Today we managed to make it out of our rooms for an extended time to explore the city. This was not always a given, considering I had horrble jet lag that prevented sleeping much the night before.
Due to the Executive Room we booked (we wanted to start the trip in style), we had the hotel’s buffet breakfast. It was nice, a culinary mix of a variety of sources ranging from US to British to Asian. Shrimp dim sum for breakfast? Yes please!
Then we returned to our rooms for a long nap. Much longer than was probably wise. Once roused, we headed up to the Lounge for tea and nibbles, then struck out to the city on our quest.
Our goal today was to reach The Peak, a mountainous attraction reached via inclined railway. We had to ride the underground (much nicer and cleaner than any I’d been in before) under the harbor to reach Hong Kong proper. Small note for would be travellers, the ticket machines do not take notes, but the customer service will give you change.
To say that Hong Kong teems with life is the grossest of understatements. With a population of 7 million spread over 440 square miles (encompassing Hong Kong, Kow Loon, and the New Territories) Hong Kong is nearly a country in its own right.
The city is a humid hothouse, its air oppressive and heavy. Only the breeze across the harbor, or at great heights, drives away the cloying weather. I’ve been very lucky to spend the majority of this visit either at great heights or near the water.
The city is a veritable kaleidoscope of old and new. On the streets, you pass buildings weathered with age and neglect, back allies suffed with refuse and detritus, and shops that look like travellers out of the past. From my high hotel room, I stare down on buildings that are dark with mold or soot, on rusted steel roofs, on eye sores waiting to collapse. Movement flickers in windows and I know that people still live in this ramshackle high rises.
But those old buildings are not alone. They are dwarfed by the structures that surround them, hem them in and seem about to drive the out. Walk away from one of those clustered streets, turn the corner, and you see a different world; a world of steel and glass and neon. Entire building walls are screens that display advertisements or news or simply art. The new buildings are often small cities on their own. These giants, these titans, these megaliths own the city. Their faces burn with lights bright enough to challenge the day. The night is so bright a white halo hangs over the tallest towers, as though to further enshrine their majesty.
Buildings, old and new, are so close together, that from across the harbor, they seem to fit together like some massive puzzle. It is difficult to image that two and four land roads separate them, so closely do they nestle against each other.
The noise is constant too. Car horns, shouts, and the sound of building, building, building. Everywhere you look is the sign of industry, of repair, of movement ever higher. It is as though they fight a war with the ground, or are racing each other to the heavens. As a curious, to my western eyes anyway, aside, their scaffolds are made with bamboo. Yes, even the ones that are 30+ stories high.
Life moves with a frantic pace, but equally, their are oceans of calm still within the city’s heart. There are many places where nature has been preserved or resurrected. Parks, fountains, even the occasional massive tree simply growing out of the sidewalk, remind the viewer that most of this city was reclaimed from swamps and rivers.
From The Peak, an observation point at the top of a local mountain reached by an incline rail car, one gains and even greater understanding of the magnitude of the city. There is no doubt that this place is a testament to human ingenuity, engineering, and perseverance.