Sunday, 18 November 2018

Picture of the Day: Victoria Peak

How can you ever get tired of this stunning view of Hong Kong?
We had a visitor from out of town so after dim sum today we did the touristy thing and went up to Victoria Peak via taxi.

The Peak Galleria shopping mall is being renovated, and there are still large numbers of people coming up, so the only place to go to the washroom is the Peak Tower nearby and the lines were ridiculously long...

With the Peak Galleria not completed until next summer, there are no provisions in place for visitors to have enough facilities to help them have a decent time up there. It's practically embarrassing. Does the Hong Kong Tourism Board know this?

The Peak Galleria will be reopened next summer...
In addition, my architect cousin was critiquing the area and was unimpressed by the existing buildings. He feels there is a better way to showcase this iconic landmark than just plonking a mall on the land; there should be terraces for people to have better views looking down on the city, and transportation links could be more thought out instead of underneath a mall in a dark place.

The Peak Tower isn't exactly an architectural statement, and it looks like the Peak Galleria will be pretty much the same except it'll have more expensive stores and restaurants in there to pay off the renovations. Hardly inspirational.

But we digress... once our bathroom issues were sorted, we did the circular route around the Peak on Lugard Road. It was an absolutely gorgeous day today, with blue skies and some clouds, and not too hot either.

At first there were hordes of people doing a charity walk, but as we went along the route, the numbers slowly dropped off and we had unobstructed views of the city we couldn't help but take pictures of.

When we finished the 3.5km walk less than an hour later, we had to get out of the Peak because there was hardly anywhere to have a drink, let alone sit down with so many people there.

We went to the underground transportation area where there was a big line for the minibus and taxi, but the #15 bus was about to leave so we took that to go down. There was no choice but to stand on the bus the whole way, but thankfully the ride was relatively fast!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Futuristic Railway Station

The exterior of the Hong Kong West Kowloon Railway Station
Today we played tourist in Hong Kong and decided to check out the Hong Kong West Kowloon Railway Station, that is also known as Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High Speed Railway, Hong Kong High Speed Rail Station, and Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus.

How about choosing one name and then sticking with it?

Inside the columns are very impressive, and high ceilings
At the time we were at the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui and asked the Hong Kong Tourism Board staff there how to get to the railway station. They suggested taking the 77M minibus, but that we should take it to the terminus (Kowloon Station) and then walk over.

We waited and waited for the green minibus and then we gave up and walked a few metres when I turned around and saw that it had stopped at the bus stop. We ran to the minibus and got on. I asked the minibus driver if we could get off at the railway station and he waved his hand to say yes.

It just seems strange that the bus routes, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui haven't adjusted to include the railway station stop, even though it's so close by. Surely many tourists and people like us would like to get there too from Tsim Sha Tsui?

The station located right across from Austin Station, and a short walk to Kowloon Station. The outside of the railway station looks like a bunch of waves made of steel, but inside it looks very futuristic and impressive.

The space is very airy and highly accessible
There are very high ceilings in there and it's highly accessible for everyone, though there seems to be only one elevator from what we could see. We wandered down to the ticket vending machines as well as the ticket counter. It was quite busy with lots of people dragging suitcases around, or people like us checking out the station.

I did notice periodically there were large poles that were covered in cameras. Some were conveniently located at "meeting points" to suss everyone out. It was quite daunting to see so many cameras staring at you. Has anyone pointed this out before?

In terms of food there are many options, though some were just take-away places, including Starbucks that had no place for people to sit. We did manage to get a bite to eat at Tim Ho Wan upstairs, though there was quite a bit of MSG in the food. The wontons in chilli sauce were terribly disappointing -- the meat filling was too ground up with no texture, but the shrimp and spinach dumplings were good.

The Xiqu Centre (left) is only a few minutes' walk away
When we left the station to visit the nearby Xiqu Centre, an opera house designed by Vancouver architect Bing Thom, we noticed there were people on the roof of the railway station! So after our quick visit to Xiqu (where there is still construction going on), we returned to the station and went to the only elevator we could find.

We had to wait a while to finally get in, but when we got to L2, we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the area -- Tsim Sha Tsui, Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island, and West Kowloon. Instead of taking the elevator down, we found a long stairway that follows the curve of the building, with plants lined along the route.

