Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hong Kong: Day 2 - Touring Hong Kong Island (and shopping, of course)

Had a great day today. We signed on for a tour which would take us across to Hong Kong Island, up the Peak, and then to Stanley Markets, a cruise of Aberdeen Harbour, and finish off with – wow, what a surprise – a visit to a jewellery factory.

Okay, we could have done all this independently, but sometimes it’s great to do an organised tour because you pick up so many interesting little titbits. For instance, on the drive up to the Peak our tour guide pointed out to us a rather impressive mansion which was the home of a Mr Stanley Ho, also known as Ho Hung Sun or The King of Gambling. For over 40 years Mr Ho held the monopoly for the gambling industry on Macau – it is is a HUGE industry. Obviously, the guy is pretty damned rich. As well as gambling he’s into entertainment, shipping, real estate, banking etc, etc, etc , and has business interests in Europe, Africa and of course various other spots in Asia. Interesting? Sure. But what had the whole coachload of tourists laughing and shaking their heads was that our tour guide pointed out that, while monogamy is compulsory for Europeans living in Hong Kong, that was not the case for local people, and so Mr Ho was, quite legally, the proud husband of not one, not two, but three wives. So, here we have this enormously wealthy man, with an enormous house, and three ladies to share it with him. Could lead to problems, you think? Not if they each have their own front door. Yes, that’s right: each wife had her own front door. What a lovely way to save face, but how wonderfully quirky from a non-Chinese viewpoint.

We then got told the old Chinese joke: ‘ho’ means good; ‘ho ho’ means good, good, or very good; ‘ho ho ho’ means merry Christmas. Yes, it’s funny in a group situation, but don’t expect gales of laughter when you repeat the joke to the folks back home.

Anyway, after that long, long, very winding road the coach at last reached The Peak. The haze was terrible, I have to tell you, and so most photographs we took were more like “Guess what this is?” exercises, and ended up in that little black bin on the upper right hand corner of the computer screen. We were able to have a wander around, however, so we picked up a few souvenirs, admired the skill of constructing such amazing homes on such steep slopes, and enjoyed a nice lunch. 

Now, that's what you call a haze.

 We were then off to the Stanley Markets, and I have to tell you I loved them. They are not particularly large, but they are fantastic, with friendly stall holders and a fabulous range of goods. I bought quite a few scarves – I buy scarves wherever I go – some shoes (of course), some handbags (of course), a few T-shirts and some rather exotic (and not at all practical) notebooks. I loved chatting with the shopkeepers there, but found the straightforward approach of some of them quite surprising. At one little shop where I was admiring a blouse the stallholder came up to me, looked me up and down, and then said “You too fat for that one. I find another one for you”. No chance of taking offence as within about two seconds I had the perfect top shoved into my hands. She was right: it was a perfect fit, and I have had lots of happy wear out of it. In another stall, one where I bought a couple of handbags, the delightful young girl who was plying me with bag after bag after bag suddenly asked, “How old are you?” That really was a bit of a shock. I told her I was simply old. She then said, “How many kids you got?” I told her that we didn’t have any children. It was then her turn to be shocked. Her eyes got huge, her shoulders came up really high as she dipped her head in disbelief, and she said, “No kids? Why you have no kids?” I have worked with people for years who would never have asked such a blunt question.  But I can honestly say that there was nothing offensive in such questioning; it was actually almost refreshing.

Entrance to the famous floating restaurant - huge!
Okay, so happily laden with lots of goodies, we then all piled back into the coach and were driven to a spot where we boarded a small boat for a cruise around Aberdeen Harbour

Not the vessel we were on, sadly.

Now, as you can see from the photographs, while there are lots of luxury vessels, most boats we saw there were workboats, floating homes, covered in all sorts of amazing signs, objects, flags. 

Boats which looked as though they had been through a typhoon and were absolute wrecks sported satellite televisions. Boats which looked as though the decks were rotten with woodworm were fitted with reverse cycle air-conditioning units. And everywhere, lovely, smiling young men on those boats, all waving to the gawking tourists who were treating their homes as museum exhibits.
Back on land, we were shepherded back into the coach and then taken to that place that no tourist to Hong Kong is allowed to miss – a jewellery factory. Now, most of the people on the coach were American tourists, and most of those ladies sported diamond rings such as are normally only seen on The Bold and the Beautiful or Dynasty. Some of them, in that jewellery showroom, were like the proverbial kiddie in a lolly shop.
We found the tour of the factory really interesting, seeing the jewellery makers working with tiny, precise tools to fashion exquisite earrings, necklaces, bracelets. Did I find something? Well, by the time we left there I was the extremely happy owner of a stunning turquoise ring with matching earrings. Oh, they are totally gorgeous, I assure you.

What a fantastic day we had. This tour was so worthwhile. It was great being part of a happy bunch of people, and getting to chat to folks from places that we just know from song titles.  
And to top off the day? A superb, and memorable, meal at the Waterfront Bar and Terrace, which is a restaurant attached to the hotel but separate to the main building. Honestly, it was one of those meals where you put a forkful in your mouth, close your eyes and just drift off into tastebud heaven. Superb! Catch you later.

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