A breath of fresh(well, hot, humid, and kind of polluted) air
Happy Valley, Hong Kong
After a quick hydrofoil across from Macau and a half hour 19th century tramride, we made our way to the apartment of a friend of mine from Georgetown that would put us up during our time in Hong Kong. As much as Macau was a disappointment, Hong Kong was a pleasant surprise. Again, perhaps its was more from a lack of expectations, but the city managed to be chaotic, crowded and full of skycrapers, but in a not disagreeable way. Much like Shanghai, the buildings were a real highlight of the city, and the skyline and riverfront are amongst the most beautiful in the world. Being a third pole of finance, after New York and London, bank buildings highlight most of the skyline. Of course the more modern buildings are the ones that stand out the most, being amongs the tallest in Asia and the world, but there were also a smattering of ones of colonial heritage, or early 20th century style, including the HSBC building which had been the HQ of the hong kong and shanghai bank, remarkably modern for its time, and with two stone lions at the entrance, nicknamed after a pair of british bank executives, and the original Bank of China tower, an example of neoclassical simplicity. The Bank of China tower now refers to the new building, that in my mind looks like a sail, and is probably the most recognizable building in the city. One of my favorites was one where every office has a small circular window, mainly because of the penchant for locals to give nicknames to everything, and they of course decided to call this one 'the house of 1000 a*******s'. Another remarkable pair, which form a crucial plot point in the last batman movie, are the Exchange Square Towers, also known as the electric razor and the nose-hair trimmer. However, the real highlights of the city skyline are being able to see the city from 'the peak' and from across the river, in Kowloon. We ventured up to the top of 'the peak' which is the highest point in the city, and also on the same island as Hong Kong city, reached by an old british tram, that climbed up a phenomenally steep gradient that really strapped you to your seat, although the tram lead only to the 'peak tower', and not the actual highest point atop the peak, but it wouldnt be Hong Kong if it didnt leave you inside a mall. Thankfully, there was a small panoramic pagoda just off of the entrance of the tower. The return down was on the bus instead of the tram, giving us a view over the back of the island and some of the most exclusive residential places in the entire city. The following day we went over into Kowloon and strolled along a promenade along the river, housing the local equivalent of Hollywood's walk of fame. It is of course the view that brought across the river and it did not disappoint. Although it is the illuminated view in the evening that leaves one speechless, the city by day is just as remarkable. However, there are some lows to go with the highs. First off, without a doubt, Hong Kong is the most commercial city in the entire world. Particularly on the Kowloon side, but not exclusively, shops, with their agressive signs and lights, crowd every possible inch of space on the street, on the second floor, and quite usually even higher than that. A unique part of Hong Kong is the construction of an enourmous covered escalator that goes up the hill on the Hong Kong side, up to the 'mid levels', the big residential area removed from the part of the city at sea level. Climbing the escalator for a good 30 minutes was a great way to see this side of the city, but is another example of the extent of the commercialism of the city, as in this part, it is normal for bars and restaurants to climb three floors, being at the same levels as the escalators, drawing customers as they climb back to their homes, or other destinations. Secondly, in this trip of surprisingly good food, cantonese food was strikingly underwhelming. Despite going to a fancy, recognized as great Dim Sum restaurant, we were all understruck by the blandness of the food and the generally uninspired cuisine. Thankfully, Hong Kong is enough of a multicultural city to have a wide range of other types of food, letting us sample good moroccan and indonesian restaurants. But all in all, the modernity, efficiency, and small things we take for granted in the 'west' make Hong Kong quite a relief during a trip in the Far East.