May 30, 2012

Hong Kong Hello - Part III

Hong Kong is a fascinating city - a metropolis of long standing tradition and avant-garde modernity co-existing in a whirlwind of frenetic activity that is actually quite controlled.  I arrived in Hong Kong not really knowing what to expect and leaving with a greater appreciation of its rich civilization but knowing I had merely scratched the surface.

It is a city of contrasts.  East meets West, colonial buildings and skyscrapers, super speed trains and old fashioned double decker trams, ultra luxe shopping malls and helter skelter outdoor markets, feng shui and state-of-the-art architecture, densely populated apartment buildings and lush tropical forests.  Today's Hong Kong reflects its entrenched British heritage but is fast forwarding as Asia's premier financial and cultural center.

The history of modern Hong Kong began in 1842 when Britain claimed this group of fishing villages on the South China Sea after the First Opium War with China.  Initially just comprising the actual island of Hong Kong, the empire expanded to include Kowloon just to the north in 1860 and the New Territories beyond that in 1898.  Under the principal of "One Country, Two Systems" Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997 and is now a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China.  People familiar with Hong Kong before the handover say it has become far more Chinese in flavor although from my perspective the British influence seemed entrenched.  Everything from the street names (Queensway, Salisbury Road and Connaught Road, for example) right-hand drive vehicles, an abundance of lawn bowling and cricket greens, and the ritual of high tea all spoke of the lasting and profound imprint of colonial rule.

I was amazed by many things about the city: the passion for colored lights on every tall building, the labyrinth of indoor or covered walkways to protect pedestrians from the elements, the elegantly dressed people, the vast number of gold and jade shops, the availability of spanking clean public restrooms and the wealth of antiquities at the Hong Kong Museum of Art to name just a few.

I was amused by the laundry lines hanging from nearly every apartment balcony, the number of riders who could fit into a subway car, the bamboo scaffolding on the most modern of buildings, the chaos of signs suspended over roadways, and the number of people hawking "copy" watches and designer handbags!

And I remain enchanted with the nightly light show as seen from the Kowloon side...

...the dim sum trollies at Maxim's Palace in City Hall...

...riding on the upper level of the "ding ding" tram...

 ...and most of all, the spectacular skyline view from the Star Ferry.

I did not have a chance to visit the Asia Society or the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware, nor did I eat at a wet market where the fish is caught and prepared to order.  I would like to have taken a harbour cruise on the Duk Ling, a restored Chinese fishing junk, played the ponies at the Happy Valley Racecourse and hiked the Dragon's Back trail to cross Hong Kong Island.  It's nice to have these things to look forward to the next time - and I hope it comes soon!

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