Hong Kong (SAR) People & Culture

People in Hong Kong (SAR) 

are dicks

Last edited Nov 2, 10 9:07 PM. Contributors: Contributors: Y45s43nyu6fe E. Andrew W.
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Hong Kong is one of the most overwhelming places I have been. There are so many people and so much going on it is hard to get your bearings. Mong Kok is really cool and the restaurants that open at midnight are definitely worth a trip.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
I really liked Hong Kong. It is a wonderful mesh of Asian and non-Asian people. After living in Taiwan, I didn't anticipate seeing as many ex-pats as I did there.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
I never really enjoyed Hong Kong maybe because my expectations were very high, firstly it is very expensive and I found the people very unhelpful also I never stayed on Hong Kong island I stayed in Kowloon which was central for the underground (amazing service) and near the ladies market (great for shopping) but the nightlife is over on hong kong island.
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Tai Yue Shan (Lantau Island), Hong Kong (SAR)
People awesome food great i want to go again soon
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Kowloon, Hong Kong (SAR)
Suprisingly easy to navigate/get around. And a lot of english speaking people around, had no issues communicating or reading signs anywhere.
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Hong Kong (SAR) Culture 

in their culture they eat other people and eat camels balls

Last edited Nov 2, 10 9:07 PM. Contributors: Contributors: Y45s43nyu6fe E. Andrew W.
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
This is such a big world city, worth to visit, culture shock
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Keep in mind that whenever you travel outside of the United States, it is a good ideal to check with the embassy of that country to see if there is any violence or uprising. Vaccination should be taken if need be and be mindful of the cultures where you're traveling. Remembering that you're under the government of your travel destination will help you stay free of any infractions during your stay.
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Hong Kong (SAR) Religion 

All major religions are represented in Hong Kong and the people are free to follow their own faith.  Buddism has roots in Hong Kong which went back way before the British arrived in the 19th century.  Buddist temples can be found in both the urban and rural areas, and the world's largest seated outdoors bronze Budda statue is on Lantau Island.  Taoism and Islam are also practised by many followers.

With the entry of western influence in the 19th century, Christian faith spread among both the expatriate and the local population, and as a result, Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches are well established in Hong Kong.  One of the oldest Anglican churches is the St John's Cathedral in Central.

Religion organisations of all faiths run schools and charities for various worthwhile causes in Hong Kong often with support from the government, and many people have benefited from their activities. 

 

 

Last edited Oct 25, 08 1:28 PM. Contributors: Contributors: Andrew W.
Food in Hong Kong (SAR) 

1.   Overview

Hong Kong is a food-lovers' paradise.  Restaurants here are known for their creativity.  Chefs often cook the dishes in a slightly different way or add in somewhat different ingredients to enhance the taste, to outdo competition. Sometimes, they would invent a totally new dish with new ingredients even though cooked in a certain style (like Cantonese.)  So, for food adventurers, Hong Kong is the place to be.

2.   Where to find food

There are few streets which do not have at least one food outlet around.  Several districts such as Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Stanley (on the south side of Hong Kong island) have a high concentration of restaurants. 

On Victoria Peak are several restaurants where you can enjoy a meal and at the same time admire the views of the harbour and the city below, sometimes (at night) with firework displays in progress. 

In Stanley, well-known for its moon-shaped bay in beautiful surroundings, you can have a meal in historic Murray Building (used by the Bristish military in colonial days), which was literally moved stone by stone from Central (on the north side of Hong Kong island) and gaze out at the beautiful bay outside.  Apart from Murray Building, there are many restaurants (local or western) facing the bay, where you can have an enjoyable drink or meal.

Around Hong Kong, on the road-side, you can find delicious local style food that many foreigner would not find elsewhere.  These include fish or other meat balls stewed with radish (sometimes cooked in curry sauce), fried glutinous rice with chopped sausages, and BBQed meat skewers.

3.   Types of cuisines - by region / country

For Chinese food, you can have Cantonese, Sichuan, Peking, Shanghainese, Mongolian, Hunan, western Chinese, Chiu Chow, Yunan (from south-western China) cuisines and much much more.  Sucking pigs, roast ducks and roast porks, a common phenomenon in many "China-towns" around the world, can easily be bought here.

Cantonese cuisines came into prominence during the Ching Dynasty when imperial households came to like them because the food was marinated with sauce and stir-fried in woks in high heat.  They were a welcomed departure from the northern Chinese varieties which tended to be more bland.  The emperors also like the large variety of dishes and different ways of cooking (stew, stir-fry, double-boil, steam, etc).  Some top cantonese chefs even worked in the imperial kitchens in those days.

Shanghaiese cuisines can also be found easily.  Examples of Shanghaiese dishes are fried spring onion pancakes, chicken marinated with Chinese rice wine, crispy rice with seafood (or meat), eel fried with thick brown sauce and steamed dumplings stuffed with minced pork.

The most well-know Peking cuisine is Peking duck, which does not require introduction.  Other cuisines are stewed lamb cooked in herbs, or roast Peking lamb.

Apart from Chinese cuisines, just name a country and you will find a restaurant which serves food from that country.  For the more exotic, there is even an outlet which serves Turkish Marash ice-cream (the "sticky" ice-cream from the southeastern region of Turkey).

4.   Types of Chinese cusines - more

For seafood lovers, try the "floating restaurants" in Aberdeen, or outlets on Lamma Island, in Sai Kung or at Lei Yu Moon, where you can pick your own fresh fish, lobsters, scallops and the like and have the restaurant cook them for you on the spot.  They are often cooked in the Cantonese style.

If you are lucky, find a boat to take you to a beautiful bay around Hong Kong, go fishing with friends and then have the boat owner cook the catch of the day for you.  The food tastes even better than those served in regular seafood restaurants.

