A city on its feet

Hong Kong

A city on its feet

As Hong Kong celebrated the Chinese New Year, Anupama Ramakrishnan explored the city draped in festivities, binging on local delicacies and indulging in New Year rituals.

I had never been so overwhelmed to see so many sneakers on the road. Moments after arriving in Hong Kong, it dawned on me that here is a city that loves to walk. And it was only wise that I join the trail.

Some journeys are destinations in themselves. As I sunk into the black leather seats on Tigerair, which was to take me to Singapore, and eventually to Hong Kong, I was assured of a comfortable passage. The pre-booked hot meals, that came as part of TigerPlus services, were a world away from the cold cuts one is sometimes left to deal with. And there was more in the offing.

The agony of killing time during transit nullifies as you step into the SATS Premier Lounge in Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 2 — quite a bonus for TigerPlus passengers. At the lounge, there is plenty of room to rest and relax.

Before long, I was ready for my second leg of the tour — from Singapore to Hong Kong. There had already been much food for thought, but when my platter came,  hot and piping, it was more than welcome. Although this was no culinary expedition, I found it well-orchestrated — nasi lemak, Devil’s curry chicken, Hawaiian tomato pesto pasta, vegetarian tomato koora and more. I had picked the latter and was content.

A walk around the block

A splendid time to be in Hong Kong, people say, is during the Chinese New Year. It’s hard to disagree. Notwithstanding the nip in the air, families were out dressed in their best, kids in tow. Even the prams were living it up and the adorable canine friends were wrapped in traditional silk and fur jackets.

It was Chinese New Year’s Eve and the flower markets at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay were pulsating with energy. Si (market in Cantonese), I was told, was an essential part of daily life there, as indeed they are in many parts of the world.

My meanderings led me to discover the city’s fetish for flowers, fashion and fish, not necessarily in that order. The Mandarin oranges, I heard over and over again, brought good fortune. The golden fruits were carried home like trophies. It was a portal to a culture. In an essentially westernised life, this was a time when tradition returns.

I tried the red sweet-on-a-stick bingtanghulu, and soaked in the sights. The fair got heavier by night and traditional greetings rented the air. For the people there though, the night was still young. But I had had a long day and retiring seemed to be a good option.
The Luxe Manor, the boutique hotel, where I was to spend the next five nights, was a world of surrealism. The throne-like couch in the reception was the highlight in a lobby inspired by Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi. The centrepiece, an old Master Q chair, held the pride of place clearly. Art was beating, everywhere.

As dawn broke on the ‘Well-Wishing Day’, the entire city seemed to have converged at the Lam Tsuen ‘Wishing Trees’ for a rendezvous with tradition. A banyan tree was decked with paper streamers tied to oranges. Zelo Dai, who works with Hong Kong Tourism Board, narrated it all — you write a wish on a piece of paper, tie it to the citrus fruit, and throw it into the tree. Lady luck will favour you if your fruit gets lodged in the branches.

The New Year’s Day lunch was a revelation. Food in Hong Kong, though basically Cantonese, is as international as it can get. While I had dim sums in mind, I soon realised the platter had more than that at the Hyatt in Tsim Sha Tsui. There seems to be a mindfulness in everything done in the City, and the cuisines as well.

I had my share of fai chun, the traditional decoration, that evening. Fai chun contains blessings and prayers. The calligraphy artist took great pains in helping the visitors dabble with Chinese calligraphy. Although it left an indelible impression on me, my attempt at the art was less than satisfactory.

As dusk fell, at the Victoria Harbor, one could feel the anticipation. The stage was set for one of the finest displays in the world — the Cathay Pacific New Year Night Parade. Living up to the theme ‘Playground of the World — Party of the Year’, floats after floats and exceptional talents from different countries moved past. There were lion dances, percussion bands, ballets, samba dancers and what not! The freezing hands notwithstanding, the air held a warmth of joie-di-vivre.

The highest point in this trip, to me, was taking the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. Asia’s oldest funicular, the tram carries you vertically to the Peak. From the Sky Terrace 428 on the Peak, I could see the sea surrounded by skyscrapers, the harbour, the green hills and the Lugard Road curling the Peak and nesting bungalows. In the world beneath, I could spot the joggers. This was heights of a picturesque bounty. Talking of heights, I took a ride in the 60-metre-high Hong Kong Observation Wheel that evening. The 360-degree-view of the skylines and the Harbour cannot but be fathomed only by the senses. The dinner that evening at ‘Jamie’s Italian’, was quite an Italian affair.

Nightlife

As night fell, the fireworks display began. The Hong Kong Island skyline lit up the evening for a good 23 minutes as nostalgic golden oldies played in the background. Paens have been sung about the fireworks, but that evening, that part of the world had came to a standstill!

By now, I was getting accustomed to the rather cold weather, but not the sneakers!

The next day was called Chec Hao, and according to Chinese tradition, not a good one for getting into a spat. My destination was Ngong Ping 360. The cable car ride from Tung Chung was something I was looking forward to. With its glass bottom, the crystal cabin offered a feast to the eyes.

Ngong Ping is the site of the Buddha statue and the Po Lin Monastery. Through the glass panes, I saw the walking trails over Lantau. Slowly, the Tian Tan Buddha appeared. Seated 34 metres high on the top of a lotus, it brings in tourists and believers alike. Climbing the stairs was no trivial task, but for the many who converged there, it seemed like a meditative experience. Fortunately, no spat happened!

I was glad the next day was spent in The Ocean Park in Aberdeen. The park has well 70 attractions and I was quite at sea admiring the marvels of the ocean. Next to the grand aquarium, I could admire fishes like the manta ray, hammerhead sharks, tunas, Napoleon wrasse, and of course, the sea lion, at close quarters.

As I walked through The Times Square that evening, the city unravelled its conventional and unconventional side and the fact that how two worlds can co-exist as one. Journeys often lead to secret destinations and revelations. I had mine — of trivias in street corners, of cuisines beyond dim sums, and how it is time to get a new pair of sneakers!

How to get there:

Tiger Air operates seven weekly flights on Bengaluru-Singapore route and from there to Hong Kong. With Tiger Plus, travellers can enjoy privileges such as access to SATS Premier Lounge at Changi Airport, Singapore, and priority boarding. One can also have a hassle-free transit experience at Changi Airport with Tiger Connect. There is no need to pass through immigration or collect checked-in baggage for onward flight. For details, log in to www.tigerair.com

Where to stay:

The Luxe Manor at Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. For details, log on to www.theluxemanor.com.
For more information, visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website: www.discoverhongkong.com

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