Friday, May 1, 2009

Let's catch up 1/3

The mighty skyline of Hong Kong and Kowloon behind (Panorama, click for full effect)

OK! So - it's been a little while. I hope everyone has been doing well. I have a chunk of time to myself now and have no excuse not to update this blog. A quick note: the previous post had some HTML technical difficulties, but it should be fixed now (that was the post that started with Leon and my road trip on the south island of NZ, and ended with the rooftop cinema in Melbourne, Australia).

Last we left off I was headed to Hong Kong. This post will describe my time there (and Macau), then part 2/3 will describe Beijing and Shanghai (will be posted tomorrow). Finally, part 3/3 will describe my little time in Tokyo, and my month in LA (will be posted in 2 days)!  Right now I'm back in Tokyo - I'll be here for about a week, then I'm headed on a south tip to north tip 3 week trip of Japan.

Pics for this post:

Note for this post - not sure why - but Blogspot isn't letting me resize my images in the post.  Sorry for the obnoxiously large pics.

My expectations weren't very high for Hong Kong. I had heard from a bunch of people that it was cramped, noisy, smelled bad, and overdeveloped, and they were right. But despite all that, it has a charm to it, and I wound up really loving my week there.

Things got off to a great start in the city. Just the train from the airport to downtown was immaculate and fast, albeit a bit pricey. I won't go through play-by-play of what I did in Hong Kong, but I'll try to convey a general feel of the place.

One thing I can admit is that I got pretty lucky. Right away I connected with a few couchsurfers who made my stay infinitely more enjoyable. Olivia, a nonprofit film maker, Lane, a hedge fund programmer and traveler, Sapriti, a professional classical musician, and I met up for dinner and all hit it off quite well. Later that night I also met Carlos, a Guatemalan student studying in Taipei, and Jeff, a pilot living in HK. They all had amazing stories, and wound up guiding my stay quite a bit. Plus, they all spoke more Cantonese than I did (I didn't speak a word), so it was very helpful having them around. The food took some getting used to - everything is either really spicy or really fishy or both - but it was a learning experience.

I explored several of the city's neighborhoods on my own, and was really fascinated by their unique feel. The way small shrines have been preserved for hundreds of years, and are now tucked away in between massive skyscrapers and highways is sad and admirable at the same time. Each of the shrines I visited all had handfuls of people visiting them with a very tangible sense of respect and humility.

Huge incense swirls hanging from the roof in one of Hong Kong's many shrines

While the apartment complexes (absolutely enormous sprawling cement monstrosities) are ugly, much of the island's skyline is incredibly beautiful. They are so obviously proud of their architecture, and they have a right to be - some of the buildings are jaw-dropping. At one point I took the tram up to 'The Peak', looking over HK island's skyline, as well as Kowloon's (across the bay), and it is a really impressive view (if only it were less foggy).

I think part of what gives HK its attitude is just how cramped everything is. Hong Kong island is not big. In fact, most of it is hardly developed at all. It's just one small area of it that is built up to an outrageous degree that makes it seem almost absurd, like it is out of a sci-fi movie. The old fishermen boats on the harbor supplement this feeling, with their loud dirty 'putt-putt' engines rumbling next to high speed jet ferries to Macau and the other islands.

One of Hong Kong's shrines tucked away between skyscrapers

I did an all-day trip to Macau, which left me with mixed feelings. It had a cool historic district, but it was a bit too much turned into a shopping mall. The casinos were absurdly huge, and the residential areas seemed pretty miserable. However, the history was pretty fascinating, and it will be interesting to see how the area fares in the next decade.

Me in front of the facade of a destroyed church in Macau

Carlos and I took a ferry ride to a small island about an hour away from Hong Kong and rented bikes which was a lot of fun. It was a small enough island that we rode the circumference in a few hours. It was interesting to talk with him about Guatemala, Taipei, and photography. Apparently Guatemala was one of the first countries to recognize Taipei's independence, so an exchange program was set up for their students, which is how he happened to be there. He took a few pictures (I forgot my camera) that you can see here Pictures 5149-5232 were from the island.

Besides those things, I managed to fit in a hike (45 minutes out on the subway and you're in the mostly undeveloped hills of Kowloon) with a number of other expat locals, and explored the night markets of Kowloon on my own. Overall I was really happy with my time in Hong Kong - it would be a place I'd consider living for a few months, maybe even a year - but I'm sure I would grow tired of the city and the culture past that.

Before I knew it, I had my concierge-prepared China visa ready, and I was headed to Beijing, where I would meet Nan at the airport.

I'll have part 2/3 up tomorrow!


1 comment:

rick said...

nice to see the blog up and running again!

sweet, sweet pic overlooking hong kong

do i detect the presence of a large mcdonalds in the macau "historic area"?