One of my best friends, Navini, lived in Hong Kong for about 10 years, about 10 years ago.
When she heard I’d be paying a visit the city she so loved, she excitedly talked to me about it for what seemed like another 10 years.
My husband, Adam, having visited Hong Kong on many occasions himself, and never one to be short of words, rambled on enough about it to fill another ten. (Put the two of them nattering away in a room together and there’s very little oxygen left for the rest of us.)
So, once my ears stopped bleeding, I arrived in the former British colony known as the Gateway to Asia, feeling as if I already knew her.
Though Adam and Navini both spoke highly of the shopping and the food, they cautioned that the people here could be extraordinarily rude. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this. I know the Chinese are rude – I’ve been to New York! And after a few days in Shanghai, I figured Hong Kong couldn’t be any worse. With my friend’s help I felt I was prepared.
What I wasn’t prepared for (because apparently neither Adam nor Navini knew) was that the Chinese consider visiting Hong Kong international travel, requiring their own citizens to apply for a visa, and requiring Western tourists traveling from the mainland to clear customs all over again. Imagine flying from New York to Boston and having to clear customs. Just nutty, especially since Hong Kong has officially been a part of China since 1997.
I asked Adam about this as we stood in the unexpected customs line. He merely shrugged and mumbled something unintelligible, which I translated to “I don’t know but I should as I’ve been here many times before.”
After a quick two hour flight, and not quite so quick trudge through customs, I had my first taste of Hong Kong, and it was deliciously funny! Adam was eager to eat at the Oyster and Wine Bar atop the Sheraton Towers hotel, promising that the restaurant featured some of the best tapas in town and one the best views of Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong’s iconic skyline.
He spoke at length, again, of the spectacular city-wide light show, known as the Symphony of Lights, which started promptly at 7pm.
Or so he said.
When the show failed to start at the anticipated time, he dejectedly announced that perhaps they changed the schedule, or that the city no longer played the synchronized laser and musical extravaganza.
Not ready to give up I asked one of the waiters about the show, who, to our happy surprise, informed us that the Sympathy of Lights began at 8:00pm. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I downed a mouthful of yummy shrimp dumplings while Adam confidently proclaimed that the start time must recently have changed. I nearly gagged on them laughing so hard when the waiter snorted and said emphatically, “show ALWAYS start 8pm!”
The show was worth the wait, made all the more enjoyable by Adam’s pouting and huffy refusal to believe the waiter. (He still insists the show once started at 7:00.) The Hong Kong night was lit with a rainbow of colors and glittering lights dancing to the rhythm of the orchestra. It was beautiful, and I must agree with Navini and Adam that this is a must see for any visitor to Hong Kong.
What I didn’t agree on was the shopping.
The next day, Adam decided that I should visit the Ladies’ Market, one of the most popular shopping districts in Hong Kong. He bragged about prior visits during which he bought designer bags, wallets, watches, and the like for next to nothing.
Yawn. I’m not a shopping gal. I know – puts me in the minority. It’s part of my charm.
But, I was in Hong Kong for the first time, and the Ladies’ Market had to be experienced.
Regrettably, on this day, the shopkeepers were on full alert due to the rumor of secret police infiltrating the market in an effort to arrest any merchants selling black market goods, which were, of course, what we after. Stall after tacky stall offered only cheap and gaudy knockoffs. We left empty handed.
Not easily daunted, Adam charged off to the next Hong Kong highlight, Victoria Peak. And it was on the way there that I had my first ferry ride, which proved in its timeless simplicity to be almost magical. Floating across the harbor’s dark waters as they reflected the twinkling lights of Hong Kong was at once both tranquil and exhilarating. I won’t soon forget the image of a Chinese Junk floating past, her massive red sails glowing in the dark.
Then the magic faded, and Hong Kong earned her reputation, as the mass of people pushed and shoved those around them, fighting as if the ferry were sinking as we reached the dock. You’d think a city long ruled by the Brits would understand how to queue.
Damned Chinese! And I was just starting to like the place.
From the dock we caught a taxi to the bottom of Victoria Peak, and I found another reason to like Hong Kong; The taxis are shockingly cheap. The 8 minutes long cab ride was about .30 cents.
The cab dropped us at the entrance to the Peak Tram, where we purchased our $6 tickets, and boarded the loud, wooden, rickety tram which would take us to the top of the peak. Now mind you, the Peak Tram is the oldest of its kind, in operation 120 years, and it felt every bit of it. The ride is extraordinarily steep, so much so that the buildings you pass appear to be tumbling down.
With a death grip on the handles, I watched it laboriously chug up the hill. I felt like I was in The Little Engine That Could, except instead of I Think I Can I was humming I Think I Might Die. I was only able to breathe again when we reached the top and stepped out of the cable-pulled death trap.
Adam was unaffected, and even seemed happy. The merry fool had enjoyed it. I decided to throttle him as soon as I caught my breath.
Instead, the view took my breath away.
Victoria Peak should top everyone’s list of places to see in Hong Kong. The peak is 552 meters above sea level and gives an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the city and Hong Kong harbor. The gleaming skyscrapers are artfully and spectacularly lit in various colors and designs, and at times look more like an artist’s rendering than a living metropolis.
Hong Kong may be Asia’s New York, but New York has no Victoria Peak.
And that will be my lasting image of Hong Kong. Yes, the people are rude. And the shopping may well be spectacular. But the view from Victoria Peak captivated me as nothing else could.
Victoria Peak. That’s all Navini and Adam needed to say. My poor ears needn’t have suffered after all.