26 March 2012

Heights and sights of Hong Kong

The view from the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong doesn't disappoint, even in a smog-laden dusk. We stopped in for drinks, but realized we were in time for afternoon tea which was served in high style -- a diminutive three-tier sandwich tray arrived with individual china teapots, cups and strainers for pouring clear tea. Fine, indeed. We sat and watched the junks, ferries and barges plying the harbor waters, still amazed to find ourselves in this fabled, high-speed city.


Built on a 427-square-mile piece of real estate, Hong Kong is home to seven million people. It's a city with a vertical presence; high-rise buildings reach skyward at every turn.


Hong Kong is an interesting city to explore, albeit at a hectic pace. All those residents have places to go too, as we discovered when we found ourselves on the Metro at rush hour. Come with us as we jump aboard at Tin Hau, the station near our hotel. Built deep unserground, the Metro runs just about everywhere in the city. It's the best way to travel.


Long before the Metro, when Hong Kong was an important piece of the British empire, people relied on the the Peak Tramway to reach the the Mid-Level neighbourhoods and the popular lookout on Victoria Peak. Today, taking the funicular to the Peak is a sight-seeing must. So we did, although on a Saturday it took ages to work through the line and catch a ride. The things we do to grab hold of a piece of history. Below, the tram terminus at Garden Road.


Opened in 1888 after three years of construction, the 1.4 km single-track tram route has a passing loop with tram cars. It covers a height difference of almost 400 metres. The cars are beautifully maintained and it was great fun to climb the route.


The view from the Peak looking back down the tramway.


And here, the view of Hong Kong's world-class skyline and harbour.

Rob patiently watches the advancing sunset. Not sure who his dark-haired companion might be, but she does provide scale. Rob and I found it both amusing and practical to be head-and-shoulders taller than most Hong Kong residents.

The sunset sends the hills into silhouette; beyond, a dusky sea lies between Hong Kong Island and the Outlying Islands.

This post could easily end with the sunset and admittedly, several have, but Hong Kong is a city full of life and there are more images to share. Taken in a quiet street not far from the ferry terminal, the photo below captures the "Chinatown" side of Hong Kong I expected to find.

And then there are the well-dressed pedestrians. These young women are typical of the accessorized fashion style the emerging generation loves -- dayglow pumps and all. Hong Kong is headquarters for brand name shopping. In fact, shopping seems to be the national pastime for this Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.


There's no denying the merchandise is glamorous, if very expensive. While I am known to buy purses when I travel, this is as close as I will ever get to a Prada handbag. If you look closely, you can see the high rise retail stores reflected in the display window glass.



Back in Tin Hau, our hotel neighborhood, we wandered in an open-air space and found a wonderful reminder of colonial days. Looking her regal self is Queen Victoria, who accepted Hong Kong as part of her dominions in 1841.



At that time, according to the travel guide, National Geographic Traveler: Hong Kong, the population of Hong Kong Island was about 3650 souls living in about 20 villages and hamlets. Another 2000 lived on boats in the harbor. In the years following the British arrival and the eventual return of the territory to China, Hong Kong has been a magnet for immigrants from mainland China. Everyone comes seeking a better life.

The National Geographic guide does a good job of explaining the people of Hong Kong. Many mainlanders "faced extreme hardships in China, and Hong Kong was the place where they could better their lives and those of their children. People in Hong Kong have an incredible work ethic. It's not unusual for them to work 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. These long hours, teeming streets where you often have to battle just to sta. on the sidewalks, and crowded living conditions -- with families of five or six sometimes sharing a tiny apartment -- have given many Hong Kong people a competitive and strident nature." At times this was our experience. Yet we also encountered many kind people who had patience for visitors like us.


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