How to describe the city of Hong Kong? All weekend I tried to think of a way to illustrate this remarkable place to those who have never been there. Here is the best that I could come up with. If you have ever been to New York City, think of Times Square. Got it? Now put it on steroids, lots and lots of steroids.
Chris and I flew in on Wednesday evening and, after navigating ourselves successfully to our hotel, decided to explore Hong Kong’s renowned nightlife. Stepping foot out of the lobby, the first thing that we both noticed were the lights. Rainbows of giant neon lights scream at pedestrians and motorists on the streets below. And, unlike most big cities I know, the lights are not limited to one part of town. New York has Times Square, Paris has the Champs-Elysées, and even Las Vegas has The Strip. But, in Hong Kong, every street and every business competes for attention like a high school cheerleading squad. To attract tourists even further, major businesses get together and every night at 8:00, they put on a light and laser show to the great delight of photo-happy westerners.
The second thing that struck us as we attempted to steer through the swarms on the streets was the people. No, it actually wasn’t the number of people we encountered, but instead it was the type of people. We saw more westerners over the last five days than the last five months combined. Chris and I started a new game called “Guess the Nationality” in which we debated on whether the person in question was European or American. By the end of the trip, we were able to play with a fairly high success rate, though there were some Bermuda-short clad limeys that took us by surprise.
Having been initiated into this new city on Wednesday, we got up on Thursday ready to see what we could see and, of course, taste what we could taste. Being Thanksgiving, we knew that we needed to have a really great lunch. So, we asked our hotel to recommend the best Chinese food around. Hong Kong is known for a specialty called “Dim Sum”. In a dim sum restaurant, you are handed a paper menu and a pencil and you simply mark off the items you would like. Each thing that you order comes with two to four appetizer-sized snacks so you get to order several different types of food. If you really like one, just ask for another order! The whole time we ate, Chris and I were trying to figure out why on earth Chinese restaurants in America don’t provide similar offerings. The food was so delicious, we ordered extra for a doggy bad for a snack for later. We figured it could be like our Thanksgiving leftovers.
Invigorated by our tasty lunch, we headed across the harbor in search of one of Hong Kong’s “must-see” attractions, the Ngong Ping Gondola. Suspended high in the air, the gondola provides spectacular views of the city and outlying islands as it conveys its riders to the top of the mountain where a giant statue of the great Buddha awaits. Aided by beautiful weather, the views were indeed breathtaking, but they actually weren’t the highlight of the afternoon. The highlight came as we were standing in line when a bright-eyed dread-locked hippie came rushing toward Chris spouting off some sort of crazy moon language. After a few awkward seconds, it dawned on Chris that he was wearing a shirt proudly displaying the word “Polska” across the front. Ah, this guy thinks we’re Polish. Hating to disappoint the excited traveler, we informed him that we were not, in fact, Polish nor did we speak any of the language. This did not deter our new friend, however, and he sidled right up to us and began to exchange traveling stories. As it turned out, this guy was actually hitch-hiking across the world. He recounted times of being caught by Russian police when his visa was expired and taking a job teaching kindergarten in Beijing after his passport was stolen. Very entertaining indeed.
Our big adventure on Friday came after an unintentional tour of the city while we searched for a bus to take us to Victoria Peak, a bit of a misnomer as it turns out that this “peak” is actually located in the saddle between two other peaks. Riding on the second floor of a double-decker bus was quite an adventure as it screamed around twists and turns where one false move could have sent us either plummeting to our deaths off a cliff on one side, or careening head-on into another bus full of tourists on the other. However, we did make it alive to the top where we snapped some pictures and enjoyed the scenery.
On our last day, we decided to explore different parts of the city. We wandered through different markets and along random streets to see where they took us. We found parks, fresh fruit markets, knock-off purse and watch markets, expensive designer boutiques, and restaurants from places we didn’t know existed. Making it back to our side of town just in time for the 8:00 light show and some ice cream, we headed back to the hotel and put this trip in the books.