Hong Kong

I had arrived in Hong Kong right around sunset. Now the airport was pretty far from the city, so by the time I had arrived in Mong Kok it was already dark. I’ll never forget stepping off that bus into the streets of Kowloon for the first time; I can only describe the experience as feeling as if I was on a movie set. The narrow streets walled in by towering concrete buildings, thousands of people lit by a sea of neon lights, cars and buses whizzing by on this calm, 70 degree night. It was one of the most surreal things I had ever experienced. My camera had died a few days earlier in Bangkok, but taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. Over the years I’ve found that in times like this, it’s best to just take everything in and live the experience rather than trying to capture it, as no picture I could have taken would be anything close to how I’d remember it.

Over the next couple weeks I did quite a bit of shooting in Kowloon, so here are a few medium format night shots I took to give you an idea of what it was like.

It was in a market just like this that the next day I found a used Minolta XG-M in good working order to replace my broken-down X-570. I think I paid around $30 US for it, and brought it into a repair shop on HK Island to make sure it was in good shape before I trusted the rest of my irreplaceable travel pics to it. The place was called Panda Camera at 22 Stanley Street, and I highly recommend it. The light seals were a little dicey, so since I didn’t have time to get the camera repaired, he threw in some black string along the light seal grooves in the back for free and it worked perfectly. In fact, I’m still using it like this today.

So before long, I was wanting to get up high to see this city from some rooftops. I was able to get on top of the building my guesthouse was in rather easily, plus a few other buildings in the area. Honestly, I could have probably spent the entire trip doing this as it didn’t seem like there was much security in most of these places and the views were more than worth the effort. Here’s a sampling of some of my rooftop shots.

Speaking of my guesthouse, I took a picture of the room I was staying in to give you an idea of what to expect when looking for cheap accommodations in Hong Kong.

I believe I was paying around $20 a night for this place. While taking that picture I had my back up against the rear window with my head pressed into the corner of the room. The bed was essentially walled-in on all 4 sides, with just a small amount of floor space for the door to open into. Right as you walk into the room there’s a tiny little bathroom that I could barely even stand up in, let alone shower in, but at least I had my own bath. And the Hello Kitty bedsheets were just the icing on the cake. All in all I’d say it was a steal.

I had originally planned to stay in the infamous Chungking Mansions for at least half my stay after watching the movie Chungking Express and hearing so much about it, but after checking it out it appears it had received an extensive facelift. The building itself looked brand new, and even the inside seemed to lack the ambiance that I had been expecting. I ended up having a quick bite to eat in there as I heard they have the area’s best Indian food, but decided that my room in Mong Kok would do just fine for the entirety of my stay.

Back on the street, here are some more shots of Kowloon, this time taken on 35mm.

A lot of my nights were spent just roaming around, popping in and out of buildings, slinking down random alleys, generally just trying to immerse myself in this gigantic urban expanse. I of course photographed some of the various people I ran into along the way.

This picture was taken one night walking down what I believe was Portland Street, where they were just cleaning up after what appeared to be a bustling night market.

After getting off at random MRT stops and exploring the different areas of Kowloon, it became apparent that a lot of the city was insanely busy..

while other parts were oddly calm and relaxing.

One such place was a Buddhist temple I found in the Diamond Hill area called the Chi Lin Nunnery.

Across from the nunnery was a huge Zen garden which I was able to wander around in for hours.

For a while there I completely forgot I was in the middle of one of the largest and busiest cities in the world.

Now, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, here is a photo series I came here to create. I call this set “Modern Living”.

One of the areas I spent a night photographing were the Estates in Kowloon Bay. They were built along the side of a hill, so getting nice and high up to photograph them was as easy as a short hike up the sidewalk from the MRT station.

Be sure to click on that one to check out the higher res version.

And before we head on over to Hong Kong Island, here are a few more random architecture shots from around Kowloon.

Separating Kowloon from the newer, more high tech area of the city known as Hong Kong Island is Victoria Harbor. I came down here a couple times for photographs. Once I caught a huge synchronized light show, which used high-powered lasers attached to almost all of the tall buildings across the harbor, as well as multicolored lights on the facades of some of the buildings themselves.

