Honk honk honk… Hong Kong!

This post is about one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, but the post has had some major technological difficulties. This is take 2 of a post I worked SO hard on for many many hours. I had one more picture to add before finishing, but one unfortunate click on a glitchy app… poof! Completely gone. Ugh! Damn you WordPress app for not having an undo button! So, here goes take 2 😦

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This image of a smiling soldier holding an enormous gun was our first greeting to Hong Kong.

Welcome to Hong Kong! Krista came to pick us up at the airport. It was really great to see someone we knew! Our first experience in the city was watching a very bad driver trying to back into the space beside us, and Krista was glad that that experience was an authentic one. Apparently, that is not an uncommon sight.

A lot of people think of Hong Kong as a big city on a tiny island, but really it’s made up of over 300 islands and a chunk of mainland. And, a big part of that area is covered not by city, but by mountains and forest. Believe it or not, but there’s some great hiking in Hong Kong!

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The downtown is located on Hong Kong island (purple) and Kowloon (yellow), with the harbour in the middle.

Hong Kong was a part of China for a very long time, but when China lost a war to Great Britain in 1842, Hong Kong island was given away as a colony to the UK. China then kept losing wars, so the UK acquired Kowloon in 1860 and the rest (New Territories) in 1898. The agreement was to give the land back to China in 1997. China agreed on “one country, two systems”, meaning that Hong Kong would be part of their country, but it would be capitalist and semi-democratic unlike the communist mainland. Sounds complicated to me!
Hongkongers (a.k.a. Honkies) considered themselves very fortunate because they were a part of Great Britain, but also they liked to differentiate themselves from mainland Chinese (same way that us Canadians like to differentiate ourselves from Americans, I guess… I don’t mean any offense to our American readers!). During the years approaching the 1997 Handover, Honkies were afraid of what would happen. Many immigrated to the UK, Canada, Australia or anywhere they could get to. Now, almost 20 years later, they are moving back home because they have realized that their city is thriving.
Hong Kong
Population: 7 million
Area: 1104 sq km
Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD). Exchange rate: $1 CAD = $6 HKD
Languages: Mandarin (official language of China), Cantonese (local dialect), English (from the British influence).
Drives on the: Left

When we arrived back at the Garvie’s place, we saw Shivahn and Shea, who we had seen a few summers earlier in Ontario. We were happy to be able to spend time with other kids who speak English! I was so excited to see two steamin’ hot lasagnas that their Filipino helper Caren prepared. But I was even more excited to see steamed broccoli. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the food is greasy, salty and over-mayonaised. When we did find veggies, they were almost always fried in way too much oil. I was never so excited about broccoli!
We slept so soundly. No music blasting, no cars honking close by, no roosters crowing, no ladyboy concerts… when was the last time we had all that?!

Hong Kong day 1
Krista drove us over to Hong Kong island and came with us to the Wan Chai computer center. Our electronic devices were dying. Certain cables wouldn’t charge certain devices, our Bluetooth keyboard for blogging had died, and our tablet’s battery was useless. It always had to be plugged into a power source, on or off. If it wasn’t, it would die in the span of 10 to 30 seconds and then sometimes take hours to turn back on again. My dad looked for new batteries everywhere we went, but he didn’t find any. So he asked Mark well in advance to find one in HK. He found one from a store in the Wan Chai computer, so we went there first and left the tablet with them. Then we went to run some other errands there: we got new charging cables, a Bluetooth keyboard, and Jake bought a phone. But best of all was the tablet. When we went back to the first shop to pick it up, we were all beaming. Gone are the days of having it plugged into a battery pack at all times! Rejoice for the electronic gods have given us salvation!
The Wan Chai computer center is amazing and overwhelming. It is a two-story indoor market filled with dozens of little stalls/shops selling everything from laptops to cameras to cables to phone cases to TVs and movies… you get the picture. There are screens everywhere you look advertising GoPros or phones or I don’t even know – I got hypnotized after a while. It was cool to see the Wan Chai computer center for an hour, but I’m not sure if I would want to work there full time.

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We didn't take any pictures, but I found this one online.

Then, we had another very Hong Kong experience: eating noodle soup with wontons in a local restaurant. These restaurants are small and cramped, and they pack as many people as possible into each table. Krista said to always go to one with a lineup because then you know that it has to be good. So, we waited in line for a short time then ordered the classic southern Chinese dish: noodle soup with wontons.

