We were leaving a whole section of our journey behind us as Borneo, Java, Indonesia and the Philippines faded away in the yellow glow of the evening sunset. We were heading over the China Sea to Hong Kong. It was hot and humid but the breeze created by the motion of the boat was cooling and pleasant. I stood at the prow and looked down into the water below the same as I had done day after day. Perhaps they did have different properties, temperatures, salinity or acidity? We give these oceans names but I could not really tell the difference between The Java and China Seas. Sometimes they were aqua marine blue, sometimes slate grey and sometimes green; it depended on the light and sky. What they did appear to have in common was a lack of animal life. Apart from a half dozen sea snakes and three boobies we saw nothing – no whales, dolphins or sharks. I suppose there are some still around somewhere. We can’t have killed them all off yet – or can we?
Hong Kong was a reprise but we had never arrived by ship before and were on deck at dawn to watch the cloud wrapped islands slide by as we made our way into the bay. It looked misty but the clouds were few and it was promising. We were struck once more by the sheer number of high-rise tower blocks. They spring up like mushrooms – many more than on our previous visit. This is an area of high population density.
We had a dragon dance to welcome us but we missed it, stepping off the gangplank as the dragon was taking off his head. The sun came out to welcome us and we had a clear idea of what we wanted to pack in. We caught the free shuttle-bus into the centre. After that it was subways, buses, trams and boats and walking – lots of walking. Underground, over ground wombling free.
Walking across the road we found ourselves enveloped in the wonderful Nunnery of Chi Lin with the exquisite Nan Lian Garden all soaked in Zenness like an oasis of peace in the midst of the urban melee. We spent far too long wandering through the serene landscapes but they were captivating – a small red and yellow pagoda with arched bridge in the lake, the manicured trees and shrubs, orchids, rocks of wondrous texture, shape and colour, flowers, crested blue birds flitting in the bushes, relaxing hues, shapes and curves, the temple complex. It made for an island of green peace so detached and beautiful that it was hard to imagine that we were in the midst of the overcrowded city.
Travelling the subway the first thing that struck us was the Asianness of the place. It had changed in the fifteen years since our last visit. Back then there were a mixture of races and western faces were common. Now we stood out as a rarity. All around us was a uniformity of Chinese faces – and very friendly they were too. Apart from that it was the same well-ordered bustle – totally different to the more chaotic nature of the places we had left. It was just as hot and sticky though.
We emerged in the centre with its familiar mixture of old colonial buildings and new skyscrapers. We were heading for the Peak and were keen to do it the traditional way on the old funicular but as we were now late the queues were long so we waited in the heat.
We hit the peak where the buzzards circled and looked down at the city. After some lunch we chose the bus to take us back down. It was a crazy ride round the mountainous bends, through tropical greenery with views over the bay, as Ayrton Senna hurtled along throwing us from side to side. A bit more exhilarating than the journey up.
Next stop was the sea and we sampaned around Aberdeen harbour, with the fishing boats and buzzards and a trip out to the brightly coloured floating Jumbo restaurant passing herons eating fish and fishermen showing off their catch. It was hot and sunny.
We ate, drank and walked miles. In the evening it was some amazing Chinese acrobatics and feats of strength and agility. I’m sure one of the guys was completely made of rubber.
Day two in Hong Kong was rather different. It was cloudy with drizzle and had dropped to a freezing 22 degrees requiring many more clothes! What are we going to do back in England? I’m getting used to shorts and T-shirt. We ditched our plans for a reprise of the mighty Buddha at Lantua. It was too misty for a journey of that length. Only slightly daunted we strode forth for further adventures only to valiantly stride straight back – Liz forgot the map and I forgot my underground pass – the wonderful Octopus cards that give you really cheap rides everywhere if you are a senior! So the day started badly. We eventually set off and checked out the serenity of the nunnery again plus a much more boisterous and gaudy temple nearby – the Wong Tai Sin Temple . They seemed to be in the midst of ceremonies and was a hive of activity with incense, prayers and incantations. Even the crested birds and turtles seemed more manic. Wong Tai Sin had gone for a different theme to that of the Nunnery. This was full of fearsome statues, gaudily painted, bright colours and business. Contemplation was not the intent. Perhaps that is why it was more popular.
We walked a hundred miles down Nathan Street, sampled Chinese cuisine and then signed off with a visit to the mist enshrouded waterfront.
We head off to Vietnam and Halong Bay!