Another type of food which is very popular with the local population is porridge (or "congee") and noodles.  Porridge is rice cooked to a somewhat watery state and then various ingredients are added to it, such as :

-  "boat porridge", which has dried squid, minced pork, slices of fish and deep-fried peanuts.  The name probably came from the time when this "dish" was sold on fishermen's boats to customers on shore or on passing boats.

-   big prawn porridge,

-   meat ball porridge, etc.  The variety of ingredients  available is up to the food outlets.

These "porridge and noodle" restaurants also serve noodles, in broth or fried.  A well-known one is "wonton noodle".  Wonton is made of prawns wrapped inside flour wrapping, and cooked with noodle in a special broth.  Another favourite is beef tendon noodle.  Fried noodles can be served with seafoods or meat (pork, beef or chicken).  These "porridge and noodle" restuarants are something worth trying.

Chines dim sums, those small dishes of food which can serve as appetisers, desserts or the entire meal, are well-known around the world.  Just one point to note: while dim sums are mainly in Cantonese restaurants, Shanghaiese restaurants also have their version of dim sums.

Hong Kong has its own "indigenous" cuisines, even though they are really fusion food, where the chefs in "Hong Kong style" cafes use Chinese ingredients to cook food in the western day.  For example, they may serve deep fried prawn on a toast, or pork-chops on rice topped with gravy and baked., or Chinese noodles with prawns topped with cheese and baked.

 

Last edited Nov 19, 08 6:14 AM. Contributors: Contributors: Andrew W.
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Temple Street market is a great place for cheap food and a relaxed atmosphere amongst tacky yet beautiful souvenirs, head to Kowloon side and get off at Jordan Station, cant miss it! Bubba Gumps on Victoria Peak is good food and good views over HK and buy an Octopus card for travellign if you are there for more than a day or two, you can use it on ferries, buses and the MTR.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
When arriving at the Hong Kong Airport do not take a plain clothes (non certified) taxi. The normal taxis are much cheaper and do not try to rip you off. The plain clothes taxi guys are only trying to find gullible tourists to charge non-chines prices.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
The Peak - High above the incredible harbour cityspace, the Peak Galleria offers viewing terraces and other attractions, including dining and shopping. Pick a clear day enjoy what must be some of the world's best views!!!
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Ocean Park 海洋公园 - Ocean Park is one of the largest theme parks in Southeast Asia, featuring aquariums, dolphin shows, thrilling rides, and giant pandas An An and Jia Jia.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Lan Kwai Fong 兰桂坊- A must go place for night owls. After sundown, the incrowd heads for Lan Kwai Fong, a buzzing centre of clubs, bars and restaurants.
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Hong Kong (SAR) Language 

Most people in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese in their daily lives, which is a dialect from southern China.  So, if you want to learn Cantonese, this is the place to be because you cannot avoid it, as you will hear it on buses, taxis, radios, TVs, shops, i.e. everywhere.

In recent years, more and more people have learnt to speak Mandarin and you often find people fluent in Mandarin in businesses and shops.

However, English-speaking visitors will not find it difficult to move about in Hong Kong as a vast majority of people in Hong Kong also can speak at least some English.  This is partly because of Hong Kong's history and also because English is an important language medium in the business world in Hong Kong. 

 

Last edited Oct 25, 08 8:43 AM. Contributors: Contributors: Andrew W.
Hong Kong Arts & Recreation 
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
The Cavern, Lan Kwai Fong. Very nice club with live music and deejays
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Hong Kong Sports 
Lamma Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
If you find yourself in Hong Kong and are eager to take a ferry to an outlying island, a trek to Lamma Island is definitely worth the ferry fare. You can rent a bike from one of the local bike shops and explore the paths (bonus: no cars on the island!). Have a bite to eat at the Bookworm Cafe...reflect at one of the small temples...go to Power Station Beach for Saturday beach volley ball, or if you are lucky, a beach rave at night. Take in the atmosphere, not the view of the power station towers :)
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Hong Kong has something for everyone. Try the Night Markets, negotiate over gold jewellery and visit the Kowloon Cricket Club. Of course there is also the Sevens. Impressive buildings that you can see through the airplane windows as you come in to land.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Cheung Chau
Seafood, temples, hikes and beaches

Neighborhood: Outlying Islands

Nearest Train: Ferries from Central

One look at the crowded harbour and it is easy to guess the main occupation of the thriving local community. Numerous seafood restaurants line the quayside to take advantage of the fresh daily catches, and visitors should do the same! The Pak Tai Temple is the focus of the frenzied four-day Bun Festival in late April or early May. The small island has many more temples, all dedicated to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea. Alternatively, there are always beaches to head for. Tung Wan Beach is popular, but try hiking to Tung Wan Tsai for a little more seclusion.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Big Buddha Ngong Ping Plateau
(Lantau Island)
Hong Kong



