Fave Five Things About Hong Kong

A frequent Hong Kong traveler shares his five favorite things about Hong Kong By: Jim Calio
Hong Kong is home to a number of exciting and unique attractions, activities and culinary specialties. // © 2011 Hong Kong Tourism Board
Hong Kong is home to a number of exciting and unique attractions, activities and culinary specialties. // © 2011 Hong Kong Tourism Board

The Details

Hong Kong Tourism Board
www.discoverhongkong.com
Hong Kong has always had a magical appeal to me. I’ve been there about a dozen times and, every time, I get a feeling that something big is about to happen. It’s ineffable. I can’t put a name to it or associate it with a place or a thing, but it’s there. Maybe it’s the setting — Victoria Harbour, the green hills that ring it, the spectacular skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. They all say to me that this is a place where things happen, where the future lies just over the horizon. To use that old cliche, it’s the place where East meets West and that particular clash produces a one-of-a-kind city. While I’ve written about five of my favorite things about Hong Kong below, there are many more.

Star Ferry
The first thing I do when I get to Hong Kong is to take a ride on the Star Ferry. I know it’s a tourist attraction but, when I’m in Hong Kong, I’m a tourist, and what’s wrong with that? The ferry boats — 12 in all, all named after a real star — are vintage 1950’s and 1960’s vessels that still have their distinctive green and white paint. The trip takes only five minutes but I make it a point to do it whenever I can. The Kowloon terminal at Tsim Sha Tsui is right next to the old clock tower, which was the final stop for trains from the mainland, including the Orient-Express that originated in London. Here’s the drill: Get a cup of coffee, wait for the ferry to dock and then clamber onboard with commuters and tourists alike. For less than a dollar, it’s the best bargain in Hong Kong.
www.starferry.com.hk

Congee
Congee, that mix of rice porridge and vegetables and bits of meat or whatever else you like in your stew, is not really street food per se, but you can get it all day long, served inside steaming pots from small shops in Hong Kong. It’s fast food for the locals but, like every other culinary delight in the city, it’s part of what someone once described as this Cantonese city’s major sport — eating. To make congee, rice is boiled for a long time until it’s got a gooey consistency, and then it’s seasoned with meat, veggies and a variety of seasonings, such as white pepper or soy sauce. You choose whatever toppings you want. Some of the combinations are not for the squeamish: pig’s heart congee, liver congee, fish belly congee, etc. I like it mostly plain with a sprinkling of seasonings, and I often have two or three bowls a day when I’m wandering around the city.

Central-Mid-Levels Escalator
Before Hong Kong’s current international airport terminal was built, you landed in Hong Kong at Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon. It was quite an adventure. The planes literally flew between the buildings. I remember flying so low that you could actually see people in their apartments eating dinner. In a strange way, the modern equivalent to that would be the Central Mid-Levels escalator. Built in 1993, it’s the longest covered escalator in the world. The moving stairs are not continuous, so you have to walk between some segments, but so what? It’s a lot of fun. There are 20 escalators and three moving sidewalks. Hong Kong is hilly, so taking the escalator makes sense for a lot of commuters. But now for the good part: Like the old approach to Kai Tak Airport, you pass right by people’s apartments and, as with Kai Tak, you can see right in. It’s an up close and personal view of daily life in Hong Kong. If you need a rest, take a rest: There are cafes and shops at the various levels as you climb, and you can get out and enjoy a cup of coffee or even shop before continuing.

Custom Shoes
The first time I visited Hong Kong, many years ago, I bought shoes from a boot maker name Lee Kee. At the time, he was located at The Peninsula Hong Kong, but later he moved to two locations elsewhere in the city. Lee Kee would carefully outline my feet in pencil on a piece of paper, then measure the width, height and circumference of my feet. I would go back for a second fitting after the leather had been cut. The shoes fit perfectly. The shoes were great, and Lee Kee kept the measurements for my feet so, for years I would send him photos of what I wanted and he’d send me back the shoes. Today, Lee Kee is gone, but there are two shops in the basement of the arcade at The Peninsula Hong Kong that will make custom shoes for you: Maylin Shoes and Lily Shoes. They are more expensive than Lee Kee was, but you can still order them, even from afar.
www.hshgroup.com

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Hong Kong’s Ko Shing Street has been nicknamed “Herbal Medicine Street” and for good reason. The street is chockablock with traditional Chinese apothecaries, but they are nothing like your average CVS Pharmacy here in the States. The Chinese believe in the balance between the yin and yang forces in the body and, to this end, they sell a range of amazing medicinal herbs: twigs, bark, dried leaves, roots, seeds, pods, flowers, grasses, insects, dried sea horses, deer antlers, dried fish bladders and rhinoceros horns just to name a few. You can either bring a prescription from an herbalist or talk to the herbalist on duty at the time and tell him what ails you. A typical prescription may include more than 20 ingredients which are often boiled to produce a medicinal tea. Even though English is the official language of Hong Kong, not much is spoken in these shops, so it’s best to have a translator.
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