Part of a trip concentrating on East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, North and South Korea), continuing in South Asia (Bangladesh, India) and ending on the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, United Arab Emirates).
– visited September 2015 –
I fell in love with Hong Kong on my first visit in 2002. I love condensed megacities that grow into the air as ground to build on is scarce. I was taken by Hong Kong’s scenery. Hong Kong is mountainous; the peaks of Hong Kong Island reach up to 552 metres surpassing even the highest skyscrapers. And it is by no means all city, planning authorities have made sure that a clear distinction between the city and nature is upheld. There are even hiking trails on Hong Kong’s territory and in the new territories Tai Mo Shan rises to 958 metres. A few small villages still exist and you can find (nearly) unspoilt beaches.
Entering Hong Kong means my final return to freedom. Three weeks earlier I had been in North Korea, where I was a prisoner of my tour group. Without our guides I was not free to move anywhere, internet was not available and thereby all personal connections to the outside world were cut. Crossing from North Korea to China meant the return of the internet and the return of my freedom to make my own decisions, to move around at will. But the reach of the Chinese authorities goes far: to access my emails, facebook, some newspapers or just to conduct a search on google you need to have a VPN (virtual private network) installed. And you better install one before entering China, you will have little success downloading a VPN behind the Great Firewall. The moment you step onto Hong Kong’s territory all these restrictions are gone. You are back in the free world.
Hong Kong is a part of China but under the principle of “one country, two systems” has strong autonomy from the mainland. This construct is a result of Hong Kong’s history. The British Empire had taken control of Hong Kong Island (by treaty with the Qing Empire) in 1842. After the Second Opium War, Hong Kong expanded onto the nearby peninsula of Kowloon. In 1898, the territory was further enlarged by the incorporation of the New Territories. But the new territories were not ceded to the British Empire, they were only leased for a period of 99 years. In 1997 that lease was up and China had no interest in any prolongation. Anyway, the age of colonialism was over and British authorities came to the conclusion that Hong Kong could not survive without the New Territories. An agreement between Great Britain and the People’s Republic of China was reached in 1984 stipulating that Hong Kong would become the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and have its own Basic Law which would guarantee Kong Kong’s autonomy for the next 50 years until 2047. Hong Kong organizes its own affairs (except foreign policy), has its own police and security apparatus and its own laws. There is a proper border control between the two parts of China with different visa rules. As a German citizen, I am able to enter Hong Kong at will but need a visa to enter China.
I need to go shopping. My 70-300mm lens broke in North Korea and I want a new one. I am also tempted by a much larger 150-600mm zoom. Hong Kong has no value added tax and prices are supposed to be cheap. They turn out to be cheap for high-end gear but comparable to prices in Germany for lower-end stuff. The low prices can only be found on the internet so I enter the shadowy world of small shops operating out of office rooms in nondescript “business centres”. I end up buying both lenses (the 150-600mm is a 25% cheaper as in Germany and I just need a 70-300mm). One of them comes with proper documentation; the other comes without any warranty papers. As I want to take a test picture the attendant says “yes, you can” but then turns around so that I cannot take a picture of his face. The level of English I encounter while on my shopping spree is worse than what I remember from previous visits.
A good friend told me to go Tim Ho Wan. Hong Kong sports a dim-sum restaurant with a Michelin star at reasonable prices. Dim Sum can be a wide array of seafood, chopped meats, or vegetables wrapped in dough or thin wrappings and steamed, deep-fried, or pan-fried. The atmosphere is more fast food than Michelin. To accommodate all the hungry, turnover has to be quick. As a solo traveller I am placed at a table with a friendly family and soon munching on delicious dim-sum. I pay less than 20€ for a full belly of award-winning food.
I check out my new lenses at the Hong Kong Wetland Park. Few birds are around but the city offers enough targets. It feels weird to run around a city with a massive 150-600mm lens in my hands but no one seems to care. I head to the Tuen Mun New Town to explore a part of Hong Kong away from the sights.
I finally want to walk one of Hong Kong’s hiking trails. I take one of the double-decker trams on Hong Kong Island (love the views), take the bus to the other side of the island and get off at the start of the beautiful Dragon’s Back walk. It will end at the beach at Shek ‘O where I had my first swim in the Pacific Ocean 12 years ago.