One of my favorite things to do in Hong Kong is have a coffee, or in this case a green tea latte, at the Starbucks located on the Avenue of the Stars (Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood’s Avenue of Stars). This is one of the few Starbucks in Hong Kong with a view and it is a stunningly unobstructed panorama of the famous skyline. The skyscrapers on the island side now have to compete with an almost equally magnificent skyline on the Kowloon side, dominated by the ICC tower, which you can just see in the reflection on the cup. Sandwiched between these two competing, and sometimes overwhelming views, is Victoria Harbour. Behind this landscape, lost in the background, is a story of fishing boats, food safety, and the decline of an industry.
I recently had friends visiting from the United States and when I asked them what they most wanted to see in Hong Kong, they replied that they wanted to see the boats in the Harbour, which is certainly possible. Luxury sailing boats, industrial barges, ferries, enormous cruise liners, tiny fishing sampans, and police speed boats all populate the harbour on any given day. The boats my friends wanted to see, however, were the Junks that once were abundant here. Alas, the notion of seeing multiple junks in the Harbour is no longer a possibility.
The boat viewed through the cup handle is the last authentic Hong Kong fishing Junk. It is called the Duk Ling and for a while, when it was operated by the Hong Kong Tourist Board, it could be ridden by foreign tourists for just HK$100 for an hour tour of the harbour. It was sold, however to Saffron Cruises, and is now only available to rent on a day or evening basis. Occasionally you will see other junks in the harbour, similarly run by cruise companies (boat parties are big in Hong Kong), but these have been brought to Hong Kong or are modern replicas build expressly for cruising. The Duk Ling, was built over 150 years ago and was once a working fishing vestal.
Fresh fish remains an important part of Hong Kong cuisine. For Hong Konger’s this often means buying live fish from tanks in the markets and either taking it home to be eaten, or taking it to a nearby restaurant to be cooked. Indeed, some fish restaurants even have their own fish tanks, though one wants to look carefully at the quality of the water, as while the fish may be alive, it does not mean they are necessarily healthy. Buying fish can be an interesting experience, and it is likely that fish species may be unfamiliar to westerners (The AFCD has a good identification page). Salmon for instance is not a common feature in the markets. Market traders will cut some fish, because of their size, into smaller portions for buyers. To keep the appearance of freshness, fishmongers will cut around the heart and lungs so that it keeps beating, even as the fish is portioned out. This is normal viewing in the city, but does tend to cause pause for visitors.
The waters in Victoria Harbour and near to Hong Kong have been both over fished and polluted. If one could even find a fish in the Harbour, one might certainly be advised against eating it. In the everyday street spaces of Hong Kong one might not realise that fishing is not the healthy industry that it once was. You find an abundance of fish, which is largely caught beyond Hong Kong’s waters. Indeed fisherfolk regularly go as far as the Philippines to find suitable stocks able to meet the needs of the city. Other fish is flown in via aircraft. Even the fish one can buy from the boats in places like Sai Kung, are purchased via a wholesale market, a number of which are operated by the Fish Marketing Organisation.
All is not lost however, as the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation department has begun a plan to preserve and enhance the reefs around Hong Kong and instituted other measures in a bid to improve water quality, fish habitat and to preserve fish species (find more on this here). Indeed three artificial reefs have been developed that apear to be helping, and the pollution levels in Victoria Harbour have reduced to such a level that the once annual, but then abandoned, cross harbour swim has been reinstated after 33 years. Recently floating restaurants have re-emerged within the Hong Kong landscape, such as this one in the typhoon shelter near Aberdeen. Other floating restaurants are much larger, such the Star Seafood Floating Restaurant, and though fewer in number than was once the caswe, remain part of the Hong Kong experience.
This is part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “In the Background”. You can find the challenge here. The remit was to capture yourself or someone else as a reflection. When I took this photo, I worked not to be in the reflection of the cup, though I did not pay particular attention to what was reflected. It was only as I was preparing the photo for this post that I realised that the reflection was of the ICC building which forms a gate to the Harbour with the IFC. Both buildings rank as some of the tallest in the world. They reflect the aspiration and power of financial capital just as they draw our focus away from the other everyday life activities of the people who live, and have lived in Hong Kong.
This site made by a group of students in Canada has a number of photographs showing the changing coastline of the Harbour over time. What once took 45 minutes to cross by ferry is now transversable in less than 15 minutes. Alternatively one can cross underground via the MTR or in a motor vehicle in even less time.
One of my favorite go-to web sites is Hong Kong Extra’s. They have a link here to all the floating restaurants in Hong Kong, should you wish to have a meal this way.
Suzanne Friedburg, in her book Fresh, describes the food safety issues surrounding the fish we eat and she did some of her research in Hong Kong. This is a link to her book Fresh: A Perishable History on Amazon.com. It is not available at Amazon.co.uk.
The photograph on the Where is Home? page is a view from one of the restaurants where you can buy your fish and eat it. The restaurant itself is somewhat shabby, consisting of plastic tables on a wooden walkway, but the food is fabulous. Depending upon what fish you buy, it can be inexpensive. Be sure and ask the sellers before you have it cooked. There are also a number of photographs of fish tanks in the Hong Kong Food Spaces Gallery.
- Hong Kong residents express ‘concern’ as giant inflatable rubber duck found deflated in harbour (metro.co.uk)
- High five in Hong Kong (thehindu.com)
- Air Pac investigates shark fin claim (fijitimes.com)