Neighborhood : Outlying Islands
Public Transport : Bus No. 2 from Mui Wo (Silvermine Bay) Pier or Bus No. 23 bus from Tung Chung Bronze Buddha: Although this is quite a jaunt from central Hong Kong (a ferry trip and a long, at times frightening, bus ride, or a skyrail), it is well worth the trip. Buddhas don't get any bigger than this. Dreamed up by the community of monks on Lantau, it took more than ten years to build. It is made entirely of metal and consists of a steel framework covered by steel and bronze "skin," as well as over one ton of gold amalgam. Note, however, that there are 268 steps to get to the Buddha.
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Hong Kong consists of three main areas - Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau - and a number of smaller islands. I'm staying in Discovery Bay which is a high rise area of Lantau, the biggest of the islands, and is where you will find many ex pats living a reasonably western lifestyle full of McDonalds and pubs. A short ferry ride on the famous Star Ferry takes me across to Central which is the main hub of Hong Kong and from where buses, trains, taxis and rickshaws will happily take you wherever you want to go. The Star Ferry, in fact, is one of the highlights of the whole Hong Kong experience for me - not only can you get a ferry to any of the outlying islands to experience everything Hong Kong has to offer for next to nothing, but the fact is that my place of residence while I'm here in Discovery Bay means that I am actually forced to sit back and relax for the 30 minute ferry crossing to Central every morning before I can even think about going anywhere. An early morning ferry ride really sets you up for the day! Of the other two main areas of the region, Hong Kong Island itself contains all the markets, the zoological gardens, the Hong Kong Peak with it's almost vertical tram to the top and most of the nightlife. Hong Kong Island is where you will find Central, as well as a reasonable selection of shops and restaurants and the intriguingly out of place town of Aberdeen - where you can visit Ocean Park, a marine park not dissimilar to Sea World in Florida, and the Middle Kingdom which is a huge Theme Park full of Japanese Pagodas and water gardens. It is here that, on my last visit to the territory, I was sucked into a demonstration of local dance and forced to gyrate madly with beautiful Chinese girls in front of a laughing audience. Wan Chai, the nightlife district, gained notoriety as the red light district back in the days of Suzie Wong. Nowadays, however, there isn't very much about Wan Chai that could be considered seedy - it's full of McDonalds, Irish Bars and Nightclubs. The most popular bar at the moment (1998) is Carneigies, which is a rock and roll Bar and is packed to the hilt nightly by people dancing precariously on the bar and the balcony to rock from the Seventies and Eighties. The few "Girlie" bars that do exist in the area display their presence via huge neon signs but usually offer little more to the sleazy traveller than a woman in her seventies pretending to be in her twenties and a huge bar bill at the end of the night. The days of Suzie Wong are long gone. Getting around Hong Kong is easy. Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and Lantau are all joined by a clean and highly efficient subway train service called the MTR. The first challenge which greets new arrivals to Hong Kong is working out how to find their way around, and once the seemingly complex subway map has been mastered this becomes as easy as pie - as long as you don't set out in the rush hour, when slightly less than the population of North America all decide to swoop down on the system and try to board a train at the same time, getting around is a doddle and you can even switch to the overland railway and travel right up to the border with China as I will be doing later in the week. The ticketing system on the MTR also beats any I have seen elsewhere hands down. Using a system called Octopus, You buy a special train ticket with a microchip embedded in it and then keep it for as long as you like. The original Octopus ticket costs you a small deposit to cover the cost of the microchip technology should you lose it, but this is returned to you if you turn the ticket in later. Octopus is essentially a reloadable ticket, and you can add as much cash value to it as you like at any station by either going to the ticket office and handing it over or using the ticket machines you see everywhere you turn. When you walk through the turnstile onto the platform at the beginning of your journey, the system reads your Octopus automatically as you walk through without even requiring you to take it out of your bag, and then when you pass through the corresponding turnstile at your destination it deducts the cost of the journey and a little screen lights up telling you your balance. As an added bonus, you can make a journey of any length to use up whatever remains on the ticket - so if you only have a few cents left on your Octopus, you can use it to travel all the way across town which I think is a nice touch. Once again, Hong Kong is ahead of the pack on technology - why don't we have ideas like this back home (1)? Octopus can also be used just about anywhere - Taxis have a reader to swipe it, so do buses, you can even use it in McDonalds to buy a Big Mac! Today, I started my trip around the sights of Hong Kong by making my way up to the highest point on Hong Kong Island, known imaginatively as "The Peak". There are two ways to get up there, one of which is by using one of the most fascinating innovations I have ever come across, an escalator which runs right up the street from sea level to the peak. This moving staircase runs in stages between each street which crosses it all the way to the top, and you can make your way all the way to the top by jumping onto the lowest escalator and then just taking a few steps onto the next each time a road crosses your path and the current escalator is forced to stop. Each section is covered with a canopy in case it rains, and they have the system set up so that the stairs all move downward in the morning and upwards in the afternoon so that people can come down from the hillside to work and then return home later with the absolute minimum of effort. Only in Hong Kong would they think of something like this!
The other way to the Peak, and the one I took today, involves walking from Central for a few blocks until you arrive at the base station for The Peak Tram. The tram is pulled at a ridiculously steep angle up the hillside to the peak, stopping twice on the way to let people on and off at intermediate stations, and arrives, unlike the escalators, right in the heart of the Peak Tower. This is a combined shopping and entertainment complex full of both expensive boutiques and local souvenir shops, and there are fairground attractions and a lookout point from which you can obtain the famous view of the neon metropolis by night. A large restaurant also allows you to eat and look at the view at the same time, which I suspect brings a lot of romance-seekers up here late at night. There are the usual assortment of loud bars and pubs for those who just want to get drunk somewhere different. Right next door is the Peak Galleria, an even bigger shopping complex on three floors with altogether too many modern boutiques for it's own good, and outside the Galleria is an enormous fountain set into the pavement with jets which shoot water high into the air at just the right intervals so that you don't notice and scare the willies out of yourself walking across them and