Day 14: Hong Kong
The day, as to be expected, started with a monster bummer as we disembarked from the ship. A lot of the people that I had gotten to know during the 10 days were staying on for a second leg in southern Asia, so I really felt more like I was leaving the party before it was over. I suppose it would have been easier if everyone was getting off, since right then it reminded me of when I would get in trouble in school and had to go inside while everyone else stayed out for recess.
This sentiment was pretty short lived. Given that we decided to end it all with a bang, my first introduction to Hong Kong was The Peninsula Hotel, with a bit of an "anyone who's anyone" clientele. After the hostess showed us around the suite, we headed out to the Star Ferry, and from there into a city that only be described as stacking Los Angeles on top of Manhattan and squeezing it into an area the size of Des Moines. Saying Hong Kong is intense is like saying Chelsea Handler is a abrasive; a massive understatement.
Having no idea what to do, or even where to begin in a city is always something of a challenge. I had Wikipedia-ed and Google Earthed a ton of locations in every other city we were planning on visiting, yet for some reason, never put anything together for Hong Kong. When in this situation, we've discovered that those double-decker hop on-hop off buses prove to be great for getting a feel for where things are, and what to come back to later. Of course, as is the nature of cruising, we really only had the one day, and it became evident that this bus tour was going to be kind of it.
Anyone can look up a photo of the skyline, and initially just get the impression that's it's another big city. Once inside, the intensity becomes almost overwhelming. The buildings, many of which trump other cities tallest, are practically right next to each other, the minimum possible allowance for street and sidewalk. Add to that, grade of the land goes up rather sharply, so now these structures are being further amplified by the increase in elevation. Much beyond being the cluster-type skylines that become the signature of most cities, this one seemed infinite.
I was also struck with the sense of the unimaginable amounts of wealth that people have access to. All of these buildings have corner offices bigger than my condo 800 feet in the air, and someone has to occupy them. Nearly every street we saw was peppered with art galleries, high-end boutique shopping and antiques.
The first adventure off the safety and security of the bus was to Victoria Peak, where it would seem that the super affluent lived during the English settlement, and I would imagine still do today. Of course unlike then, anyone is allowed up, and after a VERY steep ride up an incredible grade, one is presented with the most incredible views of a city skyline, quite possibly in the world. It is here that it was also confirmed that it just isn't Hong Kong without shopping opportunities, and everything from posing opportunities with Mickey Mouse to the latest Sony Vaio were all on tap.
Hong Kong being very much where the East and West meet, we stopped for quick bite at none other than The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, where I enjoyed Jenn-HAY's outfit from the Washington Monument scene, and some clam chowder while looking down on the city.
What turned out to be a total undoing of the warm soup I'd just had, we headed out to a very windy observation deck. As is often the case in places like this, I find the people at these sites far more interesting than whatever said site has to offer, and this was no exception. I laugh a little when people run to get out of my shot, and am never sure whether to tell them that I think they'll only make the photograph MORE interesting.
After my fill of the wind and the sleeping art peddler, we took the tram back down to the street level. After a conversation with a very nice American woman whose family lived in Hong Kong, we were back in the thick of the city. The goal was to walk back to the Ferry, and experience this town in all it's glory. There were too many architecturally unique structures to count, though there was tall building which would have been completely uninteresting save for its gold color that I though was so symbolic of Hong Kong. It's a city run on finance, finance and more finance. However you feel about capitalism, Hong Kong is the showpiece of the capitalist mentality, with perfect examples of what people love and hate about it all in one very densely populated space.
It should be noted that this doesn't make Hong Kong an icon of materialism. The city in many ways is like Shanghai and London had a child (a very successful one). One very priceless London feature was having "Look Left" and "Look Right" painted at the intersections, though in this case it was subtitled in Chinese. Rolls Royce's and Bentleys are everywhere, driving past street markets that could only be Asia. It's nothing to find very tall, modern condominiums with laundry drying outside the window (which of course conjures up the image of raining underpants). Other contrasts exist, such as the skyscrapers towering over churches, a sign that money isn't the ONLY God that Hong Kong knows.
After our ferry ride back to Kowloon, a stroll down the Walk of Stars was in order. This was kinda cool, though it's still no Hollywood. I know they meant well, but star's names on the sidewalk just aren't the same without the proximity to tattoo parlors and porno shops. I waved goodbye to my cruise ship, which was still in port, and after an overpriced dinner at the hotel, retired to the suite.
The evening ended with the nightly laser show, in many ways officially ended the vacation. Perhaps I'll string the video clips together and put them to Comfortably Numb.