Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hong Kong

Hello all,

Yes, we are in Hong Kong.  As I type this, it just started raining outside.  Which is not a good sign, as we had planned to go to Lantau Island today.  So we will see what comes of that.

On our first day we woke up after 3 hours of sleep to catch an airport limousine - and a good thing we left so early, too, because our terminal was quite far from check-in.  Like 40 minutes far.  But we made it, and eventually arrived in Hong Kong.  First impression: Hong Kong is not a well-planned city, at least not in the neighborhood we're lodging in, as it grew up in a time before such planning was high on the list of priorities.  But it is a very great city.  It's character is what I wish Seoul's were: quite convenient to English speaking tourists and mostly friendly; enough East to feel like you're not just in a big city, but that you're in a big Asian city, mixed with enough West so that you don't feel like a zoo animal on exhibit.  We don't get stared at here, and, aside from a Vietnamese restaurant last night, we're never treated with contempt or hostility or as though we are ignorant infants, as is so often the case in Seoul.  In short, I like Hong Kong.

Our first day we decided to take it easy, and just walked around our neighborhood. We are staying in the west part of town, across the street from the harbor.  It is a nice neighborhood, not as posh as the center, and lots of old Hong Kong character still.  Also a lot of shops selling shark fin. Literally, we saw dozens of shops in our short walk, selling hundreds of shark fins.  It's no surprise that Hong Kong residents consume half of the shark fins eaten in the world.

We had ox tongue and duck for lunch, then Indian food for dinner. 

Day two we rode the narrow, two story trams to Hong Kong park, where we took the funicular up to Victoria Peak.  The views are amazing, the ride was fun, and there are some good walks up on the peak.  Plus, you can see the homes of some billionaires up there.  You can also see a Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant, which is odd, but occupies the highest floor of the peak tower with views over the entire city.  We bought some souvenirs up there, and a painting for ourselves.  After descending, we went back to Hong Kong Park, which is a great city park. It has a huge aviary, a conservatory, lakes, a waterfall, and a tai chi garden where early in the morning people gather to do tai chi.  We did not go early in the morning, unfortunately.  But it was still lovely, and ranks amongst my favorite downtown city parks in the world.  For dinner we ate at the aforementioned Vietnamese restaurant, where we were mostly ignored and did not feel welcome.  But that didn't faze us, as we've been living in Seoul for 9 months and have gotten used to such things.

There is one other thing I'd like to share.  When looking across the harbor from Hong Kong to Kowloon (technically it is part of the Hong Kong special administrative region, yet is on the mainland) you can see the city spreading out, backed by some impressive mountains.  Those mountain swirl with low-lying clouds, and frame an impressive natural border with China.  It is kind of mysterious, for someone who has never been to China, to see that wall of green mountains rising behind the city, and to think how close we are to the Middle Kingdom.  The wanderlust starts kicking in when you look at those mountains, and the traveler part of the brain starts releasing endorphins and adrenaline in that old familiar urge.  China calls.

Today, as mentioned above, we want to go to Lantau Island.  The Star Ferry is on our list of things to do while in Hong Kong, as is the giant seated Buddha statue (interesting movie trivia: a replica of the statue is exploded in the Van Damme movie Knock Off).  Hopefully the skies will clear soon, and we'll have more interesting details to report.

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