When the first missionaries arrived in Hong Kong in 1852, they were greeted in a strange tongue by a people hostile to foreigners, and most especially to Christian missionaries. Those early Elders lasted only four months.
Over 150 years of subsequent British rule has opened the area to western influences. Gone is the hostility, and the China Hong Kong Mission is marking fifty very successful years in 2005.
The combination of British and Chinese culture makes for some uniquely Hong Kong cultural twists, starting with the language. Although Cantonese is the primary language, Mandarin is also spoken, especially by those who have come from Mainland China. While both are dialects of Chinese, the differences are, well, pronounced. Signage throughout the city is in Chinese and, conveniently, English, but unless you learned your English on the right-hand side of the Atlantic, phrases like “Please mind the gap,” (watch your step), “No hawking,” (no street vendors), and “No padding” (no idea) may require some translation.
Four Places You Must See in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Temple
Dedicated by President Hinckley in May of 1996, the Hong Kong Temple is unique in its design and function. Temple patrons use three of the building’s six levels; other floors house a chapel, classrooms, and offices and living quarters for the mission and temple presidents. Sessions are somewhat limited, so call to check for times (852) 2339-8100.
If you have only one evening in Hong Kong, spend it at Victoria Peak, and hope the weather is clear. The views are breathtaking, day or night. At the top you’ll find restaurants (nothing inexpensive) and mall shopping. You can also see the place where Elder Matthew Cowley officially opened the Chinese Mission on July 14, 1949. To find the spot, walk down Peak Circle Walk (adjacent to the Peak Lookout Restaurant.) When you get to the waterfall, take about seventy more steps, and then check the rock cliff at eye-level for the date etching. (You’ll have to look carefully; although they’ve known of its existence for years, Church members have only recently been able to locate this date.)
Hong Kong Harbour
Whether by ferry or boat tour, from Hong Kong Island or Kowloon, be sure to see Hong Kong Harbour at night. Dark comes early here, so you don’t even have to stay up late. A light show at eight pm nightly can be experienced from many parts of the city. Photographers on the Kowloon side (near the museums and clock tower) will gladly barter for the right to take your picture in front of a stunning harbour backdrop.
If you have a day, make the trip to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha. Sitting 111 feet (34 meters) high, this Buddha’s height is accentuated by the fact that he sits atop approximately one million stairs (okay, we lost track after about 103). Today’s climb is well worth tomorrow’s tight calf muscles, though, and the views from the top are not to be missed.
The Great Buddah is a major center of Buddhism in Hong Kong as it symbolizes the relationship between man, nature, and religion.Religion and Spirituality
To appreciate the gap in religions, try a temple day. Start your day with a 9:00 a.m. session at one of the Church’s most unique temples. You’ll appreciate the small waterfall and garden separating the entrance from the street, the familiar paintings, and the quiet (if somewhat compact) climate-controlled atmosphere. (The temple is one of the few buildings in Hong Kong that does not appear to be decaying. Here, climate control is as much about humidity as it is temperature.)
Next, hop on the MTR (the mass-transit rail line) and get off at the Wong Tai Sin Station. There you will find the Wong Tai Sin Buddhist Temple. With its beautiful landscaped garden, clouds of incense, and the bright colors typical of a Buddhist Temple, you’ll be in for sensory overload, especially if you spent any time in the peaceful Celestial room earlier in the day. Visitors are welcome at Wong Tai Sin, and for the most part, photography is acceptable, just be respectful; many people there are worshiping.
Historic Meets Modern
Much of the architecture of the city has been highly influenced by Europe. Everywhere you look, the city is under construction, and astounding glass and metal high rises loom over stately colonial-style cathedrals and churches, parks and botanical gardens.
This is especially evident in the central part of Hong Kong Island, as well as across the harbor in the museum district of Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). Here you can see an actual Ming vase (pronounced “vaz,” of course) at the Museum of Arts or check out the planetarium at the Space Museum. The Science Museum, Museum of History, and Cultural Centre round out the collection of ultra-modern buildings in the complex.
Nestled among them is the Clock Tower, part of the original Kowloon-Canton Railway terminus. This landmark hails back to the Age of Steam, when people spent days traveling across Europe and then Asia to this TST terminus.
Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for British fine-bone china or U.S. $1 silk ties, it’s all here. Upper-end shops cluster around the upper-end hotels, like the Peninsula Hotel, the “Grande Dame” of Hong Kong hotels (located across the street from the museums in TST). Harbour City, a couple of blocks away is home to Hong Kong’s largest shopping complex and includes fifty restaurants, thirty-six shoe stores, thirty-one jewelry and watch stores, and the aforementioned fine china stores, including Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, and Lladro.
For a real Hong Kong experience, however, you must try one of Kowloon’s street markets. Brush up on you bartering skills at Ladies’ Market (open noon to11:30 p.m. daily), and Temple Street Night Market (open 4:00 p.m. to midnight daily). Hang on to your purses in these crowded, open-air shopping stalls! Here you can find anything from watches to electronic toys to Chinese silk pajamas at bargain-basement prices. For browsing interest, check out the Flower Market, Bird Garden, Goldfish Market, or Jade Market.
For great deals in a friendlier, less-crowded environment, take an afternoon to visit Stanley. Linens, clothing, souvenirs, and furniture are the highlights of this beachside market. The bus ride from Exchange Square in Central (take No. 6, 6A, 6X, or 260) is half the fun. (For the best effect, ride on the front row of the upper level and try not to gasp.)
Just for Fun
For family fun, try Ocean Park’s dolphin shows and roller coasters, or visit the new Hong Kong Disneyland. Just opened in September, Hong Kong Disneyland includes four lands: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Fantasyland. Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel provide accommodations for families visiting this somewhat remote area of Lantau Island. The latest version of the “happiest place on earth” has its very own MTR stop, complete with mouse ears, so access is easy.