Hong Kong: Love/Hate
Despite my very short time spent in Hong Kong, quickly it became apparent that travellers have very mixed emotions to the country. Some will sing the praises of the mystical land which which is world known, where others despise everything that it has become. People’s opinions vary quite considerably, and I can see why.
Hong Kong is world renowned, and for good reason. A monumental financial centre-point, a name recognised by everyone even if they can’t name a single other Asian country. The fascination mysteriousness which originated from the silver screen of the 70’s and former British colonial rule. The latter and many centuries before made this autonomous region a centre-point for passing travellers and merchants alike. To this day the city still holds some of those characteristics that made it THE port in the East, coming with all the port city is expected to have, for better or for worse.
As a result, Hong Kong has become a city of huge contradictions. The unrelenting war against old and new, the authentic with the modern, nature with development. These are the arguments for both sides.
So why do people consider Hong Kong to be one of the greatest cities in the world?
Well to be fair, this has to considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Walking through the street, they won’t compete with those of Paris or Rome. Despite some having their own unique identity which is unmistakably Hong Kong. Incredibly narrow streets among the ever-rising canyon of a concrete skyline. The identifiable imagine is found on the steep staircases that break through the lines of giant towers and head up towards the hills. An imagine shot in any self-respecting movie set in Hong Kong.
The perfect image of Hong Kong can be found across the waters on the south coast of Kowloon. Here you’ll be provided with a panoramic view of Hong Kong Island and the spectacular Victoria Harbour. An incredible display of design and competitive development in front of constant untouched blanket of green hillside keeping the skyline closely tucked against the pristine harbour. This arguably makes this one of the most beautiful cities on Earth.
Its not easy finding a view that in some ways gets even better when the sun goes down. This is when each corporate megalith not only compete with each other for attention but with the encroaching darkness. The result is a spectacular light-show with each building illuminated and reflected against the still waters of the harbour.
Another potential positive to some would be the immense development which has transformed the city into one of complete convenience. As a result, there are plenty of transportation options within and between the multiple islands. These include the ever reliable red & white Hong Kong taxi to a fully developed metro capable of crossing the islands in record time.
For a more nostalgic experience, you can cross the waters by one of the multiple Star ferries, which has become a “must-do” for any Hong Kong trip. It has become the staple of modern Hong Kong, and has been so for the past 60 years.
Although at first glance Hong Kong looks nothing more than a metropolis oozing across each and every island in the nation, it isn’t so. Its more than easy to escape big city life by hoping onto a ferry towards any of the neighbouring islands or delving outside the concrete limits. Even on the islands of Kowloon and Hong Kong island, a bit of travel releases you into nature. Other than those two who’s development is ever growing, the remaining islands are practically untouched.
Other than a few presumably millionaire villas scattered widely amongst the islands or the make-shift ports, there’s nothing to break the unrelenting wilderness. A short ferry ride takes you from an monstrously advanced city straight into a deserted rain forest. Islands with simple fishing villages with a breadth of nature and history.
I suppose one negative from no real fault of their own is their own development. Hong Kong casts up images of armadas of old wooden ships and authentic junks bumbling their way through the harbour before an optimistic yet humbly rising skyline. We to see hand pulled rickshaws, rows and rows of merchant’s simple wooden stalls and the like. It’s hard not to be disappointed now that they’ve been replaced with super-malls and repetitive cooperate neon advertisements.
Another very common complaint is that Hong Kong has become much too Westernised. It’s totally acceptable to forget you’re in Hong Kong whilst passing your 32nd Hugo Boss store that day. You of got lost in any big city. The supermalls with all the recognisable Western stores lined up one after, on every street corner.
The culture has seemingly been lost. Pushed and shoved into obscure corners, hidden in the dark canyons of the concrete canopy above. Sadly, the streets of Hong Kong aren’t somewehre a traveller can truly say they enjoyed, until they escape into the nature. Despite the extra travel required to break free from the modern-day chaos, it needs to be done to come away from Hong Kong with a positive experience.
It’s much the curse of the traveller, a problem found amongst most port cities around the world. There aren’t too many port cities bigger than this one. With the constants stream of travellers (particularly Western) throughout the centuries, passing for diplomatic reasons as well as financial. With that comes the requirement to fill their needs for a comfortable life abroad, a little taste of home. Along with that comes the disappearance of the cities individuality and culture. In its place is the West’s equivalent of “China Town” which has affected the centre of Hong Kong’s streets.
Another quite common site with port cities through the centuries have been to fill the weary travellers’ lustful needs after months at sea. Today the time of travel has been decreased to a couple of hours by air, however the demand for prostitution has not diminished. Neither is it quite as discrete as you might expect.
The whole matter of prostitution is a grey area even with the law. In a way its illegal, however its legal if a woman cares to work for herself, so to speak. That’s why along the streets where the nightlife is found, you’ll find countless amounts of curtain covered doors and roaming prostitutes on the streets. Brothels are also commonly found throughout the city recognised by their pink neon lights. They’re so common that my hostel was directly next to a brothel, where you’d see an endless stream of men of all appearances and social classes passing through the satin curtains.
It’s an unusual place. Somewhere (in my opinion) spoiled by the sickening grip of the western world and all that comes with it. The price of development is the loss of any feeling of uniqueness, authenticity or general culture. However, when you’re walking through the streets, its somehow unmistakably Hong Kong. The odd subtle reminder by way of the steep uphill staircases, the 60 year old ferries and the absolutely identical classic retro red and white taxis….but the driver can have the doors closed automatically.
Hong Kong is bound for development whether we like it or not. For now however, a pure tranquil paradise can still be found outside of the chaos within the streets. The beauty and purity of this Hong Kong has salvaged any hope of a travellers experience.
I agree with you regarding the influx of naff designer brand stores which make every mall in every country uniform and sterile nowadays. Sadly Hong Kong is no different on this front. Some parts still have the quaint old shops of yore, mostly in the outlaying islands and some parts of the New Territories as you will have noticed. There is still a lot of tradition here however and you notice it more out in the villages, also incidentally the dragon boat team I used to race with performed a lot of ritual which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise – so it’s still there, just have to dig. Still a great place and the amazing thing is that even though I’ve been here since 1992, I can still find things to do for the first time – not bad for such a small place.