After our very brief 48-hour stint in Macau, we took the ferry to the New Territories of Hong Kong – namely the Tuen Mun port. After disembarking we noticed an immediate and welcome change from Macau: bicycle lanes. And while this is certainly not the case for Hong Kong Central or Kowloon, the bike lanes in the New Territories took us almost the entire way to our destination in Fairview Park, 30 km away. This wasn’t just green paint on the side of the road where cars park and swing their doors open without looking (hello, Wellington); these were actual lanes with road markings, like a little second road running alongside the big main one. Cars couldn’t get on there even if they wanted to.
We had a host in Fairview Park called Iris. We met her not through couchsurfing, but through a similar website made for cyclists called Warm Showers (yeah, weird name). Even though Iris was in the process of moving out, she let us stay for a week in our own room with our own bathroom – very luxurious indeed after three weeks of cycling through China.
Iris was very involved in the local cycling scene. She showed us a good store to buy new tyres (puncture resistant Panaracer T-Serv PT tyres for nerds who care about that kind of thing), and informed us that we were in Hong Kong during the monthly ‘Critical Mass‘. Critical Mass is held all over the world, and is where large groups of cyclists squeeze into their finest spandex and take to the streets. It can get a little political. Okay, it can get very political, but the idea is that it is a peaceful way to show city planners and motorists that cyclists would like a piece of the road too.
Critical Mass in Hong Kong doesn’t attract thousands of riders like in other parts of the world (80,000 in Budapest!?). Calling the 40-odd people that showed up to take part ‘a critical mass’ would be a stretch even for the most generous dispenser of hyperboles, but the people we met were friendly and enthusiastic, and were doing the ride simply as a group of friends for the fun of it. There was a wonderful feeling of safety in numbers as we cycled around the bustling streets of Hong Kong. Did people aggressively honk at us? Sure, once or twice, but our spirits remained high as we wove around busses and through subways.
Getting around Hong Kong is much easier if you use the public transport system, and so apart from Critical Mass we didn’t do much cycling. One excursion into the city took place on a Sunday where we met an old school friend of Caroline’s who works in Hong Kong. We met up at the ‘quintessential Hong Kong dim sum’ restaurant, Maxim’s Palace (it was so good we forgot to take photos) and waited almost an hour in the queue just to get in. I don’t think I need to write about how delicious it was. But it was delicious.
Particularly interesting was an aspect of the city that we’d seen before in Singapore: Sunday is typically the day off for the Filipino maids, and they all flock to one area to picnic, play games, play music, and presumably swap stories about the people they work for. Maids – even once-a-week-cleaners – are not common in New Zealand (or at least not where I come from). I still find the idea that you can’t clean your own house, wash your own car, and cook your own meals bewildering, but this is the culture in wealthy Asian cities. How much a maid is actually necessary and how much having one is simply a status symbol is not my place to decide.
So here they were. Thousands of women camped out on cardboard mats with containers of food, laughing, listening to music, snoozing, being together. The streets around the area are blocked off from cars on Sunday to accommodate the influx.
Caroline’s friend took us up to The Peak which looks out over Hong Kong Island. The heavy fog meant that the city wasn’t actually visible, presumably much to the annoyance of the people who were in the 3-hour queue for the famous Peak Tram, but it made walking down eerily serene and very enjoyable.
It was a busy night in the city, and we took the cheapest, most popular option to get back to Kowloon: the Star Ferry. Two dollars, ten minutes, and well worth it for the view of the city. The photo taken on our phone doesn’t justify the view, but here it is anyway: