We were in Hong Kong for a trip down “Memory lane” – unfortunately there is little today to remind one of Colonial days. Beautiful old buildings have been torn down and replaced with monstrosities and the whole feeling of the city as changed. It is frenetic, very crowded and quite soulless. I am so sad and very disappointed – they say it is progress but I totally disagree.
To recap, we spent four days in Singapore first. I remember this place as a stopping off point en route to and from England during our leave. We had friends we stayed with and we have visited several times since. Although the city has been modernised, the beautiful old colonial buildings have been restored and put to good use – for example the old Post Office which is now the Fullerton Hotel. There is a sense of history and heritage everywhere and I find it charming and a relief. Everyone is friendly, English is widely spoken and public transport is clean, efficient and very frequent.
Raffles Hotel is a prime example of heritage and we made our obligatory visit for curry tiffin and a Singapore Sling!
Then we arrived in Hong Kong. To say the place has changed since 1997 is an understatement and few places are recognisable now. For old time’s sake we decided to go up the Peak where we lived for several years. The Peak Tram was the favourite form of transport then – now it is just a tourist operation and I was appalled to see the queue for the tram was 2 1/2 hours long! Obviously we weren’t going to wait that long, so we took a taxi to the top and walked around Lugard Road – where one of our homes used to be. I remember the view was stunning. A myriad of fairy lights at night, boats criss crossing the harbour, lights twinkling in Kowloon and during the day the hills of Kowloon Peak and the sprawling area of Kowloon and the New Territories shimmered in the sunlight.
The view is still stunning, although much of it is marred by jungle growth these days (a good thing one would think looking at the urban jungle below).
There had been so much reclamation lately that soon the harbour will scarcely exist! Where once we took a vehicular ferry, a sampan or a ‘walla walla’ to cross to the other side, now there are tunnels and the Star Ferry – thankfully it hasn’t changed – takes half the time!
Public transport is excellent. The MTR rail is clean, efficient, modern and very frequent – just try avoiding the rush hours! We made that mistake and were literally pushed into the train on one occasion. The trams and buses are also excellent and the taxis plentiful and cheap. One problem with taxis – it seems many drivers do not speak English, so if you go take a translation of where you want to go and where you have to return to.
A visit to Stanley Village was on the cards. This was a favourite weekend destination and it seems it still is. Now somewhat touristy, the markets are still there and there are heaps of waterfront restaurants now. Blake’s Pier, which used to be in Central and from where we would catch launches for picnics, has been relocated to Stanley to make way for more construction in Central. It looks somewhat lonely in the bay but I am glad it has not lost its character.
Something we never did in the past was go into China for the day. Now it is possible to go to Shenzhen for a shopping day and it is easy on the MTR. Visas are issued on arrival and the you are free to explore the Mall and the myriad of shops around the square. There is so much on offer that I became quite overwhelmed and came away with very little except experience!
We walked around a small part of the town, came across the station and wondered how one found one’s way without knowledge of Chinese characters.
The shopping mall is clean and bright and the shop keepers all tout for business. The day we were there was quiet – weekends and holidays are manic apparently. Nevertheless it was a tiring day both mentally and visually.
Finally the birthday treat – a wonderful high tea at the Peninsula Hotel – again unspoilt and very like the past. Fantastic service, beautiful presentation and an altogether fabulous afternoon.
I doubt we will visit Hong Kong again as I want to remember the place as it was – unhurried, fascinating, historical and beautiful. Happy, smiling people and a blend of all nations. These last two photos are a reminder of the past which will never be recovered.