Victoria in the Sky Like Diamonds

Hong Kong Travel Blog

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(I wrote most of the following snippet while standing up holding the laptop in one hand and typing with the other, so I’ll post this as is, typos and all:)

I’m sitting on the ground basking in the neon glow of crayon skylines and the night wind blowing up here is providing incontrovertible evidence of God’s grace. My feet hurt, my throat is parched, and the day is almost over here on top of VictpriaPeak in HK.  You might think a tram ride up to the top of a mountain would be easy, but after a day of wandering through towns nd up steep concrete inclines and through a creepy asian cemetery/fast food joint/tourist trap/construction site,the hour long wait and phone booth stuffing excersize of getting into the tram provided just enough “closure” that my first reaction to whast must be one of the most breathtaking views on earth was to turn away and sit down in a corner – away from the masses  - and take a few breaths. Unfortunately, I apparabtly –cants- sit here (or so im told In Chinese and hand waving), so ill write more later  

After awhile, I was finally calm enough to go to the edge and have a look around and get some good film (some with the new wide angle lens).  Hong Kong, especially from this height, just looks fake. It's difficult to translate all that neon and massively overlapping architecture on steep hills into a normal concept of what a place people live would look like. At best, it looks like a fictional version of what a William Gibson novel would look like if the novel were nonfiction.  Follow? 

The viewing area is on top of a fairly (5 story?) massive cheesy shopping/eating megaplex which is, itself, at the end of the tram ride. Victoria Peak is actually another 150m up and is hikable, but, uhm, no way :)

After we were down gawking at the skyline from above, Paivi and I had a nice sake-and-plum-wine filled dinner at one a Sushi restaurants (good food, but we were too tired to care).

Our ride down was significantly easier than the ride up (and the 30 minute wait to get down significantly shorter as well). People (both up and down) are mashed into a 2 car tram which is pulled up and (on return) lowered down the hill. Given the sharp incline of the mountain, anyone left standing and not sitting has a problem! Luckily (I found this out going down), the floor between the seats is "stepped" at angles, so even though the cars are pointed up, your standing surface is somewhat flat. Unfortunately, on the way up, I was on the side and was not afforded that luxury. At 6'5", that made the trip actually physically difficult!

There are rollercoasters I've been on that were less suspensful. A couple of times on the way down, the tram stopped and --bounced-- up and down on its cable for awhile before settling and, a few minutes later, begining the journey down.

By the time we reached the end of the tram ride, we were done. We hailed a cab (in which I promptly fell asleep) and made our way straight back to the hotel.

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I'll get back to the narrative tomorrow, but having spent the past 16 hours walking around Hong Kong, Kowloon, and other areas, I have some initial thoughts and observations I'd like to share:

1. When people ask me what Hong Kong is like, I'm going to tell them it's a cross between New York and Las Vegas.  Really, that's the sum of it. It's big, noisy, patchy, bright, fake, glittery, showy, crowded, detailed. It even has the Strip / Time Squares vs "The rest of the city" kind of differetiating going on.

2. The biggest difference between a major US city and Hong Kong so far has been (to me) the city's color scheme. The way they use colors and the shades and tones they use just aren't "American" feeling. I think they're not as complementary to each other naturally and are chosen to highlight the differences in coloring, not smooth the edges.  What's also interesting is that, for the most part, the build up areas of Hong Kong have none of that "Old World" feel that almost every single European city seems to. It's just modern here, or poor.

3. I think Hong Kong must have a higher percentage of its population speaking english han any major US city, especially New York. But, what's interesting to me, is that most of those who dont speak English are at least -used- to speaking with this who don't. This means that they're already familiar with communicating by motioning, head nodding, and gesguring, and grunting. This familiarity with foreign communication on the past of non english speakers has been directly useful a number of times on the trip so far.

4. Ok, so, Hong Kong's former colonial British government instituted that weird "drive on the left" thing here. What's funny is that people seem naturally inclined to go the opposite way when they're walking. Drive on the left, walk on the right.  Wonder if that's naturallly wheret your eye goes

5 Earlier in the day we passed through some really shady looking areas to get to the Monestary of 10,000 Buddhas (or was it Temple of?). At any rate, I just wanted to observe that they looked no more or less shitty than some parts of Chicago. I dont know what that says for or against whom, but it was an observation.

6. We rode the KCR mass transit train system today and, I have to say (and this comes from my wife as well) that it was one of the most pleasant mass transit experiences Ive ever had.  The instructions to get a ticket were clearly labled and accessible, the trains easy to find, the ride quiet and relaxing.

7. I actually got a "Coke Lite" in a glass bottle today. What the hell? No place so far has actually served it to me in a glass from the back - it's all been cans or bottles!??! What gives?

More tomorrow, Im falling asleep here.

Our first breakfast in Hong Kong ended up being at L’Eclipse, one of our hotel’s (Langham) downstairs restaurants. We hadn’t yet gotten a feel for the town and weren’t up to just jumping out the door to find our own way yet.

The layout and feel was bright (there were plenty of windows) and it was fairly typical of a “nice” hotel’s main restaurant. We ended up going with L’Eclipse’s breakfast buffet to help us get a feel for local fare. The food was delicious (especially for a buffet).  It was notable to us (particularly my wife) that fresh sushi was available as part of the buffet. I also found their scrambled eggs to be different (they almost looked like grits) and of a slightly different taste than what I’m used to. They were, however, just as good as the rest of the meal.

After breakfast, the two of us set out in the general direction of the water, with Paivi hoping to grab some pictures of Hong Kong itself across the water. (Note: Much of our experience here so far has been and continues to be in Kowloon, not Hong Kong proper. We just haven’t had many reasons to go out that way yet.)

Not long after breakfast – and right after our first Hong Kong Starbucks visit – Paivi and I wandered into “A&B Photo & Audio Co.” in Star House near the Star Ferrt and proceeded to get talked out of almost $1,000 USD by Lo, a polite, knowledgeable gentleman who was very helpful in relieving us of our money.  We had wandered into the store with the intent of getting Paivi’s Digital Rebel cleaned and my Nikon repaired. What we walked out with was a camera cleaning pen, 5 “name brand” filters, a teleconverter, and a wide angle lens for my Panasonic HDC-SD1 video camera. The funny thing is, though, that we were happy to hand over the cash – we had a lot of fun arguing with him and demanding he cut us a break for buying so many of his damn filters.

This guy started off by verbally –spanking- my wife for the condition of her lenses (particularly the Canon L-series) and made sure to show her exactly how much crap was on them. Boom. We have 4 new lenses and a cleaning pen. We also ended up playing with the 300mm L a bit (Lo was obviously jealous) and he talked Paivi into getting the teleconverter for it.  As we were leaving, I pulled out my video camera to ask about a high capacity battery for it (no-go) and, before I knew it, I got the same lecture as Paivi and ended up with a filter and the wide angle lens in my hand. In hindsight, I’m not sure the wide angle lens will be of sufficient quality to keep up, but I won’t be able to check video footage until I get home.

Before we left, Lo made us promise to check back with him later to see if he could cheaply order my battery from somewhere local. Heh. I'm sure we were robbed on the prices despite his "discounts", but I havent checked yet.