A walk around Mei Foo

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Mei Foo was our home in Hong Kong, and not two minutes from our flat was the beautiful Lai Chi Kok park. We were lucky to be so close to such a beautiful area, with Chinese gardens, fountains and walkways. … Continue reading

The Search for Possession Point

Living in Mei Foo, and with Tsim Sha Tsui more easily accessible and convenient for us, we don’t venture onto Hong Kong Island all too often unless we have a reason to. Usually the  reasons involve heading to Wan Chai for immigration, or tax, or embassy purposes, but occasionally someone has a leaving do and we trundle over and take advantage while we’re there of visiting places or seeing things we normally can’t be bothered to justify an explicit visit just for.

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Possession St

Last weekend was just one such visit, and we found ourselves on Hollywood Road, famous for it’s antiques shops, the Man Mo temple and its use in the area name SoHo, meaning South of Hollywood Road (towards the centre of the island, and heading sharply up the hill). I’d only really looked around Sheung Wan, the area to the west of Hollywood Road, when I first arrived in HK last August, and then it was too hot to do much looking around, and was more searching for an area with air con and a cool drink, and I’d wanted to go and see Possession Point, the area of Hong Kong where the British first hit terra firma when they arrived in 1841. I wasn’t entirely aware of where exactly Possession Point was, but thought it was out west somewhere. A quick look at a smart phone would have cleared up the matter instantly, but my network was blocked by my Japanese provider and I’ve only been able to use the internet on my smart phone through Wifi in the flat or at work.

Sheung Wan

Sheung Wan

We thought it wise in heading out west to take the Queens Road escalators, the world’s longest covered escalator, up the hill and walk down, rather than need to walk up the hill later on. Curiosity overcame us, and we realised that in a year in HK, we’d never actually been to the top of the escalators, only about half way up where the bars and the Sun Yat Sen Museum is.

Reaching the top of the escalators, we headed west  along Conduit Road, past lots of des res tower blocks, with golden gates, and names like “Peace Plaza” and “Tranquility House”. Trying to get a glimpse of the harbour from our new found height was impossible due to the density of the buildings even halfway up the hill at Mid Levels, and it’s a bloody steep hill. We kept walking along trying to find a path back down, and stumbled upon a little ‘sitting area’ off the main road. We couldn’t see an exit from the road, but were sure that having to go down some steep steps to get into a parky area with trees and benches, there must be an exit down the bottom somewhere. There wasn’t, so all the way back up to the top we came. It was pretty humid by now, 4 o’clock on a Sunday, although we’d been lucky with the weather as it had poured down earlier in the day.

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Hollywood Road Park

With there not looking like being an escape path in sight, we ended up catching a taxi and enjoying the air con luxury as it took us to Kennedy Town, to the very west of the island and at the bottom of the hill again. In Kennedy Town, we popped into McDonalds as we needed the toilet, and in there checked on the free wifi a map of where this place was actually supposed to be. Cue nervous laughter as we see it was back towards Sheung Wan, and actually very near Hollywood Road where we’d started off our trek what must have been an hour earlier. At which point the heavens opened again and we were stranded with no umbrella.

Twenty minutes or so later, the rain looked like it had eased off, but just to be sure we bought another from 7/11 and we went to take a tram back towards Sheung Wan and Central, and so to Possession Point. Not knowing where to get off, we did so too early and had to ask directions again in a hotel, and the concierge had never heard of the place! Finally, exhausted and a mix of wet and sweaty (the 7/11 umbrellas are rubbish) we stumbled upon a sign pointing back to Possession Point! We’d finally found it!

Owing to land reclamation, Possession Point is now about 400m from the sea, and as part of the reclamation turned into Hollywood Road Park. The original area is marked by Possesion Street. The inscription on the sign outside the park reads:

Well before any reclamation of Victoria Harbour, the shortest crossing between western Hong Kong Island and the Tsim Sha Tsui headland was the original shorefront near present day Queen’s Road Central and Wellington Street. The area was a natural landing place for boats and as a result, this was the site or it is said, of a ferry jetty in pre-colonial times. It was here that sailors from the Royal Navy landed 26 January 1841. The naval party walked up a small hillock just above the landing spot, raised the Union Jack, and claimed possession of Hong Kong Island. Understandably, this area became known as Possession Point, and today’s Possession Street reflects the old name. Possession Street soon became a densely packed residential area. Possession Point, originally left as an open space, eventually became a maze of fortune teller stalls. In time, Possession Point was redeveloped into a Chinese-style garden and renamed Hollywood Road Park.

 

 

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Conduit Road, Mid Levels

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Leaving Kennedy Town on the tram

 

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Hollywood Road Park

 

Kowloon Walled City Park

walledcityAs part of the treaty ceding the New Territories to the UK in 1898, China was allowed to keep a garrison fort in Kowloon under the proviso it didn’t interfere with the British defence of the Hong Kong. After the Japanese occupation of HK in World War 2, the Chinese never came back to it, and the British didn’t really want to have anything to do with it, so the City became a hotspot for opium dens, brothels and criminals. High construction during the 60s and 70s led to the City becoming the most densely populated area on Earth, with at least 33,000 (and some estimates of up to 50,000) people living in an area the size of only 6.5 acres (0.01 square miles) – buildings were packed so tightly that even during the day, no sunlight could be seen at ground level in the alleyways.

