I have never felt the need to mark birthdays. But I have also been really lucky to spend more than my fair share of birthdays somewhere more interesting than my living room. Living and working in the English Lake District, hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal, living in the Indian village of Dharamkot, with the press gallery in the middle of a leader’s election campaign tour in British Columbia. So often somewhere out of the ordinary. This time I technically turned fifty somewhere over Central Asia (one of the ‘stans), on a Cathay flight from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv. I always feel lucky.
We had just three days to spend in Hong Kong, our favourite city. Originally, we were stopping for just a few hours at the airport on our return from the Philippines to Canada. But we ended up heading to Israel for a month to conduct two courses on the Sea of Galilee. So we added a three-day layover in order to visit our friend Mark and reconnect with a city that never lets us down.
Though it wasn’t planned that way, we realized I would be celebrating my 50th birthday here, and that felt perfect. I can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be than walking the streets of Hong Kong’s varied neighbourhoods. It has its problems and the city has lost a little of its unique charms in the face of an onslaught of change from mainland China. But it remains a very special place. Despite the fact we speak no Cantonese and don’t work in finance, we feel quite at home here. It’s a wonderful place to visit, though we suspect living here would wear you out after a while. As do all of the world’s fastest-moving big cities.
Hong Kong was the first stop on our very first long sabbatical. The months we spent in Southeast Asia and India in 2007 changed the trajectory of our lives in many ways. And something about Hong Kong got stuck deep inside both of us and we’ve been in love with this place ever since. It feels like the setting of Blade Runner without the dystopia. It’s also an incredibly photogenic place.
Usually we stay at the Salisbury YMCA in Kowloon. It’s a pretty swank YMCA right in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. We’ve never stayed anywhere else. But it books up a year in advance and has become very expensive in the wake of a total renovation. This time we thought we’d do something different. We found and booked an eccentric little hotel in Kowloon at the corner of Jordan and Nathan roads. Near Kowloon Park.
When we arrived at 3:00 am, we realized we knew the building. We have photographed it before because it stands out as a great example of modernist mid-20th century Hong Kong residential architecture. It is called New Lucky House. If you thought it was a hotel, you’d be dead wrong. It is many hotels, as well as private apartments, some serving as bordellos, others as simple residences and various other businesses, including a boxing gym. It is 14 stories tall. Inside, on the fourth floor is one suite of 8 rooms collectively known as the Park Yee Hotel. On the same floor are at least two other such mini-hotels. The rooms are tiny, but the service is incredible. The place is immaculately clean, with fast wifi, air conditioning, and free laundry service. You check yourself in and out, never encountering another human being in person. The hosts were available 24/7 by text. And very helpful. We were really happy there.
The New Lucky House is quintessentially Hong Kong in the way one sprawling apartment building is subdivided into a multitude of various private and commercial uses, all densely crammed into one building. There are thousands of buildings just like it all over Hong Kong. We love the character of the place, the way it has aged and seems in some ways to be falling apart while inside there are perfectly modern units alongside floors that feel abandoned. The best part was the fact we were with regular Hong Kongers all going about their lives here.
We had only a short time for this visit so we made the most of it. The weather was perfect for us. A little damp and overcast, occasionally a pre-monsoon rain. Hong Kong, like Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, is at its best when it’s a little gloomy and foggy. But we had plenty of sunshine too. After the unrelenting heat and jungle humidity of the Philippines, the weather was a welcome treat.
We walked up and down Victoria Peak, wandered around Mong Kok , Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay with Mark. I even got an awesome new pair of lowtop sneakers.
On our last night, Mark treated us to an exotic hot pot dinner that was incredibly delicious. It was also apparently very healthy, a particular sort of medicine hot pot, very popular with large groups of women in Hong Kong. Perhaps because the broth was made from collagen – good for the skin!
We’re now in Israel at Dhamma Pamoda, the Vipassana centre here, near the Sea of Galilee. We’re happy to be back in this country too. It is very beautiful. But more on that later. For now, we hope you enjoy some of our photos from Hong Kong streets.