getting soaked to the skin. A return ticket on the Peak Tram will set you back about 28 Hong Kong Dollars, which is about £2.50 (2), but this often includes entrance to some of the attractions when you get to the top. The Peak also includes extensive gardens and walks, which a lot of people manage to totally miss as they aren't very well signposted. A visit to the Peak without taking a walk through the gardens and exploring the different nature trails laid out for you would almost be a sin and a pleasant afternoon can easily be spent just wandering aimlessly before getting hopelessly lost trying to find your way back to the Peak Tram and coming back down on the escalator instead! A trip to Hong Kong Island is never complete without at least one trip to a local street market, of which the best balance between ethnic and touristy are to be found by going on the MTR to Mong Kok or Sham Shui Po where the stall holders are happy to bargain with you as most of the prices are hugely inflated to start with. The best and most extensive market on the island for tourists is at Stanley, and this is where you can get hold of all those local handicrafts you're dying to pore over - A fairly long bus ride on Route 260 from Central takes you into Stanley and drops you off practically on the doorstep of the market, ensuring however that you have to walk past a couple of little coffee shops on the way which will try to entice you in for refreshments. Stanley market is far more than just tacky souvenirs, however; I managed to pick up a beautiful painting on fabric of boats on the harbour which I actually got to watch the artist putting the finishing touches to and which now takes pride of place on my living room wall... and let's face it, this is the only place in the world you can actually get genuine local crafts and not be remotely bothered about finding a "Made in Hong Kong" sticker on the bottom! If you're looking for a taste of the local markets, there are so many that you could spend all week wandering around them and still not come close to seeing everything. There are bird markets, fish markets, flower markets, clothes markets, fruit markets, the ladies market, the list goes on. There are markets selling nothing but Jade, markets selling nothing but candles or incense or Chinese medicines. Whatever you want, it's here. It really does sound like a get-out, but there are so many markets to be found in Hong Kong that there's little point in listing them all here - just grab a guidebook and explore and you'll be pleasantly surprised what you can find littering the tiny side streets, especially after dusk when the Temple Street night market opens and you find yourself surrounded by stall holders selling watches and men's clothing. In a grubby corner of Mong Kok, you'll find the Bird market, a fascinating but slightly worrying part of town where lonely old men come to buy and sell caged birds of every variety from mynahs to budgies, or just to show off their birds to each other (and not in the sense you're thinking, either!). Here, if you're not going deaf at the sound of a million shrill tweets from every direction, you're jumping a mile in the air because a small snake has escaped from the live bird food stalls and slithered up your trouser leg! Not being a huge fan of seeing animals caged up, the bird market doesn't exactly float my boat, and the same goes for the Goldfish market at which you will find nothing but endless varieties of fish hanging from tiny plastic bags as though they are at a fairground and with a life expectancy of about 5 minutes - unfortunately, the Chinese believe that goldfish add to the fung shui of a property so this isn't likely to stop anytime soon. At the Jade market in Yau Ma Tei, accessible from the MTR, you can bargain for Jade, Amber and Lapis carved into every shape imaginable until you realise just how much you're being ripped off compared to the locals. The only problem, in fact, with the infinite options for shopping in Hong Kong is that there is so much more space allocated to shopping centres and so little to actually getting inside. Builders here seem to build until they've created a shopping complex the size of a small town and then slap a small door onto one corner of it as an afterthought - you can literally walk around for hours looking for a way into a concrete monstrosity several blocks in size before finally discovering that you have to go down into an MTR station to get into it, or up a small flight of steps marked "Bakery - this way" One of the things that often gets mentioned about Hong Kong is the fact that many shopping centres in certain areas quite openly sell pirated computer software, something which constantly gets right up the noses of the software giants. This has always been a major problem, because as a communist country where the idea of individuals owning anything is totally unknown, China doesn't have any copyright laws as such and is not in a position to tell anybody off for making copies. From what I have been led to believe, it is alleged that the system has always involved the local Hong Kong police occasionally turning up at a well known pirate store, the owner handing over a large amount of money and them going away again - although, of course, this is purely hearsay. Recently it seems that the US government has finally thrown its dummy out of the pram and had something of a hissy fit with the Chinese stance on piracy - and whatever they've done, it seems to have worked as the local papers have been reporting a heavy downturn in the sale of pirated software in the region recently. My own experience of the situation doesn't quite tie up with the official line that piracy is going away. On my last visit to Hong Kong, I strolled into the large computer centre in Mong Kok - a shopping centre devoted entirely to computer equipment and software - and was immediately pounced upon by a man who had been waiting just inside the door. Clearly he had been put there to wait for any Westerners who looked as though they might have some money, and he didn't waste any time at all in getting to business. Upstairs, he told me, I would find hardware and PC accessories. Downstairs, there was everything I could possibly want for my PlayStation or Nintendo Console. Oh and if I wanted the "special" department then I should walk down the street for two blocks, go up a flight of dirty steps between a bakery and a Chinese Medicine Centre, and into a room where a queue of people would be lining up to ask a dodgy looking guy at a desk for copies of just about anything! I followed the directions he gave me and, although I wasn't about to partake myself (as a software designer myself, wouldn't that be just a bit hypocritical?), I observed the man at the desk sending a runner off to some secret location to collect orders as they were placed. As I walked back to the computer centre afterwards, I looked back and saw everybody leaving - which I took to mean that the police were on their way and the location would simply be casually moving somewhere else. If you want a real taste of China, you could do worse than pull up a stall and plonk yourself down at one of the gutter restaurants you'll find everywhere - and yes, gutter restaurants are exactly what it says on the box, restaurants in the gutter. If you're longing for local quaintness extends to eating something you can't quite identify on a rickety table perched under an umbrella in the gutter while a collection of soggy cats and flea infested rats stare up at you hungrily, this is the place to be! And if you go home without having contracted the plague, you can consider your holiday a success...

