The first city in China that I have ever set foot in – Hong Kong. Hell, it is the first city from south-east Asia that I have ever set foot in (if you do not include Nepal in SE Asia)! Except that HKG is not really a city – it is a special administrative region (SAR) of China. Now, we all know that HKG was handed back to China over a decade ago and that HKG is not really China. We know this intellectually, but in order to actually realize this, one has to visit HKG. As one of my friends said, HKG is probably the only place on earth that affords one all the conveniences of the western world, without compromising on Asian sensibilities. I loved my short stay in HKG – though the place reminded me an awful lot of Mumbai. It is Mumbai on octane. A cleaner, more orderly Mumbai, with larger skyscrapers, and more people – much more people!
A couple of days into the trip, I started to ponder over how I would describe this city, and could not come up with a suitable description in words. This is a city that one has to experience in order to understand. But I shall try my best.
Chaos. People. Crowds. Noise. Clean. Large Fines (HKD 5000 for smoking in non-smoking zones + 6 months in prison). Short Skirts. Shapely Legs. High Heels. Smoking. Trench Coats. Business Suits. Formal Dresses. Chic. Fashionable. Metros. Regular people using said metros! Lights. Some More Lights. Lights Again. Neon Lights. Bright Lights. Light Shows. Lights everywhere. No Stars. Man-made. Skyscrapers. Some More. And then again. Glass Buildings. Spectacular Views. Perfume. Prada. Gucci. Armani. Food. Small Stalls. Chinese Cab Drivers. Red 1950’s cabs. Cheap Food. Dumplings. Stalls on the road selling food. People in business suits eating said food. Old dirty Buildings. Flanked by New Swank Glass scrapers. Illegal road crossings. No respect for pedestrians. Great Coffee Shops. Nice Continental/European Food. Excellent Asian/HKG cuisine. Thai Strippers. Mamasans. Ex-pats. Irish. Bars. Superb Airport (it is a reclaimed piece of land in Lantau. The airport is on a small island if you will that houses just the airport!). Cramped Living Spaces. Land Prices that are through the roof. Western Influences. Western Fashion. Asians. More Asians. Smattering of Indians. BMWs. Audis. Mercs.
I managed to visit some places around HKG, shuffling the visiting around the conference schedule. Thanks mainly to Ajay, with whom I bunked and his travel guide. We visited the Giant Buddha Statue in Lantau – this is supposedly the world’s largest Buddha that is not enclosed by a building. Managed to get some good pix too!
The best views of the city are afforded by the peak tram – this is a gravity defying train (45-degree incline) that goes up to the very top of the city and one overlooks much of HKG’s skyline. We managed to get there in the evening and the night-time is the best time to visit – since the skies are lit up with neons and the night HKG skyline is something to behold! Wonderful views, although we had to jostle for space to take good photos!
Next up, old HKG. So many stairs! Uphill walks, downhill runs. Antique shops, shops selling trinkles for obscene prices – high-end cars parked in cramped streets, at an incline, with a stall selling fresh meat and snacks. Some more people; small roads; street food; small roads; LARGE signs!
Also spotted the possession point – the place where the British landed first and laid claim to Hongkong.
Finally came the ferry ride – this is a simple and fast way of getting across the city (the traffic is unbelievable – as bad as Mumbai), apart from the metro. We of course, used it to get a nice view of the skyline. Unfortunately, I did not have a tripod and getting long shutter shots in a moving ship with my shaky hands was probably not going to happen – I did try though (see below)! Fascinating city views as one travels across the seas from Wanchai to Tsim Tsha Shui or to Central. We managed 4-5 trips going from one place to the other (it is pretty affordable at 2.5 HKD a ride) and then landed up at Tsim Tsha Shui to catch the Light Show! The light show in HKG is the only permanent light show in the world – it occurs everyday and the large skyscrapers across the bay participate!! The show was not the best in the world, but it was entertaining to watch lights shoot off office towers!
We also managed to scout some bars and eat a whole lot of Asian food – yes, vegetarian food is not as difficult to find as one would think. We found many only-veggie places! Vegan is a bit harder to come by though. All in all, it was a superb experience, and I guess that 2-3 days in HKG is an ideal period. Anything more and I will start to hate the heat, humidity, crowds and small confined spaces!