I was very fortunate that I was able to go on business to Hong Kong in 2008, and I liked it so much I went there for a short break in March 2010. This blogpost is really a retrospect as it is being written many years after the fact, but I do not want to loose some of the magic of what I saw there. I was accompanied by two of my work colleagues on the trip, and while we only really spent 5 days there, it was enough to see a small portion of what was on offer. We did not fly direct but via Dubai, and by the time we landed we were dog tired.
When we landed it was already night time and we hit the sack in short order. I had a few things lined up on my itinerary, these included a visit to Sai Wan War Cemetery, as many trips on the Star Ferry as I could make, and of course cruise ship watching at the terminal. I also wanted to get out to the Peak and ride the Peak Tram, as well as a normal tram. Everything else was incidental. Much to my dismay there were no cruise ships in the harbour while we were there, in fact the only cruise ship I saw was the Star Aquarius, and I had seen her in 2008 as well.
She is not really a spectacular ship, and apart from the ferry Jimei the only other maritime traffic of real interest were the many tugboats that plied up and down, often with a crane or container barge in tow.
On our previous visit there had been a new ship in port every day, but it did not look like I was going to be as lucky as I was back then.
On the first day we headed out to ride up to the “The Peak”. We had not been able to do this in 2008 because of time constraints, and eventually we ended up going twice on this trip. The Peak Tram is a cable drawn tram, and it does some very impressive hill climbing that can be very disorientating.
Back in the old days the harbour would have been jam packed with shipping of all shapes and persuasions. Today there is much less shipping as most has converted to containerisation so there is no real need for vessels to offload into lighters for weeks on end. The skyline has also become more crowded, and the city is really booming.
The weather during our stay was not great, as usual it was hot and steamy and I would be drenched with sweat very quickly while sucking away at my Watson’s Water. But as the time progressed it became increasingly more misty and gloomy, and I could feel my sinuses protesting very quickly. However, when we had good weather the views of the city were spectacular. Hong Kong has a very impressive skyline, and you literally step off a ferry into skyscrapers. It does take some getting used to, but it always makes your heart skip a beat when you see it for the first time.
The trams that run on the Island are an experience on their own. They are not very wide and their colour schemes were loud and gaudy with advertising.
Considering that they are still in use, and that there are newer versions out there is amazing, Hong Kong does not seem to be ready to abandon this slightly arcane form of transportation yet, and given how chaotic the traffic can be there is a lot to be said about the public transport.
Talking of public transport, we rode the MTR a lot, and it was still fast and efficient and could teach London a thing or two. This time around I had bought an Octopus Card and was using that almost everywhere. The beauty of it is that there are readers everywhere, and you can buy MTR tickets at a machine or snacks at a shop with the card.
My trip to Sai Wan War Cemetery would be made using the MTR, and I rode the line almost to the end before tackling the rest of the journey on foot. It was however the first time that I had seen an MTR train outside of the glass enclosures on the stations.
I was fortunate that I did get a glimpse of the cemeteries in Hong Kong on this trip, and the huge cemetery complex at Cape Collinson really left an impression. It also made me really tired because there were a lot of stairs to get to the point where I took this image from.
There is a lot that I could say about the War Cemetery, and I have done that in a blog post elsewhere, but suffice to say that this was the biggest military cemetery that I had ever seen, and it really had to be seen to be believed.
On my way back from Sai Wan I stopped at the Coastal Defence Museum, and it was fascinating. Unfortunately that misty weather really ruined the views that I could have had, but I still came away with a better appreciation of those who built these structures, and those who spent time here. Unfortunately, fortress engineers often design these structures and do not take too much cognisance of how warfare changes, and what works today does not work tomorrow, so a fortress like this would become redundant quite quickly. I am sure it did not stop the Japanese when they invaded the island in 1941.
It would have been a great place to do ship watching from, but all I saw were the usual odd vessels that seemed to do local trading.
Naturally no visit to Hong Kong would have been complete without going to the light show, and it was probably the same light show that we saw in 2008, but it was still great fun, especially trying to capture that perfect shot.
Our hotel was situated not too far from the MTR station, and it was comfortable, but not as spectacular as the one we had stayed in last time we were here. In fact the view was somewhat restricted by all the buildings crowding around us.
At ground level it was not as hectic, although in Hong Kong hectic is available around every corner.
One place I had to visit was what I had dubbed “The Street of a Thousand Smells”, and the smell had not changed one bit even 3 years later. We had decided to visit the company where we had had training in 2008. Our repairs had become much better after that training, and it was nice to meet with the trainers from before. Little did we know that in a years time all of that training would be worthless and wasted as our “management” shut down the company I was working for and flushed our efforts down the loo. 2 factory trained technicians left redundant by a lot of people who were hell bent on killing off the company, and the repairs handed to people who didn’t have the faintest knowledge of how to do the repairs.Yet, that trip in 2008 had shown me a part of the world I had never considered visiting, and it had impressed me so much that I was here once again. As a destination Hong Kong is amazing, but I don’t think I could live there. For starters the pollution would drive me crazy, as would the humidity. There is somewhat of a language barrier though, and of course a definite culture shock, but they are not insurmountable. The other aspect that I did enjoy was safety. There was a visible police presence on the beat, and the people seemed generally law abiding, although I do expect it really depended on where you went or where about you lived.
I enjoyed the strange contrasts between high tech and traditional, and of course the thronging masses that often accumulated at robots and intersections were fascinating because us westerners all seemed slightly taller than the many Chinese that surrounded us. We were literally looking over their heads. And as for the women? they are beautiful, they dress well, are tiny in stature, and are self confident and seemed to be very focused when they are not on their phones.
The all embracing digital media dominated lives though. People were disconnected in their own private world that involved their smart phone/tablet and headsets. That is also true for parts of the UK, but by the same token, they are so engrossed in that world that they are oblivious to what is around them, and often you would have to dodge a self absorbed cell maniac as they tapped out their sms or chatted to their buddies.
It was also in Hong Kong where one of those rare photographs of me was taken. And naturally it would be where I was happiest: the waterfront.
A lot of my activities really centered the waterfront and the ferry terminals, and I just loved riding the ferries. If it had been up to me I would have spent all day riding up and down. We did a trip up to Asia World with the ferry and the building was really spectacular. Unfortunately it was also populated by suspicious people wearing robes, insisting that only I could save the starving hordes.
Now on occasions I can be classed as a starving horde all on my own, and fine dining in Hong Kong is not something we eagerly participated in, although in 2008 we had been treated by our hosts to some proper Chinese and Korean food, and it was fantastic. We still erred on the side of eating stuff we could identify. But for almost 8 months after we returned I suffered from some sort of tummy bug that I picked up in the city, so much so that I ended up being tested for something more serious.
The signage and advertising always fascinated me, there was no lack of originality, and for that matter almost anything went.
The badly translated signs were obviously our favourites, and of course how could you not like a sign that advertises a slightly dodgy hotel with hourly rates?
Soon our time in this amazing city would come to an end, and we would endure that 21 hours that it would take for us to get home. But it had been a great trip, and I think any longer would have been problematic. However, a return visit would be something I would contemplate without a second thought because as far as destinations go; Hong Kong is a must. The airport is clean, large and very easy to navigate through, and visa formalities are a breeze. I wish that was true for all airports.
I have over 2500 images that I took on those two trips, and it still does not show anything of what the place is like. It is a frenetic place with a huge buzz about it. It is best experienced than seen from photographs. Long may it be with us.
DRW © 2010-2022. Images recreated 09/03/2016