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2

(1) Well, now we do - in London, at least. Sort of. Octopus has been almost totally "borrowed" by Transport for London and given a name so amazingly similar in thinking that you really do have to rub your chin and go "Hmmm". Oyster, as it is called in London, does suffer from the British tendency to want to make as much money as possible - not only does it not contain the option to make a journey of any length on the remaining balance, or even any remotely similar incentive, but it is actually more expensive to use an Oyster card than it is to buy a daily travelcard which allows a whole days worth of travel anywhere in London for 6 pounds. Every trip you take using Oyster is billed at the full single fare, meaning that compared to Octopus it is almost totally worthless. Another shining example of taking somebody else's idea and totally messing it up. Oyster, currently, cannot even be used anywhere other than on the train. Come on Mr Mayor of London, get your finger out! (2) Well, all things change. The current price, as of October 2007, is now 33 Hong Kong Dollars for Adults return or 22 if you don't fancy going back. For Children, it is 15 Return or 8 Single. If you fancy access to the Sky Terrace as part of your ticket, you now have to pay 48 HKD for an Adult or 23 for a child - this includes a return on the Peak Tram. Current attractions include Madame Tussauds and the EA Gaming Experience - for the latest information, check out http://www.thepeak.com.hk . This has been a public service announcement on behalf of nobody in particular.
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Hong Kong Government 
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Last time I was in Hong Kong was for the Chinese New Year in '97, prior to the much publicised take-over of the region by China. On that occasion, I was stopped several times in the street and asked by schoolchildren taking part in a project whether I thought the take-over would be good or bad for Hong Kong, and my immediate reaction was to say that I didn't think the region would change much. All in all, I think this has so far turned out to be a fairly sound prediction - China don't seem to be about to step on the feet of what must for them be an extremely prosperous area both in tourism and productivity, and as such have named the region as a special economic zone. This is basically the Chinese way of saying that an area is, to a large extent, outside of the normal strict rules laid down elsewhere by the communist government and that it can continue to be run almost as a separate entity for as long as it shows a return. For this reason, nothing much has changed here - Chinese citizens still can't just walk across the border at will, and although westerners are welcomed with open arms to Hong Kong we still have to roll through hoops to get into mainland China. Hong Kong was acquired by the then British Empire through a series of treaties. In 1842 the Treaty of Nanking handed over Hong Kong Island, while this was followed eighteen years later by the Treaty of Beijing which handed over Kowloon, the area of the mainland up to the border of the New Territories. It is little understood that both of these treaties gave the British Empire total control over these areas forever, with no possibility that the Chinese would be able to get them back later. However, a third treaty, signed in 1898, handed over the New Territories, the large area of countryside, hills and rural villages beyond Kowloon and up to the Chinese border. The problem was that, because the New Territories provided most of the natural resources to the rest of Hong Kong, handing them back in 1997 and holding on to the rest of the region would have caused more problems than it was worth, not least because the Chinese almost certainly would've made it difficult or costly to transfer resources across the new border - so the British government decided after much negotiation to hand the whole region back. These negotiations didn't go very smoothly, with Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher wanting assurances from the Peoples Republic of China that Britain would retain an administrative presence on Hong Kong after the handover to ensure the Chinese didn't just march in and impose communist values. China refused point blank, and pretty much threatened to make up the British governments mind for it, which would have meant that when the lease ran out in 1997 the PRC could have just walked in and chucked the British out anyway. Things came to a head after Black Saturday in 1983, when the stock market in Hong Kong plummeted overnight. The British government pointed the finger at China, saying that people were unnerved by the political climate, and China pointed their collective fingers right back, accusing Britain of taking advantage of the situation to bend the truth. Seeing that the people of Hong Kong were starting to lose confidence in their government, Thatcher conceded to China's demands on the understanding that China would turn Hong Kong into a special economic zone where the socialist system would not prevail and the current system of Capitalism would continue for at least 50 years. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of people flocked out of Hong Kong for new homes around the world in response to the news that the PRC would be taking over, especially after the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The world waited with bated breath as July 1st 1997 approached, expecting anything from a total anticlimax to Chinese troops swarming over the horizon! As we now know, the events of that day were televised around the world and went off virtually trouble free, and in my humble opinion Hong Kong hasn't changed one iota. Of course, it'll all start again when the 50 year capitalist deadline runs out in 2047, but that's a few years off yet... I wanted to come back for a number of reasons, not least of which was the simple fact that I always enjoy the diversity of the islands which make up Hong Kong; from the hippy community of Lamma to the ex-pat settlements here in Discovery Bay. There are also, of course, shopping opportunities here beyond your wildest dreams, from the many colourful markets selling anything and everything to the packed high-rise multi-storey shopping blocks within which each floor is packed with tiny little cubical shops selling any type of technology known to man. When I was here before, it struck me that one of the great myths of our time is the notion that you can't move in Hong Kong for people. I mean to say, there certainly are a heck of a lot of people around, but most of them go to work like the rest of us. The popular misconception that you have to walk through the streets as though in a jammed lift full of people, sharpening the point of an opened umbrella and forcing people out of the way is simply untrue. So it came as a total shock to me to see the scenes at Bangkok airport this morning when I arrived for my flight. I've never seen so many Chinese people in my life - It was as though everybody who left Hong Kong in the 80s and 90s had all decided to come back at once! When our flight was called, it was as if a great dam had burst: Hundreds of people literally surged through the small door and along the passage to the plane as though it was going to leave in about 10 seconds. The crush was unbelievable - Like being at a concert. People found their luggage caught between other bodies and disappearing off in the direction of the cockpit. The Chinese aren't exactly known for their subtlety or patience, but I just couldn't believe this frantic rush to get on board!
It wasn't any different inside the plane, either.
Everybody seemed to be in everyone else's seat, and I thought that a number of fights were going to break out. The cabin crew certainly deserve medals of valour on China Airlines - and this, remember, was just a 3 and a half hour flight from Thailand to Hong Kong. I really can't imagine what it must be like on a major long-haul flight… Anyway, I fell asleep for the duration of the flight and missed whatever other unpleasantness went on. Awaking as we approached the shiny new International airport at Chep Lap Kok on Lantau Island, I looked out of the window expecting to see skyscrapers looming up around us but was pleasantly surprised. No longer do we have to hang on to our seats and pray as the plane makes it's famous low approach over the houses at the end of the runway and has to bank sharply through the valley - The approach to the new airport is totally different, giving panoramic views of one of the most incredible cities on Earth by night. Miles of twinkling neon lights tempt the passenger to the shopping delights awaiting him on the ground. Closing your eyes and praying for a safe landing is no longer written into the itinerary. The new Airport is impressive, to say the least. It sort of reminds me of Heathrow, and is a hell of a lot more modern that Kai Tak was before it. For a start, you come out of the arrival gates onto long corridors with moving sidewalks to whisk you to Customs and Immigration, whereas before it was an effort to locate where you were going at all. The whole thing looks shiny and new and actually feels like a real airport, a suitable addition to a modern Hong Kong. I was meeting a friend of mine who has been working out here for a couple of years on the Airport, and I was impressed with the speed in which we got through the airport and hopped onto a train in the Terminal building which connected us with the main subway system and went right into the heart of the city, a journey which used to take a long time through heavy traffic from the old Airport. In fact, it wasn't until we strolled off the platform at the other end that I suddenly knew exactly where I was. Hong Kong was exactly as I had left it, give or take a few touches. This was the familiar "Central" where all the buses, ferries and trains go from, and it somehow felt like home...

