The Ultimate South China Sea Guide

Trip Start Feb 04, 2010
Trip End Feb 21, 2010

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Touchdown...welcome to Hong Kong!!! The land that was the prize in the Opium wars between the British and the Chinese. A land that conjures images of low flying airplanes, bustling streets, neon lights, shopping, electronics and an iconic city skyline. This is the Hong Kong, Special Administration Region.I had finally got to the city that I had always wanted visit as a child. Hong Kong has managed to capture my imagination from child -  it could be the copious amounts of television which provided me with images of a land that has merged traditional values of the east with the western culture, stories of taipans and the hub of business. I had arrived -  and I needed to explore this city that had been leased to the British for 99 years. 

We checked into hotel which was conveniently situated close to Tsi Tsha Tsui MTR in the Kowloon district. It was a most fortuitous selection of hotels as it was close to a number of the tourist attractions in Hong Kong. We had half a 'jet-lagged' day and whatever time we fell asleep to starting exploring the city. We had arranged a shuttle transfer into the city and we finally got our first impressions of the city. I am confident when I say that I was torn between awe and horror. I was in awe of the skyscraper apartment blocks and the magnificent marvels of engineering that each represented and the horror of the cramped living area that each apartment represented. The general consensus in the bus was that we were extremely lucky to live in a land that space was not an issue - yet. I love the fact that I get more appreciative of home when we wander far from it. I was also in awe at what seemed like manic driving to our group but it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary for our driver. We arrived at our hotel - got upgraded to harbour view rooms and freshened up so that we could make our way outside to explore. The hotel was situated next door to the Peninsula and opposite from the HK cultural center and Museum of Art. These seemed like logical places to start as it was gloomy and we managed to have a half day tour of Hong Kong included in the price of our ticket. The first stop though was the Avenue of the Stars or The Promenade. This gave us the first views of the skyline of Hong Kong and the opportunity to see the Bruce Lee statue. It was a surreal experience seeing the skyline of a city that everyone seems to know so well before me. It was disappointing that the gloom made it difficult to truly capture the beauty that I saw before me. As we paraded down the promenade like the stars we are, we pointed out all the names that we knew in Hong Kong cinema - which unfortunately were very few. The one name that burned brighter than all the others had to be that of the legendary Bruce Lee. As we took the pictures of the statue of the Kung Fu master, I could only remember that the sage advice that he had once given in an interview - ' be like water my friend, be like water'. Little did I know that it was going to be case of too much of water but that is for a little later. After lunch we proceeded to the Museum of Art, where I marveled at the sheer magnificence of Chinese art and culture which has been evolving for centuries. Once it became obvious that jet lag had caught up  with we went back to the hotel to for a power nap before we went back out onto the Avenue of the Stars - that was a bad idea. We overslept and didn't make out to the show but we managed to watch it from our harbour facing rooms instead. We ended the night with a stroll down Nathan Road, our first Chinese meal in Hong Kong ,the girls were terrible with chopsticks, and eventually at the Temple Night Market. It was heavenly for the three girls - the boy amongst us...was not as pleased. It was a productive end to our first day. The first day left us with an overwhelming sense of expectation for the following days and we were acutely aware of the fact that Chinese New Year was definitely influencing the look and feel of the environment around us.

We spent the second half day in Hong Kong on a half day tour that had been arranged as a part of the package that we had purchased. The first stop was a trip to the fishing village of Aberdeen and a cruise around the harbour in the traditional boats.We saw the largest floating restaurant in the world called Jumbo and admired the new civilization that seemed to be engulfing the old. The people in this village have seemed to adapt to the change and somehow assimilated their way of life into the changing environment - and since I had taken sea sickness pill , I didn't fed the fishes on this choppy and hazy day. We proceeded to a jewellery factory, were the company tried to sell us beautiful but expensive diamond jewellery. I think I should have mentioned that we were from SA - gold and diamonds is what built our nation. Oh well, off to Victoria Peak...the tension was building -apparently the views were meant to be spectacular and the tram ride an experience in itself. We got to the top and saw ---nothing. The mist was so thick that we could see absolutely nothing!!!!!!!!!! I had to use copious amounts of imagination to even comprehend that those views were possible. If you don't believe me - check out the pictures. The grey stuff is the mist. Well, I will just have to go back one November when the weather is more co-operative. We finished the afternoon at Stanley street market which the girls enjoyed again. We had supper - we were actually looking for dim sum' - at a traditional Chinese restaurant, were Fred picked the least adventurous food for us. As we gingerly bit into the food, we couldn't help noticing that the waiters were 'unfriendly'. We hazarded a guess that Cantonese culture is very direct, to the point with no time for niceties. It seemed to be a golden thread that ran through the city and its people. So the next time your Hong Kong, don't think that people are rude, they seem to be extremely focused nation with an extremely strong and proud heritage. The night was concluded with the laser show from the Avenue of the Stars - by this time it was an almost perfect evening so we managed to get the picturesque views of the city skyline that was so sort after. 

Our third day in Hong Kong dawned and nobody bothered to tell the weather gods that we were in town. It started to drizzle in the morning and by the time we went out after breakfast, it was torrential rain. We were not going to let some rain - okay more like a monsoon stop us. We were going to met Fred's friend Scott, who was going to travel around the temples in Hong Kong region with us. We stopped at the Wong Tai Sin station which is next door to the Wong Tai Sin Temple. As we walked up to the temple, we realised that it was Sunday, close to the Chinese New Year and the temple was busy. So we stopped off at the Nan Lian temple. We started to walk around the gardens of the temple - in the rain.The garden staff thought that we were all crazy but it was the most beautiful of all experiences. The garden was serene and the extraordinarily beautiful. The temple was magnificent!!! It gave me tremors up my spine as I kneeled before the statue of Buddha to offer my prayers and ask for guidance. The experience still ranks as one of the highest of life to date. It was extremely helpful that Scott is Buddhist and he gave us insights into the religion and the culture.  We eventually dragged ourselves away from the temple and were off to search for dim sum again!!!!  We had some errands to run and by this time, some among us were soaked to the bone - they were in desperate need of dry and waterproof clothes. This was the primary activity of the afternoon / evening along with dinner at the famous Tsui Wah restaurant - still no dim sum!!!!

Our final day in Hong Kong and the day dawned as the most beautiful and clear to date. We were hopeful that the trip to the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha would yield spectacular pictures and at least one of the truly great Hong Kong experiences completely fulfilled. Sadly , not!!! The mist was thick by the time we got to the Po Lin Monastery and as we climbed the stairs to the almost completely obscured Big Buddha, I felt extremely disappointed. We asked for just for the opportunity to see the statue properly and ... it was granted - for just one minute but we got to see the statue in all its splendor. We climbed the rest of the stairs feeling blessed and tired. We completed the day with a tour around the statue, where the saw the relic ( piece of Buddha's bone)  that is housed there and exploring the  Po Lin Monastery. It was an extraordinary day  and it left us feeling blessed and appreciative of the experiences that we were privileged to have. As we were transferred to the airport, I felt the need to come back and complete the experience some day.

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