Hong Kong in the Rain

Articles and photos by David Kushner

 

It was a cold and dreary day in Hong Kong when we arrived toward the end of January. Holland America Line permitted us to overnight on the day we arrived. The ship was moored In Kowloon just across the bay from Hong Kong Island. The pier next to the ship turned out to be a huge mall where we wandered around venturing briefly into the street to look across the bay where our hotel was located somewhere amidst a wall of sky scrapers that faced us on the other side of the water. A ferry terminal lay alongside and small ferries were constantly departing for Hong Kong Island and other parts of the bay. We searched for the famous ‘Peak’ that crowned the other side but it was covered in low-lying clouds.

 

After dinner that last evening on board, the ship invited us to enjoy a magnificent Hong Kong troupe of entertainers who dressed in traditional costumes welcomed us with a performance that had us standing in applause. The next morning, towing our suitcases we went out to the taxi line to find our hotel. We assumed he taxi would take us all the way to Hong Kong Island since we knew that there were tunnels under the bay, but just as we got to the tunnel the taxi driver stopped at a taxi stand and told that he was sorry that he was not permitted to cross to the other side. He helped us into another taxi, we paid him for the short ride and the second cab took us to the Metro Park Hotel. The combined fare was actually less than the estimate we received from the taxi booker at the ship terminal.

 

The hotel was a tall, slender building covered with glass. We were on the 12th floor and our huge picture window faced the bay. From there we could see a good part of centralHong Kong Island and the parts of Kowloon facing us. The staff was very friendly and when we asked to be connected to t

 

he Internet they kindly sent up a router for our use. One of the reasons we chose the Metro Park was not only did they have excellent references on the Hotel.Com booking website but they included the internet connection as part of the price of the room. We read some ‘horror stories’ from references of other hotels where, in one case, the guest after checking into a rather expensive hotel was informed that the additional fee for connecting to the Internet was $20 per day! His reference was scathing.

 

One of the advantages of our location was that on the Chinese New Year’s Day were treated to a half hour fireworks display which we could watch from our hotel window in the comfort of our room. It was spectacular but the downside was the pollution the following day from firing so much back powder under a cloud-filled sky. Luckily we were near the sea and the breeze blew most of it away.

 

What do you do on rainy days in Hong Kong? We put on the warmest clothes we had – it was a cold, rugged 9C – and we had just come from a ‘tropical cruise´ where we wore shorts and T-shirts most if the time – and took the tram tour of the island. We discovered that just outside the hotel a funny double- decker tram was running. It was shorter than most trams I’ve ever seen and two stories high. We climbed up to the upper deck and rode the tram from start to finish and back. Our fellow passengers appeared to like the rain and the cold breeze since they happily kept the windows wide open desite our attempts to close them, making our tour both cold and very damp as the rain poured in – but we got to see most of central Hong Kong.

 

Just below our hotel windows, across the street was a large park and it was filled with gaily colored tents and what looked like peddler stands. We asked the young lady at the main desk what this was and she told us that this was the New Year’s Flower Market. Of course, it was the week of the Chinese New Year, how could we forget. We went down there and mixed with the huge crowds milling around the numerous stands.

 

The flower market itself took up only a section of the fair, the rest were food stands, cooking and grilling almost everything you can imagine (not puppy dogs), stands selling all kinds of gadgets, toys, household appliances, health and healing products (Chinese medicine is very popular) artistic goods and even Christian missionaries shouting their message.

 

People walked around showing off traditional costumes while we mixed with the crowd and ended up buying a present for our son from an artistic wood working shop. I looked out of our hotel window at 2 am in the morning and was surprised to see that the stands were still open and there were crowds of people still milling around.

 

 

Whereas in Singapore the people are good looking, prosperous and fashionable – a kind of Chinese Beverly Hills – in Hong Kong you are in China! Looking at the passersby you begin to realize what an enormous country China must be.

