When I went to Hong Kong back in October I thought it would be the last time in quite a while. Turns out I was wrong, about two weeks ago my brother messaged me to let me know he and his friend were going to Hong Kong and later to Kuala Lumpur. Of course I had to take the chance to see him, and at first Renegade Wife and I planned to meet them up in KL. Sadly, she couldn’t get the time off so I ended up going back to Hong Kong on my own to meet up with my brother. He has lived in the city for a few months and knows it well, so instead of seeing the classic tourist attractions, we visited a number of places off the beaten track.
Something I never noticed in Hong Kong before is the multi hotel building. I tried to book the same hotel as my brother but it was full so I searched for something nearby and to my great surprise I found another hotel with the same address. When I got there I realized there are not just two hotels in the building, but a dozen. Apparently the way it works is that people who own a couple of small, one room apartments register as a guest house then rent them out as hotel rooms. The rooms are tiny and the quality is not all that great but if you just need a place to sleep it’s fine. I think the phenomenon is pretty interesting.
End of side note
Club XXX is a small underground club that seems to exist in a sort of legal grey area; it lies in a nondescript industrial building at the outskirts of town, there are no regular opening times, they don’t advertise, there are no visible signs from the outside and they don’t serve alcohol because they don’t have a permit. You simply have to know which door to enter and when you get in it’s a smallish plain looking room – could be someones basement – with bare white walls and some disco lighting. Except for being secretive, the people who run the place seem to revel in being wired for the sake of weirdness itself. Case in point, the nigh my brother took me there (typical of him to know this place exists) the main attraction of the night was someone called DJ Sniff who was playing Absurd Trax, well-neigh undanceable techno (?) music. Moreover, in an alcove behind the dance floor they were playing some old, low budget Hong Kong movies. Not exactly the kind of place I would normally visit, but I’m glad I went there.
When you think of Hong Kong you generally think of a bustling metropolis but the fact is that this small country also has quite a lot of more or less unspoiled nature, including several mountains. Just a couple of kilometers north east of Choi Hung metro station (that is, still inside the city) lies Kowloon peak of Mount Fei Ngo. The peak itself is occupied by some kind of telecom station which is a bit disappointing but slightly lower down the mountain, a couple hundred meters to the south, lies Suicide Cliff; a dramatic looking cliff that shoots out a few meters, the mountain falling away steeply beneath it. From there you have a great view of the city below and, if you are feeling brave, you can walk out towards the tip of the rock tongue to feel the rush of adrenaline while you admire the view. Mind you, there’s no fence and a fall would likely kill you so you need to be careful, but it’s worth it for the cool photos.
An aspect of travelling that I find interesting, if a bit voyeuristic, is to observe people living their daily lives and see how it differs from what I am used where I live. For me there are two aspects of life in Hong Kong that are suitable for this kind of “slice of life” tourism.
First, the fact that Hong Kong is one of the most crowded places in the world which means that a lot of people live in tiny little apartments that are crammed together in high-rise apartment blocks. Many of these buildings are painted in bright colors and their facades are covered in laundry hanging out to dry, which makes the landscape much more lively than a forest of concrete blocks would normally be. It’s possible to observe this kind of landscape all over the city, just look up, but we found a place that has become famous on Instagram because it’s a bit extra colorful.
Second, the gathering of the maids, on Sundays. In Hong Kong about one in eight households employs a foreign domestic helper, which comes out to about 320 000 people or three percent of the population. These maids, as they are often called since most of them are women, come from less developed countries in south east Asia, generally the Philippines or Indonesia. They live in their employer’s residence and perform various household tasks such as cooking, cleaning or taking care of the children. On Sundays all of them have their one day a week off and since they don’t have any place of their own they gather in various public spaces to hang out with their friends. Public spaces are scarce in Hong Kong but one thing that is available is raised walkways above the busy streets, and on Sundays, these become crowded with Indonesian and Philippino women who sit on picnic blankets eating, drinking and chatting with their friends. So take a Sunday walk along one walkway or another and do a bit of people watching; just remember it’s rude to stare.
On the west end of Hong Kong Island lies Pok Fu Lam Christian Cemetery. Unlike the cemeteries we westerners are used to, this is not a flat field with headstones spaced out among grass and bushes but rather a hillside covered in rows upon rows of graves. The Hong Kongers are packed as closely together in death as they are in life. There is a photo of the deceased on pretty much every headstone and on every grave is one or sometimes two stone urns that have been turned on their side for some reason. The most fascinating thing about it is the sheer amount of graves and that they cover the entire hillside.
The most well known parts of Hong Kong are Kowloon and Hong Kong Island but the country is actually much bigger than that. The less visited parts of the country include a number of islands, the most famous of which is Lantau which is where the Disney land resort and the airport are located. The road out to Lantau goes over a series of big bridges and just under one such bridge, mostly unnoticed by travelers, lies a small island called Ma Wan. On the western side of the island, just a stone’s throw from the bridge pillars, lies Ma Wan Fishing village. The residents of this little town were evicted by the government some years ago and it has been abandoned since then. The government has put up fences around the houses to prevent people from going in and even if you could hop the fence, some of the houses are occupied by squatters so exploration is sadly limited. You can however walk around and see the houses from the outside so it’s not all bad. When we were there we also found a few houses where the locks on the gates had been cut or the fence only blocked the front, so we could climb in through the windows facing the little back alleys. Being able to actually explore a bit made the visit much more fun. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of graffiti in those houses that are easy to get in to. That’s understandable since the place is relatively well known, but it’s a pity because it destroys some of that special feeling I get from abandoned places.
It’s not the most interesting urban exploration site I’ve been to but it’s worth a visit if you’re in Hong Kong and like that sort of thing. Note that it should be possible to go there by public transport but we never found the correct bus stop so we ended up taking a taxi.
The big abandoned fishing village collage
That’s it for this trip. It feels like every time I come back to Hong Kong I will discover some new place which is worth visiting. However I really do think this will be the last time I go there for the foreseeable future.