Unbeknownst to me, prior to visiting, spring in Hong Kong is actually cloudy and chilly, not what I expected from an island right on the Tropic of Cancer. The weather was a surprise, though not an entirely unpleasant one. The creeping fog and gentle mist set an atmospheric and subdued tone to a city famous for its near constant buzz.
Offering one of the most recognizable and densely packed skylines in the world, many popular activities revolve around skyline viewing. The weather wasn’t especially cooperative, although the clouds did give another dimension to the experience. My first attempt to see of the famous view was from the top of Victoria Peak, a must-do for any visitor. I took the funicular to the top, and after making my way through the incongruous shopping center, I stepped outside to the viewing terrace. It was easily a few degrees colder, and very windy. It took several tries for me to get a good shot of myself with the view, because the wind made every photo of me look like Medusa. The heavy cloud cover was not thick enough to ruin the view, but enough to make it more cozy and contemplative than the bright and sunny shots found in travel brochures. I had a similar experience while viewing the night skyline from Victoria Harbour, and again from Ozone bar atop the Ritz-Carlton in Kowloon.
Though not for the skyline, a trip out to Lantau Island was planned to see the famous Big Buddha. The bus trip from the subway station to the statue and monastery was a nausea-inducing ride going up and down hills along winding roads. Once there, I had a hard time believing there was actually anything to see at all. The fog was so thick. From the bottom of the 268 steps, I could not even see an outline. The statue was completely invisible. The steps seemed to lead directly into the clouds. While ascending the stairs, it did feel a bit otherworldly watching a giant Buddha statue emerge from the fog, his raised hand offering a blessing to visitors.
So, the weather wasn’t great. It rained a lot, the wind was biting, and the cold was starting to annoy me. So I sought out more indoor activities. Luckily, Hong Kong has an incredible art scene, and coincidentally, “art month” was in full swing during my visit. Or maybe not so coincidentally, since bad weather keeps people indoors, encouraging more introspective ventures, such as art. I was surrounded by it. Poetry slams, live music shows, and visual art exhibitions were all advertised in subway stations, and many eventually ended up in my itinerary. The Hong Kong Central Library was holding a free exhibition of traditional local painters. At the coffee shop I was frequenting, sketches were on display under glass on the tables. Even in the gray business districts, colorful sculptures of elephants, butterflies, and holding hands came out of nowhere.
I serendipitously ended up at an art gallery for an evening with a couple of ladies I met during my travels. A whole city block of art galleries was having an anniversary party with an abundance of free food and drinks. We perused the work on display, and puzzled over what was actually art and what was furniture. Just as my companion was making a joke about her confusion, a security guard sternly interrupted to remind us to keep our champagne glasses off the “art.” We thought it was a table. That incident aside, no one seemed to mind that we were there uninvited, so we continued admiring the art and enjoying the free refreshments. Later, again completely by accident, I found myself attending a free live music show. The musician was actually a very talented solo artist.
I had come to Hong Kong expecting it to be not only very expensive, but also gray and business-like. I had not expected such a colorful selection of creative activities, and free as well! All cities come with a reputation, and I admit that I had arrived in Hong Kong with preconceptions. Maybe I was just lucky, but once I stepped away from what I had planned and started looking around, I found an aspect of Hong Kong that was pleasantly surprising. I supposed that is why we travel. To expect the unexpected, to find new perspectives, and to allow the world to surprise us.