As I now have had time to reflect on my time in Hong Kong (and take a step back from the awe I was experiencing in the density of the city), I thought back to one of the terms a few of us were mentioning as we continued through our trip: juxtaposition. No matter where you look or go there is a strong contrast between old and new, rich and poor. You can see this everywhere no matter whether you are looking at buildings, people, or food. The biggest example of this ying and yan I experienced was the first day I had in Hong Kong and took a couple of walking tours to get a grounds eye view of the area.
When I started the first of two walks, I initially felt like I was in a city similar to San Francisco. I was immersed in skyscrapers and other large buildings. There were numerous taxis and buses moving people around. But once I got a little further from the train station, I started to notice little nuggets of past architecture that were sprinkled around Hong Kong island. After leaving the massive buildings, I found myself in front of the Flagstaff House. This was the first glaring example of old British influence on the area. It is the oldest example of British style architecture remaining in Hong Kong. Built in 1846, it was for many years the residence of the Commander of the British forces in Hong Kong during colonial times. Today it houses the Museum of Tea Wares.
After continuing to see some of the most iconic building on Hong Kong island (Bank of China, HSBC), I decided to hop on the train and go out to the New Territories to get a glimpse of Hong Kong settlements long before British influence.
Ping Shan in Tin Shui Wai was settled in the 12th century by the Tang clan, one of the five great indigenous families of Hong Kong. The Ping Shan Heritage Trail links a number of the clan’s original structures in a meandering one-kilometer walk that contrasts new with old.
The Tang ancestral hall, built seven centuries ago, is well worth a visit. The monument is located halfway along the trail and features three halls with two courtyards. Elaborately carved motifs can be seen on wooden beams and brackets, while the hall is notable for its lack of an entrance threshold.
Towards the end of the trail is the oldest surviving pagoda in Hong Kong, the trail’s most impressive structure. This was the most glaring example of old vs new that I felt. As I was looking at the pagoda, I couldn’t help fixate on the large housing complexes just beyond the MTR station. It was amazing to see how within a couple minutes walk of each other, the stark contrast between periods in Hong Kong’s history.
My main takeaway from Hong Kong is the how the pure contrasts seem to work harmoniously to make a wonderful city. Hong Kong. An island. A dense mass. Many varied landscapes. It certainly is an urban beauty.