Hong Kong, Peoples Republic of China
From the Ships Navigator
Today we will embark the local pilot at 5:30am. Thereafter we will sail on a westerly course towards our berth in Hong Kong. The weather forecast for today predicts an outside temperature of 73 degrees and a fresh breeze blowing from the northeast with a force of 5.
Welcome to Hong Kong, PRC
Hong Kong consists of a mainland on the country’s southeastern coast and about 235 islands. It is bordered on the north by Guangdon Province and on the east, west and south by the South China Sea. Hong Kong was a British dependency from the 1840s until July 1, 1997, when it passed to Chinese sovereignty as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. When Hong Kong was returned to China, it had existed as a British colony for 156 years. Stand amid the forest of skyscrapers in Central and try to imagine the ‘barren island with hardly a house upon it’ that British naval officers surveyed as they hoisted the Union Jack over the empire’s newest addition. It is difficult to picture, for in its headlong dash toward ever-greater prosperity, Hong Kong has worked hard to bury its humble origins. Since reunification with China, Hong Kong has been a Special Zone, operated according to a “one country, two systems policy” to help ease transition and keep the city’s economy thriving. Some residents who had made fortunes in Hong Kong fled to other parts of the world- most notably Canada, the US, Australia and Great Brittan – when the change came. Others, more confident in the future, rebuilt.
Sunrise was not due for almost an hour as we picked up the harbor pilot and continued to sail toward the west to our berth at the Ocean Terminal in Kowloon, less than a half mile across the harbor from Hong Kong. By the time we arrived at 7am both cities were awake, the haze and darkness had diminished and there in all her glory was beautiful Hong Kong. What an exciting panorama spread before me as I walked out on the aft deck of the ms Amsterdam. It took a while to realize that this was HONG KONG!!! Harbor traffic was already moving cargo and people over the waters. Later we learned as we plunged into the throngs, no, masses of people on the streets, this was the start of their three day Memorial Day weekend. Oh, lucky us!
Our shore excursion did not begin until 9:30am so we took advantage of the time to enjoy breakfast and take in the ever changing view of the harbor. Our berth, next to the iconic Star Ferry Terminal, gave us a front row seat to view the popular people ferries as they shuttled across the harbor. All throughout our two day stay, the ballet of harbor traffic never ceased. Small fishing boats, harbor patrol craft, party boats, midsize cargo containers, long distance ferries and ocean going liners moved through the harbor waters without incident.
Kowloon and Hong Kong are now connected by a modern Cross Harbor Tunnel, which what our tour bus driver used to take us on our “Walking Tour of Old and New Hong Kong”. Somewhat of a disappointment, this tour did introduce us to city life. After what seemed the “compulsory” visit to another temple, we were given a chance to “walk” the streets and narrow alleyways, lined with interesting shops. It didn’t take Barbara long to discover some of the items on her Christmas gift list. She was in her element now, as these shop keepers were “in the game” – bargaining game that is! When it became obvious the tour was coming to an end and the bus was headed back to the tunnel, we asked if we could be let off at the Central bus station, and the driver was happy to oblige. Now the real “adventure” that is Hong Kong began.
We boarded the bus that would take us to the tram (Built in 1888) that would carry us 1,800 feet up to Victoria Peak for “splendid views” of surrounding area. Our enthusiasm for this side trip was dashed when we realized the mob of people gathered near the tram ticket booth was a line, a line that extended for some distance and around the corner of a building! Time for plan “B”. Re-boarding the bus, with correct HK $ change now, we started to retrace our steps to the Central Station. Since we had told the driver that we wanted to go to the “World Famous” Stanley Market, he stopped the bus after a short ride and directed us to a seemingly unknown, unseen location. Now in a state of confusion we must have really looked like “lost tourists” as a young Chinese family of four came to our aid as “they were going to the same place we were and we could walk with them”. How cool was that? All four spoke excellent English and while the mother, Barbara and Crystal (9 years) went to the ladies room, the father and I had a good conversation.
Once we determined where we were to stand and wait for our bus to arrive, and depart with us on it, we felt pretty cool. That “cool” would soon vanish as, after boarding, it became apparent that all Chinese bus drivers were retired from the international racing circuit!! Our daily ship’s program had recommended “A ride on a Hong Kong Island double decker bus is a fantastically fun way of experiencing ‘old’ Hong Kong. Try to get a seat at the front window upstairs for a first class view”. Right!! That might have been a great recommendation if one was staying in the city; however our suicide run took us to the other side of the island on a narrow, two lane, winding road. Sitting where we were (as recommended) we lost all perspective as to the location of the bus in relation to other buses and cars heading for us driven by drivers from the same school!! I could just see the byline “Two American Tourists were fatally injured yesterday as they were thrown half way across Hong Kong Island from their seats on a double decker bus”! Obviously we made it.
After several hours of choice shopping in Stanley Market’s maze of shops, it hit me that we would have to retrace our route back to the ship riding with Mario Andrettie’s (SP) brother. By this time I was so tired I could have cared less. Barbara made great progress in retiring names from her Christmas gift list. On our return to “Central” and the Star Ferry terminal, we were to experience another of the fun things to do while in town; “ride the Star Ferry”. These sturdy double deck foot passenger water craft have been in operation since about the turn of the century – 20th that is. This is another to experience “moving with the crowd”. There are three “classes” of service, upper deck, lower deck, and senior citizen. Senior citizens pay nothing to ride but have to do it on the lower deck. Boarding and de-boarding these ferries was an experience in itself, as the boat is still responding to the harbor wave action as it sits by the pier, and you have everyone trying to get off at once on a moving gang plank, just five feet wide!
We were two tired, happy tourists the evening as we raced to our stateroom, tossed our purchases on the bed, changed our clothes (dress casual) and headed for the dining room.
Next report – day two – Hong Kong.
Till time then, we send our regards as we continue to sail south through the South China Sea on our way to beautiful Singapore, and the Equator.
Jack and Barbara