Thursday, December 30, 2004

Hong Kong, Part I

[New photo album: Hong Kong]

I already know this is going to be another multi-part city...we spent almost as much time in Hong Kong as we did in Beijing. After spending way too much time at the airport in Guilin, we arrived in Hong Kong after dark. Hong Kong doesn't use Kai Tak airport much anymore, which is a shame because it's right in the middle of the city. Literally. Find a National Geographic from 5-10 years ago or so and you're likely to find a picture of a 747 descending into the skyscrapers. I'm sure this was fun for both the occupants of the buildings 10 yards away from the wingtips as well as the passengers. The new Hong Kong airport is about 30 minutes outside the city and is built on reclaimed land, meaning garbage. Hong Kong is a strange city- half of it is built on the mainland (though not technically "mainland China") and the other half is on an island that juts up rather sharply from the water. [There are a couple other islands that make up the greater metro area. Macao, also recently reverted to China from Portugal, is about 30 minutes away by high-speed ferry.] Now ask yourself, given the choice of building skyscrapers on the relatively flat mainland peninsula or the inclined hillside of the island, which would you choose?

We stayed at the JW Marriott, a fantastically beautiful hotel on the island with easy access to dining, shopping, and the metro. Hong Kong, unlike the other cities we've seen so far, actually has a pretty useful subway system with several lines snaking through both the mainland and the island and even tunnelling under the world's busiest natural deepwater port. In addition to the metro, taxis are abundant and the Star Ferry is still in operation carrying thousands of people each day on the 5-minute ride across Victoria Harbor for less than US$1 each. The native language is Cantonese (as opposed to Mandarin in the People's Republic) but English is abundant here, owing to both the amount of western business conducted here and the fact that it was officially a British colony until 1997. Cantonese and Mandarin are close enough alike that your "Please" and "Thank You" will still work here, but you'll probably need to update your swearword flashcards. The official currency is the Hong Kong dollar which floats on international currency markets but is worth roughly the same as RMB (US$1 ~ HKD$8).

Day 1-
We set out walking from the hotel to the lower terminus of the funicular that would take us to Victoria Peak. Quite by accident we walked through Hong Kong Park and into a free aviary with a couple dozen exotic species free-flying inside the dome. The Peak Tram station was nearby so we rode to the top of the hill. My guidebook reminds me that Victoria Peak is about 1300 feet, which doesn't sound like all that much, but the view (if you're fortunate enough to be there on a clear day) is really something and the weather is much cooler (if you're unfortunate enough to be there in June).

On the way down we visited Flagstaff House a beautiful Victorian mansion turned into a tea musuem. The classic white columns make a beautiful setting for wedding photos and sure enough, we saw several couples in taffeta and tails. We crossed the harbor on the Star Ferry and spent the last couple hours at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. This is an unparalleled collection of ancient, classic, and modern art and artifacts from all over China. One of the best exhibits is the chinese calligraphy that, although utilitarian in nature, is truly an art form. I admit I didn't really appreciate calligraphy before seeing this exhibit and afterwards I can really see it for the art that it is. Like medieval illumination, it's hard to imagine so much effort going into writing and the level of perfection attainable. It's a good thing most of my communication is done via keyboard, 'cause ain't no one putting my chicken-scratch handwriting in a museum.

[Next: Take-your-pet-to-work day]

6 Comments:

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Wouldn't it be cool if someone found our blogs far into the future and put them into a museum as an example of "primitive writings?"

 
At 4:04 PM, Blogger Seven said...

haha Zelda, lot's of blogs i hit now belong in that "primitive writings" category! just hit "Next Blog" for a demonstration!

nice nice story, and more great pics!

 
At 3:15 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Your story and pictures are almost enough to make me want to visit Hong Kong again.

The first time I went there I felt dizzy and disoriented the whole time I was there. That was because I was in China pre-capitalist, when everything was moving at half speed, then took the boat across to Hong Kong where everything happens at double speed. I hated it. It didn't help that I was staying in the cheapest place possible, a top floor at Chungking Mansions, a FLEAPIT, now gone, apparently, and good riddance.

The only other time I was there I'd caught a vicious cold, and was running a high temperature the whole time and feeling like shit. Hong Kong didn't get a chance to impress me at all. Perhaps I should give it another go.

 
At 3:51 AM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

Four words....
So. Glad. You're. Back.

Seriously, it was painful without you.

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

That's true Seven. Some are more primitive than others.

 
At 12:40 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Z- I thought about that as I was writing this...I weep for the future.

Theic- It's true that the proper comparison makes all the difference whether you enjoy a city or not. Houston isn't very densely populated, so that's one of the things that bothers me most about cities like Tokyo & Hong Kong. I'm not used to taking public transportation, let alone packing like sardines into a subway car so I generally hate that part of any trip. As for the "speed of life", Beijing and Shanghai are almost as bustling as is Hong Kong now, so I didn't feel such a sharp contrast. Apart from the crowds in Kowloon I enjoyed Hong Kong as a beautiful island-city.

Adrianne- Aren't you the sweetest thing? I plan on finishing the China trip this week and getting back to the usual brain-damaged posts for 2005. I expect great things from you too.

Z- I was thinking the EXACT same thing.

 

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