Hong Kong

03:01 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Hong Kong, former colony and easternmost point of the British Empire, has pulled at my imagination for years. Clashes of culture, political intrigue and personal adventure. Before I finally left China for good, I made a trip to the island metropolis.

The Chinese are inseparable from two things, their mobile phones and flasks of tea. The place has started to rub off on me. On our sleeper train to the Hong Kong border, I brought along a mug and some loose tea leaves. Our cabin companions nodded approvingly as a prepared myself a cuppa. When we arrived in Hong Kong, it was like arriving back in the west. No one stared at me, no one spat on the floor. Someone coughed and actually covered their mouth. There were maps, signs and information points everywhere. Also unlike the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong has little building space which has left an idiosyncratic architectural style. So the people behave differently and the place looks different - but, we are told, this is still China. 

In 1997 this tiny, democratic, capitalist island was returned to it's Communist Motherland. It has traditionally given refuge to people fighting for liberty - everyone from Sun Yat Sen to Edward Snowden. Yet, it is slowly being incorporated into a country with few freedoms. The communists aren't so hot on capitalist businesses either. Hong Kong has big problems. 
I too, had problems in Hong Kong. A messy relationship breakdown meant that I spent most of my time in Hong Kong amidst arguments. Whilst I didn't have the fun I'd hoped for, I got to know Hong Kong well enough to know that I will definitely visit again.

Down on the street level, the summer sun is merciless. The city has equipped itself with a network of tunnels and covered walkways. Its building are closely packed together and fight for space in the sky. a million neon signs jostle with giant billboards for your attention. Words from a hundred languages fill your ears. This is how a metropolis should feel.

The hustle and the heat wasn't to everyone's taste though, particularly the the British colonists who founded the city. They needed somewhere cool and calm to count their coppers. So, with an envious eye upon the colonial jewel of India, they built a hill station. Victoria Peak looks out across the whole island. The air is indeed cooler and the pace is calmer. The view is breathtaking. This rarefied escape was in such demand that there weren't enough coolies to carry everybody's palanquin up the hill. So, the undeterrable British built the world's steepest tram-line to satisfy the demand. Not only does this marvel still operate, it is one of Hong Kong's most popular attractions.

At the peak today, there are lots of shops, restaurants and people. It may have got a little busier but the view has got even better. The harbour is surrounded by skyscrapers and ask night descends, countless lights twinkle like the starriest sky. Sure Shanghai has a few curious towers that take a good photograph from the right angle, but Hong Kong looks good from any direction. Few cities can compete with such a skyline. And then there's the mountains, the islands and the harbour...
Out across the harbour, the Star Ferry company has been connecting the dual historic centres of Kownloon on the mainland and Victoria on the island for generations. Since Victorian times, people have sailed from the British influenced Victoria to the Chinese influenced Kowloon. The view from the boat was just as good as from the Peak and the smell of the sea salt and engine oil only heightens the senses. Senses that are constantly overloaded in Hong Kong. Smells, colours, tastes. There are so many restaurants in Hong Kong, you could eat anything you wanted in any style you desired. You can even find British crisps and chocolate. My favourite meal was at Temple Street in Kowloon. A giant night market spilled into the street and was lined with restaurants. We chose a busy seafood restaurant and ate oyster pancakes, curried vegetables and spring rolls. The restaurant was uncomplicated, the food was satisfying and the place buzzed with energy. Something must have clicked because I even spent money at the night market, which is pretty much unheard of. 

And there it is; Hong Kong. As it returns to its rightful home it is facing its share of problems but despite that, it is full of excitement. To spin the lazy analogy out a bit further, this little piece of England might not be around in Asia forever but it has had a bloody good go at making the most of it. Hong Kong; a wonderful city. 

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