So, Hong Kong. My introduction to Asia. Searching for non-Starbucks coffee has taken me into a fancy shopping mall where rich folks compare phones and an investment banker is interviewing a prospect (it’s not going well for her unfortunately). When I look over my shoulder I see Kowloon across the water, the most densely populated city in the world. A concrete jungle that’s twice as dense as places like Manhattan or Tokyo, packing more people per square km than even the slums of Mumbai or the favelas or Rio de Janeiro. Where dilapidated concrete towers are bunched tightly together and slowly corroding while a teeming mass of people crowd the streets.
Venture away from the waterfront or shopping malls and the white faces disappear, English text vanishes, and I find my way by pointing, nodding and smiling. I’ve made a habit of looking at the tourist map, and then walking straight off it. I order food at random and learn some basic Cantonese phrases like ‘how are you’, ‘no thanks’ and ‘where is the bathroom’ which is enough to take me through the day.
At 8pm sharp, the skyline erupts in a festival of light. Skyscraper facades all across the city burst with swirling, popping colors, green lasers blast from rooftops in all directions, and this goes on for fifteen delightful minutes, accompanied to a tune that sounds like it was ripped right from an early Mario game.
I’m staying in the Chungking Mansions, home to dozens of semi-legal guesthouses, seriously dinky elevators, 120 nationalities, and a healthy trade in ‘parallel imports’ ie illegal imports. A huge TV billboard outside is advertising the upcoming MGMT show by playing the chorus line from ‘Kids’ every thirty seconds. Everyone is trying to sell you a suit or a fake watch, even the monks that accost you to give you a ‘present’ demand a sizable donation. It’s messy, loud and inconvenient, and I love it.
On my last day here, following a tip from my dad, I visited a Hakka walled city in the outskirts of town. The Hakka people are one of the four original peoples of this area, and they would live together as a tribe in a walled-off area, centered around a communal temple. This way of living has almost gone extinct, and it was impressive to find the compound hidden away amongst the skyscraper housing, still going strong (although the building was definitely falling apart).
I very much enjoyed the hubbub in this city, the bright lights, the incredible skyline, and its 24-hour nonstop activity. I didn’t enjoy being back in the Northern Hemisphere and its winter, what with it being 4 degrees when I landed on Tuesday morning, but thankfully it’s since climbed to a healthy 20 degrees. And anyway, I’m off to Bangkok now anyway where I’ll be spending the next two or three months barging around the tropics of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
As usual, here are some photo selects. Click to make them full screen, without leaving the page (computer magic!):