Hong Kong – A city that works…

Efficiency,efficiency, efficiency. Best words to describe Hong Kong. A city that stands tall and proud on the southern tip of Mainland China and enclosed by the South China sea and the Pearl river delta. It is a special administrative region of China, the other one being Macau. The sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British in 1997 and ever since China has only but taken this mega city to new heights. Hong Kong has a separate political and legal system to the mainland and it has a democratically elected Government. Despite Hong Kong maintaining  its independence, China continues to act as its big brother. In a way it is a blessing  to live in this part of the world, not many dare to mess around with the Chinese given their formidable strength both economically and militarily!

The blessings are in plenty in this mega city. It’s infrastructure by far must be the best in the world. The public transport ( MTR ) is the most efficient and punctual transportation systems. No kidding, getting from point A to D, via B and C is a seamless exercise. The MTR has 150 stations and serves 3.4 million people a day!MTR is the first choice and the easiest way to get around. And besides, it is a pleasure to ride these trains without worrying about when a bomb will go off while traveling in the underground. A most unpleasant thought that would creep in when I would ride the underground trains in the US and Australia. Thank you China for protecting Hong Kong so stringently against any form of terror and uprising. There are ferries that plough between Hong Kong, Kowloon and Lantau and also a delightful way to commute.

Hong Kong island is one of the financial hubs besides London and New York and it is a vibrant financial district that never sleeps. The Victoria Peak on Hong Island gives a three sixty degree view of the gargantuan city.Kowloon is the trading hub and Lantau houses the airport and Disney. Lantau is the most scenic amongst the three and is also home to the 112 feet big buddha located at ngong ping near the Po Lin monastery. The cable car ride up to this monastery is simply breath-taking. Apart from all the touristy things that one can indulge in Hong Kong, its shopping and culinary choices are a delight. The shops are open late unlike sleepy Australia where the shutters are down by 6 PM on most days.Hong Kong is also well located for people like me who keep running back to India every now and then. A five and a half hour straight flight to Bangalore is not cumbersome. The city is a fusion of the east and the west, it has adopted the best of both worlds. From the east it takes it’s vibrancy, and from the west it takes its orderly living.

And it’s mega sea links and bridges can make an Indian head like mine spin uncontrollably. A sea link of 1.5 kms was constructed in a blink of an eye quite literally. One day there was nothing and presto, there was a magnificent bridge the next day. This speaks volumes of the efficiencies and capabilities in the city’s town planning. I am forced to remember the teeny-weeny bridge that was being built near my place in Bangalore. It took five years to complete it, and the bridge is no longer than 200 mts.The recent addition to Hong Kong’s monstrous skyline is the 118 floor International Commerce centre on the West Kowloon district. The ICC building provides a pleasant visual symmetry to the skyline. In addition to the ICC, the International Finance Center on the Hong Kong Island overlooks Victoria Harbor in all it’s shimmering glory. This sleek building is visually aesthetic on all counts. This is the same building that Batman jumped off in the Dark Knight.

The locals speak a lot of broken english, the professionals speak immaculate english and some do not know any english. Cantonese is widely spoken by the majority. It can be a pain to communicate to the locals at times, but they understand numbers very well, so sign language is good for bargaining if you are visiting the local markets and mingling with the hawkers.The high end malls like Pacific Place are quite incredible, a clutch bag from Louis Vuitton can run into a few thousand dollars and shoppers merrily buy it. They save a year to buy these bags of incredibility. A stones throw away , a few kilometres outside of the Kowloon district is Shenzhen. The same bag would be sold there for a few hundred dollars. Versace and Armani probably die a hundred times over thinking about the fake markets of Shenzhen. But one of the best open air shows I have seen to date has been in Shenzhen in the cultural village. A show that consists of over a thousand artists in remarkable synchronization remains etched in the memory.

