Saturday, July 17, 2010
After a pleasant flight on Cathay Pacific, we began our descent into the Hong Kong area. Immediately, you could sense the sheer size of this city/region. There were massive skyscrapers, in densely lining the shores of the city, while everywhere, high rises that would make any NYC tenement look tiny, were clustered in groups. The ocean and ports of the surrounding islands and channels were littered with massive tankers, cargo and container ships, barges and other crafts. You could already sense the economic engine of China and we hadn't even landed. Hong kong is well organized, and while rules and fines for anything imaginable, from spitting to smoking to jay walking stifle and promote a certain conformism, Hong Kong feels like capitalism on steroids. It's like Times Square-meets-Vegas multiplied by a thousand. It is vibrant, open for business 24-7 and apparently very rich.
The ports were like nothing I have seen before: miles upon miles of containers stacked 10-high waiting to be loaded onto ships that are waiting to transport Chinese goods all over the world, like an LA traffic jam. Dozens of 3-football-field-length ships are being loaded at once on massive cranes, while others, unable to get a birth are being unloaded in the harbor and open water by barges and floating cranes. Cruise ships, ferries, private boats and yachts plow the water everywhere.
We located ourselves in one of the only budget accommodation options in Hong Kong, Mirador Mansion: a massive tenement with thousands of apartments that have been turned into dozens of small guest houses throughout the building. The neighborhood around features Indians and Africans, touting tailoring services, fake watches and purses or guest houses and generally loitering. The room was bite sized, but clean and had air conditioning and was a perfect location to explore the city.
We spent the first night walking in awe, down to the water front where we walked down Hong Kong's Walk of Stars, complete with a statue of master Bruce Lee, and an amazing view of the sky line of Hong Kong island across the channel. There, a nightly light show using the buildings across the channel lights up the cityscape and is a big tourist attraction. Afterward we walked around and found some mediocre sushi.
We woke up the next day and after a 5 dollar Starbucks (gulp-even more than US prices!) we headed to Hong Kong island across the channel that separates Kowloon, which abuts the mainland of China, and the island, on which are most of the financial services and ex-pat community of HK. We walked among the waterfront streets, which feel like a continuous mall, intersected by markets. You rarely ever actually have to walk on the street in HK because there is a labyrinth of elevated escalators and walkways which cover the city, going in and out of buildings and malls, with exits on every block. Its an amazingly organized place.
We walked through the markets and watched the butchers and fish mongers hawk every ocean creature imaginable, including frogs and turtles and other crustaceans we have never met before. No kosher laws here, the mongers may fillet or scale the fish while it is still alive, and frogs are skinned barely 2 seconds after their neck was slit. We had dim sum in a very locally famous place, and got to chat it up with a couple of HK residents who we shared the table with. Then we took the tram to the top of Victoria Peak where we got sweeping views of Hong Kong and the surrounding islands, and walked back down to the city. We didn't wait around on HK Island for the famous happy hour that happens nightly, as the throngs of expats leave their financial posts to plow the trendy pubs and restaurants, but we were told that they are nicknamed "FILTH" which stands for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong". Instead, we went out to the night market for dinner and had an amazingly fresh seafood dinner on the street of crab, shrimp, clams, and fish.
The next day, our last in Hong Kong, we traveled to Lantau island to see the largest seated buddha in Asia, the Po Lin Buddha. After a series of ferries and buses, we came face to face with the 120 foot bronze buddha sitting on top of a mountain on a lotus flower. We toured the area and the monastery, listening to monks chanting and getting cancer from the ridiculous amount of incense they light in their temples, and then returned back to Kowloon via the metro. That night, after a 2 day search of a supposed "all you can eat" sushi restaurant which was recommended to us by my parents, we finally found it. The restaurant had relocated in the month since my parents had been in hong kong. We approached this final all-you- can-eat experience as gentle but fierce food warriors, maintainning focus on stuffing ourselves silly, and systematcally consuming inhuman quantities of sashimi, sushi, grilled and tempura meats and fish, and anything else they had on offer. It was lovely.
There was only one thing left to do as our adventure came to a close: we had to get on a flight that would take us back to the States. The anxiety and anticipation associated with returning home was palpable, we were still standby on the flight and we had been told that all Cathay Pacific flights to the US during the month of July were overbooked. Luckily we were able to get 2 seats on the flight and made it out of HK with minimal hassle. The 14 hour flight was lovely and we both caught up on movies we had missed over the past 8 months.
If you want to see the final pics of Hong Kong, click here.