It would be easy to get lost at Mongkok’s street markets, where the sea of bargain hunters jostles in a shopping frenzy. Fortunately, the Albanese family are easy to spot – dad Richard, towering above a sea of black heads; blonde mum Alison; red-headed firecracker Ryan, aged seven; and six-year old Chelsea, a stand-out with honey curls and a hot-pink jacket.
Physically, you couldn’t find people more different from their companions – local Chinese family the Tams – John, Michelle, Eric and Cleo. But this weekend, the Albaneses and the Tams are one big, happy unit, sharing meals, shopping experiences and sightseeing as part of a Hong Kong Tourist Board promotion called ‘My Hong Kong Family’.
It all started when Alison Albanese entered a competition on the Holidays with Kids website to win a family holiday to Hong Kong, with part of the prize the opportunity to spend time with a local family. Meanwhile, nine hours' flight away, Michelle Tam was also entering the competition, designing an itinerary to host a family from another part of the world. There were 15 nations involved, from countries as diverse as South Korea, the UK, the USA and India; the local winners would each host a family from one of these countries.
For the Australian winners, it was to be their first overseas holiday together. The Albanese children knew very little about Hong Kong – Ryan’s first question was, “Do they eat noodles there?” However, once they realised they were on their way, the whole family did a crash course in Chinese culture.
After a slightly awkward meeting in a hotel foyer, where the children eyed each other up shyly, the official proceedings began with a guaranteed icebreaker – breakfast! The Tams had organised a dim sum meal in the Lin Heung Teahouse in Central, one of the oldest in Hong Kong. This traditional favourite was packed to the rafters with families reading the paper or just relaxing over green tea as the waitress pushed trolleys of steaming dumplings, noodles and spring rolls. Chelsea and Ryan had their first experience with chopsticks; Richard braved the local delicacy chicken’s feet.
Then it was onto Eric and Cleo’s grandparent’s apartment – a real eyeopener for the Albanese family, used to the open spaces of Australia. This tiny one bedroom apartment once housed a family of six; now, it’s home to just the two grandparents, who graciously shared fruit and herbal tea with their Australian visitors.
The ‘east meets west’ theme was explored at Santa’s Town in the city, where the children were treated to a cooking demonstration. After making gingerbread men (representing the West) the kids were shown how to make ‘wife cake’, a traditional festive pastry in the East, a much lengthier process requiring some dexterity and good kneading skills.
The afternoon was put aside for a universal favourite – a theme park! Opened in 1977, Ocean Park was Hong Kong’s first theme park and despite competition from Disneyland, it remains a popular favourite with locals and tourists alike fl ocking to its dolphin shows, panda bear enclosure, an amazing jellyfish display and of course, the rollercoasters.
It was four very exhausted children who turned in that night, only to face another jam-packed day. Everyone had a chance to relax, however, on a three hour dolphin watch cruise off Lantau Island searching for the famed pink dolphins of Hong Kong. These amazing creatures, a beautiful pastel pink due to a lack of melanin, are among the world’s most endangered species. And it soon became clear why – they live right in the middle of a shipping lane. Amazingly, the families were treated to a distant sighting of four of the playful creatures, their pink fins piercing
Over a delicious Szechuan hotpot dinner that evening, the families discussed the highlights of the weekend. For Richard and Alison it was watching how the weekend affected their children, particularly Ryan who was drinking the whole experience in.
“At the end of the day, communication wasn't a problem,” Michelle Tam Said. “We were worried about the children’s lack of English, but they seamed to get past that. Judging by the bond that Cleo and Chelsea had developed holding hands and cuddling, the language barrier had definitely been overcome.” Perhaps Chelsea summed it all up best, after all the goodbyes, hugs, thank yous and promises to stay in touch. “I miss Cleo,” she sobbed to her mother, broken hearted that she wouldn’t see her new friend for a while. But now she has very own family in Hong Kong – and memories of an amazing holiday to treasure forever.
Hong Kong’s public transport system is cheap and efficient, and the recommended way of getting around. An Octopus Pass gives you access to trains, trams and ferries and is the most convenient option.
Cathay Pacific has direct daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong. Flying time 9.5 hours.
Visas are not required for Australians for stays of under 90 days.
Cantonese and Mandarin, though English is widely spoken.
Hong Kong is an all-year-round destination. It enjoys a mild climate from September to February; while the weather from May to September is hot and steamy.
AU$1 = HK$6.3 (as at 1st August 2007)
No vaccinations required. Drink bottled water.
The Renaissance Hotel in Kowloon is ideally located on the waterfront and is the perfect base for exploring Hong Kong and its islands.