The cheapest flight to South Africa includes a 2000km detour via cosmopolitan Hong Kong, so Sue scheduled a 24 hour layover. One HK hotel night costs about the same as a month in Cambodia, but again our gracious and generous former neighbors Shelly and Matt came to the rescue, letting us flop at their Victoria Peak penthouse flat. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city, and their Victoria Peak penthouse view takes in HK’s greatest hits, including the $1billion marvelously modular HSBC building, the 118 International Commerce Centre, the old art deco Bank of China tower; its edgy newer neighbor, and the Transformer-like Lippo Center.
To give Matt some space we wandered out into the island night, passing under the Victoria Peak furnicular and winding up with the damp concrete roads and to the summit’s mall. Our timing was good and after a traditionally noisy and oily Cantonese meal, we caught the light show over the harbor. It wasn’t as impressive as the Christmas lights festooned about the skyscrapers. Many have integrated lights; the towering Commerce Center building had Santa’s sleigh circling around and up its perimeter.
Honk Kong is an impossibly steep, seeping stone so there’s a temperate jungle climbing the walls between the alternating terraces of roads and buildings. This north face offers panoramic views south over the skyscrapers and across the harbor to Kowloon and mainland China; the north view out the bathroom window runs just a few feet before slamming into a weeping wall festooned with ferns.
To make the most of our one day, we don our rain shells and traverse across five minutes of misty mountain to the Barker Rd. Peak tram stop. The old red cable cars charm as San Francisco’s do, and the descent is thrilling. We disembark near the Cathedral wind through the drizzle among financial district commuters, past the landmark skyscrapers to the comfort of the Mandarin Oriental. The boys are on best behavior and we breakfast on fine pastries and first-class Asian service. Their concierge confirms my Google Map route through the covered walkways to the Harbor.
Weighing the weather we delay our channel crossing and opt for a few hours in the recently renovated Maritime Museum, which harbors history: three decks decked out with displays that approach just about every educational discipline through a maritime lens. History and Political Science (trade routes, cultures, wars and wrecks); physics, mathematics and computer science (via displays displacement and container ship logistics); language arts (ancient scripts, the evolution of Cantonese and Mandarin boundaries); arts & crafts (shipbuilding, paintings). It’s a fine morning education.
The boys grow restless so we saunter back over to the adjacent Star Ferry terminal and board the old bowed boat, the cheapest sight-seeing trip around. The ferry is well maintained, it appears to have been built with flat timbers across the keel, a traditional technique that the Maritime Museum taught us maximizes displacement with sparing use of scarce timber. But the lack of keel makes for a sloppy ride with lots of yaw, and I’m glad it’s a short crossing… just long enough for Sue’s shutter to flutter.
Landing on the mainland China side we find much of Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui East Waterfront is closed for renovation, so we settle for a sandwich at the Garden of the Stars where Ben prevails over bronzed Bruce Lee. Max’s stomach is objecting to the local food, so nurse Sue pops in to a pharmacy for some meds… much cheaper here than at home.
These Kowloon streets are smoky, dank and grittier than the island’s, so to spare Max we walk west to the comfortable Harbor Mall then south to the Star Restaurant where we enjoy dim sum and some other traditional dishes; Max and Ben spectate. Urban Asians love shopping and festivals so it makes sense that Christmas is a huge hit here. Sleigh bells, Santas and shoppers abound across Hanoi, Hoi An and Hong Kong. On our way back to the Star Ferry some school children pull us aside for a school project; they need to interview foreigners about how they experience Christmas. Our boys blushed as I detailed our holiday traditions – tree-cutting and decorating, Santa cookies, and have evidence of reindeer and sleigh tracks on our deck… but then we do Christmas right in Tahoe.
On our way back we detour through the lobby of the HSBC headquarters to take in the stunning architecture there; it’s all feng shue, open, airy and modern. We’ve got Hong Kong dollars to burn so stock up on groceries and a few Christmas gifts before getting a lift back to the huge, swank Hong Kong airport. Next we fly west 13 hours and gain 6, so we’ll have plenty of time to rest up for the next phase of our adventures in Southern Africa.