Hong Kong Victoria Harbour at Dusk

Hong Kong Victoria Harbour at Dusk
Hong Kong Victoria Harbour at Dusk

Many people think of Hong Kong as a bustling financial center, one of the Asian tigers. The small SAR is also a hub of international shipping. Hong Kong imports most of its goods as it has little in the way of raw materials. It also re-exports materials from mainland China and other Asian nations.

The city is one of glass sky scrapers and back-street markets, of big money and age-old traditions. A stark contrast, black and white, thanks to  Hong Kong’s colonial heritage.

While the city is a contrasted marvel, the harbour, full of dredgers and container ships, is not nearly as picturesque.

Hong Kong: An afternoon in Central Market

Hong Kong Central Markets

There’s a different kind of shopping on Hong Kong Island. To most tourists, shopping in Hong Kong is about big designer names: Gucci, Prada, or Chanel. Or tailored suits, copy watches, and cheap electronics. There’s another dimension to Hong Kong shopping: The alleys of Central District and Central Market.

Even at midday it is dark in the alleys. Walking through the twisted, canvas-covered passages is akin to exploring a network of caverns. The stalls are a riot of color: Fresh meat and fish, vegetables, and medicinal herbs via for attention. Hawkers call out in Cantonese, and shoulders brush as locals do their shopping in the claustrophobic byways.

The Central Street Market encompasses the areas of Graham Street, Peel Street, and Gage Street, and currently has 130 licensed stalls. The market dates to 1841, it was originally called Middle Bazaar. The area is currently slated for redevelopment, with parts of the market area slated for destruction.

Humen China: Stilts on the water

Humen China: Stilts on the Water

The Bocca Tigris is the area near Humen China, where the Pearl River dumps into the South China Sea. Three forts, build before the First Opium War, cover the strategic passage (They didn’t help). The forts are still there, as is this more modern building.

With most Chinese cities densely populated, why not take to the water?

Humen China: Flickering devotions on once-seized land

Humen China Temple Candles
Humen China Temple Candles

Candles at Humen China’s Yuxu Ancient Temple, part of the Lin Zexu Memorial Park, in Humen, Guangdong Province, China. Yuxu is the place in Chinese mythology, where the immortals live. Authorities are unsure when the temple was built.  A stone marker in the temple explains it was repaired in 1800.

Humen was the town where Lin Zexu seized and destroyed opium imported by British traders, and the first town attacked in Britain’s subsequent retaliation: The Opium War.

Humen China: Opium Sky

Opium Sky
Opium Sky

The sky in the opium ponds in Humen, China

The January sky, reflected in one of the ponds in Humen China where Lin Zexu, a Chinese official, destroyed more than 2 million pounds of opium in 1839. British traders sold the drug to Chinese citizens. After the confiscation, the traders convinced the British government to authorize a war of retribution against China.

Guangzhou China: Artisan

Carving jewelery outside of Chen Jia Si, Guangzhou, China.
Carving jewelery outside of Chen Jia Si, Guangzhou, China.

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In Guangzhou China, the artist carves jewelery out of animal bone: Pendants for necklaces, charms for bracelets and anklets.  He offered me a discount on a necklace bearing the carved likeness of an Olympic mascot. I have seen enough of the Beijing Olympic Fuwa(s), thank you very much.

I settled on a break-apart medallion, reminiscent of an ancient Chinese royal seal. One half shows a carved dragon, the symbol of the emperor, the other a phoenix, the symbol of the empress.

Thailand: Boy monks

Boy monks in Thailand

You could call this “Caught in the Act.”  I was roaming through Chiang Mai, Thailand, on a cloudy morning when the boy monks at one of the city’s numerous wats were called to prayer.  As I started snapping through the carved archway this lad turned around.

I seem to have an affinity for urban monks. Maybe it’s how out of place, yet not out of place,  they seem.

Nathan Road Hustle and Bustle

Nathan Road is a busy place at noon. Actually, Nathan Road is a busy place 24 hours a day. Tourists, business people, Indians hawking copy watches and suits, rather swarthy middle-eastern types offering hashish on the sly – this is Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR.

Hong Kong Mongkok mornings

Argyle Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China - One of the most densely populated areas of the world.
Argyle Street, Mongkok, Hong Kong, China – One of the most densely populated areas of the world.

The streets of Hong Kong Mongkok are a little slow as the sun rises on the east, from the east. Mongkok, the area of Kowloon known for retail deals and entertainment, rise as late as it stays up. The backpackers, huddled in cheap guest houses, get a late start on the day, the karaoke bars and lounges the main culprits. Street cleaners banish the mess left by the merrymakers while newsstands and hole-in-the-wall restaurants wait for the rush that will come as the district wakes.

Mongkok is listed by the Guiness Book of World Records as having the highest population density in the world: An estimated 130,000 people per square kilometer. A walk down Argyle Street or Nathan Road on a balmy summer evening is testament to the record. The streets are a seething sea of bodies, returning home, shopping, or out for a stroll. It’s an experience, one many people, even big city veterans, don’t try twice.

The Mongkok area is home to numerous markets, slaking the commerical thirst of travelers and tourists. The Temple Street Night Market, the Goldfish Market, the Flower Market, and Fa Yuen Street (translated: Sport Shoes Street) all do brisk trade – when they eventually open.