Hong Kong Skyline

Travel Update: Kowloon

After our whirlwind weekend in Singapore, we decided to take it easy with a trip to Kowloon. Like Lantau, Kowloon is part of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, but is not on Hong Kong island. Kowloon is actually on the mainland, just north of Hong Kong island and right across the border from the city of Shenzhen.

We took the MTR to the ferry docks, which entailed a quick stop at the International Finance Center (or “IFC” to the locals). IFC is Hong Kong’s premier luxury brands destination, which normally is not the sort of tagline that is likely to draw me in. One of the luxury brands that they play host to, however, is Apple. The store there is brand-new, and I had to drop by for some repairs on my Mac.

As you’re likely aware, Steve Jobs recently passed away. The store’s entrance was surrounded by flowers, portraits, figurines, and other memorabilia donated by people and businesses in the area. In addition, the store’s outward-facing glass wall was covered with personal notes expressing individuals’ feelings.

Sticky Notes at Apple Store
The display was very endearing.

We hopped on a ferry and sailed across Victoria Harbour to the mainland. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a group of Hare Krishna dancers.

Hare Krishna Dancers
They seemed to be having a good time.

We walked along the waterfront towards the Avenue of Stars (colloquially called the Star Walk). We happened across a wedding party taking photos by the water. The photographer must have been a family member, as he was quick to enlist our help after noticing our fancy-shamncy cameras.

For whatever reason, he handed his enormous professional camera rig over to me, despite it being more similar to Kat’s device. She got stuck with one of the family’s basic point-and-shoot cameras, while I got to play with the Frankencamera 5000.

Wedding Shoot
I took to my new role with gusto.

We also found time for some of our own photo-taking. The waterway offered plenty to see.

Dragon Boat
This boat was called the “Duk Ling”. Hong Kongers have a sense of humour.

We soon found ourselves on the Star Walk, which was littered with plaques bearing names that we did not recognize. They weren’t all unknown to us, however – we came across Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, and Jet Li.

As an aside, some of the star plaques had handprints pressed into them. This allowed me to discover that Jet Li has surprisingly petite hands. I’m pretty sure that he could still kick my butt blindfolded, though.

Amelia and Bruce Lee
Fun fact: Rumour has it that Amelia’s mom dated Bruce Lee briefly.

The Star Walk wasn’t all about honouring the greats of Hong Kong cinema. As in the rest of Hong Kong, enterprising locals had found ways to make use of public space for their benefit. In this case, that means fishing into the harbour.

Fishing in Victoria Harbour
This is so Hong Kong, you have no idea.

We began making our way away from the water and into Kowloon. Kowloon isn’t quite as small or as dense as Hong Kong Island, and this comparative luxury of space is reflected in its planning and architecture. Sidewalks are more generous, parks are more frequent, green space actually exists. If I were to describe it as a taller version of Richmond (building-wise, that is), Vancouverites would know what I meant.

Kowloon Buildings
If it wasn’t for the second building from the left, you wouldn’t know this was in Hong Kong.

We were aiming for the Hong Kong Museum of History, but stopped by briefly in a camera shop to drool over the latest and greatest lenses for our cameras. Well, mostly my camera. It’s a Sony NEX-5, which is part of a relatively new line of DSLR-quality cameras with point-and-shoot-sized bodies. Basically, high quality in a small, all-digital device. I love it dearly, but one of the downsides of this particular camera is that it debuted with only three compatible (and expensive) lenses. New lenses came out while we’ve been traipsing through Asia, and I’ve been eager to have a look.

Unfortunately, the camera shop didn’t have the particular lenses I was looking for, so we continued on our merry way. It wasn’t long before we found the museum. They took their “showing the history of Hong Kong” mandate pretty seriously – the exhibit started with the year 400 million BC.

Amelia with the Stargate
Amelia was enamoured with the Stargate-style entrance, but could only lock one chevron.

We enjoyed the museum quite a bit. It covered geological prehistory, the history and societies of pre-colonial inhabitants, colonial history, wars, and Hong Kong’s recent history following its return to China in 1997.

The societies of pre-colonial Hong Kong were organized into four major groups. There were the Boat Dwellers (who lived their entire lives on fishing junks just off the coast of Hong Kong), the Hoklo (who also lived in boats, and dominated the salt-processing trade), the Hakka (a land-dwelling group of peasant farmers) and the Cantonese (who should require no introduction). Each group had its own exhibit.

Amelia with Basket
History was crammed into every nook and cranny. Amelia was determined to find all of it.

Hong Kong’s colonial history got a fair amount of coverage as well. The British, being the commerce-obsessed rascals that we know and love, managed to get their Chinese colony into a fair number of scrapes over opium (multiple times!) and politics. Clever fellows that they were, they came prepared.

Amelia with Cannon
Amelia was eager to man the battlements.

Although the museum was not always enthusiastic about British rule, they had some especially choice words for the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong that lasted for most of the Second World War. By all accounts, the occupiers were brutal and food was scarce. However, it did give rise to some entertaining propaganda.

Japanese Pamphlet
I am beginning to see why Japan has such a PR problem in China.

After we were done at the museum, we went to a nearby sushi restaurant. It appeared to be quite popular with the locals. The irony of this has only just occurred to me.

Sushi Dinner in Kowloon
It was cheap and good, but sushi is cheaper and gooder in Vancouver. True fact.

After dinner we headed back to the waterfront. Every night Hong Kong’s skyline’s most prominent buildings take part in a light show. They paint the clouds with lasers and run rainbows of colours over LCD screens. Plus, it’s all set to music.

The best spot to view the show from is from the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour. It was actually a little anticlimactic, given the degree to which the nightly event had been hyped up.

Hong Kong Light Show
There was almost more light from camera screens than from the buildings.

By this point is was 9pm, but I was fighting off a cold and was exhausted. I caught the MTR home, but the ladies were just getting started. They trundled off to Kowloon’s night markets to hunt for bargains. They tell me that they had a good time. Amelia came home with a new dress, and Kat dragged in a wig and some computer peripherals.

Kowloon Night Market
The hunting grounds, from which the ladies returned flush with victory.

As chance would have it, some friends from school (including the guys we went to Lantau with) called us up while I was on my way home. They thought it was a good night for some cards. We agreed, which made my whole go-to-bed-early plan a little unfeasible. Still, we played long into the night and had a generally grand time.

This lackadaisical weekend was a much-needed refresher after the four-day sprint of Singapore, but Singapore was a restful nap in comparison to our next trip’s plans. Next week, we begin a two-and-a-half week expedition to Japan, the land of sushi, anime and large red dots.

Wish us luck.