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I was never very good with chopsticks. At home, we rarely eat Chinese, but when we do, they always give us the option to use a fork and knife. But in HK, I knew that I had to learn because fork and knife wouldn’t be an option! I watched the woman beside me for a minute, then I tried myself. I was having trouble at first, and the woman beside me looked over and said “So… this is your first time to Hong Kong?”. I guess it was pretty obvious! But I quickly improved and ate the yummy food. When we finished, the waitress ushered us out to make room for people who were waiting in line. I’ve got to say… that felt like a true Hong Kong experience. Then, we walked a little bit through the market.

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Krista said that our Hong Kong experience would not be complete without a ride on the Tram (double-decker streetcar, form of public transit). One came along, so we hopped on.

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That's classic Hong Kong: small, narrow and tall!

After we got off, we walked to the cable car station to ride up to the Summit. The summit is a very high point on Hong Kong island where you can see a great view of the city. The cable car was pretty touristy, but apparently some people use it for commuting as well.

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Here, Jake is standing straight up. The cable car is built on a slant because it only runs up and down between the Summit and downtown.

When we got to the top, WOW! I quickly realized that this was the biggest city I had even been in.

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That's Hong Kong island in the front and Kowloon in the back.
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It is a jungle of 50+ storey buildings.
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Hong Kong has a VERY busy harbour.
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This is what government housing looks like

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After descending from the Summit, Krista realized that she had to get home. But, she gave us a to-do list of more things we had to do before going back to their place:
1. Take the Star Ferry across the harbour over to the Kowloon side of town;
2. Walk along the Avenue of Stars (waterfront path with the names of famous Chinese actors written on the stones, including Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee);
3. Walk around Kowloon and be offered a “copy watch” by vendors (a fake brand-name watch), and
4. Take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway, underground train) and a minibus back to their place.
Off we went…

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The little white and green boat is the Star Ferry, and the one on the right is a very fancy Chinese "Junk" boat. This pic is taken from the Kowloon side.
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Traditionally, these boats were the work horses, but they have become an emblem of Hong Kong. We're pretty sure that the tourism committee pays this swanky one to go around the harbour!
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We saw an email address in English...
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...then we saw it in Chinese!

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We got back to their place very late that night, but ate dinner after we got back. What a full day!

Hong Kong day 2
Happy birthday to me! My 14th birthday started with a long Skype conversation with my best friend Francesca Bravo back in Peterborough. It was really fun to see her!
Then, Krista took us to the neighourhood of Stanley on Hong Kong island. It’s where they used to live, but it started getting very touristy and expensive so they decided to leave. It has a big “stuff” market with souvenirs and toys and random things. There’s also a nice waterfront and lots of restaurants.

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This is my little birthday dance

Then Krista brought us to their favourite Chinese restaurant for lunch. We couldn’t read the menu, but she knew what the best dishes were and ordered us lemon chicken and some other things I can’t remember. It was delicious! After lunch, we left Stanley and drove to Shivahn and Shea’s school, the Chinese International School (CIS). We had scheduled a presentation for Shea’s class, year 5 (equivalent of Canada’s grade 4). We pretty much reused our Bali Green School presentation but simplified it a bit for a younger audience and customized it for Hong Kong. Our USB key didn’t work on the school computer, though, so we had to show the slides on the little tablet screen. It’s too bad because some of those pictures were really good, and I don’t think that the tablet had the same effect.

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See, Jake is holding the tablet.

The kids were very bright and had good questions for us. After the presentation, we picked up Shea and drove to a place called Ryze. Ryze (like “Rise”) is a big room filled with trampolines and foam pits to practice doing flips and stuff. Shea is really into parkour so he goes there pretty often. It was so much fun!

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Here I am doing a back tuck. We also did layouts and front tucks.

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After an hour of jumping, we left Ryze and Krista brought us to the neighbourhood of Tseung Kwan O. Development in Hong Kong is almost all 50+ storey buildings, but they don’t just build one at a time here and there. They build in big groups or “villages”, which include sports complexes, malls, greenspace, schools and an MTR station.
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So much construction!
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I bet that this cluster of building is home to more people that my hometown of Peterborough!
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At least they went out of their way to make nice bike paths.

Tseung Kwan O was really an amazing sight. Typical Honkies live in tiny flats in huge skyscrapers. The flats in Tseung Kwan O are considered luxurious. I think that building up is awesome because it prevents urban sprawl/suburbia, leaving greenspace. No wonder there’s good hiking in Hong Kong – because they build highrises instead of suburbs! Although, I’m not sure if I would want to live 50 stories of the ground!
When we got back to the Garvie’s place, I was glad that we didn’t have to take an elevator, because they live on the 2nd and 3rd floors of a 3 storey building. That night, my dad went to Mark’s hockey game, and the rest of us stayed home and had cake. That was definitely one of my more memorable birthdays!

