Hong Kong: Rooted in tradition, accelerating into the future.

View of Hong Kong, from Kowloon, across the bay. Photo credit: Melanie de Klerk

Gliding through the mist and clouds as the plane descends into Hong Kong airport at night it’s easy to be transfixed by the thousands of tiny lights bobbing up and down, each one belonging to a fishing boat. But those tiny lights soon give way to the flash and flare of the Hong Kong skyline lit up against the night sky.

This is a sight that is truly difficult to take your eyes off of and is the first iconic taste of a vibrant city with many layers.

Hong Kong is a city rooted in tradition, yet accelerating into the future.

Film set in Hong Kong’s Central. Photo credit: Melanie de Klerk

It’s this mix of tradition and modernism that creates an intoxicating atmosphere and makes it such a fascinating travel destination. It’s easy to head to any number of iconic tourist destinations in the city from Victoria Peak to the Big Buddha, but I enjoy heading off the beaten track to some of the lesser known attractions the city has to offer.

Despite the heat and hills, walking is one of the best ways to really get a feel for Hong Kong and one of my favourite ways to hit the pavement is to start off with a quintessential tourist trip to the longest outdoor, covered escalator system in the world, simply known as the Central Mid-Level escalators.

Riding the escalators up the hills allows a brief look at the restaurants, shops and apartment buildings that populate the area but it’s when you get off the escalators and venture on foot that you get a feel for the neighbourhood with its unique sights, sounds and smells.

It’s an atmosphere filled with cultural collisions, blending East and West.

Equally populated with young expats and Hong Kong natives, there are bars, restaurants and a variety of reflexology and spa storefronts, where a mix of Cantonese, English and multiple other languages can often be heard. Walking through some of the smaller streets past these bars and restaurants, there are often hidden gems where you will find small art galleries showcasing interesting modern art pieces such as, Barbie packing some serious heat.

Front of an art gallery in Central Hong Kong, featuring a shot of Barbie packing heat. Photo credit: Melanie de Klerk

Perhaps the most interesting part of exploring this area comes getting back on the escalators, heading up just a few more blocks to a small green oasis in the midst of all the high rises that hides behind it an architectural secret- it won’t appear in many guidebooks.

It’s easy to miss, but a small wrought iron gate in slight disrepair marks the entrance to a building that gives visitors yet another glimpse into a history that has helped make Hong Kong one of the most diverse cities in Asia.

Looking up at the sign above that wrought iron gate there is an Arabic inscription declaring it the entrance to the Jamia Mosque.

It is the oldest mosque in the city, built in 1890- and still welcomes worshippers today- at once an interesting historic mix of colonial British influence and traditional Islamic architecture. It’s been classified as a key historic building in Hong Kong.

Leaving this small window into the rich history of Hong Kong and weaving back through Central brings you once again into the hustle and bustle of the modern city.

Abandoning the mostly upward trajectory of the escalators for a downhill walk you will find small alleys filled with tourist trinkets and sometimes be lucky enough to get some great people watching in, especially if you catch a film shoot taking place, something that I’ve seen at least twice on my trips to Hong Kong.

If you happen to be winding through this area on foot on a Sunday it’s worth continuing on with a stroll through the upper walkways of the central business district to get a glimpse into another slice of life in Hong Kong.

It’s fascinating to walk through the crowds of domestic workers who use their one day a week off to socialize here. The walkways are often populated by thousands of women sharing stories, eating homemade treats and giving each other manicures and pedicures. This is something entirely unique to Hong Kong and shows yet another side to the cultural dynamics in the city.

There are of course so many other things to see and do in such a culturally complex city but it’s those small things off the beaten track that really give you a glimpse into the real Hong Kong beyond the glitzy lights you first see from the airplane window.

Melanie de Klerk is a journalist for Global News and traveled to Hong Kong and Myanmar as a recipient of the 2015/2016 Asia Pacific Foundation Media Fellowship, supported in part by Cathay Pacific.

This blog is also posted at: http://globalnews.ca/news/2442160/hong-kong-rooted-in-tradition-while-accelerating-into-the-future/

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