Hong Kong New Territories (and a little politics)

Here’s another blog from Hong Kong. If you enjoy it, why not read The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary? It will make you laugh, and you can read it for free if you have a Kindle…

UK link here

From our hotel room, we can see across the city to the mountains. I wanted to visit those mountains, simply to see what was there, so we hired a car (not a hotel car, as that was about £100 an hour, but a car recommended by the concierge). The driver was very chatty, which was fun, as sometimes you learn more from the driver than from what you see. As we drove from the city, he said that lots of the apartments in Hong Kong were being bought as an investment by businessmen in mainland China. They don’t live there, or rent them out, they simply own them as an investment. He said that at night, whole floors of luxury apartment blocks are dark and unoccupied.

We approached the mountains, which are vast areas of wild, covered in trees. We asked if there are still wild animals—mountain lions and deer—which roam the forests. The driver laughed and informed us that Chinese people, “Eat anything with 4 legs except the table!” No animals left then… The mountains are wildlife parks, and people from the city hike in them. Previously, there had been some areas of farming, but all food is now imported.

We drove to Lok Ma Chau Garden. This is a small, peaceful garden full of butterflies (and a weird man who was doing something strange). It has wonderful views, across a marsh, to the tower-blocks in China. It’s very close to the border, and the main road actually crosses the border, so we had to drive a clever route (as we don’t have Chinese visas).

We then tried to visit Sha Lo Tung, which is described in our guidebook as a beautiful abandoned village in the mountains. I think our guidebook is out of date. The roads there have pretty much disappeared, and we ended up driving along narrow tracks, up the side of the mountain, with huge potholes, and sheer drops on one side. I worried the car would be damaged, or that we’d get stuck. It was more exciting than we’d planned. Eventually, we found the village, which was more of a ghost town than described. It was wonderfully isolated, and you could see the remains of paddy fields, and tumbled down buildings, and overgrown shrubs. There were lots of hikers (the roads were better designed for hikers than cars) and a whole array of emergency services arrived because someone had become dehydrated and was unable to walk back. (At least, that’s what they told us—but we’re foreign, and they’re Chinese—they wouldn’t have told us if there had been an accident or crime; I admit to being sceptical that a dehydrated hiker would merit a fire-engine, an ambulance, and 2 police cars, but perhaps I have a suspicious mind.)

Our driver told us that people in Hong Kong love Donald Trump (he might not have been speaking for everyone, of course). He explained that: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” The politics of Hong Kong are complicated—brace yourself for a lesson:

The British were ‘given’ Hong Kong Island during the Opium Wars (see previous blog—the British behaved appallingly). Under British rule, it became a thriving trading centre, and the British asked for extra land to support the infrastructure, and so were given Kowloon (up to Boundary Road). As the city developed, so more resources were needed, so China leased the New Territories to the British for 99 years, ending in 1997. As the end of the lease grew near, the British tried to renegotiate, but the Chinese government refused to discuss (according to our driver). The islands of Hong Kong, and Kowloon, were unable to function without the resources on the New Territories—for example, the dam that provided all the electricity was there. Therefore, when 1997 arrived, China took control of both the New Territories and Hong Kong, promising that nothing would change for a set period of time (50 years). They operate a ‘one country, two systems’ policy, which will end in 2047. The people who live in Hong Kong are very bitter about this (at least, our driver was, despite being Chinese ethnicity, he does not want to be part of mainland China). At the moment, there is little discernible difference in the present Hong Kong with the pre-1997 one, but people are worried that this will change, and free trade and free movement and free speech will start to be restricted.

Politics aside, Hong Kong is a wonderful place to visit. We arrived home to hatching eggs—I’ll tell you about that next week.

Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
You can follow my blog at:

Look in Amazon for The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary. It makes a great gift.

The Star Ferry to Central

The Star Ferry to Central

One of the iconic images of Hong Kong is the Star Ferry, going backwards and forwards between Central (the main Hong Kong Island district) and Kowloon (the part of Hong Kong that joins mainland China if you cross the mountains). When you come to Hong Kong, you sort of have to go on the Star Ferry, even though the islands are actually linked by a very efficient underground train service.

