Kansai Scene Magazine
 

 

The sights, sounds and culinary delights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong, the 'fragrant harbour' is not all suits and money making and shopping

Fly into Hong Kong on a clear day and you could be forgiven for thinking that your aircraft has accidently careered off course to a futuristic mega-city in a galaxy far, far away. Steep mountains plunge into valleys whilst glorious skyscrapers shoot up triumphantly from the seaside, like stalagmites, as if to marry the mountains mid way. Hong Kong is, without a doubt, a key bastion of the capitalist world where style, wealth, power and privilege are highly sought after commodities.

But spend more than a few days there and you will find that it is much more than booming feng shui - compliant sky scrapers and busy bankers bustling past you as they bark orders into their Blackberries. Hong Kong's crowded streets are jammed packed with hip western style cafe's, traditional chinese tea houses, cheap and tasty Cantonese restaurants, a vibrant and varied nightlife and world-class shopping. If all this overwhelms you, simply grab a backpack, hire a boat and head to one of Hong Kong's many deserted islands or beaches for a few days of rest and relaxation.

I recently spent two weeks inside China's Golden Egg, catching up with old friends, seeing the sights, bar-hopping, island-hopping, shop-hopping for bargain basement trinkets, tailor-made suits and, oh yes, the ubiquitous fake designer goods.

The combination of miniature apartments and amazingly fresh cuisine has meant that eating out is a favourite pastime of Hong Kong residents. My traveling companions and I spent a great deal of our time sampling the cheap outdoor eateries surrounding the Temple Street Night Market on Kowloon Penninsula. Nearby, in the touristy areas of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, there was Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Malay and Japanese cuisines all widely available but we mainly stuck to Chinese. After all, when in Rome ...

Dining in Hong Kong is a communal experience where families and colleagues come to socialise. If you dined by yourself, you would most likely be put on a table in the corner facing the wall. If you were already dining on a table, which subsequently became designated for a party of four, you would be moved to a table in the corner - probably facing the wall.

There are a few rules relating to table etiquette in Chinese restaurants, for example; don't leave your chop sticks face down in the bowl, cover your mouth when using toothpicks and don't reach across the table to snatch food from a distant dish. On the whole though, you can be sure that when the waiter throws three quarters of a roll of toilet paper on the table to be used as a communal napkin, most conventional forms of table manners kind of go out the window.

Most of Hong Kong's restaurants serve Cantonese cuisine, which is fresh, delici- ous and cheap. It is prepared very simply by frying vegetables, seafood, pork or chicken and is usually washed down with oodles of Chinese Tea. If you fancy some- thing a little stronger than tea, then try the local Tsing Tao beer, a crisp, refreshing Lager. Stronger still, the local Ginseng wine is a tangy spirit, known for its aphro- disiac qualities. "Make you a man" yells the old woman behind the counter who sells it to me, her raised fist clenched.

One blisteringly hot day, in search of Hong Kong's famous seafood, we took a boat to nearby Lamma Island. On the menu was pretty much everything that could be salvaged from the sea floor - starfish, grouper, whiting, mackeral, tuna, eel, prawns, lobster, sea urchin, shark, turtle and squiller (a largish prawn, or smallish lobster, depending on how you look at it). Most of the bigger restaurants on Lamma display their daily catch float- ing in tanks out the front. The aquatic inhabitants are seemingly unaware of their impending fate, and swim gaily as they pose for the tourists.

Back on Hong Kong Island, most of the fun for westerners after dark is to be had in the myriad of bars around Lan Kwai Fong - which might be loosely translated as expat heaven. We didn't find many Chinese locals there, but Lan Kwai Fong is as much a part of Hong Kong's culture as a winding laneway of ancient mah jong parlours. Even if Lan Kwai Fong isn't your scene, its definitely worth a trip on a balmy Friday or Saturday night where all manner of sexily clad women and drunken corporate types pour onto the steep sidewalks and dawdle bleary-eyed from club to club.

After a few days of non-stop eating and drinking, it was time to get some exercise. We got our hiking shoes on and made our way up to Victoria Peak - the mountainous backdrop overlooking Hong Kong's central business district. The Peak provides a spectacular view of Hong Kong's ama- zing cityscape. That said, apart from the jaw-dropping view, there is not much else to do, unless you want to sample Hong Kong Burger King or add to your growing collection of touristy fridge magnets and Hello Kitty key rings. The Peak is a must on any agenda though.

In the second week, we decided it was time to see more of Hong Kong's scenic side. Lantau Island, forty minutes by ferry, is home to the Po Lin Buddhist monastry and the massive Tian Tan Buddha sitting calmly admiring the Ngong Ping plateau. A combined ticket of about ¥700 gets you entrance to the Buddha as well as a simple meal of Tofu, rice, corn, celery and carrot at the monastry. In the mid after- noon, we lay on nearby Cheung Sha Beach soaking up the fading sun and swimming in the warm, but polluted South China Sea. There are shark nets, but unfortunately they are probably there to keep the garbage out, not the sharks.

A few days later, hungry for more of Hong Kong's laid-back side, we made our way to the port of Sai Kung - the jump off point for hiking and beach activities around the North East of Hong Kong and its surrounding islands. From Sai Kung, we chartered a boat towards Tai Long Wan on the East Coast of the Sai Kung Penninsula. It was here that we really experienced Hong Kong's true tranquil side. Cruisy abandoned beaches, lazy jungle walks and spectacular mountain views. On a balmy night, we camped, sans tent, under the stars and fell asleep to the sound of waves rolling onto the sand. It was a veritable world away from the sky scrapers, bright lights and noises of the city centre.

All in all, Hong Kong is an amazing fusion of Eastern and Western food, fashion, commerce and consumer lifestyle. Like any big city, pollution, traffic and noise are standout problems and for most westerners (and the companies they work for) Hong Kong serves solely as the gateway to the riches of China. But to those who scratch a little deeper, Hong Kong shines as a culinary and scenic gem, often overlooked on many South East Asian tourist's agendas.

Text & photos: Evan Hamman

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Ways & means

• Average Temperature: 32C summer, 25C winter
Nov to Feb is the coolest time to visit.
• Cathay Pacific, JAL, ANA and Dragon Air fly
from Kansai Airport. It's about 3.5 hours flight.
www.discoverhongkong.com