Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Monday, April 06, 2015

32. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is the World's Most Vertical City

Seven million people live on the island of Hong Kong. Per square mile, it is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. It has 4 times more people than NYC.  Ethnic Chinese are 95% of the population and are mostly from the cities of Guangzhou and Taishan in the neighboring province of Guangdong. Their native tongue is Cantonese, not Mandarin, the official Chinese language.

The city on the island of Hong Kong (HK), with its original name meaning Fragrant Harbor, was just a small fishing village at the beginning of the 19th Century.This village, this island, HK, became a British colony after the First Opium War (1839-1842) with China. The Island served the British as a stronghold for the China trade. This British colony was originally confined to just Hong Kong Island but the boundaries were later extended in stages. The Kowloon Peninsula was added in 1860 and the New Territories in 1898. These colonies were set up under a 99 year lease agreement between Great Britten and China and therefore expired in 1997.

In 1997, HK became a “Special Administrative Region” of China. Agreements were signed in 1997 to keep Hong Kong ruled with special government rules. Not British rules, nor Chinese rules. These new agreements expire in 2047 when China will have absolute rule over Hong Kong. Yet the region will always be governed, it is said, with a “high degree of autonomy” after China's take over. However, the people of Hong Kong are very worried that many of their freedoms will be curtailed.

HK is one of the world’s leading international financial centers. HK has a major capitalistic service economy characterized by low taxes and free trade. HK has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. The HK Dollar is the 8th most traded currency in the world.
Hong Kong is the Most Densely Populated City in the World

The large population and lack of space to expand the city, caused demand for denser constructions in HK, which caused the city to evolve into a centre for modern architecture and the world’s most vertical city. Under British guidance a very large area (70%) of the space around HK remained as a “Greenbelt”. A very hilly terrain around HK, not very suitable for development, was put aside to preserve the environment, to have water reservoirs and to keep the air pollution manageable. Since 1997 encroachment into these areas has been growing. HK now imports potable water from China to supplement their needs.

According to the UN and the WHO in 2012, HK has the longest life expectancy of any country in the world.
Old Airport Now Converted Into a Cruise Ship Port

A lot has changed in HK since the last time I visited. Having seen only the inner city and the business areas of HK when I visited last in early 1996, I opted to visit the “countryside” on this stopover. In 1996 I still flew into the old airport which now has been converted into a cruise-ship port since the old landing strip ended in the water of the harbor. An ingenious idea!
The new airport, Chek Lap Kok, has been moved away from HK, to two islands off Lantau Island.
New Tsing Ma Bridge
A lot of building had to be done to create this new airport, Hong Kong International Airport (HKG). Land had to be filled in, trees cut down, hills erased, roads needed to be constructed etc. Two large bridges had to be built to connect Kowloon and the New Territories to the new airport. Naturally, green space was lost building all these new infrastructures. Tsing Yi is a good lookout to give a panoramic view of the
new Tsing Ma Bridge.

Stilted Village of Tai O

Carol and I went next to the stilted village of Tai O. Known as “Hong Kong’s Venice”. This fishing village is not yet polluted by city life. We found friendly people, wooden houses on stilts, a much simpler life style and numerous temples. No skyscrapers are nearby. Small streets, a bit twisted, wound over canals and between the many shops. Some narrow draw bridges stopped mostly foot traffic to allow
Lots of Shops in the Village of Tai O
boats to pass. It was a refreshing sight from busy downtown HK. A New Year’s dragon went from shop to shop to bring good fortune while we were there. Red envelops were traded for good fortune to be supplied to the shops. A music band made a lot of noise with drums and cymbals to make sure the spirits heard them.

The New Year's Dragon

Inside One of the Temples



Band Accompanying the Dragon

The Great Bronze Buddha
Following the fishing village we visited the Po Lin Monastery, located at 1700 feet on the Ngong Ping Plateau. This place was a very busy spot due to the main attraction, the 250 ton, 102 foot high Great Bronze Buddha statue and since it was the 2nd day of the Chinese New Year (the year of the Goat), this area was abuzz.

The Great Bronze Buddha

The Great Bronze Buddha

Burning Incense so Their Prayers
Will Be Heard
Many Incense burners were producing a pleasant, smoke filled atmosphere. People prayed and asked for good fortune from their gods. To see so many representations of humanity disregard the business part of the place and see them turn contemplative and inward was interesting to me. The people believed in the message the wooden sticks, falling from the wooden cup they shook, gave them. To them it was a very serious revelation. To me it was amazement. Some call it superstition but in the West a lot of people read and act upon their Horoscope. It is what you believe that counts, right?
Ngong Ping Sky Rail (note person doing
Tai Chi on the path below)

To end our excursion we rode the Ngong Ping Sky Rail. A spectacular, 5.7 KM long, cable car ride took us around 20 to 25 minutes to complete. The “Greenbelt” was right below us. Trees as far as one could see but also the latest encroachments on green space were visible. We had an aerial view of the new Airport. We saw old fishing ports that now have clusters of high rise apartment buildings crowding them out. Spectacular views of Hong Kong,
Arm Chair Graves (the 2 red seals indicate
that at least 2 people in the grave were over 70
too. Along the aerial ride we spotted arm chair graves (family graves in a horse shoe shape) of wealthy folks who thought the graves were hidden when they built them, but the new cable cars expose them now for all to see. One grave really close, had 2 red chops (seals) showing that at least 2 people in this grave were over 70 years old. From this high above we could also see the new bridge being built that will connect HK to Macao in the near future. Another huge project in process that will alter the face of Hong Kong and will bring changes we can't even dream about yet.
The Night Market

On day two we took it easy, just visited the Night Market near Temple Street. It took a taxi ride to get there. Our ship is berthed quietly at the harbor but far away from any activity. The bargain prices we negotiated were offset by the taxi fare. Still it was an experience, especially the section called the food market where patrons threw the lobster shells,
They Are Really Messy Eaters
chicken bones, etc. right on the floor or under the table. I was not hungry at all while walking through this section. We did not stay long; we ate at the ship instead.

Night Market

Night Market

Day three was the day the ship left, it rained heavily all day. At night we were promised Hong Kong's famous harbor lightshow but somebody forgot we were berthed at the wrong section of the harbor, no light show for us. Instead we had fireworks in honor of Tet, the Chinese New Year.
Fireworks for Tet
Spectacular Fireworks

More Fireworks

Maybe if we were more centrally docked we would have done more in HK, but then it was actually enough for me. HK is a very busy, business place and I am on vacation. We did the vacation part on day one, off to Taiwan next. 

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