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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 October 2010

City of Five Senses

We only had a three day stopover in Hong Kong, but still got a taste of this epic city. Of course, we also had a number of chores to do, buying contact lenses and getting haircuts. I was mauled cruelly by a Hong Kong hairdresser and am now sporting a “Nigel Kennedy”.

So how about trying to use my five senses to describe the city?

Hong Kong is a city of constant noise, from the air-conditioning that has to be on all night in our tiny guest house room to the strangely plaintive whine of cantonese waitresses in the restaurants. From the top of Victoria Peak (where the panorama above was taken) we could still hear the city below us as a constant engineroom thrum. On Friday there was a celebration and fireworks on the harbour. The fireworks were epic, but most memorable was the throbbing, resonating reverberation of the thunder of the explosions from the vast glass walls of the skyscrapers.

Of course, Hong Kong is a culinary city and even a dose of gut-rot picked up in Madagascar wasn’t going to stop me enjoying it. At dim sum restaurants the staff amble around with trolleys of food and you just ask for whatever is passing by that looks good (they don’t usually have enough English to actually explain what it is). Our first dim sum meal was at a seafood restaurant which actually had an English translated menu, and we tried “fried fish skull” amongst other things. This was nowhere near the most outlandish thing on the menu…

There is lots and lots to see out on the streets of Hong Kong, as the photo gallery ought to show. Our favourite area was probably Mong Kok, a more traditional area in the north of Kowloon which isn’t such a solidly tourist area as the more central parts. Here vivid billboards for new mobile devices vie for attention with the more traditional neon signs in Cantonese, the streets are thronged with people and you’ll find a high-tech sports shoe shop next to a grubby kiosk selling nothing but crabs. There was also a whole street pretty much dedicated to selling goldfish.

Scents that I recall include strongly herbal smells coming out of traditional medicine shops, amazing barbecued porky smells from the back of restaurants, incense burning in long traditional coils, fishy smells from market stalls selling dried… things, and a strange rancid smell that I never identified but which I smelled outside a few different places and am pretty sure is some kind of questionable food!

The main sensation of touch I will take away from Hong Kong is stickiness. My own stickiness, because as soon as you walk outside the hot clammy air wraps you in a big sweaty hug. Air conditioning is all-pervasive in Hong Kong; as you trudge along a sweltering street you are regularly blasted by cold air pouring from a swanky shop. I’m half inclined to believe this is a deliberate inducement, much the way fast food chains are supposed to pump burger smell into the air outside their branches. Because after twenty minutes on the street, a short break in an air-conditioned shop seems like heaven. And yet the air-con is so savage that we saw plenty of locals actually pulling on cardigans and sweaters when they went inside. Of course it’s a vicious circle: to cool the air inside the air-con has to pump hot air outside – London is typically 2-3 degrees hotter than the surrounding countryside, and I’m inclined to believe Hong Kong probably boasts double that artificial overheating!

8 Responses to “City of Five Senses”

  1. Elle says:

    Were the fireworks for an occasion?

    • shortclaws says:

      There were thousands of locals there, so the fireworks were definitely for an occasion. We never found out what, though! Well, except that it was sponsored by Samsung. ; )

  2. Asmita says:

    Fireworks look fab.. specially the reflection in the buildings. The five senses almost took me to HK.. Thanks for sharing.. Take care , keep well and keep blogging

    • shortclaws says:

      I hope all the stuff we put on the blog will be valuable for us in years to come, when we try and remember our year away. But it’s great fun to share too, and to get comments back. These fireworks were definitely the biggest I’ve ever seen, but my favourite display ever was still New Year’s Eve in Venice – if you ever want a very special New Year trip, that’d be my tip.

  3. Nessa says:

    It still says you are in hong kong! Or maybe my phone isn’t updating properly! x

  4. Adrian says:

    I suspect the unpleasant smell you mention was coming from the cooked entrails take-away/shops.

    I remember a block of them near Mong Kok, on the TST side off the right hand side of Nathan Road; and no doubt they’re elsewhere too.

    They certainly looked like tripe at a distance, and (with the smell) at a distance was all I was prepared to risk. The smell was truly vile. There seemed to be a number of them around Kowloon.

    When I was in HK I would walk a few blocks away the known locations, just to avoid the smell. Truly stomach churning.

    I wish I’d managed to catch the fireworks on my trip!

    • shortclaws says:

      Cooked entrails would certainly be likely! A dish of andouillette (tripe sausage) I enjoyed in France recently was making my friends visibly gag at the table! But then, I’ll eat anything. Once.

      We never did find out what the fireworks were in celebration of, but judging by the appalling throng of people it must have been a special occasion for locals too.

      Would love to return to Hong Kong for at least a week next time.

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