You know that feeling you have when you just know you have forgotten something. Like an irritating itch tingling the centre of your spine, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there! Well I have this feeling almost every day. Not the annoying itch of course, I mean that lingering feeling of forgetfulness. I’m fully convinced it wavers around the driveway outside my apartment, mischievously waiting to instantaneously cling on to my sense of insecurity the moment I step out my front door. For me, it’s a daily experience.
Such a feeling may not be so prevalent if I could stick to my inner monologue’s righteous promises I often make to myself. “Visit the gym more, have an early night for a change, practice on your damn guitar, oh, and perhaps write a post for your blog every now and again.” So, to fulfil the latter of these promises, let’s move swiftly on.
As far as cities go I’m not one for visiting the same place twice. Rio would be one of only two current exceptions to this rule. In fact, I’d move there in a samba style heartbeat if it were financially viable. The second exception, is be Hong Kong (HK).
So, let’s talk HK, because I have now been not once, but twice, and it so happens to be a place worth talking about!
What amazed me initially about the city when I first arrived was the level of English spoken. Here’s a place that pushes the language in spoken form. In Korea, English appears to be all about grammar, geared toward the final exams taken before university. I’m increasingly getting the impression nobody cares for speaking English unless they genuinely enjoy the language. It’s just not important enough. I have “upper level” students who can barely utter a sentence, but give them a worksheet and you’d think they were natives. In HK, things are different. This instantly makes life straightforward for the fresh off the boat tourist.
A single train ride whisks you from the airport directly into one of the best subway systems I’ve ever experienced. From there you can buy an Octopus card, which is basically HK’s equivalent to London’s Oyster card. You can even use this card to pay for snacks in one of the subway’s many shops. Handy for when you spot a unique opportunity to try a tasty green tea Kit-Kat.
When one begins to imagine HK, one is often instantly teleported into the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island. With its towering titanic skyscrapers, dancing carefully around the streets below as they mingle in every direction like an over-packed dance floor. Their 21st century steel and glass outfits gleaming under the hot sun. All the while a humongous colony of diversity, where east meets west scurries back and forth, to and upwards and downwards, coming and going in their charismatic 20th century trams and taxis. The noises, the sights, the smells, I’ve yet to discover a city quite like it.
The thing is, these are far from the best aspects of HK. Sure, it’s worth a gander up The Peak Tram, halfway to the sun and back just to gaze over the incredible city heights, but the highlights so to speak, will be found elsewhere. Away from all the noise of the bulging banking district, lie muted marketplaces, tiny temples, and possibly the most delicious dim sum the world has ever tasted. Taipei may strongly disagree with that last claim however…
So, my message to cap off part one is simple. If you’re ever fortunate enough to find yourself in the “Pearl of the Orient”, of course you must visit HK island, but don’t spend too long dwelling under the outstretched shadows of the dancing giants. Have yourself immersed amongst the antique markets of Hollywood Road, go for a long walk through suburban Mong Kok or hang out inside a giant bowl of ice cream in Tsim Sha Tsui. (Not real ice-cream but fun all the same).
Outside of the city lies both magic and mystique. To the south-west is the beautiful Lantau Island. I long train ride out to Tung Chung station takes you to the rather well-known and exceedingly expensive cable car located a stone throw away. Having baulked at the prices for a ride in one of these little glass capsules before my journey had even begun, I was already seeking out the bus station that would take me to the very same spot for a mere pittance. The bus station can be found just outside Exit B of the subway station and to the right-hand side of the cable car station. Finding this bus depot may sound like wandering around three sides of a monopoly board, but well worth considering. The bus route still offers some utterly breathtaking views too. Not bad for under 20HKD. Expect the cable car to be well above 200!
At the top of the mountain you must ascend is Ngong Ping, where the colossus Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, sits calmly overlooking the natural beauty that surrounds him. A short soul-destroying climb up the 268 steps that stretch out before him is well worth the rewards. Be sure to stock up on water and sun cream. It wasn’t even close to midday as I scaled the final leg towards Big Buddha but the temperature was already well above 30 degrees Celsius.
After hanging out with Big Buddha, it was time to check out the Po Lin Monastery nearby. A spectacular place jam-packed with truly stunning Buddha iconography.
Here you will also find the Grand Hall of 10,000 Buddha. Quite simply one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever laid eyes upon. It’s only too bad that the interior was off-limits to any photography. Thanks to google however, I can still post a glimpse of what I saw. It must be emphasised however, no photo in existence could ever do this place any true justice, no words could possibly come close to illustrating the feelings of sheer awe it truly inspires. Perhaps the English dictionary needs updating, the word simply isn’t in existence yet.