We bought our tickets using the ticket machines on the pier. It costs the equivalent of 27p, and the ticket is a round plastic token, which you then use to open the turnstile. When the ferry is ready to board, there are signs and traffic lights, and you walk along walkways that rise and fall with the tide, and onto the boat. The crossing only takes a few minutes, and gives good photo opportunities of both sides of the water.

When you arrive at Central you are greeted with palm trees and Peruvian buskers. (I am guessing that the Peruvian buskers are not always there, but they were on this trip, and they were on my last visit about 6 years ago, so I am going to include them as a fixture.)

You leave the ferry terminal via walkways that cross the roads. These go through posh hotels and shopping malls full of designer shops, so you can walk a long way without leaving the walkways, through perfumed cool air. It’s not very real, but it’s more comfortable than the air outside.

We popped into the Mandarin Oriental while we were there—just because we’ve stayed there on previous visits and I love the smell of place, and the fancy chocolate shop and the comfy sofas in reception. It has an atmosphere of luxury (though again, not very real). Previously, I have always stayed in hotels in Central. However, I now much prefer staying on Kowloon, as it’s easier to find real life, and to glimpse real people bustling in real markets.

We saw old trams, which seem more high and more narrow than trams in other cities, and the old colonial buildings that cluster near to the where the water used to be (but they have now reclaimed so much land, that it has all shuffled back a bit from the water’s edge). We passed HSBC, which is guarded by two lions—they have very shiny paws because people rub them for luck.

The weather was dry, but humid and very hot—not at all comfortable; I don’t know how people managed to be wearing suits.

We returned to Kowloon, and paid 5p extra to sit on the top deck (can’t accuse my husband of being mean). It was dusk when we returned, and the junks had their big red sails illuminated, which was very pretty—they looked like giant red butterflies gliding over the water. The Star Ferry is slightly more prosaic, with hard seats and men who shout, but I prefer it.

We ate at The Night Market restaurant in Elements mall again. We’ve eaten here every evening so far, and the staff all laugh when they see us. But the food is really good, especially for me (am a very anxious eater when abroad because am so often ill)—it’s freshly cooked, comes quickly to the table so is piping hot, and everything is very clean and efficient. We are gradually working our way through the menu, and today I chose noodles, which were basically long spaghetti (no idea how you’re meant to eat that with chopsticks, I made a mess). The dim sum is my absolute favourite, you can’t beat a soup-filled dumpling!

Hope you eat well today. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the bun festival.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
You can follow my blog at:

Hong Kong History

Hong Kong History

Husband has finished work, so he joined me on Anne Time and reset his watch for 3 hours behind HK time. The weather forecast was dry, which makes a huge difference to what you feel like doing, so we left our raincoats in the hotel which was very brave (I smuggled my umbrella into my bag—too many days of rain so far).

We walked to the Hong Kong Museum of History. I’m not keen on museums, and at first, this museum reminded me why—too much information on tiny cards and displays of geological features in glass cases. It was also basically dark, with ferocious spot-lighting and lots of very loud recordings—don’t visit with a headache. However, then we went upstairs. Upstairs was so much better; some parts were hardly like a museum at all.

The museum explained how Hong Kong had been an area of boat people. They lived their whole lives on the boats, fishing and trading. Gradually, the population moved to simple huts on the islands of Hong Kong.

The dragon dance originated with the boat people. When a couple got married, the bride would be carried in a dragon boat (a 10-person rowing boat) to the groom’s boat. When the people moved to the land, they adapted this tradition into a dance, with a symbolic dragon, and the other dancers imitating the rowing action. According to tradition, the bride must neither see nor step on the ground when she is going to meet her husband, and she was carried, piggy-back style into a sedan chair, and then taken to her husband. She wore red. (Brides today in China usually wear red, though they also buy a white dress, for photographs beforehand—we have seen a few brides being photographed in various scenic places.)

