When I was living and working in Foshan, Guangdong province in the South of China, a visit to Hong Kong at Christmas time was the highlight of my stay. And with many foreign teachers located near the Island metropolis in South China, there really is no excuse not to travel down for a weekend and see what this former British colony has to offer. There are a couple of main options for arriving, by train or by coach, through the border at Shenzhen (The Lo Wu border). Arrive early, as the last queues you saw were at Thorpe Park for your favourite rollercoaster and not on a border famed for its daily crossing of 300,000 people through 1 building. Through in an hour or so, you can handily skip some of the crowds by going through a British passport holders section, and after rating the border crossing official (a handy smiley face/nonchalant face/unhappy face touch screen – always choose happy face for fear of being rejected your visit) you can begin the journey across some spectacularly high bridges descending into the main cityscape of Kowloon bay.
Kowloon itself is a hive of activity, and due to the limited space on the island you can see how densely populated the city is, with approximately 7 million inhabitants living in just 34.5 square miles (this works out at about 115 people per square yard)! The constant high rise, and then the super high rise buildings are breath-taking, but even more intriguing is how the space between floors on each building seems even more limited as the constant demand for space leads building firms to build up, and then even dissect floors to create more living space within these skyscrapers!
On checking in to our accommodation (having opted for one of the cheaper Hostel options than waterfront Hotels where it is not uncommon for Hong Kong prices to even exceed London prices) in the “Mong Kok” area on Kowloon, I was pleasantly surprised to find a more western-oriented accommodation on offer, as described! Our party found an en-suite western toilet in each room, a TV offering over 2 channels, and some very creative Spongebob Squarepants duvet sets adorning the beds! No, it was basic, but it was right in the hustle and bustle of the city and very close to all the destinations we needed to see.
Whilst you can spend a lifetime gazing up in wonderment at the gravity-defying buildings that seem to originate in the sky and plunge themselves down in every square inch of the island, to really see the view you can take a boat trip across the harbour and an inexpensive train up Victoria Peak, named of course after the colonising British Monarch. Here we arrived on the eve of our first day, and the chance to see the view in light, twilight, and at night is not to be missed. There is shopping, eateries and bars atop the peak, so you can spend an evening there before journeying on the metro back to your accommodation. On arriving late back at our digs we were surprised to find our Cantonese hosts sleeping in the hallways of the apartment, but with the hot climate and cool fans in the hallways within a few hours of trying to sleep in the bedrooms I could see why they made their choice.
The second day was spent shopping in the many downtown markets and districts of Kowloon, but if spending more time there the popular Hong Kong Disneyland, Avenue of Star and Man Mo temple came recommended by my colleagues. Hong Kong at this time (the weekend before Christmas) was a consumers paradise, with deals to be done on every sort of product you can imagine, from designer stores from all over the world. We spoke to many Chinese people who were visiting on four, five and even fortnightly shopping trips to spend their Hong Kong dollars, and it has really become a symbol of economic prosperity and freedoms in South China.
Crossing such a small border, in a relatively nearby area as Hong Kong is to the major cities of Guangdong province, you could not help but notice a few key differences in the culture of the places, with Hong Kong’s past affecting how it works today. Firstly, there is the wide availability of Western Literature and Entertainment that is somewhat more limited on the mainland, and we even noticed some protest groups exercising a more lenient right to political freedom down by the Harbour. Some parks in Hong Kong remind you of a stroll through Hyde Park or Regents Park in London, with clock towers, streetlamps and even church buildings from a British heritage. Finally, from an educational point of view, whilst there is much opportunity for new schools and facilities in China, I could not help but notice the saturation of language schools and private schools for teaching English in such a short area. Every minute a bus would pass with an advert for George’s school of English, or you would be approached with a leaflet from Native English Tutor Wonderland. This place, whilst part of China, is still very different to mainland China and does feel like journeying to a new country from your China base. Jake Collings Maths and English Teacher