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Hong Kong consists of three main areas - Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau - and a number of smaller islands. I'm staying in Discovery Bay which is a high rise area of Lantau, the biggest of the islands, and is where you will find many ex pats living a reasonably western lifestyle full of McDonalds and pubs. A short ferry ride on the famous Star Ferry takes me across to Central which is the main hub of Hong Kong and from where buses, trains, taxis and rickshaws will happily take you wherever you want to go. The Star Ferry, in fact, is one of the highlights of the whole Hong Kong experience for me - not only can you get a ferry to any of the outlying islands to experience everything Hong Kong has to offer for next to nothing, but the fact is that my place of residence while I'm here in Discovery Bay means that I am actually forced to sit back and relax for the 30 minute ferry crossing to Central every morning before I can even think about going anywhere. An early morning ferry ride really sets you up for the day! Of the other two main areas of the region, Hong Kong Island itself contains all the markets, the zoological gardens, the Hong Kong Peak with it's almost vertical tram to the top and most of the nightlife. Hong Kong Island is where you will find Central, as well as a reasonable selection of shops and restaurants and the intriguingly out of place town of Aberdeen - where you can visit Ocean Park, a marine park not dissimilar to Sea World in Florida, and the Middle Kingdom which is a huge Theme Park full of Japanese Pagodas and water gardens. It is here that, on my last visit to the territory, I was sucked into a demonstration of local dance and forced to gyrate madly with beautiful Chinese girls in front of a laughing audience. Wan Chai, the nightlife district, gained notoriety as the red light district back in the days of Suzie Wong. Nowadays, however, there isn't very much about Wan Chai that could be considered seedy - it's full of McDonalds, Irish Bars and Nightclubs. The most popular bar at the moment (1998) is Carneigies, which is a rock and roll Bar and is packed to the hilt nightly by people dancing precariously on the bar and the balcony to rock from the Seventies and Eighties. The few "Girlie" bars that do exist in the area display their presence via huge neon signs but usually offer little more to the sleazy traveller than a woman in her seventies pretending to be in her twenties and a huge bar bill at the end of the night. The days of Suzie Wong are long gone. Getting around Hong Kong is easy. Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and Lantau are all joined by a clean and highly efficient subway train service called the MTR. The first challenge which greets new arrivals to Hong Kong is working out how to find their way around, and once the seemingly complex subway map has been mastered this becomes as easy as pie - as long as you don't set out in the rush hour, when slightly less than the population of North America all decide to swoop down on the system and try to board a train at the same time, getting around is a doddle and you can even switch to the overland railway and travel right up to the border with China as I will be doing later in the week. The ticketing system on the MTR also beats any I have seen elsewhere hands down. Using a system called Octopus, You buy a special train ticket with a microchip embedded in it and then keep it for as long as you like. The original Octopus ticket costs you a small deposit to cover the cost of the microchip technology should you lose it, but this is returned to you if you turn the ticket in later. Octopus is essentially a reloadable ticket, and you can add as much cash value to it as you like at any station by either going to the ticket office and handing it over or using the ticket machines you see everywhere you turn. When you walk through the turnstile onto the platform at the beginning of your journey, the system reads your Octopus automatically as you walk through without even requiring you to take it out of your bag, and then when you pass through the corresponding turnstile at your destination it deducts the cost of the journey and a little screen lights up telling you your balance. As an added bonus, you can make a journey of any length to use up whatever remains on the ticket - so if you only have a few cents left on your Octopus, you can use it to travel all the way across town which I think is a nice touch. Once again, Hong Kong is ahead of the pack on technology - why don't we have ideas like this back home (1)? Octopus can also be used just about anywhere - Taxis have a reader to swipe it, so do buses, you can even use it in McDonalds to buy a Big Mac! Today, I started my trip around the sights of Hong Kong by making my way up to the highest point on Hong Kong Island, known imaginatively as "The Peak". There are two ways to get up there, one of which is by using one of the most fascinating innovations I have ever come across, an escalator which runs right up the street from sea level to the peak. This moving staircase runs in stages between each street which crosses it all the way to the top, and you can make your way all the way to the top by jumping onto the lowest escalator and then just taking a few steps onto the next each time a road crosses your path and the current escalator is forced to stop. Each section is covered with a canopy in case it rains, and they have the system set up so that the stairs all move downward in the morning and upwards in the afternoon so that people can come down from the hillside to work and then return home later with the absolute minimum of effort. Only in Hong Kong would they think of something like this!
The other way to the Peak, and the one I took today, involves walking from Central for a few blocks until you arrive at the base station for The Peak Tram. The tram is pulled at a ridiculously steep angle up the hillside to the peak, stopping twice on the way to let people on and off at intermediate stations, and arrives, unlike the escalators, right in the heart of the Peak Tower. This is a combined shopping and entertainment complex full of both expensive boutiques and local souvenir shops, and there are fairground attractions and a lookout point from which you can obtain the famous view of the neon metropolis by night. A large restaurant also allows you to eat and look at the view at the same time, which I suspect brings a lot of romance-seekers up here late at night. There are the usual assortment of loud bars and pubs for those who just want to get drunk somewhere different. Right next door is the Peak Galleria, an even bigger shopping complex on three floors with altogether too many modern boutiques for it's own good, and outside the Galleria is an enormous fountain set into the pavement with jets which shoot water high into the air at just the right intervals so that you don't notice and scare the willies out of yourself walking across them and getting soaked to the skin. A return ticket on the Peak Tram will set you back about 28 Hong Kong Dollars, which is about £2.50 (2), but this often includes entrance to some of the attractions when you get to the top. The Peak also includes extensive gardens and walks, which a lot of people manage to totally miss as