It is through the eyes of Hong Kong’s people that I have come to appreciate this city. I’m lucky — I’ve had my friend, Winnie, to show me some of her hometown’s highlights. But other visitors can benefit from local knowledge as well.
In a unique Hong Kong initiative called “Meet the People,” area residents, artists and businessmen have offered to share their thoughts and expertise with guests to the city. The goal is to help visitors get below surface tourism and experience Chinese culture, tradition and heritage for themselves.
Free weekly sessions on a variety of topics and activities are offered in English, which is widely spoken in this former British colony.
Mr. Ip’s tea talk has been so enjoyable, that I decide to attend some of the other free local-taught classes.
Early-morning tai chi lessons are offered on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront Promenade in Kowloon, so I head out while the sky is still dark to give this popular practice a try.
Tai chi instructors William Ng and Pandora Wu lead the class of about 20 tourists from all over the globe. As the sun moves into the sky, Ng gently helps participants find the correct positions, encouraging them to relax and enjoy the exercise. “Tai chi is about balance,” he says to me, moving my arms into correct position.
Niels Voigt, a 25-year-old visitor from Amsterdam, is one of the other participants. “This program is a good way to get to know people and experience Hong Kong,” says Voigt as he practices the unfamiliar moves. “I wish this kind of program was in other cities as well.”
I would agree, but I’m too busy trying to get the moves right to reply. Although tai chi looks easy, it is not! My muscles ache by the time the class is over.
Locals from other fields have also chosen to share their expertise with visitors to Hong Kong. Henry Cheng, a respected jeweler and designer, offers his knowledge in a free class on Jade Shopping.
This know-how comes in handy later on as Winnie and I head for Hong Kong’s Jade Market. There are literally hundreds of jade sellers to choose from, and my friend waits patiently as I search for the perfect purchase.
From there, we head to dinner, which has quickly become one of my favorite experiences here in Hong Kong. All of my life, I’ve been fairly unimpressed by the “Chinese food” served up in my home state of Colorado. And now I‘ve confirmed what I’ve long suspected — much of the “Chinese cuisine” served in my mountain community bears little resemblance to the authentic thing.
“American-Chinese food is like Chinese for beginners,” a local restaurateur from my hometown informs me later. (Now he tells me!)
But the food in Hong Kong is excellent, igniting tastes I have never before experienced — from the sautéed crab claws at the award-winning GoldenBauhinia Restaurant to dim sum at a local eatery to the Bird’s Nest Soup and mouth-watering Peking Duck at T’ang Court.
By the end of my second day in Hong Kong, I’m hooked on the local cuisine. I will never be satisfied with the “fake” Chinese food back home again.
I have discovered something else I like about this thriving city — it is a true shopper’s paradise. As one of the world’s top fashion centers, there are hundreds of upscale clothing stores and other shops to choose from.
But you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good deal. In fact, Hong Kong’s many streets markets offer top goods at very competitive prices.
Using the city’s excellent public transport system, Winnie and I head off for a full day of shopping later that week. First, we stroll through the Flower Market, where the streets are lined with dozens of flower shops. Blooms are everywhere, and the sweet fragrance of flowers fills the air.
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