Christmas Eve

Though it is December 24th, it feels nothing like Christmas here. There are decorations on the streets, but they are only there for the tourists because Christmas isn’t celebrated by most of the residents here. We have been told that the streets will be blocked off around Tsim Sha Tsui and that there will be wandering carolers in the evening. Patrick and Cecilia emailed that the evening light show was underwhelming but that seeing the buildings lit up at night was pretty cool. We figured it would be worth a trip in to town to experience the festivities.

Our HOHO passes were now expired but we still had tickets for the harbor cruise that were valid until 12/31. We took the MTR to the waterfront and found the Big Bus office to ask about the cruise. We were told it did not start until 11:30, so decided to hop on the Star Ferry and explore the Central District on our own. On the ferry, we met a woman that was part of a British hiking tour. She was from Vancouver, BC so we were practically neighbors. Their group was on their way to Lamma Island for a day hike. This island does not allow cars; bicycles are the only mode of transportation other than walking. It is a short ferry ride away from HK.

We didn’t have anything in mind so just walked along the raised pedestrian walkways. We stopped in at one of the malls to look at Christmas decorations. For a lack of anything else to do, we decided to wander down to the Western Market. We had really enjoyed meandering through the other markets we had visited. To get there, we followed the walkways along the waterfront all the way to the last pier. There were modern shopping malls all along the way. In one, there was a long line-up of young women. We were curious what they were waiting for. It turns out that it was the line for the Western Union office. I assume they were sending money home to their families.

At the final mall people were lining up to buy tickets to Macau. We had discussed visiting the island so went to see how much it cost and if we could get on the next ferry. The cost was $354 HK round-trip per person (approximately $50) but we needed to have our passports with us and we did not. We decided that perhaps we should do more research on Macau when we got back to the hotel and that we might go the next day.

We walked down to street level in order to locate the Western Market. We found it pretty quickly and were surprised that it was inside a building. All of the other markets have been outside stalls. This one was, at best, underwhelming. The downstairs had a few souvenir shops; the upstairs seemed to sell a variety of fabrics. That was it. I guess the other markets spoiled us; this one really didn’t merit a stop.

We decided to take the MTR back to Kowloon so located the station and boarded. On the other side we located the office for the harbor cruise and checked in to see if we needed to exchange our vouchers for tickets. We did not need to do that, but we did find out that the cruise left at 11:55, not 11:30 as we had been told earlier. We found the waiting area and did a little people-watching until it was time to board.

The harbor cruise was not too exciting. There was limited (canned) commentary regarding the buildings we were passing. In Seattle, there are harbor cruises that are quite entertaining; the Hong Kong version was not. But, it was a pleasant way to pass an hour. I wouldn’t recommend paying to do this; I would have been upset if we hadn’t receive the ticket as part of the Big Bus tour package.

After a quick lunch we took the MTR back to the East Kowloon Station. We thought we had mastered getting back to the hotel but took a wrong turn and ended up near the flower market. Since I knew that we were also near the bird market, we plugged the information in to the smartphone to direct us there. The smartphone wasn’t as smart as it should have been; it took us to the fish market instead. The fish were goldfish and other small fish in baggies as opposed to the tanks of fish that you see at food market stalls. Not worth going out of your way to see, IMHO.

We returned to the hotel to rest up before heading back into town for the Christmas Eve festivities. The MTR was quite crowded. That should’ve been our first clue! When we reached the waterfront, it was literally too crowded to move. You haven’t really been in a crowd until you’ve been in a crowd in Hong Kong. The sidewalks are always full of people wherever you go (many dragging hard-sided suitcases behind them), but there were easily 2-3 times as many people out as normal. The light show was supposed to start at 8 pm; we arrived at around 6:30.

We pushed our way to the waterfront. I took some pictures of the buildings across the harbor that were lit up. It was really hard to get decent pictures because there were so many people crowded around. There was singing, but it certainly wasn’t Christmas carols! It seemed to be teenagers singing pop music (and not very well). We decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle to wait until the light show began. If it was as crowded as it was at 6:30, I can’t imagine how awful it would’ve been later! We really, really don’t like crowds and it was incredibly crowded.

Have I mentioned yet how much walking you do in this city? Even if you use the MTR to get around you will be walking for long distances to get to the trains. The MTR station was just as crowded as it was above ground. We had to switch lines to get to East Mong Kok; the people were literally squeezed wall to wall on the train that we were supposed to transfer to. There were station employees directing people to squeeze in, even though there was no room. Crazy!

We eventually made it back to our hotel and were very happy to get there, safe and sound.