Giddy, in all of its varieties, describes best how I felt arriving in Hong Kong. The natural light was fading as I stepped out of the subway; gone were the karst peaks, swapped for bright advertisement screen and neon clad skyscrapers. Red taxis, similar to New York’s, cruised past, climbing a slip road onto a flyover that wound off through the mass of buildings. The road signs read Hennessy, Percival then Tang Lung and Yee Wo. A refreshingly multicultural soup flowed past me: western business types, elderly Chinese and trendy twenty-somethings chitchatting in a mixture of English and Cantonese.
Wandering around near the hostel on that first evening I realised that in boarding the train in Guilin I had left behind – perhaps for a while – a slower, relaxed pace of life. A block away from the hostel is a plush shopping district where Christmas decorations shocked me into remembering it’s December and restarted my internal festive calendar that had stalled in September.
The next morning I meandered my way west from the hostel, down to the waterfront and ferry piers first then inland through Hong Kong Park and the Zoological & Botanical Gardens. Their respective steamy conservatory and aviaries were a delight in the middle of such a densely packed city. Further west I paused to have lunch in a fancy sandwich shop, downhill after a right turn at a dog grooming parlour. Then it was on to a trendy district full of art galleries and delis. Near there I visited the 150 year old Taoist Man Mo temple, a stone’s throw from Possession Street where the British first planted their flag.
Staying in the same hostel as me are a couple from Denmark, Zac and Sofie. Travelling has a funny way of pushing people together: they were in Xingping and then Yangshuo too, although we didn’t talk there. On Wednesday nights it’s cheap entry at Happy Valley Racecourse so we made plans to go together.
Nothing illustrates the transformative amounts of money floating around Hong Kong better than a racecourse in the centre of the city. As we walked round the outside the stadium did its best to appear unassuming. Then we stepped through the gate. Immediately the space opened up, pushing back the surrounding skyscrapers (one emblazoned with a giant neon horse), which only served to emphasise their presence. There was an almost festival like atmosphere: throngs of people mingled mingled among beer and food stalls. Round the edge of the course above us were expensive private suites and restaurants.
We bet on three races, taking it in turns to chance $20 on making it big. By the time Sofie’s turn came it was clear that reading the descriptions in the free magazine wasn’t helping us. She picked Southern Springs whose jockey wore a jacket with a pink lightning bolt set against a black background. They came third, our best result. We used our meagre takings to buy beer and wine and celebrated on the hostel terrace.
The next morning Sea Sprint bore me out from Hong Kong harbour over large swells to the carless Lamma Island. From the pier at Sok Kwu Wan, mid-way up the eastern side of the island, I walked north along the coast past unused caves dug by Japanese soldiers to hide speed boats. Half an hour in the path swung left over the hills in the centre to reveal sea views beyond a thrice chimneyed power plant. Dropping down I continued north through Yung Shue Wan, electing not to take the ferry back here but from Pak Kok San on the northern tip of the island. On the way I paused to soothe and cool my feet in the waves of an empty beach and read in the sun.
Back in the city I played at being a bearded hipster by writing in a fantastically cool and expensive coffee shop. The food I ordered came in an unsurprising but depressingly small portion.
That evening I enjoyed the familiarity of wandering around a supermarket. Beyond being much cheaper, buying the ingredients for breakfast and lunch brings a calming sense of attachment to, and ownership of, the city, as if I live here.
I really like Hong Kong.