On October 25, 2013 I left for Nepal. Over the next month I will share a daily blog post from the journal I kept while I was away. This is day 2.
After arriving in Hong Kong from Toronto at 5:00 AM, I had a 14-hour layover until my flight to Kathmandu. Cathay Pacific definitely lived up to my expectations, with more leg room in economy, better food, and excellent service from all the flight attendants. It made me realize that if the employees are more courteous and helpful, all the passengers on the plane will also be friendlier and have a more pleasant demeanour. After some tasty seafood congee and noodles from Super Super in the airport, I ventured out.
My first glimpses of Hong Kong were from the airport express train into downtown. The city had a modern, cosmopolitan feel to it from a distance, but also a very industrial one because of all the large cargo barges and transport vessels in the harbour, and the infrastructure reconstruction prominent in the city. In my mind, because they are both Asian trade and finance capitals, I had always associated Hong Kong with Singapore. I quickly realized how wrong this association was.
One of the first things that caught my attention was the fashion styles; they were all over the place! I immediately noticed some of the more youthful residents wearing very bright, saturated colours (though not neon). Then I saw the mistranslated or offensive t-shirts with text in English, the business suits, some elderly people with either traditional garb or hipster attire (see accidentalchinesehipsters.tumblr.com), and just about everything else imaginable. At this point a simple realization clicked at the back of my mind: “I’m in China.”
Hong Kong wasn’t as glamorous as I had imagined it. Like many other large Asian cities it seemed hazy and polluted, though not nearly as much as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. Though many of the buildings were new, tall skyscrapers, the majority were century-old concrete blocks crammed alongside each other like a poorly played game of Tetris. It surprised me how adjacent streets could look like they were from entirely different centuries, and yet I found it really neat, sort of like walking through the city was like using a time machine. The taxis were all old and run down, though many other cars I saw on and off the road left me drooling: (my first) Bugatti Veyron, Maseratis, a Porsche 911, and a few other $100K+ vehicles. Hollywood Avenue felt very posh, with swanky bars and restaurants filled with expats, while next door was a tiny alleyway overcrowded with food stalls and residents from lower classes. What became clear to me was that Hong Kong covered the gamut in just about every aspect: food, accommodations, cars, and more. It had everything from A to Z, and the different parts were barely segregated.
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One of the things I was displeased with was the poor ”walkability” of the city. On street level, sidewalks randomly ended, did not exist at all, or felt like walking a tightrope. However, the city had copious footbridges and pedestrian walkways either above or below the streets. I guess if you get accustomed to navigating these Hong Kong could be considered a very pedestrian friendly city (allowing you to bypass street level altogether), but as a new visitor who enjoys strolling on sidewalks it just confused me.
From Hong Kong station where the airport train dropped me off, I walked down to the harbour. The path along the water looked nice, and though I wished I had time to explore it, but I only had time for one thing during this stopover so I hopped on bus 15C to make my way to Victoria Peak.
The Trolley ride to the top offered fleeting glimpses of the skyscraper jungle below, but nothing compared to the 360-degree view from the top. I saw the harbour and many iconic buildings, and even tried McDonald’s wings for the first time (meh, I’d rather have Duff’s any day). One of the things I simultaneously loved and hated about Hong Kong was how hilly it was. This facet made it all that much more beautiful from The Peak, but was annoying when hurriedly driving or walking through downtown.
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For a late lunch, I spotted a line-up of locals at Tsim Chai Kee and followed Sachiko’s advice to try Hong Kong’s dumpling noodles. Being squeezed in at a small table full of locals was a new experience for me, and the food was cheap and delicious. Apparently this is one of the best dumpling noodle houses in the city. Next time, I’ll have to try Mak’s Noodle across the street, which I hear is a very worthy competitor.
A few other quick observations about Hong Kong:
- There were lots of trees and pockets of lush green plants throughout the city. Not as much as Singapore but I really liked this.
- The British influence was noticeable but not that prominent. It was most clearly represented in the side of the road the cars drive on and the styles of a few buildings
- Hong Kong appears to be somewhat progressive by Asian standards, as public displays of affection and semi-revealing clothing seem okay (at least among the youth)
Though the way in which we try to understand and think about new things is by relating them to ones we are already familiar with, juxtaposing Hong Kong with Singapore was a mistake. A better fit for Singapore might be a city like Taipei, but I expect that when I visit Taipei I will once again be proven wrong. The Hong Kong I experienced wasn’t nearly as Westernized as Singapore. It felt very Asian–very Chinese to be precise–and that gave it a lot more character than Singapore. It’s vibrant personality makes me want to explore it all that much more, and so, I can’t wait to come back!
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Have you been to Hong Kong before? What “vibe” did you get from walking around the city? Sound off in the comments below!