Me and Chairman Mao
11.11.2005
  Hong Kong: the Phog!
Yes, at long last, I have managed to take some time out of my busy, busy schedule and pick out a few--and by a few, I mean less than 40--pictures of Hong Kong for a phog*, thereby allowing those of you who have never had the pleasure of visiting the HK know what it's like to go there. (Note that for this last step having either a really good imagination or a reliable supply of psychotropic drugs will help immensely.)

So overall, I loved Hong Kong. Or at least I loved Hong Kong Island, which--with the exception of a few hours--is where I spent all my time. (Side note: the island of Hong Kong is only about 30 square miles in size. The more amazing part is how much they manage to pack in that tiny space, as you'll see.) It had sort of a strange mix of East and West: it definitely felt Western, what with basically everyone on the island speaking English; but it also definitely felt Chinese, and some parts of it actually reminded me of being in Chinatown in New York or San Francisco. Which I know is dumb, but not as dumb as it sounds--I don't think--because for a long time most of the Chinese who came to the US were from Taiwan or Hong Kong, what with the US not being so big on importing Communists and all that. Either way, when you see the pictures you can decide for yourself whether I'm right or have finally completely lost my mind. I'm hoping for the former, obviously, but you never know. Anyway, it just seemed like a nice balance between the two cultures.

But like I said, the HK was great. I think it was easily the most urban place I've ever been in. I've been in bigger, more populated cities (hello, Shanghai!), but never anywhere that felt so dense. (No, not even Tokyo.) It's like ever single available space or area has been used for something. And not just on street level: the subway stations are big, and in one I managed to walk for about 15 minutes entirely underground; and the entire city seems to be connected by covered walkways, moving a lot of the action up above street level. And, unlike the whole Chinatown scenario, the density of the place isn't just something I'm imagining, because one part of Hong Kong is apparently the most densely populated place on the planet: more than 50,000 people per square kilometer. (That's a square a little bigger than half a mile on each side, for you--us?--metric holdouts.) Can you imagine that? There are states in the US where that would be the second or third biggest city--I'm looking at you, Nebraska--and we're only talking about six or seven blocks. Yikes.

What else? Oh, boy do those Hong Kongers like to shop. Not only have I never seen so many malls, but I've never seen so many malls that are completely filled with shops I can't afford to buy things in. I think there was a two mile stretch that had something like five Prada stores. I mean, Prada's nice and all--we have purchased several "Prada" bags here in China--but isn't that overkill? And I'm not sure, but I think there were even more Armani stores. Oh, not to mention at least three different Kate Spade stores, which surprised us--well, Holly--because we/Holly didn't know they even existed. (Side note: Kate--100 bucks for a coin purse. Really?) Stuff was also much, much cheaper in the HK than in mainland China. (Once again, Hong Kong is not really China.) I knew that almost everything in China has a pretty serious import duty slapped on it--possibly to discourage people from buying the real thing--but I wasn't aware how much it was. A coat I'd looked at (but would never buy) here in Shanghai that cost about $430 (yes, US dollars) only cost $290 in Hong Kong, and a pair of those new old school Nikes they seem to be selling everywhere now was almost twenty dollars cheaper. Naturally, we couldn't resist--I think our Visa card might still be warm to the touch. (Although I could resist the still-expensive coat, thanks.)

Oh, I also like the way people in the HK aren't afraid to shorten names. Sure, they go with just straight "HK" instead of "the HK" or even "the Kong," but I can forgive them for that. Why? Because, for example, a three or four block area called Lan Kwai Fong that is filled with about fifty bars is simply "the Fong"--maybe because it's too hard to say the whole thing when drunk--and the area we were staying in, Wan Chai, is simply "Wanch." I'm not sure what it says about me that these are the sorts of things I notice, and since I never took a psych class I guess I never will, so whatever.

So what was bad about the HK? Well, not the food, that's for sure. Or the public transportation, since the subway is very, very clean and pretty simple to use. No, I think only two things were bad: one, despite looking around, I did not see one Hong Kong Phooey reference; two, at the one music store I went in to, Robbie Williams had the #1 album. If you don't know any songs by Robbie Williams, don't worry--it means you don't have incredibly shitty taste in music. (I mean, it's probably still shitty, just not incredibly so.) Otherwise, it was all good, as the kids used to say but probably don't anymore. But at any rate, it's time to (temporarily) stop my babbling and get on with the pictures!

Downtown Hong Kong, seen from Victoria Peak, which is an 1,800 foot tall "mountain" on Hong Kong Island.



Downtown Hong Kong from the harbor. And yes, that is pollution. Lovely.



The famous--to architects and architecture groupies, I guess--Bank of China building by IM Pei.



Some of the buildings in Central, the center--duh--of downtown Hong Kong. Fancy.