It's a good thing we took the elevator up to the roof because it would have been too daunting to climb up all those stairs! We made our way down and then walked to Elements shopping mall, where Kowloon Station is.

The long stairway up to the roof of the railway station
While reaching the mall only took minutes, it took another 10 minutes to finally get to the actual MTR station.

Nevertheless, it was a good way to become more familiar with the railway station, even if they are watching you all the time...

Friday, 16 November 2018

Chinese Officials Learn Cantonese (Finally)

Chinese officials working in the Liaison Office are learning Cantonese
While I was away, I saw a story from Hong Kong that struck me as amusing, and thinking, "about time!".

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng has instructed more than 200 officials who work in Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong are studying Cantonese to better connect with the city's residents.

Vice Premier Han Zheng wants officials to connect with locals
It only took over 20 years for Chinese officials to finally realize they really needed to learn the local lingo to be accepted in Hong Kong.

Perhaps it's better late than never.

Apparently it was Zheng who pushed for the staff to get language training, while Wang Zhimin, director of the central government's liaison office in the city, has been trying to set an example by "trying very hard to learn, and now his command of Cantonese is pretty good", says a source.

Hong Kong Academy of Management is teaching the officials Cantonese, with most classes taking place after regular office hours.

The source also said most officials were "very enthusiastic and keen to learn", and with a high attendance rate, staff members were passing with good grades.

Apparently Wang Zhimin speaks pretty good Cantonese...
While the officials spoke Cantonese with their own accents, the source said, "at least we can understand what they are saying".

Apparently the liaison office is trying to find opportunities for the officials to practice their Cantonese by organizing volunteer events, like cleaning up Heng Fa Chuen and Silverstrand beach after Typhoon Mangkhut.

It's cute, but a good first step to building bridges with the local community. It should have been done 20 years ago, but now they realize being high and mighty does not work with Hong Kong people. It's about earning respect and this is a good start, even if they don't have a good Cantonese accent!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Rome: Castel Sant'Angelo

Tourists walk along the bridge to Castel Sant'Angelo
One last place we visited before leaving Rome was Castel Sant'Angelo, or the Castle of the Holy Angel. It has a very interesting history and also construction, that at one point in time was the tallest building in the city.

This was originally Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum
We got there in the late morning and didn't have to wait too long to buy tickets. From then onwards visitors follow the arrows to cover most of the building.

Originally it was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian to be a mausoleum for himself and his family, which is the cylindrical part of the complex. It was built between 134-139AD.

His ashes, stored in an urn, were placed there in 138AD, along with his wife and first adopted son, as well as other emperors who succeeded him. It is believed the urns were placed in now what is known as the Treasury Room.

Then in 401, the building was converted into a fortress, with walls added around it, as well as a moat. There are some interesting defensive architectural details, such as trap doors and such for protection against invaders.

Popes turned it into a castle for their own use
There is a legend that the Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the mausoleum, sheathing his sword that was interpreted as a sign the plague was over in 590, which gave the castle its present name.

And so at the top of the tower is a large bronze statue of the Archangel Michael, looking as if he's about to sheath his sword. He has the best view of Rome, and a fantastic view of the Vatican.

This is important because in the 14th century, popes took over the structure and converted it into a castle. For example, Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St Peter's Basilica by a covered corridor called the Passetto di Borgo.

Paul III built a rich apartment in the castle, and visitors can see his living quarters. While his bedroom may look modest, the room next door he entertained in was very lavish. It was completely covered in murals with gold leaf, while the Papal insignia was created out of marble in the floor.

St Peter's Basilica can be seen clearly from the roof
The Papal state also used Sant'Angelo as a prison, and executions were done in a small inner courtyard. For those who love opera, the castle is the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca -- the eponymous heroine leaps to her death from the castle's ramparts.

We went through the castle almost room by room, up and down stairs, and saw lots of empty rooms, but also others with examples of swords and canons, as well as armour. Visitors are finally rewarded with a view from the roof, and it's a stunning panoramic view of the city.

The Archangel Michael unsheathing his sword
It was a tiring over three-hour tour of the place, but it was well rewarded with blue skies and dramatic clouds. Very memorable!