they aren't very well signposted. A visit to the Peak without taking a walk through the gardens and exploring the different nature trails laid out for you would almost be a sin and a pleasant afternoon can easily be spent just wandering aimlessly before getting hopelessly lost trying to find your way back to the Peak Tram and coming back down on the escalator instead! A trip to Hong Kong Island is never complete without at least one trip to a local street market, of which the best balance between ethnic and touristy are to be found by going on the MTR to Mong Kok or Sham Shui Po where the stall holders are happy to bargain with you as most of the prices are hugely inflated to start with. The best and most extensive market on the island for tourists is at Stanley, and this is where you can get hold of all those local handicrafts you're dying to pore over - A fairly long bus ride on Route 260 from Central takes you into Stanley and drops you off practically on the doorstep of the market, ensuring however that you have to walk past a couple of little coffee shops on the way which will try to entice you in for refreshments. Stanley market is far more than just tacky souvenirs, however; I managed to pick up a beautiful painting on fabric of boats on the harbour which I actually got to watch the artist putting the finishing touches to and which now takes pride of place on my living room wall... and let's face it, this is the only place in the world you can actually get genuine local crafts and not be remotely bothered about finding a "Made in Hong Kong" sticker on the bottom! If you're looking for a taste of the local markets, there are so many that you could spend all week wandering around them and still not come close to seeing everything. There are bird markets, fish markets, flower markets, clothes markets, fruit markets, the ladies market, the list goes on. There are markets selling nothing but Jade, markets selling nothing but candles or incense or Chinese medicines. Whatever you want, it's here. It really does sound like a get-out, but there are so many markets to be found in Hong Kong that there's little point in listing them all here - just grab a guidebook and explore and you'll be pleasantly surprised what you can find littering the tiny side streets, especially after dusk when the Temple Street night market opens and you find yourself surrounded by stall holders selling watches and men's clothing. In a grubby corner of Mong Kok, you'll find the Bird market, a fascinating but slightly worrying part of town where lonely old men come to buy and sell caged birds of every variety from mynahs to budgies, or just to show off their birds to each other (and not in the sense you're thinking, either!). Here, if you're not going deaf at the sound of a million shrill tweets from every direction, you're jumping a mile in the air because a small snake has escaped from the live bird food stalls and slithered up your trouser leg! Not being a huge fan of seeing animals caged up, the bird market doesn't exactly float my boat, and the same goes for the Goldfish market at which you will find nothing but endless varieties of fish hanging from tiny plastic bags as though they are at a fairground and with a life expectancy of about 5 minutes - unfortunately, the Chinese believe that goldfish add to the fung shui of a property so this isn't likely to stop anytime soon. At the Jade market in Yau Ma Tei, accessible from the MTR, you can bargain for Jade, Amber and Lapis carved into every shape imaginable until you realise just how much you're being ripped off compared to the locals. The only problem, in fact, with the infinite options for shopping in Hong Kong is that there is so much more space allocated to shopping centres and so little to actually getting inside. Builders here seem to build until they've created a shopping complex the size of a small town and then slap a small door onto one corner of it as an afterthought - you can literally walk around for hours looking for a way into a concrete monstrosity several blocks in size before finally discovering that you have to go down into an MTR station to get into it, or up a small flight of steps marked "Bakery - this way" One of the things that often gets mentioned about Hong Kong is the fact that many shopping centres in certain areas quite openly sell pirated computer software, something which constantly gets right up the noses of the software giants. This has always been a major problem, because as a communist country where the idea of individuals owning anything is totally unknown, China doesn't have any copyright laws as such and is not in a position to tell anybody off for making copies. From what I have been led to believe, it is alleged that the system has always involved the local Hong Kong police occasionally turning up at a well known pirate store, the owner handing over a large amount of money and them going away again - although, of course, this is purely hearsay. Recently it seems that the US government has finally thrown its dummy out of the pram and had something of a hissy fit with the Chinese stance on piracy - and whatever they've done, it seems to have worked as the local papers have been reporting a heavy downturn in the sale of pirated software in the region recently. My own experience of the situation doesn't quite tie up with the official line that piracy is going away. On my last visit to Hong Kong, I strolled into the large computer centre in Mong Kok - a shopping centre devoted entirely to computer equipment and software - and was immediately pounced upon by a man who had been waiting just inside the door. Clearly he had been put there to wait for any Westerners who looked as though they might have some money, and he didn't waste any time at all in getting to business. Upstairs, he told me, I would find hardware and PC accessories. Downstairs, there was everything I could possibly want for my PlayStation or Nintendo Console. Oh and if I wanted the "special" department then I should walk down the street for two blocks, go up a flight of dirty steps between a bakery and a Chinese Medicine Centre, and into a room where a queue of people would be lining up to ask a dodgy looking guy at a desk for copies of just about anything! I followed the directions he gave me and, although I wasn't about to partake myself (as a software designer myself, wouldn't that be just a bit hypocritical?), I observed the man at the desk sending a runner off to some secret location to collect orders as they were placed. As I walked back to the computer centre afterwards, I looked back and saw everybody leaving - which I took to mean that the police were on their way and the location would simply be casually moving somewhere else. If you want a real taste of China, you could do worse than pull up a stall and plonk yourself down at one of the gutter restaurants you'll find everywhere - and yes, gutter restaurants are exactly what it says on the box, restaurants in the gutter. If you're longing for local quaintness extends to eating something you can't quite identify on a rickety table perched under an umbrella in the gutter while a collection of soggy cats and flea infested rats stare up at you hungrily, this is the place to be! And if you go home without having contracted the plague, you can consider your holiday a success...

