Living in Asia we are extremely lucky to have so many wonderful places to explore and all within a couple of hours of our base in Singapore. So when the opportunity arose to visit another expat photographer and friend, Anna Bowkis of Anna Bowkis Photography, I jumped at the chance to explore her home of Hong Kong. There’s a certain community that evolves when you are so far from home, a bond between other expats who can understand the extremes you go through of excitement and adventure and extreme loneliness and that sense of displacement which comes with each new move. Anna was going to be my personal tour guide and fellow adventurer for a brief 4 day trip.
Hong Kong is actually made up of several islands, the largest, Lantau, houses the city’s international airport. Since the handover from British rule to China in 1997, the city has seen further development and growth and the traditional street markets are sadly in decline. Licenses are not being renewed by Government and numbers reduce until one day the streets will be empty of these sights. Graham Street in the heart of the central district still is dotted with traders selling fresh fruit, fish, flowers, spices, medicines, household goods and tofu. It’s old charm still evident with the elderly market holders busily tending their stalls, chatting to customers and other vendors, sipping green tea on their plastic stools. It’s alive, real, authentic, community. A real pleasure to wander around with the sights and sounds of the market to a backdrop of neon signs, tattered plastic blue and white sheeting and cobbled streets.
I love markets, especially in Asia. There is so much to see, touch, smell and of course photograph. Here are some of my favourite images.
There usual tourist spots were not on the cards for us due to it being the wet season – think torrential rain, storms, typhoons and lots of cloud. So we spent more time exploring the streets. I actually have to confess that it’s my preferred way to discover a new destination. The exchanges you experience on the street are often the ones which create special stories and memories in your travel journal. One of the major immediate differences to a Western city is the signage – road, street, shop signs all in Chinese aswell as English. I love recording the different ones as we explored the city, from the battered hand scribbled notes on boxes to the lavish neon flashing decoration on the streets. They all add to tell the story of Hong Kong.
One of the oldest markets, is the Bird Market. For years, traders have bought and sold songbirds here. All manner of birds are singing in cages, some brightly coloured, others plain brown in looks but with the most magical song to their voice. Seeing animals in cages is not really my thing but this is a cultural heritage site and a place of significance for many. The vendors were all cleaning the cages, feeding their birds and tending to them in a way which made you realise that this is a tradition handed from generation to generation. The market corridors were jam packed with everything imaginable, including live crickets to buy to feed your birds at home! Tiny stalls were jammed with beautifully decorated porcelain bird feeders, accessories, food, cages and bric a brac. It used to be very common to have open regular competitions to see who had the most beautiful songbirds. This is something you can still witness in certain areas of Singapore.
In the midst of skycrapers, bustling streets and markets is the quiet and beautiful Man Mo Temple, located on the corner of Ladder Street. I had to include the street to give you a sense of just how hilly Hong Kong is! My calves got a good work out trekking up and down these roads. The temple was built as a tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo) worshipped by ambitious students hoping for success in their Imperial Chinese examinations. Upon entering the temple, you are greeted with an intricately decorated and beautiful large red door portraying various scenes. Then the smell of the giant coiled incense sticks hanging from a bamboo gridwork high above you, hits you. We were lucky that there were only a few burning but am told that it can be overpowering on busy days. Beautiful lanterns are hung inside with notes and prayers left by visitors. At the end of the temple are the two statues of Man and Mo were you can stop to make offerings, say prayers and contemplate. Its in stark contrast to the noise of the busy city outside of its doors.
There is too much to cover in this one short post, but I hope this has given you a feel for the city of Hong Kong. I’ll finish with some black and white shots of things I saw on my trip. Huge thanks to Anna for being an incredible guide.
Remember, adventure is out there!