Hong Kong's HSBC Building: a gathering of moola and maids.

I admit, when I’m travelling to a new place I dig out the guide books and scour the internet for things to do and see. As well as things to avoid. Generally, if a place is listed in the majority of guide books, I avoid it; it’s hard to get a taste of the local culture surrounded by a few hundred of your fellow touri. I’ve learned that if you can’t avoid a major attraction, by going during off hours instead there’s a better chance you’ll not be lost in the crowd. Better yet, strike off on your own and find something most visitors never get to see or experience. Or hear.

A case in point, Sundays in Hong Kong. Lots to see and do in Hong Kong and the guide books can do a great job of filling your days. However, the most memorable moment I spent in the island colony was partially by happenstance, and partially due to my traveling with my friend Dave who had lived in Hong Kong in his teens and gone to school there.

We’d already spent several days visiting his old haunts, and finding new bars to while away the night well into the early morning hours. Dave’s idea of foreign travel is to taste the local color from the bottom of a shot glass. A great travelling companion. For some strange reason, Sunday morning we were up, out of bed, and looking for something to do. Having yet not had the chance, I wanted to ride the Star Ferry (we were staying on the Kowloon side; in my opinion a much better choice than the Hong Kong side for both color and shopping). Dave wasn’t all that keen on the idea at first, but then broke into a smile and agreed.

The ride over wasn’t the thrill I’d hoped for. Just another form of mass transportation when you get down to it. But upon disembarking Dave took the lead saying, “Come on, there’s something you have to see”.

OK, first he said, “See I told you so,” in reference to the uneventful boat ride, but that’s Dave . . . and a different tale.

We headed inland and within a block the still of the morning was replaced by a susurrus of foreign tongues causing me to stop for a moment and look about, puzzled by the waft of noise. Dave grinned and urged me onward. And the noise grew louder with every few steps until we rounded the corner into a cacophony of female voices and a sea of brown-skinned bodies stretching across the plaza.

amahs hong kong sundays

Sunday in the Park with Amahs

Welcome to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) building on Sunday mornings. This famous building in Central boasts an enormous open parking structure at its base and is surrounded by a parklike plaza on the water side. Its designer probably never envisioned the use of his creation as it is on Sundays when thousands of Filipina amahs gather together to socialize on their single day off from work each week.

Not an exaggeration, there are thousands of young Filipino women gathered here on Sundays, and they seem to all be talking at once. Their voices echo through the cavernous parking lot which amplifies the din to a level seldom heard outside of an Ozzy Osbourne concert. The noise has a physical impact on you it is so pervasive . . . not a suggested trip if you’re suffering from a hangover from the night before!

The young Filipino women gather in groups, their lilting voices a pleasant change from the Cantonese you normally hear in Hong Kong. A chance to visit, a little taste of home, they spend the day gossiping, eating dishes from their home country, playing cards, or taking a nap. The only other group of any size evident across the plaza were white-shirted gangs of Mormon missionaries proselytizing their little hearts out as the do all over the world.

My first of many trips to Hong Kong. The shopping was great, the food delicious, the bars too numerous to remember (though the one we got eighty-sixed from stands out), and my most lingering memory is thanks largely to a country I’ve still yet to visit.