YOUNG STAR WRITES:  HONG KONG  HEATS  UP

MANILA,  August 24
, 2004 (STAR) YOUTHSPEAK By Monique Buensalido - Trips are supposed to be about exploring new places, discovering new tastes, and mingling with new people. Although the Philippines is already a very diverse and colorful country, there will always be more things to see and experience outside our islands. There are countries, cities, and cultures waiting to be encountered. But somehow, people always end up spending a big chunk of their vacations shopping. They may yawn in museums and feel bored looking at tourist attractions but people always get excited about shopping. They complain about having to buy pasalubong for loved ones back home, but they end up enjoying the time it takes to shop. They go through malls, stores, kiosks, flea markets, outlet stores, and even street vendors. Suitcases and balikbayan boxes are always overflowing with goodies on the way back home. Trips are often about what you can bring home, not what you experience.

Hong Kong is one of those places famous for its shopping. Itís a massive shopping haven that offers something for everyone. Their sleek and upscale malls boast the latest and most stylish fashions from the leading international brands and the local designers who are just as impressive. A huge variety of the latest electronic, audio-visual, and telecom products are available at great prices. If you want to take something to remember the city by, you can choose from genuine Chinese antiques, embroideries, jade items, Chinese tea and cakes, and other charming bric-a-brac. Youíll never look at Greenhills in the same way again after shopping at their street markets. Stalls are bursting with great items for bargain prices you simply canít go wrong with.

Yes, the shopping in Hong Kong is an experience in itself. However, this exciting and dynamic city has more to offer than just malls and markets. What used to be a collection of fishing villages in the 1800s is now a modern financial and cultural hub of Asia. It is called the fusion city because it blends elements of east and west into its everyday life, a combination of Chinese tradition and Britainís colonial influence. Seeing the towering and modern skyscrapers will take your breath away, but the existence of the traditional cultures such as praying in temples and feng shui will also be a delightful pleasure for you. Hong Kongís colorful diversity offers you a world of opportunities and discoveries. Its vibrant spirit fills you with voracious curiosity and an eager attitude to try everything.

I visited Hong Kong last June and was lucky enough to have participated in a cultural tour prepared by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Usually I despise tours because theyíre so inactive Ė you just follow a guide around while listening, look at the attraction, take pictures and youíre rushed off to the next place. I really enjoyed my stay in Hong Kong because of this tour. Our guide Stanley Wan didnít just bring us to the famous places and regular tourist attractions. Our itinerary was planned so that we would be able to experience the best of both worlds Ė the old and the new. The best part was that we were able to take our time and really savor our experiences. I learned more about the city, about its history and people, their traditions and growth.

I remember some people saying that thereís nothing to do in Hong Kong but shop. After my trip, I knew they were wrong. In three days, I was able to learn more about the city, about its history and people, their traditions and their growth. When I got back, I discovered that I had hardly shopped. I had more stories to tell than souvenirs to share, but my trip is just as unforgettable. The next time you find yourself in Hong Kong, make sure you bring home more than just shopping bags.

Cattle Depot Artist Village

If youíre interested in art, visit the Cattle Depot Artist Village in Kowloon. The place used to house cattle, but instead of finding cows today, youíll discover many emerging art groups that run their workshops there and several individual artists creating their works of art in their own closed studios. Artist Commune is one of the exhibition halls there, and at the time we viewed a calligraphy art exhibit, with two artists displaying their contrasting work. This was where I first saw Hong Kongís blend of old and new. Jot See-yeu, a lecturer of calligraphy from Hong Kong, was able to produce beautiful and elegant strokes of traditional calligraphy while Wei Li-Gang from Beijing was able to revolutionize it by creating new and interesting images out of calligraphy strokes.

We also paid a visit to Videotage, a non-profit interdisciplinary group of artists that concentrated on video and media artist collections. Through festivals, cultural exchanges, workshops, and mini screenings, they help launch media artistsā works and provide opportunities for production and exhibition. I was able to watch five short films with different styles and media, but all of them were undeniably creative and avant-garde.

(Cattle Depot Artist Commune is at 63 Ma Tau Kok Road, Tokwawan, Kowloon, HK; tel. no. (852) 2573 1869.)

For Videotage, e-mail at info@videotage.org.hk.

Avenue Of Stars

Get to know the Hong Kong movie stars, discover the fascinating history of Hong Kong cinema, take in the gorgeous Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong skyline, and get the best view of the multimedia light and sound show A Symphony of Lights Ė you can do all this by taking a leisurely walk along the Avenue of Stars. After opening last April, the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade has quickly become a popular tourist attraction. The Hong Kong Tourism Board, together with the Hong Kong Film Awards Association, wanted to recognize Hong Kong as one of the worldís major film exporters and producers and the home to internationally celebrated actors, directors, writers, and countless other people involved in the industry.

The minute I stepped on this long strip right beside the waterfront, I felt like I was in Hong Kongís Hollywood. A big sculpture of the Hong Kong Film Award and a video welcomed me to the world of Hong Kong cinema. As I walked on, I discovered several sculptures that celebrated the art of making movies. My favorite was bronze sculptures of a director and a cameraman together. Big red milestones described the history of Hong Kong cinema. The kiosks were adorably shaped into huge cameras and other familiar movie tools. On the ground were commemorative plaques of the Hong Kong cinema giants, some with handprints like in Hollywood. Some familiar names were Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, Maggie Cheung, and Connie Chan.