From Wikipedia:

The Walled City had a population density of approximately 1,255,000 inhabitants per square kilometre (3,250,000 /sq mi) in 1987. For comparison, Hong Kong as a whole (itself one of the most densely populated areas on earth) had a population density of about 6,700 inhabitants per square kilometre (17,000 /sq mi) as of July 2009.

After the Sino-British agreement to return Hong Kong was made in the 80s, it was decided that the City would be demolished, and has since been replaced by a lovely little park, which I visited last summer. Located 5 minutes from Lok Fu MTR station, there’s now a small museum of the history of the Walled City in the centre, surrounded by traditional Chinese gardens.

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Christmas in Hong Kong

Christmas Day started with a merry breakfast of leftover pierogi and looking at what Father Christmas had left for us overnight. A leisurely morning was spent playing with our presents and eating chocolates, before attention turned to Christmas dinner.

After Helen’s success with Wigilja the day before, it was now my turn to try and pull off a pot roast dinner without ever having done it before. Armed with the opening of a bottle of Bucks Fizz and the wealth of the internet at my disposal, the recipes seemed much easier than I’d thought.

P1070279We’d found a whole chicken in the supermarket (no turkey this year; they did sell them here, but not in sizes that would anywhere near fit in our pot), and unlike lots of the whole chickens here the head and feet had thankfully already been removed. Any fears of immediate butchery were allayed furthermore upon discovery of the giblets already removed and packed in a bag inside ready for throwing straight in the bin.

I quickly browned the outside of the chicken, before removing it from the pot to quickly half fry some onions before adding some carrots and broccoli, before delicately sliding the chicken back in again. And that was all I needed to do, so I left it with the lid on for a couple of hours and didn’t have to think much about it apart from checking it every half hour or so. Remarkably easy on the face of it!

We sat down to watch My Fair Lady and finish the Bucks Fizz while we waited, and also treated ourselves to some more chocolates. As it was getting ready, we put some potatoes on, and tried roasting some of them by crispy-ing the edges in a pan after they done, which worked pretty well. We also attempted making some stuffing by wrapping the mixture in tin foil and leaving that in the pan next to the roasting potatoes. I think if we’d started that a little earlier it would have worked just as well, but I think we left it a little late so it was still a little soggy when we started eating.

Overall impression – not quite a roast dinner but bloody marvellous considering nonetheless!

P1070289After dinner we were exhausted and wanted to crash out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and I managed a little snooze over the end of My Fair Lady. It was our first real break from anything to do for a few days, and it had been non-stop until then!

That evening it was my turn for the family Skype and it was great to see everybody again having Christmas back at home in England. Whilst we still had a very nice time and tried replicating Christmas as best we could here, there was definitely still that little something missing, and hopefully next year we’ll be able to get back again to see everyone for Christmas once again.

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Macau 澳門

Macau from the ferryPart of the visa validation process here involves having to leave and re-enter Hong Kong, so we decided to hop on a ferry for the day and pop across the Pearl River to the old Portuguese colony of Macau.

The ferry ride took less than an hour and we pulled up into the harbour under an enormous 2.5km bridge connecting the two main islands of Macau, and alongside what looked like a traditional Chinese fort and a volcano. Intrigued, we headed there straight after immigration and discovered it was a giant themed amusement arcade park, with a volcano zone, an ampitheatre zone, what appeared to be a war torn cityscape zone and surely countless others too (we went in the middle of November, so it was closed probably because it was out of season). Though many of the attractions were closed, the actual main ‘street’ was free to walk around and stretched along a fair chunk of the harbour side!

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What first strikes about Macau is the sheer number and scale of the casinos. Whilst Hong Kong has developed into a banking and commercial centre, Macau is undoubtedly the casino capital of Asia, containing the top two and four of the top ten biggest casinos in the world, with casinos generating more than 40% of Macau’s GDP. It seemed that every road we turned into had at least one, and almost wherever we were we couldn’t miss the enormous 261m golden Grand Lisboa which eclipsed everything else in sight.

It was also obvious right away how architecturally different from Hong Kong it is; the Portuguese and Mediterranean influence was clear, with lots of cobblestone floors and colourful buildings, whereas many of the buildings away from the centrepiece harbour front in HK really aren’t much to look at and generally look pretty shabby.

Fountain The historic centre of Macau is also a UNESCO World Heritage site with many old churches, courtyards, old arches, and it really was quite spectacular. Particularly nice was not being dwarfed constantly by skyscrapers, which are always looming over you in HK.

We were lucky in that on the one day we were there, there was a carnival on the steps in front of the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, which added plenty more colour to the day. ‘Ruins’ is putting it mildly, as only one wall remains intact and stands serenely at the top of a hill, overlooking the city.

St Pauls hill Macau

The Ruins of St Pauls

The other main UNESCO site is the old lighthouse (which, despite the lights and glamour from all the casinos meaning you couldn’t fail to notice land these days, is still working), but we didn’t realise it closed at 5 until we got there so could only take a photo of it from outside the grounds. Oops!

