Hong Kong

November 8, 2016 • 11:00 am

I didn’t have the usual leisure time in the past week to post pictures and information about my trip, for I’m doing a lot of stuff here. But my last three days after Friday are free days, which I’ll use for sightseeing, eating, and maybe finding some nice tea to take back home. (Any recommendations for all of these things, locals? I’m staying in “Central” off Wellington Street.)

Here are some random photos of my peregrinations.

Hong Kong, photographed from across the water in Kowloon. What is appealing about Hong Kong is its felicitous mixture of modernity (viz., the buildings below) and older Chinese culture, or rather Hong Kong culture, as there’s currently a lot of friction between the residents of Hong Kong and the Chinese government, formally their “masters.”


A group of people waiting to cross the street when the light changes. Some of the expats here complain that Hong Kong is too crowded, but they’ve clearly never been to Old Delhi in India!


HSBC, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, is one of the world’s largest banks. One of my hosts here, Andrew, works for them and took my by the local headquarters to see their very famous brass lions—so famous that they have their own Wikipedia page. The guarding lions, named Stephen and Stitt, first appeared in Shanghai, but the ones in Hong Kong are the most famous:

When HSBC decided to build its third Headquarters at 1 Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong, opened in 1935, it commissioned two bronze lions from Shanghai-based British sculptor WW Wagstaff. This commission was inspired by the earlier lions commissioned for the Shanghai office, and the Hong Kong lions were modelled on, but are not identical to, the Shanghai lions.

Wagstaff worked with “Shanghai Arts and Crafts” foreman Chou Yin Hsiang who in an interview with John Loch of HSBC’s house magazine “Group News” in June 1977 recalled that when he first joined Arts and Crafts he worked with Wagstaff for two years to make the lions, without having to learn a word of English. . .

. . . As a mark of the respect the lions were held in, the move to Statue Square, and the move back in 1985, were accompanied by the chairman Sir Michael Sandberg and senior management of the Bank and the placement of the lions both temporarily and in their current locations was made only after extensive consultations with feng shui practitioners.

. . . Like the Shanghai lions, the Hong Kong lions became objects of veneration, and focii [sic] of the Bank’s perceived excellent feng shui. Young couples still bring their toddlers to stroke the paws and noses of the statues hoping for luck and prosperity.

Here’s Stephen; note how his paws have been rubbed bright by those wanting good luck:



The Hong Kong lions are also called Stephen and Stitt, and the Hong Kong Stephen has bullet or shrapnel scars in its left hind-quarters dating from the fighting in the Battle of Hong Kong. [JAC: On Dec. 7, 1941, the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also attacked Hong Kong, defeating the British and Canadian, and Indian defenders within two weeks.]

The lions were taken away by the Japanese but fortuitously recovered; read more about them here.

Japanese bullet and shrapnel damage:


A Buddhist-themed park (with a nunnery next door) in Kowloon:


Real estate is hideously expensive in Hong Kong, which means that apartments and stores must be small. Here’s a hardware store: the Hong Kong equivalent of Home Depot. You can’t find anything yourself; you have to ask, and the proprietor can locate anything


A store selling dried sea goods, like sea cucumber, skate, and (unfortunately) shark fin:


This store sells almost exclusively soy sauce: there are many more types of soy sauce here than in the U.S., as each type is used for a different dish or type of food:


Because storage space is small, and most locals shop for food daily, freshness is prized and paramount. I was told that this beef was living cow the day before it came to market (there’s no refrigeration in these markets):


Several streets in the city are devoted to the Flower Market, a lovely place:


Pitcher plants for sale, hanging from the ceiling


Bonsai for sale:


I was astounded that this tiny apple tree, no more than three feet tale, bore full-sized fruit:


Nearby is the Bird Market, which saddened me as there were many wild birds for sale in small cages, unable to fly free. I couldn’t bear to photograph them. Here’s one store, though, that sells fancy cages:


My one photo from the bird market: an older Chinese man and his parrot, which he fondled and kissed. I was told by a friend that this is a male Eclectus parrot, (Eclectus roratus) from Southeast Asia.


When I wondered how my friend knew it was a male, as many parrots have identical males and females, I found out that this species, from SE Asia and its islands, has extreme sexual dimorphism, so that males are green like the one above, while females look like the one on the right below (photo from Wikipedia). Don’t ask me why:

Also nearby is the Goldfish Market, where all kinds of goldfish and koi (all a single highly modified species of carp) are for sale. The small ones hang in bags on the street; presumably they’re put back in tanks at night:


The power of artificial selection!:



Finally, under some of the underpasses and walkways on the weekend I saw large groups of women sitting on blankets and sheets of cardboard, with food, drinks, playing cards, and so on. They were clearly not homeless people, and I was told that these are the domestic workers of Hong Kong—largely from the Philippines—who gather to meet their fellow workers on the weekends. The underpass gives them a sheltered place to congregate, chat, eat, and while away the hours.



28 thoughts on “Hong Kong

  1. A store selling dried sea goods, like sea cucumber,

    Isn’t sea cucumber illegal – in at least some countries, or for some species?
    By coincidence, I saw an item on other news about a guy scuba-diving “for sea cucumber” who found a bit more than he bargained for : a nuclear bomb. Well, one was lost in the area in a bomber crash in 1950, so it’s not incredible. The detailed description doesn’t sound very bomb-like to me, but we’ll see what comes out in the wash.

