Hong Kong, the "Fragrant Harbor" in the South China Sea, is one of the most impressive economic wonders of the world, with significant sectors of industry and influential banks. This symbol of economic strength was a British colony for 99 years up until July 1st, 1997.
This point of intersection between Western and Chinese life lives in the world between tradition and progress. Highly ornate Buddhist temples stand in the shadows of gigantic hotels with exclusive services.
Small lively markets for flowers, goldfish, jade, birds and much more are lined up near this impressive skyline of modern skyscrapers. Outstanding restaurants indulge the gourmet with a variety of Asian cuisine and bars, clubs and nightclubs draw in the night owls. Hong Kong is known as an attractive shopping paradise in which you can stroll and rummage around countless elegant shopping palaces.
Bank of China
The new Bank of China building thrusts into the sky in the middle of the silhouette of central Hong Kong. This building is one of the emblems of Hong Kong, featuring a characteristic reflecting façade with gigantic triangles. The Chinese-American architect, I. M. Pei, impressively demonstrated with this 1,033-foot high, 70-story building the economic might of the People's Republic of China.
Following its inauguration in May 1990, traditional Feng Shui fortune tellers criticized the external form of the building because, in their opinion, this prestigious structure was not in harmony with the landscape around it. From the 43rd floor, visitors have a truly magnificent view of Wan Chai, Central and the port. The gigantic building is considered ill-fated. The inauguration was planned for the lucky day of the 20th century, August 8th, 1988. However, nothing has become of it.
The Bird Market, not far from Flower Market Road, is a favorite meeting place for the people of Hong Kong, where they can have a chat and swap the latest gossip and news. Here you can buy everything for the feathered singers: cages of all varieties, preferably from bamboo, including genuine beauties. These small items also make lovely souvenirs. Moreover, proud owners of singing birds can equip themselves with food and water holders, partially made from expensive porcelain, and buy food for their beloved pets. Of course, dicky birds are also sold here and men sit for hours by the cages of their feathered friends to talk shop about their singing.
Singing birds - along with crickets - make popular pets because they do not need much room in the tiny flats of high-rise buildings and have also been regarded for generations as jolly friends for their owners.
Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation
Designed by London architect Sir Norman Foster, the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was completed in 1985. This, the most expensive building in the city, was built with technology which is normally only found in engineering projects. First, a gigantic framework consisting of eight masts was erected, and the individual floors were then suspended in this frame. Cables, shafts and piping run along the outer façade and are visible through panes of glass inside the building. Controversial even today among urban planners, the bank building is incontestably original and worth seeing.
It is really worth riding the escalator in the gigantic entrance hall up to the counter area. From there you can see the light reflecting off this spectacular building that geomancers rate highly for, among other reasons, the harmonious octagons in the plan layout.
Since time immemorial, jade has been the most precious stone in the "Middle Kingdom". This green shining mineral is worn by many Chinese as an amulet to ward off evil spirits and is often given to the deceased to accompany them to the grave. On the stands in the Jade Market, you can find this precious stone in many different forms: as finished jewelry, small figures, polished stone or in its raw form. Many stands also sell pearls of all types; skilled hands thread pearls of your chosen color and thickness onto chains of custom-made length to create cheap and pretty souvenirs.
Since many merchants try to palm off false and low-quality jade instead of the real thing, you would be well advised not to buy large or expensive objects here unless you or someone with you is an expert.
Nathan Road was built at the beginning of the 20th century by the British governor, Sir Matthew Nathan, in what was countryside at the time. Today, it is Hong Kong's most prominent shopping street and promenade for window shoppers and is particularly impressive at night, thanks to the countless colored neon lights. From Salisbury Road at Victoria Harbor small shops and gigantic sales emporia stretch northwards for miles. These emporia have every imaginable luxury in stock and, even if the budget only allows for window shopping, they are well worth a visit for their interior decorations and furnishings alone.
The small Kowloon Park offers a refuge to recover from the hustle and bustle on the streets. The Jamia Masjia, the largest mosque in the city, is on the east side of the park. In this park, artists show their sculptures and mazes, bird ponds and children's playgrounds amuse the little ones.
Appliances, small electronic devices, toys, amulets, garishly colored Chinese plastic kitsch, shoes, cheap watches, leather goods along with rubbish and junk - the smallest amount of which is western jewelry - are sold on the numerous stands on Market Street, which turns into a night market at sunset every day. At the Temple Street Market, it is not so much the quality of the goods that is important here as the unique atmosphere of stands and hot food stalls. Haggling is definitely part of the business transactions here, and can be unbelievably good fun if you can muster the necessary composure and nonchalance.
At the northern end of the market, fortune-tellers predict your future by reading the cards, studying the lines on your face, or reading your hand. Some also let birds pick a card which can reveal your fate.