Best of all, there was a great view of the Hong Kong skyline. At 8 p.m. every night, the skyline is lit up by A Symphony of Lights, and you can bet the viewís even more spectacular from the Avenue of Stars.

Ladiesí Market

Who can resist the shopping at Hong Kong? I asked our guide Stanley for good and inexpensive shopping places, and he recommended Temple Street Night Market and Ladiesí Market. The Ladiesí Market is in Mong Kok, and itís a bargain shopperís dream come true. Itís one long street with stalls as far as the eye can see, offering bags, watches, souvenirs, clothes, accessories, and so much more. Even at 11 at night the whole street is brightly lit up and spilling with shoppers. Itís quite amusing how the vendors keep lowering the price of something you had looked at when you try to leave, even if you hadnít really wanted it. I guess itís all a part of the Hong Kong shopping experience.

Mamma Mia!

I know Iíve talked about Mamma Mia! a couple of times already, but I canít stress this enough. You must watch Mamma Mia!. You must take advantage of the fact that itís playing in a nearby city and watch this wonderfully lively musical. Another reason to watch is that the Australian cast has a Filipino. Yes, weíve got another talented Filipino to be proud of! Aaron Jackson Mendoza plays Pepper, one of the funniest and most gyrating characters in the musical. He has a passionate love for music and piano after being influenced by his jazz pianist and arranger dad. He has been performing on stage since he was a young boy and has been in a lot of successful musicals, like The King and I, South Pacific and Hair. Heís a genuinely nice and appreciative guy as well, as I discovered in a very short conversation with him during the Mamma Mia! cast party.

Hong Kong Heritage Museum

Iíve never been a huge fan of museums, but I had a lot of fun in this one. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum has 12 galleries built around beautiful traditional Chinese open courtyards. While some of the galleries constantly change their exhibitions, the permanent ones showcase some of the best elements of Hong Kong heritage. This is also a very interactive museum that uses the best of technology to be able to involve the visitor in displays. In one of the exhibits, I was able to find out the history of names of Chinese tea by putting on headphones and pulling the corresponding drawer of the tea. In another, I took a test on the computer that checked if I could remember relevant information about the history of housing projects in Hong Kong. (I got a 7 out of 10.)

My favorite gallery had to be the Cantonese opera exhibit, which had the most colorful, lavish, and intricate displays. They had life-size replicas of the theater and the stage, and also showed costumes and paraphernalia of the actors back then. There was a section in the gallery where you could take a picture of yourself to see what you would look like if you were a character from a Cantonese opera. We spent a long time, just looking at our opera counterparts, from princesses to goddesses to warriors to kings. Because of all the interactive features in the exhibits, I really learned a lot about culture and history of the New Territories, Hong Kong art and design, and Chinese culture. Even now I can remember most of the things I had listened to, read, or saw in the museum. If you want your trip to be cultural and enlightening, make sure to pass by this museum. It is located at 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, New Territories, tel. no. (852) 2180-8188.

Tai-Chi

Chinese people firmly believe in maintaining balance of yin (negative) and yang (positive) in the body to remain healthy. Tai-chi is technically a form of martial arts that uses slow and graceful movements to aid circulation, muscle tone and general well-being. According to professional tai-chi instructors William Ng and Pandora Wu, tai-chi is more than just physical exercise but inner spirit and harmony of mind and body. In a philosophical sense, it explains everything in the universe as a unity.

William and Pandora teach a free tai-chi class early in the morning in Tsim Sha Tsui, right beside the Avenue of Stars. It was my first time to try tai-chi, and I tried my best to imitate the smooth and continuous movements. After a while, I really did start to feel relaxed, and waking up at 6 a.m. to attend the class didnít seem so bad anymore. To learn more about tai-chi, inquire at taichiworld@yahoo.com.hk.

The Pier

Cathay Pacific knows its lounges. It was recently voted as having the worldís best lounge in the 2004 Skytrex survey. In the same survey which attracted over 1.4 million votes in 10 months, their passenger lounges The Wing and The Pier in the Hong Kong International Airport also got Best First Class Lounge and Best Business Class Lounge. Before going home to Manila, I got to wait for my plane in The Pier, and I was beyond impressed upon entering. Sleek, tranquil and elegant, the lounge had a very calm atmosphere so you can unwind while waiting for your plane. You could stay in the lounge area to read, watch TV, or use the wireless Internet service (if you had a laptop). If you were hungry, you could try the Noodle Bar, where you could eat made-to-order noodles, besides the varied assortment of food already available. If you just want a drink, the Short Bar offers coffee and ice cream while you can enjoy wine, spirits and juices at the Long Bar. The bathrooms are great. They even have shower rooms if you need a bath! The Pier had everything I needed to relax and wait in peace; I almost forgot that I had a plane to catch. And even then, I almost didnít want to leave. I guess Iíll have to wait until my next Hong Kong trip.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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