Elaine Li (@lielaine) introduces us to her home city of Hong Kong: crowded and fast-paced; diverse and accommodating; modern yet traditional.
How long have you lived in Hong Kong and what is your profession?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, though I left at the age of 16 to study and work abroad in Australia and the United States. After 7 years of being away, I moved back to spend more time with family and work as a creative in advertising. I also do some freelance photography on the side.
If you could capture the essence of Hong Kong in one word, what would it be and why?
Diverse. There are so many things to see and do here, from gazing at vibrant cityscapes with lots of high-rises to going on quiet hikes through nature and in small villages; from indulging in local Cantonese food to trying French cuisine; from browsing small boutiques to shopping for international brands; and from living in traditional local neighborhoods like Shek Kip Mei to enjoying the conveniences in more Westernized communities like Soho and Mid-Levels.
How would you describe the locals in Hong Kong?
Helpful and kind-hearted. Locals are always more than happy to assist with directions and offer guidance. They make being a tourist in the city very easy. They also try to ensure that their fellow Hong Kongers are safe and comfortable, too. During the recent Umbrella Movement (Occupy Central), many volunteers offered food, drinks, toiletries, and tents for the protestors so that they could stay warm and not go hungry. It was pretty amazing to see the support.
That said, Hong Kongers are also playful and loud. You sometimes have to shout just to be heard when eating in a Chinese restaurant as people get boisterous!
What’s a signature dish in the city and where’s the best spot to find it?
Dim sum, which is Cantonese. Dim sum is prepared as small bite-sizes, traditionally served in small steamer baskets, almost of like Spanish tapas. You usually sit with a group of friends or family at a round table and servers come by with steam carts, asking if you would like the dim sum that they have. If you do, they’ll serve you one and then stamp a chop on your receipt.
My favorite dim sum is ‘har-gao’ (shrimp dumpling) and baked buns with BBQ pork. The best place to find them in Hong Kong is at Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan. There is always a line though, so make sure to spare some time. It is absolutely worth it!
What is one bus or train route that offers a unique glimpse or view of the city?
The trams on Hong Kong Island, also known as the ‘ding-ding’ (for the sound it makes). It’s not only cheap and environmentally friendly, but you can also get great vanishing-point shots if you take the front seat on the upper deck. Trams are the slowest form of transportation, but it’s really nice when you’re not in a hurry and want to see and absorb the city. They run from the West to the East (and vice versa), and you’ll have a chance to see the older part of town (Kennedy Town and Sheung Wan), the financial district (Central), and the shopping area (Causeway Bay).
Describe the first place you’d bring an out-of-town guest.
I like to bring guests to the Hong Kong Monetary Information Center on the 55th floor of International Finance Center (IFC) Two – it’s a spot that is relatively unknown to tourists. It has a nice and quiet indoor space (with AC!) that offers a great view of Mid-Levels and Western District. Standing there and gazing out, you get a true sense of Hong Kong’s unique ‘residensity’ – the city’s incredible residential density. If you plan to visit, remember to bring your passport or ID card as you have to register to go up.
Describe the most underrated place to visit in your city.
The nature hiking trails, which are actually quite popular among some locals and expats, but not so much among tourists. Hong Kong is well-known for high-rises and busy life, but there’s another side to the city that is very relaxing and peaceful, including the outlying Lamma Island, Cheung Chau, and Lantau Island.
Is there a tourist attraction that even locals (perhaps secretly) love?
I’d say Lugard Road on the Peak, which offers a great view of the city. The path begins right by the Peak Galleria, a shopping complex and tourist attraction located near the summit of Victoria Peak. The road is mostly lined by trees but after 15-20 minutes of walking, there is a view point where you can see a spectacular panorama of the whole city of Hong Kong.
How do you think the beat or style of Hong Kong has informed your style as a photographer?
Hong Kong is a crowded and fast-paced city with moments and corners of quiet and calm. I try to capture both the vibrant and quiet aspects of the city in my work. Some people say that my shots are inconsistent, and I do kind of agree. I want to capture all the different parts of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong itself is inconsistent.
Where’s the best spot to see your city from above?
Best free spot is the 55th floor of IFC Two as mentioned above. If you don’t mind paying HKD100 (USD13), definitely check out Sky100 Observatory Deck. It’s located on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon, and offers a 360 degrees view of Hong Kong and Kowloon.
Do you have any questions that we forgot to ask Elaine? Post them in the comments below, and be sure to check out the second part of the interview here!