We’ve just come back from a week in Hong Kong and Macao. I remember my first visit to Hong Kong in the eighties very, very well. I’d grown up in clean, flat, thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Perth, capital of Western Australia. My then-partner taught at a TAFE college, preparing students, many of them from Hong Kong, for the examination which would give them entry to Australian universities. So when we decided to make our very first foray outside Australia, we went to Hong Kong. In hindsight it wasn’t the best place for such a baptism. A starker contrast to Perth I can hardly imagine. Instead of sprawling suburbia where a two-story house was rare, we flew into a teeming metropolis which resembled an anthill. Towering apartment blocks lined narrow streets, covering every flatish piece of land – of which there wasn’t much. People crowded the footpaths. Washing fluttered from grubby balconies. Scaffolding was bamboo, not metal. Shops selling just about anything huddled together, dwarfed by up-market department stores. Hong Kong island itself was dominated by Victoria Peak, where the rich people live. Even landing at the airport was an adventure.
Kai Tak airport was well known as one of the most dangerous approaches in the world, with the flight path on approach going between those towering apartment blocks and down onto the runway at Victoria Harbour. Even down in cattle class you could almost wave to the people in their apartments as your plane landed. Peter had the privilege of being in the cockpit for one of those landings. Wow. Just wow. Together, we’ve had a drink in a bar overlooking the airport, watching the traffic coming in and going out. Ah. Those were the days. Here’s a few pictures you might enjoy.
Kai Tak closed in 1998, replaced by a huge airport off Lantau, largest of the 245 islands that make up Hong Kong. Guides were at pains to stress that ‘Hong Kong’ includes all the other islands, and also incorporates the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, all leased for a trivial sum by the British from the Chinese. The 99-year lease ended in 1997, and from there, the character of Hong Kong has changed.
Since that first visit in the distant 1980’s I have been to Hong Kong several times, and Pete has been a lot more often than that. For Australians, Hong Kong and Singapore were the usual stepping stones to the rest of the world. The journey to Hong Kong takes about 9 hours, and from there planes leave for Europe. It’s a good place to break the 24 hour journey, especially on the way home when jetlag is an issue, so many Australians have spent a day or two in Honkers, picking up some bargains and seeing the sights. On this trip, Pete and I spent four nights in the city, rather longer than we’d stayed on other occasions. Moreover, this was a holiday, not a business trip.
We stayed in the Harbour Plaza North Point, on the island with views over the harbour. I’m not sure why we got upgraded to a harbour view suite, but we weren’t complaining. The apartment had a kitchen, dining area, sitting room with views across to Kai Tak on Kowloon, a king bed you could have used to host an orgy (while admiring the view), and a well-appointed bathroom. I shudder to think what an apartment of that size would cost to buy. We certainly couldn’t afford it.
It was kind of nostalgic that we could see the end of what used to be the end of Kai Tak’s runway from our suite. These days it’s a port for cruise ships. Since the airport was relocated, the height restrictions on buildings in that part of Hong Kong have disappeared and the suburbs have crept up, and out.
I made a point of taking a photo every day from our sitting room across the harbour.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our city tour and our visit to Aberdeen Typhoon shelter, Stanley, and the Peak. And then the light show from the harbour. For now, enjoy some views of Kowloon from Hong Kong’s North Point.