The museum has a model, which shows the fort which was in Kowloon. This later developed into a walled city, and when the British took over, it was outside of their jurisdiction, but also beyond the control of the Chinese, so it became a completely lawless place. When I was young, I read Chasing the Dragon which tells the story of the people inside the walled city—it’s a good book if you’re looking for something to read. Eventually, the British and the Chinese agreed to demolish the city, and today it’s a park (which I’m hoping we can visit).

Another display explained how rice is produced. It looks a lot like wheat, and the rice grains are the seed head (I didn’t know that).

There was a display that explained the Opium Wars. In brief: China was a closed country, and did not want to trade with the rest of the world, but the rest of the world was jealous of China’s resources. European countries decided to attack the coastline, so sent boats to attack. China relented, and allowed some trade. The British were very keen to buy tea and silk, but they had nothing to trade in return, so the market was very much in favour of the Chinese. At the time, Britain occupied India, where opium was grown. So, the British imported opium to China, to rebalance the market. The British sent so much opium, that at one point there were over 10 million Chinese addicts, which had huge repercussions on the Chinese economy and health. (Writing this does not make me proud to be British—we did some terrible things in the past.) China tried to stop the opium being imported, and there were wars. In the end, an agreement was reached, and Britain stopped importing opium, and in return, China gave us Hong Kong. However, we still smuggled opium into China, via Hong Kong.

Under British rule, Hong Kong became a major trading port. The museum has recreated an old-fashioned Hong Kong street, which you can walk along, looking at shops from years gone by.

There is then a section devoted to the Japanese occupation. There is a photograph of Nathan Road (which we have walked along several times) showing the response of the locals when the Japanese left.

Many of the museum’s displays explained the various religious festivals in China—like the Bun Festival. One island has huge structures, covered in buns—which look like a massive tribute to McDonalds. The festival takes place in May, so we might go to see it.

After a couple of hours, I had no more brain capacity for further discoveries, and so reluctantly we left. There were still displays we hadn’t seen—this is a museum where you could spend an entire day. I hate museums, but I really enjoyed this one. The displays were like storybooks, you felt as if you were stepping back in time and experiencing what it was like to live in ancient Hong Kong. If you ever visit Hong Kong, make time to come here.

I hope you have an interesting day too.
Take care,
Love, Anne x

Another Day in Hong Kong

Not a Great Day in Hong Kong

Today has not, if I’m honest, been great—which feels rather ungrateful when staying in a luxury hotel in Hong Kong. I’ll tell you about it.

I had decided to go back to the markets I found yesterday, and explore a little more. I packed my bag with water, umbrella and map, and left the room. The first problem was when I arrived at the lift. The hotel is in a gigantic building, and the first few floors are used by different businesses. So, to enter the hotel, you go into the lobby and get a lift to floor 108, which is where reception is. You then take a different lift to the hotel floors (my room is on floor 111). I thought—because it has worked every other time—that while waiting for the lift, you press the ‘Reception‘ button, then when the lift arrives, you step inside, close the door, and it carries you to reception. So today, I did exactly that. I stood inside the closed lift and waited. I waited for quite a long time. Then, to my surprise, we went down one floor, the doors opened, a man got in, and pressed to go up to floor 118 (the gym is there—he looked the type). The lift went up—not down to reception—up. Not what I was expecting. Apparently, you have to actually touch the sign inside the lift that says: Reception.

Well, I finally, after my detour to a higher floor, made it to reception, and walked with confidence to the lift that would take me down to the lobby. This lift doesn’t have buttons, it simply has two signs, one which says lobby, one which says reception. I stood in the lift, doors closed, and stared at the signs. Was I supposed to touch these too? The lift jolted into action and I descended to the lobby. I think someone in the lobby had called the lift, because the ‘lobby’ sign was lit—and I didn’t do that. I realised that every time I have used the lift so far, someone else must have pressed the correct buttons, and it is not as automatic as I thought. Duh! Felt stupid and left. (Actually, to be honest, I had a fit of the giggles when I realised how stupid I’d been, and when the lift arrived at the lobby I was giggling away in an empty lift.)

Set off for the market. I had managed to coincide my time (Anne Time: 10:00) with the rest of Hong Kong’s lunch hour (HK Time: 13:00) so the shopping mall I walk through was jammed full of people trying to buy lunch. I made it, eventually, to the outside, to find it was pouring with rain. Put up my umbrella, and set off.