In the evening we headed to the largest casino, and the 6th biggest building by area in the world, the Venetian Casino. Modelled on its sister casino in Las Vegas, it has more than 3000 slot machines and 800 gaming tables, contains a replica of the Grand canal in Venice (with working gondolas!) and even had room for a cheeky Man Utd club shop in there too. It was enormous!

Alas all good things must come to an end, an on our return to HK work beckoned and my 3 month break was finally over!

St Pauls ruins Macau

Over the river is mainland China

Over the river is mainland China

Nice little street

The UNESCO Lighthouse from outside

The UNESCO Lighthouse from outside

The Grand Lisboa Casino towering over the city (Macau tower is in the background)

The Grand Lisboa Casino towering over the city (Macau tower is in the background)

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Largo do Senado square

Venetian Casino Macau

SE Asia’s little bit of Venice

 

Grand Lisboa Macau

Venetian Casino Macau

Inside the Venetian Casino

 

Tokyo vs. Hong Kong – Disneyland

Disneyland: where dreams come true. For Brits, Disneyland Paris is obviously a very popular holiday destination, and the Disney resorts in Florida and California, though further away, are also well known. The Asian Disney resorts, however, are much less talked about. I didn’t know Tokyo even had a Disneyland before arriving there, and had no idea there was also a resort in Hong Kong. So what are these parks like, how do they compare, and are they worth it?

Location
TDL is only 20 minutes by train from central Tokyo station (though an hour on top of that from my old house). However, though Tokyo station is geographically central, my situation of living an hour from it was far from uncommon, so journey times in excess of an hour are also the norm.

Though Hong Kong is smaller than Tokyo, the journey to HKDL from the centre of town actually takes 10 minutes longer, though from our house it was much nicer than the hour and a half it took in Tokyo. Built on Lantau island, the resort has its own train line and also its own Disney train, decorated with Mickey Mouse silhouette windows and hand rails, getting you into the Disney mood long before you reach the park.

Hong Kong Disney train

Though the location of TDL is actually pretty good, the enormous size of Tokyo itself proves a massive hinderance, so the location point would have to go to Hong Kong.

Size
At 115 acres, TDL is much bigger than its Hong Kong counterpart at only 55 acres (I tried finding comparisons for parks in England: Google tells me Thorpe Park is a massive 500 acres, but I can’t believe that, it seemed similar to TDL in size).

Simply put, more area means more rides, whilst at the same time (for adults at least) still being manageable to see everything in a day, so Tokyo wins here.

Crowds
Although TDL is twice the size of HKDL, the greater Tokyo area contains five times the number of people of Hong Kong, and the park was PACKED. On both occasions we went on October weekdays, so it was a fairish test in that respect, but HK was as good as empty, whilst we regularly had to queue over an hour (more than two on Space Mountain) at Tokyo. Our biggest queue at HK was no more than 20 minutes, with most attractions at less than five.

Hong Kong wins here.

Rides
Tokyo has the advantage of having twice the available space, so theoretically could contain twice the number of rides. However, Tokyo wins hands down anyway.

I imagine HKDL is aimed more towards satisfying the children – I don’t blame them, Disney is after all for children. However, there were only two rides aimed at older people (Space Mountain and a Runaway Train) compared with more in Tokyo (Runaway Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Go Coaster).

There were plenty of the same tamer rides at both parks, including It’s a Small World, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Treehouses (Tarzan at HK, Swiss Family Robinson at Tokyo) and the gentle teacups and Dumbo carousels for the tots. More thrills at Tokyo though.

The Disneyland Castle
Be it either Cinderella’s or Sleeping Beauty’s, the castle at Disneyland has always been an iconic image, forming the basis of the Disney logo for over 50 years. There again is only one winner here: Tokyo‘s Cinderella castle is the centrepiece of the park, dominating the skyline from the moment you enter at 58m tall. Expecting this as the norm, Hong Kong’s Sleeping Beauty offering was a considerable let down, though this website says it’s an identical replica of the original castle in California and thus only 23m tall, but only appears smaller because of the surrounding mountains.

Tokyo’s Cinderella Castle

Prices
A day ticket to Tokyo will set you back 6200JPY (£48), and the same one day ticket to Hong Kong is 399HKD (£32), making Hong Kong the clear winner here.

As a comparison, Thorpe Park is now a staggering £45.60 and Alton Towers is £45, putting the UK parks in the same bracket as Tokyo.

Overall
Though I doubted it myself before I went for the first time, Disneyland is a great day out. They know what they’re doing, and they do it well. The parades are fantastic, the characters walking about (whilst admittedly not for me) are great for the kids, and everyone is very friendly and welcoming. Even for someone who’s not that interested in Disney, I doubt you’d come home from either park thinking you’d had a bad day, or that it was money badly spent. If I had to go back to one of the two parks, I’d pick Tokyo; it was much busier, but the rides were better, the castle was more impressive, and you can’t fault the Japanese for putting on a good show. Shanghai Disneyland opens in 2016 – maybe we’ll see how that one turns out too!