Despite spending our four and a half days in Hong Kong with runny noses and frightening coughs, we managed to have a good time. This was our second opportunity to stay with locals, getting an insider look and saving on accommodation, via the CouchSurfing network. David kindly took us in, fed and hosted us and took us scrambling up mountainsides and down creek beds in the New Territories part of the city. We came across many traditional graves, including that of Madam Yang, mother of Dr. Sun Yat-sen who is known as the Father of Modern China and also highly revered in Taiwan. Here we were high above the sprawling city, lying in the haze below.
For our first three days in Hong Kong the city was celebrating the lunar Chinese New Year. This is a time traditionally spent with family and the city was pleasantly quiet, although we jostled elbows with many others for a glimpse of international performers during the Monday night parade.
On Tuesday we made a pilgrimage to the island of Lantau to see the huge seated Amitabha Buddha, one of the five biggest Buddha statues in China. His lotus throne is a three-tiered altar modeled after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The outing quickly turned into an expedition, mainly because we forgot the first tenet of sight-seeing:
"Thou shalt not go to tourist sites during public holidays." It was a nearly 2-hour wait for the cable car to Lantau's peak where Buddha and Po Lin Monastery awaited shrouded in clouds. Our teeth practically chattering on arrival, we raced through the mist to the monastery's restaurant and thawed out over a vegetarian 5-course meal and jasmine tea before paying our respects to the ever-composed meditating deities.
Hong Kong means "fragrant harbor" in Cantonese and gets its name from incense stored for export near the docks. It has the largest number of skyscrapers worldwide (nearly 6.5 thousand) and feels a bit like landing in a space-age movie, minus hovering cars. I really liked the downtown core, where narrow cobblestone lanes and winding streets are lined with stylish restaurants and boutiques. Walking to the nearest district took us through a labyrinth of above-ground walkways, past ultra-modern office towers and small green spaces. At night, everything was lit up with season's greetings and advertising.
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