  2. Take the ride up Victoria Peak.
    Visit and hike Sunset Peak on Lantau Island.
    Take the MTR over to Lion Rock on Kowloon for a hike. The HK parks and islands offer an amazing contrast to the bustle of the city.

  3. I visited Hong Kong and Beijing in the mid-nineties when Hong Kong was still a British Dependent Territory. These photos bring back fond memories. One thing the photos can’t represent is the incredible smells in the city…stark aromas of food and funk. I loved Hong Kong and enjoyed Beijing as well, but the authoritarian communist government was very present in Beijing and a little unnerving. There were lots of soldiers with AK-47s marching about.

    In Tiananmen Square there was a massive digital clock ticking backward. I asked our Beijing guide what it was. The answer: when it reaches zero, Hong Kong belongs to China again. I would like to visit again and see if things have changed much.

  4. Never got the chance to go to Hong Kong but the shopping areas there are similar to Itaewon in South Korea. Every culture has their special area. I cannot remember the area of Tokyo that is full blown streets shopping but it was also total chaos. You have to wonder – does anyone ever take inventory? Impossible.

  5. I am a little surprised. Is the world getting ‘bigger’. I thought Americans had a hefty lead on the waist size. I wonder if there is some kind of correlation between modernity and the need to update one’s wardrobe.

    That is a pretty parrot.

  6. Fun fact: Eclectus parrots were originally described as two separate species. It wasn’t until some scientist observed an active nest that anyone figured out the truth.

  7. When I lived in Tunisia in the early 1970s, one knew what was available and that the meat was fresh, because meat vendors would hang the head of the butchered beast on a hook and display it at the top of the stall. They also had artful, if weird and somewhat surreal, ways of displaying the various cuts, especially the much prized sheep heads and testicles. I could never bring myself to consume either.

  8. Re the ecletus parrots, it appears to me that their eyes are also strikingly different; the female has a ring of white in her eye, while the male’s eye appears almost solid color.

  9. Hong Kong, like Taiwan, of course has a very strong cultural heritage from mainland China, but its effective isolation from the rest of China for 100 years has resulted in a different culture from even its closest neighbors in the Guandong province. I hadn’t really been to visit in over 20 years; the last few times I’d only been in the new airport on Lantau and not traveled to Kowloon or to Hong Kong proper. I think it would be great for Hong Kong to retain its own character and that the communist party shouldn’t insist on a “One China” policy which means cultural hegemony; even the denizens of Guangzhou oppose such a thing. China can be united without suppressing the cultures of its people. Then again maybe that’s just nostalgia for the Hong Kong of my childhood.

  10. Thanks for coming to our school and giving a talk! Couldn’t agree more with what you said. The IB diploma, and a lot of international teaching in general, is unfortunately pushing the ‘many ways of knowing’ narrative and sometimes I worry overall that the scientific method is not taught enough in schools. Too much emphasis seems to be on the scientific facts rather than the method of inquiry that leads to them. If you need any help while in Hong Kong, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My family would be honored to take you out for dinner.
    Best regards the Danish physics teacher 😉

    1. I remember with fondness a vegetarian dim sum place in Vancouver that catered a lot to “once a year Buddhists”. Is there any particular (cultural?) reason why LockCha is vegetarian? (Just wondering, since vegetarianism is a bit unusual in some Chinese contexts.)

  11. Looking forward to meeting you at Fringe Club tomorrow evening.
    I Second the idea of some hiking. Beautiful time for it. Dragon Back on Hong Kong island east is lovely.
    I see you’ve got tea purchases sorted.
    Peter Forsythe
    Discovery Bay

  12. Bonsai Trees, I could never keep them alive, even the missus who can cause rocks to grow, couldn’t. It was very frustrating, especially when you see ones that are thriving ,and in some cases their age is in 3 figures.

  13. If you are into hiking, there’s a beautiful trail called Dragon’s Back in Hong Kong Island; an easy hike with superb scenery. It’s the best time of the year to go hiking. I guess your host would know how to get there. For shopping and food in general, Causeway Bay is the best; Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) is a bit too touristy, and Central is more business-like.

    On the other hand, I think it would’ve been great if your talks could reach out to the broader population in HK instead of focusing on the more “western” community. But I guess this was fixed by your host.

    A side question: are your working on any new book? It’s been quite s few years since Why Evolution is True.


    1. Yes, my schedule was fixed by my host, but I gave lectures at two international schools–one in mainland China and the other here–on the dangers of faith. The student were entirely Chinese.

      I think you’ve missed my latest book, Faith versus Fact, which I’m talking about tonight at the Literary Festival. Unfortunately, the event is sold out.

      1. Oops, Faith vs Fact slipped my mind, my bad; Why Evolution is True was your first book I read, so it made a more lasting impression.

        The reason I brought up “a broader population in HK” was that most students in HK and China are not going to international schools, and I strongly believe many of such students would be interested in your talks. (In a way International schools and non-international schools make up rather different communities.) Of course that would be a big undertaking that needs a museum or university to help organize.

        P.S. I just checked with my friends at HKUST and HKU (two major universities here) and they were not aware of your talks here.

  14. FWIW: The fish in the aquarium is a cichlid, not a goldfish. The bump on its head may or may not be artificial selection. Some cichlid males get head ornamentation at maturity.

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