Hong Kong is a city bilt on the vertical rather than the horizontal; that is, all building is up rather than out. There are high-rise apartment and office blocks everywhere, many built in farms of so mny buildings per row for so many rows. It looks like a cleaner version of the Soviet worker ghettos or the projects of Harlem and New York City. It’s the only way to fit so many people in so small a space.
It is also a city which is unashamedly racist in that your occupation can be guessed with a fair degree of accuracy by your origins. If you are of middle eastern descent, you work as either a cab driver or a street spruiker touting “copy watch” Rolexes or inviting passers by in to be fitted for a suit “good quality, finished tomorrow” (and boy do these people piss me off). If you are Thai, from the Phillipines or other south-east Asian country, you work in domestic service and only get Sunday off. Tourists are almost all British — but we’ve come across a large number of Germans here as well — as are the people hassling you to take ‘tourist surveys’ outside the Star Ferry terminal. People of Chinese origin, as I guess befits the dominant group, can be found at all levels of society and in all occupations.
The city’s colonial past is in evidence everywhere. Yes, there are many colonial buildings around but that too obvious. You see it more in the uniforms of the officials and staff about the place and in the street signs. For instance, the crew of the Star Ferries (which we used to cross the harbour and climb Victoria Peak) wear a very typical nineteenth century naval uniform, the police and customs uniforms feature the same pips and crowns used to denote rank in the Australian and British armies. The signage is mainly what stuns me. I had expected since it’s been ten years since the handover that a fair degree of engrish to have made an appearance. Not so. The language of the everyday street and service messages is very formal and very English: “Persons wishing to board the tram must signal while it is yet 100 yards distant.” Wow.
What we’ve done so far in Honkers are these:
Kowloon (where we’re staying):
- Walked down Nathan Road from the hotel to the harbour (approx. 1.6km) and along the forecourt past the space museum and the art gallery complex to the KRC Clock Tower and the Star Ferry terminal then back to the Hotel through Kowloon Park. This was main to get a feel for the place and stretch our legs after the flight.
- Wandered through the night markets after having dinner at a small restaurant filled with locals rather than tourists – an exercise is hand gesture communication, smiling and nodding. This was fun but only deepened my conviction that markerts are crap wherever you go. Although there was a lot we had not seen in the wide brown land of Oz, we also found lots of Holden t-shirts and seatbelt covers for sale. I nearly bought a chinese chess (one with the cannons and chariots as pieces) but decided against carrying the extra weight in my luggage.
Hong Kong (across the harbour):
- Took the ferry across the harbour and the tram/cable car to the top of Victoria Peak. The view from the Sky Terrace (filled with tourist trap boutiques) is amazing. From the top you se that there is no building in Hong Kong from one horizon to the other that is not 50 or more stories high. Again, it’s a vertical city.
Tonight we plan on seeing the light show on the harbour. Tomorrow we’ll visit a couple of museums before catching our flight to Paris later in the evening.