Over the years, my husband made a number of business trips to Hong Kong, his last visit coinciding with the return of Hong Kong to the Motherland in 1997, 20 years ago. What might have changed since then, I wonder? I, on the other hand, have never before traveled to Hong Kong, thus my only reference points are the novels “Tai-Pan” and “Nobel House” by James Clavell.
Let the adventure begin!
The location of our exchange home in Hong Kong was without a doubt the best venue from which to conquer this incredible, loud, colorful and vibrant action-city. Our 45th-floor apartment with daily housekeeping services, was located in the apartment tower of one of the poshest hotels in the Central District of Hong Kong Island, The Four Seasons, immediately adjacent to the ‘in’, the ‘hip’, and the ‘it’ multi-level shopping mall called IFC Mall [Mall of the International Financial Center], where, among many other high-end shops, you can drop in at the Loro Piana Boutique which sells garments constructed of the most delicious Italian cashmere fabrics imaginable. At prices, you could never imagine. Our place offered easy access to the ferry piers and most of the Hong Kong Island neighborhoods – not to mention fabulous views across Victoria Harbour.
Unfortunately, our building had no open-air venue from which to take pictures, even the pool floor was completely enclosed. Thus I couldn’t take any shots without distortion or reflections. Sorry!
On our first morning in Hong Kong, we took a Star Ferry to Kowloon, using a ferry service that has been in operation across Victoria Harbour between the Central District on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on the Mainland since 1898.
Kowloon used to be an independent town until it was purchased by the British Crown in 1860 and integrated into Hong Kong. There are many different districts in Kowloon, the most popular of which include the Tsim Sha Tsui area. The TST is a very densely populated urban area in which one finds shopping opportunities for every conceivable type of merchandise at all possible price points. There are also museums, restaurants, hostels & hotels, apartment buildings, religious institutions, playgrounds, and parks. The sidewalks can be so crowded that one can barely move forward at times, yet, just a couple of steps away, you will find tranquility on a park bench. In Nathan Street especially, barkers will try to interest you in low-cost anything, from tailored suits to Indian gold jewelry, to copies of brand name handbags. As we were walking about, Barry received many admiring glances, vociferous compliments and the occasional shoulder slap for the beauty of his mustache from hawkers and assorted loitering males.
My favorite image of a Kowloon street scene is this cleaner with her traditional broom.
There are many warning signs all around Hong Kong, and indeed, there was very little public smoking, the anglers were considered and we witnessed hardly any spitting.
One shopping plaza in the TST stands out for its unique connection to Hong Kong’s past as an important commercial port. The 1881 Heritage is a combination shopping mall-museum which was created in 2009. The modern, multi-story plaza with its galleries and shops encompasses the former Hong Kong Marine Police Headquarters, the ‘Round House’ Time Ball Tower, the Typhoon Signal Mast, and the Old Kowloon Fire Station.
The Marine Police Headquarters were put into service in 1884 as an office building for the harbor police. It also contained prison cells for pirates and smugglers, as well as stables and workshops in its wings. It was originally a 2-story structure, the third floor was added around 1920. It served as headquarters for 112 years, till 1996 when the marine police department was incorporated into Hong Kong’s general law enforcement administration in preparation for the territories’ return to the PRC. Rather than languishing in mean cells like the pirates of old, today’s occupants sleep in the luxury suites of the Hullett House Hotel, which now administers the building. One can also enjoy, as we did, a cool drink on the veranda of The Parlour restaurant on the ground floor of this beautifully restored historical gem, sitting on top of the semi-circular shopping arcade with its central waterfall like a meringue confection.
From the Parlour veranda, one has an unobstructed view south toward the Time Ball Tower and the typhoon mast, not to mention the amazing contemporary HK Cultural Center beyond Salisbury Road.
From 1881 Heritage Plaza, it’s a short walk to one of the most highly regarded hotels in the world, the Peninsula.
Naturally, this being Hong Kong, they have their own mall, and they serve high tea and all that good stuff in their opulent hall.
But for us, it was high time to return to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier to catch a ride home. Passing the entrance to – you guessed it – yet another shopper’s paradise.
We boarded our ferry, the Meridian Star, this time, and sailed home to Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour.
From there it was a quick walk along the shore to the escalators leading to the pedestrian bridge that connects the piers with the IFC mall and home.