We couldn’t have picked a more ideal location than Hong Kong to begin a blog about the alchemy of combining cultures since the East and the West united here long ago.
We arrived on Easter morning, tired but ready to explore. In the well located City View Hotel, there were guests enjoying Easter brunch with their families. Around the city, families explored the Flower Market, the Bird Market and listened to karaoke in the streets.
While walking down Shanghai Street, a stand with Takoyaki octopus balls beckoned us. This Japanese street food is filled with octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger and green onion and covered with sweet, tangy sauces squirted from bottles by ladies chatting with one another. See how they make them here:
Of course, the fun part of street food is eating with a stick while walking down a narrow sidewalk lit by a myriad of neon signs!
To our surprise, the next day was also a public holiday to continue the long Easter weekend. With fewer people out, the city felt like our own. An early morning trek up Victoria Peak was capped by an hour walk around the loop trail atop. Don’t believe the naysayers…you don’t want to miss this unique perspective of Hong Kong!
Hong Kong Park was filled with surprises. For a park inside one of the world’s largest cities, it felt removed from the busyness. The aviary has some beautiful and unique birds and it’s cleaner than our house thanks to a routine of hosing everything down multiple times per day. This was our introduction to all of the Chinese who work to maintain cleanliness whether in a park like this or raking leaves at a public square or temple.
At the Mo-Man Temple we were warmly welcomed to visit. One teenage boy offered a bamboo incense stick in smooth English. The incense inside the small temple created a mysterious ambiance although the smoke stung the eyes. Of the temples we visited, this one felt the most alive with the nonstop praying and incense burning of the devout.
A day trip by bus to the New Territories gave us a chance to see what Hong Kong holds outside of the city. We took the metro to Tung Chung then Bus 23 to Ngong Ping. An early arrival assured us a chance to see the Po Lin Monastery before the Ngong Ping 360 brought cable cars full of tourists. A sweet lady in robes took some photos of us by the temple. She even encouraged us to stand in front of the open door of the photo restricted area of the altar. With a loud and stern voice, a female security guard quickly cut short our hopes for getting our photo with the three bronze statues of Buddha inside. The sweet lady in robes gave us a quick smile with laughing eyes before we turned our separate ways and walked away.
We started to walk the Wisdom Trail beside the monastery but were discouraged by the poor maintenance and buzzing mosquitoes. We opted for a Coke while trying to avoid being watered by the gardener wielding his hose. At 10 A.M. we were second in line to climb the 268 steps to see the Big Buddha.
Next, Bus 11 took us to the fishing village of Tai O. With houses built on stilts, market stalls with vendors (of course!), and chanting monks with incense, the village gives a taste of more rural life. David’s favorite part…grilled octopus on a stick!
Another early morning start to beat the crowds to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple. Although it officially opens at 9 A.M., you can walk the 400+ stairs lined with golden Buddhas before this time. In fact, we entered the temple areas prior to opening time without any resistance. Our visit coincided with the Ching Ming Festival where families honor their loved ones by bringing gifts to their place of final rest. Inside the columbarium, the walls are lined with boxes that resemble a bank’s wall of safe-deposit boxes. When the outside door the small box is opened, a picture of the loved one is revealed while inside their ashes are preserved. We were able to watch several families making offerings of incense and oranges in this touching remembrance.
Four days in Hong Kong gave us a small taste of this amazing place. Happily, the fusion of East and West results in an intact and unique Eastern culture with some Western spice sprinkled in. We were thankful for their command of the English language (and English signage!) and we’re still unsure which way to look when crossing the street!