I planned to walk along the main road (Jordan Road) then turn left at the first major junction (Ferry Street) and then take the first street on the right (Saigon Street) as that road traversed all the little side roads with markets. I was fine for about 2 ½ minutes. Then there was a subway under the road. Subways in Hong Kong are like the moving staircases in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts—they change direction when you are in them. I walked in a straight line, I know I did, straight under the road and up the other side. But as I continued along Jordan Road, nothing was familiar. Then I came to major road-works with pedestrian lights which took forever to change, and then I came to a massive fly-over—which does not exist on Jordan Road. I started checking signs, and all the roads were called the wrong names, and none appeared on my map, and I was only about 10 minutes from the hotel and I was completely lost in the pouring rain with motorways thundering overhead and lots of yellow-clad workers staring at me.

I tried to retrace my steps, back through all those very slow pedestrian lights, and eventually came to a road which was marked on my map. I had somehow, when in the subway, managed to come up half way along Ferry Street, and had marched way past where I wanted to be. I didn’t bother to photograph the motorway for you, it was grey concrete and busy and loud—and not a great place for walking.

I found Saigon Street, and the markets, and wandered around. There were meat stalls, with chicken’s feet in heaps, and dried meats hanging on strings, and great fish-heads staring blankly, while shellfish slithered in overcrowded tubs of water. Many of the stalls sold fruits and vegetables, shining in the rain, pools of colour and textures, some smooth and shiny, others lumpy or with spikes. Many of the fruits were new to me. Some of the stalls had music playing, the stallholders whining along in unison. There was a flower stall, with tubs of lilies and roses—but it didn’t compare to the shops in flower market street yesterday. Mostly, the markets were wet, drops of rain falling from the awnings, people avoiding umbrellas, the ground slippery. Rusty carts and damp boxes had been discarded at one side, along with heaps of rubbish and slurry.

It was actually, a nice market, and on a different day, in different weather, I would have loved it. But I had walked too far along a motorway in the pouring rain, and the hotel room and a coffee seemed very attractive so I left.

I also keep almost being run over. Many of the crossing places have helpful writing painted on the road, telling you which way to look. But they also have an arrow, and something about an arrow on the road, makes my brain think that this is the direction the traffic will be moving in—as opposed to which direction to look. So at every crossing, I stare in completely the wrong direction. Not been hit so far.

Hotel room wonderfully comforting. I sat with my coffee and stared out the window. All I can see is clouds, wafting towards me and floating away while rain splatters the pane. It’s like being in a secret place, above the rest of the world, just me and the rain and a decent cup of coffee. Will stay here and read for a while.

I hope your day turns out well. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Finding Hong Kong

Finding Hong Kong

I set out (Husband was at work) to try and discover some more of Hong Kong – the bits that aren’t necessarily in the guidebooks. I left the hotel via the Elements shopping mall, because that seems to be the easiest way to walk from the hotel. I’m rubbish at finding my way, and often get lost, so I have a list of directions in my notebook: turn right after escalator, walk to Moynat, walk past sculpture, turn right at concierge, etc. It takes me safely past all the shops which look exactly the same, and to the covered walkways that cross the major roads. There are steps down to the pavement, or a lift, which has a screen next to it showing you who is inside (very comforting if you’re a single female, as can avoid entering lift with weird man loitering inside).

Next to the road are several tall apartment blocks, washing hanging on balconies, plant pots crowding the windows. I walked up Ferry Street, which is busy with small shops and cafes. These shops tend to be open-fronted, so you walk inside and the products are arranged either side, along the walls. There is usually a stool near the door, with someone perched by a till, eating a bowl of noodles while they wait for a sale, or reading a newspaper, or chatting to the person on the adjacent stool in the adjacent shop. I walked along Saigon Street, and could see the end of markets in the streets that joined, and cheaper shops. There were more people, but no European faces.