The 1,818-foot high Peak, known to the Chinese as Tai Ping Shan ("Mountain of Great Peace"), is the highest elevation on Hong Kong Island. From this peak, there is a unique view over the metropolis, the harbor and the South China Sea with the islands of Lamma and Lantau. Those seeking refuge from the hectic atmosphere of the city can forget the turmoil in the beautiful parks, restaurants, shops, pavilions and cafés such as the famous Déco in the Peak Galleria. The British colonial rulers also appreciated this peace and quiet in their day and built their beautiful villas on the slopes of the Peak. The journey to the Peak has a double reward: the first by day, the second by night with the breathtaking view of the sea of twinkling lights below.
You can reach the Peak by bus or the much more enjoyable time-honored Peak Tram: the funicular railway was first put to use in 1888. The tram takes eight minutes to travel the mile up the Peak, surmounting a difference in elevation of 1,205 feet.
Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island is the traditional quarter of craftsmen and merchants. Skyscrapers, ministries and expensive offices are gradually squeezing out the small family businesses and their homes in the mostly three- to five-story buildings. The observation platform on the 46th floor of the Central Plaza Tower provides a spectacular view over the harbor and the Hong Kong skyline. Pacific Place, west of the city center, is a mega-shopping center with a sales area of 95,680 square yards. Hundreds of shops, restaurants, boutiques, pubs, bars, cafés, and cinemas ensure that time just flies by when wandering through this living adventure.
Queens Road East, with its many furniture shops, lies at the heart of the still-traditional Wan Chai. The tiny Wan Chai Post Office has remained standing since 1915. Wan Chai's first office tower was the Hopewell Center, the round form of which resembled a cigar which had "fire hazard" written all over it (according to Feng Shui experts). A remedy came in the form of a pool on the roof. The World of the famous Suzie Wong does not exist any more and there are now only a few bars and restaurants on the Lockhardt Road. One of Wan Chai's latest achievements is the Hong Kong Convention and Visitor Center, which was finished just in time for the celebrated handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Aberdeen, often called "Small Hong Kong" by the locals, is protected from typhoons by the densely built-up island of Ap Lei Chou lying in front of it.
Nowadays, primarily ocean-going fishing boats instead of the traditional junks of the past are moored to the walls of the harbor quay, which has been reduced to a narrow channel by landfills. The bustling activity of the buyers and sellers on the fish market can be observed by taking a stroll along the shore promenade early in the morning. The floating restaurants stand out from their land-based counterparts because of their unique atmosphere and location. The Tin Hau Temple was located directly on the waterfront in earlier times and was built by fishermen in 1851 in honor of their patron saint. This popular goddess is reputed to have lived in the 10th century as the daughter of a poor fisherman until she was elevated to queen of the heavens by the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan in 1290. On the 23rd day of the 3rd lunar month, the Goddess's day, her image is carried from the main hall of the temple through the streets of Aberdeen in a great procession.
The Ocean Park, situated on a peninsula in the East Lamma Channel, is the most famous attraction in the south of Hong Kong Island. This leisure and amusement park combined, covering 217 acres, was opened in 1977 and has been constantly extended since then. It is split into two large sections.
In the Lowlands, young and old are fascinated by high divers, exotic plants and animals, carousels and playgrounds. The Highlands area, which can be reached by a mile-long cable car, will surprise you with its breakneck roller coaster, a shark aquarium with a walkthrough glass tunnel and an aviary with tropical birds. The Ocean Theater is particularly popular. Here, dolphins and other dwellers of the deep perform acrobatic stunts. In the Middle Kingdom you can admire scaled-down models of famous buildings in this area. Craftsmen demonstrate their traditional skills and singers from the Peking Opera perform their art. In summer the many swimming pools, waterslides and water games in Water World next to the Ocean Park ensure fun and relaxation.
Stanley is located at the narrowest part of a long peninsula on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. Despite the rapid growth of recent years, this town on Stanley Bay, with its many cafés, restaurants and bars, has managed to retain its pleasant atmosphere.
There is a market on Stanley Village Road every day where you can buy textiles and Chinese works of art of good quality at moderate prices. The temple of Tin Hau rises above Stanley Main Street. Built as long ago as 1767, this place of worship is dedicated to the patroness of fishermen and is one of the oldest temples on the island. Oblations and statues of the goddess are not in the center of the main altar, as normal, but are spread along a bench approximately 3 feet wide, running along the walls. Old paintings in the Kwun Yum Temple, which was built in honor of the goddess of mercy, depict scenes from the life of Buddha.
Wong Tai Sin Temple
The cult of Wong Tai Sin dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The temple, which can be seen today and is very popular with the locals, was erected in 1968 with halls around several courtyards. According to legend, Wong Tai Sin was a shepherd boy who performed numerous miracles and was also able to foretell the future. Particularly impressive is the lively hustle and bustle of the temple visitors on the feast of the saint, the 23rd day of the 8th lunar month (mostly at the end of September).
In addition to Wong Tai Sin, believers also worship other Daoist and Buddhist deities as well as historical persons such as Confucius and his best disciples. Spread out behind the "Confucius Hall" is the "Garden of Good Wishes" in which various elements of the Peking summer palace and the Chinese landscape garden are united in harmony.
© Berlitz Publishing/Apa Publications GmbH & Co KG, Singapore Branch, Singapore