The first time I ventured to Hong Kong was in 1990. I was just a few years old then, and it was my first ever trip abroad. I couldn’t remember anymore what sort of impressions I had when I first visited – I was more engrossed at the thought of riding a plane than at the prospects of wandering about the place. Since then, I have visited 9 other times, most recently in January of 2009. Each time I find myself in Hong Kong, I feel like I’m a totally different person. I can be anonymous. I can be wild. I can assume any identity I want. It wouldn’t matter to the city folks and barely anyone will care in this effervescent town. Hong Kong can at once be buzzing and mouldering, pretentious and friendly, decaying and modern. It has so many contrasting identities that it can very well be a world of its own. The appeal of Hong Kong, I think, lies in this contradicting dynamism.
It was exactly one of these contradictions which I explored during my 2009 visit. During this trip, I visited the Hong Kong that was green – the “fragrant harbor” that had wide open spaces and calming, soothing backdrops that allowed visitors to just relax and move at a slow pace. This is all thanks to my good friend based in the city who thought it best to dispel the dreary notion I had of Hong Kong.
Nan Lian Garden is an excellent place to experience the slow Hong Kong lifestyle. Tucked away near a nunnery is this 3.5 hectare plot of land which exudes a zen-like atmosphere. Depending on which pathway visitors follow, they may find a vegetarian restaurant, bonsai garden or tea house. It’s a marvelous way of spending an hour or two of any visit to Hong Kong. A short stroll can easily change people’s perceptions about this notoriously crowded city.
For inutile government officials who drastically need a lesson or two in urban revival (casual visitors also welcome), a visit to the Kowloon Walled City Park is a must. Set in a piece of land that until 1993 housed an urban nightmare in the form of a multi-storey shantytown, the park is now an oasis of tranquility with barely any clue of its past incarnation except for a few stone plaques and a scale model of the decrepit tenement that preceded it. The park has several sections, including a life sized chess board and a garden with the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. During my visit, it was indeed hard to imagine that the serenity that laid before me was once a haven for drug lords and utter rot.
Despite what has been said, most of the places which tourists know in Hong Kong still consist of cemented jungles rather than the vegetated ones. Break-the bank shopping, pulsating nightlife, good food and Disneyland will always be hallmarks of this crazy town. Like me, most of you have probably been there multiple times and think that you’ve seen everything worth seeing in this compact city. I used to think so too. Nevertheless, there are other noteworthy elements which have not really reached the consciousness of tourists who go there, and merit an inclusion into future itineraries.