"Hey, I saw you yesterday," reamarked the man in front of his shop in Hong Kong. My dad had to hit me to tell me that the man was talking to me.
The comment might not have been noteworthy except, I never went into his shop, never spoke to him, and was walking around the city of Hong Kong with 7 million other people. Those 7 million people are not spread out over hundreds of thousands of miles either. Hong Kong is 75% rural countryside. There's approximately 100,000 people per square mile, and the people are 95% Chinese, so the lone Americans lumbering through the streets, aka my dad and I, evidently are indeed noteworthy.
That's not to say that tourism isn't high in Hong Kong, but many people visit from mainland China to indulge in uber high-end shopping where the rules and prices are a bit more lax.
I was awe struck at the size of the skyscrapers that fill the skyline. Because Hong Kong is out of land on which to build, new condos being constructed need to be a minimum of 50 stories. Can't go out, so gotta go up. Those condos will also cost a pretty penny at nearly $3,000 per square foot. We saw several tiny 300 square foot places being sold for over $1 million US dollars.
Hong Kong has a big business hub, thanks in part to the British rule for over 130 years. The Chinese regained control in 1997 and have implemented a controversial "1 Country, 2 Systems" that hasn't exactly seen a lot from both systems, though we were told that the recent election protests weren't as big as we were led to believe. We were also told that the layer of smog that sat over the city the entire time we were there was just haze, and not pollution from China.
We tried to get on top of the haze by taking the popular funicular to Victoria Peak, once the home of the governor, conveniently perched over 1800 feet up the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. Sadly, we just got a larger panoramic view of grey at the top.
We exited down the backside of the mountain to fleeting moments of sunshine in the old fishing town of Aberdeen. We boarded a sampan to get a firsthand glimpse at the decorated trawlers that make up the floating city where many fishermen live.
The government isn't as enamored of the fishing village as tourists seem to be, and is not allowing any new houseboats. Eventually it will all be gone. This was something we'd see in several cities throughout our trip in Southeast Asia.
With over 90% of the religious population practicing Chinese faiths like Buddhisim, Taoism and Confucianism, you can find temples dotted all across the city. Manmo Temple is in the heart of the Sheung Wan District and pays hommage to Man, god of Literature, and Mo, God of War. You can cut the incense smoke with a knife, and ideally a respirator. Everyone brings offerings, mostly in the form of food, to pray and pay for blessings.
Fruit was a popular offering at Manmo, but when we got to the larger Wong Tai Sin Temple, the ante was upped with full-on meals that included beautiful whole ducks and picnic-like spreads. The food is displayed, receives its blessing and then is consumed at home over dinner.
Wong Tai Sin was built to honor a healer who's said to have had a hand in curing SARS. People travel from all over to seek blessings. Many also get a fortune which can be read at one of dozens of stands that line the back of the temple.
Hong Kong has lovely flower markets, but of course most of it is brought in from China. With Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year looming, the bouquets were large and still very inexpensive.
More unique to Hong Kong was Bird Street. I'm not much of a birder myself, but there are many retired Chinese men who are. With time on their hands, they get a bird as a new hobby. They don't just go to a pet shop and buy any old one, though. They come to Bird St. and take one for a test drive.
They pull a bird out of the line up and take it to a quiet place, where they look and listen. It's a matter of personal pride, and some competition, to have the highest pitched bird song. The potential owner and pet spend time together before a purchase is made, and after said purchase, the owner is then responsible for walking, yes walking, the bird as well as washing and feeding them. Only the retired men have the time to take on this responsibility.
Hong Kong also boasts their own Soho with lively, cosmopolitan restaurants and shops. East meets West with a blending of stores. Gordon Ramsey has a restaurant here and you can find organic fare, French bistros and even some hand-pressed juice. It serves the global business area, and was the first place I had seen some non-Chinese people. I'd have to think I wouldn't be recognized or remembered here.
Next up, the food of Hong Kong. Snake soup, peking duck and dim sum, oh my.