March 28, 2016

Hong Kong Hello!

Hello from Hong Kong where I have spent the last week attending Art Basel Hong Kong and generally enjoy the sights and sounds of this fabulous city.  As far as the art fair - I think it was a huge popular success but the recent downturn in the Chinese economy meant cautious buyers and less than stellar sales.  But I'm not here to report on the state of the art market, I'm here to share some of the fun activities unique to Asia's World City!

View of Hong Kong from Kowloon

Despite anticipation of warm, sunny days, the weather here has been rainy, windy and chilly, making me even more grateful for Central's extensive system of underground passages and covered pedestrian walkways.  As some of my readers may remember, I had visited Hong Kong once before, about four years ago, and visited many of the main attractions then.  This time I wanted to see a little more of Hong Kong Island and last Thursday morning boarded a double decker Citybus for the 45 minute ride up and over the mountains and down to the other side.

Even though the weather did not cooperate, the views were spectacular as we drove from the heart of Central, past the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Race Track, climbing up through the Mid and Upper Levels via Wong Nai Chung Gap Road until descending toward the beautiful beaches of Repulse Bay...

The road was narrow, steep and winding and the bus ride was a little more thrilling than most I've experienced, but we made it safely and on time in the historic town of Stanley, on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island.  Founded during the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620) as Chek Chu, the village was re-named after Lord Stanley, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, around 1841.  At that time Stanley was one of the most populated regions on Hong Kong Island and it became the base for the British garrison.  It continued as a center for military and police operations with strong fortifications built against attacks from the sea and the largest prison in Hong Kong.

 Stanley Beach facing East

Stanley Beach facing West

Stanley Fort was the scene of fierce fighting between British and Canadian forces mounting a last stand against Japanese invaders during the Battle of Hong Kong.  The few remaining survivors surrendered in December 1941 and were interned, along with government officers and and foreign civilians, in the former British barracks during the period that Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation.

Since the 1970's Stanley has capitalized on its beautiful beaches and proximity to Hong Kong to become a popular seaside tourist town.  Its restored historic area features Murray House, a Victorian era barracks formerly located in Central and re-located brick by brick to Stanley Main Street where it now functions as a shopping mall, and Blake Pier, another transplant from Central that allows access to the water for both pedestrians and boaters.

In 2011 the town of Stanley opened Ma Hang Park, a nature preserve that also houses the historic Pak Tai Temple.  Built in 1805 when Stanley was a major fishing port, the temple is dedicated to the protector of fisherman (God of the North) and is still very actively visited by worshipers.  Originally constructed out of local rocks and maintained by the villagers, it now contains few of the authentic furnishings and is managed by the government, but still provides a glimpse of the area's history and a lovely view over the bay.

Another historic temple can be found at the end of Stanley Main Street, near the Stanley Plaza.  This one is dedicated to Tin Hau, named the "Empress of Heaven" after her death around the year 1000 in recognition of her life of holiness and miracles and for her ability to rescue people in danger.  The Stanley Tin Hau Temple was founded in 1767 and Tin Hau's powers were quite literally put to the test in 1942 when two Japanese bombs hit the temple but failed to explode, thereby sparing the people sheltering inside its walls.

A few steps away on Stanley Main Street is a group of three small buildings that comprise the Tai Wong Temple dedicated to Hung Shing, a deity popular in Southern China but whose particular importance I could not determine but this temple apparently has good Feng Shui.

These days Stanley is probably best known for its market, a maze of tiny shops filled with goods mainly for the tourist trade.  With the inclement weather the plastic sheeting covered walkways did provide some shelter, and while maybe not the finest example of Chinese arts and crafts I did find a few good souvenirs to bring back home.

After a late lunch in a beach side restaurant it was time to catch the bus back over the mountains to downtown Hong Kong.  Once again the ride was "stimulating", to put it nicely, but the vistas were truly breathtaking.  My day trip to Stanley provided an interesting counterpoint to the big city hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and was a great way to see a different side of this amazing island.

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