Hong Kong has an identity that’s hard to define because of its contrasts. It’s part of China, yet it’s its own entity with currency, passports, and all. It’s Asian but with obvious Western influences from previous British colonialism. It’s a hip city, but engrained Chinese culture gives the city deep roots. Hong Kong is a business environment that’s unexpectedly balanced by nature, zen gardens, and other tangible treasures.
It simultaneously reminded me of Bangkok and Paris- cities that I find vastly different. The raw, dingy streets of Wan Chai made me feel like I was in Bangkok. Yet, I was reminded of Montremarte, Paris in upscale areas where the stairs carry European style buildings up through the hills.
Hong Kong flows organically along the water. Seeing this from above at Victoria Peak is necessary, but it’s even more exciting to be down in the action; the energetic hustle and bustle wraps you in.
I fell in love with the rickety trams that run from one end of Hong Kong Island to the other. With a few coins, I could hop on and be jerked along the main street- past high end stores, tiny, packed restaurants and groups of women sitting and chatting on cardboard boxes in outdoor spaces. (What’s up with the cardboard boxes?)
I was taken with Soho; I loved the expensive boutique shops, multicultural restaurants and tame, trendy vibe. And Soho has Midlevels- a long, outdoor escalator that glides up the hillside past more shops and cafés; I’ve never seen anything like it.
The hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s denser areas is balanced by open, outdoor spaces like the Nan Lian gardens. This was absolutely my favorite treasure of Hong Kong; a stroll through this peaceful zen garden left me feeling like a new person.
Temples are also a treasured, sacred space in Hong Kong. In dimly lit Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan, thick spirals of incense hang down from the temple’s ceiling, and I watched Hongkongers worship with bouquets of incense until my throat swelled up. The smell of incense pervades almost every Hong Kong experience; it burns constantly in built-in nooks and crannies of most buildings.
Just next to Man Mo temple is a treasure jackpot: Cat Street. One particular shop displays dusty mounds of antiques: beads crafted into Buddha heads, gold salt shakers from old ‘Siam’, worn Bruce Lee playing cards, tattered Louis Vuitton wallets, and chipped figurines. I bought a piece of a shattered vase that had been turned into a teardrop-shaped pendant. I became intrigued by the treasures Hong Kong held; endless side streets and vendors housed knick knacks that I sensed were full of significance.
We spent one evening sifting through tables of beads at Temple Street Market in Kowloon and then sat at a plastic table and enjoyed cups of Chinese beer and fried wantons. The later it got, the more energetic Hong Kong became. Mong Kok especially- it’s one of the few places where wearing sunglasses at night is not out of the question. It pulsated with lights, beats from street performers and the footsteps of thousands of passerby’s.
The big-bellied Hong Kong man who had served our beers had firmly advised that we take a walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade- it would be good for our digestion. Once there, we were mesmerized by a full frontal of the city’s life and depth. Bright signs from Hong Kong Island vie for a reflection in the harbor’s rainbow.
Sometimes you can look at an older person and know that they have glorious stories and experiences waiting to be shared with someone patient enough to listen. Some cities feel like that too, like the longer you stay and the deeper you go, the more treasures and stories you would unearth. Hong Kong doesn’t reveal itself right away; I have a lot left to discover there. I believe it’s full of treasures for those who take the time to wander its side streets and listen to its stories.