Wan Chai happened out of boredom and took up so much of unnecessary time,that I could not pay much attention to the beautiful fun filled New Territories.It was my second last day in HongKong and I was feeling lazy.I stretched out in bed till late and ordered in a big brunch.Finally for simply having nothing better to do other than lie and stare out of my window,I ambled around to get dressed and left.
Wanchai,formerly a favourite hang out place for berthed sailors during old days of the Orient,it is now a curious mix of decadence and decay.The name Wan Chai literally means “a cove” in Cantonese, but due to constant land reclamation and city development,the cove has long back given way to an urban sprawl.It was first home of many Chinese fishing villages,but with advent of British rule centered in Victoria town(Central),it attracted those living on the fringes of the stiff upper lip society,like coolies,prostitutes and later became a Chinese residential area.It housed many famous Chinese schools and became an important seaman center,with many Navy hospitals and dockyards.
1940s brought Japanese occupation and many bombardments rocked the area.Horrific war stories of cannibalism,starvation,torture and abuses perpetrated by Japanese soldiers along with child labour still run amok among the old wizened Wan Chai residents.That’s why Wan Chai is home to many bone chilling urban legends,although HK is widespread with them.The deadly Nam Koo Terrace,in the heart of WanChai’s high rises,is one such horrifying edifice.Covered with dense foliage it broods ominously and local legend holds that there is something horribly wrong at Nam Koo Terrace. Since 1918, there has been too many suicides, rapes and murders for authorities to keep count and today only the bravest hearts,mad,paranormal scientists and waylaid go there.Others,along with me strictly avoid it.
Nam Koo Terrace was turned into a Japanese military brothel during WWII,where local women were raped and tortured inside the house.Their headless spirits are now said to spew green smoke in the building’s dilapidated rooms at night and many strange incidents there have grabbed media attention,thus spreading its infamous reputation across world’s most popular HK guidebooks and travel shows.A group of teenagers on a ghost-hunting trip in 2003,made headlines when a girl got possessed at the gates and had to be hospitalized and to make matters worse recently a man was found dangling on the tree outside the manor, dead.
Prostitution was one of the most established businesses in Wan Chai and still now sex workers operate among ordinary residents and continue to be a distinct feature of the area.Being a seafront,since olden days much had been written about Wan Chai’s thriving sex trade patronized by sailors,the moment they got off the trading ships(curiously in exchange of western merchandise) and 1960’s saw the area become legendary for being an exotic playground,especially for the US service men.It was their resting ground and fun place during the dark unkind days of Vietnam War.
A nice bus ride brought me to WanChai and I did not quite like the strange,busy a bit rundown area of HK.It was confusing too,with 2 main parallel roads along the waterfront,intersected by too many tiny radial lanes and I had to hunt around quite a bit for the iconic blue house. The famous Blue House of WanChai is a quaint 4-storey balcony-type tenement block located at 72-74A Stone Nullah Lane. It’s painted in a brilliant blue colour,thus rendering its famous name and is a historic building.Since the 1950s, the building has housed everything from a martial-arts school to an osteopathy clinic(in operation till today) and residents still occupy the rickety,but beautiful structure,despite a lack of modern conveniences such as flush toilets.
I took a brief peep inside the recently opened Wan Chai Livelihood Place, on the Blue House’s ground floor and tried sneaking my way up the building.It was an interesting old crumbling structure,standing proudly right in the middle of a gleaming metropolis and curiously did not look out of place.Although,I was shooed away like a chicken by an old Chinese lady,the iconic Blue House was worth a visit.There were quite a few Indian subcontinent residents who seemed far more respectable than their sleazy,shady Kowloon counterparts(where because of traveling solo as an Indian woman I was actually mistaken for an exotic dancer/escort and approached).I walked around on the winding lanes surrounding Blue House, took in the nostalgic atmosphere of retro life of HongKong and came back to the main road, where glittering malls nearly crushed the historic Post Office out of view. It was a strange existence of busy modern HK disappearing into wet markets, winding lanes, outdated metering boxes and poster filled walls.
WanChai was interesting enough with jangling trams, food streets and very ethnic Chinese population,but I got bored soon and even gave its infamous party scene amiss.