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2

(1) Well, now we do - in London, at least. Sort of. Octopus has been almost totally "borrowed" by Transport for London and given a name so amazingly similar in thinking that you really do have to rub your chin and go "Hmmm". Oyster, as it is called in London, does suffer from the British tendency to want to make as much money as possible - not only does it not contain the option to make a journey of any length on the remaining balance, or even any remotely similar incentive, but it is actually more expensive to use an Oyster card than it is to buy a daily travelcard which allows a whole days worth of travel anywhere in London for 6 pounds. Every trip you take using Oyster is billed at the full single fare, meaning that compared to Octopus it is almost totally worthless. Another shining example of taking somebody else's idea and totally messing it up. Oyster, currently, cannot even be used anywhere other than on the train. Come on Mr Mayor of London, get your finger out! (2) Well, all things change. The current price, as of October 2007, is now 33 Hong Kong Dollars for Adults return or 22 if you don't fancy going back. For Children, it is 15 Return or 8 Single. If you fancy access to the Sky Terrace as part of your ticket, you now have to pay 48 HKD for an Adult or 23 for a child - this includes a return on the Peak Tram. Current attractions include Madame Tussauds and the EA Gaming Experience - for the latest information, check out http://www.thepeak.com.hk . This has been a public service announcement on behalf of nobody in particular.
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Tai O, Hong Kong (SAR)
No visit to Hong Kong is complete without a visit to the worlds largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha (The Tian Tan Buddha, named after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, on which its base is modelled) at Po Lin Monastery on the Ngong Ping peninsula. Although fairly easy to get to by MTR and taxi, by far the most satisfying way to reach the Monastery is to go at least part of the way by ferry, arriving at Mui Wo (Silvermine Bay for those with no wish to learn local place names) and taking a taxi or bus from there. My first stop today, however, before moving on to Ngong Ping, involved taking a bus from Mui Wo to Tai O, a small fishing village sitting on it's own island of the same name which has become something of a tourist attraction in itself and is sometimes referred to affectionately as "The Venice of Asia". I think it's quite fair to say that you won't find anywhere quite like Tai O anywhere else in Hong Kong, in fact you probably won't find many places like this anywhere in the world any more. Upon arrival, the first thing you wonder is where all the buildings are - and then somebody points out that the rows of large wooden blocks stacked up at random angles like piles of abandoned cardboard boxes are the houses; the tin plates hammered into place acting as protection from the rain. Metal stilts have been hammered into the seabed and do-it-yourself constructions of wood, cardboard, anything that comes to hand seem to have been propped up or supported on them to create makeshift living spaces which are little more than squats and can do little to keep the occupants warm on a cold winters night. A few years ago, the only way to get onto the island from the mainland of Lantau was via a raft which was pulled across the narrow strip of water on the end of a length of rope. This has now been replaced in the light of increased tourism by a modern bridge over which a sign welcomes you to Tai O, in my mind the first step towards destroying one of the last truly traditional places in Hong Kong.
Walking through the village, I saw elderly men sitting outside their squats, smoking or playing Mah-Jongg without a care in the world. As I passed, they would either smile politely or stare me daggers in equal measure - for every person here who sees tourism as the future of their village, there is another who would rather shoot me dead than allow westerners to intrude upon their traditional ways. And who can truely look at a place as wonderfully untouched by the west as Tai O and not understand completely? Tourism has transformed the lifestyle of Tai O from that of a simple fishing community to one almost wholly subsistent on visitors. Modern society has made it almost impossible to eke out any sort of existence based on fishing alone, and most of the people who live here either do so because they have nowhere else to go or because they quite rightly don't wish to see their traditions and lifestyle trodden underfoot and forgotten about. It was a sad, but educational, start to the day.

You can read my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2

In July 2000, a major fire destroyed much of the village and pretty much put an end to what was already a dying fishing community. The local rope bridge has been replaced by modern steel, and many of the fire-ravaged stilt houses patched up. Tourists still flock to Tai O and the locals take them out on their boats to look for the Chinese white Dolphins and make enough from them to barely exist from one day to the next, but the fishing lifestyle is all but gone. In addition, a recently reported attempt by the Hong Kong local government, resisted by the Tai O residents, to clear some of the residents out and make them go and live in modern high rise apartment blocks on the grounds of health caused a stir for a while. For the time being, Tai O remains a quaint old fashioned Chinese fishing village in name only, and some say it is only a matter of time before it becomes another casualty of modernisation. The current plan, and this just defies belief, is to build a major theme park on Tai O - needless to say, this hasn't gone down too well with the locals who rightly question how their already worn away lifestyle will survive living next door to such a place.
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Kwun Tong, Hong Kong (SAR)
Hong Kong Public Records Building Introduction The Hong Kong Public Records Building at 13 Tsui Ping Road , Kwun Tong, was opened in 1997. It plays an important role in the preservation of records that hold archival value for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. It has collected about 5 000 pictures since 1860s and some 400 audio-visual materials on Hong Kong history and affairs produced between mid-1950s and 1980s. The public areas include a large working reference room, an exhibition hall and a search room equipped with computers for access to the extensive archival collection. Call 2195 7700 for e nquires . Opening hours: 9:00am - 5:15pm (Mon - Fri) 9:00am - 12:00nn (Sat) Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays Transportation Take Kwun Tong MTR station exit D1, and walk along Tsui Ping Road for 5 minutes
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Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong (SAR)
Keep in mind that whenever you travel outside of the United States, it is a good ideal to check with the embassy of that country to see if there is any violence or uprising. Vaccination should be taken if need be and be mindful of the cultures where you're traveling. Remembering that you're under the government of your travel destination will help you stay free of any infractions during your stay.
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