May 27, 2014: The Big Trip Begins
Hong Kong, the city that makes Manhattan look like a suburb, was my first stop on the trip around the world. The city has 7 million people, which is actually pretty small by Asian standards.
Hong Kong was founded by the British as a free port in the 1800’s on an uninhabited island just off the Chinese mainland. Now a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong functions as a separate country with its own immigration policy, laws, and currency. It has always been the West’s foothold into China and is fairly centrally located in East Asia. That trend continues today, as Hong Kong has the Asian or global headquarters for virtually every multinational corporation in the world. From walking around, I would guess that 1 in 20 people here are Westerners with the rest being mostly ethnic Han Chinese.
While Hong Kong Island is fairly big, most of the land is steep forested mountains that are too steep to build forcing all the growth to be centered around the less steep edges of the islands. Since space is such a premium, people build up. Hong Kong has more than double the number of skyscrapers than any other city in the world.
Despite all the masses of business and cool history in Hong Kong, there really isn’t much to do here as a tourist. The main tourist attraction here is Victoria Peak, which is accessible by a funicular cable car. There are some great views at the top.
I also went to the Sun Yat-Sen museum which told the story about the Chinese revolutionary who helped end the 2,000 year Imperial regime. The museum was in an old building meticulously restored by the Hong Kong Government. Strangely, the building has no connection to Sun Yat-Sen. I asked why they put the museum in the building, but couldn’t get any answer.
Besides that, I spent most of the day wandering the streets and checking out the urban landscape.
I did notice a few odd things:
1. There are an unbelievable amount of 7-Elevens and Starbucks here. At least 1 every 200 meters.
2. Free Wifi is everywhere. The government has free wifi in all the public parks. Some company called PCCW decided to have free wifi hotspots at every 7-Eleven and Starbucks aka everywhere.
3. Despite the huge number of ultramodern buildings, the construction is strangely not modern. All the scaffolding is made out of bamboo and workers climb bamboo ladders up the scaffolding to staggering heights.
4. Despite the amazing density of tall buildings, the streets weren’t too crowded and I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the number of people. Sure, there were a lot of people, but even at rush hour, it’s not crazy. Maybe it’s because their public transportation system is amazing. I’ve never waited more than 1 minute for a train. The best term I heard that describes Hong Kong is efficient.
Just like in other big cities, it’s tough to talk to locals since most people mind their own business. My favorite story so far was my first dinner. I was in a long line for a ramen restaurant. After telling them I was a party of 1, the restaurant staff sat me down with a group of 4 college-aged kids from Hong Kong who were in the middle of their meal. After apologizing for intruding on their meal, we had a great conversation about what it’s like to grow up here and the differences between Hong Kong and California (one of the kids actually goes to Cal Poly Pomona). Most people who have money in Hong Kong (which is a lot of people) send their kids overseas for college. Another person at the table went to school in Melbourne, Australia. Showing up to dinner alone, strangely enough turned out to be the most social part of my trip.
Hong Kong seems like a great place to live and work. It is a really fun city with a great expat community. I could definitely see myself spending a couple years here. Later tonight I’m meeting up with my parent’s friend Jim who is going to show me around some of the other parts of Hong Kong.
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