Hong Kong, the city that opium built, is a hub of wealth, power and finance. Many visitors only see that side – the skyscrapers, the Victorian buildings, colorful alleys: The mix of east and west.
Hong Kong is home to 284,901 foreign domestic helpers. Women from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand come to HK to work, sending money home. Sunday is their day off.
On Sundays you can see large groups of domestic workers in parks and public spaces. Gathering by nationality, they share food, play music, and enjoy a day away from their task which include caring for children and housekeeping.
It was hot. Really hot. Like melt you into a puddle of liquid hot. Fry an egg on the sidewalk hot. That’s Hong Kong in the summer: Humidity so bad you need a machete to cut through the water in the smoggy air.
I was working a trade show at the convention center, staying at Chungking Mansion – home to Hong Kong’s illegal immigrants, back-packers, low-cost hookers and drug dealers and I had pneumonia: My mood was less than pleasant.
But, I was meeting with Michael from Expatriate Games, a long time internet friend, a photographer who’s work I admire and respect. We planned on hitting Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. The century-old temple is famous with tour groups, policemen and gangsters.
Did I say it was hot? Up the escalator to the mid-level, a hike down Hollywood Road and we arrived at the place of worship. I had been there before – several times. When I am at a loss as to what to do while in Central I make a beeline for Man Mo. Other local photographers were shooting inside the dark, smokey room. The No Photography signs are usually not enforced by the temple staff as hordes of tourists pour through the building each day.
After shooting some run-of-the-mill images we were treated to something spectacular – the reason the local photographers were on station. The ceiling of the temple is a collection of circular hanging incense. The smoke from these offerings offers visitors sweet suffocation. The roof of the main chamber is open in areas to allow the smoke to escape – taking prayers and appeasement to the deities being honored. These open areas also allow the sunlight direct access to the inside of the cavern-like temple.
Rays of light cut through the smoke. It was something magical to see – and catnip to shutterbugs. We snapped away until the temple staff intervened and a near-physical altercation occurred between them and the local photogs.
If you’re in Hong Kong on a sunny afternoon head over to the Man Mo Temple – between 2 and 4 pm should give you the same opportunity. Play it cool let The Man raise his hand.
A factory dormitory overlooks the ponds in Humen China where nineteenth century “Drug Zsar” Lin Zexu destroyed 1.2 million kilos of British opium in 1839. The site, part of the Opium War Museum in Humen, China, is still used to symbolic destroy narcotics during anti-drug campaigns.
Lin wrote to England’s Queen Victoria and asked: By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people?
Humen, often overlooked by travelers, features two fantastic musuems, and several historic sites including the fortifications used to fight the invading British forces.
A beam of light to fall on the wall of the Law Uk Folk Museum in Chai Wan, Hong Kong. The museum is a restored Hakka home. The 120 square metre dwelling is modest: Featuring a drying room, workshop, dining room, and lofted bedrooms.
The Hakka people, from Guangdong Province, China, moved to the Chai Wan area during the 18th century. They cleared the land and farmed. The last of the families moved away during the 1960s. The Hong Kong government decided to save the last Hakka home in the 1970s and opened it as a museum in 1990.
Prayers at the Yonghe Temple in Beijing, China. The temple is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist temples in the world. The temple was built in 1694 and was the residence of Qing Dynasty court eunuchs. It served as court for Prince Yong (Yin Zhen) before being converted to a Lamasery, a monastery for Buddhist monks. The temple features an 18 meter sandalwood carving of Buddha, one of the largest of it’s type in the world.
Yonghe Temple is in Beijing’s Dongcheng District and easily accessible at the at the Yonghegong stop of lines 2 and 5 on the Beijing Metro.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.