I reached Nathan road, which is wide and busy, with bigger shops and people look richer, like office workers or tourists. There is a rest area – a small park with granite seats, and trees next to Chinese-style bridges and roofs, sparrows hopping on the ground. I sat for a moment and drank some water, but all the time there is the loud drone of traffic edging along the road—buses and lorries and taxis—it isn’t peaceful unless you’re deaf.

I had decided to walk up Nathan road until it met Boundary Street. I thought it would be easy, to walk along one road, but somehow I managed to be on the wrong street. There was a pedestrian detour, and a tangle of roads, and I merrily marched up completely the wrong one, and then found it tricky to find my way back to Nathan road. The streets were narrow, and busy and dirty, lined with parked cars and vans, people working on the street—so you had to be careful not to trip over men welding or constructing something.

I reached Boundary Street. This is very straight, and marks the line that was drawn when the British said they needed more land because Hong Kong Island was overcrowded. They were given this part of Kowloon (apparently in perpetuity, but that seems to have been forgotten now). There is another tiny park on the corner of Nathan Street and Boundary Street—with a water feature, and plants and seats—rather overshadowed by the huge fly-over which looms above, so you aren’t tempted to stay for long (unless you are deaf—being deaf might be quite nice in Hong Kong, which is one of the noisiest cities I have visited).

I walked to Flower Market Street—which is where all the flower sellers are (clue in the name). It’s beautiful (just don’t look at the fly-over next to it). There is shop after shop, all selling flowers—some in complicated arrangements, tall tubs of sunflowers, great bowls of lilies, tiny bonsai trees. The smell is wonderful.

At the end of the road is the bird garden. It’s along an alleyway, and I wasn’t sure, at first, whether it was sensible to walk there on my own. But then I saw an old man, carrying a birdcage, so I decided it was worth the risk. The alleyway soon opens out into a little Chinese market. Here, you can buy anything you need for your pet bird. There were sacks of grains, and bags of live insects, and different kinds of cages. People bring their birds here, and hang them up, then sit and chat to each other—a bit like taking your dog for a walk. I did see several elderly men walking around, carrying their birdcages, but I felt I should only take surreptitious photos, so you’ll have to imagine.

Behind the stalls, people were chatting, eating their lunch, making birdcages, and feeding the birds. I don’t like birds in cages, but if you suspend moral judgement – which I think you ought to when visiting a culture you don’t understand fully – then it is terribly interesting. The best thing, I thought, were all the wild birds who came for a free meal. All the sacks of grain had sparrows and pigeons having a feast, almost as if in defiance in front of all the caged birds.

Men taking their birds for some fresh air.

Birdcages waiting to be sold.

A parrot looking cross.

I walked back along a street full of fish—goldfish of all sizes, in bags of water, strung up on stands in doorways. Presumably they all survive, as there was shop after shop of them but they reminded me of the fish we used to win at fairgrounds, and they always died.

There was also a fruit market. Groups of men lurked at the back, playing cards or mah-jong, while the women did all the work. The fruit looked amazing, fresh oranges and strange spikey fruit and bright dragon fruit and bananas still attached to stalks. I would have liked to buy some bananas, but the thought of trying to communicate in Cantonese, and the effort of working out the money, was too much. Instead, I bought an unsatisfactory looking banana from a 7-Eleven round the corner.

Made it back to the hotel without getting lost. I was met in the foyer by a worried looking man in a suit, asking if he could help me—I’m guessing I looked rather dishevelled and he thought I had wandered into his posh hotel by mistake!


Tiny terrapins.


Bags of fish.

Thanks for reading. Have a fun day.

Love, Anne x

Anne E Thompson has written several novels and writes a regular blog each week. You can follow her blog at:


Looking for a great read?

The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

by Anne E Thompson


Exploring Hong Kong

We went down to the shopping mall underneath the hotel for breakfast. Found a nice French restaurant (French! In Hong Kong! May we be forgiven…) I ordered waffles and green-tea, Husband ordered Full English, and English breakfast tea. When it arrived, the tea was a teabag in a bowl, and a teapot of hot water. Various comments about the lack of cup, milk, sugar…but we coped.

