It was a destination that had a special appeal as I envisaged it to be quite different to other destinations, writes Terry Willey.
It did not disappoint and it was clear that, despite the British Colonial influences from days gone by, it had very much retained and developed an Asian culture that demonstrated a desire to become westernised, while retaining Chinese traditions.
My wife booked a four–star hotel in the centre of Hong Kong Island which was beautifully presented, clean and tidy. However, what she did not appreciate is that is was very much situated within the ‘red light district’ and upon venturing out of the hotel we were regularly offered more than directions to food and drink!
We decided to plan our trip to take in as much of the local scenery and points of interest as possible in the short time available. I was keen to see if it was possible to undertake a day excursion into China. Surprisingly such a trip was available, travelling to Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, via Kowloon. The day began by leaving Hong Kong Island harbour by fast jet and a coach was waiting on the mainland. The trip took four hours, stopping off at a local zoo, children’s school and for a traditional Chinese lunch.
Our zoo visit was unforgettable, as there was extensive interaction with several animals without any regard to health and safety. My wife was invited to have a photo taken with a bear. To my amazement a large black bear, six-feet high, was brought out on a collar and chain for her photo and before leaving was presented with an embossed photo plate for a small charge. The zoo was very clean and well kept.
On route to a local primary school we passed through what was described by our tour guide as a ‘new world village’ consisting of a population in excess of 20,000 people and no one over the age of 25 years allowed to reside there. There were numerous factories, military training grounds and other scientific and technical facilities where young people were encouraged to develop their skills.
Through the coach windows we witnessed varied scenery and children marching in school playgrounds with some brandishing flags. It left me with an impression of not just a demonstration of strength but one of discipline and pride.
The primary school was excellently presented with the children dressed immaculately. We were treated to a performance of music and dance followed by interaction with the children in small groups. English was being taught and the children were very keen to learn all about our country.
Following a most enjoyable traditional Chinese lunch, which did not bear any resemblance to western Chinese food, we visited a local market and temple before returning to Hong Kong Island. The market was not for the faint hearted and several of the ladies in our party decided to pass it by. Live or dissected chickens and other poultry, frogs and reptiles were all available for sale. There is a saying in China; ‘we will eat anything with legs, except a chair’ and this was certainly demonstrated in the market.
We witnessed much begging in the streets and were advised not to respond. The temple was brightly decorated and ironically showered with gifts of food, which appeared to remain in the temple.
We were presented with designated seat tickets for our return to Hong Kong by ‘bullet train’ holding hundreds of people. A stewardess was attached to each section of the train to escort you to your seat as standing was not permitted.
There were three different aisle trolley deliveries during our journey. We were all feeling somewhat hungry as we approached early evening and were looking forward to the delivery of some food. However, two of the trolleys were selling historical stamps, albums and old coins, which were presumed to be of interest to tourists and collectors alike. When the food trolley arrived it was only selling undercooked chicken legs, so we decided to remain hungry!
Our brief visit to China gave us an insight into Chinese life and customs, travelling several hundred miles in just over 24 hours. Despite the revelations, I like and admire the Chinese and we promised ourselves another visit.
The following days on Hong Kong Island included a visit to Happy Valley night horse racing, a trip to Stanley Market on the south of the Island and the lovely beach resort at Aberdeen. At this resort a coach-load of children from China suddenly descended on us as we relaxed on a pier seat, to speak with us and take photos of us. On reflection, we did appear to be the only English people around, and they were probably encouraged to do so by their teacher.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without taking the cable car to the Upper Levels and witnessing the most magnificent view over Hong Kong Harbour.
On our final day we decided to take an open ‘pink’ tram through Hong Kong to the new territories where it terminated. A trip not to be missed and an open top or front seat provides an excellent view of the hustle and bustle of the people in the city below.