It’s midnight and as I make my way out of a 12th floor warehouse and onto the streets of Ladies Market, Hong Kong, I admire my new ‘designer’ handbag and congratulate myself on the price paid.
This is Hong Kong – shopping is king. From accessibly priced designer shops in luxurious, air-conditioned Malls to the fantastic street markets selling everything from pashminas to antiques way into the early hours of the morning, it hard not to be enticed. The comforting thing about what could be seen as a tourist trap, is that the markets are as full of locals enjoying the shopping experience as they are of tourists. Bartering is essential and some of these sales people have turned the experience into a performance art. “Aiiiyyyyy,” screeches the girl parting with two of her precious products and stamping her feet in a mock tantrum (she must be about 16), “you are lucky I am soooo tired.”
I wonder how much time the Olympic athletes will have to get out and about during the 10 days of equine quarantine in preparation for the games? How tight will security be at the as-yet-unnamed hotel that will become the Olympic Village for the equestrian competitors? The hotel is located very close to Sha Tin racecourse where the equestrian competition, with exception to the cross-country, will be held. All the action will take place at the beginning and the end of each day to avoid the oppressive August heat and humidity.
Of course there will be other, more cultural distractions than shopping for the Olympic visitors. Let me, briefly, set the scene: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, since the hand over on 1 July 1997, consists of a group of islands and a penninsula of mainland that extends back to the Chinese border. The largest of these islands is Hong Kong itself and the land on the opposite side of what is known as the harbour, is Kowloon and the New Territories.
So what will there be to do in between training and while waiting for the big event – apart from shopping? Well, the city of Hong Kong nestles back into a mountain ridge known as The Peak and our athletes could begin by taking one of Hong Kong’s cable cars to the Peak for a view over the city and across the Victoria Harbour. Alternatively another, longer ride will take you to Lantau Island, over miles of country park, to see “the largest seated bronze buddha in the world”.
Closer to home, they could watch the “the world’s largest light and sound show”, held every night from 8.00pm-8.15pm across the breathtaking skyline from one of the iconic Star ferries that make their way from one side to the other so frequently that it’s not necessary to check the timetable. Or they could visit the relaxed seaside town of Stanley with its market and Maritime Museum, housed in a restored colonial home moved brick-by-brick from its original site in the City.
Getting around Hong Kong is easy and as well as the trains, trams and buses, walking is one of the quickest and most pleasurable ways of getting a feel for where everything is. I haven’t as yet seen anyone hacking around the streets, but I guess in August 2008, even that might be possible.