May is rainy season, so the weather was damp, but Hong Kong has lots of pedestrian walkways and subways and places to shelter, so we walked down to the quay. The streets outside the hotel were refreshingly normal, after the glitz of the hotel and the designer mall. Many of the shops could have been in Europe, but there were also shops with huge teapots in the window, selling cups of tea to shoppers; and Chinese medicine shops, with their boxes of expensive potions; and shops for tourists, piled with leather goods and silk shirts and ornaments, so we never forgot we were in China.

There were also lots of normal people wandering around, mostly wearing white trainer shoes. There seems to be a lot of white trainers in Hong Kong, worn with trousers and skirts and even quite fancy dresses. I guess it’s practical – there are a lot of puddles. I also wore white trainers — an old pair of Reeboks from 1994 (vintage).

Some of the streets were lined with ancient trees, a kind of ficus, with aerial roots that grew down until they reached the earth and could form another trunk. I’ve seen them in botanical gardens in England–here they are everywhere.

We stood for a while on the quay, looking across the water towards Hong Kong Island and Central. It was so exciting, just to be here. (Sometimes I have to remind myself: I’m in Hong Kong…Wow!) The Star Ferry was shuttling backwards and forwards, and there was a junk–one of those ‘typically Chinese’ ships, with big sails (a tourist boat, not an ancient one) selling rides.

We saw the clock tower, which is all that remains of the old Kowloon Station. Luckily it was closed, so we didn’t have to climb it.

We also saw the cultural centre, which for some reason is covered in pink tiles (pink!) and despite having the best view over the water, it was designed with no windows. We didn’t go inside, so perhaps the interior is fabulous.

We walked a little way along the docks, but they’re fairly industrial, so we walked back inland and through the Elements shopping mall where we had dumplings for lunch at The Night Market restaurant.

In the evening, we went to the night market — the real one — in Temple Street. I have heard about this market on previous visits, and it features in all the guidebooks, so I was expecting something interesting. I was disappointed…

The market begins with a Chinese gate (a paifang) and a whole lot of tourists taking photos underneath. The market stretched, damply, for several streets, and is well lit with bright lights, and all the stalls are covered, so the rain didn’t matter (unless you stood in the wrong place and got a fat drip of water on your head). It was quite busy, though not too crowded, and the stalls were full of bright, interesting items.

However, I had expected something more authentic, something where local people might shop for a bargain. It wasn’t, it was a tourist market, and the stalls sold much of the same product, repeated over and over again. The prices were fluid, and you were meant to barter, but it wasn’t fun, the stall-holders seemed bored, if I’m honest. They were obviously selling stuff they’d bought cheaply in China and were selling for a profit – so no one had any really interest in what they were selling, they hadn’t made it, they didn’t seem to even like it. There were leather-bound notebooks, and silk clothes, and paper-cutting novelties, and toys, and fridge magnets. The prices got cheaper the further into the market you went, but after seeing about 10 stalls, really you had seen them all, as they simply repeated. I didn’t like the atmosphere in the market. Usually markets are fun, and the bartering is almost a game, and people laugh and are pleased to make a sale. But this one felt as if something dodgy was happening in the background, and the people selling didn’t really want to be there at all. Perhaps it was the rain and the jet-lag, perhaps it was just me, but I found it unexpectedly disappointing.

The streets surrounding the market are full of street food. People were perched, trying to avoid the rain, and eating freshly killed fish and vegetables and noodles. We walked around, absorbing the aroma and the ferocity that is Chinese cooking. The streets are cleaner than places we’ve visited in China, and the main areas are well-lit and safe to wander around at night (I’m not sure about some of the back streets, but it’s a city—you should always be careful in a city.)

We went back to the hotel, and tried to sleep. I’m not sure what time zone I’m in now–neither UK time nor Hong Kong time. Ah well, I guess it doesn’t matter.

Hope you have a good day.
Stay safe.
Love, Anne x

Looking for a great read? A great waiting-for-a-train read…a great stuck-in-hospital read…a great going-on-holiday read…a great in-a-waiting-room read…a great I-want-to-relax read…

It will make you smile…

The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

by Anne E Thompson

Available now from an Amazon near you.