After the storm had dictated very little sleep we decided to start the day in the hotel pool, (which seems to be becoming a bit of a habit), and drop the frantic pace of yesterday to leisurely strolling.
We began with yet another market, this one Jardine crescent, to see if there were any more bargains to be had, of course there were. I found this particular market to be extremely claustrophobic as the gap between the stalls most of the way up was less than a metre wide and the ramshackle roofs joined in the middle not a great deal higher than head hight in most places. This is obviously a great idea to protect the stalls during the rainy season, but on a hot crowded Sunday afternoon it made me feel a little queasy. But I soldiered on and managed to buy a couple of dresses for Moo and a few bits and bob’s. AJ’s passion for hair accessories is almost reaching the proportion of mine for stationery and by the time she returns home she will have enough to open a stall of her own, she indulged a few more times before we left.
When we did leave we headed back to the Mong Kok area and a few markets of a different sort. The flower, bird and fish markets all lie within a short distance of each other and although the kids weren’t too keen I was determined I would get to experience these famous streets before we left the city.
According to Guinness world records, Mong Kok region has the highest population density in the world with 130,000 per km sq. or 340,000 per mile sq. and I think every one of them was out and about this afternoon.
(Incidentally the world record for the most nationalities in a sauna at the same time is 57. Not that I let myself get side-tracked at all.).
The Yuen Po Street Bird garden was build in 1997 on the site of the near derelict former bird market as a way to improve the environment and to provide a much needed clean up of the area to keep the tourists flocking in (sorry I couldn’t resist at least one bird related pun).
The gardens and courtyards are a beautiful oasis of calm in a overcrowded bustling area of the city. If you make it there in the early morning you will be treated to the sounds of dozens of songbirds both in chorus and competition as owners take their pets for a stroll and compare specimens. Later in the morning the sellers arrive with their hundreds upon hundreds of caged birds for sale and everything you could ever need to pamper and preen you pet from ornate 6 foot metal cages to hessian sacks full of live crickets for feeding time.
Whilst I’m not a big fan of caged birds in general it was a fascinating insight into the everyday rituals and habits of the city’s residents. From the old men singing softly to their charges and lovingly feeding them honey water (to keep their throats lubricated), to the excited youngster picking their first pets and marvelling at the beautiful Macaw’s on show, it was something I will never forget.
Long before I was satisfied the kids had had enough,(one was freaking out and the other bored), so I called time on the bird market and we crossed the road to Flower Market Street. No prizes for guessing what goes on here.
This is THE place to get your blooms in Hong Kong, everything from a single stem to a multinational hotel chain’s floral displays are sold here 5am-7pm every day. Everywhere you turn your senses are beguiled with richness of colour and smell, it is almost overwhelming. From the tiny spouts of a young bamboo plant to towering palms, from the delicate pale hues of a fragile single blossom to the bold and, more often than not, ostentatious lobby displays, it’s all here on one street. But for me nothing could top the orchids.
From the small brittle stripy petalled ‘Acampe’ to the subtle seductive ‘Vanilla’. This is what heaven must smell like.
Once again my reverie was broken by the small peoples verdict of ‘s’alright I s’pose’ and their general calls for food and or a sit down pulled me back to the present and it was time to move on once more.
With one more street market under our belt on the way we found ourselves on ‘Fish Market Street’. I have to say that although the Anglicised street names may lack a little imagination and poetry, it certainly makes it an easy part of the city to navigate.
By now we were all a little hot and weary and after a couple of stores I found myself, for once today, agreeing with the ‘youth vote’ as we all reached the conclusion that it was all just a lot of old carp.
The sight of some admittedly rather cute and fluffy kittens for sale stopped the girls in their tracks, but it was the sight of a nearby MTR station that soothed my aching sloes.
Next stop Kowloon harbour for a much needed coffee and an with an hour or so to wait for the evenings event to take place we took the opportunity to admire the setting sun and generally sit still and not do any shopping for a little while. As we waited we got chatting to some ‘locals’ who turned out to have lived a few miles away from us in Bedfordshire for a number of years. Thousands of miles across the world and I meet someone from Luton. Really, what are the chances of that?
As the sunset turned rapidly to darkness and the crowds on the harbour wall swelled it was time for the ‘Symphony of lights’ to begin. This is a nightly event that sees the buildings on the opposite shore take starring roles. The music begins, and the main buildings are ‘introduced’ one by one to the crowd with a twinkle of their exterior lighting. For the next 15 minutes over 40 buildings ‘perform’ a synchronised music and light show topped with searchlights and lasers and, if you happen to be there n a celebration day, a stunning pyrotechnic display is added to the show. As bizarre as it is entertaining it is a must see for visitors to this utterly bonkers city.
The only thing to mar the evenings display was the presence of 5 police boats in the harbour searching for the body of someone recently departed form the end of the pier. But at least they dimmed their search during the show so it wouldn’t interfere with our enjoyment (really, they did)…..
When it was all over, and the police resumed their grim task away from the gaze of the crowd, we decided to revisit temple street for one last burst of shopping. We hadn’t quite covered all of the market the previous night so headed straight for the north end where we found gadgets galore and tourist trinkets as far as the eye could see. Somehow this end of the market didn’t seem quite so much fun and very few items made it into the shopping bags (I may have sneaked in a leather bound notebook, but my stationery habit is under control. I could stop any time I wanted to).
When we hit temple square the atmosphere changed in an instant. Gone were the myriad of fortune tellers and impromptu roadside karaoke shacks with their happy drunken singers and in their place was something a lot less palatable. As with every city there are sights which really should not be seen. I must admit I wasn’t expecting to walk into an opium trading den in the middle of a tourist route, but that’s exactly what we found at the intersection of north and south markets.
The smell was the first hint as you entered the square it hit you like a wall, the acrid bitter fumes in stark contrast to the floral delights experienced a few hours previously. Then I noticed the shambling dead-eyed mad walking around in no particular direction looking like he would topple at any second and the not so furtive dealings taking place on the temple steps with notes and small packages changing desperate hands in full view.
Needless to say I ushered the girls out as soon as I could and called it a night, all desire for further exploration drained in those few seconds. Time to go to bed.
We were all exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel and with no looming weather to interrupt us we tried to get some rest. Hubs would be joining us early next morning and from the Macau ferry terminal we would all go for a much needed soothing relaxing quiet family day out on what was predicted to be a blazing hot day at the peak of the Chinese holiday period to the biggest and busiest theme park in South China.
Hmm didn’t really think that one through did we….