Hong Kong in full bloom...rugby sevens coming soon to HK...offering to the gods
HONG KONG - This is a huge, bustling, wild and teeming city. No doubt about that. But one of the things I love about Hong Kong is that you can get away from it all far easier than in many cities.
There's Victoria Peak, of course, where you can walk for a couple miles amid hanging vines and towering trees and gaze down at not only the buildings of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon but also vast ravines and wide open stretches of ocean and nearby islands. There also are plenty of open spaces down near Stanley and Repulse Bay on the opposite side of central Hong Kong.
But there also are plenty of fabulous gardens, some of them in the heart of downtown, and don't Torontonians wish we could say the same thing? Okay, we've got Queen's Park and Allan Gardens, but nothing downtown in the way of Chater Garden. It's literally across the street from some of the biggest towers in Hong Kong, including the massive Bank of China building and the HSBC tower.
In addition to palm trees and fountains, there are dozens of other varieties of trees, including African Tulips and Travellers Trees, which seems fitting for a city with so many tourists. This week, the rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom, which made a certain golf fan from Toronto think of the coming Masters tournament. I don't know if they call this little part of downtown Hong Kong Amen Corner, but there's a pretty good resemblance in part. I didn't see Tiger Woods, but there were a couple crouching lions outside the HSBC building.
They're also getting ready for a major rugby sevens tourney, which hits Hong Kong at the end of this month. They were publicizing it at Chater Garden on Monday with giant rugby exhibits that allowed folks to try to toss a ball into a hole or even tackle a plastic rugby player on a giant, inflatable raft-like device similar to those you'd see at a kids' party. They had one gimmick where folks were tied up by a giant rubber band and had to try to run forward with a rugby ball in their hands and overcome the pressure of the rubber band pulling them back. One woman I got a picture of got pretty close to handing it off to a rugby player at the end of her plastic "ramp," but ended up tumbling backward in a pile. She seemed to have a great time.
Up the road a couple blocks is Hong Kong Park, which is far larger and more grand; complete with fountains and a waterfall, even. Wild white parrots or cockatoos flit about in the branches overhead, and it's a great spot for wedding photos or for little kids to gather and try their hand at painting.
Earlier, my tour guide, Michael Poon, had taken me for a glass of "milk tea" at Lan Fong Yuen, a famous spot near the escalators that take folks up and down from central Hong Kong to the mid-levels. It's a great area for strolling, and the markets along the street are great for people watching. Mr. Lan takes a secret mixture of five teas and strains it through a roll of muslin, then adds special milk he imports from Malaysia and ends up with a fabulously refreshing drink. I'm not a tea guy, but it was perfect on a warm Hong Kong morning, and the place always seemed pack with folks drinking tea or eating his noodles or sandwiches.
As I finished an interview I was doing with him near the cart where they boilt the tea outside his shop, noticed a woman setting fire to some paper next to the tea pots. I couldn't resist sneaking around the corner and getting a photo. Poon explained she was making an offering to the gods on behalf of her relatives by burning special paper.
I said I wasn't sure this was the safest thing in the world, notwithstanding she was doing it on some bare patches of brick. He explained she's an older woman who's been doing it a couple times a month for years.
"I'm not sure they'd let you or me get away with it," Poon said with a laugh.
We finished our morning with a great lunch at a place on Johnston Road called The Pawn. It's a former pawn shop in Wan Chai that's been converted to a terrific English-continental spot offering everything from fish and chips to roast shoulder of lamb, which I had. They also had a small mason jar filled with crab meat and, I think, a bit of cheese, plus a soft and wonderful bread pudding with chocolate sauce, all for about $22 as one of their lunch specials. A great spot, with terrific views of a nearby playground and the buzzing traffic of central Hong Kong.
We didn't stop, but I also got a fun photo of what looks like a breakfast place near the escalators. Forgive the fact someone is making fun of Asian pronunciation, but I thought it was pretty funny.
So, a wild 24 hours in Hong Kong comes to a close, and now it's a 16 hour flight home to Toronto on Cathay Pacific. Hope they still have some of the old Star Trek episodes I can watch...