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Published: November 8th 2007
The plane had something we had never experienced before
. A live feed from some external camera broadcast in real time the takeoff from London Gatwick. And as the sparkle of a million lights disappeared into darkness and in-flight entertainment commenced, we settled in for a long flight. Three movies, dinner, several hours of sleep, more movies, more food, chat and sleep and we still had 4 hours to go. The feed appeared again but it was all gray this time. Our anxiety rose higher and higher with every inch the plane descended. We couldn't spot the runway. Thru the gray cloud we made out water. Not wanting to be first-hand witnesses of our own demise, we began to resent this technology. Thankfully, the plane's wheels collided with solid.
"Oasis HongKong welcomes you to Hong Kong International Airport ..." The bloggers had reached Asia.
Hong Kong's status as an almost-forgotten stepchild of the Chinese Empire experienced a dramatic change. The British, following the fortunes reaped by the Portuguese, started trading huge quantities of Bengal-sourced opium
with China. When in 1839 a shipment of about 20,000 chests of pure opium were seized and destroyed in China's attempt to curb the trade,
the British took affront and in 1840 started what became known as 'The Opium War'. Yep, the British fought for their 'right' to traffic in drugs.
In short, the British outgunned the Chinese and demanded 6 million Yuan (Chinese currency)/USD 770,000 at today's rate in compensation, full resumption of the business and full control of Hong Kong. Broken, the Qing Dynasty acquiesced and Hong Kong fell under indefinite British control. The Chinese also 'leased' the New Territories adjoining Kowloon to the British for a period of 99 years.
The Brits handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese on July 1, 1997 and China granted Hong Kong a 'Special Administrative Status (SAR)' status. Thru economic downturn, political instability and SARS, Hong Kong struggled but finally managed, thru sheer resilience, to position itself among the leading financial districts of the modern world.
Neither of us needed visas for HK so immigration was a breeze and soon we were whizzing away from the ultra-modern, hi-tech airport in an ultra-modern, hi-tech metro. Gazing thru the windows we observed numerous skyscrapers so close that one looked out unto the other. We couldn't see the blue of the sky. SMOG hung thick in
the air shrouding everything in a dull gray. Partly because of vehicle emissions and partly because of the emissions of coal-burning, black-smoke-belching factories in nearby mainland China, the awful combination of smoke and fog was appalling. We stared in unbelief wondering how our lungs would cope. True to form, we had arrived in HK without pre-booking accommodation
. Peter was older and wiser. He had pre-booked a decent deal at a hotel in Chungking Mansions. Peter was an Australian engineer we struck up a conversation with while waiting on the shuttle into Kowloon. Kowloon is one of the four main areas of Kong Kong with the other three being Hong Kong Island, The New Territories and the Outlying Islands. We decided on the spot to check out Chungking.
In an area called Tsim Sha Tui and on the main drag in Kowloon, Nathan Street, Chungking Mansions stood out. But it wasn't because it blended with the other glamorous high rises. Quite the contrary actually!
Chungking Mansions was a horrid looking edifice which housed numerous shabby and shady 'hotels', food establishments and other institutions of commerce. But accommodation in HK was reportedly notoriously expensive so we settled on a room
candied fruits for sale!
in Yan Yan Hotel after serious, lengthy negotiations and walk-aways. The 'room' was the length of a bed and maybe twice as broad. The bathroom was a serious electrocution risk and the TV had one English channel with reruns of some ancient sitcom. Dinner was with Peter in a Korean restaurant and we walked the streets for orientation.
There was an energy in the air. The 1103 sq km SAR pulsed with the beat of 6 million hearts. Everywhere we looked there were thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles creating such a cacophony of sound that our ear-drums struggled to adapt. Quite surprisingly there was a large population of Indians selling everything from delectable Palak Paneer to knock-off Rolexes and next-day three-piece suits. Right alongside them was a sizeable contingent of Africans from countries like Nigeria, Zambia and Ghana buying bulk items to sell at home. In our hotel we swapped stories and emails with a pretty Ghanaian lady named Dorothy and over dinner we hooked up with Dave - a roaming New Zealander.
Our internal clocks misfired. Jetlag had us bad!
We were now 12 straight hours ahead of Guyana and the Caribbean and 4 ahead
of Europe. We simply couldn't surface at any respectable hour in the mornings. We'd get up at one-ish in the afternoon and sleep at 03:00 or later. Severe pains in the left side of his body drove the usually stubborn Vibert to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a checkup. HK$ 590 lighter, the verdict was a muscle strain (from the heavy backpack) and an accumulation of stomach gas. We decided to take it easy for a few days.
The combination of severe jetlag and Vibert's ailment precluded us from doing too much. We only explored in the late afternoon and night hours but we did manage to get both Shanna's phone and our underwater camera repaired for cheap. This one day we took the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak which promised unparalleled views of the skyline of the business district on Hong Kong Island. The views were indeed spectacular on architectural marvels competing to dominate the skyline. And then the smog rolled in like a wet blanket dampening the views but not the experience.
The super-efficient, always-filled subterranean MTR shuttled us under the channel and over into Hong Kong Island. The Central district was the financial powerhouse. There, every
world leader in insurance, banking or finance had a sizeable structure and commanding presence. At night, from the ritzy, waterside Avenue of the Stars with sections paying homage to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan we, with Dorothy, stared over the waters of the &&& channel as the buildings of Hong Kong Central lit up in a fascinating, captivating spectacle like no other. Back-to-back nights we spent watching the neon lights change color, create patterns and designs and a festive, vibrant vibe.
Huge neon billboards and even bigger animated TV screens were plastered to buildings. Crowds swamped the streets, pedestrian crossings and sidewalks. We got swept up in the throngs of people thru night markets and bazaars with unbelievable bargains; into Indian restaurants to feast on navratan korma and spicy shahi paneer with nan and rice and chased with mango lassie; thru halls with world-famous exhibitions and music and finally back into Chungking Mansions. We were in Asia and loving it. It was a 'feel', a vibe, an energy like no other.
Like a whirlwind we blew thru sampling fine food, fast life, fantastic culture and great bargains. And as the big, turbo-charged catamaran pulled away from the harbour
en route to Macau we watched smoggy Hong Kong fade in the distance. But we knew we hadn't seen the last of HK. The juxtaposition of smog and neon, the crush and diversity of millions of people, the wonderfully diverse cuisine and the forward-thinking, progressive nature of the territory wouldn't fade from our memories any time soon. 😊
😊 Peter from Australia
😊 Dorothy from Ghana
😊 Dave from New Zealand
New friendships make the world a smaller and better place.
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