Hong Kong skyline (as seen from Victoria Peak)
It may be officially only the first day of fall, but here in Hong Kong, everyone was celebrating the “Mid-Autumn” Festival. My first full day in the city turned out to be rather overcast and rainy, but the weather didn’t put a damper on either the city’s festivities or my own exploration. While my hosts were at work, I took to the streets on my own to do a little sightseeing in the Central District: home to skyscrapers, business, government, and designer shops, as well as some sights. Walking out of the metro, I felt almost like I was back in New York, except for the double-decker buses, Chinese characters, and palm trees. While on the NY/HK tangent…one thing that’s struck me here is the total absence of pigeons. Maybe I just haven’t looked in the right places, but I’ve seen plenty of concrete, fountains, street vendors, park benches, all the usual pigeon hangouts, and not a single bird. I did see some signs threatening fines of over $200 USD for feeding any birds though, so maybe these have done their trick.
I went by some recognizable sights, like the impressive HSBC and Bank of China Towers, Statue Park, and the Legislative Council Building, before taking a break from the rush of the crowd in some of the nearby parks. Hong Kong Park was a maze of miniature attractions, including a Museum of Teaware, which exhibits the history of tea in China, different styles of making tea, and designs of teapots and cups. Hopefully some of this random tea knowledge will serve me well in the future (if perhaps only on pub quizzes): for example, the fact that Tibetans use cheese to make cream tea, that a proper teapot should have a hole on the point of the lid, and that there are special whisks to make whipped tea. Also in the park, I visited the Tai Chi Gardens, a foot massage path (basically a walkway with different-sized pebbles), the Conservatory (great orchids) and an aviary with various species of birds found in Asia. The park visit was followed by a quick walk through the Hong Kong Zoo, which was unimpressive, especially after my many visits to the DC Zoo this summer.
birds in the HK Park Aviary
I rejoined the crowd to take the Tram up to Victoria Peak, a hilltop lookout point with great views of the city and the harbor, which were enjoyable even with the cloud cover and drizzle. The rest of the peak has been turned into a head-spinning shopping/entertainment/restaurant complex (which has a Bubba’s Shrimp, Starbucks, Burger King, mock Chinese market, and Madame Tussaud’s among others), so I didn’t stay for long after checking out the view.
After my solo tour, I rejoined my hosts and met the other HK PiA-ers, and we all wandered to Victoria Park to witness the Mid-Autumn festivities. The traditional origins of the festival are still rather unclear to me, because in practice it was very much like a big carnival: children running around with armfuls of glowsticks, giant inflatable dragons and lanterns, and a stage with gymnastics, drumming, and fan dances. It felt like all 7 million people in Hong Kong must have been there pushing in every direction, so we escaped to the nearby grassy area, which was filled with families sitting in circles lighting candles (some indications of the more traditional aspects of the festival). Fire hazards were abound (example: children swinging glow stick swords all over the place next to unguarded lit candles on the ground), and we decided it was definitely the right place to sit and enjoy the ambiance of the holiday for a few hours.
Mid-Autumn Festival decor
One of the great parts of my day exploring? Very inexpensive, despite being such a pricey, cosmopolitan city. My ticket to the Peak, which was just $8 USD, was the most expensive part of my day. Only a few dollars on food and metro, and the rest of my sightseeing was totally free. Too bad the Times isn’t looking for a new Frugal Traveler…