Taken from the Chinese word that literally means ‘fragrant harbour’, Hong Kong evokes, even by name, bedazzling aromas of incense and sandalwood that once enchanted its trading ports. Today, the saline winds of the South China Sea continues to stimulate the senses in this bustling metropolis, which has come to adopt high-sounding reputations of being the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, a cultural rendezvous between the East and West, one of the world’s top Shopping Paradises, and most of all, Asia’s esteemed international city.
As a local, however, I do not conceive of the city in terms of the spectacular skyline or glamorous shopping malls, though I would not refute the credit they are due. Rather, it’s the more underrated aspects of Hong Kong that charm me – not the urban, but the suburban; not the luxurious, but the quotidian; not the extravagant, but the simple and accessibly joys that this vibrant city has to offer.
Step into one of my favourite areas of Hong Kong that is Sham Shui Po. It is possibly one of the most authentic glimpses into local culture and Old Hong Kong lifestyle and architecture left – one largely unadulterated by voracious urbanism or colonial and expatriate impact. As one of the poorest districts of Hong Kong, host to many ex-refugees and gentlefolk that are steeply embedded in the history of the Communist struggle in China, Sham Shui Po is a must-go for anyone who is keen to strike up revealing conversations with friendly locals who will happily divulge their life stories in broken Chinglish. Of course, the deal must surely be sealed by the eclectic jumble of outrageously affordable electronics and second-hand computer accessories that Ap Liu Street Market offers, or the wholesale fabrics and cheap textiles showcased in the clothes market on Cheung Sha Wan Road. From street stalls of Buddhist palm readers telling your fortune, to strange and wonderful open-air street food catered by Dai-Pai-Dongs (directly translated to “restaurant with big license plate”); Sham Shui Po will immerse its inhabitants in a world of imagination, where the past of the city contends with the present.
Stepping away from the urban and into the countryside, one of the most underrated aspects of Hong Kong is surely its mountains and coastal beaches that are only unique to the geography of this island metropolis. Don your hiking gear, and take a walk on the many country trails that Hong Kong has to offer. My personal favourite would definitely have to be the Dragon’s Back trail that spans the mountain ranges of the Southern district, which descends into the breathtaking gulf of Shek O, where one will find a stunning beach with an excellent selection of seafood restaurants and barbeque pitches. Alternatively you may stroll along the beautiful and peaceful promenade that enwraps the contour of the cliffs between Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay. It also serves as a great jogging route, and is without a doubt one of my favourite secret places in Hong Kong.
Finally, for the true city dwellers and night owls out there, Lan Kwai Fong will no doubt satiate the longing for a good night out with its array of pubs, bars and clubs. But for me, the true colours of city life thrive in Soho, where young musicians, fashion designers and start-up artists find a worthy platform to express their talents. With its warehouses and mini art galleries displaying creative and new-age paintings, clothes, accessories and furniture, Gough Street is definitely the hub for urbanites and ‘hipsters’; while jazz bars such as Skylark Lounge and Peel Fresco offer a relaxing escape from the restless noises and busyness of the city. The famed night life of this sleepless cosmopolitan will be sure to impress even the most rave-loving and nocturnal of you.
Photo credit: Charmaine Che