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Christmas at the Peak

Started: 2013-01-06 18:55:01

Submitted: 2013-01-06 20:58:45

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator spends Christmas on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong

Christmas in Hong Kong was more like a social festival than the serious holiday it manifests as in the United States; all of the tourist sites remained open. There was a modest attempt at commercializing the holiday, and there were various random Christmas decorations around the city, but the whole thing felt more low-key than the American version (which happened to suit my personal preferences).

We set out on Christmas morning to take the Peak Tram, a Victorian-era cable-driven funicular railway built up the side of Victoria Peak rising immediately behind Central. It was originally used by colonial administrators and other (self-)important Englishmen who lived on the peak to escape the hot and humid city below (which led me to conclude that Hong Kong had its own hill station built in) and is now used mostly by tourists, though they do sell a monthly pass if one wanted to use it as a serious form of transit.

Riding the Peak Tram up the peak
Riding the Peak Tram up the peak

As I hoped, the the line for the tram was short when we arrived in the middle of the morning. When the tram arrived, we were among the last people to board, so I ended up standing in the middle aisle, trying to balance myself on the floor (helpfully indented to provide a variety of standing angles depending on the angle of the car, and covered in an anti-skid surface) as the tram ascended. We climbed quickly, reaching and surpassing the height of the buildings in Central, and soon reached the top of the tram, on a saddle between Victoria Peak and an adjacent summit.

The Peak Tram descends from the station
The Peak Tram descends from the station
The Peak Tram ascends above Central
The Peak Tram ascends above Central

We disembarked, passed a Crocs store in the mall attached to the tram terminus, and looked around to figure out what to do. After dodging the attention of an overly-helpful attendant at the visitor's center, we took the escalators up to the top of the Peak Lookout, which gave us a commanding, 360° view of the surroundings, which would have been somewhat more impressive had it been a clear day. Instead, it was a little overcast, but we could still see Central and Kowloon easily, looking down at even the tallest buildings in the city. It was windy on the top, and Calvin was not impressed by either the wind or the windchill.

Kiesa and Calvin look out at Central from The Peak
Kiesa and Calvin look out at Central from The Peak

As it was approaching mid-day, we searched for vegetarian food for lunch, which proved tricky until we found a French-inspired bakery cafe with miniature pizzas. Properly fortified, we set out on the trail that circumnavigated the peak. Kiesa carried Calvin in her Boba carrier on her back (as was our normal mode of operation, except when we wanted Calvin to walk on his own), so we were able to walk fairly briskly, except when we stopped to marvel at the view. At our level, we were in jungle think with banyan trees and bamboo high above Central; we could look down at the skyscrapers and residential towers below. (Every time I see an aerial root hanging from a banyan tree I expect it to be prehensile and grab me as I walk by.) The trail looped around the mountain, showing different sides of the island in progression, until we were back at the upper terminus of the Peak Tram.

Tourists gaping at banyan trees while walking around The Peak
Tourists gaping at banyan trees while walking around The Peak

Calvin wanted a break, so we let him play in the playground next to one of the malls at the top of the Peak Tram while I picked up a snack from Starbucks. (I introduced Kiesa to the "short" size; in the United States one can order twelve-ounce short drinks but they're not on the menu; in Hong Kong they're not officially listed but small print at the bottom of the menu indicates that the short size is available for hot drinks.)

After Calvin had played for a while, we headed down the tram and looked around the Biological and Zoological Gardens near the base of the tram. It was packed with people on the public holiday and had a fairly nice assortment of primates. After studying the primates in detail, and looking through the birds (including a supply of flamingos, which Calvin thought looked funny), we headed to Pure Veggie House for an early supper but arrived during their mid-afternoon closure, so they asked us to come back in forty minutes at 17:30. We found a large (by Hong Kong standards) grocery store next door and picked up some snacks to eat in the park while we waited for the restaurant to open. (Calvin was amused by watching the live fish swimming in the tank and wasn't quite sure what to make of the dead fish sitting on ice immediately next to the tank.) When it did open we ate, and since I was feeling far more awake than I had been the first day, I actually ate all of the food we ordered.

After supper we stopped by the grocery store again and picked up more food, including dragonfruit and a knife to cut it with. We returned to the hotel, put Calvin to bed (he fell asleep on the way home) and began planning the next day.

For a parallel account of our fourth day in Hong Kong, see The Fourth Day (Christmas Day). For more photos see Photos on 2012-12-25.
You've reached a new low when you start naming your condiments.
- Bitscape, 13 December 2001