 

In itself it is the Europe of Asia uniting numerous nationalities and ethnic peoples. Even if we could not tell from where they originated you could see that many of them had ethnic similarities much as the differences between an Italian, a Slav and a Scandinavian that we have here at home. Everyone was happy and interested in what was going on around them and even if we did not understand the banter between the stand barkers and their customers we could appreciate it.

 

 

We found their fantastic subway system. For a small sum of money – I think, about $20 you get a card that offers an almost endless number of rides on a super modern Underground that takes you almost everywhere in Central Hong Kong and Kowloon. The stations have huge transparent plexiglass walls with sliding door that open simultaneously with the doors to the train. Station accidents and suicides are impossible in Hong Kong. The card can also be used on the tram and on busses. In minutes you are on the other side of the bay. If the days hadn’t been so rugged we would have tried the ferries as well but somehow huddling to keep warm in a damp little ship lost its appeal. The transport card is redeemable for the remainder of the rides left on it. A great system, marvelous for tourists.

 

Here’s funny one. Since I am a man in my later years, every time I entered an underground train a lady stood up and offered me her seat. Since I can still stand on my own two feet I kindly said no. What was interesting is that it was only women who stood up to offer their seat, never a man!

 

 

Shopping is a story onto itself. First of all there are huge malls all over the city. The word huge is not a sufficient description of some of these buildings with floor after floor of fashionable shops with express escalators (yes, express escalators!) which take you three stories at a time to get you where you want to go. The top floors of these gigantic shopping malls are filled with restaurants of every kind imaginable. If you want to shop at street level Kowloon has a number of street markets, one of them is “The Ladies Market,” It’s called this not because it caters to ladies but because most of the stands are owned and operated by women. Nearby there are the Sports Market, the Jade Market, the Evening Market on Temple Street and on HK Island, the Stanley Market. It takes a bit of walking but worth the trouble.

 

 

I won’t go into food since it is very complicated. Some of the restaurants are splendid some less so. Since there is so much to offer you have to pick and choose whatever is nearby. Sometimes you hit a winner sometimes you wish you hadn’t sat down. A simple place on the street can offer you a marvelous meal and a fancy one in one of the malls can be an expensive disappointment. The menus are often only in Chinese and even if you knew how to read the name of the dish you have no idea what it contains. Out of desperation, we once ended up in the local McDonalds pointing at the sign over the counter to inform the monolingu

 

al counterman to inform him what we wanted.

Museums: great for cold, rainy days. There are a few excellent museums in Hong Kong that are a must for those interested in China and the territories. We bypassed the large Aerospace museum next to the ferry terminal to concentrate on the art museum and the history museum. Both there were extremely interesting. Besides paintings both old and contemporary the art museum has a calligraphy section that is outstanding. Chinese calligraphy is an art of its own and has its masters who are as famous to calligraphy buffs as Leonardo or Michelangelo are to the rest of us.

 

The history museum tells you the story of Hong Kong from the time it emerged out of the sea to the present time. It is a museum of displays rather than purely graphics and you walk around viewing one era after the other. The war years and the Japanese occupation were particularly interesting.

 

 

To avoid the double taxi routine we asked the hotel to book us a shuttle bus directly to the airport that lay on Kowloon. After picking up several additional passengers it took us directly to the check-in section for Finnair. We are still congratulating ourselves on the choice of Finnair. The planes were new and comfortable. We had lots of foot and leg room and the reclining seats were very comfortable, important on 11-12 hour flights. I only wish I could return to Hong Kong on a warm sunny week.

 

Featured Article

Christian missionaries singing hymns in the market

 

Looking at the passersby you begin to realize what an enormous country China must be. In itself it is the Europe of Asia uniting numerous nationalities and ethnic peoples.

A man in traditional costume walked past us with two men carrying signs

Future doctors of Chinese medicine promoting their age-old science

View of Victoria Harbour with Kowloon in the distance

This article was printed in the May 2012 issue of The Newsletter.

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