Stef woke still feeling stiff but up to the challenge of going out and about. We headed up the road and had breakfast at Starbucks, one of many outlets of the chain on Hong Kong. Just before we left a man came and sat next to us and started to talk to us in English. He did not really make sense, just kept going on about different colours and how his father was in the army, he was in the army and he likes green. As we walked out the staff came to check that he had not been hassling us, very similar to experiences we have had in India.
It was a clear day so we decided to head up to The Peak to get our views down and over Hong Kong. We made our way to the Peak Tram, which is really a funicular railway, and joined the queue of other tourists waiting to go up. It rises for about 400 metres but at a very steep angle. You can feel the pull of gravity on your back as it crawls up hill. The trip takes about eight minutes and halfway up they stop at a good vantage point for midway views.
At the top, the main Peak Tower where there are shops and observation platforms is being renovated but the Peak Galleria next door provides a similar service. It is yet another shopping mall but has a large terrace roof from where you can see down to Hong Kong and Kowloon below and up to the top of the peak. Outside there is a rectangular raised block of what looks like granite or marble with holes pierced into the top. Every now and again shoots of water burst up and slowly fall back down, a funny but relaxing to watch fountain.
Having been in amongst so many very tall skyscrapers we now found ourselves looking down at them. The apartment blocks are packed so closely together that everyone must be able to easily see into everyone else’s apartments. A couple have outdoor pools but the whole feeling is one of lots and lots of people crammed into a very small space. When we were in Vancouver we thought that the western side of town was pretty badly packed full of apartment blocks but if Hong Kong is representative of Chinese cities I can understand why so many have moved to Vancouver. The hemmed in parts of Vancouver are incredibly spacious compared to Hong Kong. Looking across at some of the walkways and bridges linking buildings together really creates the impression that you are in a huge anthill and that there are lines of ants scurrying away all over the place.
The views from here were pretty amazing and on a totally clear day you would be able to see for miles. Although at sea level we thought it was a clear day, from here Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are covered in a smog-like layer of haze. I reckon that the number of air conditioning units in use to keep the city cool is probably just adding to the heat problem in the first place. The manic traffic probably does not help either. The roads are clogged with cars, buses and lorries but surprisingly the traffic still seems to flow.
We decided to follow the Mt Austin Road up to the actual peak itself and the peak park. The road wound up past gated apartment blocks all with their own security guard. The wealthy residents of Hong Kong live here and there are Mercedes and BMW cars galore parked up beneath the apartments. Most of the blocks though look like they have seen better days or perhaps they just need a fresh lick of paint. On a clear day they must get fabulous views and in the summer it will be much cooler here than in the compact and dense city down below.
Around us the vegetation is definitely tropical and as we climbed up hill the temperature also seemed to rise. On the way up a local man started to chat to us. He is a “small potato” in the business world as he is only the assistant manager of a jewellery shop whereas his brother and brother in law are both something big in banking. We had already guessed that the main activity in Hong Kong was to make money, and then to spend it at the ceaseless trail of shops and shopping malls that cover the whole region and this man confirmed this to be so.
His children are a burden to him, although the British legacy in Hong Kong means that they get free education, and he wants to invest in property, oil and telecommunications on the mainland as he thinks these will be growth areas. I was left with the feeling that this was a dream he would never fulfil. He has also predicted that the level of bombing that the USA and its allies did in Iraq recently will set off a geological chain of events and that the pressure it created on the earths surface will next year result in big earth quakes down the Rockies and through the California. Time will tell if his prediction is correct.
At the top there is a large pagoda like shelter where you can stop, cool down, relax and enjoy the views. A smartly dressed man was crooning to himself accompanied by his guitar and a local detachment of Police had come up here for their lunchtime break. It was far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city and the noise of the building work by the Peak Tram stop, and was a great place to just sit quietly and contemplate for a while.
We followed the Governor’s Walk to get back down, a narrow concreted path that winds down and along the hillside. Large glass domed street lamps light the way at night and you can make these out from the lookout terraces back at the tram stop. It was a reasonably steep climb up to the park but definitely worth doing, in part because hardly anyone who makes it up to the Peak Terrace continues on up to the park.
From here we decided to go and have at a look at the south of the island. The only problem was that the bus Lonely Planet says will take us from The Peak to Aberdeen only runs on a Sunday. If you know where you want to go and how to get there travel around Hong Kong is pretty easy. But if you need to get a bus, tram, maxicab and do not know the route or the number there is never any information to help and rarely anyone around to ask except drivers of other buses.
We ended up heading back down to the Central area in a little maxicab bus. These only seat 16 passengers and no standing is allowed. It was a great little service, rattling down hill at a pace of knots, turning off here and there to go into housing estates before finally dropping us back down at the bottom. We hopped off a couple of stops early to have a quick look at the Central district and hey, what a surprise it is more shops and offices.
As we worked our way back down to the Star Ferry we were stopped by a couple of school children who were doing a survey on tourism. They asked us a range of questions in very good English, asked if they could take our photo and thanked us for our help. As we finished a lady, obviously their teacher smiled and also thanked us and it was only then that I noticed another teacher filming the whole event. A few hundred metres on, we were stopped again by children from the same school but with different questions. A few hundred metres further we completed our third survey.
At the bus station outside the Star Ferry there was a bus to Stanley but no obvious way to get to Aberdeen. With Stef’s back aching again we opted for a taxi. Great idea in principle but little did we realise that when he said “for boats to floating restaurants” he meant ones right by the floating restaurants and not the ones marked on our map in Lonely Planet. They are huge buildings but the food is not meant to be great, and neither of us were hungry so we headed on.
Another taxi took us down to Stanley and to its market. It is a large collection of stands selling stuff for, and only to tourists. You can get everything here from rugby shirts and luggage to silk clothes, paintings, jewellery and even some pretty stunning evening gowns. None of it though is on our shopping list so we just wandered through taking it in. By this time Stef was peckish so we stopped at a café so he could have a snack, which turned out to be quite a substantial snack but very tasty.
The number 40 minibus took us back to Causeway Bay and we retreated to our little haven. I was surprised to find that they had made the bed and given us clean towels, not what I had expected in a budget hostel. We both took time to catch up on diaries and then headed out later for something to eat. We went to a restaurant in the shopping centre opposite and got our first taste of what it will be like in China where few people will probably speak English.
I think we were the only non native people in there. There was a loud undercurrent buzz and hum and clink of chopsticks, the sounds of the very sociable activity the Chinese call eating. At the back were a couple of private rooms, doors closed and curtains drawn. When more food went through you could see inside and it looked as if business was still being conducted even though it was late on a Friday night.
There were four different menu cards on the table, one of which had pictures and one had English translations. We would have been totally lost without this as neither of us can make any sense yet out of Chinese characters. I suspect we will have to confine our future eating to places where they do have picture cards or, and this is quite common, where they have sample bowls outside of what you will get so you can simply point and nod.