Notice how the funky, porthole building below is reflected in the glass of the building above? I didn't when I took the pictures, that's fo' sho'. (Uh, "for sure." That's how I keep it real. You know, for street cred.)




Besides a subway, there's also a tram system--with double-decker cars, even--that runs down one of the main boulevards.



The world's second biggest Armani store! The biggest one is in Milan, apparently. Guess how big it is? Go on, guess. It's over 32,000 square feet! If you just said "that's pretty much what I figured," you are a total liar. And not even a good one.



Of course, not all of the HK is so shiny. Although that clock in the picture below is in front of a shiny mall, which is why I have--with face-slappingly obvious irony--left it in the frame. And to think I only took like one art class in high school! What could have been ...









Okay, doesn’t this look a little like a Chinatown in the US? I think it does.



Seriously, Chinatown. (I'm trying to figure out some way to work in "Forget it Jason, it's Chinatown," but I can't figure out how.)(Oh wait, I just did. Nice.)



Okay, this is more just a "generic Asian city" view. Are there streets in the US like this? It doesn't seem like there are, but I'm not sure why. Although when I think about it, possibly it's because businesses in the States can't make gigantic signs that stretch across the entire street, a la KFC. Thanks Colonel!



The view from my bar stool in The Fong. (It was early and a Sunday night; apparently it is generally very crowded.)



Two things: first, totally Chinatown; second, we at this place later and those geese are really, really, really good.



Remember earlier when I said all of the HK was connected by covered walkways? (If not, pretend you do. Just nod slowly. There, that's it--good.) This is what I mean. I took this picture from a covered walkway, and if you look closely you can see another covered walkway behind the covered walkway in the foreground. Plus, of course, all three covered walkways are connected by the covered walkway on the right side of the picture running perpendicular to the aforementioned covered walkways. And yes, I was trying to be obnoxious in that paragraph.



One strange thing about so many walkways is that it turns the upper stories of buildings into prime storefront real estate. It's strange to see a window display in a third floor window.



Of course, there's the dark side of the covered walkway--you see all the stuff people throw from their windows. Nice.



This was the coolest thing: the world's longest escalator! Apparently a lot of the people who live up on Victoria Peak (for the views, I would imagine) work downtown in Central, but it was hard for them to get there because it's too hot and humid to walk back and forth up the steep hills (even now, it was in the low 80s with high humidity) and the streets are too narrow to handle all that commuting traffic. The solution? Build an escalator up to the people's houses! It goes down in the morning and up in the afternoon and evening. Really, it makes a scary amount of sense.



Love the escalator.



This guy probably does not love the escalator. I did mention the hills were steep, right?



More fun transportation. This is the Peak Tram, which takes people back and forth from Central/downtown to the top of Victoria Peak because, you know, it's steep and would be crappy to have to walk.



One thing: the Peak Tram path is really, really steep. So steep that the tram itself has a slanted floor so that people standing up won't fall over. Here we are on the way down, about to take the plunge, with the harbor in the distance. It looks like a roller coaster, doesn't it?



I told you it was steep. And the scary thing is that this wasn't even one of the steep parts ...



This is actual Hong Kong money: 10 Hong Kong Dollars. I know, I thought it was fake, too.



Here's something uniquely Hong Kong. Naturally, everyone in the HK has a maid, because cleaning up after yourself sucks. It turns out that almost all the maids in the HK are single women from the Philippines or Malaysia--it pays better than anything they can do back home--but since they don't have family in the HK they all get together on Sunday, their day off, and have picnics. They take over the entire Central area: parks, squares, even the famous covered walkways. I seriously saw thousands of woman sitting around having picnic lunches on Sunday. It was very strange.



The Pizza Hut taxi. Really, I'm not sure how this works. Does he deliver pizza in his spare time, or does he just have some for passengers to eat?



This sign would be so much funnier in Japan. (Side note: people in China can pronounce "L" correctly, just for the record.)



Anyone for some baked turtle shells? Hmmm. (Side note: I wonder if this is some sort of precursor stage to turtle soup?)



The easiest way to tell you are in a foreign country: weird stuff on the McDonald's menu! Korean Beef Flatbread sandwich? What?



Mak's Noodles, where I ate lunch one afternoon. This guy was pulling noodles (I guess that's the word?), but he refused to do it while I had my camera ready, wily old bastard that he apparently is.



Here's something I didn't eat: a thousand-year egg--just your typical egg that's been buried in the ground for a few months--surrounded by some sort of strange, brown, gel-like material. When people from the HK won't eat them, we don't either.



Why are we smiling? (Like my "Izod" shirt?) Because we didn't eat the egg, of course. You'd be smiling too, I'd guess ...



* Once again, it's "photo blog."
 
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