After spending the previous day getting sick on a winding bus ride down from Tai O Fishing Village on Lantau Island, my friend, Claire, and I opted to spend one day walking through the markets of Hong Kong. Eager to explore the city, we took an early start to the day. Since our hostel was surrounded by independently-owned bakeries, the sweet smell of freshly-baked buns and pies were inescapable. As we walked to the MTR station, we stopped to buy our breakfast, consisting of a couple of freshly baked Chinese buns stuffed with BBQ pork (plus a mini chicken pie for me – I eat a lot; don’t judge!) and a couple bottles of herbal tea. Considering none of us reads any Chinese and many products don’t have any English labels, choosing a tea flavour often became an adventure on its own. Many of these herbal teas were made from plants and/or fruits that we didn’t even know existed and thus we could not identify from their pictorial descriptions. We had been pretty lucky for the first two days; everything we bought tasted good and refreshing, but Claire got the bottom end of the deal that day – it turns out the herbal tea she chose was medicinal and my goodness, it tasted… bad, to put it nicely.
After giving her best effort to finish the tea (she couldn’t do it, people! Heck, I wouldn’t even drink another sip! Blech!), we joined the throngs of office workers and hopped on the MTR from North Point to Yau Ma Tei, the start of our Hong Kong Market Walk. Claire and I are walkers – throughout university, when given the choice of taking the transit or walking to a certain not-too-far destination (like to the Annex for Thai Basil), we would most certainly choose to walk (granted we have enough time to do so and won’t make a fool of ourselves by arriving ridiculously late at an event or something).
We started with the Jade Market on Battery Street, stopping momentarily to check out Tin Hau Temple we passed by on the way (I’ll save this for another post). Jade is an important part of the Chinese culture. I remember my mother showing me a jade bracelet I had worn as a baby, saying it was used for protection to ward off evil spirits. Google tells me that the written character for jade means a combination of beauty and purity and the stone, in all its many hues and colours, is associated with long life and good health. Most vendors were still setting up shop when we arrived, so we just strolled through the aisles and glanced quickly at the colorful displays of all things jade – bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, you name it, they probably have it! I don’t wear jewelries (I know, I should start accessorizing to spruce up my outfits!), so this didn’t really tickle my fancy, but Claire loves earrings, so we stopped at a stall manned by a nice, middle-aged, lady, chose a pair, and we (well, Claire) bargained like she had no shame. My father would have been so impressed with her bargaining skills!
From the Jade Market, we walked up Nathan Road, buying a couple of bananas along the way and passing by countless 7-Elevens, Chow Sang Sangs, Luk Fooks, massage parlours, and Indian men offering tailor-made suits, until we hit Mong Kok, the electronics headquarter of Hong Kong. We stepped into a couple stores as I wanted to compare the prices of smartphones (verdict: only a marginal difference, not worth it to buy overseas), but we eventually got sick and tired of the crowd and left to continue our walk to the Goldfish Market.
Located just north of Mong Kok, on Tung Choi Street, the Goldfish Market is a street lined with – wait for it – gold fish! and many other kinds of fish, as well as aquariums and all sorts of fish accessories! From exotic fish species, like arowana, to just the plain ol’ gold fish, you can be sure to find anything fishy here (HA HA HA… corny, I know!).
From the fish market, we walked to the Flower Market. I was most excited for this part of the walk! I LOVE FLOWERS – they are beautiful and they make me happy. I have always said my back-up career, should anything happen to my current position and should the economy turn downward to the point that I couldn’t find another job, would be to become a florist and open up my own flower shop. Can’t you tell this from that OMG-I-can’t-believe-such-a-street-exists look on my face?
We were met with an explosion of colors and plethora of smells as soon as we stepped on to Flower Market Road. Fresh flowers – Lilies! Roses! Daisies! – are found in pails of water on the storefronts on both sides of the sidewalk, giving pedestrians very little room to walk through. Meh! I ain’t complaining. I think I took about a gazillion pictures of flowers that day. I can’t help it, yo, they’re just so pretty!
Flower Market Road continues and eventually leads to Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. It’s a really pleasant quarter with stalls selling different species of birds, bird foods (including worms, crickets, and some sort of bugs) and bird houses (who knew they could be so elaborate?).
It reminds me of the time we had an endangered illegal bird as our pet in Indonesia. My father stealthily bought it from “his friend” and he brought him home to us one night. We named him “Beo” (pronounced Bay-Oh) and we fed him with papaya and bananas because he was somewhat of a royalty and he wouldn’t have the regular bird feed. We also taught him to say certain things, like my name, which would later become really annoying as he wouldn’t shut up in the morning. I felt like I had my own personal alarm clock with a severely malfunctioned snooze button.
We ended our market tour with a 42HKD hot-plate noodle from some random restaurant on Nathan Road. It was subpar, at best. I’ve had better Chinese food in Toronto… but that’s another story to tell.