Saturday, March 11, 2006

I Love Hong Kong: Hong Kong Island Edition

I'm recently returned from a very short trip to Hong Kong, and I must admit that I totally loved the city. Where to begin? Howsabout the place where I first got dropped off, Hong Kong Island. The comparison is less than complete, but in many ways Hong Kong Island is to Hong Kong, what Manhattan is to New York City.

When I came in by bus, as shown above, I was extremely surprised both at the density of skyscrapers, and the obvious wealth and design to many of them. It's immediately apparent that there is much, much more money in Hong Kong than in Shanghai. This was hammered in by something silly but kind of cool: free Internet terminals inside the subway station!

In Shanghai, when I told people I was going to Hong Kong, the inevitable next statement was that it was a shopper's heaven. That might be true, but I wasn't looking to buy anything. In the two products I was keeping an eye out for, shoes large enough to fit me and a larger selection of spirits than that available in Shanghai, I came up empty. Anyway Hong Kong has one boutique store after the next boutique store, and parts of Hong Kong Island reminded me, in many ways, of the area around Union Square in San Francisco, hills and architecture and all.

As in San Francisco, but even more so, these hills just keep going on and on, and are quite steep. It's extremely pictaresque, but not many rich boutique stores would want to locate so high up. To address this, there's a huge linked series of outdoor escalators running up the side of the hill, from the shops to the apartment buildings at the very top. Although the cobblestones streets are so beautiful, it's tempting to walk.

Let me say a little more: these escalators just keep going and going. You rapidly get pretty high up taking these escalators. One pleasant surprise was that as opposed to Shanghai, where people think nothing of blocking off both sides of the escalator, in Hong Kong people stopped on the right side and kept walking on the left. The other huge contrasts I noted is that cars very rarely honked their horns, and I didn't see anybody spit. I guess Hong Kong has a more developed city culture, Shanghai is still booming with recent arrivals.

The escalators took breaks at side streets that were obvious hang-outs for Hong Kong's large foreigner population. Many of the bars and restaurants didn't have any Chinese people in them, aside from the people working the tables. Shanghai has a range of foreign food, but Hong Kong's easily eclipsed it. On the other hand, from my very limited experience of eating at a single Mexican restaurant in Hong Kong, the foreign food is just as bad as Shanghai's.

While Hong Kong Island was dominated by malls, department stores, and boutique shops, there were a number of extremely packed side-streets, where Chinese and immigrant Asians sold clothing and a range of other products.

I chose to go to Shanghai for valid reasons that remain valid, but I wonder if I should have done things a little differently. I have to admit I think Hong Kong blows away Shanghai in some regards. I definitely hope to visit again, for a longer time. Over the next month I'll have more to say on Hong Kong, so stay tuned.

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