We do love a good public transport system and Hong Kong’s is one of the best. It’s so quick and efficient that we arrived 45 minutes early to meet up with our guide for the day and were forced to while away the time eating egg tarts.
Ivan proved to be a young local who was equally excited to share his knowledge of his home as he was to show show us pictures of his young son. He quickly introduced us to the deep inequality that lies at Hong Kong’s heart with an explanation of the way where you live is pretty much entirely income-driven.
We’d heard some of that the night before over dinner with our friends Andy and Ying, but talking to Ivan who’s at the bottom end of the tree really drove it home. Andy and Ying live on the main Hong Kong Island at Telegraph Bay. We had a lovely visit to their apartment and then a great Chinese meal about 15 minutes from their home. Cal and Dec had a great time with the other two boys, the elder of whom is exactly the same age as Declan. The only fly in the evening’s ointment, and it was a large fly, was that Declan lost his phone somewhere along the way.
Anyway, this morning we started off with a visit to a Taoist temple. The temple was absolutely packed with people looking for a hint of their fortune and some divine intercession. Ivan showed us how to throw the joss sticks and read the results, something many people were doing for real always accompanied by the drifting smoke from burning incense sticks. The temple is the oldest in Hong Kong, although that isn’t saying much since it was built in the 1920s.
In keeping with the theme of worship we then visited a Buddhist nunnery. In stark contrast to the Taoist temple, the nunnery was a calm oasis with hardly anyone around. Ivan explained the obvious – Taoism draws the crowds because you get immediate gratification in this life. The wooden nunnery was lovely and surrounded by a perfect Chinese garden. It all looks ancient but is in fact only a few years old and was built by the Chinese government to remind the wayward Hong Kong residents of their cultural roots. We never did get to the bottom of why the Chinese government would support a Buddhist temple.
Leaving heaven behind for more earthly pursuits we then visited the poorest living area in Hong Kong and its street market. Live chickens getting their throats cut, vendors frying up pig intestines, live fish being gutted, a snake soup shop, shark fins – there was an awful lot of off-putting stuff on way or another. Fascinating without a doubt, but not appetising.
The markets are jammed between slab-sided apartment blocks with washing hanging out of myriad windows. Inside the blocks families are crammed into 5m-square ‘apartments’, which is illegal but a blind-eye is turned because there is nowhere else for the people to go.
The second part of the market, however, was where all the electronics falling off the back of trucks from the black factories of China ends up. Anything you can think of in the way of electronics, with starting prices starkly lower than at home. Declan was in heaven running about and finding ever more cheap things. Ivan had certainly read the group well.
Our final stop was for late lunch at exactly the sort of place we’d never have gone without a guide. It was a tiny restaurant jammed to bursting with people and with a long queue outside the door. Every couple of minutes a stern Chinese woman would come out and scream at the queue until imperiously picking a couple of people to go in an sit in the available spaces on plastic chairs. The menu was a scribble on a whiteboard all in Chinese, but no one was using it because they really only serve two things with some slight variation. So we had fantastic Hong Kong noodles with meat and eggs, and a sort of French toast with a mixture of jams and egg inside it. This was accompanied by a local favourite – a mixture of coffee and tea: I’m still not entirely certain why you’d pollute a coffee with tea, but there you go. It was incredibly tasty, risibly cheap, and a cool experience.