Day 1: First impressions
Tower blocks. Everywhere tower blocks. On the way from the airport into the city they’re already holding me under their spell. Monstrous buildings that shoot steeply upwards out of the ground. Bulky, confusedly thrown together concrete structures. I have landed in Hong Kong. Seven million people live on exactly 1,104 square kilometres, scattered over 263 islands. A fact that I only truly grasp during the spectacular landing. Through the small oval airplane window I catch sight right and left of the deep blue water, dotted with innumerable lush green mountainous islands ringed with aggressive colonies of high-rises.
In the streets of Hong Kong I am met with reserved friendliness. Extremely pleasant. For the first time in an exotic land, I am not being pestered by hawkers and peddlers. People here follow an appreciable “stand on the right and walk on the left” principle. However, it’s still possible to get lost, dive deep into the city and engage all the senses in new ways.
Day 2: Pure architectural contrast
I dedicate myself completely to the city’s fascinating architecture, especially those spectacular tower blocks. As I come nearer, the arbitrarily jumbled together elements fall into precise structures that reveal a considerably detailed approach to accurate synchronicity – like beehives. The philosophy of feng shui has underlain Chinese architecture for thousands of years. Feng shui masters are sought out to give advice on where to locate offices and businesses. Buildings and objects must be optimally positioned in order to preserve the harmony of energy streams. Our guide Fred points out the monstrous HSBC Bank building on Hong Kong Island, the entire ground floor of which is kept as open public space. “Beyond, in those mountains, live dragons whose access to the water must be kept free. Water goes hand in hand with prosperity, and if you block the dragons’ access to water, you block prosperity”, says Fred, explaining the tower’s feng shui foundations.
Hong Kong’s tower blocks are set in striking contrast to the traditional structures, the old fishing huts on Tai O Island and the immensely beautiful landscape. Tower blocks and steeply jagged hills jostle for the highest summits. Sometimes the tower blocks win, sometimes the hills. Forty per cent of Hong Kong lies on nature conservation lands, which is why building upwards makes sense.
Tay 3: A night at the races
Surrounded by tower blocks in the middle of Hong Kong Island there is a horse race track with the hopeful name of Happy Valley. On Wednesdays, pandemonium reigns here. From my nursery school days, the knowledge that betting and games of chance are very much frowned upon has been hammered into me. Yet there comes a time when one must reject the notions of one’s parents. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of the crowd and emboldened in this foreign environment to place a bet, we decide on Number 3 without further ado, and are rather proud of ourselves for having understood the system so quickly and made such an experienced impression. I place my first bet, for 20HK$.
I find myself avidly following Number 3’s progress. He pushes forward, pushes forward – and suddenly Number 3 is leading the group. The horse that we selected by pure chance. And then the unimaginable occurs: “He won! Number 3 won!” I actually shout it out loud. We multiply our initial bet by 8: 160KH$! It’s important to stop while you’re still winning. During the next race, we prefer to stand back and quietly watch the other betters.
Day 4: Blooming tea and chicken feet for lunch
We start the day with a visit to the Tian Tan Buddha surrounded by greenery. In the glazed gondola, we make our way across the water and through wonderful Asian forest to the largest sitting Buddha in the world. On the way to the Buddha, we stop at Linong Tea House, known above all for its flowering tea. These tea blossoms are painstakingly tied into little bundles by hand and dried. The small grey-blue packets aren’t especially impressive until they’re dropped into hot water. Inside lies a dried flower that quickly unfurls, like a speeded up film of a flower blooming.
The complete visual opposite to our lunch. Chicken feet are deposited onto our table. Chopped and complete with skin and feathers, they’re puristically served in a brown sauce. The little girl at the next table is greedily gobbling hers. It can’t be that bad, I think, as I try to overcome my discomfort. We have found ourselves at Tim Ho Wan, the most affordable Michelin starred restaurant in the world, exclusively serving Chinese dim sum. Ten other delectable dishes follow the chicken feet – all sorts of variously filled dumplings and many unknown dishes, such as steamed egg cake and pan-fried turnip cake. My absolute favourite dish comes at the end: baked bun with BBQ, very light yeast dough dumplings with pork and a sweet crust. This alone would justify a trip to Hong Kong, honestly!
Day 5: Kowloon – one big open-air market
Kowloon is the centrepiece of old Hong Kong, where you’ll find the well-known scenes of the Chinese neon sign jungle. But most of all, Kowloon seems to me to be one giant marketplace. We start in the North on Apliu Street in the high-tech market, amongst which small antiques dealers are also inconspicuously mixed in. Antique watches, old coins and charming relics from the past draw me in for a closer look.
After the flower market we reach the bird market, where with the right amount of change you could purchase a parrot if you wanted to. Soft-hearted animal lovers should avoid Bute Street and its surroundings, where fish and turtles of all kinds await their new homes. Finally we arrive at the notorious Temple Street, allegedly Hong Kong’s most spectacular night market. What was formerly known as a “bad neighbourhood” has spruced itself up into a pure tourist attraction with countless souvenir stalls.
Around the corner we find a couple of temporarily erected tents: open-air karaoke bars. About 5 metres apart from one another, at least three people sing along to the widest variety of songs in the strangest of places. With “Kowloon Hong Kong, We like Hong Kong, That’s the place for you, Walking down the street full of joy…” by the Reynettes echoing in our ears, we head back to Hong Kong Island.
Day 6 – Conditions: hot and clammy
I run into a wall of hot and humid air: 43 degrees Celsius and 79% humidity. In just a few seconds I am completely soaked. I enjoy hot weather, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. We decide at first to take a relaxing ride on the Ding Ding Tram. The double-decker tram is a wonderful left-over from British colonial times. On the top deck it’s possible to open the windows and cool down thanks to the breeze. From this vantage point, we get a good view of the throngs of people in the street and weave in and out of the tower blocks with ease.
Due to the heat, we decide to avoid setting foot outside again and instead use Hong Kong’s air-conditioned tunnel system. From mall to mall to the underground metro, we finally reach Kowloon refreshed and ready to end our last day in the highest bar in the world. The OZONE Bar belongs to the Ritz Carlton and is located on the 118th floor. A bird’s eye view of Hong Kong; even the lavatory offers a stunning view. I sit and gaze back and forth from the urban skyline to the view of unspoilt nature. It’s precisely because of this combination that I find Hong Kong so arresting.
For a small fee you can get the Octopus Card at any 7-Eleven store. Topped up with credit it can be used on all mass transit and even in supermarkets.