Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 25 - Hong Kong Part 1 (Day 1)

Christmas of 2011 was spent in Hong Kong. I'll start out with a little history for those who aren't familiar with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is located at the southern coast of China. It started out as just a coastal island that, during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), was incorporated into China. It remained as part of China until the first Opium War. Britain had become increasingly dependent on the import of tea from China, and to make up the trade imbalance, started exporting opium (which was legal in Britain and grown in India) to China. China didn't really like opium coming into China and voila .. the first Opium War. Britain won and China gave Hong Kong Island to the UK in 1842. Additional treaties gave up Kowloon (in 1860) and the "New Territories (1989) to the British. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Japan also took over Hong Kong (the British surrendered in the Peninsula Hotel, which you'll see pictures of later). It remained under Japanese occupation until 1945 at which point it went back under British rule. For the next 50 years (or so), Hong Kong became one of the wealthiest cities in the far east. On 1 July 1997, Hong Kong was handed back to the China by the United Kingdom. However, it does have some interesting uniqueness since it is listed as a "Speciai Administrative Region (SAR)" and is treated differently (supposedly this SAR status will remain for 50 years). For example, if you go from China to Hong Kong, you go through immigration, and there is a different stamp in your passport, they drive on the British-side of the road, and they keep their own money.

That brings us to the money. Ironically, we were watching a show on TV (History channel I think) about 2 weeks before going to Hong Kong and they were talking about the printing of money. They talked about the paper used in making US money and the various measures taken against counterfeiting in US money. They also mentioned Hong Kong, since they are somewhat unique in their money system, at least for banknotes (or bills). There are 3 commercial banks which issue their own "bills" that are treated all the same. The banks are able to do this under license from the government, so it isn't like they are just printing money randomly! While this seems odd to Americans (definitely!), it is similar to the UK, where there are 8 banks that issue money. During our trip, we ended up with banknotes from each of the 3 banks, and so we decided to take pictures to show the differences. The first, 100HKD, is from The Hong Kong and Shnaghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) while the 2nd 100HKD is from The Bank of China (harder to see), and the last, the 20HKD bill, is from Standard Chartered Bank.

Okay, so now let's get down to what we actually DID there! We took the Airport Express train directly to the Kowloon station and then they have various free shuttle buses that go to various different hotels. We picked one that dropped us right next door to our hotel. We were staying at The Salisbury, which is a hotel that is managed by the YMCA of Hong Kong. While I'm not keen on staying at a YMCA (I think of it right at the same level as a Youth Hostel), this one was definitely NOT that! The hotel was quite nice, and we had sprung for a partial harbour view. These were taken at night, but you can see that we had a pretty good view of the harbour and of the buildings on the harbor on the Hong Kong Island side.

The first thing we did was afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel, which I mentioned earlier as the place where the British surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese. They are known for their afternoon tea, and during the holidays, it is very popular. We got there and found out that unlike the rest of the year, they take reservations for it during the holidays (oops), but that didn't deter us TOO much. We took pictures around the lobby to show the great architecture and decorations for the holidays. They also had live music being played in the lobby.

As we looked around, we came across a gingerbread village with lots of little gingerbread houses. We grabbed a few pictures, and also bought some cookies!

We weren't able to do afternoon tea in the Lobby with the live music, but we did head up to the 28th floor where we were able to get the same afternoon tea at Felix .. but with a view! It was a pretty nice spread, scones, little finger sandwiches, cookies, macaroons, and of course, English tea. Then as we were heading out, the music had switched to Christmas Caroling, so we stayed and listed for a few minutes before heading out.

Next was the harbor on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. It was pretty sunny there, but still quite hazy, as you can see from the pictures. The harbor is a pretty active place, with ferries and boats. One of the boats is what looks like an old Chinese "junk" but is actually a more modern boat created to look old, what does harbor tours.

We then headed to the Avenue of Stars, which is the walkway along the harbor where they have these stars in the pavement with the names, and in some cases handprints, of famous Hong Kong actors. Most of them, we had never heard of, but we did find a few, like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, that we had heard of. Susan checked out her hand against that of Jet Li, and they are pretty close! Then Tom decided to get a closer look at the sculpture of Bruce Lee, with the Hong Kong skyline in the background.

As we headed towards the ferry terminal, we came across the clock tower. The Clock Tower is a landmark of Hong Kong, as it is the only remaining piece of the train station in Kowloon.

Harbour City is hong Kong's largest interconnected shopping mall, and one of the largest shopping complexes in the world. We didn't really go inside, but they had this huge Toy Story thing outside that Tom grabbed a couple pictures of.

Across the street, next to our hotel, is the 1881 Heritage, which is another upscale shopping and dining complex, as well as the Hullett House (now housing an all-suite luxury hotel, restaurants, and bars). They had Christmas decorations (a nice tree) as well as this set of carriages.

From there we caught a harbour cruise on the Star Ferry line. We got some great pictures from the boat of the sunset over Hong Kong island. The really tall building you see there is the IFC 2 tower, which was completed in 2003 and at 416 meters tall and makes it the 2nd tallest building in Hong Kong and the 14th tallest in the world. The tall building in the pictures without the sunset are on the Kowloon side, and that is the International Commerce Centre, which is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the 5th tallest in the world, at 484 meters.

Here we have a view of the IFC2 building without the sun, and then the other buildings on the harbour. Then there is the low, Convention Center building, which is designed to look like a bird in flight .. although we think it looks more like 3 turtles.

There were multiple buildings in Hong Kong that, as the sun went down, they lit up. Many had Christmas pictures in lights on them, and here is a smattering of them. On the Kowloon side, a few buildings were lit, but on the Hong Kong island side, most of the buildings are lit up in some way.

The first night, we headed up to the riverside promenade (across from our hotel) to check out the laser light show, which happens every day supposedly at 8pm. It is a laser and light show with music that you can catch from both sides of the harbour. Right before the show started, we were able to catch a band playing.

We did the light show 2 different days, and I must admit, I caught alot more of it the 2nd time, partly because we had a better view. Different buildings have lasers at the top that do different things, as well as some of the buildings with th elights on them blink and do different things to the music. A set of buildings, including the HSBC tower, change colors.

Then we tried to find dinner. Our first choice was totally booked (bad us, no reservations) and so we wandered around and finally settled on this one Chinese restaurant. We got seated next to a tank with lobsters and something else that we have no idea what they are. Poor little guys, we wonder if they know they are about to give their lives?

At the iSquare mall (yes, another shopping center), Ferrero Rocher has this huge christmas tree made out of their chocolates.

And then drinks at the bar at the top of the Sheraton, which has a great view of the harbor! And all that was just Day 1!

Continue to Day 2 in Hong Kong