose - the flavour was not much different to duck, but the meat was quite a bit chewier.


By the way, if you tweet and want to be told when a post goes up, feel free to follow me (@NZBarry) on twitter.

Posted by NZBarry 10:58 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Hong Kong - Measuring My Life With Coffee Spoons

sunny 31 °C

Sitting enjoying a nice mound of green beans, pork nuggets and rice

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it struck me how happy I am with this way of living in Hong Kong (and lucky to have it). Yes, I spend most of my days in libraries (a combination of the HKU Law library and the HK Central and Mongkok Public libraries) and work quite hard but I actually enjoy the ability to work at my writing without distractions. Walking around Hong Kong is constantly interesting, and my most enjoyable aspect is probably the people watching. I come from a place where it is cold and there are only ever about six people in town at any one time, so the combination of the heat and the thousands of people per square foot, all of whom seem to move in the most unexpected ways or simply stop moving at all to hold a family conference in a doorway can be a little confronting. That's pretty minor in the overall scale of things. I look at all of the enormous and in many cases rather shabby apartment blocks, and know the apartments are tiny, and start to wonder what it would be like to live in one with all those people.

Or, as I did in a Kennedy Town cafe, I wonder what its like to be a waitress - this one in particular caught my eye because when she was needed to serve food or take orders or clear tables, she was alacrity personified, and very helpful - she helped me sort out the menu - but when there was nothing for her to do, she'd stand, transfixed by the soap opera on TV, and start to bounce up and down and squeal if something (I presume) juicy was going on. In another cafe, I found myself having a race with another customer - she was very trim, well under half my size, but I noticed that we'd both received our orders for the same dish at the same time. I was not even handicapped by having to use chopsticks and thought I was motoring through my food while she was eating quite sedately, and yet I was only three quarters done and she was getting up to pay the bill. The food places are are a revelation - so many good, cheap places to eat, and many of them full of people at all hours: eating, obviously, but also just hanging out, reading the paper, doing whatever. Even McDonalds is a very social space, where people seem to sit for hours, not always ordering anything. I guess this is a consequence of the tiny apartments.

Mentioning Kennedy Town reminded me of a cafe I popped into after the conference one day. We've all seen cafes combined with other sorts of business, like books and music and garden centres, but this one had an odd juxtoposition: I was chowing down on a big piece of chocolate cake and drinking my cappucino amongst a fairly good range of outdoor sportswear.

When the conference finished, I made another hop - this time to a hostel in one of the most densely populated places in the world and the most expensive rent for retail premises in the world (this is apparently where the vertical mall was invented): Causeway Bay.


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[Stole that last one from wikipedia.] I was still on Hong Kong Island, about half way along its north shore. The hostel is almost on the coast so that while I could see nothing from where I slept, the common area had a great view of Victoria Harbour, really fantastic at night. I had an interesting encounter there with a violin student from the Shanghai Conservatory - she came in a bit tipsy from some club, and was very sweet and friendly.

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It seems that the main reason people go to Causeway Bay is to shop, which I couldn't do as there's no way I want to lug even more stuff around the world (I've already bought more than I ought). One thing that did interest me was that there was a sort of march - I'm not sure if it was a protest or celebration, as it had elements of both: someone bellowing catchphrases into a megaphone, a police presence and banners suggested the former, but the marching girls, the music and the dancers suggested the latter. One thing I do know is that one woman was not happy - she stood on the sidelines shouting at them and waving her umbrella angrily (it didn't have much of an effect, as t was one of those wee fold up ones and it kept flapping open).

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After spending the Saturday morning wandering around, I had not much more I wanted to do there (I am trying out a policy of staying local) so when I found the utterly wonderful Hong Kong central library, that's where I went by way of refuge/natural habitat. It has nine floors, all filled up with books and computers and people, and a near absolute silence prevails throughout. I tried to get good photos of the interior, but a security guard came racing over and was all "no photo, no photo". He didn't follow me into the lift, however.



