Exploring Hong Kong

Hong Kong

On our penultimate day in Hong Kong I was lucky enough to have the afternoon off, so I got a taxi back to Kowloon as I had a lot more exploring to do. I started at the Jade Market off Kansu Street, the day-version of Temple Night Market. Don’t go here for jade unless you’re aiming for cheap and cheerful over quality, but it’s good for traditional snuff bottles, stone pendants and ornaments etc. They do overcharge, or try to, but it’s still fairly reasonable compared to the UK even with a 200% mark-up, so if you’re not a fan of haggling you can still pick up affordable souvenirs. The conversion rate can be confusing though, so just be careful they don’t add on an extra zero when typing the price into a calculator for you, taking £7.50 up to £75 for example… “Oh sorry, mistake” will get the price back to normal if you point it out.

I then headed North to Public Square Street, as I was curious about the Tin Hau Temple marked on the map there.

Hong Kong

Apparently the square used to directly face the Yau Ma Tei waterfront in the late 19th century, but it is now almost three kilometers from the shore as a result of land reclamation. Which seems a shame to me, denying the temple of its marine vista and influences (I’m particularly enamoured of a certain church in Cornwall thanks to its waterside location), but Hong Kong and Kowloon are woefully short of land on which to build. In front of the temple and enclosed by reposing banyan trees is the Yau Ma Tei Community Centre Rest Garden. It is meant as a gathering place for senior citizens, though I saw people of all ages enjoying the peace and quiet as they dozed on benches, or ate packed lunches whilst contemplating the trees.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The temple is free to enter, the only stipulation being that you refrain from photographing worshippers and staff going about their work. There were perhaps a handful of people inside when I visited, half of whom were tourists like me, so this wasn’t a difficult rule to abide to. It is a small building, a little like a renaissance theatre in that the centre of the roof is open to the elements and the walkways surrounding it therefore cast into exotic shadows. As a willing spectator you are simultaneously a part of the spectacle and separate from it, until you stand or kneel before an altar where you are cast into a unifying glow of light. Unlike Buddhist or Taoist temples and monasteries, Chinese temples are built to worship Shenism, the Chinese folk religion, where people revere nature gods and ancestors.

Hong Kong

Huge, richly-hued incense-coils are suspended from the ceiling. Golden trays hang beneath each to catch the falling ash, and inscribed prayer cards laconically rotate at the centre of each spiral.

Hong KongThere are also a number of different altars at which to worship, though I observed supplicants moving between these in an incense-fuelled circuit, so suspect prayers to each and every deity are more likely to yield results.

Hong Kong

This guy was my favourite

Hong Kong

In addition to statues of the gods, the Tin Hau temple was also adorned with walls of photos of the worshippers’ ancestors

I spent as long as I could here, without wanting to intrude. The atmosphere was peaceful, but also somehow intense.  Clouds of incense drifted through the air, giving you the faintly surreal sense of having stepped into another world or plane, and the gentle ‘shhh’ of ash falling to the ground like snow was one of the few sounds to break the silence.

When I finally emerged back into the sunlight I decided to follow Shanghai Street, and weave my way South to the Star Ferry pier via Kowloon Park.

Hong KongI was quite pleased to capture this photo, as I’d read about these women in a guide-book! They look like they’re pushing carts of rubbish around the city, but in actual fact are often transporting mail, machinery and fresh produce as well as recycling and… yes, actual rubbish. Apparently they’re very efficient, and effective at traversing the steep and narrow backstreets. The bright-blue medical scrubs are a little alarming at first though, in conjunction with air-pollution masks and bags containing who knows what (or who)

Hong Kong

A typical Hong Kong skyline, populated as much by jungle as by skyscrapers. Vegetation is everywhere here and, rather than being planted in neat lines as in other cities, resembles more a perpetual invasion. Trees grow out of cracks in the buildings, and bougainvillea suspend umbrellas of delicate, fuchsia lanterns like tissue-paper origami above walkways.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

After perhaps 15-20 mins of ambling through the crowds, a few wrong turns and some mimed directions from non-plussed, non-English speaking locals, I found it. Compared to the bustle of the streets Kowloon Park is a verdant oasis, in a way that London’s parks never quite manage.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The usual cyclists and joggers (or more serious ‘runners’ in their neon lycra) were absent, contributing to the peaceful atmosphere. There were plenty of people exercising, but they wore normal clothing in muted shades of navy, black and cream, stretched against the railings with calm expressions rather than histrionic grunts aimed to garner attention, and either jogged quietly or made use of the exercise equipment.