Few drawbacks about the city is that everyone looks and sounds the same ( Ling, Ping, Sing). It is never easy to remember some of the faces or names. Communicating with customer service officers on the phone is a tall order.The Indian customer service officers on the phone speak better english. Whilst communicating with the Chinese ,patience can be on a short string. Taxis are not cheap like Singapore and other East Asian countries. By the time you enter a tunnel and come out of it, the meter would have ticked to a hundred Hong Kong dollars.

The other thing that puts me off is the leather and fur trade in this part of the world. The Chinese are not good in treating animals with respect. When I was setting up my aquarium sometime last year, I wrote this –

I am looking at setting up an aquarium with a few gold-fish that have plenty of place to swim in.So we headed off to Tung Choi and ambled around there for a few hours.Tung Choi also known as goldfish street in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok area is a street that is lined with over a hundred shops that sell aquatic animals of all kinds. From the common goldfish and guppies to the more exotic reef species, corals , turtles and nemos to name a few. The feng shui koi is also most sought after by the Chinese to increase their fortunes by leaps and bounds. The shops also sell almost everything that you would need to keep your aquarium is pristine condition. It is a good idea to spend a good few hours checking as many shops and comparing prices. Bargaining is something you need to do in this part of the world. Even if the locals know no english and you know no chinese, numbers are a universal language and they understand that very well.
It is a heart wrenching sight to see hundreds of fish cramped in tanks. It is also more heart wrenching to see the locals getting very excited with what they are viewing, and almost appear to be relishing the poor animals. Fish in plenty get sold in tiny plastic bags pumped with oxygen and hung outside shops, like candy floss on a candy stick. Beautiful colors of blue, green , red and gold gleam in the afternoon sun in this busy street. Hundreds of baby turtles wade in shallow waters ever wondering where is the next inch they can squeeze themselves into The street also offers many other ” exotic ” animals on sale. One wonders how easy it is to smuggle these animals into Hong Kong and China. I recommend Tung Choi to people interested in setting up a quality aquarium as a wide variety of fish and equipments from all over the world are easily available. I was a bit jaded to see the commercialization of these aquatic creatures which get produced in plenty in local farms in and around Hong Kong. However, I was happy that I could bring some home and spare them the trauma of swimming around in small tanks.
Besides these drawbacks, Hong Kong is well and truly a city that works.
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16 Responses to “Hong Kong – A city that works…”

  1. Aishwarya Says:

    Sharmila,

    That sounds like a dream city – vibrance of the East, order of the West, with strength and security – qualities we all seek in our places of stay. The few times that you have mentioned Chinese now and in the past has left me chuckling – their names, the similarity in appearance, their English, and the way they giggle for everything especially. I always thought Chinese to be like the lady with the red book and serious countenance in “Mind Your Language’.:)

    Does Hong Kong manage to preserve their greenery amongst all these high-rises? I have heard of the beautiful cherry blossoms in China…

    Glad you could save some of the fishes. I have a few goldfishes and guppies, and a few budgies apart from my adopted cats. I know they shd be out there with their friends, but our homes must definitely be better than life in a petshop.:)

  2. Aish – It is a wonderfully planned mega city. The best part is, they make efforts to keep it green to fight the pollutions that the clouds bring in from the mainland. Buildings do not get built at the expense of doing away with the natural flora and fauna. Buildings here are vertical rather than horizontal, cause of lack of prime space and also keeping that % of greenery. Yes, homes are the best bet for these pets, surely not pet shops. Lovely to hear of your adoptions.

  3. Sharmila,

    No doubt the efficiency in HKG is great, but at the same time the most unfortunate part of HKG is its pollution – we are paying the price for China’s manufacturing boom. Earlier our skies used to be so clear that standing at the Victoria Peak one could see the lights beyond Kowloon and spot New Territories, but with the vastly reduced visibility this has been impossible since the past few years.

    As regards LV bags, the joke is that our compatriots from across the border, with their newly found wealth, happily spend a few thousand $$$$ on the real stuff in HKG, while it is the locals from HKG that go across and pick up Shenzhen bags at a fraction of the price!

    Finally, re the bird market & gold-fish shops in Mongkok – did you know that people routinely go there to buy birds / gold-fish and release them as a benevolent act (most likely on the advice of their Feng Shui Masters) ??!!

  4. Veekay – Thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree the pollution is a fair bit ( thanks to China )but HK is ensuring that they have at least kept most of Lantau green thankfully and parts of NT!. I had no idea that new territories could be spotted from Vic peak a few years back! re – LV, absolutely right, it is a joke. Thanks much for informing me about the feng Shui practise, I feel a lot better about that place now. This is the first benevolent act I have heard about the locals.

  5. Sharmila, you are giving me the travel bug!

  6. This is what happens when you lease a place. Develop it,make it flourish & then leave. Brits had to do so and China is enjoying its fruits without much hassle of developing their own island.
    It has changed much with time especially after China took over. Many businesses left in panic. However things worked out well for those who stayed. Oh! well! ppl have Trust issues. what can be done!? some are hard to trust or put faith into. whether its China,Pak or some other countries.

    • MonalIsa – Lol, China is a country one has to be extremely cautious with. Re Pak, there is the trust issue at all times to deal with. As Veekay pointed out, China is a big reason for HK’s high pollution levels but Hk is dealing with it by going green as much as they can. The Govt of HK is a thinking one.

  7. It looked beautiful earlier,but seems even more wonderful after your elaboration……You love fishes as well?????

  8. Shobha C. Says:

    Sharmila ji,Came to know recently that you recide in Hong Kong and are a Bangalorean originally!Hong Kong looks like a fairyland,not exactly of the olden times but of the modern period!Very chic!

  9. Love reading your post! 🙂 Glad you love HK as much as I do.. I am from HK.

  10. Thanks You Sharmila for sharing your wonderful words of a place I also Love. I first traveled to Hong Kong in 1982 and spent six months working for a large show that was set up at Ocean Park in Aberdeen. Close to two years ago now I was offered a position with a show in Macau which I had also visited for two months that same year. Without any hesitations I quickly accepted their offer and packed my belongings to move back to a place I Love. Although it had been 27 years most of the cultural charm is still the same and as you mentioned the orderly Western style of living is plentiful. I was quite pleased to find in my absence they had constructed the MTR. From my first encounter I was thoroughly impressed and have mentioned to everyone I know that visits they will not find a more organized and efficient subway system anywhere in the world. I am convinced that the planning of this transit system was thought out completely and is a jewel to the city. Equally I was quite impressed with the new airport on Lan Tau and have made many trips out to the island for recreation and relaxation. I often commute that direction for the sole purpose of photos as it is such a beautiful place. My daughter has recently returned home from her first visit to Hong Kong and like myself at roughly her age has grown to Love Hong Kong and South East Asia as well. I was so proud of her acceptance to a new area in the world and the Love and respect she shared for not only the people here but the culture as well. She has mentioned many times since her return that she really misses Hong Kong and is planning her next visit. It was unfortunate that the cable cars from Ngong Ping out to Po Lin Monastery was down for annual maintenance during her visit but the bus ride out was also a pleasurable journey filled with lots of wonderful sights including the Lan Tau Buffalo that would have otherwise been missed from the cable car.
    One point that you spoke very briefly about and I would like to elaborate on is the cleanliness of Hong Kong despite the amount of people living here. Although there is pollution from industry in mainland China that envelopes all of the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong has managed to keep it’s streets quite clean in comparison to cities of similar size. With the fines imposed on littering I feel that most people have found a pride in not simply being green but also in being clean. Everything seems to be recycled and the waste receptacles that line the streets are emptied quite often.
    Thank You again for the eloquent portrayal of this Asian Gem and I can honestly tell you myself that I am proud to be an Expat here and now calling this Home.

    • Lonnie. Thank you for dropping by. A remarkable comment from you and one that I most enjoyed reading and agreeing to. Yes, the city is clean given it’s sizable population and the administration must be given full marks for the way they run this Asian gem. I am happy to hear you are a proud expat, so am I but I don’t call HK my home. Home is where the heart is, it is safely in Bangalore, India for me. 🙂 Look forward to staying in touch.

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