When does a walk become a hike? When does a hike become a trek? Is a hike or a trek bigger? Is hiking just walking off-road? How pretentious do you have to be to call it hiking and buy a headlamp and walking sticks and then tell everybody you’re going hiking?
Hiking is about getting out into nature, experiencing the elements and getting your shoes dirty, of rising altitude and testing your endurance. But eventually, after the initial excitement of a good view all those trees and rocks can get a bit monotonous. The silence and occasional bird chirp loses the charm quickly and the smell of nature doesn’t vary to often.
Spend a day walking in Hong Kong and the sights, sounds and smells can change around every corner, throwing up the amusing and astounding on every block.
A six kilometre wander Hong Kong’s Kowloon can be as entertaining and fulfilling as any trek up a hill. Hong Kong’s past and present are everywhere to see with its colonial English street names and ubiquitous Cantonese advertising hanging over every street next to ads from Phillips and Hyundai.
Starting at the north end of Nathan Street under a façade of air conditioners and foot massage parlours it became apparent that dodging people would be the game of the day as they blatantly refused to dodge me. Towering above the street are the high rise apartment buildings, rows of tiny flats housing the city’s seven million people where traffic roars underneath and the city hiker breathes in the exhaust fumes unique to city hiking.
The first landmark on the walk is the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, where the sound of engines and car horns give way to the pleasant chirping of caged birds where old men, cigarettes hanging from drooping mouths, exhibit the Chinese pastime of putting things in cages. Free sparrows dart between, teasing the other birds yet maybe feeling unappreciated that they are not valuable enough to be put in a cage. I assume these birds are not for eating, but with the Chinese it’s hard to be sure.
The bird street was a male only affair but around the corner on Flower Market Road women were again prevalent among the two-hundred meter stretch of colour, until another turn finds the Goldfish Market where, like the birds, rows upon rows of colourful fish hang in tiny bags, enjoying life about as much as the caged birds. Below lay tubs of water where toy-sized turtled tried desperately to climb out to no avail, soon to be put into small plastic pouches to be worn as an accessory by a Chinese youth until they die from suffocation and are thrown away to be replaced by another live one.
Among the shops of the Goldfish market were other animals for sale. Kittens, crabs, rabbits, toy dogs that you can’t help but assume were bred in puppy factories and may not last long once they grow too big to fit in the average Hong Kong handbag. It was like a museum of animal mistreatment.
Market Valle G, a multi-level food market, had live marine life as well – all sorts of dark green, slivery, scaly, crablike creatures – but these weren’t as pretty as the goldfish so these were food. This may have been merciful given the life of the others.
For a dash of culture I visited the Tin Hau Temple where the smell of incense was overpowered by the refuse collection point in the parking lot so it was back to another food market.
Feeding seven million people daily in a place the size of Hong Kong is a logistical masterwork. And it’s not because they have more, it’s because they eat everything. At the Reclamation Street Market there is nothing living anymore. Things hang carved, salted or dried in all shapes and sizes. I’m not overly picky when it comes to putting food in my mouth but if I was offered a taste of anything on this street it would have taken some fortitude. Luckily it didn’t come up as taste testing the dried fish wasn’t a part of the marketing strategy.
A solid 30 minute powerwalk down Nathan Road through Yau Ma Tei had me at the Hung Hom Promenade overlooking Victoria Harbour, dodging cameras and labourers on the Avenue of Stars with the impressive skyline of Hong Kong Island dominating the view. It wasn’t the top of Everest but it was a decent sight to end the day on.