As you might have heard Hong Kong is or perhaps I can allow myself to say ‘was’ under fire. In February the pandemic was raging and suddenly the experts who kept the city safe for two long years were at their wits’ end. The house of ‘dynamic zero Covid 19 strategy’ crumbled and economically, politically, socially Hong Kong started plummeting. It fell into an abyss so dark and deep that grappling back to the spotlight of once a radiant star amongst Covid burdened cripples will be an incredibly painful task for its citizens, locals and expats alike. But there might be a light at the end of the tunnel…
Cases are dropping and the government has just announced easing tight restrictions. It appears that after a ferocious fight with fire drizzle is coming to refresh Hong Kong and help relieve some of the pent up tension. This also means that the city’s contours might be coming back to its usual. Let me highlight ‘might’. But I still love it regardless. Let’s see why.
It’s actually great to live in a city with a constant buzz. Yes, the pandemic has changed a lot of things, but the city is still moving. As long as there’s no absolute lockdown, as I experienced on and off in Malaysia for two long years, it’s fine. Venturing out always involves a small discovery of some kind. One feels like part of a movie that has its protagonists and spectators coincide and improvise in a way rarely seen anywhere else.
2) Maze feeling
The buzz comes at a price. Price I’m so willing to pay. A colleague of mine once told me that it took around two years to settle in Hong Kong. At first I was shocked at this statement, convinced I’d do better than that but today I must admit that he had a point there. It takes time to find sense in this movement and abundance of things. It’s mostly fun but can get confusing at times. Especially when, for example, I spot something I find useful and promise myself to stop by later. Unless I take a photo or note it down, it will rarely happen. You see, those mental notes are completely useless here.
Once I spotted a shop selling all kinds of stuff including quirky decorations. Passing by, inspired by a woman rummaging through a box of funky wall posters for her own home, I made a mental note that I’d do the same myself closer to the Christmas holidays, which had been fast approaching. A couple days later, when the moment seemed right, I decided to enjoy some of that Christmas designated shopping, looking forward to bringing home some unique finds.
But it never happened and all my fantasies of newly decorated flat were futile. The reason for that was pretty simple – I just couldn’t find the bloody shop. It was in my vicinity. I knew where I was – or so I thought – when I spotted it but I never found it again. I walked around the area helplessly and even after an hour of vigorous search I had to come to terms that I had lost this one. And like this it’s with everything else.
Don’t worry. It’s not a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s, nor does it mean you are completely dumb. This is a signature aspect of the Hong Kong life. Let me reiterate what I already mentioned here – take photos and physical notes of everything you come across and evaluate as potentially useful as otherwise you may never be able to find those things again. Why? Read below.
The above ‘mazeism’ has to do also with the constant change the city succumbs to. When I first arrived people would tell me how incredibly fast Hong Kong changes. I never knew what they meant. But I guess today I might be closer to understanding. For example, shops you were used to passing by may suddenly close down, be replaced with something else or simply disappear. Your once favourite fruit shop may become a bubble drink spot or shoe store literally overnight and upon noticing this change as you make a beeline for a couple apples for your healthy afternoon snack you’ll once again question your sanity. It’s that fast, indeed.
I even had to change the introduction to this article three times as the previous versions became irrelevant so fast. My blogging mojo has a hard time adjusting.
All this change and confusion however always unfolds under the watchful eye of the Hong Kong’s higher principle. It is a proverbial paradise of safety. Period. While there are things one must be vigilant about, especially as a gwei lo, these are part of the game and locals’ mind set. When it comes to safety though, you can really let your guard down. You are possibly on one of the safest grounds in the world and that’s no mean feat.
This is insane. In my post about settling in I spoke about the overwhelm that Hong Kong initially casts upon you. Truth be told, once you overcome it and get used to it, you must love the availability of pretty much everything you need literally at your doorstep. Of course the level of convenience depends on your neighbourhood too, but all of them, unless really remote, are boombastically convenient. Causeway Bay, however, where I currently live, is the hub, the mecca, the Holy Grail of convenience.
Oh friends, you can find here anything from the basics to more specific needs. It has it all. Countless shopping malls – which are smaller mazes within the big one, furniture, home decor, home ware, coffee shops, gyms, Muay Thai, yoga studios, hair salons, pet shops, wet markets, craft shops, fine dining and quite not so fine dining, fast food, slow food. Well just about anything to accommodate your mood. I could go like this forever. And all this within minutes from your flat. It’s really nuts in the best possible way. And it doesn’t cease to surprises me.
Okay, you already know from my earlier post that certain things didn’t go exactly as planned, for example the massage and haircut. And let me not even start on the recent Hong Kong pandemic debacle. But still, the fact is and remains, that aside from some blatant flops, I’ve seen how certain areas really work like clockwork. Information on everything you need is available and accurate. Following the information doesn’t involve surprises either. Talking to officials is not a waste of time and dealing with offices doesn’t make you go berserk. From the day I arrived till today I’ve been amazed at this organisational excellence. Simply, this place has its wheels well lubricated and oh boy do they turn!
7) Ding ding trams
These awesome and super cute vehicles deserve a paragraph for themselves. I use them heavily. In fact my favourite thing is to just get on one with my camera and ride until the end stop. And then do it again in the opposite direction. And like this again and again and again. It’s indeed one of my most favourite pastimes. Especially since the cost is low – you pay a single fare of 2.6 HKD (0.30 dollars) and you can go from one end of Hong Kong Island to the other. You may suggest that I have loads of free time on my hands but well, there’s always time for a ding ding ride. I’ve now limited this due to the pandemic so I can’t wait to get back.
Along with the awesome ding dings Hong Kong shuttle ferries create this wonderful sense of romanticism that adds to the already incredible city’s vibe an aura of freedom, history and culture. The touch of stories untold and so many destinies intertwined with this place. These guys zig zag through the South China Sea in all possible directions and aside from ensuring a quick and simple link between the island and Kowloon, they can also take you to countless neighbouring islands for a proper getaway. Again, you would need to be heartless not to feel a tad romantic while sea breeze washes your face as you gaze at the magnificent city from the middle of the ocean. The boats and the harbour scenes have been photographed to death and I completely understand why…
9) Public transport
And to wrap it all up, I should say that the Hong Kong public transport is probably one of the best in the world. Obviously I haven’t been to every single metropolis worldwide, but I’m still confident that this is hard to beat. Except for my beloved ding dings and the romantic boats, there’s the MTR, double decker buses, mini buses – all ready to take you anywhere you need within minutes. And at a reasonable cost.
10) Unique and courteous locals
Of course the buzz is mainly created by the amazing locals who just go out and about and couldn’t care less about what others think. On top of their maturity, which I’ll describe below, and respectful demeanour you’ll find people doing the weirdest forms of exercise on pavements, weird fashion, weird hobbies, and weird individual expressions of oneself. It’s a non-stop movie of uniqueness, bizarre things and above all awesome vibe. I just love it. What is more, locals are incredibly nice and courteous and it makes living in the city more pleasant.
11) Self-checkout machines
You may wonder what self-checkout machines have to do with maturity but I’ll sure prove my point. In fact, these guys are an excellent tester of nation’s integrity. So how does it work? You go to a supermarket and instead of queuing at a cashier, you simply scan all your items, pay and you are done. Ready in a couple clicks. Seamless, contactless, painless and all the other lesses. Simply amazing. Now, have a think and tell me – would that work in your country, city or town? Nothing sinister here. But I just want to salute to Hongkongers’ mind set. Self-checkout boxes are just a tiny piece of otherwise skillfully crafted puzzle that Hongkongers’ behaviour clearly is. I believe these citizens are curious, polite, smart, and above all mature. And that’s what makes the city a great place. Anything that saves time is treated with respect.
12) Random conversations and encounters
Another thing Hong Kong residents are great at are random conversations. This is something that deeply frustrated me in Malaysia. Malaysians really suck at communication big time. What’s more, the more you try to break this pattern, the worse it gets. There were exceptions to the rule – maybe around 3 or maximum 5 that I met in six years. But Hong Kong? It’s a tonic for me after 6 years of silence and talking mostly to myself. Going mad there, hey! But Hongkongers? Oh man, do these people have a voice. It doesn’t matter what situation you are in, you’ll almost always get something back. Need help with directions? Unsure of something? Looking for a shop? Stuck in foot traffic? Just ask and they’ll help you in no time and add a courteous nod or smile.
13) Endless possibilities
Again, Hong Kong offers an array of possibilities hard to find anywhere else. You can’t get bored in the city. You really can’t even if you wanted. Quirky neighbourhoods, hiking trails, cafe and bar scene, museums, exhibitions, islands, boat rides. It’s endless. My tip for anyone who comes to Hong Kong for the first time would be, try to explore everything as quickly as possible because later you might feel too tired for this. I’m glad I’ve done a lot of exploring at the beginning, though I still haven’t practically seen anything of this giant, but now I feel a bit tied to my preferences already. What’s more, my favourite areas are too far so I just stick to what I know and like best. It might be also the by-product of the pandemic, so let’s see what happens when things easy a bit.
14) Incredible mix of old and new
Tradition and luxury go hand in hand here. Go to Central or Causeway Bay to find shiny windows of high-end brands. Step a bit further to Sheung Wan or Sai Ying Pun, walk into hidden alleys and narrow streets and you’ll find traditional locksmiths, shoemakers, tailors and whatnot. Old, flaky buildings accompany the new shiny skyscrapers. It’s amazing. And I guess I don’t have to mention how tired my buddy Fuji is. We keep shooting like lunatics and still can’t get enough.
15) Cheap Michelin
Hong Kong has probably the highest concentration of cheap Michelin star restaurants. I guess if I were a foodie, which sadly I’m not, I’d explore them all but I just don’t feel like it. Though there are two that I really like but I’m not going to spill the beans just yet. As with KL, I might want to prepare a post about my favourite spots for cafe, food and photography and those Michelin’s would certainly be there. Wait for it friends.
16) Weather and climate
Quite frankly Hong Kong winter is not going to make it to any of those ‘positive vibe’ articles of mine as it clearly had me swear a lot – oh yeah, cold, rainy and humid ain’t nothing to brag about. Bouts of high humidity are equally annoying as everything indoors and outdoors is so damp and sticky. It’s a mettle tester. But it’s probably the price for an otherwise amazing climate. I just love those sunny, yet windy days when walking in the city feels so refreshing. Hong Kong gets a lot of sun and I’d say that the fact that there’s also something like a change of seasons makes it really nice. The sun caresses your face, fresh sea breeze washes your body and makes your blouse flutter as you stroll through the streets. A bliss. Typhoons are exotic and interesting too. Oh yeah. I just love it.
17) Street photography
Well, this is a big one! The common cliché that a good photographer should be able to take great shots anywhere, regardless of location, is partly true. But it’s hard to do so in a place which doesn’t inspire you or which suffocates you. Or perhaps you are just tired of seeing the same scenes. For me, that was Malaysia. Except for my beloved Tioman where I could get inspiration from anything, I felt stuck. Again, a skilled photographer will still manage but it will usually involve experimenting with styles and gear. And that’s not me. Firstly, I love street photography and secondly I want to prove that a lot can be done with one simple camera body and a good prime lens. No more expensive gear, minimal and simple. So far, Hong Kong has me pressing the shutter by the speed of light and again Travel Mishmash has more photos than it is able to process. Oh my, oh my.
All in all, for a street photographer Hong Kong is a paradise. Great scenes are simply everywhere. I can honestly say that when I go out specifically with the intention to shoot, I come home knackered. I just can’t stop. And then I must make sure to take rest because the photographer spirit just sucks me in so hard. Paradoxically, with having so much to shoot, I also started to learn to observe those little things and tiny details that would otherwise normally escape me. So it’s a win-win.
18) Game spirit
When I explored Hong Kong in the first couple months, I would often stop by the communal playgrounds which are so plentiful in the city. Every neighbourhood has at least two or three and holy mishmash – are they popular! Men of all ages will flock to those for their daily dose of a fair basketball or football match or a fierce running session. High stairs provide space for random or totally intentional spectators from all walks of life, and the result is that these playgrounds always teem with life, pulse and intoxicating energy. Add to it the sense of community and the feel for fair game and you are hooked. As a former basketball player my fascination with these places goes way deeper. In the firsts months of my stay I just couldn’t resist the temptation and would often venture there with my camera to get a dose of my own potion – Inspiration, nostalgia, photography opportunities. Holy mishmash. What a treat.
On two or three occasions however, when I walked by a smaller and less exposed versions of those playgrounds another taste was added to that already intoxicating cocktail – an incredibly strong desire to join the game. I remember I was battling with hesitance at first. It’s been more than 10 years since I last touched a basketball so I craved it with a hint of doubt. And just like that, going inside the pitch, I walked closer to a group of guys and asked to try a bit of dribble and shots. They let me play by myself and it felt amazing to jump and score again. This gave me courage to join more small games. And like this I can say that I got to play the game I once used to devote my entire week to in the most exciting city in the world. Can’t wait to try that again soon!
19) Multi Culti
My love – languages – is absolutely everywhere! As someone who’s devoted their life to this passion I must admit that hearing a boiling mix of Cantonese, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalong and many more on practically a daily basis is like a tonic to my ears. I even met a Czech guy by a complete coincidence the other day and spoke briefly Czech. Simply amazing. While I must admit I haven’t really been doing so well with Cantonese, and I wouldn’t trust myself much with this one, I’ve started brushing up my French. I just figured it might be more productive for me to actually improve something I already know, so no, you won’t hear me converse in fluent Cantonese anytime soon.
20) My new hairdresser
Alright friends, I’m sure you remember the story about my hair debacle. Well, and today I am actually proud to introduce you to my new and amazing hairdresser. His name is Ilya and I am super excited to have found him in the ocean of hairdressers offering unreasonably priced services that would most likely, apart from breaking the bank, damage my hair even more. Ilya from the W52 hair salon is just a master of his craft and I am just so incredibly happy to have found probably the best hairdresser in town! And that’s certainly a reason to celebrate. Cheers!
I’m sure that others might have different ideas about all this but that’s the normal course of things. Some people say Hong Kong had its prime and is not what it used to be but it’s never a good idea to listen to naysayers who are stuck in the past. It’s what it is and to me Hong Kong is simply awesome and I thank God every day for being here.