“It was a destination that had always held a special appeal for me, as I imagined it to be so different from anywhere else I had encountered – and when it came to it, Hong Kong certainly did not disappoint”.

By Terry Willey

Despite the British Colonial influences from days gone by, Hong Kong had  managed to retain and develop a unique Asian culture that somehow succeeds in combining features of Western culture with many Chinese traditions.

Some years ago, as a surprise, my wife had booked us a stay at a 4-star hotel in the centre of Hong Kong to celebrate our anniversary. However, whilst it was beautifully presented, clean and tidy, what she had not appreciated was that it was situated within the “red light district”, so on venturing out of the hotel we were regularly offered rather more than directions for food and drink!

The people were friendly enough, and pleased to accommodate tourism, but we found there was a rather frantic feel to the day-to-day life outside, with people rushing around at breakneck pace.

We thus decided to venture further afield, plan our trip extensively and take in as much of the local scenery and points of interest on offer, and, being so close to China, I was keen to see if it was possible to undertake an excursion there for a day.

Fast boat to China

Surprisingly such a trip was available to Kowloon, starting at 5am in the morning and returning at 8pm, although we needed a special day visa pass. The day began by leaving Hong Kong Island by fast jet and then we hopped aboard a waiting coach for our trip from the harbour area to Kowloon. The trip took almost three hours, stopping off at a local zoo, a children’s school and then in time for a traditional Chinese lunch at our destination.

Our visit to the zoo was quite extraordinary as there was extensive interaction with animals without any regard to health and safely issues.  In fact my wife was invited to have a photo shoot with her arm around an 8-foot black bear, which whilst on a collar and chain with a keeper, was quite a daunting experience! Clearly the bear was sedated for the benefit of the tourist attraction. En route to the local school, we passed what was described by our tour guide as a ‘new world village’ with a population of more than 20,000 people and no-one over the age of 25 years being allowed to live there. There were numerous factories, military training grounds and other scientific and technical facilities in which young people were encouraged to develop their skills and then move on after attaining the considered age of development.

The school we visited was a primary school, which was excellently presented and with the children dressed immaculately. One of our party questioned whether this was a typical example rather than a special demonstration for tourism, but was not bold enough to voice his opinion other than to the rest of our party.  An escorted visit to a local market was also arranged, and was not for the faint hearted, as we witnessed live frogs being dissected for their legs and their blood retained for a speciality frogs’ blood soup.  Live chickens were also plentifully for sale, along with birds for pets.

Taking “the bullet”

Following a most enjoyable traditional Chinese lunch, which incidentally did not bear any resemblance to western Chinese food, we visited a local temple before returning to our starting point opposite Hong Kong Island by “bullet train”. Our bus tour had taken just under three hours whereas the return by train1.5 hours with an average speed more than 100 miles an hour. The bullet train proved to be yet another extraordinary experience in itself. Holding several hundred people, it had stewardesses attached to each section of the carriages and each person was given a specific seat number – there was no question of anyone being allowed to stand. The reasons for this became clear as there were three different isle 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 on the train. However, the trolleys were delivering for sale, quite to the contrary of what we had anticipated, historical stamps, and albums and old coins on another, all of which were presumed to be of interest to tourists and collectors.

We finally could smell hot food approaching which tempted our appetites but sadly when it arrived it was purely napkins and cooked chicken legs! Following the fast jet back to Hong Kong and a taxi to our hotel, our experience was finally concluded and with the day almost at an end, we sat over a nightcap and reflected on the quite extraordinary events of the day.

Seeing the sights

The following days included a visit to Happy Valley horse racing on astroturf and under flood lights, a trip to Stanley Market on the south of the Island and to the lovely beach resort at Aberdeen where we were confronted by Chinese students on a coach trip who wanted photos taken with English people.

No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without taking the cable car to the Upper Levels and witnessing the most magnificent view over the Hong Kong Harbour. It was clear to see that there had been some major financial investment in developing the Upper Levels with new restaurants, specialist shops and museum pieces to enjoy.

On our final day we decided to take an open tram pass through Hong Kong to the new territories where it terminated. The trams, which have parts that are closed and others that are open, were brimming with life.   It proved highly desirable to secure a seat upstairs to the rear, where part of the roof is open, to observe the magnificent sights of Hong Kong and the hustle and bustle of the people below. They all had televisions on board too, displaying local news and adverts.

On a quirky note, we were fascinated that after each meal, whether at the hotel or at the restaurants, oranges were always offered, and we subsequently learnt that in Hong Kong, people consume more oranges than anywhere else in the world!

They say it is to demonstrate the very sweetness of life itself – and we certainly witnessed a real contentment in the people, along with a keenness to understand and welcome a western influence in their lives.