Hong Kong

Scattered across the park is a series of climbing frames, monkey bars and balancing poles, NOT it seems aimed at children, but in fact for the very-lucky adults to use, turning the entire area into one big adventure playground. I am very jealous of this, as these days I have to borrow a child to be allowed into a play-park, which quite frankly is one of the greatest disappointments of adulthood. I still want a tree house. And a swing please. In fact I’m planning an all-out Robin Hood Prince of Thieves style forest-village (you never know when you’ll need it – skip to 1.40), when Tom and I finally buy our own place.

I may or may… not… have told him this. I’m sure he’ll come round to the idea.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Meandering steadily upwards along tiered paths I came across an aviary of tropical birds, and then spotted a flock of flamingoes below.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

There was a lot more to see but I had to get back by this point, so trotted off down Kowloon Park Drive to the Star Ferry pier, past huge designer stores with floodlit windows and gallery-like displays. As I mentioned before this ferry really is incredibly easy to use (insert coins or notes into machine, and your change plus a token for the barriers instantly rattles back out at you), and costs a mere 29 pence. It also provides the best views of Hong Kong, returning via the sea and weaving in and out of other boats.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Tom and I had a rather special dinner-date planned, as we’d been invited to use Duddells, a private member’s club not far from our hotel.

Hong Kong

Any excuse to wear this Diane von Furstenberg dress

Our taxi dropped us off at the top of a dilapidated looking side-street, and we made our way somewhat trepidatiously along it until we found the entrance. Inside of course it was a different story, and the external camouflage gave way to a leafy, roof-top bar and crisp, light-filled restaurant.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

 We were recommended cocktails based on our favourite spirits, and the bar’s erm… mixologist? came over to explain the ingredients in each in detail. He was very nice. Plus mine had a scented feather on it, which pleased me no end.

Hong Kong

The grin of a girl with a feather in her drink

After an hour of chatting beneath the stars (you can’t see them obviously because of the light-pollution, but they are there) we headed back downstairs to the restaurant. The maitre d’ was keen to recommend our courses, which I cautiously acceded to once I’d explained what I could/ couldn’t eat (no red meat, no poultry, no fish, only seafood). I’m not sure this was entirely grasped, as Tom was brought enough meat dishes to feed three people, with – we realised – the expectation that I would be able to share them, but the courses specifically recommended for me were fantastic.

Hong Kong - Duddells

For my main, the ‘Braised Imperial Bird’s Nest with Fresh Crab Meat’ was suggested for me. Now, I wouldn’t have chosen bird-saliva soup on my own, but when in China… this is about as adventurous as I’m going to go in culinary terms (technically it’s not meat either, so I can hardly complain), so I thought I may as well pluck up the courage to try it. Edible bird’s-nests are a Chinese delicacy due to their rarity, and are literally nests constructed by swiftlets from solidified saliva. They’re harvested from huge caves, and are apparently the most expensive animal product consumed by humans. They’ve been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, typically softened into faintly sweet-flavoured, gelatinous strands and added to soup.

I did actually enjoy it, and it was amazing to have the opportunity to try something I’ve read about but never actually seen served in a restaurant before. I probably wouldn’t order it again, as although there were no prices on the menu I suspect it equated to at least a third of the total bill (which was a lot, though was very generously paid-for by our clients without our realising at the time), but I would recommend it.

Hong Kong - Cathay Pacific Business Class

Just enough time for a quick glass of champagne in The Wing, Cathay’s Business/ First Class lounge

The next morning we returned to London, after teaching one final lesson on top of Victoria Peak. This time, the flight was divine, as we were flown back in Cathay Pacific’s Business Class. Instead of rows of chairs, each passenger has their own little booth, angled away from the others and separated in the central aisle by an actual wall. The chairs slide forward and then recline until they are entirely horizontal, and everything is ergonomically designed to perfection. Every time you go to lean an arm or elbow on something, there is an ideally angled ledge or cushion waiting for it. The food was no better than in Economy, simply more fancily presented, but you don’t fly for the food do you, you fly for the reclining chair. Never again Economy, your days of torturing me are over.

Hong Kong - Cathay Business Class

I didn’t take the above photo, I had to steal it from the internet, as I got so excited I forgot to take proper pictures

We both enjoyed Hong Kong immensely, and there were even discussions about the possibility of moving there in the future. I don’t know if I could give up the British seasons though… it’s so nice to have four distinctive parts to the year rather than just ‘hot’ and ‘too hot’.

There will certainly be a return visit though, next time for a holiday, so any recommendations on what to do are very welcome.

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Arriving in Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Tom and I rarely take on travelling-placements these days as we’re usually too busy running Winterwood, but there was no way I was turning down an all-expenses-paid trip to Hong Kong!

