The Markets of Hong Kong

Unbelievable as it sounds, our flight was actually 45 minutes early into Hong Kong and we landed at around a quarter past four in the morning. The airport was mostly deserted at this hour, though the queue for the toilets was still quite long. B was feeling a bit sick, but eventually we made it out without any dramas. You know you are in Asia when the immigration officer is using a Hello Kitty pen to annotate your passport.

We weren’t certain how to get to the hotel. The trains weren’t yet running and nobody was around to help with buses. A kind couple visiting relatives in were going much the same direction and pointed out the bus to catch, a double decker. No change given to our proferred HK$50 note, a whole HK$4 down the drain (A$0.80, so no big deal!). It’s in the Lonely Planet, as I discovered afterwards.

I had no idea where we were going for most of the trip, until we hit Nathan Road. Then I counted off the MTR (subway) stations until we hit the one closest to the hotel. The tin hau temple was a convenient reference point and we then found the hotel without difficulty. It was 6:30 am.

The hotel could not check us in for another couple of hours, so we sat in the lobby chairs and drank papaya flavoured milk for breakfast. I fell asleep, to be woken by B telling me we could go up to our room now.

Yes, our room at the Dorsett Seaview was small, but nowhere near as terribly tiny as the comments had lead us to expect. We paid more for something smaller in London and Osaka. And there were harbour glimpses!

A shower, then sleep, for we were both extremely tired.

At 11am we woke to begin our exploration of Hong Kong. At the airport we had picked up a Hong Kong walks brochure and this formed the basis for our day’s sightseeing. From our hotel we walked south along Nathan Road and towards the harbour.

Nathan Road is the main drag in Kowloon. It is lined with shops selling clothes, food and electronics. Dirty high rise tenements tower over big neon signs. In detail it looks like many other asian locations, but without the ever present scooters. Where are they?

We ducked down into Jordan MTR station to purchase a couple of Octopus cards. These are stored value cards that can be used as tickets on the MTR and to purchase goods from some shops, including 7/11’s.

Lunch was yum cha at the Golden Treasure, a local restaurant. There were no yum cha trollies, all had to be ordered from the menu. This was a problem as neither of us read Chinese. We just ordered what we knew by name, but it was not as good as we have eaten in Sydney.

After lunch we took a detour down Hillwood Soho and up the Knutsford Steps, trendy bar and restaurant locations, not really interesting for us. The cola and ginger flavoured gelato at Dolve Vita was good, though!

At Tsim Sha Tsui we detoured to the East Tsim Sha Tsui KCR (Kowloon Canton Railway) station where we hoped to pickup our reserved ticket to Beijing for Monday. They directed us to the main station at Hung Hom. So we used our Octopus card to catch the train. Nice train, although I’m glad I don’t spend 3 hours a day on a stainless steel bench in Sydney.

Hung Hom station has a couple of shops selling Japanese sweets. In fact there are Japanese shops everywhere in Kowloon; it seems that there is a local love affair with things Japanese. I guess we can sympathise!

Purchasing the Beijing ticket was simple and one less thing to worry about. From Hung Hom we walked towards the Promenade. Our route took us through the Metropolis Plaza, with its fake flower and grass garden and the empty Hong Kong Coliseum. We passed locals fishing from bridge supports across from a container terminal.

The view across the clear green-blue water to Hong Kong Island was disappointingly obscured by heavy grey haze. Along the Avenue of Stars we kneeled down to place our hands in the handprints of the local movie celebrities and posed for photos with the statues. It’s tacky, but fun. B recognised most of the names.

We rejoined Nathan Road near the famous Peninsula Hotel and caught an MTR up to Prince Edward for our next walk – the markets of Hong Kong.

Up until now my sense of direction had been perfect. Emerging from the Prince Edward MTR subway into the featureless grey haze reversed it – a problem I have in the Northern Hemisphere. I set us walking the opposite way from our intended destination, the Bird Market. Instead we walked into a building materials area, with little shops selling steel sheets, toilet bowls, wood and other hardware items.

A local set us in the right direction and we retraced our steps along Prince Edward Road West. Near empty footpaths became crowded as locals purchased flowers and plants from the many little flower market shops along the street. We stopped to eat a delicious coconut milk egg tart from a hole-in-the-wall stall. At the end of the flower market were steps up to the Yueh Po Street Bird garden.

A circular entrance lead into a peaceful garden filled with the twittering of many birds. There were small cages of finches and budgerigars, parrots chained by the ankle to their perches and tiny chicks huddling together for warmth. It was disturbing.

From the bird garden we walked back through the flower market, colourful with exotic flowers and shrubs. Above some of the shops were roof gardens, small patches of beauty amongst the stained tenement walls.

We wandered southwards until we reached the Fa Yuen Street, lined with shops selling gold and tropical fish in clear plastic bags hung from the walls, each bag containing a piece of weed. Microcosms in a bag. Tubs below held small turtles and shrimps, looking like toys. Like the birds, the method of holding the animals was inconsiderate of their comfort.
Our next market was the Ladies Market along Tung Choi Street. The goods sold were not restricted to the feminine, with stalls selling everything from pet clothes to male underwear designed to look like a puppet bird. But every few metres out would come the cry “brand copies,” enticing the pedestrian to view the collection of fake handbags.

We stopped in a small restaurant for a dinner of spicy noodles and hot pot. I really did not care for the flavours of the foods, felt like a salad rather than the heavy, salty Chinese food.

At the end of the Ladies Market was another market, an undercover wet market. Butchered animals, mostly seafood sold from stalls. Many of the fish had been partially cut open to expose their air bladders, still inflated.

Our final market was close to our hotel, the Temple Street Night Market. It had a little bit of everything and the restaurants lining the street made us regret eating earlier. The markets wrapped around the Tin Hau Temple opposite our hotel. Here were some stalls selling phallic sculptures and sex toys. There on the other side were the tents of fortune tellers. And finally were bands and singers of Chinese songs, a truly awful sound.

So we walked around the temple grounds and back to the hotel. On the way we stopped by a 7-11 and bought bottles of water and plum juice. I had never tasted plum juice before. I wish that I had read the lable because it was sour plum juice, like the Chinese “sweet”. Yuck!

An hour before midnight and we had walked from Mong Kok to the harbour. I was so tired by this stage that I was in another world and almost ran into traffic. Time for bed for the first proper, relaxed sleep in days.