Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hong Kong: Asia's NYC; Minus Hipsters, Plus Natural Beauty

View from a friend's high-rise apartment!
Like New York City on dramatic cliffs (and without Broadway or Brooklyn) this gritty, frenzied financial center has the best and the brightest - of Asia and the world - from dining experiences to languages and ethnicities. Millions flock to the city, whether consult for a top multi-national or entertain, feed and clean for those energetic businessmen & women. It is also becoming Asia's art hub - with exhibitions and the planned opening of Asia's MOMA! If you feel like some spectacular views, smartly dressed yuppies & (what else in Asia) shopping galore - you've found it! 

But wait - what country is it?

Technically, the UK gave Hong Kong back to China in 1997, but (thankfully) with a number of caveats. China may appoint the Chief Executive, but the "city-state” has its own passport stamp and visa card – its own money (printed by each of the banks!) and it certainly doesn’t feel like China (and Hongkongers don't feel Chinese). Cantonese is spoken - "thank you" is "uhm-goi" (or "doh-jeh" if it's a gift you are receiving) not the mandarin "sheah-sheah" - and English is also an official language. Furthermore, it might be busy with throngs of people – but they are not running over each other in the street, like the "metropolis-villiage" of Beijing.

The world's longest escalator-
lined path!
Hong Kong provides all the best features upon arrival - free airport wi-fi, rapid transit into the city (20 minutes) as well as one of the most eye-catching, architecturally advanced airports! Heading in to a friend’s high-rise, I took the train to a bus, and then waddled my blue suitcase up the narrow mountain-side streets (yes, taxis are pretty cheap - but at times scarce). I’m not really sure how they can build skinny high-rise apartments on the side of a mountain - though I'm wrong about any real earthquake risk! 
Over-incensed at Man Mo Temple

Striking out on my own, I traversed the world’s longest escalator path found some cute coffee shops, wandered into the historic, eerie Man Mo Temple in the middle of downtown, and visited the Ozone Bar on top of the International Commerce Center. A Cathay Pacific flight attendant friend and I visited the harbor, where the USS Peleliu was docked (really?! a US ship in "China") - its flag was at half-staff to honor the victims of the Boston bombings. Not homesick - I still felt connected to the ship - a little piece of home in a far-away place.

USS Peleliu docks in Victoria Harbor
On Thursday night, we went out for post-work drinks with the well-dressed yuppie crowd at chic bar-restaurants. We ate at a small Italian cafe and (over the weekend) we enjoyed Dim-sum at a traditional restaurant. You are bound to find any dish you can imagine in this diverse city - from Italy to Mexico (and no need to mention great Cantonese & Szechuan) – and you can expect to communicate in English – or even other European languages.

The Scene & Sights

This big city has a relatively small-town gay scene. We hit up Volume/Beat – a great bar and club with a pretty diverse crowd & fun mix of popular dance music. Around the corner, you can find gaysians flowing out onto the street around Zoo Bar. From there, we walked not too far to the main gay club – Propaganda or "PP" – a dated, but happening place with two main dance/bar areas. It was filled with a smattering of any nationality you could expect – Germans, French, Japanese. Of course, I met all the guys who were having their first night out (I'm so predicable!). With only a few days in town, I didn't get to check out all of the venues, but it's rare to find big crowds on work-nights; Friday & Saturday appear to be the only real party nights.

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Cloudy view from The Peak trail

During the day, the weather failed to cooperate much - April is just too rainy for this part of the world, but I still went up to The Peak and walked around the trail at the top. No need to pay to go up to the top of this building (see below) - you get the same view walking around the trail. Given Hong Kong's reputation as an important metropolis, natural beauty can be forgotten - but the city-state area has 300 kilometers of beautiful hiking trails - including one that can take you up to The Peak!

While you might be hard-pressed as a tourist to spend more than a week in this beautiful, but business city, Hong Kong is the type of place you must live if you want to spend any time working abroad in the region. Also, it's the perfect place to include on a broader trip around Asia - it's an impressive, diverse city, with a multitude of activities and will continue to compete as one of Asia's major cities for business as well as tourism.

The Peak viewing platform (and restaurant)


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