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April 16, 2024

Explore the old and new in Hong Kong

By CARTER BANKER | February 22, 2012

After being in Beijing, the capital of China, I was assuming that Hong Kong would be similar. Surely a country can't have cities that upstage the capital, right? Wrong. Hong Kong is an extremely modern city that reminds you of New York, except a bit cleaner. Unlike Beijing, there were no glaring signs that this was still a developing country. The people were all smartly dressed in Western high-fashion looks that you might see on the streets of Paris or London, and there were no rickshaws on the road.

This can all be explained by looking at Hong Kong's history. It was a British colony from 1842 at the end of the First Opium war, until 1997 when it was returned to China. But even though Hong Kong is a part of China again, it has its own separate government and is basically Chinese only by name. As a result, everything from the buildings to the political system in Hong Kong is very Western. 10 years ago, my father told me, most people you met in Hong Kong spoke English with a British accent. Today, there are a lot more immigrants from mainland China (Hong Kong is an island, if you didn't know that already), and Chinese is by far the most prominent language (specifically, Cantonese). However, almost everyone speaks and understands English.

I was only in Hong Kong for two days, so I had a very limited amount of time to have the full Hong Kong experience, which included appreciating the old and the new.

Something very unique to Hong Kong that you won't see in cities like Paris or New York are the market streets — a reminder of old China. On my first day in the city, I did a walking tour that took me through the flower market, the bird market and the goldfish market. All three of these markets were very aptly named.

The flower market was abuzz with activity with people making last minute flower purchases before the beginning of Chinese New Year. They had every type of flower and plant imaginable, from bonsai trees, to roses, to orchids, to florescent green and blue carnations.

In the bird market, there were lots of stalls with men selling handmade birdcages and birds. Birds are considered good luck in China, and they are very popular pets among gamblers. I've heard that people even take their birds for walks by carrying their cages around in parks!

The goldfish market was more of an all-encompassing pet market. The goldfish were displayed in plastic bags filled with water outside the shops, packaged and ready to take home. There were also tanks filled with baby turtles and shops filled with puppies.

The last market I visited was the Ladies Market. Like the other markets, I assume that the concept of this one is quite old, however, the products that they sell have changed a lot over time. This market was filled with designer knock-offs, iPhone cases, cheap clothing and even the occasional sex shop.

I continued my exploration of the "newer" side of Hong Kong at the bar in the Intercontinental Hotel, which is famous for having one of the most spectacular views in Hong Kong (the drinking age in Hong Kong is 18). From my table, I was able to watch the famous Hong Kong light show, the biggest in the world.

The next day was the first day of the Chinese New Year, and most stores were closed. I ended up wandering Old Wan Chai's forgotten streets. They were older but didn't look very forgotten or interesting. After wandering up a bunch of steps however, I ended up at the "most haunted" house in Hong Kong — the old brothel that was used by Japanese soldiers in World War II. The building is currently empty, but rumor has it that it is going to be turned into a hotel.

Because everything was closed, I ended up in a mall for lunch. Malls are a very big part of Asian/Hong Kong culture. They are all over the place and filled with stores like Armani, Prada and Marc Jacobs. Apparently, Armani doesn't close for Chinese New Year. Neither does Ruby Tuesdays, which is where I ended up eating lunch. I had really wanted to visit Victoria Peak, the most famous site in Hong Kong, but it was raining, and I knew that visibility would be lousy.

I spent my last night in Hong Kong eating dinner at the Peninsula, the old colonial hotel, and watching the Chinese New Years parade.

If you are interested in studying in Hong Kong, Tufts University offers a study abroad program in Hong Kong that gets very good reviews.


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