Wednesday, December 24, 2008

12.20.08: Hong Kong

Today we walked...and walked...and walked...and got a pretty good feel for Kowloon and the northern part of Hong Kong Island. Our adventure began with the route between our hotel and the Kowloon Harbor. The area around the harbor (Tsim Tsa Shui) is one of the most touristed in Hing Kong, with its high end shopping malls, expansive view of Hong Kong Island's glittering skyline, and Hollywood-esque star walk, featuring hand prints of Hong Kong's most famous movie stars (and a sweet Bruce Lee statue!)

At some of the upmarket shops, like Dolce & Gabbana, shoppers were actually lined up outside behind velvet ropes, awaiting their turns to spend hard-earned Hong Kong dollars. Oh yeah, it's the last Saturday before Christmas. It makes sense that Christmas shopping is happening here in Hong Kong, with so many expats and the vestiges of British rule. However, we were surprised that, even in the smallest cities we visited, Christmas lights twinkled and English carols pumped over the loudspeakers. We were hoping that this would be one December of our lives unbeseiged by tinsel, but no such luck. The interesting part is that, outside of Hong Kong, there isn't even a pretense of Christmas being a religious holiday. Ammy basically explained it to us as a "shopping holiday" celebrated among young Chinese who are pushing for Westernization.

(The man, the myth, the statue...and Hong Kong Island from Kowloon's harbor)

Anyway, our destination at Kowloon's harbor was the Star Ferry, a short but scenic trip that would take us across to Hong Kong Island. Upon arrival, we walked through a series of overpasses above wide city avenues until we reached the Central-Mid-Level escalators, apparently the longest electric people-movers in the world. If Kowloon is like New York, northern Hong Kong Island is similar to San Francisco, with its dramatic hills and prominent green areas. And San Francisco could definitely benefit from some escalators like these, that ascend story after story of steep, mid-city inclines.

We stepped off the escalator in trendy SoHo (sound familiar?) for lunch at an organic joint called "Life," that could easily find a home in SF's Potrero Hill. This charged us up for the afternoon's excursion--walking back down to Central Hong Kong (The escalators only go up) and jumping onto the historic, high-speed (and highly vertical) tram to the top of Victoria Peak. From this vantage point, we got an awesome bird's eye view of skyscraper-filled downtown Hong Kong and beyond, across the harbor o our home-base of Kowloon and also a glimpse of the lush, green, south side of the island and some of the surrounding isles, like Lantau Island, home of Hong Kong's Disneyland.

(One view from Victoria Peak)
Rather than take the tram, we walked down Victoria Peak along the winding, wooded path that twists down its sides. This was a long but peaceful trip, and we passed other tourists, joggers, and ladies walking full-outfitted poodles wearing ridiculous little poodle sneakers. We continued our way back down to the ferry terminal, and when I say down I really mean it...our walk was strictly vertical for about two hours. We passed through shopping areas, enormously tall apartment complexes, and a lively neighborhood jam-packed with bars and nightclubs before getting back onto the ferry.

Hong Kong Island's skyline was even more impressive at night, with its myriad lights reflecting into the water. Back on the other side, we met up with the other folks from our Intrepid group who were still in town, to watch Hong Kong Island's fame nightly light show from across the harbor. It was actually pretty lame--a series of laser beams shooting out from different buildings, and coming off a little like bad special effects from the original version of Dr. Who--but it was cool that the group voluntarily got together for one last hurrah. Totally sacked from hours of city-trekking, we left the group to sleep it off in anticipation of another adventure-filled day.

No comments: