View from the top, Hong Kong
From the second we stepped over the border in Shenzhen train station we knew that we were in a whole new China. Instantly the cigarettes went out, the spitting stopped and order returned to the world. And it was even more convincing after we got off the subway on Nathan Road.
“Watches, handbags, copy watch for you my friend!”; “Tailor for you sir! Suits, shirts, ties, ladies’ tailor for you Ma’am!”; “Hostel for you sir, cheap room for you!” We were so overjoyed to hear the hawkers speaking english that we didn’t care that they had completely surrounded us and were following us down the road. We gawked at the colours of all their hands – black, brown, yellow, white – after seeing only Chinese faces for an entire month, the multicultural population of Hong Kong was a shock to the system.
Our first three nights in Hong Kong were spent in the notorious Chungking Mansions – a grimy, never-ending block filled to bursting point with curry houses, mobile phone retailers, porn stalls and reasonably priced accomodation. Here hawkers are more persistent than anywhere else in the city, the bugs are huge, the queues for the lift can be half an hour long, the men will violate you with their stares and the building could fall down at any moment but the prices and the curry make it all worthwhile (especially The Deli Club on Floor 3 Block A.)
Curry aside though, it would be silly to argue that Hong Kong isn’t first and foremost about the views, the technology and the shopping. For ease of use, all of the above are packaged into nice little bite-sized bundles too. Around Tsim Sha Tsui for example, there are more stores selling Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton than you could shake a Miu Miu bag at and even at that the flagship stores still manage to conjure queues of 40 or 50 people waiting to get in at any given time. Around Nathan Rd on the other hand, everyone deals in electronics at prices that would cause you to wonder if they were flattened when they fell off the back of that truck.
Knockdown Canons included, the best part of Hong Kong is the Star Ferry which runs from the terminal in Kowloon across the bay to Hong Kong Island. At only HK$1.80 (€0.16) for a place on the lower deck, spending 10 minutes watching Hong Kong skyline twinkle to life in the burned light of dusk is an epiphany moment you can have every day. And since daylight and darkness are equally kind to the view, it takes a lot of restraint not to drag your boyfriend (along with his seasick belly) over and back 23 times in 5 days. Not that I would do that…
The view across the harbour is at its best at 8pm every second day or so (Mon, Wed and Fri) when speakers in Tsim Sha Tsui harbour belt out the music to accompany the light show. The show admittedly starts a little slow with spotlights timed to Disney-esque music but it quickly picks up, switching into Star Wars mode as dozens of green lasers dance across the sky to computer game music.
There is another side to Hong Kong though – a side which makes it different from Tokyo with its fabulous shops, fabulous cars, fabulous women, fabulous architecture and fabulous technology – a side which gives it a little more character than the average high strung, high rise city. Wander a few minutes away from the mid-level escalaors (outdoor escalators that stretch uphill for blocks) and you will quickly realise that as different as this new China is, it’s still China. Fish flop about on chopping boards, old men sit on benches with their songbirds and chicken’s feet are ten a penny. As it turns out, Hong Kong – for all it’s capitalist glamour, Soho elite and Blackberry-toting chaos – is never too far from its roots, and that is why we love it.