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I enjoyed sleeping in today. I think I woke up sometime around 10. I was completely exhausted from my trip in Japan, but today was going to be another busy day.
My focus today was Kowloon, the mainland section of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is broken into many separate islands, with Kowloon being the only part attached to the mainland, besides the New Territories. Kowloon is an area more known for it's shops, street vendors, fish markets and the "Walled City", which had the highest population density on the planet -- or twice that of Manhattan, whichever is easier to comprehend. Although I never got there, pictures of that part of the city are phenomenal. Think your living quarters are cramped? The pictures make me feel claustrophobic.
Taken from "City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City Paperback ? Oct 1993" by Ian Lambot
My plan today was to head south through Kowloon, down through the jade markets, the shopping centers and parks, and down to Hong Kong's Museum of History, and ending at the Avenue of Stars, the Chinese equivalent of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Unlike what happened in New York, I actually accomplished all of it!
I left the hotel feeling fresh, but within a few minutes outside I was sweating. We were even closer to the equator in Hong Kong, and the temperature outside was unbelievably humid and warm. I was warned about the temperature on street level in the city, and was told it can get up to 50 degrees. It was nearing noon by now, so I don't doubt if the temperature wasn't somewhere around that.
I walked east to Mong Kok station, and then headed south on Nathan Road. Being British for 100 years, and then Chinese, it's fairly common to find something like "Portland Street" right beside "Ho Man Tin Street", or street names that are written in traditional Chinese which are completely unhelpful to me. (I did at times use phrases like "house with cross", "squiggly x", and "stick man with a hat" to identify streets).
I noticed very quickly that in Hong Kong, much like in Japan, they display the food they're going to serve you. For example, it was very common to find fresh fried chicken hanging from the windows.
Within an hour I was already getting hot, and I needed a drink. Vending machines weren't plentiful here like they were in Japan, but McDonald's are. I found one, and while consulting my map near it, a group of students approached me and asked to take my picture. They said they had a "task" to complete. I figured they were with some kind of camp, so I agreed. I don't want to say it, but I think they wanted my picture because I was a white tourist. This is one of the few times somebody stopped me to take my picture and I can assure you, I look terrible in pictures, especially with 200% humidity, so I doubt it was because of my good looks.
Leaving McDonald's, my eyes were set on Kowloon park, but then I saw on my map a place called the "Jade Market". I was only able to find a small section of it, but they had raw jade for sale, as well as jade animals, necklaces, rings and statues. I purchased a small jade dog for my girlfriend here.
I kept going south, with the time being somewhere around 2 or 3, and entered Kowloon Park. The park was beautiful, and had a wonderful array of Hong Kong flora to learn about. I'm not an outdoors-man by any means, but even I appreciated the beauty of it. While exploring some kind of meditation lodge near the heart of the park, it began to rain again. By now the rain stopped bothering me. I stayed in there for a while and then took my umbrella (that I had bought in Hiroshima, forgot in Kyoto, and took with me from Tokyo to here) and carried on east once more.
My exploring was impeded by the rain, but I eventually found the Hong Kong Museum of History. I got inside, dried off, and began learning about the origins of Asia's World City.
Much like the rest of the world, Hong Kong used to be underwater. In time the water levels went down, and the area became highly volcanic. This is why there is so much nature here; it is incredibly fertile land! The museum then began to talk about the different animals in the area, and the different ecosystems. One I found interesting was called "mangroves", which I'm still not sure exactly what they are. It's something like a thick forest of thin plants that grow in shallow water, similar to the Louisiana Bayou.
The museum then focused on the Aboriginals of Hong Kong, who are very closely related to the Aboriginals that crossed over the Northwest Passage and came to North America. At this time, these Aboriginals were still cavemen and used very primitive tools and weaponry. Their main form of food were fish, as they were near the ocean.
Eventually a more sophisticated tribe from mainland China invaded, and changed the local culture. From basic cave art came pottery, culture and religion. That in turn evolved. Even at that time, Hong Kong was different than China, and had their own cultures based off China's cultures. The museum discussed these, but I rushed through this section. However, there was a large part around dragon boat festivals, and I believe I read that they had invented modern day dragon boat racing.
As the culture developed, a city began to form. It was around this time that Europeans first began to trade with the Far East, and this impacted the culture of Hong Kong as well. It discussed the different forts and battles in the city, and the different times it was controlled by different groups. It discussed the Opium Wars between Great Britain and China, and it had a large section about when Hong Kong was signed to be under British control to stop the war. It was at this time, with Britain controlling Hong Kong, India, South Africa and the Americas, that "the sun never set on the British empire".
But, the sun did set on Hong Kong on December 8th, 1941. This day may seem familiar to you. The same day the Japanese invaded Hong Kong, they bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Canadian forces were sent to Hong Kong to defend the city, but failed and the battle was over two weeks later on Christmas Day.
For exactly three years and eight months the city was under Japanese control. Being under British control for almost 50 years, the people were forced to change everything about their lives, including the books they read, their religion, their currency, their food and even their way of life. The city quickly fell into what many consider to be the darkest time in Hong Kong history, and they celebrated when the war was over and they went back to being under British rule.
In 1997 the 100 Year Rule over Hong Kong ended, and Hong Kong became a self-controlled city-state inside of China. It governed itself, but was officially part of China and had Chinese politicians. Mandarin had always been part of their schooling, but it became even more so once China regained control.
The museum ended in modern times. Hong Kong now houses a population of 7 million people. The city has had some struggles against China (this was prior to the Umbrella Revolution) and its fate was marked as finally being in the hands of it's own people.
I left the museum and headed south a bit further to the Avenue of Stars. While walking there, a storm arrived and my umbrella proved to be of little help. I quickly found shelter near the coast, and huddled under it with many other people on their way to and from the Avenue of Stars. The rain was so bad at times I couldn't see Hong Kong Island from across Victoria Harbour!
I went down to the Avenue, but through the rain and wind, very few of my pictures turned out. I did manage to see the hand-prints of Jackie Chan and a statue of Bruce Lee, however.
I reached the end of the Avenue and sat down under a walkway where many other people were sitting, too. It was a gross day outside, and the Symphony of Lights would be starting in at least an hour and a half. I considered going elsewhere, but with everything (myself included) being wet and damp, I stayed put.
Darkness came, and the clouds left. Photography booths magically appeared and set up to take pictures of romantic couples during the light display. I met a young woman there from Britain. She was down for a conference, but was heading back later that night. She was sure she could make it to the airport by 10, but she just had to see the Symphony of Lights. I don't remember her name, but I really doubt she got there in time.
The Symphony of Lights was nice, but I was a bit disappointed. I expected more bright lights and more spotlights, maybe some fireworks, or something. But, for a free show that happens every night, it was pretty neat.
I started walking back to my hotel, but decided to take the subway instead. I rode it to Olympic Stadium, which is closer to my hotel than Kowloon station, and walked from there. I arrived safe and sound, had another $8 supper, and went to bed.
Hong Kong was beautiful, but I've only explored a small part of it! I wonder what other things I'll learn about this city in the days to come!
Categories: Asia, Hong Kong