THE BLOG

Moving to Hong Kong: A Love Letter to the Dark Side

22/04/2014 14:57 BST | Updated 21/06/2014 10:59 BST

After two months my blossoming friendship with the hotel maid was forced to an abrupt conclusion - I'm now officially living in Hong Kong, and on the 'dark side', no less.

'The dark side' is the name sometimes used affectionately, and at other times less generously, for Kowloon (literally: Nine Dragons), the area of Hong Kong which lies directly opposite Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour on the southern tip of mainland China.

While it's often used to describe a part of the city where Chinese medicine shops are busier than Starbucks, you'll also find streets populated with fortune tellers, their tents glowing red and yellow in the night, elderly men sipping from large bottles of Tsingtao in public squares - the unmistakable sound of the zither floating from their Sony Walkmans - and seafood restaurants offering every kind of deep sea creature at a fair price (as their proprietors will no doubt tell you). For all these reasons I considered Kowloon to be flat hunting territory as soon as the move to Hong Kong was certain.

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Photo by Evie Burrows-Taylor

During the city's recent apocalyptic storms, my love for the 'other' side increased. That Sunday, I was eating in a dai pai dong, one of Hong Kong's dwindling restaurants known for their large outdoor eating areas, in Kowloon.

The storm was so powerful that the roof of a swanky shopping mall caved in. While hailstones the size of gobstoppers poured onto the escalators of the shopping centre, striking fear into the hearts of Sunday shoppers, fellow diners continued to tuck into their fried beef in black bean sauce in a relaxed manner. My attention was divided, one eye on my plate of squid, the other on the sky.

It had been raining sporadically since the previous morning, but as time wore on and the plate of food wore down, it didn't seem to be improving. When the winds picked up and I realised I needed to hold on to the legs of my chair to stay put - thick forks of lightning flashing in the distance - even the weather beaten men at the table next to us started to look uncomfortable. Eventually the waiter moved us, the men and their two buckets of empty beer bottles inside.

The rain continued to get heavier, staff battened down the hatches around us and I started eyeing up comfortable looking sacks of rice in case we had to stay all night. In spite of all this, the sound of laughter was ringing through the restaurant as people ran in, forced to take shelter, with staff ready to hand out umbrellas to anyone brave or desperate enough to use the outside toilet.

At this point I might have been the only person bringing the mood down in the packed restaurant - what with the rattling glass windows and barrage of thunder and lightning giving the impression that Judgement Day was upon us. But the atmosphere was infectious, and I was shamed out of my fear by the amusement with which other patrons took in it.

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Photo by Evie Burrows-Taylor

The rain didn't ease for hours, so we eventually - after stalling over several rounds of Tsingtaos -decided to take our chances. After donning jumpers and coats, we ran through the streets to the closest MTR station where hundreds of people looking freshly showered waited for the next train.

Once back in Prince Edward we had no choice but to wade through water, calf deep and ominously black, from the station to our flat, passing the children from our block playing in their new boulevard-sized paddling pool.

While window displays of antlers, pickled snakes and taxidermy are not for everyone, it's in Kowloon you'll find the romance of old Hong Kong. Located just minutes from the city's Central district by Star Ferry or MTR, many residents of Hong Kong Island, Western and Chinese alike, still have to be coerced into making the trip over here - and many don't make it at all.