This night, however, was all fog.

It was really awesome seeing it creep in over the harbor. The way it would move slowly, enveloping the buildings, slithering around them like a giant, velvet snake. I thought it was cooler than the light show, to be honest.

Now I’ll bring you over the harbor onto Hong Kong Island. Everything about this place was completely different. While Kowloon was like an old, weathered Chinese city, the Island was more of a modern metropolis. The concrete dwellings were replaced with glass and steel skyscrapers, and the street-side secondhand markets replaced with high-end fashion shops.

By this point in my trip I had shot roughly 40 rolls of film, so I headed on over to Central where there are a few camera shops and film labs to see if I could get some of it developed. I ended up going with a great lab called Photo Scientific, located at 6 Stanley Street. Their prices were more than reasonable, they did a perfect job as you can see, and they developed, cut and sleeved all 40 rolls in two days. I ended up going back to them before I left to have them develop the rest of my Hong Kong film as well, and they were able to do the remaining 15 or so rolls in about a day. Another highly recommended camera shop.

Here are a few markets I found on the outskirts of the Island that reminded me a bit of old Kowloon.

The previous three were taken on medium format, and the next few are from the meat and fish markets and were taken on 35mm.

This lady is the devil. I know they’re just fish, but I sat there and watched her for a good 15 minutes as she seemed to be getting intense pleasure out of torturing them. I’ve seen plenty of fish markets here in Asia by this point, so watching someone chop their heads off or bash them to death or whatever didn’t bother me. It was the way she smiled when she did it. And when there were no customers around she’d take them out of their tanks and just stare at them as they flopped around, unable to breathe.

On Hong Kong Island there’s a mountain known as Victoria Peak. It’s only 1800 feet so I decided one night to walk up it, and since this is a city and all it’s not like walking through the woods or anything. I pretty much just followed the sidewalk all the way up.

I started making my way up there just after sunset. Or maybe during, it was so cloudy most of the time I was here it was hard to tell. Anyway, it was almost night.

I ended up taking the scenic route up to get some pictures of the city, so by the time I finished my ascent it was well into the evening.

Here’s the view I was rewarded with at the top. The very first image I posted was another shot I took from up here, but this one is a two-shot pano so you can check out the larger version by clicking on it.

I ended up coming up here a couple times, although the second time I decided to take a bus. Here’s what it looks like on a foggy, cloudy day.

And before we leave the island, here’s a few more shots around the streets of some people and architecture.

I can really see myself in this Rolls Royce.

This was kind of a weird one. I was lining up this shot and waiting for him to get to the middle of the frame, and right when he did he stopped, turned, and looked directly at me. He was probably just checking the traffic before crossing, but it still freaked me out a bit.

On one of the other islands in Hong Kong, Lantau Island, there is a small remote fishing village known as Tai O. I decided to check it out on my last day in Hong Kong, so I hopped on a bus and made the long 2 hour journey to get here.

It was really cool, all the houses were built on stilts along the bay.

I pretty much just spent the day wandering around the town taking pictures like I usually do. I didn’t see many people though. They all seemed to be concentrated along the harbor, where all the main tourist stuff was.

Overall it seemed like a bit of a ghost town. Apparently they don’t really fish anymore and just get all their money from tourism. All the young people move out of the village to live in the city, so now it’s just a bunch of older people living off their retirement and selling trinkets to tourists. It was cool to see, but honestly I probably wouldn’t go back.

Well that concludes my time spent here in Hong Kong. Whenever I mentioned to people about my plans to come here, a lot of them would ask me “What are you going to do in Hong Kong for two whole weeks?”. I never really knew what to tell them, but I did know that two weeks wouldn’t be nearly enough time, and it wasn’t. I suppose that’s true of most places I go, but there was just something different about Hong Kong that made me not want to leave. I’m sure I’ll be back someday soon, but for now it was time to head to the airport for my flight to Japan.

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