Day 13 - Hong Kong

Trip Start Feb 04, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2012

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Hong Kong has been described as “A City Rushing through the Present in Eager Anticipation of the Future”.  One author wrote, “Immediately upon your arrival, you find yourself surrounded by a sea of humanity all rushing to make money.  The place never sleeps.”  Hong Kong was our port-of-call for this day, after passing through the South China Sea and into the East Lima channel to Hong Kong Harbour.
Hong Kong – which means Fragrant Harbor – was acquired by Britain from China in three states:  the island was gained in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842; the Kowloon Peninsula by the 1860 convention of Peking; and the New Territories – consisting of the mainland area adjoining Kowloon and 235 adjacent islands – under a 99-year lease by the Second Convention of Peking in 1898.  It is an overwhelming place with a long history of occupation and diversity.  Many refugees have entered Hong Kong and they are freely accepted, which has swelled the city’s population to about seven million people.  The size of Hong Kong is about six times the size of Washington, DC.  Cantonese and English are both official languages.  On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong returned to China’s control.
Since that time, Hong Kong has transformed itself from a cheap manufacturing base to a regional service and financial center, while exporting many of its factories across the Chinese border to take advantage of lower costs.  Some say that the real reason people visit Hong Kong is to shop, and Hong Kong is a mecca for shoppers and tourists (not my reason to visit, as I’m not a “shopper” in the real sense of the word.  I do like browsing in stores, especially where artisans and crafts people are selling their items.)   There are more than 50,000 retail outlets crammed with every imaginable untaxed good, including jewelry, watches, optical goods, carpets, china, porcelain, electronics, cameras, antiques, artifacts and much more.  There are nine separate markets in Hong Kong, not counting the main shopping district downtown.  The city is also filled with a myriad of restaurants, and guides say that most every cuisine known on earth is offered in Hong Kong! 
We visited several areas of Hong Kong during our day in port.  (By the way, once I got on terra firma I was over motion sickness.  It’s immediate relief for me.) We drove through the city itself, our guide pointing out many points of interest.  High rises jammed together make for an incredible skyline. Hong Kong experiences no earthquakes, so they build skyscrapers for housing and businesses.  Housing costs are very expensive. Our guide lives in a high rise and has 500 square feet and pays $1400 a month for rent.  She said this was very typical for most people. 
Our first stop was Stanley Markets, a very popular shopping area.  The shops were small and crammed together and like I stated earlier, many of the above items found in Hong Kong could be found at Stanley Markets.  Most interesting to me were watching various artists doing rainbow script painting and others who wrote people’s names in traditional characters of the Chinese alphabet. 
In an area called Aberdeen, we got aboard small sampan boats and our pilot took us out on the water to observe some of the boat people.  I was in Hong Kong in 1967 on my trip around the world, and at that time the harbor had a hundred thousand boat people anchored there.  Today only several hundred boat people still remain.  In fact there are people who were born and grew up on boats that have NEVER set foot on land!  I just find that so incredible to believe!  Back when I was in Hong Kong there was no compulsory education, so people never left their boat.  I can’t remember which year the law was changed to make education mandatory, but once the law changed, boat people had to put their children on a water taxi to the mainland for schooling.  Most of these children have now settled on the mainland and work in jobs rather than going back to boat living.  This has dramatically changed the culture of the boat people.  Some of the folks have chickens and dogs and an assortment of animals living right on their small boats with them.  Very interesting to consider what their lives are like on the boats, with many of them never having left their boats their entire lives. 
We stopped at a major jewelry factory, which was definitely for shoppers looking for jade and diamonds and other precious stones.  The briefing we had was very short (and thus disappointing) but we wandered around with others, admiring the beauty of the gems and their settings.  Very expensive items, but definitely on the high quality end of shopping.
A highlight was going up to Victoria Peak, with its amazing vantage point overlooking Hong Kong and the harbor.  The sky was hazy (it’s a very polluted city), but other tourists told us they’d been in the city for four days and it was the first day they had these views.  We felt lucky to see all that we were able to see from the various vantage points above the city.  We came down from the peak on a large tram, sitting backwards in the vehicle, a seven-minute ride, and after a meal of Chinese food with our friends, Earl and Carole, and then some exploring at a large Chinese arts and crafts “department store”, we went back to the ship
A shuttle bus was provided to and from the pier where our ship was berthed (which wasn’t in the normal cruise passenger terminal, we were told).  Our berth was in an industrial area because our tonnage was way over what the passenger terminal area’s protocol allowed.   From our stateroom  balcony we watched the loading of large shipping containers onto flatbed trucks, which were then carried to cargo ships.  It was very loud, with loading equipment moving around containers and stacking them in different areas, but it was very interesting.   We guessed that many of those containers would end up crossing the ocean to the United States on ocean liners. 
I have a story of my own from 1967 when I was in Hong Kong as a single young woman.  I was flying from Manila, the Philippines, to Hong Kong.  The airplane was not very full, and I got the idea to ask if I could see the cockpit. I asked a flight attendant about that possibility, who went to ask the pilots if I could do that, and came back and ushered me into the cockpit!  I was offered the fourth seat in the cockpit, next to the navigator and behind the pilot and co-pilot.  They were very friendly and explained many of their duties and the nature of the equipment.  The most amazing thing was that they landed the plane with me still in the cockpit, so I had the pilot’s perspective of landing in Hong Kong International Airport!  It was rather eerie because coming into Hong Kong, the plane flew low over these sampan boats and the harbor onto the runway (giving the feeling we would hit the water before the runway, because touchdown is right at the edge of the water!). It was an incredible opportunity which NEVER would happen today!  Other than the busy-ness and cacophony of sound in the city at that time, landing in the cockpit of a large airliner was a highlight of that first experience in Hong Kong!
After returning to the Diamond Princess on the shuttle from our day of learning and exploring, we had a nice dinner and then another show in the theater – Hebei Acrobatic and Magic Show, featuring folkloric music, Chinese folk dancing, the traditional Dragon Dance, and face changing.  We have never before seen face changing, and it was amazing.  One person’s face kept changing with cloth mask-type coverings.  We simply couldn’t figure out how he did it, nor exactly how to explain it.
Hong Kong.  Another great day in another great city.

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