Saturday, 25 October 2014

Hong Kong - Buildings

I remember being very disappointed when I returned to Hong Kong after twenty years abroad and found that Victoria Peak was almost hidden by the high rises on its slopes.  This time around (March, 2014), I had gotten over that and when I got up to the Peak again, I actually admired the view.  You can see below how impressive it is.  Hong Kong tops the list of cities with the most skyscrapers, even beating New York City by over 120 buildings over 150 metres.  

I should add that it took us three tries to get up to the peak.  Twice in the three weeks that we were there, we arrived at the peak tram station and didn't join the lineup.  The first time, the line up was too long and we decided instead go to the Hong Kong Park which was steps away.  The second time, we looked up and we couldn't see beyond the peak tram station - it was too misty.  On our last free day in Hong Kong, we were in luck - it was a clear day and we could even see the hills of Kowloon.  Here's the sweeping panorama of tall buildings...

 Imagine working on the top floors of this building and being shrouded in fog when you look out the window!

And some of them are quite stylish - reminded me of Chicago at times

Bamboo is still being used for scaffolding - obviously works
Some historical buildings have been preserved and restored.

Pedder Building, completed in 1924, had been restored.  Formerly occupied by factory outlets, it had been revamped with the first three floors occupied by Abercrombie & Fitch.

Kom Tong Hall built in 1914 - former mansion is now the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum

Former pawn shop is now home of "The Pawn" a bar and restaurant
Colonial Old Bailey Police station and Victoria Prison are being restored

Mix of old and new made Hong Kong architecture interesting

The sole skyscraper on the Kowloon waterfront

Older buildings in the not so glam part of town - Sheung Wan and Western District that are slowly being gentrified

Downtown Central District spanned by extensive pedestrian overpasses - I've found these really convenient and helpful in wayfinding.  You could see whether you are heading in the right direction because they are open, and of course you don't' have to worry about crossing streets in traffic, or waiting for traffic lights to turn.  They made it safe and fast to get around. 


The insides of some of these buildings are pretty cool too - the TImes Square Building has a curved escalator in the basement and one of the longest escalators I have seen 

Snazzy!  That's Hong Kong for you!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hong Kong Streetscape

Continuing with our S.E. Asian trip, we reached Hong Kong in early March this year.  It was a nostalgic trip - we visited some old haunts but what struck me was how much of our memories had been associated with food.  Please visit Foodsparks to see some of my posts on eating in Hong Kong.

My impression, from visiting the areas of Hong Kong familiar to me, was that the streetscape in Hong Kong had not changed too much from 12 years ago, the last time I was there, although it had changed considerably from the sixties.  Many areas, like the mid-levels, Sheung Wan and Western District had been gentrified.   But I was glad that some of the steep stepped streets in Central and Sheung Wan area still retained some of the old street stalls, as you can see below and street food markets were still flourishing, in fact some of the BBQ takeouts were almost as good as what you'd get in restaurants.

We stayed near the mid-levels escalator and continued to be fascinated by it day in and day out as we travelled up and down on it, getting familiar with its "directional" schedule and taking advantage of it.  It made a huge difference to the knees if it were in the direction we were travelling.  And the streetscape alongside it was fascinating, the things you could see as you travelled on it.  Particularly noticeable were the buildings that had developed beside it, taking advantage of this second elevated level of potential customers in promotional opportunities.  Take a look at the pictures below.

The escalator went downhill during the morning rush hour and uphill the rest of the time.

The second floor balcony of this building was being used as a display area catering specifically to escalator users.  The escalator was very busy during rush hour.
The escalator was built around buildings like these.  All three floors of this pizza place were packed at night.
A spa on the second floor displayed advertisement at the level of the escalator.

The old "laddered" streets remained the same with street stalls on the side.  

A picture framing shop on the road side.  I don't think this existed as such fifty years ago.  This kind of workshop would be catering to the gentrified neighbourhood.

One could catch all kinds of candid moments from the escalator...

A semi-official looking "guard" sat beside the escalator in case there were any problems - obviously none at this point

An old temple remained in the midst of the high rises 

Li Yuen Street in Central District hadn't changed at street level since the fifties, except for the merchandise and the prices - street stalls remained on both sides 

Fragrance from a street vendor's roasted chestnuts and yams filled the air on a Shaukiwan street - not so different from the fifties.

The Shaukiwan market continued to thrive.

Vegetables with farm origin (New Territories or location in mainland China) identified - prices were comparable to Toronto

Check out the prices of seafood!  They were very fresh, but so were the prices - $160 HKD (~$23CAD) for 1 catty (or roughly 1.5 pounds) for crab - that's ~$15 a pound!

Gigantic two-storied Apple Store in Central but see the street vendor below with a stash of iphone boxes on the street (also in Central)  ;-)

Brisk shoe-shine business on the street, there's even a lineup!
This was a very limited look at Hong Kong's streetscape.  We visited the very busy Causeway Bay area - it was wall to wall people, as were many areas in Kowloon which I was not familiar with.  I was too busy getting through the crowds to take pictures!  I've found that the best, and most comfortable way of getting an idea of what Hong Kong streets look like was taking a tram from one end of the island to the other (Kennedy Town to Shaukiwan).  It cost next to nothing to hop on but make sure you climb the stairs to the upper floor.  Find yourself a window seat and enjoy a leisurely tour.  It would be slow - but you wouldn't be jostled by the crowds.  The trams tend to be very crowded on weekends - afterall it is the cheapest form of transportation and for thousands of domestic help, their choice means of getting around on their day off.  

I was surprised that I didn't take any pictures of the trams - I was too busy riding on them! The only photo I could find was of this one which was a tram for private hire - first time I had seen this but apparently they were available for hire for private or corporate parties!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Enchantment at Garibaldi Lake

For the young and fit, the hike to Garibaldi Lake is a walk in the park.  But for older adults like me, in spite of my regular visits to the gym, it was a strenuous climb.  It was difficult to gauge the degree of difficulty from web forums - for a mostly young audience, it was a no-brainer.   We decided to play it by ear - see how whacked out we feel at the half way point before making a decision to continue.  Having the company of two young and fit adults made a huge difference in terms of morale.

I was caught by surprise at how quickly I went out of breath in the first kilometres.  The trail consisted of mostly switchbacks for the first six kilometres, with 15 degree grade in some areas but the surface was well-maintained and really all it required was stamina.  If I were to do it again, I would take it more slowly at the beginning so that panic wouldn't set in after a few kilometres and gave rise to concerns that we may not make it up to the lake.

There were lots to see on the way and certainly taking time off to take pictures was a good way to take a break.

This fairyland scene greeted us upon arrival at the parking lot

Lots of fallen trees but also lots of young trees - regeneration could be seen everywhere

The occasional vistas let us see how high we've climbed

This, together with the many hollow trunks and their weird insides, created a surreal landscape along parts of the trail

After 4 hours and 6.5 km, we reached The Barrier, an amazing lava formation 300 metres thick and 2 km wide that became a natural dam creating Garibaldi Lake.  If the Barrier collapses, the lake would be drained and Squamish would be a disaster area - unimaginable scenario but not impossible.  

This is the view of the Barrier - read up on this spectacular geographical phenomenon. This was a great place for a lunch break and also the decision point for us as to whether we were physically able to continue.  Decision was easy, since we were only 2.5 km from Garibaldi Lake, it would be silly not to continue after lunch even though the switchbacks had taken their toll and our muscles and knees were quite sore.  But the remaining 2.5 km seemed easy as it was undulating rather than uphill all the way.
View of the mountains at the Barrier

Friendly white-breasted nuthatch eating trailmix out of human hand

The first view of the serene Barrier Lake shortly after the Barrier was a great morale booster.

After this, the last 2 kms were still a struggle but the incentive was enticing.  The final descent to the lake was easy but steep, especially when I reminded myself that this would be quite a climb on the way back.  

First view of Garibaldi Lake and its pristine glacial waters

Breathtaking view of the mountains and the glacier - well-worth the hike!

They call this Battleship Island (!?) - surely war should be very far from our minds in this idyllic landscape?
It gave me pause to think that while this enchanting lake at 9 km up was our destination, for many, it was only the campground or launching pad for far more exciting hikes up to the spectacular views of Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge (30 km round trip).  If I were even 10 years younger, I would have gone for it without hesitation.   Now, I would have to settle for enjoying this vicariously through my daughter's experience.  (sigh!)  

I call this "The impossible dream - literally" (Photo by Robert Stupka)

The hike down as expected was very tough on the knees and we were thankful for our walking poles, a tremendous help especially over the steep gradient in the last few kilometres - couldn't have done it without them.  There was a slight drizzle but we hardly felt it because of the forest canopy.  It's only on the drive back to town that we encountered a real storm.  But the 9 hour demanding hike was worth it.