04 November 2009

Impressions of Hong Kong

Women with parasols in pastel colors. Laundry hanging to dry outside windows throughout the city, strung precariously on extended hangers as high as the eye can see. They hang totally still, like sculptures, as little wind penetrates the narrow gulf between buildings.
Skyscrapers all, hardly any low roofs to break the sight line, clumped together like giant vertical lego's, all shades of gray.
A glimpse of green hillside in the distance. A mountainous screen saver.
Whole portions of the city created out of landfill, and more of the harbor soon to be sacrificed. One might expect at some point that only a small channel will remain for boats, ferries perhaps obsolete to bridges.
Kowloon, where Byron and Gerry live, once dirt and slum, now an elegant choice to city center, with apartment complexes offering resort-like amenities and amazing views of what we think of when we think of Hong Kong. [Photo above taken from their terrace.]
High overhead walkways between newer buildings at business centers, connecting work stations with malls of high-end shops and restaurants. All neatly constructed, as if blueprints sprung to life.
High tea at the Peninsula Hotel downtown, a remnant of colonial rule and old-world European charm There is little left here. Beautiful abundant food, one of the few vestiges of British rule.
Junk boats fill sections of the harbor, awaiting duty – almost all the color of rusted metal, with only the occasional red or blue speed boat mixed in, a splash of color on an otherwise dreary canvas. Water, sky, buildings are all gray, blending into each other. Haze and pollution blanket the scene.
Street markets overflowing with goods of all kinds, piled high into small stalls.
Streets teeming with people at all times, people of every Asian variety from Chinese to Vietnamese. Asians all but the contrasts in facial characteristics clearly delineate the differences, and they all know their own. The lower classes – Philippines, Indonesians – are employed largely as house workers, diminished and tightly controlled, and often subject to stern scolding on the streets over any perceived or invented disrespect.
Sundays at Causeway Bay, a highly commercialized beach area, where house workers on their one day off congregate together with pot luck lunches, always clustered with their own, chattering like birds on migration, a few hours liberated from their near-slavish lives. Byron and Gerry take better care of their “maid” who is as much companion now to Byron as housekeeper, a fantastically good natured soul with little to look forward to.
Poppy, their beautiful golden retriever, frequently frightens people on the street or in the elevator only because she is a dog.
Fishmonger storefronts downtown with giant bottles of shark fins floating in murky water, lined up in windows like a poster display.
Warm smiles of working people but only when you smile first.
A taxi driver laughing loudly at our accented directions.
Trucks, buses, taxi’s all bombarding up against each other on narrow streets, fighting for every inch of road.
Buildings mostly flat facades. Institutional, utilitarian. Little molding, trim or shutters. A sea of windows between which are often seen the stains of heavy rains. Roofs adorned only with cisterns.
Rarely a tree-lined street. Parks few, largely hidden.
Constant 10-hour days of construction, with the requisite drone of saws and drills and engines whirring. The ubiquitous crain. The only sound to penetrate the din of a busy city is the occasional trill of a bird singing alto voce as if determined to compete. “Listen to me” it pleas and that might be said of the 9 million or so making their way through Hong Kong every day.
The Hotel Intercontinental in Kowloon, opposite HK island, a gorgeous glass enclosed bar just above the harbor provides a stunning view of boats and the skyline, which lights up like Disney at 8:00 PM, each building in sequence. Light scatters across buildings and across the water. A most western style place, gorgeous food and service, one might be anywhere, except for the view.
There are 60,000 Americans living in HK, as many and more other expats. They congregate in western style places, bars high above the skyline, living well in this fantastically expensive city. An apartment has just been sold for $50 million. I imagine HK competes with Shanghai and Dubai, perhaps Seoul, for the most modern over-the-top cities of the world. HK is Tokyo on crack. Tokyo is New York on crack. New York seems small, even quiet; then again, it is my home.
People of HK are a people of purpose. Completely focused, immersed in what they do, from shopping to work. By day, they seem serious souls, although after hours, or occasionally caught off guard, Byron tells me they are easily amused and good-hearted.
If in fact Hong Kong is the jewel in the Chinese crown, the model for all other cities to come, they are on warp speed to modernity. Old buildings are demolished for new, no restoration or renovation, only temples are sacred. I have seen only swarms of shoppers, workers, passers-by. I’m told there are shanties of sorts under bridges and in selected corners, but I’ve not seen them. They likely are not meant to be seen.
Even on a Sunday afternoon, forging through the many open markets, they are intent on fulfilling their mission, on the search for just the right item. Frequently dressed in black, they rarely make eye contact, at least not with me. Is it no wonder they will dominate the world?

More photo's at http://picasaweb.google.com/maple57/Asia2009#
Please note: These are all my pictures, plus Byron's shots of Hanoi, which are easily identified as the better photo's!
Stay tuned for Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. xx


  1. Please note: Poppy is taking requests for the 2nd half of 2010. The management (Byron). Wonderfully written. Now come back!

  2. Fabulous... a pictorial, even without the photos. It literally gave me chills. Quite scary and sci-fi to the naive little girl that rarely leaves Laguna. xo r