It is easy to remember Hong Kong for its enormous variety of food and leisure, and the way these can be relished in quick time. But for me, Hong Kong is also about neatness, planning, seamless transport and the no-fuss attitude of its street vendors who make budget shopping a memorable experience.
Hong Kong delighted me in several ways. The manner in which people of the city have overcome challenges posed by nature, created opportunities for themselves and made the city one of the top business hubs of the world seemed worth emulating.
Hong Kong, which became a special administrative region (SAR) of China in 1997 after 150 years of British administration, has few natural resources. Given that it’s tiny (its land area is only 1,073 sq km), most commercial and residential buildings shoot skyward. Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers in the world for any city.
The city’s small area has its own advantages for a tourist. For instance, the city’s historic tram, it’s mass transit railway (MTR) system, colourful taxis, double-decker buses and the famous star ferry can all be experienced one after the other within a few hours while hopping from one place to the other.
Hong Kong has shops to cater to every pocket and taste and there is enough for a budget tourist to explore. I, too, searched for options that were not hard on the pocket.
The Ladies’ Market near Mong Kok MTR station had vendors selling an array of products including bags, purses, shoes, track suits, T-shirts and accessories. A large number of products were for ladies and they were also the ones managing most of the stalls.
I bargained to bring down prices, but it was not always easy. A survey of the market helped identify vendors who seemed inclined to bring down prices. Trials were not allowed on garments and one had to go by one’s estimation. Several vendors seemed to have difficulty with English but, nevertheless, managed to communicate in a business-like manner.
The evening market near Sham Shui Po MTR station was also quite an experience and I found a few people from India and Pakistan surreptitiously selling their wares, mostly garments and shoes, on the pavement. They told me that they did not have valid documents to engage in jobs or businesses and were planning to return home in due course. The present tensions between India and Pakistan did not matter to them as they stayed and dined together. They kept track of domestic developments in their countries through WhatsApp messages and the Internet.
The market had an array of products including watches, clocks, toys, phones, accessories and electronic goods. But one had to be careful about prices. A wireless microphone Hifi speaker, being sold by a street vendor at HK$150 (Rs 1,260), was priced at a nearby shop for HK$280.
I also realised the enormous spread of China-made goods and the variation in their prices at different places. An alarm clock I had seen in a gift shop in east Delhi for Rs 500 was available at a local shop in the market for HK$35 (Rs 315) and I could purchase it for HK$32 (Rs 288) after a little bargaining. Quite a steal!
But while Sham Shui Po is a working class neighbourhood, I also spotted a street market in upmarket Wan Chai. Here, the quality of products was better though a little higher priced. There were also no-frills shops along some the main roads in Wan Chai which offered good quality garments, purses and bags at very decent prices.
Hong Kong offers a rich variety of cuisine and has thousands of restaurants to cater to various tastes. Apart from venues for fine dining, the city has several road-side eateries which offer a mind-boggling variety of non-vegetarian stuff.
There are options for vegetarians too, but one has to look at the menu and the medium of cooking carefully. Indian food is also becoming increasingly popular and vegetarianism is gaining ground with the “Green Monday” campaign.
Hong Kong’s cleanliness is remarkable and demonstrated to me the vast distance we have to cover to make our cities clean despite programmes like Swachh Bharat (Clean India).
Tourists have their hands full in Hong Kong and are spoilt for choice. Apart from its well-known attractions like Disneyland and Ocean Park, Hong Kong offers a lot to explore including beaches, city parks, museums, harbour views, cycling, modern architecture and visits to outlying islands.
The city also takes continuous care of its infrastructure to keep it world class. The traffic flows smoothly on well-planned roads and magnificent bridges. An express rail link is being built to provide speedy connectivity with mainland China. The transport system in Hong Kong is neatly integrated and provides multiple options to reach a destination depending on time and money a traveller is willing to spend.
Hong Kong, it was clear, innovates constantly to create opportunities for its people and new avenues of recreation for tourists.