Tall buildings. Short people.
01.05.2013 - 07.05.2013 19 °C
Passport control at Hong Kong Airport. You better make sure you are on the right queue. Faster, faster. Have your passport ready or face the wrath of the scary looking female official patrolling the crowds like the most feared teacher monitoring the queue outside the school canteen. Hong Kong is a production line in which the obedient citizens are preprogrammed to their bit as efficiently as possible or the whole thing will derail. In view of that I employ maximum concentration. I am next on the queue. Quick, Quick, quick. My hand is shaking as I fumble to get the right page. Shit should I have filled in a form? Phew I have it opened on the right page and no additional documentation is required. No time for pleasantries though. Time is too precious for that. But relieved I was, that I was on the ball and didn't let the country down. Not bad for someone who has stepped from the milk float of south East Asia to the F1 of the East.
Joe and I took the bus into town. This first thing that hit me was the sheer size of everything. The container port seemed to go on for eternity as did the skyscrapers gracing Victoria Harbour. Two buildings are over 400 metres high. Everything seems so hi-tech. Like a futuristic sci fi movie, or Blade Runner with noodles. Joe had noticed the growth of the city in a mere 10 years. To get an appreciation of this you need to get up high, the best view of the city being Victoria Peak. We did this by tram (the best way up). At night you marvel at it all while you stroll along the Avenue of Stars (overlooking the harbour), which is Hong Kong's own Hollywood Walk of Fame. As you admire the architecture be aware that many of the colonial buildings have been culled, although there are still a number (including the former governor's house), tucked away behind their younger and taller brothers.
Some seriously decedent 5 star hotels grace the city, some have been around for a 100 years or so. Porters stand poised, opening the doors for the wealthy elite, ensuring that they do not topple over with the weight of their gold jewelry. Despite the number of sky scrapers space for many in Hong Kong is at a premium. For many accommodation in Hong Kong is hot-bedding on a nuclear sub. Our hostel, the Dragon Hostel was a prime example. Our single rooms were effectively air conditioned cells with not enough room to swing the smallest of kittens. But clean it was, although teetering on the cosy/claustrophobic line. Like a lot of premises in Kowloon it was in a huge apartment block. Despite the numerous rooms it occupied just part of the 7th floor. I was contemplating a hostel in the infamous Chungking Mansions. This is home to 4000 people. It occupies 5 blocks and 17 storeys. That would have taken claustrophobia o a new level.
Initially Hong Kong was intimidating. We had just emerged from so laid back that it is almost horizontal Philippines. The people were amongst the politest in the world. In Hong Kong I initially felt that the locals were rude, but no it was just because small talk would cause a break in the production line. After a day or so I grew to love the place and it will be one of my favourite cities in the world.
A 48 hour jump on/off open top bus tour was a good way to explore. Getting around the place independently though is initially daunting and complicated but eventually you get the hang of the metro and it all makes sense. Metros link up with underground walkways. You could almost live your life underground here if you were a vampire. On the surface huge walkways skip the congested streets below. There is even an outdoor escalator that is approx 1 km long (biggest in the world). It cuts through the Soho district. The streets around there are at different levels like a min San Fransisco. The bars, restaurants, the atmosphere is fantastic. The People of Hong Kong work hard and play hard although they do not miss-behave hard like the Brits.
The place is clean. Cleaner than much of UK. It is efficient. Despite the alarming growth in new skyscrapers there is greenery to escape to. There are wonderful parks, even a fine aviary to visit. A far cry from choking Angeles where the only birds were the none feathered type gracing the street corners. Come to think of it they would wear feathers if you asked. You only need to travel 30 minutes or so on a bus and you are out on the hills. You are then guided with well mapped footpaths come complete with snake warnings. There are also great beaches, some even surfing beaches. Getting around is very reasonable. Museums are very cheap. Walking is free. Restaurants can be a bit expensive. Strangely enough there are no all you can eat English buffets. Street food in Thailand is probably the best in the world. Unfortunately the foul smelling stands in Hong Kong seem to be preoccupied with pigs innards. If you know what to get the cafes are an affordable option.
The equivalent journey on an over-sized bathtub in Indonesia would have taken a good half a day. But from the harbour a 1 hour luxury boat trip takes you to schizophrenic Macao. Half wonderfully preserved former Portuguese colony and half gambling magnet for China's new rich. There are several Vagas sized hotel one of which is modelled on Venice, complete with canals and very authentic aping of buildings on St Marcos Square. We didn't do any gambling. Enough gambling of life on the treacherous roads of SE Asia. It was worth a visit to just stare at the sheer spectacle. The free entertainment was great including abseiling ballet. What next Skydiving ballroom dancing?
Almost 6 days in Hong Kong, it was still not enough. Still so much more to see. 3 1/2 months in Asia was not enough however. There are always the if onlys. If only we had seen the Rice Terraces in the Philippines, or Bali or if only we had not spent 2 nights in Cebu etc. There is nevertheless always another time. After leaving the hostel, before returning to my doorstep, for the next 26 hours I faced two Emirate flights on A380's, seven movies and several meals. Ocassionally I would glance at a map of the world in the inflight mag dreaming up another trip to another part of the world. Global annihilation permitting of course.