Hongkong: first impressions

hk starferry junk

On to Hongkong – the last stop in Asia on this trip. Lots of skyscrapers? Check. Cliche chinese junk boat? check. Victoria peak in the background? check. Pretty much fullfills the postcard image already on the trip into town from the airport.

hk peak scrapers

When I say lots of skyscrapers, I mean LOTS of skyscrapers, very densely packed, and not that pretty. Hongkong’s area seems to be 80% steep, wooded mountains, and 20% extremely dense city.

hk market fish

I expected Hongkong to be somewhat similar to Singapore – mainly Chinese world city with some western influence. True – but that’s a bit like saying that pop music is all “guitar-based modern music”. Where Singapore is Smooth Jazz, Hongkong is more punk rock.

Like this market above I stumbled into not far from my central guesthouse – suddenly it seems like you’re in the middle of rural china, where all kinds of strange-looking food is peddled by people speaking no English at all.

hk market mangos

Also some delicious fresh lychees, papayas and mangos, which became most of my dinner. I could stay in the tropics just for all the fresh, juicy, tasty fresh “exotic” fruits.

hk hotel view

Hongkong is also very, very intense and urban – interesting in a “city that never sleeps, lots of things going on everywhere” kind of way, but also exhausting in a “wayyyy too many people in way too little space” kind of way that makes Manhattan seem like a quaint, relaxing little town.

hk crowds 2

Like the fact that even at 11 pm on a weeknight, all the market streets in Kowloon are just packed with people.

hk crowds

Or that the subways are full of crowds, no matter when or where – not sure if the picture even does the true hustle and bustle justice.

Where people in Singapore are all smiles and politeness, people in Hongkong are much more..well, not really impolite, but businesslike, kind of like “happy to see you, but you better know what you want. so I can deal with you quickly, before the other 20 people standing in line behind you, because I have people to see and places to go”.

hk hotel view 2

View outside my hostel window. Most residential buildings seem like that – not really bad or rundown, but very much like cost and space efficiency was a big concern, and charm or coziness not so much.

hk tiffany

There’s also a huuuge class divide. Somebody else described Hongkong as “built for rich bankers, and their slaves” – would not go so far, but there is a huuuge number of luxury shops – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shops for expensive jewellery or high-end designer fashion in one place.

hk hotel

On the other hand, normal people’s living quarters seem quite grimy and, well, not really shabby, but not-nice-looking in a way that’s probably not so bad, but at least on first impression rather third-world looking. (This was the entrance to the apartment which housed my hostel room – they converted a regular apartment into a bunch of private hotel rooms. It was admittedly a rather cheap room, since regular hotels in Hongkong are easily north of 150-200 euros a night, and I did not want to choose a capsule hotel either).

hk hsbc building

On the other hand, you see no beggars either – probably not because there’s no poor people, but more because begging would be an inexcusable failure to be a good capitalist. The picture above is from the lobby of the famous HSBC building – forgot to take a better one from outside.

Was quite impressed by all the people dressed in impeccable business dress, with ties, and some even with dark jackets – in 30 degrees heat and 80% humidity! In Abu Dhabi, a dry 42 degrees was hot, but at least the locals were suffering the same way. In Hongkong, an extremely humid 30 to 35 degrees feels worse to me, but the locals seem to be fine – maybe the human body adapts better to humidity than to heat with prolonged exposure?

hk peak me

View from Victoria peak, the hightes point in Hongkong, served by the “peak tram”, a  peculiar antique funicular.

hk peak topThe endpoint of the tram is not really the top – there’s a road leading further up the hill.  There were some more nice viewpoints towards the other side of the island (not much to see of the surrounding islands in the foggy weather, unfortunately, past some nice gardens, and then unfortunately the very top is inaccessible behind a fence surrounding some antennas.

hk peak end

Not sure why I decided to hike up there in the extreme heat – maybe my Bavarian genes compelling me to go up as soon as a mountain is in sight? If I look just slightly overheated in the picture above (despite adopting the asian custom of using an umbrella as sun protection), well, it was definitely time to go back to my hotel room and spend a few hours in oh-so-sweet A/C.

hk tram

Caught a double-decker tram on the way back – those are old and slow, but dirt cheap (flat fare of less than 20 eurocents), and somehow cool. That most of them carry advertising for mutual funds must also be a hongkong-style capitalism thing – I mean, would you expect a random person on public transport to care about mutual fund brands anywhere else?


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