Mystified by Hong Kong? The city offers a series of cultural programs to help Westerners explore Chinese culture. Meaghan Mulholland has the details.
Hong Kong‘s reputation for glamour is well-established – from the Peninsula Hotel’s fleet of Rolls Royces, to the So-Ho clubs packed with models and bankers, to the dramatic neon pinnacles of its iconic harbor skyline. As a result, I was warned by more than one well-traveled friend that Hong Kong is “not the real China” when I told them I’d be living here for the summer. “It’s too Western” they said, “too expensive” compared to other Asian destinations; the recommended I not linger too long. But I arrived in Hong Kong determined to look beneath its dazzling, diamond-encrusted, Louis Vuitton-monogrammed exterior and discover what else the city had to offer.
I’ve been delighted to discover that in addition to its lavish malls and luxury brands, Hong Kong boasts a wonderful array of interesting, affordable, and authentic attractions – from night markets to junk-boat rides across the Harbour, to museums, incense-shrouded temples, secluded beaches and hiking trails. One of my favorite discoveries has been the Hong Kong Tourist Board’s innovative “Cultural Kaleidoscpe: Meet the People Programme,” which offers free classes in various aspects of Chinese culture, ranging from tea appreciation to Tai Chi.
The classes are taught by local experts and usually last around an hour. They’re held on various days of the week in locations around the city, and signing up is simple – just stop by the Tourist Board’s office in Tsim Sha Tsui or Hong Kong Island and register for whatever interests you. One morning not long after my arrival, I was trying Tai Chi along Hong Kong’s waterfront promenade; the next day I was making egg rolls and moon cakes at Wing Wah bakery, and the following afternoon I was sampling ginseng tea while learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine.
After participating in these and other “Cultural Kaleidoscope”
activities, I started noticing things: the incense fuming from doorway shrines; the bed in our apartment, situated in the most auspicious place according to the principles of Feng Shui.
I’d been previously overwhelmed by the selection of tea pots in a shop near my house, but now knew that I needed a short, fat pot to allow the leaves of my preferred Phoenix Oolong to unfurl properly (thank you, Master Ip at Lok Cha Tea House!). When I passed the traditional medicine shops sprinkled throughout the city, instead of gawking in perplexed wonder I now had a general idea which herbs could help balance my yin and yang. Thanks to the locals I’ve met through Hong Kong’s Cultural Kaleidoscope Program, my fascination with this city continues to grow.
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In a way, the friends who warned me about Hong Kong were right: It is unlike any other city. The unique blend of tradition and innovation makes Hong Kong a worthy destination for both seasoned travelers and novices to Asia. Whether you’re into thirty-cent dim sum or Dolce and Gabbana, the Cultural Kaleidoscope program provides a window into some of the city’s many facets waiting to be explored.
Photographs: Above, Justin Guariglia; below Steve McCurry