At first glance, Hong Kong could not appear any more different from home. Lights, action and crowd scenes are routine in this mega-metropolis, whose name means “Fragrant Harbour.”
Translated more freely, it could mean the city that never stops.
The subway system is magnificent; trams are a treat; Victoria Harbour bustles with every sort of craft from passenger ferries to multi-storied cruise ships strung with thousands of tiny lights. Hong Kong dwellers have no time to linger. Or so it seems.
In fact, 40 per cent of Hong Kong is green space. Harbour views are enchanting, but tear yourself away from Tsim Sha Tsui (home to the city’s grand hotels) and you’ll find a myriad of parks, tea houses and friendly people willing to help when you get lost.
Hong Kong is home to roughly 250,000 Canadian passport holders, plus thousands upon thousands of graduates from Canadian colleges and universities.
Until the 2002 SARS epidemic, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong used to focus exclusively on trade and business events.
Once the crisis was over, ex-pat Canadians and their Hong Kong friends rallied to celebrate the Canadian presence in Hong Kong. Ten thousand people showed up for Hong Kong’s first Canada D’eh! celebration in 2003. Many wore Canadian college colours or the red and white of our flag.
“Canada D’eh! was our community’s answer to SARS. When the going gets tough, the Canadians throw a street party,” said Canadian Chamber of Commerce executive director Andrew Work.
“One of my predecessors, Allan Matheson, came up with this masterstroke of genius and we honour his work to this day.”
The party occurs yearly on June 30 and features maple leaf signatures: street hockey, cowboy hats, western music, beer and Montreal smoked meat.
The celebration is held in Lan Kwai Fong, the formerly downtrodden neighbourhood adjacent to Hollywood Road’s antique shops. The thriving LKF has Canadian roots, thanks to Montreal-born entrepreneur Allan Zeman. This expat enclave boasts bars, eateries, galleries and retail shops. During a recent visit, we spotted a Canadian flag on an LKF alley; the flag marked Cul-de-Sac, another Montreal venture, where folks were happily tucking into late-night plates of poutine.
On our first morning in the city, we lingered over breakfast — dragon fruit, croissants and coffee — at our favourite condo-hotel Jia (‘home’ in Mandarin), in Causeway Bay.
Passing the quirky furnishings (gnomes, toadstools and faux crystal chandeliers) designed by Phillip Starck, we headed outside and caught the nearest tram. From upper deck seats, we gazed down at the Wan Chai neighbourhood, the very image of bustling Hong Kong. Disembarking at Admiralty, we took Pacific Place’s open-air escalators up to Hong Kong Park.
The park’s terraced levels offer the city’s most accessible green sanctuary: lily ponds, fountains, a waterfall, conservatory, lookout tower and an aviary populated by more than 150 bird species. Tai chi practitioners arrive here early in the morning and office workers take their daily lunch breaks by a pond.
We stopped before a bronze tribute to J.R. Osborn, a Victoria Cross decorated Winnipeg Grenadier who died during in the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, along with 800 fellow Canadians. Close to where we were standing, Osborn threw himself on a grenade in order to save his fellow soldiers. Flagstaff House, the city’s oldest existing colonial building (1846) completed the scene.
Philanthropist K.S. Lo founded his Museum of Tea Wares in Flagstaff House on the condition it not be demolished. Next door we discovered Lock Cha Tea Shop, a wood-paneled oasis with Chinese calligraphy on the walls, soft lighting and multitudes of teas (including organic varieties) and tea accessories. Tea master and founder Ip Wing-Chi gives twice-weekly lessons about this ancient art. We passed some relaxed hours here sipping tea, tasting vegetarian dim sum and writing postcards in undisturbed quiet.
A few streets away from the park, we boarded the speedy funicular Victoria Peak railway to revel in Hong Kong’s best views. Harlech Road, a tree-lined pathway, overlooks both the city and the South China Sea. On cloudy days, conical islands poke out of the misty ocean: a romantic scene straight from a Chinese scroll painting.
Magical vegetation grows everywhere: fern leaves a metre in length, bamboo groves, a giant banyan tree with dangling, airy roots. Fifteen minutes uphill, in Victoria Peak Garden, the early governors of Hong Kong would come to flee the summer heat. Now the paths around the Peak attract joggers, walkers and pampered dogs.
How green are Hong Kong businesses? It seemed a natural question in this green and lovely spot. In Central, the staff at an organic food shop — open since September — directed us to a new vegan restaurant. On the same morning we noticed a shop called Organic Baby and dashed in to buy some presents for our favourite infant. As we chatted with the young saleswoman — a Trent University graduate, as it happened — she told us that natural clothing stores were fairly new to the city.
Later during our stay we discovered East, a “paperless” hotel with computerized check-in, where we were shown around by a Ryerson University graduate. Sipping drinks on an outdoor terrace, we gazed across the water to the old airport, abandoned now and silent, but destined for redevelopment.
A day’s shopping and wandering through traditional bird, jade and flower markets may send you back to The Peak, to watch as the lights come on in the city and nearby mansions.
Nine-metre tall Lover’s Rock has long been a magnet for the marriage-minded. Hundreds of women come here on the 6, 16 and 26 of each lunar calendar month to burn joss sticks and pray. Old traditions exist alongside the new in ever-changing Hong Kong.
Exiting the Peak’s four-kilometre Bowen Road walk, we emerged near Central. A 15-minute stroll downhill along Garden Road brought us within striking distance of the lively restaurants and bright bars of Lan Kwai Fong for some well-earned refreshments. Poutine, anyone?
If you go: The Hong Kong Tourist Board’s user-friendly website, www.discoverhongkong.com, offers all you need to know about the city; on request they will send you a free bilingual (Chinese-English) tram guide: 1-800-563-4582.
For details on Canadian-themed film, music festivals, the Northern Lights Ball and the biggest Canada Day celebration in Asia visit www.cancham.org