A far cry from the charming and culturally rich India, Hong Kong is a city struggling over its identity, torn between its Chinese roots and its recent financial success in the global market. We flew into this metropolis of 7 million at 7am on January 8th and were graciously welcomed by Rahul's college friend Sanam. Groggy from our red eye flight, she generously hosted us at her beautiful apartment for the next week, putting up with our antics and jokes the whole time. Thanks so much Sanam, you're great!!!
After dropping our bags , we rushed off to Rahul's uncle's house. A tailor by trade, Rahul's uncle fitted us both for matching gray suits. The suit business is a big business here in Hong Kong, a city that has a record setting 8000 skyscrapers. That means lots of office space, and lots of businessmen who need suits. After our fittings, we went home, took a nap, and headed out for a night out on the town. Sadly, my suit wouldn't be ready until the end of the trip, so I couldn't sport it that night.
To put things in perspective, I spent more money that night than I did during the past 6 days in Mumbai. Granted, room and board were covered by Rahul's relatives in India, but Hong Kong is by no means a cheap place.
|Sanam, her friend Vrishant, and yours truly|
My first impressions of Hong Kong was sheer awe at the economic prowess of the city. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of South Korea's rapid modernization. High Rise apartment buildings and corporate skyscrapers stretched for as far as the eye could see. People movers of all sorts were efficiently functioning at full capacity. Prada, gucci, and coach were in vogue for women. Suits and briefcases for men. The sidewalks were so clean you could eat off of them. And things were really expensive! (comparative to India, of course..)
|To put things into perspective: A view of Hong Kong's skyline, circa 1986|
|A view of Hong Kong's skyline, circa 2009|
|Macau, an island of contrast: In the background, the Grand Lisboa Hotel juxtaposed against a less than flattering relic from its past|
|A perfect representation of Macau's storied history: signs appear in Mandarin, Portugese, and English respectively|
The rest of the week was highlighted by visits with Rahul's relatives, shopping, and relaxing. The heartbeat of the city, however, intrigued me. As we strolled through Tsim Tsa Tsui (known locally as "TST"), I couldn't help but gawk at the exorbitant amount of wealth around me, and ponder the big "G," Globalization. Sanam, our host, was able to contextualize my presumptions: She works at the Duty Free Shops Gallery, a high end luxury merchandise store and recounted stories of Chinese businessmen who come in with suitcases of cold, hard, cash and nonchalantly drop 10-15 thousand USD on luxury items. Apparently, these are routine transactions and many luxury shops in Hong Kong now encourage their employees to not only speak Cantonese, the native language of Hong Kong, but Mandarin, the official language of China in order to increase patronage from the mainland.
That "G" word, Globalization, was constantly ringing throughout my head as I strolled through Hong Kong. These absurdly wealthy Chinese businessmen, many of whom own factories right over the border, are making tons of money off of exporting their goods. The Nike dunks, Swisher vacuums, Johnson and Johnson baby soap, LED lights, Ford car radiators, Dell computer monitors, Nokia cell phones, and Hansboro toys that millions of Americans consume every year are produced right over the border in Shenzhen, trucked to the port of Hong Kong, and shipped across the Pacific to the Port of LA.
I couldn't help but think, "This is Globalization in action!!" Hong Kong epitomizes this trend-almost 15% of the workforce are importer/exporters, responsible for greasing the wheels of our global economy. After visiting Hong Kong, Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington a few weeks ago made a lot more sense to me: I saw first-hand why American corporations pushed President Obama to negotiate a more beneficial free trade policy with China. Any trans-national company, from Goldman Sachs to McDonalds, has a corporate office in Hong Kong. Thousands of American expats live, work, and raise their families there, directly benefiting from the immense economic stimulation provided by its ties with not only China, but other Asian countries as well.
But I digress...
In between over intellectualizing America's place in an increasingly competitive global market, I did manage to see a few sites.
|I went to my first horse race! While I didn't bet or win for that matter, the scene was really engaging: the race course was flanked by high rise apartment buildings on all sides, creating a sophisticated, urban feel.|
I also visited Lan Tau island, home of the Tian Tan Buddha. Built in the early 1990s, the Buddha not only serves as a religious pilgrimage site for Buddhists, but one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hong Kong:
|In contrast with the rest of the city, the Tian Tau Buddha provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island|
As a city, Hong Kong perplexed me. I couldn't quite figure out if it was a Chinese city, or a city with a large Chinese population. Technically, its not part of mainland China, rather "overseen" by the Chinese government. Cantonese was as common as English, yet the city is structured to accommodate and compliment international business. Every bar runs a competitive happy hour to lure the tired Investment Banker after his 12 hour workday, the airport has an efficient, specifically designed subway service to bring travelers to and fro, and high end hotels jockey to host the next corporate convention.
|Although the surge of modernization has long since grappled Hong Kong, every now and then,the city anachronistically resists the waves of progress. Pictured is an alleyway behind a Gucci Store.|
All in all, Hong Kong was a grand time. Like India, I would recommend the city to anybody who finds themselves in Asia. Numerous airlines route their flights through Hong Kong (since most airline companies have corporate offices there) and the city boasts an impressive nightlife, great public transit, and dynamic cityscape. Yet, like all things, my time in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the official name of the city, btw) came to an end. Eventually, it was time for me to go back to South Korea, officially ending my 22 day jaunt around Asia. Leaving one metropolis for another, I flew into Incheon International Airport and was immediately greeted by this:
|Thats Fahrenheit, not Celsius.|
Until next time...