14 May 2009
hong kong high life
Hong Kong is all about tall skinny buildings sprouting out of an island, and somehow it manages to be the home of both I.M. Pei architecture and butchers in flip flops. This city is a most excellent jumble of food, shopping, and personality and while the prices could be better, the vibe's about perfect.
In 1997 the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China, and since that time Hong Kong has been referred to as a "Special Administrative Region" of China and has its own flag and government, and freedom of the press. But it is still very Chinese. Rather than obliterating Chinese culture, the U.K. instead seems to have spent its decades in Hong Kong folding western appreciations into the eastern mix.
Hong Kong resembles a petite New York. It's a city that's easy to navigate on the subway and for all of its slick skyscrapers and banking acumen, its neighborhoods are where Hong Kong's personality really lives. Made up of Hong Kong island, Kowloon on the mainland, and the new territories, it's more than a single place and the people who live here can tell you about each area's specific nuances.
For a visitor, especially one from Seoul, it's amazing to see the amount of foreigners who live in Hong Kong. In fact there are areas of town where if you were to be dropped in blind-folded you would sooner guess you were in New Orleans than Asia. There's a real mix of people in this city and it produces an energy that I haven't felt elsewhere.
There's also the danger that comes with countries where cars drive on the "other" side of the road. At pedestrian crossings warnings of "Look Left" or "Look Right" are painted at your feet and I find that the quickest way to place yourself in the path of an oncoming truck is to look down and start reading the road.
Hong Kong is also like Beginner's China where your arrival is a gentle one. Things make easy sense to the Western mind but the personality of the place is still pleasantly new. Start your day with the view over Victoria Harbor. Wander through the bird market where vendors count out wriggling grubs with a pair of tweezers and a steady hand.
Eat spicy food and egg custard tarts. Drink tea from vendors along the sidewalk. Wait until sunset and then go to a rooftop bar where the highrises are level with your Campari and soda. Later swing back down for drinks in the nooks and crannies of the city.
I'd be happy to go back to Hong Kong. I love it's scraggly apartment buildings and the way all scaffolding is made of bamboo. I love the eating and the shopping. And I love the way the incense coils smell as they burn.
'Cause there's nothing that says vacation like incense wafting through a temple and food so spicy your mouth burns.