A Hong Kong Christmas (December 2019)

I last spent Christmas in Hong Kong in 2011, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was excited about returning there again. A major difference this time was the protest movement that had been rocking the city for 6 months. I was interested to see how different the city would feel - assuming I could actually get there.

My flight to Hong Kong was via Heathrow and the view of London at night was stunning.

In Hong Kong I was staying in Hotel Jen, on the western part of the island. I’d stayed here a couple of years ago and loved it, and the area, which is full of bustle and interest. This was the view from my hotel room, an endlessly interesting vista, especially on the rooftop below, which had a constant flow of people hanging out clothes to dry and walking their dogs.

Every morning I was amazed to see birds of prey flying around the top of the tower blocks.

This amazing flyover was right outside the hotel; I loved the way it snaked between the tower blocks, like something from Bladerunner. The last time I stayed here my room looked out on it. Although I’d been given a free upgrade this time to a room with a harbour view, I actually missed looking out on the flyover.

Signs of trouble, under the flyover.

Wandering around the fascinating Wan Chai area on Hong Kong island, a warren of little backstreets with all kinds of industry going on. This is very close to the gleamIng glass and metal of the Central district skyscrapers, but feels like a different place, and era, completely.

The statues in the temples in Hong Kong are incredibly colourful, their meaning unfathomable to my Western eyes.

Lovely colours and light around the back of this temple, which was built around a massive outcrop of rock.

More signs that all is not well: a slightly Orwellian government poster warning people to stay away from violence.

At dusk on Christmas Eve we went to see the World War II coastal batteries near Kennedy Town. It was particularly atmospheric as it was on Christmas Day, 78 years earlier, that Hong Kong had surrendered to the Japanese. There was a beautiful sunset as we reached the shore.

Coffee on Christmas Morning, and novelty Christmas present, “Irish Mammy in Your Pocket “ (Sample quote - “Did you turn the immersion off?”).

Christmas morning breakfast! Delicious, especially the beans, which bore no resemblance to those produced by Mr. Heinz.

I can still practically smell the incense in this particular temple.

Exploring one of my favourite places in Hong Kong, Cat Street, famed for its antiques market. On previous visits I’d bought a couple of Tibetan prayer shrines here (authenticity dubious) and this time I spotted a beautiful statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, which Fionnuala and Eina bought me for Christmas, and which now sits serenely on my mantlepiece (see the picture at the end of this blog)

Taking the famous Star Ferry across to Kowloon. We really were blessed with lovely weather.

The most striking change in Hong Kong since my last visit, two years ago, was the amount of anti-police graffiti and flyers on the streets. There were other signs, too - damage to Chinese-linked banks, and vandalism on the MTR underground system, something almost unheard of previously.

Earlier in Kowloon there had been some trouble between protesters and police in several shopping centres, and as we arrived off the Star Ferry a squad of riot police was on duty, keeping an eye out for trouble.

Looking across at Hong Kong island from Kowloon. The sails of the junk were catching the afternoon sun beautifully.

Christmas dinner (or part of it, anyway) in Hong Kong! Not a turkey or Brussel sprout in sight.

It may look like a meth lab, but it’s where they make the dumplings we had for dinner.

A very expensive drink - £14 for a small glass of Shiraz - to end Christmas Day, in the Park Lane hotel.  But look at that view!

Breakfast on Boxing Day, in the excellent Classified on Hollywood Road.

We took the ferry over to Park Island, to see the ghost village of Ma Wan. The village once had several thousand inhabitants but was abandoned 20 or 30 years ago for a new development that never happened. There are streets and houses, but no people. It was so interesting I did a separate blog entry about it: 

The Ghost Village of Ma Wan

Having a coffee the next day in the IFC mall, with a wonderful view across Central district.

We took a trip over to Lantau island to see the famous Big Buddha. A cable car goes from the MTR station, and there are fantastic views of Hong Kong airport, and the new road bridge to Macau.

The Buddha itself dominates the surrounding countryside. 

Walking up the steps to the Buddha. It’s one of the largest outdoor seated Buddhas in the world. Though it’s actually not that old - it was completed in 1993.

It‘s very impressive.

After the Buddha we took a bus to the lovely fishing village of Tai O. The houses here are built on stilts over the water.

It was a great place to potter around in the lovely afternoon sunshine.

Do they celebrate Christmas in Hong Kong? Yes!

Back on Hong Kong island, this is Man Mo temple, one of the oldest in the territory, dating back to 1847.

A beautiful little park off Hollywood Road.

Shops selling coffins seemed to be the speciality in this area.

One of the delights of wandering around the backstreets of Hong Kong is the great variety of things you see. Bird’s nests, orange peel, a vast variety of sea food and various other things I couldn’t identify. I saw something euphemistically labelled “Deer Pistol” which I’m pretty sure was something else beginning with P.

Through the round window - inside the old Police Married Quarters, now an art and design centre.

The view of Hong Kong island at dusk from Kowloon was wonderful.

Heading for dinner in the Khyber Pass, inside the infamous Chungking Mansions complex. It may not look very confidence-inspiring but the food in this Indian restaurant was delicious.

Another very expensive drink - thank you, Eina! - this time in the Intercontinental Hotel - but again, what a view!

Taking the Star Ferry back over to Hong Kong island at night, with all the skyscrapers lit up, an amazing sight.

The following day - my last in Hong Kong - we were coming out from Dim Sum in City Hall and ran straight into this protest. The protesters looked very young and very scared, but it was all peaceful and good natured.

A very Instagram-friendly staircase in the Tai Kwun arts and culture centre, located in what used to be the main police station in Central.

This bar, in the same place, also looks like it was designed for Instagram.

The most quintessential of Hong Kong sights - someone moving something somewhere.

A nostalgic feel to this street, somehow, like a vision of an older and simpler Hong Kong.

Weddings. I always see weddings. Three in fact, on this trip. Though I only got pictures of two.

Back home, and the Goddess of Mercy sits serenely on my mantelpiece and reminds me of a wonderful Christmas in Hong Kong. Hopefully she’ll be merciful to Hong Kong in the coming year.

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