Taking the bus was an insight into life in Hong Kong.
Red lanterns danced in the breeze; each doorway was adorned with a string of lanterns, some plain, others beautifully decorated. Interspersed amongst the lanterns were balloons in the shape of pigs – a reminder that this was the year of the pig. Public transport stops and road signs were in both Cantonese and English and I saw many advertisements for lessons in both languages. I was reminded of the ease with which many locals spoke to me in English, and of their kindness and willingness to help even when we could not communicate easily.
The distinctive red, white and green 7-Eleven sign was everywhere, as was the red and white Circle K logo. Many locals stood at bus stops with suitcases, perhaps returning from or travelling to visit family for the celebrations. Locals and foreigners kept to the auspicious red colour scheme; the former had dressed in shades of red, and the latter were fanning their red faces and sweating copiously.
Many shops were closed but as the bus passed a dim sum restaurant I saw a group eating char siu buns and was instantly reminded of the delicious barbecued pork buns I had eaten the previous evening and for the past four days – trust me, they are irresistible.
I passed a cemetery with row upon row of graves built upwards, fanning out on a cliff overlooking a bay. Many had told me of the tiny apartments and increasingly crowded city. In a city with barely enough space for the living, somehow, space has been made for the dead.
We headed over to Tsim Tsa Tsui for the Chinese New Year Parade. Nathan Road was packed with locals and tourists scouting out the best location from which to view the parade. We met a group of students who introduced us to “Club 7-Eleven” – since alcohol is expensive at bars, most locals buy their drinks at one of the many convenience stores dotted around the city and drink it on the pavement… and since it was CNY the atmosphere was electric. I spotted some people seated at a Starbucks in a skyscraper – they had a great view. Meanwhile, on the ground I was experiencing the buzz (thanks to both Club 7-Eleven and the parade) but couldn’t see much more than a sea of heads in front of me broken by the occasional child sitting on their parent’s shoulders. We decided to head over to the promenade; looking over at Central from Kowloon I could see a mass of skyscrapers reaching up beyond the fog. Brightly lit outlines embellished with flashing lights and neon signs, their reflections in the water were sliced through as ferries travelled back and forth. Nat Geo lists the Star Ferry as a top 50 lifetime experience; I agree. At 30 British pence this is one of the cheapest lifetime experiences you can have!
We came across an unexpected vantage point near the Star Ferry terminal. A troupe of Spanish dancers twirled through the streets in a flurry of purple satin and sequins followed by an American basketball team. I genuinely thought this was a group of friends who had signed up for a free trip to Hong Kong as all they did was dribble and pass the ball to kids in the crowd but the crowd loved them so I guess their tickets were worth it (note to self: maybe I should say I play ball and sign up for next year’s parade?!). There was an outrageously cute float with giant inflatable penguins and starfish, and of course, how could it be a CNY parade without several dragons twirling their way through the streets.
I need to work on my return trip. It’s time to get a basketball and get my head in the game.