I used to pass through it every year, as Mum, Dad and I oscillated between home in Australia and holidays with my UK-based grandparents, and then of course between Nauru and the UK, but I haven’t been back for twenty years since we moved permanently to the UK (Dad and I even got British passports eventually. And no, I don’t know why they allowed two obstreperous, misanthropic Aussies into the country either, never mind let us stay – probably an admin error). The only thing I really remember about Hong Kong though was my first ever cinema experience, when my parents took me to see the first Jurassic Park film as I was into dinosaurs as a kid and they didn’t realise I was going to scream through the whole film in terror with my coat over my face.

I still hate velociraptors.

The flight over was horrendous, as I am not used to flying long-haul in Economy (the benefit of belonging to a family of pilots. You have to listen to a lot of stories about planes, model planes, drones, birds of prey, bees… anything that flies really, but you are compensated with free travel). My recently-broken ankle swelled to twice the size, and in 12hrs I slept for perhaps 2 in total. Nevertheless we survived, managed to navigate immigration, and our driver dropped us off half an hour later at the Grand Hyatt. I enjoyed this hotel, a lot.Hong Kong

The hotel lobby

Our room was about the size of our whole flat in London, there was 24hr room service, a gym, spa and rooftop swimming pool, seven restaurants, two bars and a cafe – all in one building with quite spectacular views over the Harbour.

Hong Kong

We were treated to glorious sunsets over the island every evening, as a gentle apricot blush soon developed into carmine and copper streaks, enhanced I suspect by the high levels of pollution, then steadily deepened into an ocean of fire before the city’s neon took over.

Hong Kong

The ever-changing view from our hotel window

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

When we sent a bag of clothes off to be laundered they returned wrapped in tissue paper and ribbons.

Hong Kong

Oh, and there was a pillow menu. No joke.

I stuck to the gym myself, and a few tai chi workouts in the bathroom whilst Tom was fitting in evening Skype lessons with his London students (“what was that noise?” “Oh don’t worry, Jade just fell over again. She was probably practising ‘white rhino looking at the moon whilst defeating 2-3 ninjas’ or something. She struggles with that), but there was also a pretty special pool that Tom made the most of.

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We ate at the hotel a couple of times, as missing a whole night’s sleep then getting up at 7.30am every day instead of our usual 10.30 ish-probably-later am knocked us back a bit, and we were there to work so didn’t have that much spare time. We particularly enjoyed One Harbour Road, which served traditional Cantonese food and apparently “emulates the elegance of a high-society, 1930s era Chinese mansion”. Anything 1930s has my vote, and the food and service were both excellent.

We did manage to have some fun though, it wasn’t all fresh fruit platters and chinese herb pillows. On our second night we got the Star Ferry over to TST (Tsim Sha Tsui) then a taxi to Kowloon’s Night Market. A jumble of wonderfully-awful tat and old opium pipes, jade figurines and porn, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Hong Kong

The view of Hong Kong from the ferry, a ferry so easy to use I even managed it all on my own one day. It powers sedately across the channel between Hong Kong island and the mainland of Kowloon, skyscrapers and tree-clad hills first receding and then approaching. At night the sea turns black as bitumen, and is illuminated in streaks as if buckets of neon paint have been emptied forcefully across it. Plus it only costs $3.4 HKD, or 29 pence. Yep, pence. Public transport is practically free over here.

Hong Kong

The entrance to Temple Street, the main night market, but there are more stalls on neighbouring streets so make sure you explore. You can pick up a lot of bargains here, especially if you’re willing to haggle, and a lot of weird paraphernalia whose value lies solely in its entertainment factor.

Hong Kong

Hong KongHong KongJade like neon-signs

Hong Kong

We then got a taxi over to the International Commerce Centre, as this ludicrously tall building hosts the highest bar on earth, Ozone. Tom doesn’t like lifts, and I really thought he was going to have an aneurism in this one as it shuddered its way towards the Ritz-Carlton hotel’s lobby on the 101st floor in less than a minute, before we had to get out, and resume our ascent to the 118th floor (420 metres above sea level) in a second lift, this one shaped like a lovely marble coffin. Tom took one look at it and muttered “I’m never coming here again”, before grimly – but bravely – stepping inside.

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The view was worth it, just about, though my camera couldn’t cope at all so I had to borrow the above photo from Tom. No doubt better photos could have been taken from the outdoor patio, but this shuts when there are high winds.