Hong Kong day 3
Our third day in Hong Kong was spent at the Ocean Park amusement park. We heard that there was great educational stuff there, and also lots of environmental initiatives. So, we thought we should go to it! We’re actually going to leave Ocean Park to a separate post, so instead I’ll talk about how we got there: the MTR.
As I said earlier, MTR stands for Mass Transit Railway, and it’s what in Canada we would call a subway. It’s probably the best public transit system we’ve ever seen. It impressed us with it’s efficiency. It’s really well thought out – everything from the ticket machines and the turnstiles to the transfer stations and the trains themselves.

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People lining up to go through the turnstiles
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Unlike the Toronto system, doors open from the platform as well as the trains, to prevent any accidents.
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The map above each door on the train lights up and flashes to show you which station comes next.
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I can't find anyone without a cellphone... can you?

You can reach a lot of places on the MTR. There’s an airport express line (now there’s an idea for Toronto!), a separate little line to HK Disneyland, and they are building a line to go straight to Ocean Park (we had to take a bus too). I’ll add a map to give you an idea.

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We were all really impressed with the MTR network. Keep it up, Hong Kong!
We arrived back late that night after a very fun day at Ocean Park. Stay tuned for the next post!
PS- We didn’t see it, but we heard of a new form of transportation in Hong Kong: covered outdoor escalators! They’re in an area called Mid-levels (half way up the mountain), built on a steep slope. People were hesitant to walk anywhere because of the steepness, so they built escalators!
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Hong Kong day 4
We took it easy in the morning. We read, blogged and did some research about Nepal. My mom and Krista went to the post office to send home a package of stuff that we’ve accumulated and things we knew we wouldn’t be needing for the rest of the trip. And they weighed the package… 12kg! That’s the weight of my pack, to give you an idea. It was pretty exciting – our packs were lighter for a short while, but we keep buying more Nepali clothing so they weren’t light for long!
When we finally did get going, we headed to the Big Buddha statue with Krista. First, we took the MTR to Lantau island to a cable car station. Then, we took the cable car up the hill.
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We went right past the airport... all built on reclaimed land.
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This was not the Hong Kong I imagined
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We saw this too... they are building a bridge to Macau, 50 km away, and expected to cost over US $10 billion! Krista thinks that this is a political move on the Chinese government's side, connecting all their territories.

The ride up took about 45 minutes. Then we walked up to the Big Buddha.

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Up, Up, Up

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The Buddha is sitting on his Lotus flower.

Then we went to the monastery. It attracts Buddhist pilgrims from from all over Asia.
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We ate a bit more Chinese food before heading back home. We first took a bus to a harbour, then a ferry to Kowloon, and finally a very frustrating taxi ride with a driver who preferred pumping the gas pedal over keeping it steady. Jake was not felling well by the end of it. I think we all had whiplash. Krista said that there are some of the drivers are like that, and she normally just gets out of the taxi if they’re really bad. We all regretted not doing that!

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This is the view we got from the ferry.

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Hong Kong day 5
This day started slowly. We just chilled out. In the afternoon, we went for a walk with Mark to a nearby university. They had a really good view. Then we ate some Starbucks before Krista picked us up in the car. She drove us to the nearby neighbourhood of Sai Kung. We saw some cool fish markets and people flying awesome kites.

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Mark liked this street name!

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Some people sell the fish directly from the boat.
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But we also saw this big fish stall on the land.
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Cuttlefish are some of the smartest creatures on earth, so it's sad to see them like this.

That evening, the parents went out for dinner and us kids went to see the movie Insurgent. The movie was really good, and my dad talked about their dinner in the earlier HK post.

Hong Kong day 6
Well… the days just keep getting more and more relaxed. Mark and Krista took Shivahn to her rugby awards ceremony, and she won player of the year! We did nothing other that plan for Nepal. At about 5PM, we said our goodbyes and Mark drove us to the airport. Our flights leaving Hong Kong were absolutely awful: a 7 hour layover in Mumbai in the middle of the night before going on to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Hong Kong was awesome. Krista was such a good tour guide for one of the most iconic cities in the world. But also, we had a very nice, clean, and comfortable place to relax, recharge our metaphoric batteries (or replace our real ones?), and get ready for the final 3 months of our trip. Off to Nepal!
Kaia

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