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I found two really good coffee places - one, a tiny almost hole in the all place with just four constantly pacled tables (18grams) was just outside the hostel, and the other, Coffee Academics, I just found by randomly walking around - it was very swish, but its apple strudel was rather smaller and more civilised than the huge chunks I normally have on X-Files night.


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Posted by NZBarry 09:35 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Week Two: Sheung Wan

sunny 31 °C

It has been an extremely busy week, but mainly because of work and so nothing particularly newsworthy. I moved onto Hong Kong Island, at first into a suburb called Sheung Wan - it is a sort of in between place: to the west of the flashier terndier parts of Central and Causeway Bay (more on this next time) and to the east of Kennedy Town, which just about to emerge as it awaits its connection to the light rail system. So there's a lot of traditional Hong Kong about Sheung Wan - older buildings with clothes and air conditioning units dangling out the windows, narrow streets, customary industries, men in nooks and crannies going about their business.

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Hong Kong Island is a bit like Dunedin, in that it is very hilly, but perhaps more like Wellington, in that the narrow streets twist and curl their way along and up the hill, with numerous sets of steps to link them.

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I don't know how google maps does it, but it seems to have got its head around these steps - so tonight, it told me to head right, then left, then down 23 steps to the same street I'd been on by way of short cut. Then it told me which bus to catch to get me back home. It is a bit of a thrill to be sitting up in the front of a double decker bus as it navigates these streets, even better in the little minibuses that race aboout. For a more sedate, and older, form of transport you have these:

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My particular street was called Des Voeux Road, which some signs translated as dried seafood street. I actually managed to forget that, so a couple of times I emerged from my hotel and wondered at the rather pungent odours. I have to say that none of the food tempted me.

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At the same time, there's a new vibe emerging in Sheung Wan - apparently quite a few artists and fashion designers have moved in, and there's a huge range of what you might call ethnic food - I've noticed most countries represented, including attempts at classic American burger bars, a true southern pulled pork outlet and a Dutch cheese shop in among the more traditional sources of food. There is also redevelopment - the flash buildings are coming in.

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Something dear to my heart: the coffee shops, which are popping up in side streets and odd corners. I came across several where I could have just as easily been in Auckland as Hong Kong - not just the style, but the menu: full cooked breakfasts. Here, it is way too hot to be wanting to eat anything at all, let alone bacon, eggs, beans, sausages... I was a bit annoyed to finally discover my preferred cafe just the day before it was time to leave the area.

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Just to clarify - that is two different cafes, the interior is a place called Open Door, just round the corner from my hotel, really. Something else which annoyed me - the IFC Mall. It is a very posh place, very high ceilings, glossy shops, wide thoroughfares and completely befuddling. I only went in because I needed to restock my teabags and being a teasnob, the only place that would do was in the IFC Mall. I found the tea place immediately, but there is a cinema and a couple of other places I wanted to see. There was a digital map with shop numbers - but all of the shops were far too precious to actually put a number up - I still haven't found the cinema. I did enjoy the roof, where I could look back across to the mainland - the buildings were all lit up, so the sky was still blue at 10:00 at night, but the water was this mysterious inky black, with a few boats bustling about. I took a photo with my phone but the result is a bit embarrasing. I had more success with this


I was a bit sad to leave my hotel because, apart from the seriously weird wifi - it worked perfectly, but they blocked access to various sites for "security reasons": after I complained, they seemed to work out which sites I used most, then blocked them - it was well set up for working in and had a huge room

but my conference beckoned at HKU. I stayed in Kennedy Town, because google had told me it was a 12 minute walk, which it was, if you can cope with all the steps in the heat - after doing it once, I took the bus. Kennedy Town had a few western looking bars in among the more traditional Hong Kong shops and restaurants but I'm afraid I was barely there - up and away at 8:00 for the conference, and not leaving until 12 hours later. Conference was very, um, edifying - many of th sessions weren't really my thing, but it was interesting to see how far from the practice of law people in my profession can get. The last couple of days, they freaked us out with talks of an Extreme Typhoon (it killed about 30 people in the Philippines) but apart from a bit of heavy rain and a cooling breeze, it was a non-event (thankfully).

Posted by NZBarry 08:18 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (4)

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