Tim had a business trip to Hong Kong, and since I’m currently underemployed, I thought I’d tag along. It was only for a couple of days, which is a shame given how much there is to and see in Hong Kong. It was also my first trip.
First impressions are that Hong Kong is clean and very organised. You arrive at the sparkling new airport, right outside the arrival doors there’s a booth to sell tickets to the train (if you’re doing this, get the traveller pass that covers the MTR and the train trip, it’s very convenient), the train is on the same level as the arrivals hall and whisks you into Hong Kong, to be met by a shuttle bus that takes you to your hotel. All very useful for the jetlagged traveller (and in my case, one with a bad cold to boot). The only oddity was being told to take off my hat in the airport for what looked like a camera and was likely a thermal imager (aftermath of the SARS outbreak, one suspects).
The shuttle to the airport drove along some of the main roads in Central, and my first impression was how much like Singapore it looked. Lots of traffic, tall shiny buildings with lots of glass, concrete overpasses over the roads, interspersed with palm trees and other vegetation.
Walking around Wan Chai the morning was a little different – there were no palm trees there, although there’s still the same crazy traffic. I walked along Gloucester Road to the beat of an alarm that everyone ignored, walking by gleaming bathroom fixture companies and jumbled hardware companies, over to Victoria Park with people walking around slowly, stretching as they go, and then back along Hennessy Road, one of the main shopping streets on Hong Kong Island. The oddest thing to me was that I was taller than many people on the streets, both men and women.
This part of Hong Kong is reminiscent not only of Singapore, but of New York, London, and almost every Chinatown I’ve been to. Chinese herbalist shops jostle with global names (in particular Starbucks and McDonalds, but also well-known clothing and phone companies), the people mostly speak at least one Chinese language as well as English, the English is accented with UK pronunciation. They drive on the left, and mostly walk on the right like the English do.
At lunchtime I headed back to the hotel and discovered the pedestrian overpass system. A bit quicker than the streets, and a lot safer than trying to cross the roads. It was also noticeable that the people using the overpasses (which lead through shopping centres and hotel lobbies) were, on average, taller, better-fed, and much more expensively dressed than those walking on the streets below. The typical business apparel seems to be dark suits, for both men and women. Pinstripes seem to be considered flashy.
Hong Kong is intense. I walked through much of Wan Chai, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, just looking at things and absorbing the atmosphere. I saw lots of obviously poor people, but few homeless people and the only beggars I saw were in the tourist areas of Tsim Sha Tsui. I marveled at the mid-levels escalator system, and at how thin all those buildings look from the top of Victoria Peak. You can tell that Hong Kong does not have a significant risk of a large earthquake by how close the apartment buildings are build to each other, and how tall they’re built, even on the reclaimed land. The buildings on the mid-levels look like they’d bang into each other when swaying in a big quake.
I want to go back and see more.