Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 6, Hong Kong

This morning was an early flight to Hong Kong, the last stop on this trip before I fly home on Saturday. After a month I am ready, especially to get out of big cities. At least the air here is much better than it is in China. On the plane I saw an English-language Chinese paper that had a story on how the Chinese are planning to improve their air pollution in five or ten years. Literally.

For virtually the first time in this entire trip, we have “free” unscheduled time in Hong Kong. In fact of the three days here, this afternoon, tomorrow afternoon, and all day Friday until dinner are free. The cynic in me suspects Overseas Adventure Travel is sharing the costs of a high-cost city, but maybe not. Hong Kong is jammed with people apparently of all nationalities. Typical:

Today I saw three different high-class Rolex watch stores – not the knockoff carts on the streets, but real stores, with doormen no less – and those are only the ones I happened to see. 
There is every luxury brand here known to humankind. What a peculiar identity for a city, “a shopper's paradise.” 

 Much more interesting to me are the little shops, including this farmer's market.

The shrimp here are at least nine inches long: who knew they grow like that? Plus fish of all colors and soft-shell crabs. Some fish were so fresh they were literally still thrashing in their container.

There are open-air stall shops in the hillside alleys that go up the hills in which steps are necessary, sometimes at the end of a street that has gotten too steep to continue as a street. I saw one little jewelry store that was literally three feet wide, just enough for a showcase and a couple of seats for the personnel and customers. The town is filled with antique stores and more jewelry stores than 47th Street in New York, plus zillions of every kind of store imaginable.

Such a joy, near my hotel was a small sushi restaurant. It's been a long time since I've been able to gratify my sashimi jones, with large pieces of salmon, scallop, and shrimp. After lunch I did one of my favorite things in a new city, to take a sightseeing bus tour to get a sense of the place. My hotel is on the southern Hong Kong Island side, not the northern Kowloon side, and I could see the extent to which this city is squashed between the water and the steep mountains behind: it can only go up. The skyscrapers, I think, are not higher than the hill behind. In the picture at the left you can just about make out a house or two perched at the very top of the hill.

The architecture has kept pace with the prestigious international offices of multinational companies here.

In many places the streets are unbelievably curvy and narrow, and they split in unpredictable directions. Intersections commonly have five or six streets meeting and then curving away up- or downhill. There aren't many right angles in the hilly parts of the city. Look down and you see hundreds of shops and people. Look up and you see hundreds of rich or poor apartments, the latter with clothes hung out to dry outside the windows. I can't imagine how one learns one's way around except by walking the streets, but then if you want to drive you don't know the one-way streets.

As you probably know, Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese in 1997 from its 150-year takeover by the British. It's in an odd in-between state now: it is and it isn't part of China. Technically it's one of five Chinese “Special Autonomous Regions,” another being Tibet. Mainland Chinese need a passport to come here, and the currency is not Chinese yuan but Hong Kong dollars. I am told that part of the handover was an agreement to keep life unchanged for fifty more years, but I am not clear on what this includes and what it excludes.

I was pre-warned: my hotel room measures maybe 8' X 10', a function of how crowded this city is and what a premium space is at. But I have excellent wifi in my room, which is a luxury that makes up for it.

When we arrived Mike walked us around the neighborhood and showed us the essentials: where to change money, where to buy chocolate – the local 7-11 store, literally; there are also Circle K and other American junk food stores here. Every meal in China has had one single dessert: watermelon. Great, but it does generate a need for chocolate! He took us to the nearest subway and I understood this city goes not only up but down. We took escalators down three floors of shops before we finally reached the subway. 

Here's a picture I took of Mike today – I wanted you to see the source of all the good stories.

 Another luxury is spending three nights in this room: laundry time and time to organize my suitcase. The small but important pleasures of life.

A propos of nothing: have you heard this expression? I thought it was Japanese but it turns out it's common throughout China as well. “Happy wife, happy life.” Just so.

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