Last updated 10 June 2020
Discover Hong Kong
“You know I love Hong Kong because it’s just such an unusual place, all those people crammed together. It’s really gung ho capitalism but the Chinese love it. It’s strange, there seems to be so much passion and yet it’s all money, money, money.”
Michael Hutchence, lead singer of Australian Rock Band INXS
I follow an elderly grey-haired lady, who steps cautiously down the steeply sloped laneway. A thin, wiry, bow-legged figure, heavily hunched over either from age or some form of poor bone development. Her feet shuffle slowly as she firmly grips her walking cane for support. We are on the island side of Hong Kong. She and I carefully navigate the uneven sloping ground, making the descent from Mid-Levels towards Central. Admiring her determined gait, I wonder where the old lady is heading. With her bags of groceries is she venturing out on her daily shopping trip at the fresh (wet) markets in the nearby lane-ways? Or is she is meeting a friend for lunch?
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world, (6,300 people per square kilometre.) Where the streets and subways are crowded with people moving quickly, but where others seemed unaffected by the pace and volumes of people. I watch as pedestrians respectfully step around this elderly lady, or slow down until the opportunity presents itself to pass. There is no aggression or impatience, rather respect for an older generation. This moment embodies the essence of my love for Hong Kong – where old traditions mix harmoniously with the new. A juxtaposition graciously accepted.
Although this is my fifth visit, returning to the familiar Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island, I still experience the excitement. With each trip, I continue to make new discoveries and I love re-visiting the familiar places. Return visits provide an opportunity to rediscover landmarks; streets; favourite shops; cafes and bars. Despite the passage of time, they remain a constant.
Like revisiting an old friend, catching up where you left off.
The city was first founded on Hong Kong Island, now the centre of business and commerce. Mid-Levels is located halfway up Victoria Peak, directly above the business area known as Central. The further you head up the Peak, the greater the affluence of the residents. Thanks to a very generous friend, I was staying in an apartment in Mid-Levels – coming and going at my own pace and feeling like a local.
This older area of Hong Kong was built prior to the motor vehicle. Streets are narrow as are the stepped footpaths which become easily blocked with commuters or workers pushing their carts laden with produce or tools. The streets are usually one way, creating an interesting challenge for drivers as they pass in close proximity to local shops and pedestrians. During peak hours, these roads become congested, but no-one seems to lose their cool. Somehow the crazy system works. People and cars combine in a harmonious working relationship – although like New York the use of the car horn prevails.
It always pays to look up and around at your surroundings when travelling, but in Mid-Levels it pays to look down where you tread as the footpaths and steps are often uneven. The Mid-Level residents of the tall towers or apartments dotting the streets seem used to their geography. Ascending from Central is a cardio workout – a steep and continuous climb often a zig-zag through various laneways and streets. I watch Ladies brave enough to wear high heels teeter precariously as they make the steep descent into Central business district. I figure it’s safer to wear sensible shoes for the journey and pack the heels in your bag to change into when you reach the flatter smooth footpaths of Central.
Central – Mid-Levels escalator
I used this extensively throughout my visit. The long outdoor Central – Mid-Levels escalator runs from the Mid-Levels area downhill to Central. The escalator allows travel to Cochrane Street, Staunton Street, Hollywood Road, Caine Street and into Soho – where you find an assortment of bars, restaurants and boutique shops. The escalator system is 800 metres in length with a vertical climb of 135 metres. The total travel time is said to be twenty minutes, but most people walk – travelator style. If you don’t wish to walk, remember to stand to the right to allow those who do wish to pass you – escalator etiquette. The escalators are a tourist attraction. I find it fascinating looking into the variety of shops and street life as you glide past. These escalators seem to be the place for selfies pics as many of the tourists around me were happy snapping themselves!
TIP: anyone intending to use the escalators, they run downhill from 6am – 10.00 am to allow residents to get to work and uphill from 10.30 am to midnight. Although on a few occasions I had to walk up the stone stairs next to the escalators as they had not changed over at the “recommended” times.
Hong Kong is steeped in tradition and evidence of the British rule remains, but on this visit in the back streets of Mid-Levels I discover a few new places intent on proclaiming the modernisation of Hong Kong.
Police Married Quarters
PMQ on 35 Aberdeen Street is a large building complex, re-designed and renovated (opening 2014) as a creative hub for Hong Kong. Entering via the courtyard as they were dismantling the Christmas displays, I find a selection of small shops showcasing a mix of well known retail brands as well as small Hong Kong brands. From fashion, furniture, stationery, to children’s clothing and kitchen accessories, PMQ offers designs and merchandise you will not see in the Ladies Markets. I considered the merchandise quality was a higher standard than I found in the markets. This is reflected in the prices inside the PMQ – I’m guessing the store owners considered their items are more exclusive?
Directly opposite PMQ on Aberdeen Street (24-24 Aberdeen Street), I stumbled upon the Soul Art Shop showcasing hand made Chinese products unique to anything I had seen in Hong Kong. Lovely store Manager Siqiu Yang gave me the rundown on how each piece is handmade from polymer clay. I find it hard to resist anything artistic, especially if it’s a little individual and quirky at the same time. Siqiu boxed and presented my souvenirs so beautifully, I almost wanted to leave them wrapped when I arrived home in Australia. My three young men loved their gifts – miniature tigers – said to keep away disease and evil.
Following a day spent exploring the back streets of this fascinating area of Hong Kong I return to my quiet steep street and once again I’m following an elderly lady, stooped over with her cane, but this time we are ascending.
My pace slows and I pause to reflect. Hong Kong holds a special place in my traveling heart. Whenever I’m feeling a little jaded or tiring of the everyday-ness of life, an escape to Hong Kong always rejuvenates my spirits.