TRAVEL TIP-WanChai is the party capital for the young and happening crowd of HK and those on a budget. It has great drinking options and some of the dirtiest and sleaziest bar scenes of HK.The dentist chair at Coyote’s is undoubtedly the most fun thing to do, where the barman pours, into the reclining customer’s tonsils a 4 second deluge of Triple Sec and tequila straight from the bottles.The Bermuda triangle of Club 7-11, also draws party goers in hordes where premium drinks are sold at comparatively low prices. “The Corners” however wins hands down as the most boisterous and sleazy party scene and dancing on bars with railings at Carnegie’s is a must thing to do for the young students and expats.
I followed a guide book’s profusely praised tip and made the mistake of going to the walled village of Kat Hing Wai.Dating around 500 years back to Ming dynasty, the tiny walled village was settled by Tang clan (one of the biggest clans to settle in the New Territories).I made the customary 10 HKD donation at the village entrance and walked in hopefully for a taste of HK’s rich past. Unfortunately all I saw were modern iron gates, rows of drying laundry and spanking new tiled buildings.Even the alleys dripped air conditioning water and held tangle of electrical wires.
It was badly disappointing and not even one,so much sought after( and praised by the guide book) traditional Hakka lady was visible. I came out with a bad taste because Kat Hing Wai village was to me nothing but an overrated tourist trap.It did have only one main road which radiated into cramped, narrow alleys,but the old buildings had long been replaced by new tenements and only a small temple,village guard house towers and the moat remained of its ancient heritage. The village was inhabited by descendants of those who built the walls, ages back to protect themselves from rival clans, bandits, pirates and tigers which used to roam the area.
Feeling a bit let down,I walked around the quiet wooded lanes of New Territories and liked what I saw. Although very suburban, in comparison to HK’s glittering columns, I found New Territories very very comfortingly green and peaceful. It had a lovely mixed ethnic population and lots of interesting restaurants like shawarma counters, Thai takeaways and salad joints.
I took the tram to Admiralty and unsure of my next destination, took the MTR to Diamond Hill.Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden were both located in Diamond Hill and were 2 most beautiful representations of Tang Dynasty, where each stone, rock, tree and water elements had been landscaped following specific rules and regulations. Built in 1934, Chi Lin Nunnery is a lovely oasis spread over 33000 square meters and comprise of dozens of different halls, lotus ponds and a five floor thousand Buddha pagoda. Flowering shrubs, pine trees and bonsais scented the quiet air mildly and blue lilies and lotuses jostled in the pools.Water tinkled merrily and colourful koi splashed and jumped. The nunnery was beautiful and I lingered there for a long time resting under its ornamental peaked roof and aging rich timber corridors. It was in the heart of Kowloon but a far cry from the crazy madness of Nathan Road.
My last stop of the day was the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple and it was yet another beautiful spiritual insight into crazy Kowloon.I got off at the Tai Sin MTR station and followed the trail of incense, worshipers, tourists and hustlers peddling religious offerings and incense sticks. Home to 3 religions, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, it draws people from all walks of HK life. Pensioners, businessmen, students and couples all come to pray and connect with Almighty with chim (bamboo fortune sticks),which are shaken out of the box to be read by fortune tellers.
Wong Tai Sin’s claim to make every wish come true and it’s beautifully ornamented building complex draw visitors in hordes. The temple is adjacent to the housing estate of the same name and is dedicated to Wong Tai Sin god, who began his life as a humble shepherd.When he was 15, an immortal taught him how to make a herbal potion which could cure all illnesses and is thus much worshiped by the sick and ailing. The temple is also patronized by businessmen and was teeming with people when I reached there.
But even the crowd could not mar it’s breathtaking beauty. The entire complex was an explosion of sensual delights and rainbow colours.Statues of the 12 zodiac signs of Chinese calendar adorned the walkway, colourful globes of Chinese lanterns swung in the evening breeze and incense curled into Kowloon sky.Colourful pillars,roofs, ornate latticework, bells and flowers filled every inch of the temple and gurgling fountains streamed under zigzag bridges, where koi swam merrily. I watched the Chinese faithful shake bamboo fortune sticks feverishly and a glorious red sun set among the surrounding high rises.It was a beautiful Hong Kong evening.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE