The Have’s & Have Not’s – Hong Kong

6 07 2014

The second leg of our grand Asian tour was the mighty city of Hong Kong. A former British colony, fought over between the Brit’s and Chinese over tea and opiates. Now handed back to the Chinese mainland after 100 years of lease. An intensely populated group of islands with a very interesting history.

This was my first visit to Hong Kong, and a long awaited one. Surprising really as I have visited most of the surrounding area. Struck by the natural beauty of the place, lush green forest everywhere juxtaposed by skyscrapers and apartment blocks clinging to the hillside. As a Brit, it felt almost natural. Driving on the left side, British style number plates everywhere. Yet somewhat alien to me. The home comforts transported to a foreign faraway land.

Unable to withdraw any local currency from the ATM’s in the airport, I relied upon my friend to make our journey happen. The taxi driver gave the impression that we were inconveniencing him somewhat by our presence. Unable to understand very clear English, he made me enter the destination into my mobile. Extremely aware of roaming costs, I gingerly put the hotel’s address into the phone. Unable to understand he switched to Google Navigation. With a squeal of horror I snatched the phone away from him! Why he needed my mobile I have no idea. I counted no less than eight mobiles around the confines of his cab. Everything from old Nokia to Samsung 3G tablets surrounded him. He must have been cooking from the inside out based upon the radiation!

What I noticed first was the opulence of the city. Huge adverts adorned the side of buildings, showing Prada, Gucci and other such over priced names. Very large Mercedes (what is the plural of Mercedes), BMW and a regular Porsche appearance drove alongside us. This was a city of money and excess. The hotel was modern, swish and more importantly air conditioned as the temperature outside was approaching 35C!

As we had a half day vacation we headed over to Kowloon. Taking the old ferry across the bay, it was wonderful to look back at the soaring skyline of Hong Kong island. The ancient ferry began to dock and I remarked upon the condition of the mooring rope to my friends, as it was being wound around the capstan. An old hemp rope, it was knackered and ready to be retired. I joked that we should move back, in case the rope snaps – someone might lose their head. Yet again my Spider Sense proved correct, and with a huge CRACK the rope snapped. Luckily no-one was injured. The second we stepped off the ferry in Kowloon, every few meters someone of either Arabic or Indian descent asked if we wanted a fake Rolex. It was annoying at first and became tedious quickly.

We walked up towards Nathan Street and the infamous Temple Street market. Land of the fake and cheap. This really felt like China compared to Hong Kong island. There was very little opulence here, people searching through garbage bins for food. The overpowering smell of sweat and old food mingling with the hot air. This was a different country completely. Fake goods refused (ahem) we returned via the cool and efficient MRT to our hotel.

The next day was the big meeting. Standing in the office, looking out at (again) the soaring skyscrapers, I noticed a very different street. Almost forgotten amongst the modern, this was a 1950’s apartment block that had not seen paint in a century at least. Iron bars across the windows, grimy smears of dirt everywhere. The occasional individual looking disheveled coming out of the doors. This was Hong Kong island, not Kowloon. I was really struck yet again by the huge difference between those who have even a reasonable income in Hong Kong, and those who aren’t working or simply don’t earn enough. It was not a small gap between the two, it was a Grand Canyon sized gap. How do these two alien species get along together?

Hong Kong has a very uncertain future. The day that we left there was a huge democracy rally against the Chinese government. HK inhabitants have a fierce independence that they wish to protect. I only wonder about those unlucky enough to not live in a nice air conditioned apart, how does their future look?

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