Engaging with locals is one of my favourite ways to learn about and experience a destination. Somewhere like Hong Kong, with its intricate and complex history, and despite its high expat population, lends itself particularly well to local travel, if you know where to look. One of my primary curiosities in visiting Hong Kong was to learn about the changes to life in the city / SAR since the handover from the British to the Chinese in 1997. Lucky for me, there was a Hong Kong Urban Adventures tour that appeared to be just up my alley.
Possession Point, Hong Kong
Walking the history book of Hong Kong from British possession to Chinese handover offered a fascinating insight in to so many aspects of the last couple hundred years in Hong Kong. Starting off at Possession Point, we hear about the British occupation, and learn how they divvied up the land on Hong Kong Island. Much like the British Properties in West Vancouver, the land higher up the mountain was reserved for the British. The further down you went was based on ethnic hierarchy, with Europeans following the Brits, and Chinese occupying the lowest land and, thus, the bottom of the ladder. Now, this area, known mostly as Central and Mid-Levels, houses many of the Western expats who call Hong Kong home.
Incense at Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong
Meandering down Hollywood Road, we got glimpses into the antique distributors, the Man Mo Temple – where incense coils burn in devotion to the gods of war and literature – and caught some peace and calm in a number of the area’s green park spaces. Sitting opposite Statue Square, which has its own share of historical interest, is the HSBC building. One of Hong Kong’s many intriguing bits of architecture; try to figure out what sets it apart from every other building in the city. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the story behind this building was my favourite bit of the tour, and really indicates what the mood was like leading up to the 1997 handover.
HSBC Building, Hong Kong
What I found thoroughly fascinating was listening to our guide, Danny, relay stories of Hong Kong’s past and more recent shift to Chinese rule. Trying to understand the complicated sentiments and complex dynamic that exists since the handover is something you won’t really find in a guidebook. We finished our tour with a view of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the 1997 handover took place. Myself and the other two guests on the tour were brimming with questions about life since the handover, and Danny was happy to oblige. While I know his was only one opinion of several millions of locals, I loved hearing about the little things he notices that are different.
After the tour, I was hankering for some local food. Yet another reason why I love travelling with local guides, like with Urban Adventures, is because they often offer up the best restaurant recommendations. If you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll even get the offer of company, as well!
Danny and I headed over to Kowloon, where his afternoon market tour was set to take off from, and we grabbed a quick bite to eat and chatted about life in Hong Kong. I also got to try Hong Kong-style Western cuisine, the concept of which I found greatly amusing, as we, over here, have typically Western-style Chinese food! My dish was chicken with corn and beans and rice, and a delicious little mango dessert. The food was good, but what I loved most was that I was the only gweilo in the place.
Hong Kong style Western food at Tiffany in Kowloon
Wanting to be as polite as possible, I asked Danny how to say thank you. Explaining that there are two ways to say thank you in Cantonese, he taught me that m goi is used in situations where the service is expected, for instance a restaurant or a taxi. Alternatively, do jeh is used to thank someone for a gift, or to express gratitude. It’s not entirely that simple, but I appreciated that Danny took the time and effort to explain it to me, because the contextual implications of each thank you were easier to understand when coming from a local.
The very pretty Statue Park, Hong Kong
While I believe it’s challenging to truly feel like a local in other cultures and cities, I enjoy striving to learn from locals and experience even the smallest part of life the way they do. My time with Danny and Hong Kong Urban Adventures was great in that sense – I got the opportunity to listen to stories of local life and history, sample local cuisine, and learn the basics in local manners. Next time you find yourself with a few spare hours in Hong Kong, give Danny a call, and please tell him I say hi and do jeh.