Our international tour of discovery and inspiration has begun. It was a long trip to Hong Kong, 20 hours total travel time, but we managed to get some sleep on the plane with some friendly pharmaceuticals. The first thing we noticed when we emerged from the airport was the smog. Thick, blue smog that limited visibility to just a few miles. Luckily, it partly burned off during the day, but it never goes away completely.
The smog seemed to confirm my fears that the city would be nothing but dirty squalor, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Hong Kong is a mix of the old and the new side-by-side, but on the whole everything is fairly neat and orderly. There are plenty of noodle shops and massage parlors (legitimate ones) but there’s also every high-end retail store that I’ve ever heard of. Just like New York City, China Town and Fifth Avenue are just blocks away from each other. Very cosmopolitan. However, even the poshest of buildings are surrounded by bamboo scaffolding when they need a face lift. The embodiment of practical solutions that has made this city boom to over 7 million people and become the third largest port in the world (after Shanghai and Singapore).
On day one we took the funicular to the top of Victoria Mountain. Despite the two hour line in the sultry heat, the ride and the view were well worth the wait. Just don’t let them upsell you for the viewing platform as there are plenty of free ones at the top that don’t happen to be on top of a tourist mall. There are even paths to walk through the trees up top and enjoy the views along the way.
After we descended we happened upon a free aviary in a park at the base of the mountain. There seem to be a few parks dispersed throughout the city so that you’re never too far from a refuge from the throngs of pedestrians. And in every park we’ve been through, there’s always a group of locals practicing tai chi, which is fun to watch.
We had dinner at a noodle shop on Wellington road, which was quite good. It turns out there’s a few Michelin-star rated restaurants on the road, even though they all appear to be rather unpretentious. I left my sunglasses on the table and walked off with them – I didn’t even make it 24 hours without a careless mistake. I’ll have to be more careful in the future, or at this rate I’ll have nothing left after two weeks.
On day two we took two ferries to get to and island where we visited the largest bronze sitting Buddha statue in the world. It was well worth the trip as he is sitting outside a monastery on the top of a mountain (accessible by bus). The Buddha was impressive, the monastery was beautiful, and the vegetarian lunch they served was tasty. Another good day.
After more noodles back on Wellington Street, we took the ferry back to Kowloon (where we are staying) in order to view the famous Hong Kong light show from across the water. According to the guide book, a number of different skyscrapers all coordinate to perform a huge city-wide light show every night at 8 pm. We waited until 8 and…nothing. At 8:07 two different buildings shined a few laser lights for about 3 seconds. OK, we thought, it’s a little but they’re warming up. At 8:12, another 3 seconds of lights. Is something wrong, we wondered?
Then, it really started. At 8:18, 5 different buildings shined their laser lights together for about 5 seconds. And then…nothing. That was the show? Biggest let-down ever! Seriously, they do this every night and that’s what they’ve come up with? A few disjointed lasers for a few seconds randomly spaced over 20 minutes? Inconceivable. We were standing next to an English guy and all three of us were scratching our heads in bewilderment. If you ever make it here, skip the light show.