As we departed the airport and motored along the congested streets of Kowloon district atop a double decker city bus, we passed through a gauntlet of high rises and briliantly lit electronic billboards that evoked images of Times Square on steroids.
Watching pedestrians play Frogger with motorists who were reluctant to put on the brakes only served to reinforce my initial comparisons of Hong Kong to the Big Apple. However, as the bus pulled into our stop and the very helpful and curiously named owner of the Maple Leaf Hostel, John Smith, welcomed us to Hong Kong, I realized that despite a number of similarities, Hong Kong and New York are miles apart figuratively just as much as they are literally.
The first thing on my mind when I woke the next morning was food. Every region of China boasts about its culinary offerings but Hong Kong brags the most. What is a travel weary man to eat at 10 a.m. in Hong Kong? A big steaming boal of ramen noodels and fatty beef apparently. Although soup, beef and noodles is an unusual breakfast by Western standards, taste alone trumped convention and that three dollar bowl of noodles became our go to meal throughout our stay in Hong Kong; although, beef made way for vegetables, dumplings, pork and even a fried egg at times.
With the taste of MSG still fresh on our lips we left the Kowloon neighborhood of Tsim Tsa Tsui and began to stroll down to the ferry terminal where for fifty cents one can cross over to the beating heart of Hong Kong: Hong Kong Island.
As we walked towards the ferry down Nathan Street, Kowloon's main traffic artery, while being extremely secure in my sexuality I couldn't help but notice how well dressed both male and female Hong Kongers are; right down to their purely aesthetic eye glasses.
The denizens of Hong Kong are not only limited to sharply dressed Cantonese men and women however and the city truly lives up to its reputation for being an international hub. Hong Kong is full of international private schools and people from all over Africa, the U.S, Asia, Europe and India call the city home. I had countless opportunities to ignore droves of some of these expats as they solicited "cheap and very good quality" custom suits and Rolex streetside. Some of these gentlemen also shockingly moonlighted as hash dealers it turned out.
The pesky faux Rolex salesman are indicative of the consumer culture in Hong Kong. Capitalism and consumerism drive this former colony, and as a consequence much of China's economy, and it is no wonder why the central government designated Hong Kong one of the Special Admnistrative and Economic Regions or Zones. I had only to look at the skyline of Hong Kong Island as the ferry crossed Victoria Harbour to witness the economic power of this dynamic city. Skyscrapers bearing the names of industry and finance giants such as Sharp, Olympus, Panasonic, Haier and the recently much maligned AIG and Bank of America dominated the horizon and would play leading roles in the stunning light show later that evening.
We would spend the next day and half exploring Hong Kong island. Leaving the busy streets and edifices of Hong Kong Central and Hong Kong Admirality behind we attempted to hike to Victoria Peak, only to turn back when we realized it was another two to three hours to the peak; the Peak Tram proved to be an easier summit but incessant smog limited the view. Despite getting away from what seemed like the millions of Hong Kongers on the perpetual grind, we could not escape the ubiquitous smell of concrete and the ringing of saw blades, both of which suggested that Hong Kong is growing ever larger.
Hong Kong is indeed growing larger and more modern by the minute. Nevertheless, the former British colony remains a city of juxtapositions: East and West, old and new, high and low, rich and poor. Walking down from Victoria Peak we witnessed these contrasts first hand. From the side alley food carts, impromptu restaurants and crowded street markets to the swanky SoHo district and its posh restaurants and boutiques, Hong Kong certainly lived up to the hype.
Breaking News From China: Chinese president Hu Jintao is in the middle of a tour of Africa, where he will be visting Mali, Mauritius and Senegal. The Chinese are in the process of deepening economic and political ties with African leaders in a move that will once again test the exploitative potential of what is left of Africa's resources. In financial news, the Senate approval of Barack Obama's 789 billion dollar stimulus package sent Asian stocks into a small rally, albeit more than likely a temporary one.