02.12.2008 - 04.12.2008 20 °C
For some mystifying reason, I was really apprehensive about arriving in Hong Kong. Almost didn't want to go.
Sounds very strange now I think about it, but as I stood in line outside Shanghai's main railway station, awaiting customs and passport clearance before boarding the sleeper train that would take me out of mainland China, doubts began flooding my head.
Weird and wildly exaggerative thoughts.
Hong Kong was the size of a broom cupboard, wasn't it? And it's got a population of two billion, hasn't it? People there literally cannot move. And it's more humid than a Korean sauna. All backpacker accommodation is in damp, windowless cells not fit for human habitation. And I've booked a place in Mong Kok. Mong Kok! That's where all the triads hang out, isn't it?
Seriously, it was like a sickness. I stared at the China exit stamp in my passport for what felt like hours, wishing I wasn't leaving the People's Republic, hoping my train would stall and i'd be allowed to disembark in Guangzhou - or better yet, we'd take a wrong turn and end up back in Beijing. Yes, Beijing was great wasn't it? Lots of space there. Nice food too. Great guesthouses if I remember rightly.
To this day I don't understand what that was all about. I guess I should have reckoned on suffering an attack of 'the fear' at one point or another on this trip, but never would I have thought it'd be whilst clickety-clacking down the line towards Hong Kong.
The most inexplicable part of this whole episode is that all it took to finally break my delusional state, and return my heart rate and breathing to near normal, was to spot through the train window the glowing green man signal of a pedestrian crossing.
A flippin green man light. Crazy.
It was a signal I'd seen umpteen times before, as it was exactly - and I mean a 100% exactly - like those that you find in London.
And then I noticed the cars. They're on the left side of the road! Then the road names, not only written in English but also sounding so familiar too... Waterloo Road, Argyle St, Nathan Road...
The truth (obvious to anybody who isn't carrying a disorientated-travellers fog around with them) is that Hong Kong is a lot like home. Tons like home. Even now, 12 years after the British were finally kicked out.
OK, it's hotter. For early December it's more humid than I'm used to, but still comfortable rather than unpleasant. And sure, there are a lot of people wedged into a pretty small area, and most buildings climb up and up as if they're all taking part in a concrete race towards the heavens, but it just didn't bother me. Any lingering concept of personal space had been left well behind. Probably in Berlin.
Sure, if you journey up Nathan Road in Kowloon, continuing north past Mong Kok MTR station and onwards, the vibe of the place is much more 'China' than London. Compare that to walking around the shopping centre beneath Two International Finance Centre - a total dead-ringer for Jubilee Place beneath Canary Wharf.
London has the Oyster card (why am I shaking as I type that word..?), but in Hong Kong the world is your Octopus.
Hong Kong has the jump on London on this one, as not only does your plastic Octopus get you around town by bus, tram or subway, you can also use it to pay for milk, a newspaper, or a meal in a restaurant.
Enough with these comparisons though. The most enjoyable parts of Hong Kong, at least on the surface, are those that are unique to region.
With the Star Ferries chugging around the harbour, equal parts tourist and commuter friendly, Hong Kong has created perhaps the most atmospheric pool of water of any major city. And of course, there is that stunning skyline. Impressively imposing even when a tad grey and bleak.
The chance to ride the world's longest covered escalator system probably doesn't have many people rushing to book a Hong Kong holiday, but it's a pretty ingenious means of getting around nevertheless. When you consider that the terrain forces much of Hong Kong Island to be built at a 45 degree angle, this useful moving walkway can zip you from Central up to the mid-levels in a fraction of the time it'd take if you had to slog up the streets unaided.
Nothing quite beats the view from The Peak though. Climb up from the harbour, through Hong Kong Island's financial district, and onto the near-vertical in parts Peak Tram. Reach the top, pray for a bit of sun, and suddenly you get to see this...
It's a sight that's been captured and converted into a million postcards, but in my eyes it never becomes boring or staid. Perhaps the perfect place to wonder exactly what it was I was ever meant to be worried about. Hong Kong is just great. I'll be going back on the way home and I can't wait.
Hopefully next time I'll manage to avoid paying any casinos in Macau a visit. Yeah, kinda forgot to mention that here. Well, that'll have to be a story for the next post then.