Hong Kong

There were some interesting design details and the lighting was great for taking interior photos, but Ozone doesn’t really have a sense of its own identity; it really could be anywhere. Don’t bother dressing up as the expat clientele certainly didn’t, though maybe London’s sartorial standards are simply higher. That or Londoners are just less able to escape the hamster wheel… People certainly seem more relaxed in Hong Kong, as if the permanently tropical climate enforces a steadier pace and less-manic mentality than our colder shores.

Hong KongHong Kong

Hong Kong

Some of the drinks were excellent, some less so, and the prices were comparable with London bars ($180 HKD or around £15 for a cocktail). As to other rooftop bars, I also heard very good things about Sugar. Apparently a hit with Hong Kong hipsters and in-the-know expats, it’s ideal if you want somewhere more laid-back than Ozone’s club-like atmosphere. Otherwise there’s Sevva, if you want to go upmarket, a penthouse bar owned by Chanel’s former Asia Pacific communications director and Hong Kong style icon, Bonnie Gokson. If you’re short of time I’d recommend trying Sugar or Sevva over Ozone, as they seem to have more character, but then again it’s not every day you get to visit the highest bar in the world.

We eventually got a taxi back to the Hyatt ($180 HKD for a 20 minute drive, including the $20 crossing toll), already looking forward to what the next day would bring. Hong KongTales of temples, flamingos and eating bird’s-nests to follow.

Has anyone else visited Hong Kong recently or, perhaps more interestingly, not so recently? I’d love to hear your stories.

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Fight Club

Tai Chi

About three months ago, I started doing MMA.

Mixed Martial Arts is, according to Wikipedia, “a full-contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, from a variety of other sports and martial arts”. I don’t really go in for the grappling stuff (because I’m a girl and it seems sort of weird?) but I do like hitting things, and not getting hit in the face, so I’m getting good at both.

Tom has been training for a couple of years now, and I’ve watched his transformation from pretty good boxer to all-out killing-machine with a great deal of pride (and, er, maybe a little nervousness?!). People at our gym tend to stop what they’re doing and openly stare when he starts beating up the punch bag there, and he’s taught me the basics of boxing over the years we’ve been together.

It’s a difficult dynamic though, when one half of a couple is teaching the other, and I’m never good at being told what to do at the best of times, so we sort of stalled recently. Well, I kept getting frustrated, throwing my gloves on the floor and stomping off in a huff actually. Ahem. So Tom suggested I work with his personal trainer Neil instead, as I’d be less of a brat with someone else and also because his personal trainer is the best.

We mostly focus on tai chi chuan, a martial discipline that has different levels and applications, and all starts with the ‘forms’. These are patterns of movement often inspired by animal behaviour, that build muscle memory so they can be translated into sequences of strikes and blocks etc when needed. They have just the best names. Like ‘Golden dragon coiled round a pillar’, ‘Civet cat catching rats’, ‘Embrace tiger, return to mountain’ and, one of my favourites, ‘ Jade rabbit facing the moon’ (the latter basically involves standing still with your arms out but it’s good for you. Awesome). Also, one day, I’ll get to play with learn how to use a sword, and then my life will be complete.

I was sceptical at first, but I’ve got so much stronger, fitter and more toned since I started. For the first couple of months my old back injuries would bother me for days afterwards, as if I had a large, vertical disc inside the centre of my back radiating pain, but it’s slowly improving. I suspect because having my posture and movement constantly corrected is resulting in positive – and hopefully long-term – effects. Doing an hour + of cardio at the gym most days followed by half an hour of weights is all very well, but it really isn’t enough to sculpt a body that’s actually useful, and for tai chi you don’t need a horse, or a climbing wall, or even a set of hand weights – you just need yourself (er, and a Neil. You need one of those some of the time also).

Here are some photos of Tom, my friend Katia and I training together, and for more pictures/ details about Neil’s approach check out his website here.

Jade and Katya 4 (1323) (800x533)

Tai Chi

Tai ChiTai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

It looks like I’m shouting encouragement here, but I think I was actually saying “stop hitting so hard!”

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

‘Pushing hands’ exercises here. Sounds stupid doesn’t it – nope, really difficult. Lots of rotating around your core and not dropping your posture and bending knees and feet at the correct angles and maintaining perfect balance whilst trying to gracefully push a brick wall backwards.

Tai Chi Tai Chi

Tai ChiTai Chi

Tai ChiTai ChiTai ChiTai Chi

Tai Chi

Tai Chi

Noooo kettlebells training for me. I have a bad back remember. No it’s not because I’m lazy, how dare you?!

Tai Chi

Bit of… er… ‘ring-work’ (?) here. I don’t know what things are called. Neil doesn’t tell me, because I laugh at him.Tai ChiTai ChiTai Chi

Hardcore training. No fun being had here!

Tai Chi

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