As my father pointed out to me, these posts are not “live” as the posts from Beijing were. Sorry!
Over breakfast on the second morning of my trip I overheard a tiny British boy ask one of the waiters, “Excuse me, could I have a wet towel, please? I’ve just got some honey on my fingers.” This was the funniest thing I’d heard in awhile as it reinforced every stereotype of whiny young British boys of the meets-a-disastrous-fate-in-the-Chocolate-factory variety I could imagine. Having heard his mother ask him if he was “ok” while trying to pick a cereal only added to the comedy and made it that much harder for me not to burst out laughing. After breakfast I made my way into Central, the district with the mostest on Hong Kong Island. The financial heart of the city is in Central, as is a slew of high-end shopping. As you move farther back up towards the Peak you come upon other “neighborhoods,” such as Soho and Lan Kwai Fong. In these areas you’ll find a ton of shops, restaurants, and white folk. Trolling around the area at night made me feel as if I’d been magically transported to New York, given the crowds of foreigners literally swarming outside British pubs and gaudy nightclubs. I decided that to cover the area on foot would be a good idea. Wrong. By the end of the day I was completely exhausted as, if you haven’t heard, Hong Kong is rather hilly. Traveling around the island by bus or double-decker tram might have behooved me and my footsies, but live and learn.
For lunch I checked out Pret-A-Manger, a sort of British Panera in IFC (the International Finance Center). The food was good but I couldn’t take my eyes off the dozens of signs informing me that my food was “all natural,” and “super fresh.” “Can’t find what you’re looking for? Hopefully one of our chefs hasn’t run out of the ingredients necessary to make it!” It’s wonderful that in the year 2010 such an aggressive marketing campaign (so many signs! It must be true) compulsively promoting eco-consciousness can still be used to hawk pre-wrapped sandwiches and boxed salads. But they had a chicken tikka wrap and so I was happy.
My day 2 wanderings left me with a few impressions of the city, as one might assume they would, as I wasn’t walking around blindfolded with my hands over my ears.
1) The climate is wonderful. It’s sub-tropical. Lush greenery abounds. It’s like if Florida was awesome and pretty.
2) The best way I can describe the city is to say that it is very three-dimensional. This might confuse you as I’m sure you’re under the impression that most cities and maybe even the one in which you live are considered three-dimensional. But in Hong Kong, the hills slope down out of sight only to seemingly rise again as a monolithic building emerges from the cluster of smaller buildings around it. It’s a neat effect.
3) I’d say that the feel of the city is San Fransisco circa 1970 meets contemporary New York with an English twist. The taxicabs are all these old red things and a lot of the buildings are rundown looking, but in a kind of sexy, island way that creates a compelling juxtaposition with the modern structures around them. I felt safe walking around at night although I never was out past twelve because I was always too tired (in that sexy, island way.)
I ended the night with dinner at Al Dente, because I was craving pizza and didn’t think I could live down patronizing the Pizza Express on such an exotic trip…to Southern China, not Italy. So my thinking might not be so clear there.
Another thing that really struck me about the city was just how markedly different it is from the mainland. As in it is completely different. A separate economy with different money, a different language and culture, and plenty of liberal freedoms that are unhindered by a neo-Communist government trying to keep upward of 1 billion people united. Politically and economically it is regarded as separate as Macau, the other SAR, which is best known for its casinos. I’d venture so far as to say that visiting Hong Kong is not visiting China, just as much as visiting some other city in China is not visiting Hong Kong, simply because visiting one will teach you nothing about the other. It’s almost completely international in the same way I’ve heard Singapore is; most everyone speaks English and you can find any Western comfort you might be desperate for, most of which are ingrained in the culture anyway. It’ll be interesting to compare the city to Shanghai (which I visit in June), easily regarded as the most international city in mainland China.