Hong Kong 2000

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To avoid the privilege of a 33 hour return trip from Bali, we stopped off in Hong Kong for four days. The most striking feature of Hong Kong is the unforgettable skyline, particularly if you arrive at night. It is not merely a several miles of often unique designs, but skyscrapers are lit up in a blaze of color, even changing colors! Fortunately our hotel room faced the harbor and the skyline, and we soaked it in plenty.

Store Grand opening Hong Kong Skyline
New store opens in old building Partial Hong Kong skyline

There are three lasting impressions you pick up immediately. The first is air pollution. It is amongst the worst in the world. The predominant sound is not people talking, but people coughing. Next is signs. Hong Kong allows store signs across the streets, not just on the building. At night, the city looks like the old downtown of Las Vegas, cheesy neon and spotlit signs wall to wall. The third impression is commercial. It seems like not a square centimeter of Kowloon, Central, or Wan Chai streets are free of commerce. Street level merchants are only part of the story. Restaurants are on any floor of office buildings, and malls and arcades line the underground and the alleys.

Typical market street Jade Market
Endless street market Huge, covered jade market

As in any major city, we walked. We walked for hours, through mile long street fair-like markets, through the aquarium district, the wedding district, the jade district...

We walked all the way around the mountaintop and then from the Peak Tram clear down to Wan Chai and around it's markets, probably putting on 12 miles that day. The Peak Tram takes you almost to the top of the mountain, on a hillside so steep, the Tram goes almost vertical. Your back is pressed hard against your seat, and you almost feel like you're lying down. The tram has to back down from the top, otherwise everyone would free fall into a pile against the window.

People in Central and Happy Valley live in incredibly tall, narrow apartment buildings. I mean 40 story buildings. Hundreds of them, as far as the eye can see, and then around the bend there are hundreds more. In Kowloon and Wan Chai, they live in terribly dreary apartment buildings, not as high and much noisier. Clothes hang from racks outside windows, and are taken in with hooks. I wondered if the clothes weren't dirtier for being dried out in the filthy air.

The food was great, of course. The street vendors sell octopus on a stick, along with beef sate, shrimp balls, roast pork, and all kinds sweet things. Waffles are big, for some reason. We found unusual fruit (as always), but none as pretty as dragonfruit. This is the size of a large mango, but bright fuschia in color! It has soft, flat, chartreuse spikes sprouting from hit (hence the dragon) and inside it has no pit - just pure white meat sprinkled with black seeds half the size of poppy seeds. Anything that pretty just couldn't have a fabulous taste - and it doesn't.

SE view From Sheraton HK hotel SE view by day
Hotel's view by night The morning after

The subway cars are not separate. Using every available space, the space between them is opened up, making them look like one endless car. The subway itself is plain concrete, very functional, but reminiscent of Washington's subway in its coldness.

By the time we hit Aberdeen with its floating economy and Stanley with its famous market, we were so tired of junk shopping, it just wasn't impressive. The action was back in Hong Kong, where on Sunday they seem to have a tradition of women gathering in Central. Central is skyscraper city, like downtown Houston - pretty much dead on Sunday. So women come from all over and sit on the sidewalk up against these huge buildings - and talk. Some bring little stools, others bring their shopping. But every building and every little park is filled with women of all ages - and only women. From habit, they must know each other and their neighbors. When we left Central in the morning there were already hundreds of them. When we returned late afternoon there thousands. No police, no supervision, no hassles and no trouble, just a very social gathering. Pretty cool (keren, in the local tongue).

Hong Kong Apartments Hong Kong streetcar
People storage, Hong Kong style The metro, however, is ultramodern