This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Nicholas Yong from Singapore. Thanks for your entry Nicholas!
Hong Kong: former British colony, Special Administrative Region, and one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is not a place for the faint-hearted. But it is one of the most dynamic places I have ever visited, and draws me back time and again.
Much of Hong Kong’s energy comes from an outspoken populace of more than 7 million, which has little qualms about expressing its views. Large-scale demonstrations and protests happen each time I visit, but it is a smaller incident that sums up Hong Kongers for me. While on a family trip, my mother witnessed a woman having a loud, vociferous argument with a traffic policeman who had given her a fine. This went on for a good 15 minutes, until his supervisor had to come over and intervene.
There’s lots of touristy stuff you can do, like going to the Peak and Madam Tussauds and taking the Star Ferry. But back in 2011, I set myself a challenge of exploring the lesser known parts of Hong Kong in 24 hours with S$100 (HK$623), based solely on tips from my Twitter followers. This is called a Twitter trip, and the whirlwind nature of the challenge was befitting of the often frantic pace of life there. There were lots of little pleasures and delights to be discovered as I explored the city with my girlfriend, from having tea at the rustic Mido Cafe in Temple Street, to the eye-watering incense smoke at the 19th century Wong Tai Sin temple, where many students often go to pray for good exam results.
The highlight of the trip occurred when we went to 41 Cumberland Road in Kowloon Tong in search of martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s last home in Hong Kong. We found it – only to discover that it is now a love hotel. Such hotels cater to amorous couples looking for privacy for a few hours. I can still remember the old woman sitting at the lobby gruffly asking us: “Do you want to rent a room?” And the feeling we got as we emerged from the hotel and realised that we looked like we had just checked out.
But the best thing about Hong Kong is still the glorious, glorious food. Sweet or savoury, spicy or mild, stir-fried or steamed, the city has it all. As you pound the pavements day or night, you can see and smell it everywhere – dim sum, wonton noodles, roast goose, roast duck, roast chicken, mango-based desserts, and more. Take a short walk in Hong Kong at any time of the day, and there’s a more than fair chance you’ll end up eating something, whether you’re hungry or not. Simply because it tastes so, so good. It was also fitting that many of the tweets I received in 2011 were food recommendations.
The streets of the territory are packed with people at all hours of the day. And you are constantly surrounded by the sounds of the singsong Cantonese dialect, the main language of communication and commerce in Hong Kong. Though I am not fluent in Cantonese, it is intimately familiar to me, as I grew up watching Hong Kong movies starring Asian icons such as Chow Yuen Fatt and the late Leslie Cheung. Cantonese is also one of the hardest languages for an outsider, even a Han Chinese, to pick up. Just consider that, compared to the four intonations of Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese has nine intonations. Not to mention a myriad of proverbs, puns and slang terms. It’s pretty telling that even after more than 150 years of British rule – which ended in 1997 – English standards in Hong Kong are still pretty abysmal. Hence, signs such as the one I saw in a doorway warning people to beware of “swine fluid influencer” (it actually meant swine influenza, a reference to the swine flu outbreak that started sometime in 2009).
But if there is one thing I dislike about Hong Kong, it’s the horrendous pollution that blows in from mainland factories in neighbouring Shenzhen. This creates a dark, poisonous smog that perpetually hangs over the city and obscures the skyline. As an expatriate financial analyst living there once told me: “There are days when I look out over the Pearl River Delta and I can’t see a thing. That’s when I wish I was in Singapore.” I can testify to the effects of the pollution – the last time I went there, I caught flu that was so bad, I was literally coughing up blood in my phlegm. But that still didn’t stop me from stuffing my face.
It’s been a while since I’ve visited Hong Kong. I should really start planning for my next trip there.
About the Author: Nicholas Yong: I’m a travel and entertainment journalist working for the lifestyle section of The Straits Times, Singapore’s main English newspaper. I also blog about travel and pop culture at www.incoherentboy.com. You can follow me on Twitter @incoherentboy.