Fun fact: a rather popular YouTube series by the name of DigitalRev TV had been a huge inspiration to me when I was first starting photography. The British-accented host, Kai Wong, had introduced me to the wonderful world of street photography, specifically in the always-busy streets of Hong Kong. The notion of capturing the seemingly ordinary instances of life in the most fascinating ways had long served as inspiration for my style, and I had always wanted to capture the very place that started it all.
7 years later, this dream finally came into fruition, and I was not only able to visit, but I was also lucky enough to travel with a local who was extremely versed in the densely packed city filled with hidden treasures.
A flight, a 4 hour layover, and another flight later, I landed in Hong Kong, welcomed by a wonderfully coincidental heat wave that lasted the entire time I was there. It ended up being the hottest May ever recorded, and we had a rather full itinerary involving traversing the region several times over, what could possibly go wrong?
Upon landing, I was greeted with a matcha mille crepe from McDonald's of all places (for under $5 canadian, it was surprisingly good) and a quick meal from a HK cafe, or cha chaan teng. These spots are amazing if you're looking for a well-priced delicious home-style meal.
Our first day started off with another famous Hong Kong dish: tomato soup with macaroni. It may sound like a strange combination, but I can assure you that it's amazing.
Served under umbrellas in an outdoor plaza, Sing Heung Yuen is famous to locals and tourists alike. Their lemon honey toast is a must-try as well. I would say it's the perfect place to refuel in the middle of a long day, but the lack of AC and the infamously crazy wait times mean that if you want to give it a try, it might be best to stop by right when they open.
Sing Heung Yuen put us right into the heart of the old part of Hong Kong island, and I was already in love with what I saw. As somebody who expected to be turned off by the extreme density, every corner of every street was brimming with life and beauty.
In a city where land is such a precious resource, breaks in the commercial density such as Man Mo Temple and a little fountain we stumbled upon were breaths of relief.
Yes, the denseness lent itself to much of Hong Kong's beauty, but as a born and raised Vancouverite, it was almost overwhelming at times. It didn't take long for me to start understanding those memes about the Admiralty MTR Station.
While we tried to stay away from the super touristy luxury shopping districts of Central (as I feel like shopping in stores which have identical items in literally every major city in every country is a traveling sin), the tantalizing calls of Lady M were too much for us to brush away.
Yes, it was certainly worth the price and the fact that we stuck out like sore thumbs in the luxury mall. You can only try so hard to look presentable when two seconds of outside exposure can curdle milk and turn anybody into a sweaty mess. I have been told that several local bakeries offer similar quality crepe cakes for a fraction of the price however.
Next up to cross off our tourist list: the Duddell Starbucks. Designed to look like a classic Hong Kong cafe from the 50's, it was such an authentic recreation that I was almost in disbelief that people were sipping venti frapps and caramel macchiatos inside.
Besides the decor, the location apparently offers unique menu items as well, including an HK style milk tea.
It was almost disorienting how quickly the city switched from the modern, skycraper filled streets to the traditional residential ones. While the Starbucks was an example of how the new and old can exist symbiotically, the vast majority of Hong Kong is a ferocious warzone, where new money and old traditions square off.
Those most affected by this war are the average residents of Hong Kong. Many struggle to find salvation in the government subsidized public housing: an attempt to make normal living quarters affordable for the working class. Unfortunately, despite their already high volume, the target wait time for acquiring a coveted spot is 3 years.
Even these sanctuaries of the working class are not safe from the persistent and invasive redevelopment that plagues Hong Kong. The structure we took these photos on, which served as a mall providing basic necessities to many senior residents, was torn down just a month after I left, despite the strong campaigns to keep it.
From the public housing areas, we made our ways down over to the Ladies' Market, arguably one of the most iconic parts of Hong Kong. With neon signs dangling precariously above and street vendors as far as the eye can see, this was one of the places I most looked forward to capturing.
By this time however, I was basically in autopilot mode, unable to put much effort into anything due to the extreme heat we had been immersed in the entire day we were out.
Still, it was thrilling to take street photos in a place where no matter where you point your camera, you're bound to find something interesting to capture.
Below: "The photo everybody who goes to Hong Kong takes".
After such a long day, we went back over to the Tai Po Market area to grab dinner. Fighting our way through the MTR stations, we eventually arrived at Chan Hon Kee: a spot famous for its claypot rice and rice rolls.
It's well worth the trek if you're looking to try this renowned dish, I'm not sure what variation we ordered, but it had some resemblance to a smoked eel. Combined with the crispy and potentially carcinogenic scorched rice, it was a welcome way to refuel.
Despite the heat, my initial impressions of Hong Kong were of constant amazement, but also timidness due to the overwhelming nature of the city's density. While this post mostly focused on the highly developed areas, next we'll be taking a look at the unexpected amount of nature hidden away from most international tourists (No, it's not Dragon's Back.)