Friday, August 29, 2014

[Jacki and Grandma in Asia] Day 12: Kowloon Walled-City Park

My sister and grandma came to visit me in Korea during my summer break. We were together from August 8 - 20, 2014. Here are the retellings of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4Day 5Day 6, Day 7, Day 8Day 9. Day 10, and Day 11.

It had rained some during the night before our last day in Hong Kong, which was awesome because the temperature cooled down some in the morning, making it more bearable to be outside (though, as always, it was still hot and humid).

We started our day at the Kowloon Walled City Park, one of my favorite things we did in Hong Kong.

Kowloon Walled City Park

I had never heard of this park before it was suggested to us as a possible itinerary item, so I was completely oblivious to the incredible history (and existence) of the Walled City before it was torn down and turned into this park in the early 90s.

The Walled City, covering about the space of one city block, somehow never became fully under British rule when they leased the city from China for 99 years starting in 1898.

The actual walls were torn down by the Japanese when they took over the city during WWII. The stone from the walls was used to expand the nearby airport.

The Walled City really started to boom in the 1960s, but there were no foundations under any of the buildings since the area was completely unregulated. In some of the interviews we watched at the museum in the middle of the park, previous residents said they worried that their building would collapse. It would have been a domino effect, as the buildings stood one right after the other.

Kowloon Walled City
Photo by: Ian Lambot, CNN
In the 1970s, the buildings were reaching 10 and 14 stories high, which brought airplanes super close to the roofs when taking off and landing at the nearby Kai Tak airport. The Walled City has been called the densest place on the planet, with 33,000 people living there at the time.

Since this block was not under government rule, they didn't have running water like the buildings outside of the wall. It was also a place where gambling, prostitution, and drugs could thrive.

So it was very much considered the slums, but it was entirely self-regulated and functioning. There was an incredible sense of community; that's how the Walled City operated. They had dentists, doctors, butchers, restaurants; it was a place that operated on its own, without the infrastructure of the surrounding city. Although the dentists and doctors were not licensed, and there were no food regulations for grocers or restaurants, the people helped each other and started businesses wherever there was a need.

There had been previous attempts to close the Walled City, but it finally happened in 1992. The government compensated all of the the families and businesses that were forced to leave.

In April of 1994 demolition was completed, and the building of the park began one month later.

If this Walled City interests you as much as it did me, I highly recommend checking out the Wall Street Journal's interactive site all about the Walled City. See a timeline of the area, photos from various decades, and hear stories and interviews from the previous residents.

Although the Walled City was far more than the drugs that came out at night, and many were sad to see it destroyed, it's really nice that they could turn the whole area into a peaceful green space in the middle of the hustling city.

In the middle of the park there's a small museum about the Walled City. I loved reading all of the information, seeing photos of what it used to look like, and watching interviews of previous Walled City residents.

After spending a few hours in the park, we took a taxi to a nearby mall for some shabu shabu lunch.

Shabu Shabu in Hong Kong

I'm only just now realizing the symmetry in the fact that our trip together began and ended with a shabu shabu lunch. Shabu Shabu in Hong Kong was different in that:

  • there was an electric, flat burner instead of a flame to cook the pot
  • there wasn't rice paper to make spring rolls, and you don't cook noodles second and later rice as you do in Korea.
  • there was a buffet of items to put into the broth (vegetables, noodles, fish balls, rice cakes, etc.) plus drinks and ice cream
  • I think you purchase the meat separately
  • there was a time limit (90 minutes), and you get charged for any additional time

I think it goes without saying that we left that meal completely full, just like all of the others.

It had rained while we were in the restaurant, but luckily the mall was connected to the metro. We still had many more hours before our late flight (12:45am), so we went to the Hong Kong Science Museum for a bit.

Hong Kong Science Museum

The science museum was very much kid-centered. It was so interactive with tons of technology; a child's paradise.

The part I liked the best were these interactive puzzles. You know, like get these blocks to fit inside this box, or remove two sticks from this setup to leave x number of boxes. And then you got to play with the pieces until you figured it out (or until you looked at the hint... and then the answer).

And then we headed back to the hostel, grabbed our bags, and took the bus to the airport. Although we were many hours early, we really didn't wait much at all.

After getting our boarding passes, going through security, finding a place to eat, having dinner, and having dessert, we really only waited at our gate for maybe 20-30 minutes. I was super tired though, and unfortunately didn't sleep at all on the flight. I didn't think we'd be served any food, but we were served an entire meal, plus the regular peanut snack and juice.

Once we got to Incheon Airport (Seoul) early the next morning, I groggily left and headed into Seoul to catch my bus home, while Jacki and Grandma had to wait a few hours before their connecting flight to Chicago.

By that point, as always, the two weeks seemed to have flown by. But it was nice to know I'd be seeing them again in less than three short months (and now it's just two!).

Thanks for another successful visit and trip!
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