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Hong Kong: From Me to You

Posted by on April 14, 2012

Okay. So after Macau last week, now it’s time to jump over to the other side of the delta to see the other recently-handed-over, former Western colony in these parts:

Hong Kong

It’s a place we’ve all heard of, but most know little about. And that’s a small shame, because Hong Kong isn’t “just another city” in China. Hong Kong is a landmark, moving the world forward and a focus for economists, urban planners, architects, sociologists, and travelers all over.

on the ground

I remember first learning about Hong Kong as a kid. I looked at the label on one of my awesome shirts. “Made in Hong Kong”, it said. I thought nothing of it except that this was a far away, funny-sounding place populated by little, funny-sounding people.

That label revealed an important part of the story of Hong Kong, though, as well as its uniqueness. There’s no place like it, and I’ve been itching to see it since I got to China.

So stop what you’re doing:

And don’t bring any chickens:

This article is about my first daytrip over to this other China.

Zhuhai and Hong Kong actually border each other by water.

on the map

Sitting at opposite ends of the Pearl River Delta, a 70 minute ferry ride is all that separated us. On the day of my departure to Hong Kong, I awoke, gathered my things, and took the first ferry I could. All aboard!!!

The ferry was a medium-sized vessel with a large, indoor cabin holding maybe 150 people all seated facing front. Interestingly, a Mr. Bean movie was playing on the two televisions up front.

I squeezed my way off the boat through the crowd and through customs.

Yeah, like Macau, you need to get through a border, get your passport stamped, and all that jazz. As of 1997, Hong Kong is now back in the hands of China—from England, but uses its own money, has its own government, and retains the same level of freedom it did before the handover. So while there, I saw brochures bad-mouthing China, Internet use wasn’t blocked, and things just felt a lot more “international”.

The ferry landing was on the north end of Hong Kong Island (the island with the skyline) in the neighborhood called Central (the business district where that incredible skyline sits.) From atop the footbridge that stretched over the coastal street from the ferry port to the city, I looked to my left and caught a view of Hong Kong public transport. Double-decker busses and double-decker light rail cars glided up and down the clean streets, delivering the dense population to their destinations:

I made my way to the other side of the bridge, down to the street level, and began my tour.

Hong Kong Central’s skyscrapers tunnel you in as you walk past newsstands, food vendors, and plenty of other passersby. Taxis are as common as any vehicle, but there’s also no shortage of luxury cars bee-bopping along. Walking into a Louis Vuitton store, I saw how populated Hong Kong also is with and/or visited by, rich people. In fact, on another occasion, I spied these lines one morning in another area of Hong Kong:

Chanel.

Gucci.

Prada. My, aren't we shy? Maybe they worried I'd snitch them out for spreeing with Dad's credit card.

It’s not hard to see where Hong Kong generates its wealth, boasting some of the tallest buildings in the world–and most of these finance related. The commercial success of Hong Kong is unparalleled. Here’s one startling fact for ya: when Hong Kong was handed back over to China from England in 1997, the population of the country increased by just a drop in the bucket. But this tiny pin prick of a region increased China’s GDP by 25%! all by its wee lonesome.

Referring to my list at the very top, I should’ve added historian. Because Hong Kong’s past of Opium Wars, British colonialism, economic success, the flight of Chinese refugees to its shores through the years (by one of my student’s uncles, no less—-he used a banana tree to swim the distance from Zhuhai: about 20 miles!), and finally, Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 all make her story like no other.

After a couple blocks amidst the giant buildings, I come across a city square. A statue of an Englishman stood proud, facing the pillared, white government building surrounded by fountains, greenery, and pathways. Like Senado Square in Macau, it was a testament to a not-too-distant past and to the current, strong ties this region has to the West.

Another large park, complete with aviary, huge fish pond (with a bunch of turtles), and a museum or two lay just inland behind the fortress of downtown.

Also located nearby was an old Anglican church—a monument to colonialism, but no relic. Religion also embedded itself in the lives of the locals and within the church were Chinese worshippers.

After all this walking about, my poor tootsies were sore. I decided to take a load off and give another part of Hong Kong a shot. “I know”, said I, “I’ll take the subway underwater across the channel to Kowloon.” Turned out, what I thought would simply be a means to an end, was quite an experience itself.

Hmm, I remember seeing rats in New York's subway.

It was like a bit of time travel. To be in the tunnel riding underneath the harbor channel in the smoothest, cleanest, quietest ride you could imagine was a bit surreal. I felt like I was in a simulator of “what the year 2020 is going to be like”. Hong Kong boats some superiority over Western metropolises.

On the other side of the channel, off of Hong Kong Island, is the area called Kowloon. And some neighborhoods over there are bustling, international wonders. Such energy it had! And this was no holiday or weekend; it was a Tuesday at 3:30, yet the scene was incredible: a rainbow of people representing Africa, India, SE Asia, Europe, and America all mingled about.

All this occurred with a backdrop of eye-catching awnings and neon signs signifying electronics outlets on every block, jewelry stores, guesthouses, small restaurants, you name it.

Check out a video of the action on this side of the channel:

To be truthful, it got to be a bit much. No kidding, I had ten Indian men approach me within a three block walk, asking if I wanted a tailored suit. No. Nope. No thanks. Sorry. Not interested. (Unfortunately, I stuck out like a wounded baitfish to these sales sharks.)

After a little while there, I headed back to the island–this time above the water–in time to watch the sunset over the skyline from the ferry crossing the channel.

It was a fitting end to an awesome day. But this was just one day. I would visit Hong Kong a couple occasions and had the chance to check out its laid back islands:

interact with Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Spreadin' the Word

and share a lunch with Filipino housemaids during Hong Kong Labor Day:

To be sure, my time there was just a small taste of what Hong Kong has to offer, and also to be sure, this post is just a sample of my visits…

To see more of the above and more I couldn’t squeeze on this article—temples, beach, some words about the class and wealth, East and West—look for my book coming out later this summer called New Plateaus in China, where a multitude of experiences and insights awaiting me in Hong Kong—and throughout all my year all around China—will be awaiting you.

have an awesome week,

-Brandon

One Response to Hong Kong: From Me to You

  1. dan

    I have really enjoyed your blog and pictures and video.. Only tip is maybe for next time videotaping try to hold it still for a little while so we don’t get so dizzy. Keep up the good blogging.

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